Inducted by Andrew Ardizzi
What makes someone great? It’s a fair question, and a loaded one at that because it’s all so subjective. Some remark it’s charisma and an innate ability to cut promos, or be entertaining. Some would counter that and argue when it comes to wrestling, greatness has more to do with ratings and financials, or step toward the polar opposite side of the spectrum and argue what wrestlers do in the ring — the pure athleticism and skill that goes into the craft — is the pinnacle of greatness. Some would argue it all comes down to how you carry yourself, anchored within intensity, integrity and intelligence.
Sometimes that complicated question answers itself.
In terms of physical ability, Kurt Angle is in an elite class, breathing the rarefied air of legends past and those living in the present for what he was able to do in the ring throughout his career in WWE and TNA. Spanning 21 years, Kurt Angle wrestled around the world and set the bar for excellence, and while doing so, further paving the way for elite collegiate athletes to find their way into professional wrestling. What makes Angle truly special as a performer though is the mere fact that while he’s not the only collegiate athlete to make it, he’s the bar that few have ever approached.
Angle exudes greatness. From the time he hit the mats for the Golden Eagles at Clarion University, to competing in the 1996 Summer Olympics where he won a gold medal in amateur wrestling with a “broken freakin’ neck,” to taking WWF by storm upon his full time debut en route to claiming all major singles titles within the first years of his professional career. For a new wrestler that’s astounding, but also very typical of someone possessing the drive to succeed and excel often to their own detriment.
Throughout his first tenure in WWF/E, he feuded with a who’s who of wrestling of the era, from defending two titles against Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit at WrestleMania to a debuting Taz, right up the card to fighting the likes of Brock Lesnar, Eddie Guerrero, Steve Austin, HHH, Edge, Undertaker, Rey Mysterio, a young John Cena, Randy Orton and Shawn Michaels among so many more.
Angle was such a special talent as he was strong enough to work with bigger wrestlers, fast enough to work with quicker talent, and skilled enough that he could match up with anyone on the roster and excel toward a top tier, high calibre match. Quality is a word that defines the work Angle put forth, and the faith company put in him is demonstrated by the sheer number of titles he truly earned, not the least of which was winning the King of the Ring in his debuting year and the WWF title merely two years into his career, taking it from The Rock at No Mercy 2000.
He was unequivocally exceptional between the ropes.
In 2006, he would leave WWE and eventually signed with TNA, where one could argue he put forward the best in-ring work of his career opposite the likes of Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, Christian Cage, Sting and many more young wrestlers we now see routinely on TV today across both WWE and AEW. And much like Vince McMahon, for all their faults TNA management knew what they had in Angle and strapped the rocket to his back and let him soar as far he could go.
For years he was the centrepiece of the company right up until his departure from TNA in 2016 after a decade of flying Impact’s banner. Much like his WWF/E tenure which saw him carry five world titles and nearly every belt possible, Angle left TNA as a 6 time world champion (now 11 total), in addition to holding the X-Division and tag team titles. For a time during a contract dispute between New Japan Pro Wrestling and Brock Lesnar, he even held the IGF version of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and defended it against NJWP’s IWGP champion Shinsuke Nakamura in a unification bout that Angle would ultimately lose.
Following his departure he toured the indies and notably had a trilogy of matches with then-recently released Cody Rhodes which ended in a steel cage match prior to finally returning to the WWE for a collection of in-ring matches, anchored by a stint as on-screen General Manager. Yet, ravaged by injuries he would finally retire at WrestleMania 35 after losing to Baron Corbin. It wasn’t the storybook ending some might have wanted, but as a wrestler, it’s the one the next generation is owed in having the veteran star putting over the younger talent. It’s the way of the business, and it’s something he understood from the absolute very beginning of his career.
So, what is Kurt Angle’s legacy? It’s a fair question of someone who’s left an indelible mark on the business, having left it better than it was when he found it. And maybe that’s it. Over the years he excelled in every conceivable way, from every conceivable angle. He helped usher in an era where truly for the first time elite amateur wrestlers could really look at someone make it big in pro wrestling, while also seriously incorporating their raw, skill-based shoot style into their pro wrestling tool box. Kurt Angle helped pave the way for Brock Lesnar, the Haas brothers, Shelton Benjamin and later on forged a faction with Benjamin and Charlie Haas (The World’s Greatest Tag Team). It helped make it easier for people like Jason Jordan or Chad Gable to make it in modern day WWE as well, and very soon Gable Steveson.
That’s merely a piece of his legacy though.
Between the ropes Angle had no fear and a confidence that comes with knowing there’s nothing you’re incapable of accomplishing – I suppose once you’ve won an Olympic gold medal with a broken neck, you’d think you could accomplish almost anything too. Angle certainly did in spades. That resulted in moments that live on forever – locking on an ankle lock he utterly refused to let go, screaming at opponents like HBK and Mysterio to tap out with utter disdain for their lower limbs. There’s the top-of-cage moonsaults he hit all-too-routinely, which we now see all-too-commonly from the Cody Rhodes and Io Shirais of the wrestling world. There’s the timing, speed and physicality he engaged opponents in that overwhelmed everyone at first glance, because how could you possibly handle him? But on the flipside, he knew how to handle himself professionally and knew when and how to do business, and he was very giving in that perhaps when it was less commonplace to do so. And in all respects he only refined with age up right until injuries finally caught up to him.
He worked hard, conducted himself fairly and always put his best forward no matter the circumstance. But what really cements the totality of what Kurt Angle represents in the greater picture of pro wrestling history was his willingness to evolve not just in the ring, but also out as he came out of his shell and did everything from wear a tiny cowboy hat and sing songs, serenading Sherri with “Sexy Kurt” and dousing himself wholesomely in good old fashioned milk. Never mind the milk truck.
Kurt Angle was a trailblazer almost without equal. He was someone who is perhaps one of the most physically gifted athletes to ever wrestle, and with his willingness to showcase his character and personality, combined he is one of the most complete professional wrestlers ever. His three “I”s defined his presence in the ring, outside it, and now years removed from his retirement is what we remember about our Olympic Hero, the “wrestling machine,” and one time member of the Shield.
Kurt Angle is one of the greatest ever, and professional wrestlers coming up now owe a great deal to his two decade career.
It’s true, it’s damn true.
Selected Career Accomplishments
- 6-time WWE or World Heavyweight Champion
- 6-time TNA World Heavyweight Champion
- IWGP Third Belt Champion
- WWF Intercontinental Champion
- #1 for PWI Top 500 Wrestlers in 2001
- 2001-2003 Most Outstanding Wrestler (Wrestling Observer Newsletter)
- #2 for PWI Top 500 Wrestlers from 2006-2008
- 2017 WWE Hall of Fame Inductee
- 2013 Impact Wrestling Hall of Fame Inductee
- 2012 Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Inductee
Lords of Pain.net/Wrestling Headlines.com welcomes Kurt Angle into the Hall of Fame class of 2022.
Related Links: Kurt Angle Hints At Possible In-Ring Return: “I Want To Keep The Option Open”
Wrestling Headlines Hall of Fame 2021: Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels, Wrestlemania 21
Kurt Angle Reveals His New Podcast -“The Kurt Angle Show”