Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Kurt Angle wrestles on.

Olympic medalist to caged meat

Pro wrestler Kurt Angle, a Pittsburgh native who now grapples on the Total Nonstop Action circuit, talks candidly about the taint of steroids. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Pro wrestler Kurt Angle, a Pittsburgh native who now grapples on the Total Nonstop Action circuit, talks candidly about the taint of steroids. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)Read more

Pro wrestler Kurt Angle is in town promoting Lockdown, the April 19 pay-per-view event taking place at the Liacouras Center.

He's sitting outside the studio after an interview at Power 99, mashing out e-mails on a BlackBerry with his thick thumbs.

Squeezed into a pinstripe formal business suit, the hulking 215-pound athlete looks like a bulldog in a sailor's costume. One thing's for sure: The garment isn't off the rack.

"I'm listed at 6-feet-2," he says in his deep ashcan voice. "Everyone in wrestling is four inches shorter than the program says they are."

In case you hadn't noticed, professional wrestling is outsized. It's also overdemanding.

As the Johnny Pin Lately of the sport, Total Nonstop Action, the circuit Angle wrestles for, has to hustle even harder to gain ground on the dominant WWE.

That means taping weekly cable matches at its Orlando studio (shown Thursdays at 9 p.m. on Spike TV), staging three untelevised programs a week in smaller towns, and turning out a monthly pay-per-view event.

As the TNA's marquee talent and biggest draw, Angle is called upon to take part in all of it.

"It's very grueling," he says. "There's no time off. We don't have an off-season. That's why it's so difficult on wrestlers. That's why they break down physically.

"They try to rotate them in and out so nobody gets burned out," he says. "Except for me."

Lockdown, featuring Angle, Sting, Mick Foley, Kevin Nash, Booker T, A.J. Styles, and others, is a particularly demanding and acrobatic display. The TNA boasts that it's "the only pay-per-view in professional wrestling where every match takes place inside the barbaric Six Sides of Steel cage!"

Taking your lumps is a big part of the job description for Angle and his brawling brethren. The tricky part is figuring out how many you can take.

"I'm getting too old for this," he concedes. "I'm 40 and I've got 32 years of wrestling, quote unquote, amateur and pro, under my belt," he says, giving his victory digits a workout.

It's the first part of that resume, the amateur designation, that sets Angle apart. He was a singularly distinguished heavyweight at both the collegiate and international levels. Angle won two NCAA titles before taking the world championship and the Olympic gold medal in consecutive years in 1995 and 1996.

Growing up in Pittsburgh with four older brothers, Angle bear-hugged the sport at age 8 and never relinquished his grip. His father, Dave, was always there to cheer him on until he died in a construction accident when Angle was 16.

As a boy, he wasn't a big fan of pro wrestling's Big Top atmosphere, with two exceptions.

"Roddy Piper intrigued me. He was always funny," Angle says. "The other wrestler I liked was Paul Orndorff. If those two weren't on, I really wouldn't watch."

After winning the state title as a senior at Mount Lebanon high school, Angle was offered a scholarship to wrestling powerhouse Oklahoma State, but he wanted to stay in Pennsylvania and enrolled at Clarion University.

Tragedy struck while he was preparing for the 1996 Olympic Games when his coach, Dave Schultz, was shot and killed by John du Pont, the multimillionaire who had built and financed the Foxcatcher training facility on his estate in Newtown Square.

"Dave was a wrestling machine and a wrestling library," says Angle, a frequent visitor at Foxcatcher. "He knew nine different languages just so he could learn techniques from people in other countries."

Shortly after his Olympic win over Iranian heavyweight Abbas Jadidi (you can see the bruising overtime match at pQ17NKEQ69A), Angle retired from the sport.

"I was done," he explains. "I just wanted to get out. I was tired of the training."

After trying his hand at a couple of professions, Angle discovered his second calling.

"I turned on Raw in 1998 and watched Stone Cold Steve Austin and Mick Foley and the Rock and I thought, 'Wow, that's kind of cool. I could do that,' " he says. "I called the WWE and they said, 'Why don't you come up and try out?' "

Signing a bona fide wrestler of Angle's reputation gave the WWE a real brass knuckle in the tunic.

"He helped give [pro] wrestling a new face," says Jeff Ruoss, managing editor of Pro Wrestling Illustrated. "With his personality and his legitimate background, an Olympic medal winner, he gave wrestling someone that had that clean All-American image."

Quickly adapting to his new theatrical surroundings, Angle dominated the WWE's weekly Sturm und Drang before running afoul of Vince McMahon, the brand's actively overinvolved chairman.

Angle was fined and suspended by the WWE for steroid use in 2006.

"Have I used steroids before? Yes, I have, after I broke my neck and lost three inches in this arm and 21/2 in the other from loss of circulation," says the wrestler, who has battled through a number of serious neck injuries.

"But I paid the price, both financially - I got fined $125,000 - and reputation-wise," he says. "I was a pure athlete, an Olympic champion. And all of a sudden, I'm like Kurt Angle the cheater? It really sucked.

"You can test me right now," he adds defiantly. "I'll come up clean. But there was a time when I did it."

Before the furor had died down, Angle announced he was leaving the WWE. He has subsequently stated that there were other reasons for his departure, specifically an addiction to painkillers. McMahon, he says, refused to give him time off to seek treatment. The wrestling organization remembers it differently "The WWE let Kurt Angle out of his contract because he refused to go to rehab," a spokesman said yesterday.

"After Angle left, WWE claimed he was released because of his erratic behavior," says James Caldwell, editor of the wrestling Web site by e-mail.

Two months later, Angle announced he was joining TNA's start-up circuit.

"Angle officially 'put TNA on the map,' " Caldwell says. His signing "led to other big names in the wrestling industry, such as Booker T and Sting, joining TNA on a regular schedule."

Now Angle finds himself working harder than ever to make his league competitive. He's frustrated by diminished TV exposure.

"A lot of people come up to me and say, 'Kurt, what are you doing now?' I say, 'I'm wrestling.' "

What else would Kurt Angle be doing?