In today’s era of pro wrestling, promotions like WWE reaching out to athletes in other sports to gauge their ability to convert into Superstars is nothing new. But in the 1990s this wasn’t a common practice so many people were skeptical when WWE tried to make an amateur wrestler in Kurt Angle a pro wrestler.
After winning a gold medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics, Angle recalled WWE and Vince McMahon reaching out to him on Broken Skulls Sessions w/ Stone Cold Steve Austin.
“[Vince] reached out to me right away. He gave me a nice deal, a ten-year deal, and a multi-million-dollar contract. I was relatively surprised,” admitted Angle. “Well, for me, it was a lot. it was 500 [thousand dollars] a year for 10 years. It was overwhelming because I didn’t make any money up until then. I mean, all I did was train for the Olympics. That was my life so it was hard to pass.
“But my agent at the time said, ‘You’re not doing this fake crap’ and I was like, ‘I could be a wrestling coach or for the next four years, I’ll do the appearances and make as much money as I can. But once the Olympics is over, it kind of dies down.’ So, I left my agent a couple of years after and I contacted WWE and they did not give me the same contract. They told me I have to work my way up. I have to try out.”
After turning down WWE’s initial 10-year offer in 1996, Angle had to work his way up the ladder and had to try out when he contacted WWE two years later. He discussed his relationship with Vince McMahon and a regret he has from early in his career.
“Well, with Vince, it was always good. The good thing about him is he not only gave me good advice, he treated me well. He pulled me aside, he’d tell me when did I screw up and he would correct me. I know he had this with a lot of people, but I felt like I had a father-son relationship and I liked it,” revealed Angle. “The only thing I didn’t like about it is I wasn’t that business savvy. So sometimes, I didn’t think I got as much as I should have and because they came up with my character and my everything, I didn’t have ideas for merchandise. ‘It’s true. It’s true’ worked, but they couldn’t use Olympics. They couldn’t use the Gold medal.
“One day, Vince told me ? I said I wanted to make more money with merch. He said, ‘You can’t’. I said, ‘Why not?’ He said, ‘Well, we can’t use the word Olympics and we can’t do anything with Gold medals. So, I pay you to wrestle.’ And I said, ‘Well, I liked to get paid more to wrestle’. But I didn’t have a business mind and I wish I would have come with it. You [Steve Austin] did, Cena did, The Rock did. It seemed like you guys knew exactly what to do at the right times. I didn’t do that.”
In 2006 Angle’s body began to break down and he was struggling both physically and mentally. He was working hurt and never gave his body time to heal which ultimately led to him requesting his WWE release which was granted. He recalled everything going on at that time and being burnt out from his time in WWE.
“The injuries, especially the neck, I was having knee, groin, back, hamstring. It was just something every week. I was still traveling; I was still working. I started taking the pain killers and then, two wasn’t working, went to four, went to eight, just kept getting higher and higher,” revealed Angle. “And I got so out of control and then, I was able to pull it back right before that Mania [XIX] and my sister dies of a heroin overdose and that put me back on it. And then I ended up injuring my neck again and I told Vince. I was sending Vince text messages that I was going to beat the s–t out of him when I saw him. ‘Why aren’t you answering my calls?’ I mean, I was taking like 20 Percocets at night and a couple of Xanax and a Soma and I don’t remember texting Vince.
“Back then, it wasn’t that hard to get pills. You just had to call a doctor and say, ‘Hey, get me a script’. So, I got myself in trouble after my sister OD’d and I’m spiraling out of control. I break my neck again for the fifth time, four in WWE and I wrestled Undertaker with my neck broken in ’06, No Way Out, and I had one of my best matches. But that was it. After that was the main event at Mania  with Rey Mysterio and Randy Orton for the World Title. Then Vince wanted to put me in ECW and that’s where it all unraveled. I decided I didn’t want to be there anymore.”
Angle was drafted to the ECW brand in May 2006 but would wrestle just a handful more matches before asking for his release in August.
“I decided to get out. I was calling Vince, texting him, and I told Vince, ‘We need to talk’ and he wouldn’t get back to me. I don’t know why, so I was threatening him and so when I went to quit, he had all these text messages of everything,” said Angle.
“He didn’t want to release me. He wanted me to go to rehab and come back in six months and I just felt like I had to break away. I felt like I was trapped and if I didn’t get out of this situation, something really bad was going to happen. I told Vince, ‘I hate to say this, but if you don’t release me, I think I’m going to kill myself’. I didn’t mean I was going to go and shoot myself in the head. I mean, I think I’m going to accidentally kill myself and Vince right away said, ‘You’re released. I’ll give you advice. Go to rehab and we’ll circle back in six months and we’ll get you a new deal’ and I felt like my time was done there. I felt like I needed to move on and so I went to TNA.”
McMahon apparently had plans for Angle down the line and Angle was asked if he knew what those plans were.
“I don’t know what Vince’s plans were. I feel like he had a sense that I was starting to spiral out of control. I feel like I wasn’t his guy anymore,” admitted Angle. “I feel like Cena became his guy and it all occurred when you had a movie and you left the company and Vince came to me and told me I had the part and he said, ‘You’re good.’ And I thought, ‘This is great! I can take a six-month break from wrestling! I get myself clean! I can go do this movie and I can come back refreshed!’ And then Vince comes back to me and says, ‘Hey, I gave Cena it’. He said it like four months later and I was like, ‘Why?! I want to go and get clean! I want a break from here because I’m injured everywhere!’
“The day before I quit, I went to a production meeting. I walked up to the front where Vince and the people were and I pulled my pants down to my knees. Balls are showing! Big black and blue mark all across my groin area, all the way down to my hamstring, up to my groin and stomach. I tore three muscles the night before at a house show. That night for RAW, I was supposed to do a Triple Threat Ladder Match and I walked in and I just wanted Vince to see what’s going on and why I’m so unhappy. And I went in that meeting with ass showing to the people in the back!
“He’s like, ‘Woah, I guess you want to talk?’ I say, ‘Yeah’. He’s like, ‘Okay, come to my office’. I said, ‘Not here. I need to talk to you in Stamford at the headquarters.’ He said, ‘Alright, set it up and we will meet this week’ and that was it. That’s when I had the meeting.”
As Angle mentioned earlier, because of all the pain he was in on a daily basis, he was taking way over the recommended allowance of pain pills. Stone Cold asked him what he’s thinking when taking 20 Percocets a day.
“I don’t know. I don’t even take them with water. I just crunch them in my mouth and swallow them,” revealed Angle.
“I’m so amped up as it is, that sometimes it takes a lot to pull me down. I just wanted to rest. There was one night that I OD’d ? took like eight Soma all through the night. I have one day off and I couldn’t sleep and I just kept taking two every hour. I didn’t wake up and it became a situation and Vince and I had a meeting again! He’s like, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘Vince, I just couldn’t sleep’. Do you know what he told me? The best advice in the world. He said, ‘F— sleep. If you can’t sleep tonight, you’ll sleep tomorrow night. If you can’t sleep tomorrow night, you’ll sleep the next night. Don’t do it again.’
“And so, I didn’t, but I was injured a lot and I was suffering with the painkillers. I had my sister die and I think the next day, I wrestled an Iron Man Match. I was all freaked out wrestling Brock in this match, I’m thinking about my sister the whole time. That night, I threw down a bunch of pills and things were real ugly for me in those years and the thing that upsets me is people think that I was high when I was wrestling. I didn’t get high when I wrestled. I got high when I was done. So, it wasn’t ‘Perc Angle’ that was out there, it was me. It’s just really insulting to hear fans say, ‘Oh, that’s because he was perked up. He didn’t know what he was doing.’ Could you imagine wrestling perked up? It’d be a disaster. People don’t understand.”
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.