WWE recently announced that Kurt Angle will be headlining the 2017 Hall of Fame class, and now everyone’s talking about the Olympic gold medalist’s return. It remains to be seen if he will wrestle in a WWE ring again, but Kurt seems thrilled to be back in WWE’s good graces.
Kurt’s rise to the top of the professional wrestling industry is an interesting story to say the least. Bruce Prichard recently covered Kurt’s journey to the WWE, and his journey to the main event scene on his podcast Something To Wrestle With and he revealed some interesting details about Angle’s career. Here are a few things we learned from Bruce Prichard’s latest podcast.
#1 – Kurt’s Road To Professional Wrestling
Bruce said that Kurt Angle first came on the radar of WWE in 1996 after the Olympics when he won the gold medal with a broken freakin’ neck. Kurt didn’t want to come into professional wrestling, instead he first tried out for the Pittsburgh Steelers as a fullback in 1993, even before the Olympics. Instead of going into a practice squad for the Steelers, Kurt decided to go back into the Olympics. This is one more way how Brock Lesnar and Angle’s careers run parallel as they both tried out for their “home town” teams.
When WWE first met with Kurt in 1997 he had an agent, Dave Hawk. Kurt obviously has a great bit of loyalty in his character due to the fact that Hawk still represents Angle to this day. They first met with Vince alone, then they met with Bruce to get a feel for what he was looking for and what he knew about the business. Kurt made a comment that with him being an Olympic gold medalist, that he could never lose a match, therefore Bruce thanked him for his time and moved on. Bruce says that Kurt wasn’t all that serious about the business at first. Everybody wanted Kurt on the roster, but they only wanted him if he wanted to be there.
Instead, Kurt signed a deal with Paul Heyman in ECW and he was in the crow’s nest the night that Raven crucified Tommy Dreamer, complete with a crown of thorns on his head. Heyman claims that he had no idea they were going to do that. However, Angle was still very upset at this, threatened to sue if they showed his name on the broadcast, and instead ended up a local sportscaster and pizza endorser.
There was eventually a second meeting with Kurt Angle when Kurt reached out to WWF. JR extended to olive branch to Angle, and he decided to talk to WWF once more. Vince and JR spoke to Angle at Titan Towers and his attitude had changed significantly during the second meeting.
#2 – Angle’s Transition To Professional Wrestling
In October 1998, Kurt signed an 8-year-deal with the WWF. His contract started out as more of a developmental deal, but would later evolve to a full-time contract. They intended to train him, and turn him into a star. It was WWF’s call to sign such a lengthy contract.
Bruce said that Kurt got guaranteed money because he had a gold medal. Bruce said they always took the approach that it was usually negative if an agent was involved because there were no agents in the locker room negotiating angles and finishes, but Kurt had an agent and the idea was that they wanted to create a star in Angle, so they did.
They sent Angle to Power Pro Wrestling in Memphis to learn for a short while. He didn’t get the kind of deal that Lesnar allegedly got when signing which is said to be $250,000 a year to train, although Bruce refutes that Lesnar ever got that kind of money. Bruce did comment that Angle probably got one of the biggest developmental deals ever.
Angle trained with Tom Prichard & Dory Funk Jr in a ring inside the studio warehouse. It was very unnatural for amateur wrestlers to take a flat back bump because they’re trained as amateurs to stay off their backs, however Bruce says that Angle took to this new technique within a day. He had “it”. Bruce said that Kurt “wore Tom out” because Angle wanted to train all day.
#3 – Notes On Angle’s WWF Debut
Tiger Ali Singh called Angle in the ring and offered him money to blow his nose on the USA Flag, Angle refused and ended up suplexing him all over the ring to make his debut on WWF TV to quite a face reaction. Bruce says that Kurt’s original promos while in training sounded more like heel promos because they were all about being a clean-cut all American boy who loved milk, apple pie, and good heartedness.
The thee I’s (Intensity, Integrity, and Intelligence) was a Vince McMahon idea and Bruce says that Vince had a heavy hand in those vignettes and probably came up with the three I’s himself. Kurt’s delivery was a little demeaning when he said, “I’m the only ‘real’ athlete in the WWF” and he got some initial heat from some of the boys backstage. The gimmick got Angle over huge with the fans as well. Austin and Undertaker were a couple of those guys who didn’t appreciate the angle.
Angle’s first match on April 11th, 1999 was a dark match against Brian Christopher. Rumor and innuendo was that Christopher tried to pull one over on Kurt during the match and said that he was going to suplex him, but gave him a DDT instead. Kurt was waiting backstage and waiting to kick Brian’s ass, but Al Snow talked him down. Bruce denied this story and said that Christopher wasn’t that stupid to try and shoot with an Olympic gold medalist.
Angle had actually been doing some other dark matches before then with Dr. X, who was a masked Tom Prichard. Bruce notes that Tom brought good matches out of him and got him a little local exposure before his real WWF debut.
#4 – Angle’s Early WWF Career
Survivor Series 1999 was Angle’s official debut against Shawn Stasiak. When the crowd started chanting “boring”, Vince called an audible during the match and had Kurt grab the mic and yell at the crowd to not chant boring at an Olympic gold medalist during his match. Bruce says that Vince calls an audible like this more often than one would think by having the referee relay a message to talent to do something different than planned.
When Tazz made his debut at the 2000 Royal Rumble, he gave Angle his first loss. Kurt was not concerned that Tazz was going to shoot on him, but Bruce said that it might have been the other way around. Although, there was no real fear because Tazz is a total professional. Bruce said that the worry about either shooting is all rumor and innuendo
Kurt won the European Title from Val Venis on Feb 17th, and 17 days later won the IC Title from Chris Jericho at No Way Out. Bruce doesn’t recall whose idea it was for him to hold two belts at the same time, but the thinking was that since he was a gold medalist, Angle was a prime candidate to hold both titles.
WrestleMania 16 included a match between Angle, Benoit, and Jericho for Kurt’s European and Intercontinental Titles. In the match, Benoit won the IC Title at WM 16 when he pinned Y2J, and Jericho won the European Title by pinning Benoit, thus Angle didn’t get pinned either time but still lost both titles. This was done to wean him off the smaller belts and not have him lose heat while being primed for the WWF Title.
Kurt won the King of the Ring in his rookie year with the WWF, and he was selected to win after WrestleMania because this was the next major PPV after WM16 (aka WrestleMania 2000). KOTR was viewed as a launching pad at the tile for a WWF Title run at the time.
Bruce says that The Undertaker wasn’t too keen to work with Angle because of their conflicting styles, but when they had their first match Taker was ecstatic knowing that he could draw money with Angle.
At Summerslam 2000, Kurt took a nasty bump by a pedigree through a table; rumor is that he had a concussion. Bruce said that they didn’t have the concussion specialists at the time, but Kurt said that he was good to go and seemed coherent, so they let him go back even though it probably wasn’t a good idea at the time.
At No Mercy in 2000, Kurt won the WWF Championship from The Rock during his first year in the business. During his rookie year, Kurt Angle held the ‘Eurocontinental’ Title, won King of the Ring, and became WWF Champion. This was a ridiculously incredible push but Bruce said that it was organic, the audience bought it, so they kept it up. Bruce said that The Rock was ‘a rock’, he said Rocky was on top of the world and building everybody that he touched.
#5 – Team ECK And The Brother Switch
WWF would later put Kurt in a faction with Edge and Christian known as Team ECK which was a brainchild of Brian Gerwirtz. Gerwirtz is now working in a very predominant role for The Rock’s production company. This was done as a way for Kurt to show his natural humor. Vince would say that they don’t do comedy, they do humor.
Bruce buys into the old school phrase, “funny don’t draw money”. Prichard explains that there can be humor in an angle, but they have to be able to back it up in the ring. He said there has to be something real that people believe in, and Kurt brought that because he could back it up in the ring. Prichard says the comedy needs to stop once the bell rings.
Bruce says that the decision to switch Kurt and Eric during the Undertaker match comes from an old Houston wrestling angle featuring the Twin Devils. Bruce says that he mistook Eric for Kurt at one point, and the idea was born from there.
#6 – The 6-Man Hell In A Cell Match
Bruce Prichard went into the Armageddon 6-man Hell in a Cell match in 2000. He says that the spot where Rikishi got pushed off the cell onto a truck bed which was full of pine chips was the brainchild of Jim Ross and Michael Hayes. They had a truck there because Vince and his stooges were trying to destroy the cell with a truck.
Bruce says that Michaels and Foley set the bar so high that they felt like they had to top that. Bruce said that he hated those bumps off the cell because he wanted the boys to be safe. There was also concern about Rikishi walking on top of the cell.
Bruce confirms that Mick Foley wasn’t supposed to go through the cell during his epic encounter with Undertaker at King of the Ring 1998.
They did practice the Rikishi bump prior in the day but he wasn’t landing on just pine chips. Daddy Uso also had a crash pad to land on that was buried under the bed of pine chips. This spot was also done as a way to get Rikishi off of television for a little while.
Bruce said that he always discouraged talent from doing dangerous moves such as Kurt Angle’s moonsault off the top of the cage and would often try to convince Kurt to rethink the move. Even when Bruce and Kurt’s paths crossed in TNA, Prichard continued to try and convince Angle to avoid such risky spots.
#7 – The Shane McMahon Match
The Shane McMahon match at King of the Ring was a huge moment in WWF history and it was also a hot topic of conversation during this podcast. Kurt had three matches that night. He had a match with Christian that lasted 8 minutes, a contest with Edge that lasted 10 minutes, and he topped it off with a match with Shane that lasted 26 mins.
Kurt wrestled the whole match with a broken freakin’ tail bone when Shane McMahon hit him with a belly to belly suplex on the floor in one of the match’s first hard spots.
Prichard said that they never intended to buy sugar glass, but the material they used was not plexiglass. They couldn’t use sugar glass because the pyro throughout the night would have shattered it due to the heat and concussions of the blasts.
The glass they used was made to break, but they painted the glass with a double coat which caused the glass to be “damn near unbreakable.”
Bruce says it was difficult to watch backstage. Bruce went on to say that he was 10 feet from the action, Vince was right next to him calling the spots and relaying messages to the referee. Prichard says it was one of the most uncomfortable moment he’s ever had in his life being right next to Vince during that match.
The only person McMahon could communicate with was Bruce, and he was the only person Vince could take his aggression out on during the match. Prichard says it was scary and they couldn’t do much of anything about what was unfolding in front of them during the bout.
Bruce says that he told the referee to stop the glass breaking spot, and the ref relayed the message but Kurt and Shane obviously didn’t listen. Vince and Bruce didn’t speak at all that night after the event. The next day at Raw, even though Bruce tried to stay away from Vince, Jim Ross went to Bruce and told him that the boss wanted to talk to him.
Bruce says that JR was asked to leave the meeting just leaving Vince and himself alone in the room. Prichard says that Vince told Bruce, “Hey, I owe you an apology, pal.” Vince continued to say that he never should have yelled at Bruce like that during the Shane/Angle match. Bruce said that Vince told him, “goddamnit Bruce, when I get like that you just need to shut me down, with everything we’ve been through we have that kind of relationship, you need to tell me: Vince, you’re being an asshole, knock it off'”.
Bruce thought that sounded more like a rib but they hugged it out and everything was great until the next time something went wrong. Neither Kurt or Shane stayed overnight in a medical facility, but they did go just to make sure nothing was broken.
#8 – A Little Bit About Steve Austin And Kurt Angle
Bruce says that a lot of the humor in the segments featuring Austin and Angle was a collaborative effort. Bruce says that Austin was in an airport and saw a child’s hat in a gift shop, and he bought the miniature cowboy hat for the iconic segment was even highlighted in Angle’s recent Hall of Fame induction video package.
Bruce says that when Angle showed up to interrupt the ‘Steve Austin Appreciation Night’ with a truck full of milk, that segment was a call back to Austin’s beer shooting moment. Bruce says that they used real milk.
When Conrad asks if this was a bad idea, Prichard makes a comparison to when they used a real septic tank to spray all over the ring when Eddie Guerrero sprayed Big Show in 2004. Although it was fake sewage being shot through the hose, they did use a real septic truck that they were unable to fully clean, therefore yeah… badness.
There are many more topics covered in this podcast (I’m not giving the whole three hours away, trust me). Other topics include the whole story about when Kurt Angle kidnapped Steve Austin which concludes with Bruce explaining that “if you dump someone in a kiddie pool, it’s gonna draw money.” They also cover how the 9/11 terrorist attacks changed creative plans.
Bruce talks about the fact that some of the most fun he’s ever had in the business was when he produced the Kurt and Austin comedic skits, and he explains why they did these skits instead of having them working matches.
Check back tomorrow for part two of this article, and you can check out the latest episode of Something To Wrestle With below.