Kurt Angle reflects on run with TNA Impact Wrestling and decision to leave

Scott Fishman

When a video aired introducing Kurt Angle at the end of TNA’s No Surrender pay-per-view in 2006, it became the talk of the pro wrestling world. Angle made an immediate impact by revealing he had signed with the organization. Having someone of his credentials legitimized the brand like never before.

Now, after almost 10 years, the Olympic gold medalist announced he was ending his current tenure with the promotion. His last few weeks run through Impact Wrestling’s first set of tapings for Pop TV, including a live premiere Tuesday, Jan. 5, at 9/8CT. Angle’s final dates with TNA will be during the company’s annual tour of the United Kingdom.

IMG_8798Angle will never forget his initial debut. Never has a mouthguard created such a stir.   

“It was a pretty exciting time, especially for TNA,” Angle said. “I knew they started making a little bit of noise with their wresting and their style. Eventually — right around the time I left WWE because of health issues and wanting a reduced schedule — I went to TNA. It was a lot of fun to see a small company like that do extremely well at one point; I’d say especially around 2009. It was pretty cool to be a part of TNA. It was really special teaming up and working with guys like AJ Styles and Samoa Joe.”

The competitive performer can remember past championship wins and recall favorite moments, but it’s not what he is most proud of.

“It was those storylines, not necessarily in the main event, that I would have and the matches I would create with those storylines,” Angle said. “I’d work against Mr. Anderson, Desmond Wolfe and others where we were having these storylines, but weren’t the main story of the show or main event for a title. It was those matches I had with guys I felt were rare talents and maybe a bit under-appreciated. It was more challenging for me, and when we had those five-star matches with them, it made it a lot better.”

“I cared about the product very much,” he continued. “I cared about how the fans felt about it. I cared about my fellow male and female wrestlers that needed to keep wrestling and traveling and touring. There was a point where TNA was doing well over 200 shows a year — or it felt like it. It was a fun time and fun for everybody, because everyone was making just a little bit more money.”

Kurt-Angle-TNAThe desire to give 110 percent physically took its toll on the 47-year-old, who has endured various injuries during his career. He felt now was the time to hit pause.

“I wanted to get away from it a little bit,” Angle said. “I put a lot of time into my pro wrestling career — not just on the road. I was also studying tape and things like that. It was a lot of fun being a part of those great matches. I will take a break. I won’t be talking to TNA or WWE. I’m taking an acting class and signed with an agency. They’ve been getting me movie reads. I’m in a new part of my career, but at the same time I’m not at a point to say I will never wrestle again. I’d be lying if I’d say that.”

Angle has endured his share of personal problems away from the ring. He is grateful to TNA President Dixie Carter and the company for their support.

“The door will always be open,” Angle said. “They proved to me what was more important. For them it was the well-being of their wrestlers — above the tickets they were selling or the ratings they were getting. What happened and occurred, Dixie put people first. She didn’t say, ‘TNA is going to go into turmoil because of this …’ She showed that personable side to her that makes you think that you can connect with this person because they care about me.”

 Angle enjoyed the freedom to be creative. He described the atmosphere more relaxed than the WWE locker room.

“They aren’t under the stress of knowing one bad match might be the doom of their career,” he said. “It’s about everyone helping each other. It’s a more giving atmosphere than any other company I’ve worked for. …. I really enjoyed watching Eric Young, Bobby Roode and Bobby Lashley, who is a superior athlete. Then there is EC3, who has been a lot of fun to watch. Those guys are basically in the now and the future. They will carry the company.”

Angle’s exit isn’t at the most ideal time for TNA, which begins yet another partnership with a new network. This time it’s Pop TV.

“It’s tough,” Angle said. “Both sides want to do really well. They are excited. Jumping in, it’s exciting — but we’ve done this before. Maybe this time let’s not get too excited until we know we found the right home. I think it should be not so much hands and feet all-in, but slowly tread along with them and hopefully build something special.

“I think they’re doing the best they can,” he continues. “What it comes down to is creating unknown talent. I think they’ve done an incredible job with EC3. I love Eric Young’s new character. But for TNA to survive, they need some more young guys to step up. There are going to be guys this upcoming year that will have the chance, because the Kurt Angle’s are leaving; the Sting’s have left. There are a lot of voids to be filled. They just need to be hungry. The talent is there. They just have to have the desire.”

The master of the ankle lock stands behind the belief that his TNA run was better than WWE, though some people may be surprised by his opinion. He feels that may be because there are WWE fans out there that weren’t familiar with his work elsewhere. 

“The reason I choose TNA comes down maturity,” Angle said. “I was hitting my peak right when I left WWE. I was in the stride of my peak in TNA. It was a better part of my career. The guys I got to wrestle and the opportunities I got were awesome. I had high expectations against guys like AJ and Joe, who I knew would be good. They proved me right, and it was a lot of fun starting out against them.”

Angle believes TNA has provided a platform for emerging talent. Successful alums like Samoa Joe are currently turning heads in NXT, WWE’s developmental brand.

“It is nice to see a couple of TNA guys get in there,” Angle said. “Would I be surprised if more went? No, I wouldn’t. There is some great talent in TNA. I just hope Samoa Joe looks to have a lot of fuel left in the tank and can make a big impression in WWE. I know that because I worked with him. He is the best of the best. If he isn’t regularly in the main event, I would be very surprised.”

The former WWE superstar wouldn’t mind revisiting his rivalry with Joe in new territory. However, he wants to see how he evolves there first. This leads to the question if Kurt Angle truly does picture himself in a WWE ring again. 

“Maybe,” he said. “I’m not going to lie; there is a possibility. I haven’t been searching for it. I promised myself I’d take a break and am not going to think about it for a while before I decide to continue anywhere.”

Even though Angle is temporarily hanging up his wrestling boots, that doesn’t mean he will be totally away from the fight scene. The decorated athlete began a business relationship with Bellator MMA, making convention appearances and providing commentary. He is excited to be there for Bellator 149 on Feb. 19, when Royce Gracie fights Ken Shamrock.

“It is cool meeting the fighters I watch on TV,” Angle said. “Providing analysis and commentary is something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m a fan of MMA and genuinely appreciate what they do and how they do it.”

Angle’s deal was structured with TNA that last matches happen on the popular U.K. tour. Who will be his final opponents?

“I’m not that choosy, but I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I gave my favorites, but I don’t want to say who.”  

Given the way he arrived in TNA, it’s clear Angle likes to surprise us.