On May 12 2005, just over a week out from Judgment Day, NZPWI had the pleasure of speaking with WWE Superstar Kurt Angle. Angle is set to take on Booker T. at the event which will air LIVE on Sky Box Office on Monday May 23 from 12pm.
Angle, who is now a 5 1/2 year veteran of the promotion, recently competed in a standout match at Wrestlemania 21 against Shawn Michaels which he discusses in this interview. He also speaks on his attempt to compete at the 2004 Olympics, the move to mat wrestling, family life and even issues a challenge to Bret “Hitman” Hart!
Dion McCracken: He’s a 4-time WWE Champion, former WCW Champion, has held the Intercontinental, U.S., European and Tag Team Championships. And of course, won a Gold Medal at the ‘96 Summer Games in freestyle wrestling – with “a broken freakin’ neck”.
It is my absolute pleasure to welcome truly one of the greats. He is your Olympic Hero, Kurt Angle.
Kurt Angle: Hey, thanks for the introduction.
Not a problem, not a problem. That’s quite an impressive professional resume you have there but of course your first love was freestyle wrestling. How close did you to competing at the 2004 Games?
There was no way possible with my neck injuries. I tried to make a comeback and I just found that I didn’t have enough strength in my upper body anymore due to my neck injury. So I decided to keep my pro status and not go with the amateur ranks and go on to the Olympic Gold medal. It was just too competitive and I found that even with Vince’s blessings, he wanted me to go ahead and try out for the team, but I just couldn’t do it physically.
Are you involved in the sport at any way at present?
Yeah, you know, I’m not directly involved. You know, I go to events, I went to the NCAA Championships. They picked me as one of the 15 all time greatest ever wrestlers in NCAA history which was a great award for me. That meant just as much to me as the Hall of Fame did. So I keep in contact with some local programs here in Western Pennsylvania and also I like to go to the NCAA Championships and see the younger wrestlers that are going to be our future Olympians.
And I watch as much as I can on TV, now they have the real “pro” wrestling I’ve been able to catch a couple of those that are here in the United States where we took our Olympians and we turned them pro and they have 8 different cities that go against each other and they have teams that have their own meets and it’s actually quite interesting. They have different rules that are kind of mixed between freestyle Greco Roman and USA style Wrestling. So it’s a good little mix, I like it.
What differences are there in weight and cardiovascular training between amateur and pro?
I found that in amateur training, I trained a lot more, a lot more intense. I used to train up to nine hours a day. I believed that I wasn’t going to be the quickest, the strongest, the biggest, the smartest – but I knew that I would be the most conditioned athlete there because of my work ethic. I did things, if you ever read my book or if you ever have a chance you’ll see my training schedule was borderline torture, and I believe in a process called “fatigue training”. You train until you’re fatigued, and then you, that’s when your training begins.
In other words, when you’re ready to fall over on your face, that’s when you start training. And I found that that worked for me tremendously because a lot of my matches went into overtime and my opponents couldn’t stay with me in overtime and I was able to beat them. So, what I did was I kept the match close during regulation, and then I turned on the afterburns and the guys just couldn’t keep up with me. And that’s how I won the U.S. Title, the Olympic Trials, the World Trials, the World Title and the Olympic Title in two years.
You debuted with the WWE in ’99. Was there one moment or event when you just knew you’d made the right decision?
You know what, I was never a wrestling fan – a pro-wrestling fan. I started watching when I signed. As a matter of fact about 3 months before I signed I watched Raw is War and I watched “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock and D’Lo Brown and different guys that were making their name…and Too Cool at the time. It was very entertaining and I realised that these guys were more than just entertainers they were tremendous athletes. And so I decided that this was the right fit for me, I wanted to get into entertainment I want to eventually do movies but I wasn’t finished being an athlete yet.
So I’d have to say that my biggest turning point was the day I got in that ring. And a lot of amateur wrestlers have problems with being able to convert to pro-wrestling. I did it in one day. And Pat Patterson who is there, one of our greatest wrestlers of all time, one of our agents in the Company and he saw how quickly I adapted and he knew right away that it wouldn’t take me long to get on to TV. So I’d have to say my first day is when I grew this tremendous passion and love for sports entertainment.
And I trained and I studied it like I did to win the Olympic Gold medal and that’s why I had success so quickly. When I set my mind to something I want to become the best, I become the best. And a lot of my peers, the fans might not think so because on a popularity level you have the good guys that you like and the bad guys you don’t like. And they think the good guys are more popular but among our peers, our wrestlers and agents in the Company, they all consider me the best wrestler in the business and that means a lot to me.
Around that time, “hardcore” and “high risk” matches were the norm and you were at the forefront of making mat wrestling appealing again. Is it difficult to engage live audiences with the mat based style?
Well, I think we were going too far. I think that ECW created a monster. I think that the WWE and WCW at the time started to go a little bit overboard and their athletes were getting injured and when I came in, Vince wanted me to be a wrestler. What I was, what I am. And yeah, I am partially responsible for the change. You know, to go out there and to wrestle, because that’s what it is, we’re in the World Wrestling Entertainment business. If you have the word wrestling in there then why not do it? If you’re not, if you’re going to do all hardcore, then it should be called the World Hardcore Federation. You know?
So I think Vince had a plan with me. He knew I had a lot of talent with the wrestling aspect and what we found out is, our fans are just as intrigued by Kurt Angle going in there and wrestling Shawn Michaels or Eddie Guerrero or Rey Mysterio or Chris Benoit, they’re just as intrigued if not more than any of those hardcore matches. So, we kind of turned the fans nice and slowly.
And I give a lot of credit to Triple H. I give a lot of credit to The Undertaker. I give a lot of credit to guys like Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero. I give a lot of credit to myself. So there were a lot of guys that pioneered the change and went in the ring and started telling a story instead of just beating each other over the head with chairs and trash cans and trash can lids and all that crazy stuff, falling off of 20 foot cages. You know? An athlete can only last so long and when you’re building Superstars in the WWE, the most important thing is consistency you want them to be on TV week after week, you want the fans to see these Superstars that they’ve created.
And if they’re doing all these crazy stunts which don’t mean anything, and the fans aren’t going anywhere as long as you put on great matches, you do all these crazy stunts, you’re not going to have any athletes. Your Superstars are going to be hurt and you’re going to end up with nothing.
You’ve mentioned a number of names just then, and with those guys you’ve had some just, truly outstanding matches in your career…
…most recently with Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania. Have you got sort of, one or two…
I just want to say, before you go on – Shawn Michaels, I consider, is one of the greatest of all time. For me to be able to wrestle with him at Wrestlemania, it was a blessing from God. Because, you know Shawn wasn’t supposed to come back after his injury, but there was a purpose for him coming back and I believe that purpose was for him and I to face, because we were told among our peers – and we’re talking guys that have been in the business 10, 20, 30, 40 years – Bobby “The Brain” Heenan came up to me and said that was the greatest match he’s seen in his life.
A guy, JBL, a wrestler today that had no reason to go up to me and tell me but he came up and said “that’s the best match I’ve ever seen in my whole life”.
That feels good, you know? Because Shawn and I didn’t do anything crazy. The only thing he did, he did dive off the second rope onto the table but other than that, we didn’t do anything crazy. We went out there and had a very great, solid match and Shawn Michaels did his thing, I did mine and we came up with one of the greatest matches ever in the history of the business.
Shawn’s one of the greatest of all time.
Bret Hart, it’s well documented that he’s said he’d wrestle you in a heartbeat if he were able to. How does that rate in terms of compliments and who would win the battle of the Sharpshooter Vs The Ankle Lock?
Haha! You know what? That’d be a hell of a match, that would be a great match. That would be the one thing that I would like to do before I retire.
Bret Hart is another one that I know that him and I would be considered one of the top two greatest matches ever. Shawn Michaels and I, I believe, had the greatest match ever. Shawn and Bret had a one hour Iron Man Match about 8 or 9 years ago that I thought was just about as good as mine and Shawn’s match.
But I’ve always said that I wanted to wrestle Bret. Bret just physically can’t do it. If he could, he would. And you know, I didn’t take it as an insult, but you know, Bret said that he would have the same kind of match with me as he would with Shawn Michaels or Chris Benoit or Eddie Guerrero. I believe that we would have a better match than that, especially with the trade off of submissions and you know, just, the way both of our characters are, the seriousness of the match and the intensity would be there. I think that Bret Hart and I would have one of the greatest of all time matches.
If he his open to it, and I don’t know if he is, Bret if you’re listening, I’m more than happy to face you at any event, it doesn’t have to be Wrestlemania, it could be anywhere, anytime. I’d love to wrestle Bret Hart, that would be a dream for me.
Yeah, it’d be fantastic.
The term “they love to hate him” just seems to be made for you. Fans love chanting “you suck” but at the same time, they’re willing to cheer at the drop of a dime. What do you think it is why fans have such an affinity with you?
Oh, you know what? It’s a respect factor. The fans enjoy…
Put it this way, when I’m wrestling, nobody’s going for t-shirts or popcorn. They’re sitting down and they’re watching my match. They’re studying my match. They’re watching something transpire. You know, I consider it not just a wrestling match, I consider it my art. And what I do is, I don’t just go out there and do a bunch of moves and a bunch of spots, I tell a very good story. And I was taught that by all time greats like Sergeant Slaughter and Pat Patterson and all the Agents. And I believe that the reason why I’ve had so much success…
(Kurt’s daughter Kyra yells “Ow” in the background)
Kurt: Sorry little girl, are you okay?
Okay, sorry about that.
The reason why I’ve had a lot of success is I’ve had a lot of good teachers. And the fans are going to like the best wrestlers, and when you’re as good as I am, or as good as Chris Benoit or Triple H, you know, there’s no way around it. Triple H probably has more fans that like him than hate him, and he’s the biggest bad guy on Raw. So, you know, I’m considered the biggest bad guy on Smackdown. Myself and JBL.
But, you know, it’s a respect factor. They want to see me wrestle and a lot of times they want to see me win. Why? I don’t know. With Shawn Michaels half the crowd booed and half the crowd cheered. So you know, that’s just the way it is these days, you know, some of the bad guys aren’t always bad guys.
I was in Hawaii facing John Cena and they were chanting “Angle”. And John Cena’s probably our top good guy in the whole company, the whole WWE. So, it all depends where we are.
I think it has a lot to do with, some people are wrestling educated and they love wrestling. And some people like the characters. You know, like the John Cena character or the Hulk Hogan character, and they’ll cheer for them but if they’re more technique and wrestling oriented or educated that way like people in Hawaii, or people down in Texas, you’re going to have a lot of fans cheering for the more technical wrestler.
Actually that’s a great example, when I’m over in Japan, I’m a good guy. There’s no ifs, ands or buts. They want me to win.
What would fans be most surprised to learn about you?
Hahahaha! Probably ahh….I don’t know.
I guess, I guess what I enjoy more than wrestling is, I have a daughter, and I have a bunch of nieces and I’m a very good Dad and a tremendous Uncle. And I like girls, I like…you know I have nephews too but I get along better with the little girls for some reason they tend to kind of leech to me and I enjoy that, I enjoy spending time, I love kids.
So, although I’m the bad guy on TV and I’m not very friendly, I have a soft heart for little girls. And I have 14 nieces and I have a daughter, hopefully we’re gonna, we’re trying for a second baby. And I don’t know if you know this but a lot of amateur wrestlers have kind of a curse. Especially the successful ones. They seem to always have daughters, they never have sons and we can’t figure out why.
Probably because, there has to be something in that wrestling room when the temperature goes above 120 degrees, and you’re training there every single day I think it kills your X Chromosomes or something.
Well, sounds quite likely.
We keep having daughters and it’s a curse. But it’s not a curse to me, it’s a blessing.
So, I’d have to say that what would surprise fans is that I really enjoy spending time with kids. It’s a lot of fun.
And I’m a kid at heart anyway, that’s why I’m in the WWE, I mean, I don’t want to grow up. I just want to continue to be a kid and do what I do. I don’t consider my job a job, I consider it playtime, and it’s a lot of fun.
Well, that leads perfectly into this question, Kurt. This is the most hard hitting of journalistic questions you could get in your career. Who “wears the gold medals” so to speak in the Angle household?
Hahahaaa! You know what, my wife does. I’ve spent too much time away from home, she’s the boss. She runs the house. I pretty much just keep my mouth shut and do what I’m told.
But you know, she’s a trooper. We’re gone 250 days a year, sometimes 300 days a year and she takes care of everything for me. I literally don’t lift a finger when I’m at home. My only responsibility is to play with my baby. And that’s not a job to me, that’s fun. So, she pretty much does everything. She’s a handyman around the house, she cleans the house, she cleans the pool, she cleans the cars; she makes sure everything is done, the bills are paid, all I do is come home and play with my daughter.
So I’ve been blessed, God’s blessed me with a great family, a tremendous wife and a beautiful little girl.
How did you break the news to Karen that you were getting your head shaved? Did you wind up sleeping on the couch for a few nights?
You know what? Fortunately she likes bald men. So, she wanted me to shave my head before it even happened I just, I never wanted to, I said “Karen, I don’t wanna shave my head, I like my hair, it makes me feel younger”.
But Vince felt, Mr. McMahon felt that it would make me look meaner, give me an edge. So he, when I got my head shaved he said “keep it off”. And we decided to do that.
But you know what, I’m glad now because who knows, I’m probably receding as we speak so it’s just good to have it off, now I don’t have to worry about it.
Well now we may never know.
Hahaha, yeah we might never know. You’re right.
So, Judgment Day is coming up. It’s airing live here in New Zealand on Monday May 23rd. You’ve got your sights set on Booker T. It’s certainly gotten personal real quick this one. How’s it going to go down? Is Booker going to be a troubled man, come Judgment Day?
Yeah. When you see Smackdown this week it was, pretty serious. There was some good stuff.
Booker and I have wrestled a couple of times. What I can promise is not just an intense match but, it – this match will steal the show. Booker is a tremendous athlete, there’s no doubt about it. We might have our disagreements but he is one of the greatest athletes in the WWE today. And him and I having a match, we’re going to steal the show.
And that’s a – I’m challenging anybody on the WWE roster that’s gonna be in this show to try to beat our match. And I don’t think that it’s gonna happen.
I’m sure you would’ve preferred to have been challenging for the WWE Championship, is that #1 priority on your agenda after Booker?
Yeah, once I beat Booker T. that’s where I’m looking. I’m looking at taking on either JBL or Cena, whoever wins at Judgment Day, and win my title back.
You know, I usually average one title a year, and this is my fifth year so it’s time for Kurt Angle to win another title. If I don’t, then I’m not tending to my goal, and that is to hold the title every year that I’m in it. Right now we’re half way through the year so, I got a half a year to get it done.
One last question, how is the neck holding up?
Thank God, I’m doing tremendous. I feel, you know, what happened is I think Mr. McMahon lost a little faith in me. The GM of Smackdown, Theodore Long lost a little faith. Thought that I couldn’t endure through my neck injuries. So they kinda put me on the side for a while and you weren’t seeing me in the main event.
What’s happened now is for the last 10 months I’ve been wrestling solid, feeling good, having the best matches on the card, especially as of late and they’re starting to see me being rejuvenated. So now I’m gonna be more or less in the limelight and in more main event matches. And I deserve to be, I’ve done everything that I could possibly do to get back and get ready and my neck feels great. Physically I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been and I can’t wait to get back in that ring and win that WWE Title. I think it’s long been overdue and the problem is, you know, as an owner of a Company like Mr. McMahon, you don’t want to put a guy in a title match and chance the fact that, God forbid, but this guy could get injured holding the title, and then what do you do?
So, I think that’s why they kinda pulled back the reigns a little bit and said hey, let’s not put Kurt Angle in this situation yet because we don’t know if my neck is going to hold up. Now they’re realising it is, so you’re going to see my running for that title and hopefully winning the title and holding on to it for a long time.
Kurt, I’d like to take this opportunity to let you know that as pro-wrestling fans, we do respect and appreciate the sacrifices and the risks that you take to entertain us and you know, hopefully we’ll be watching Kurt Angle for a long time.
I appreciate that. I appreciate that, really I do. You gave me a great interview, and I enjoyed the interview and you asked a lot of great questions, I appreciate that.
Fantastic, cheers Kurt. Hopefully we’ll see you here in New Zealand someday?
Yeah, hopefully. I hope so. I know, Tony Garea wants to. Tony is from New Zealand. He’s one of agents, obviously you know he used to wrestle and he talks about what a great country it is, so hopefully we’ll be there soon.
Awesome. Thanks very much for joining me today.
Thank you very much, take care.