Kurt Angle had quite the resume when he made his WWE debut as he was already an Olympic gold medalist in freestyle wrestling. That background helped fast track Angle to main event status in WWE as he won the WWF Championship within his first year in the company.
Angle discussed his meteoric rise after making his debut when he joined Broken Skulls Sessions w/ Stone Cold Steve Austin.
"They didn't tell me about [wrestling] The Rock till about three days before the RAW before the pay per view [No Mercy 2000]. But basically, they worked me up. I won the King of the Ring, the Intercontinental Title, the European Title. I'm moving forward, but now, they're taking me to the main event level and when [Vince] took me up there, I worked Undertaker, Big Show, but I was losing to them," said Angle.
"So, I thought, 'Okay, I guess this is my spot'. I'm going to be an upper card, right before the main event, and then all of a sudden, I get a call from Vince. 'Hey, you're going to wrestle The Rock in 10 days'. I was like, 'Holy s--t'. So, that was a dream come true. I'm going to beat The Rock, I'm going to be World Champion, and I'm thinking, 'I'm going to main event against Stone Cold at WrestleMania '. I really believed that! Not knowing that five months later, I would drop the title to Rock and then Stone Cold and The Rock would wrestle."
Just four months into his TV debut, Angle was a dual champion holding both the European and Intercontinental Titles. He would work with everyone from The Rock to Triple H to The Undertaker in his first year in WWE and he discussed being in the ring with those main eventers.
"I was still following. I followed my whole first year. Even when I wrestled The Rock for the World Title, I still didn't know what the hell I was doing," admitted Angle. "I didn't have the psychology, I didn't have… I had enough of it, that I knew what I had to do. But I wasn't that established, that I could be a good in-ring general leader, so I just listened, keep my mouth shut, and I think some guys might've taken advantage of me a little too much, wanting to whip my ass. But that's okay.
"So, when I wrestled The Rock and I won, I knew right then, it's time for me to sign my new contract."
At No Mercy 2000, Angle defeated The Rock in a no-DQ match for the WWF Championship. While some would see winning a title in a scripted sport as being way below winning an Olympic Gold medal, Angle sees it as otherwise.
"Well, it's not just a World Title, it's the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, so that's a big difference. I was elated. I was just as excited as when I won the Gold medal," revealed Angle. "This proved to me that I excelled in something else other than Amateur Wrestling. I don't want to say, 'Hey, I've been a wrestler my whole life and amateur and pro are the same' because they're not.
"A lot of people do understand that, some people don't understand that. But the business is much more complicated, so much more thinking, psychology, and knowing that you have to play to the crowd and show your emotions and when in Amateur wrestling, you're taught to show no emotion. Flat face, don't look at your opponents, don't look at the crowd, focus on winning, focus on pinning. That's all you do. There's no emotion. So, I had to learn how to include the crowd and become a showman and when I won the World Title, that proved I was becoming among one of the best, even though I still didn't know what the hell I was doing."
After losing the title back to The Rock a couple of months later, Angle would again challenge for the belt along with Triple H in a triple threat match at SummerSlam in 2000. He discussed Triple H's improvisation during the match when Angle was unexpectedly concussed during The Pedigree.
"He had to [improvise] because I was in a position where at SummerSlam – the triple threat between myself, The Rock and Triple H – which was my first big ass main event, we were wrestling at the beginning and Triple H pedigreed me through a table. The table broke before he did the move and he couldn't let my arms go, so I went down to the hard concrete floor with my head," said Angle.
"I got knocked down. We're talking four feet down, straight on my head with my arms behind me. Triple H had me in the pedigree and I was out. I kept trying to get up and I was snorting and he was pulling me down saying, 'Stay down'. Triple H carried me through the whole 30-minute rest of the match and I was amazed that watching it afterward, you can't even tell I had a concussion. He talked me through everything. There was a point where he was going to hit me and he actually grabbed my head and ducked my head for me so he could hit Stephanie.
"He was just so good at improvising and if something bad happened, he was well prepared."
It was also around this time that a love triangle storyline developed amongst Angle, Stephanie McMahon and Triple H. During a backstage segment Angle and Stephanie had to kiss with Vince McMahon directing the scene. Angle recalled the awkwardness of having Vince there and what Stephanie thought of his kiss.
"No improvisation. That was Vince and I'll tell you – this is what's crazy. I go in to do it, Vince is directing it, so he's in there sitting three feet away. So, what am I supposed to do? We rehearsed, I said, 'You can be here'. He's like 'Yeah, it's alright. I'm going to direct it,'" recalled Angle. "So, when I go in and I kiss her, I'm like, 'Close your mouth, close your mouth, close your mouth, make sure your mouth is closed'. So, I kiss her and I did it for a long time and when I get done – we're done with the pre-tapes – Stephanie, says, 'You kiss like a damn fish!' I said, 'What do you want me to do? Your dad's right here! I'm not going to open my mouth and kiss you for real!' Having Vince McMahon three feet away and I'm kissing his daughter, I thought I better keep my mouth shut and kiss her hard and she thought I was a horrible kisser. But Vince being there was pretty scary."
In 2001 during the Invasion storyline, Angle and Stone Cold Steve Austin formed their own alliance before Austin turned to join The Alliance. That led to a feud between the two former partners and Angle shared his thoughts on working with the Broken Skull Sessions' host.
"It was the biggest opportunity of my life. I knew I had to step up because watching you wrestle and you doing your promos and your whole character and persona, you're the reason I got into the business. I told you that, but you were also the best at it, so I knew this was a great opportunity for me, not just to learn from you, but to develop my character," said Angle.
"I didn't know it was going to help you become more of a heel! I didn't understand that stuff, but it actually did and we teamed up. I got on your nerves, and people at the beginning they liked you, because I was the one getting on your nerves and you were still Stone Cold and they weren't really accepting you as a heel. But as we kept going, you started doing some real s--t things and you and I were together and we were a team and they were like, 'You know what? I hate Austin too.' And you turned it around, which was almost impossible."
Austin and Angle infamously had a backstage skit where Angle sang Jimmy Crack Corn while playing Austin's guitar. Austin asked Angle to confirm that they recorded that segment in just one take.
"Yes, and nothing was written! It was an idea and Vince would say, 'Nobody laugh. If you laugh, I'm going to be pissed so until I yell cut, nobody laugh.' And I'm saying 95 percent of it was one take and it all just worked. It just matched together. We didn't spend a lot of time doing it," stated Angle.
At Unforgiven 2001, Angle and Austin would lock horns in Pittsburgh for Austin's WWF Championship. Angle utilized the ankle lock to make Stone Cold submit and he won his second World Title in his hometown.
After the match Angle's family and the entire locker room celebrated with him in the ring but Angle most remembers the tepid crowd response from his hometown fans. He also revealed that he wasn't originally scheduled to win the title that night.
"I don't know if it was a long night. I don't know what it was. It was cool having my mother in there, my family. Beating Stone Cold for the WWE Championship in your hometown, I didn't think it was possible. I didn't think winning a Gold medal in the Olympics was possible either, but those are my two biggest... I guess I want to say accomplishments. I loved the Hall of Fames and all that, but how I felt about you and how I looked up to you and knowing it was you, you were my favorite. You were the reason I even got in the business, but winning the Gold medal and beating Stone Cold, those are my two biggest attributes of my life," said Angle.
"But the story is and nobody knows this – I wasn't supposed to win the World Title. I called Vince a week prior to our pay-per-view and I said, 'Vince, we just had 9/11 in September. It's a month later, it's my hometown, I'm the American Hero, I'm a babyface now. I know Steve is working as a thing between baby-heel, but don't you think it would be a good time to give the fans something they might want?' And I didn't know if they wanted me to beat you, but I thought since I was babyface at the time, it'd be a good idea and Vince said, 'You have to ask Steve.' So I called you and I said, 'What do you think about this' and you said 'I'll do it' and I was like, 'Wow'. You didn't have to say that. You have no idea how grateful I am that you went unselfish and said, 'Yeah, I'll give it up to you' and I knew I wasn't going to carry it for a long time. I knew it was going be just for a night, maybe a week, but the whole point is riling the crowd up and getting the fans at home watching the pay-per-view so excited about something. Seeing an American Hero that's a babyface, that won a Gold medal in the Olympics do something right after 9/11 was just so special and important and you being unselfish was incredible."
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Steve Austin's Broken Skull Sessions with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Mehdy Labriny contributed to this article.