One of the best American athletes at any level, Kurt Angle is synonymous with professional wrestling and the Olympics. Bet you probably didn't know he's also on a heavy metal album cover.
Angle, the only Olympic gold medalist in the history of pro wrestling by virtue of his freestyle win at the 1996 Atlanta Games, will be in San Antonio this weekend along with a host of other wrestling superstars when Total Nonstop Action makes its Alamo City debut Sunday, March 10, at the Alamodome. And it's not even for TNA's weekly IMPACT program. In case you haven't heard, things are done bigger in Texas, and TNA has taken notice by bringing its most brutal pay-per-view of the year in the form of "Lockdown."
Several of TNA's talent will be signing autographs and posing for photos Saturday, March 9 during Fan InterAction before taking part in cage matches inside a 15-foot-high steel structure at "Lockdown" (details at bottom). Angle will be in one of them against Wes Brisco.
Also an actor and advocate of healthy foods at his website kurtanglefoods.com, Angle, 44, is on the cover of metalcore band Emmure's 2008 CD The Respect Issue. Emmure was part of last summer's Trespass America festival, along with Five Finger Death Punch, Killswitch Engage, Trivium, Pop Evil, God Forbid and Battlecross, that came to Freeman Coliseum (review in blue at bottom). The Pittsburgh native, also a two-time NCAA champion who is one of the most outspoken opponents of the International Olympic Committee's recent proposal to drop wrestling for the 2020 Olympics, spoke about it all with me by phone hours before last Thursday night's IMPACT telecast:
Q: You are on the album cover of Emmure's The Respect Issue from 2008, but you're pictured as a boxer. How did that come about?
A: They just came to me, and they wanted to use my face. They flew me to Chicago, to Victory Records. They told me to put some tape on my hand. They actually dressed me up. They wanted me to hit the punching bag. I actually did two covers. I didn't know about the second one till this year. They used some old footage, some film they had. I don't know how that happened, and I won't be expecting a check in the mail. But it was a good deal. They paid me very well, thank God. I was proud. Their music -- obviously they've become better and more popular. You have to really be into different kind of music, and they actually do a very good job with what they do. They're great performers.
Q: You're no stranger to cage matches, and you'll be opposing Wes Brisco at "Lockdown." How do you prepare differently for cage matches, if at all?
A: You don't really. There's nothing you can really practice. I've never gotten into the cage where we've practiced anything that I've done. Cage matches are supposed to be graphic struggles. It's a lot different. Use the cage as a weapon; you catapult yourself. It's really how creative you get. You just go out there and pray to God that what you do is good and that nobody gets hurt.
Q: When TNA decided to take IMPACT on the road and grace us with their first ever pay-per-view in San Antonio, was that as big a deal for you and the rest of the talent as it is for the fans?
A: Yeah, we've always tried to take the next step, and it just seemed like the right time. We're no longer doing TV (every week) from Orlando. We're traveling to big cities every week instead of taping in one arena at Universal Studios. This is why I went to TNA -- to help build the company.
Q: Do you have any special memories of performing here in the past?
A: I've been there so many times. Wrestling (the late) Eddie Guerrero -- I can't remember any other match in particular. But man, he was a fun match to have there; obviously there are so many Eddie Guerrero fans down there in San Antonio. I went there quite a bit with WWE. We were there three, four times a year. It was such a great market for us.
Q: Your Wrestlemania XIX match with Brock Lesnar and your suplex of Shane McMahon through a glass door still resonate with fans today. Are those your two most memorable professional matches?
A: Shane's match, I actually don't remember it. And Brock -- to the fans, it probably was an amazing match, but to me and Brock, we didn't live up to what our expectations were. So, even though a lot of people probably thought it was a good match, him and I looked at it as, "That was a good match, but we could've done better." But, you know, I'm not going to take away from the fact that it was still an amazing match and it was the main event at Wrestlemania XIX. But comparing it to me and Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 20 . . . I believe it was 21. I can't quite remember the dates, but I know it was L.A. I still don't remember the Shane match. I got a concussion the first match of that night with Christian. I had Christian, Edge, and then I had Shane, so I had a long night. Shane and I ended up in the hospital that night. I do recall being in the hospital.
Q: You've always been one of the most respected wrestlers, by fans and within the industry. The "You Suck" chants (in WWE) were a unique part of that. Obviously you're still respected to this day, but do you miss that type of adulation that nobody else had?
A: Of course, of course! It was part of an era that, I wouldn't say we were spoiled, but we were working at the top with the whole place packed and sold out every night. Even though WWE today, they still do phenomenal, but that was when me and Rock, ("Stone Cold" Steve) Austin, Triple H, Undertaker were headlining at the time. But, I do miss it. Those kind of crowds. Not that it eats me away, but I know I'm here (in TNA) for a different purpose, and that is to try and get this company to a level where they do have that. Whether it be in my career or after my career, I just want to be a small part of the building process.
Q: How many neck surgeries have you had?
A: Well, I broke my neck five times. I only had two surgeries. And both times, it was due to Brock Lesnar.
Q: You wouldn't be back in the ring these days if you weren't 100 percent, but is it something that weighs in the back of your mind every time you step in, especially for a cage match coming up?
A: No, thank God my neck hasn't given me any problems in seven years. I broke it in early 2006, but I still went on, and I wrestled Undertaker and Austin in a submission match. And then I wrestled against (Rey) Mysterio and (Randy) Orton with my neck broken. And then I went to TNA. So I haven't had any problems. First year or two, I had that fear, but now, I don't think about my neck anymore. I think more about my joints. The older you get, the more sore you get every day. But I'm still able to go. As long as I can keep doing that, I'll keep wrestling. If I start losing a step, I don't want to be around. You don't want people watching wrestling thinking, "He used to be great. Now, I'm just waiting for him to get through the match." I don't want to be that type of wrestler.
Q: I've gotta know, did Jack Swagger rip off the ankle lock from you?
A: Alright, first of all, I've never claimed that I created the ankle lock (chuckling). It was (Ken) Shamrock's. But when Shamrock retired, I took it. Yeah, I can't blame Swagger. WWE wanted him to maybe replace me. I know he's "The real American" now. I think what they did was they tried to take my character and alter it a little bit. Create him to kind of replace me. But that's OK. I look at it as a compliment. I just hope to God he does it right (laughs).
Q: You are as good an authority as any to discuss the IOC decision. What's the most disappointing aspect of it to you?
A: It's disappointing because more than anything, it's embarrassing. I really never thought, and I believe the president of FILA -- which is international wrestling -- I don't think he ever thought wrestling would be put on the table to be dropped. We did make some mistakes. At the IOC meeting, there was nobody there to represent wrestling. I think that has a lot to do with it. No one thought that they would ever consider dropping wrestling -- the oldest sport in the world. Over 120 countries actually wrestle. It's so competitive right now, there's no country dominating anymore. Russia's not dominating, we're not dominating. Everyone's getting one or two medals each, so there are a lot of countries that are very disappointed. There are sports that were brought on the table before wrestling that are being saved. In particular the pentathlon, which is a dying sport. Wrestling is not a dying sport. The participation base is hotter now. Since 1980, it has gone up dramatically. The second sport they threw on the table was badminton, and I don't know how that got saved! I heard that a country in Asia threw a bunch of money at the IOC, and they saved it. So if it's politics and money, I'm not concerned. I know Russia will put whatever amount of money on the table to save it. So if it's money they want, they're going to get money. Everybody thinks it's been dropped, but it hasn't (a vote will be made in September for wrestling and six other sports to battle for the final spot). I got an email from one of my friends that was an Olympic gold medalist. He has a website, and he was saying to give donations. And I'm thinking, "Why are we giving donations?" I don't mind giving a buck or two, but is that what we're doing? Are we buying our way back in? If that's what we have to do, then I guess we're going to do it, but then the IOC is no longer traditional. And if all they care about is money, then you gotta do what they want you to do. That's all I can say.
Q: If this decision had been made for the '96 Games while you were training leading up to it, what would you have gone on to do?
A: Oh, God! I can't imagine. Right now, you're looking at the high school wrestlers, early college wrestlers. I can't imagine how they're feeling because I knew growing up that's what I wanted to do. Since I was 7 years old, I wanted to be an Olympic gold medalist. I looked up to Dan Gable, Bruce Baumgartner -- all the great wrestlers. You name it. I knew who they were, and that's who I wanted to be. To have their dreams at least threatened to be shattered, I can't imagine how they're feeling. I sympathize with them because they're just taking it away. Thank God we're always going to have the world championships every year, but the Olympics are still the Olympics. It's the biggest and greatest grandstand of sports. The whole world's involved, and everybody's watching. I don't know what to feel. I just know my heart breaks for them. I believe that we'll get it back, but this idea that thinking in your mind as a senior in high school that "there won't be an Olympics when I graduate college," it's terrifying because a lot of those kids, that's what they're shooting for. Every level you take, you realize you're getting better. The next level is harder. Any of these guys that jump up to that challenge, to feel like you don't have anything to shoot for -- I believe they do, regardless -- but still. It's the Olympics. I'd rather be an Olympic gold medalist than a world champion. Even though I'm both. I won the worlds in '95 and a gold medal in 1996. Obviously, I'd pick the Olympics over the worlds anytime.
Q: You mentioned Gable, and I had the pleasure of covering three of his national championship teams in the early '90s when I was at Iowa, which means you and I were in college at the same time. I covered two of your NCAA finals matches: '91 and '92. I believe you were runner-up in '91 and . . .
A: Yeah, I beat him (Jon Llewellyn of Illinois) 13-2 the year before. I ended up having a knee injury. I had to have surgery on it, but I held off until after the qualifiers and the NCAAs. That was the worst loss of my life. It still eats me alive. A guy you had dominated the year before ends up beating you. That killed me.
Q: I know you beat (North Carolina State and eventual pro) Sylvester Terkay in '92, and I believe you won it all in 1990 too.
A: Yeah, I won in 1990; '91 my only loss was to Llewellyn.
Q: Does one of those three finals matches stick out more for any reason?
A: Yeah, yeah. You know -- the one that I lost. Because it woke me up. I went in there not believing I could win. I was just happy to be in the finals. And after the match, I was like, "Wow. I actually could've beaten him if I would've believed it." Even with one leg. That's why it eats me alive. The '92 finals, the reason that's memorable is that Terkay had three losses in college, and they were all to me. The first one was the semis my junior year in '91, and then I beat him twice my senior year. Once at the beginning of the year and once in the finals. I weighed 199 pounds, so I was the first wrestler ever in the heavyweight division to win the national title under 200 pounds. That's what keeps in my memory more than anything -- how small I was.
Q: Switching gears a bit before I let you go: what makes Angle Foods different from other food products?
A: It's just healthier. Having the flavor of regular food, but it's higher protein, higher fiber. Lower fats, lower carbohydrates. We found a way to make the protein and fiber content higher, and it actually worked tremendously well. You can go to kurtanglefoods.com and order online. It's all healthy. Brown rice, chicken, salmon.
- WHAT: Lockdown Fan InterAction autograph/photo session
- WHEN: Saturday, March 9
- WHERE: Texas Ballroom; Crowne Plaza San Antonio Riverwalk (111 E. Pecan St.)
- TICKETS: $129 here
- MEET THE TALENT: (10:30 a.m.-noon): Austin Aries, Bobby Roode, Bully Ray, Christopher Daniels, Gail Kim, Robbie E, Joseph Park, Kazarian, Magnus, ODB, "Iron" Mike Tenay, Todd Keneley, Earl Hebner, Brian Hebner, Brian Stiffler, Hector Guerrero and Willie Urbin. (1-2:30 p.m.): Chavo Guerrero Jr., Devon, DOC, Garett Bischoff, Hernandez, James Storm, Jeff Hardy, Kurt Angle, Mr. Anderson, Robbie T, Samoa Joe, Taryn Terrell, Taz, Velvet Sky, Wes Brisco. (3:30 p.m.): Hulk Hogan and Brooke Hogan (this is only available to VIP weekend and travel package ticket-holders; schedule subject to change).
- NOTE: Meet Velvet Sky and Hernandez on Friday, March 8, from 4-6 p.m. at Direct Auto Insurance, 6440 San Pedro Ave.
- WHAT: TNA "Lockdown" pay-per-view
- WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Sunday, March 10
- WHERE: Alamodome
- MATCHES (steel cage): Jeff Hardy (world heavyweight champion) vs. Bully Ray; Kurt Angle vs. Wes Brisco; Team TNA (Sting, Samoa Joe, "Cowboy" James Storm, Magnus, Eric Young) vs. Aces & Eights (Devon, Mr. Anderson, D.O.C., Knox, Garett Bischoff). ALSO: Velvet Sky (Knockouts champion) vs. Gail Kim; Bobby Roode & Austin Aries (tag team champions) vs. Kazarian & Christopher Daniels vs. Hernandez & Chavo Guerrero Jr.
- TICKETS: $15-$145 here
- NOTE: Fan InterAction tickets do not count as entrance into Lockdown
- MORE INFO: impactwrestling.com
It pays to subscribe for free to the San Antonio Metal Music Examiner, no matter where you live. Do so at the top of this article or under the bio below for exclusive interviews, concert announcements, reviews, and all things metal. You can also "LIKE" the San Antonio Metal Music Examiner Facebook page, follow along on Twitter and check out his YouTube Channel.