By now, most wrestling fans are aware that Kurt Angle won an Olympic gold medal with a “broken friggin’ neck.” But they may not be aware that Angle broke his neck multiple times in his career, with most of those coming while with WWE.
One of those came in 2003, which led to Angle taking time off for surgery after WrestleMania XIX. He discussed his 2003 neck injury when he joined Broken Skulls Sessions w/ Stone Cold Steve Austin.
“I basically got kind of like a ‘fix you up real quick’ the last few years, and I had to do it two more times. I just had been putting off the inevitable, but yeah, I did that and it worked. I mean, I came back and what happened was Brock Lesnar ? I was on his back and had him in a chokehold,” recalled Angle. “He ran full speed across the ring and he tried to turn his back to the turnbuckle, and we only got sideways and my neck snapped. And he was fast; he ran fast and he was powerful.
“My neck just snapped with three broken vertebrae. It was bad. I couldn’t lift my arm the next day and I can’t work. I went to a gym and I couldn’t lift a 10-pound dumbbell. I’m like, ‘Oh my God. I got to get back home!’ So, they sent me home and I was going to have surgery, and then I called Vince and said, ‘Hey, you want me to wrestle Brock at Mania before I have the surgery?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’
“So, I got the doctor to clear me and he let me wrestle. And then, the next day after WrestleMania [XIX], I had the surgery.”
That WrestleMania XIX match was for Angle’s WWE Championship, and Lesnar would walk out with the title. The spot that everyone remembers from that match was Lesnar botching a Shooting Star Press which concussed him and left both competitors seriously hurt during and after the match.
“You know, I wasn’t supposed to lose there. I was supposed to keep my title for a while,” stated Angle. “But with the neck ? hand it to Brock ? he’d only been in the business and on TV six months prior. He was doing that finish [Shooting Star Press] in OVW. It was both of our faults. I agreed to it, and it just wasn’t a smart decision.”
Angle and Lesnar share something in common that very few others on this planet share as they were both NCAA Champions in amateur wrestling. Angle shared a story of the two of them locking up amateur style after some encouragement from the boys in the back.
“Well, I had a lot of respect for Brock. When he came in, the boys were joking with him, telling Brock, ‘Hey, you’re not an Olympic Gold Medalist. You’re an NCAA Champion. How would you do against Kurt?’ And Brock said, ‘I would whip his ass,’ and then they told me,” stated Angle. “I would’ve said the same thing if I was Brock. So now, the pressure is on me. I got to go confront Brock and say, ‘What would happen if you and I wrestled?’ There’s a big difference between Olympic gold and the NCAA. Anybody with the right frame of mind knows that, but if you’re not a fan of Amateur Wrestling, you don’t know the difference between Olympic Gold Medal and NCAA. An NCAA Champion is great, don’t get me wrong. It’s awesome, but there’s a big difference.
“Brock is a big man; he’s probably 60-70 pounds heavier than me. I was around 215-220. He’s probably around 280 [at the time]. So, I knew the size difference, and the crazy thing is that bastard is as quick as I am. He’s an animal! But what I had was experience and positioning, so there wasn’t really anything that Brock can do to score on me. So, I would just stay patient. And we had the match, and it was really close. I never admitted to kicking his ass and all that, but I scored a takedown on him, and that was the end of it. It was one takedown, so it wasn’t anything big, but I showed the boys that at least I was as tough as Brock, maybe a little bit tougher.”
Shortly after his feud with Lesnar and his return from neck surgery, Angle became embroiled in a feud with Eddie Guerrero. The two locked up at WrestleMania XX and SummerSlam, and Angle discussed his relationship with Guerrero.
“Eddie and I, we had a brother relationship. We fought and we loved. We would hug each other after matches, and some nights, we would yell at each other. There was one night we had a fight. But when Eddie got in the car wreck when he was in WCW, he came to WWE and he wasn’t the same Eddie,” said Angle. “Though he had more success in WWE than in WCW, he wasn’t the same Eddie Guerrero in that ring, and anybody that says any different, they’re lying. But what he did was become an established main eventer here, and it was a blessing because the injury he sustained in WCW in that car wreck, there was no way he was going to be the top Cruiserweight Champion anymore because he didn’t have the ability, because he had a broken hip and all of that stuff. His back and everything was messed up.
“So, Eddie wasn’t the same, but he was still such a great worker with the psychology. He had everything else, but he would get frustrated some nights because he couldn’t get moving. I didn’t know it was his heart. Nobody knew it was his heart. There were nights where he would blow up right away, and he couldn’t catch his breath and stay with me, and then some nights, he was on fire. So, I didn’t know if it was just something personal or if he was just too old or too beat up, but he had a bad heart.”
Angle mentioned that he and Guerrero had a fight once, and it turns out they didn’t just fight once, but multiple times in the same night.
“He had to [have a bad heart] because the night we got into the fight, he attacked me for stiffing him and I didn’t touch him. But he came back, and I did the whole, ‘Thank you Eddie for the night’, and he pushed me and said, ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’ And I’m like, ‘I didn’t touch you Eddie’. He’s like, ‘Yes, you did! You were stiffing me out there!’ And I said, ‘Eddie, I’m not going to fight you right now.’ And he pushes me again. I said, ‘If you do that again, we’re going to fight,’ and he goes and leg dives me! He leg dives me, and I put him in a chokehold and started choking him out, and then Big Show comes, and this is what pissed me off, and gave me the little guy syndrome,” recalled Angle.
“Big Show grabbed me by my tights, the back of my tights, and picked me up like I was a little kid. He grabbed Eddie by his, sat me on one side of the room, and sat Eddie on the other! And I got up, I said, ‘Don’t you ever touch me like that again,’ but then I calmed down. Eddie was in the locker room; he was still upset. I came in and said, ‘Eddie, I’m sorry. Can we end this?’ He said, ‘I’m not ready to,’ so we started fighting again! I attacked him, I double legged him, I got him down. Big Show was there again. So, we got into two fights that night because he didn’t want to make peace, and I was pretty pissed off that he was accusing me of stiffing him. But I honestly believe that Eddie Guerrero – we had a classic match at WrestleMania [XX]. It maybe could have been better, but Eddie wasn’t the same. His body was messed up ? his heart ? he was having a lot of problems with it. He died of a heart attack; we know that.
“I just know there were times during the day that Eddie – he was white. He didn’t look good. But whenever he would walk through that curtain, he was on! It was just sad to see how much he suffered during the day and at night, as compared to when he would perform. It was almost like he was living just to perform. There was a lot of stress in his life. Eddie was going through a hard time. So, I don’t know if that stress added up and ending up causing Eddie’s life. I don’t know.
“Oh, I loved Eddie. We had a lot of fights and arguments. We loved each other, we hated each other. It was just one of those brother things.”
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.