Bragging about his unmatched intensity, integrity, and intelligence, soon-to-be inducted WWE Hall of Famer Kurt Angle is far more than the sum of his parts as a former World Champion and the only Olympic Gold Medalist to compete for the company. Angle’s rise in the wrestling world was meteoric, fast leading to a professional career as impressive as his amateur credentials would imply. He’s wrestled hundreds of great matches as a main eventer in every country that will have him, and yet there were also enough negatives bogging things down that Angle looks like less and less of an upstanding employee the closer you look at his life.
Dozens of incredible accomplishments notwithstanding, Angle’s induction came as a huge shock to many fans for as many reasons as he deserved entry. The biggest black mark on Angle’s record was his decision to leave WWE for TNA in 2006, although there were plenty of questionable incidents before then, as well. That said, absolutely no one is going to deny Angle as a worthy entrant into the hallowed halls of wrestling history—not even the notoriously short-tempered, self-centered, and outright egomaniacal CEO of WWE.
Six World Championships in WWE, another six in TNA, and one reign with the IWGP Championship start to paint the picture, but super fans know there’s more to The Wrestling Machine than the positives. Now that Kurt Angle is literally on the path to the Hall of Fame, fans of the WWE Universe will probably be seeing a nonstop barrage of legendary moments throughout his incredible tenure with the company. For a reminder about the incidents that WWE won’t be replaying, keep reading to learn 15 things Vince McMahon wants you to forget about Kurt Angle.
15. He Turned Down WWE’s First Offer
Being a legitimate Olympic Gold Medalist in amateur wrestling, Kurt Angle entered the professional scene as arguably the most hotly anticipated free agent the industry has ever witnessed. Almost immediately after his 1996 win in Atlanta, defeating Iranian Abbas Jadidi by officials’ decision, Angle was approached by WWE and offered a contract to begin training to go pro. Although interested, there was a longstanding reputation amongst Olympic athletes that sports entertainment was beneath their talents, causing Angle’s agent to essentially rip off the offer before he could think twice about it. Rather than get an early start on his landmark career, Angle spent most of first post-Olympic career as a sportscaster on local Philadelphia networks, getting additional minor acting work when possible. Those two professions typically being part-time, Angle also worked as a marketing representative for Proto Foods. It goes without saying that when WWE contacted him again a few years later, Angle quickly accepted their offer before his agent could talk him out of it. The only downside is that fans missed two years of potential Angle classics, at a time names like the Hart Brothers and Shawn Michaels ruled the WWE Universe.
14. He Appeared In A Silly Pizza Commercial
As the last entry implied, it took Kurt a couple years to decide to jump from amateur to pro wrestling, and he took a handful of odd jobs to support himself before he made a firm decision. One of Angle’s side careers was acting, specifically the promotional variety, giving his image to advertisers no matter how silly their product. There’s no faulting a young actor/athlete for getting whatever work they can, but one of Angle’s early projects nonetheless managed to come back to haunt him, namely a television commercial for the local Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania restaurant chain Pizza Outlet. Firmly in his persona as a hapless, clean-cut Olympic, and without any hint of irony, Angle interacts with anthropomorphic pizza topics that look more disgusting than appetizing. His well-known penchant for waterworks was on displaying, the advert ending with Kurt in tears over the pizza’s beauty. The commercial was later used against Kurt when he reigned as WWE Champion, and his challenger The Rock aired it on an episode of Raw to embarrass him.
13. His Dark Family History
It isn’t always fair to blame someone for the sins of their relatives, and yet at the same time, a family history like Kurt Angle’s is too scandalous to entirely be ignored. WWE will never tell you that Kurt’s father died when he was a young man, and trainer David Schultz, his next father figure, was bizarrely murdered by eccentric billionaire John du Pont (as seen in the film Foxcatcher, minus Kurt’s relation to the story). Nor will WWE tell you about Kurt’s siblings—not his sister Le’Anne, who died of a heroin overdose in 2003, nor his oldest brother David, who plead guilty to killing his wife in 2015. Granted, neither of these horrific incidents affected Angle’s career. The night after his sister’s death, he lost the WWE Championship to Brock Lesnar, albeit in a classic 60-minute Iron Man match. Throughout his brother’s murder trial, he continued wrestling for Total Nonstop Action and putting on great matches despite facing obvious personal torment. Though Kurt’s perseverance in trying times is in a sense impressive, the reality is too dark for WWE or any other PG company to openly admit, let alone advertise.
12. His Pro Debut Was For ECW
Despite Kurt’s initial resistance to pro wrestling, the pro wrestling world had no such reservations about Kurt, repeatedly trying to court him into the squared circle until he finally acquiesced and gave sports entertainment a shot. Vince McMahon wasn’t lucky in his first attempt, but Kurt’s fellow Pittsburgh native Shane Douglas somehow convinced Angle to appear at an ECW event called High Incident, which was taped and later edited into a number of Hardcore TV episodes. Angle didn’t wrestle at the show, instead giving a short interview with Joey Styles and offering his expert commentary on a match between Taz and Little Guido, both of whom were trained amateur wrestlers, as well. It looked like things were supposed to lead towards an Angle/Taz match, but later in that same show, Raven crucified the Sandman on a barbed wire cross, offending the religious Angle so much he threatened to sue if his image appeared in the same broadcast as that match. Despite the controversy, ECW still aired the interview, albeit on a separate episode of the program than the one where they aired the match. Though he didn’t sue, Angle never appeared in ECW again (at least not the real ECW).
11. His WWE Debut Was Standing Up To Tiger Ali Singh
His Olympic credentials preceding him, it seemed appropriate that Angle’s first several months in WWE were accompanied with an amazing winning streak. Impressive as this entrance to sports entertainment was, there was a minor misstep, in that he actually debuted months before his match in an almost entirely forgotten and meaningless comedy segment on Sunday Night Heat. Befitting Heat’s reputation as a B-Show, Angle was called into the ring by Tiger Ali Singh, who praised his Olympic credentials while also decrying him for being a “typical greedy American.” In a turn on Ted DiBiase’s classic Million Dollar Man gimmick, the mysterious heir to the Tiger Jeet Singh fortune offered Angle a moderate sum of money to blow his nose with the American flag.
10. His Winning Streak Was Ended By Tazz
The Tiger Ali Singh segment erased from history, Angle re-debuted at the 1999 Survivor Series to squash Shawn Stasiak and begin that winning streak we previously mentioned. Starting against small names like Stasiak, Steve Blackman, and The Godfather, Angle soon gravitated up the card to higher level talent like Edge, Kane, and The Rock, with the asterisk that wins against the biggest victories were by disqualification. Just when it looked like he was the fastest rising star in WWE history, Angle was cut off with a devastating loss at the 2000 Royal Rumble, where he was choked out by Tazz in barely over three minutes. At the time, Tazz was fresh off a run as an absolute killer in ECW, having held the World Championship of that promotion for the better part of the prior year. Had Tazz continued to dominate wherever he went, there would be nothing embarrassing about the loss, but history played a fast one on Kurt by turning Tazz into the jokey color commentator most fans recognize today. Because of how it ended and what happened to Tazz’s career, that Kurt even went on a winning streak in the first place is often forgotten today.
9. He Got Bested By Daniel Puder
Embarrassing as it was, the fast one Tazz pulled was entirely kayfabe, which in and of itself makes it nowhere near the potential disaster that took place on an episode of SmackDown where Tough Enough competitor Daniel Puder challenged Angle to a shoot match. Angle was initially hosting a squash thrust competition, who by Chris Nawrocki, who then lost against Kurt in an impromptu match. Angle asked if anyone else wanted a shot, causing Puder to step forward and accept. The two briefly wrestled for position with Angle taking Puder down, but in the process Puder managed to lock in a kimura lock that easily could’ve broken Kurt’s arm with the right amount of pressure. Angle was saved only by the quick thinking of referee Jim Korderas, who counted to three and claimed Angle won by pin fall, despite Puder kicking out at two. The incident was embarrassing for both Angle and Puder, the former looking weak and the latter shattering his career by trying to show up a legend on television.
8. He Beat Up Santa Claus
Barely a month after Kurt had his embarrassing encounter with Daniel Puder, he had an entirely different kind of humiliating match, wrestling against Santa Claus at Armageddon 2004. Yes, you read that right—Jolly Old Saint Nick stepped into the squared circle, answering the “Angle Invitational” only to get summarily destroyed and made to tap out in a manner of seconds. There wouldn’t be anything particularly wrong with the segment if it happened on a random episode of Raw or SmackDown, but for Angle to be wasted on a Pay-Per-View in this manner is one of the most glaring reminders that WWE didn’t always understand how to use his talents. He had been on a downward spiral in importance since losing the WWE Championship to Brock Lesnar, and would remain wallowing in midcard hell for most of 2005, the same year he randomly wrestled one of the best matches of his career against Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania. Kurt finally returned to the main event in 2006 when he won the World Heavyweight Championship, though he would only hold it for three months before his career took another turn.
7. His WWE Career Ended In ECW
Shortly after his final reign as a World Champion in WWE, the company made a strange decision and drafted their highest paid superstar to their smallest brand, sending Kurt Angle to ECW. There was some logic behind the move, in that ECW needed to be reestablished as serious, and no one could do that better than the Wrestling Machine. Angle technically started his pro career in the original hardcore promotion, and die hard fans appreciated his dedication to the craft, making a natural fit. It wasn’t meant to last, though, as Angle would suffer a series of extremely painful injuries all at once, necessitating he take much needed time away from wrestling. After a number of discussions with Vince McMahon, it was allegedly mutually decided that Angle would wrestle his last televised match against Sabu on August 8, 2006, and then make his leave from the company. Angle promised to get medical attention, and McMahon made an open offer for him to come back whenever he was healthy. At least, that was the story at the time…
6. He Lied About Needing Time Off
Less than one full month after Angle announced he was leaving WWE due to serious medical issues, he swerved the world by signing a contract to compete for Total Nonstop Action. He didn’t step back in the ring for another three months, but it was still significantly faster than what he told WWE, and there were only two explanations for what was happening. Either Kurt was using drugs to fight through his problems, or he had lied to WWE about the severity of his condition. As time went on, it looked like both of the possibilities were probably true, although the point remains he broke his promise to WWE and returned to the ring way before he was ready. Three months after his WWE departure was announced, Kurt stepped into the ring to wrestle his first match with the company against Abyss, soon rising through TNA just as fast as he did WWE and becoming their top star.
5. He’s Had Serious Substance Abuse Issues
It’s a well known fact that not only did Kurt Angle take home the gold in 1996, he did so with a broken freakin’ neck. The untold part of this story is that the Olympics surprisingly allowed him to receive novocaine injections in his neck, numbing his pain enough that he could compete. The reason Angle didn’t promote this half of the story is as obvious as it is cliché: he would later discover he suffers a serious addiction to painkillers. His substance issues were at their worst after he left WWE for TNA, relying on a nonstop concoction of painkillers, alcohol, and Xanax to get out of bed and go to work. Kurt admitted to have been taking in the neighborhood of 65 Vicodin every day, with TNA doing next to nothing to stop him. Nonetheless, President Dixie Carter claimed at the time she and Kurt were upfront about his problems. One thing that’s for sure is WWE would never allow him to get in the ring while doing that many pills, making fans hopeful the return mean Kurt is finally clean.
4. He Spent More Time In TNA Than WWE
Perhaps due to the nature of his addiction problems and tumultuous personal life, the biggest shock about Kurt Angle jumping to TNA is that he never seemed to regret the decision on a professional level. Despite thinking he was the best wrestler in the world, he stuck with what was unquestionably the second best company in the country at best for a total of nine and a half years. He had previously spent only about six years and eight months with WWE, meaning the lion’s share of his incredible career wasn’t with Vince, but his competition. In all fairness to Kurt, his drug problem probably wasn’t the only issue leading him to side with the smaller promotion, as TNA also afforded him a great deal of leeway in his outside endeavors—WWE never would have let him wrestle for New Japan Pro Wrestling or AAA in Mexico. He was also treated like the top star in wrestling for longer than WWE likely would have let him, though this is also a testament to TNA’s inability to create new stars of their own. Whatever the reason, WWE will probably never acknowledge Kurt was in TNA for longer than with them, even when the inevitable career retrospective DVD gets released.
3. His Wife Left Him For Jeff Jarrett
Much like with his immediate family life, Kurt Angle shouldn’t be judged on his marital relationship alone, especially since he was never violent or harmful to his wife like some other wrestlers. It really isn’t anybody’s business but his, his ex-wife, and his ex-wife’s new husband what happened between the three of them, or at least it wouldn’t have been unless he, Karen Smedley, and Jeff Jarrett hadn’t decided to make it public by turning it into a feud for TNA. Kurt and Karen got married in December of 1998 and divorced in September 2008, with reports soon indicating that Karen almost immediately moved on to a relationship with Jarrett. TNA officials were upset at first, since Jarrett was kind of the Angle’s boss, but things glossed over enough for them to use it on television relatively peacefully. Karen and Jarrett are now married, and Kurt has likewise found new love with actress Giovanna Yannotti, whom he married in 2012. It’s great that everyone is happy today, but the messy scenario still isn’t something a PG company wants to publicize.
2. He’s Suffered Numerous Health Issues
It’s been repeatedly glossed over as this list went on, so before we’re over we might as well put a spotlight on it: Kurt Angle is not the well-oiled peak of physicality he once was. Not only have his numerous addictions caused his body to break down over time, but as you’ll recall, those addictions were generally triggered by serious injuries in the first place, something Angle’s suffered more than his fair share of. Starting with his broken neck at the 1996 Olympics, Kurt has fractured or broken various vertebrae on no less than five occasions, in addition to growing a benign tumor in the same area, experiencing spinal damage in early 2003, pulling his groin and abdominal muscles in 2006, badly injuring his knee in 2012, reinjuring that knee in 2014, and probably a few other injuries we’re forgetting about, to boot. Angle kept wrestling around the world up until his WWE return was announced, and may continue to do so in or out of the WWE Universe, and chances are whether or not his injuries are acknowledged will be determined with how much time he spends back inside the squared circle.
1. He Repeatedly Lied About His WWE Return
The announcement that Kurt Angle was coming home to WWE to get inducted into the Hall of Fame seemed like a no-brainer, and yet we wouldn’t blame anyone who didn’t believe Angle when he started bragging about it before WWE made it official. The thing is, Angle has been promising a WWE return for years now, always updating the public on his dream opponents and indicating that a comeback was just around the corner. The closest he came was in 2014, when his latest TNA contract was set to expire and he sent word to the McMahon’s he was ready to return. Angle has since given varying reports on what happened, but the accepted story is that WWE simply didn’t want him back at the time, leaving him to fend for himself in TNA. What exactly changed over the next two years isn’t clear, though a guess might be that Kurt has accepted he won’t be returning to a full-time role. If he does, we might need to write a whole new version of this list when he hurts himself in the ring…