Kurt Angle had all the pedigree to make it as a professional wrestler. Not many would have predicted just how good he’d become so quickly.
On November 14th, 1999, Kurt Angle made his World Wrestling Federation debut at Survivor Series defeating Shawn Stasiak. Some believed Angle would be treated as a conquering hero based on his background and history. Instead the gold medalist would be booed by the Detroit crowd. The future WWE Hall of Famer showed great instincts in hopping on the mic mid-match to tell the fans not to boo an Olympic hero.
He would go on to have a rookie year that is considered the greatest of all time by many. Between Survivor Series 1999 and Survivor Series 2000, Angle captured the European, Intercontinental, and WWF Heavyweight championships and won the King of the Ring. He won his first world championship at No Mercy 2000 by besting the Rock in a No Disqualification match. Angle would hold the title into 2001, before dropping it back to the Rock at No Way Out.
His wrestling talent was obvious from the beginning. It was the emergence of his charisma and comedic talents in the year 2000 that made Angle into the complete package. Angle aligned himself with Edge and Christian and produced some of the funniest promos in the federation. His portrayal as a delusional goof made for an interesting contrast to the intensity and precision he possessed between the ropes.
When WCW and ECW came knocking during the Invasion, Angle was properly turned face for the first time in his professional career. He would turn and join the Alliance, only to be revealed as a “double agent”, helping win control for the WWF at Survivor Series by turning once again. His brief time in the Alliance did bless us with that famous skit with Stone Cold Steve Austin and a guitar:
In the first ever brand extension draft in 2002, Angle was the second pick by Vince McMahon’s SmackDown. Angle, alongside Edge, Chris Benoit, Rey Mysterio, and Chavo & Eddie Guerrero, would form the “SmackDown Six” through 2002 and 2003. The six would put on incredible matches and carry the brand with their feuds. Angle & Benoit were uneasy partners in winning the WWE Tag Team Championships, being the inaugural champions after a tournament.
Two of the most important WWE stars crossed Angle’s path during his these days as well. John Cena made his television debut against Angle in an open challenge, stating he had “ruthless aggression” and slapping Angle before losing to the Olympic gold medallist. Brock Lesnar would actually help Angle win his third WWE Championship over Big Show at Armageddon 2002, and then would win the title from Angle in the main event of Wrestlemania XIX in Seattle, Washington. The two would trade the title back and forth once more, including in an epic 60-minute Iron Man match on SmackDown in September 2003 with Lesnar emerging victorious. Angle would get another title match at a Wrestlemania, but fell short against Eddie Guerrero at Wrestlemania XX.
Angle would move on to one of his best rivalries with Shawn Michaels. The Heartbreak Kid would eliminate Angle quickly in the 2005 Royal Rumble, which caused Angle to focus his rage on Michaels. Angle would eliminate him from the Rumble, beat his old Rocker teammate Marty Janetty and Michaels’ old manager Sherri Martel. This culminated in a classic match at Wrestlemania 21 won by Angle.
A half-year stint on RAW and continuations of his feuds with Michaels and Cena would follow for the Olympic Hero. Angle would return to SmackDown as a surprise entrant in a battle royale for the vacant World Heavyweight Championship, which he would win. It would be the last world championship for him in the WWE.
Angle would wrap up his first run with the WWE by being drafted to the new ECW. Angle at this point had developed his “wrestling machine” persona. His matches in ECW involved him focusing on his wrestling prowess once again, bringing pure wrestling to the extreme promotion. After just under three months on the ECW roster, Angle would ask for and be granted his release from the WWE.
Seven years after his debut, Angle was gone from the WWE. He had been made a star and pushed to the moon under Vince McMahon’s roof. He had also sacrificed his body to make memorable performances and moments for fans to remember. His time in WWE would be finished for the time being, but Angle had a new landing spot to continue his career – Total Nonstop Action. That’s where our retrospective on Kurt Angle will pick up next time.
You can read the first part of our Kurt Angle retrospective here.