Olympic Gold medallist. Multi-time World champion. Winner of every WWF/WWE championship available. And now, finally, WWE Hall of Famer.
Following his gold medal win at the 1996 Olympics, Kurt Angle was approached by the WWF, who had serious interests in signing him. Deciding at that time that professional wrestling was not the route he wanted to take, Angle quickly declined the offer. Several months later, however, he did agreed to attend an ECW event. Unfortunately, an segment that saw Raven ‘crucified’ by Sandman, and Angle’s subsequent hasty exit from the building and legal threats to Paul Heyman that he was not to be shown on any future broadcast of the event, seemed to justify his opinion that pro wrestling was not for him.
Two years down the line, opinions had changed. Angle signed an eight year contract with the WWF, and only only five months later was making his TV debut, in an angle with Tiger Ali Singh. It was to be a one-off appearance, however, with Angle not making his in-ring debut for another two months, this taking place in a dark match. With his character tooled and plans in place for Angle to soon make his TV re-debut, he began wrestling on house shows and dark matches. Following a decent promotional build, Angle finally made his WWF in-ring debut at the 1999 Survivor Series, besting Shawn Stasiak. It was fair to say that, while his in-ring work was solid, it was not a star-making start; crowds did not take to the happy, smiley ‘real athlete’ Angle, in facts boos were present from the very start. A change was required, and quickly; with some slight modifications and the green light given for him to show more personality and attitude, Angle – with his gold medal in tow – began to garner the right sort of response. His undefeated streak was ended in a short, energetic outing with Tazz at the 2000 Royal Rumble, however, undeterred by the loss, Angle was instead pushed up the card. Industry observers had already noticed it, and the company had now too; Angle had a very bright future and was someone worth investing in. The speed at which he took to the business was staggering, his mannerisms, his in-ring work, his promos, he was already beginning to put together the complete package. Less than one month after his loss to Tazz, Angle won the European and Intercontinental championships, an incredible achievement for someone who had only debuted three months prior. And while he dropped the titles the following month in a triple threat match with Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit at WrestleMania 2000, the booking very clearly protected him; Angle was not pinned for either championship.
In the months that followed, Angle was kept away from any championships, instead being given a chance to show off another bow in his already-impressive arrow; comedy. Programmed with Edge and Christian, Angle displayed remarkable comic timing in their segments, and fans quickly took to the trio. Away from the comedy segments, Angle was still being kept strong in the ring, winning the King of the Ring tournament, which led to a major promotion; a rivalry with former WWF champion Triple H. Initially based on Angle’s affections for Stephanie McMahon, HHH and Angle’s story dominated WWF TV, and the story was looking more and more like when the two would finally clash, Angle would end up with the woman and the win over Hunter. Indeed, this was in fact the original plan; Angle, with Stephanie’s help, would defeat Hunter and and become aligned with HHH’s wife. However, due to some political maneuvering, Hunter would end up winning their battle at Unforgiven. Fans were angry; Angle was a genuine rising star in the company, someone that many believed could become a major player for years to come, a loss to Triple H – especially one that seemed to be down to protests by Hunter himself – sent the message that Angle was not going to be allowed to outsmart the big guys, to beat them, to steal their wives (or at least Triple H’s).
Despite his loss to The Game, Angle’s ascension up the card continued and he was booked to face The Rock for the WWF Championship at No Mercy. To the surprise of many, Angle won the match and the title. Less than a year after debuting, Kurt Angle was the WWF champion. Now moving forward as champion, Angle had a host of challengers, and big matches, waiting for him. Unfortunately, he was more often than not booked as a fluke, winning his matches thanks to interference or plain luck. His defence at Armageddon in a six-man Hell in a Cell was tarnished by the finish; he only got the winning pinfall on The Rock after he had been laid out with a Stone Cold Stunner. The bad booking continued; Angle successfully retained the title against Triple H after interference, again from Austin. He would eventually lose the belt to The Rock the following month at No Way Out, before moving onto a hastily-arranged WrestleMania match with Chris Benoit. Their rivalry continued for the next few months, before all booking plans changed the WCW Invasion took centre stage.
It was here that the WWF – with their hand forced by an injury to Austin that took him out of the ring – unleashed some of the funniest TV they have ever produced. Showing comedic timing and ability that most comedy actors dream off, Austin and Angle dominated WWF TV and became a highlight of every show. Back in the ring and positioned as one of the WWF’s main men, Angle was involved in the 5-on-5 match at Invasion, which ended when Austin turned on the WWF, hitting Angle with the Stunner and causing him to get pinned. From there, Angle became the WWF’s top babyface, battling Austin in a wonderful match at SummerSlam, before finally beating the Rattlesnake for the WWF Championship at Unforgiven. He would quickly drop the title back to Austin on Raw, then go on to turn heel on the WWF and join Austin in the Alliance. Once the Alliance storyline ended, Angle remained one of the company’s top heels, however now he was programmed with one of the company’s rising stars in Edge. The two had a lengthy rivalry which benefited both men and produced some great matches. One such match, a Hair vs Hair encounter, saw Edge pick up the win and Angle lose his hair. With that rivalry over, Angle would make history by becoming the only man in WWE history to beat Hulk Hogan by submission, while also facing a certain John Cena in his debut match.
Stepping into the tag-team division, Angle won gold with Chris Benoit and become part of the famed Smackdown Six, with the show thriving under the booking of Paul Heyman. Angle soon found himself back in the singles mix, and the main event, become WWF champion for a third time at Armageddon 2002. Angle was positioned as the main man on Smackdown, away from the politics that had hampered him early on in his career, Angle was now finally the true WWE superstar that he had promised to be only three years earlier. Following a feud – and WrestleMania XIX main event – with Brock Lesnar, Angle took time off to deal with a neck injury. Many were concerned for Angle’s future, with original prognosis not looking good for him. However, Angle underwent alternative surgery that amazingly cut down his expected time on the shelf from one year to three months. A fourth WWE Title soon followed, however issues with his neck would begin to again crop up; in early 2004 he was taken out of the ring and made the General Manager of Smackdown, a role he would keep until July.
Returning to the ring at the 2005 Royal Rumble, Angle would begin a dream feud with Shawn Michaels, with the two clashing in a classic at WrestleMania 21, which Angle won. After continuing the programme with Michaels – with the blow-off coming at Vengeance – Angle faced and beat Eugene at SummerSlam. Further unsuccessful WWE Championship challenges followed, before Angle again disappeared from TV. He made a surprise return in January 2006, winning the vacant World Heavyweight championship in a battle royal on Smackdown, losing the title to Rey Mysterio in a triple threat match with Randy Orton at WrestleMania 22.
Following WrestleMania, ECW was introduced as a third brand, and Angle was moved there to help add legitimacy to the fledgling show. He was repackaged as The Wrestling Machine, and would go on to dominate the brand. As 2006 went on, Angle began to wrestling less and less, due to increasing pain caused by injuries. In August, it was announced that Angle had been released from his WWE contract, with much speculation as to the reasons for the release. Many fans saw this as a chance for Angle to take an extended break from the business and heal his increasing catalogue of injuries; Angle, however, did not believe this was required and instead quickly signed with TNA. He would stay with the company for nearly ten years, winning the TNA World championship on six occasions, wrestling his final match in March 2016.
The remainder of 2016 saw Angle work the independent circuit, before the announcement came that shocked the world and led to what we are here to talk about; the WWE Hall of Fame.
Throughout Angle’s career, one of his character’s biggest proclamations was that of his three I’s; Intensity, Integrity and Intelligence. Now, with his peers looking on, he can add a fourth; Inductee.