It’s 2:30 P.M. on a Saturday afternoon and I’ve been waiting an hour and a half in the reception area at TSN when Kurt Angle finally arrives.
He’s greeted by Michael Landsberg and some TSN staffers before being whisked off to the makeup room where he gets ready for his appearance on Off The Record. Once he’s done, he quickly grabs a piece of fruit from a tray in the green room and is escorted promptly to another room.
I’m summoned by Neil Bennett, one of the bookers of Off The Record, who leads me into the room where Angle is waiting for me. Neil does the honours and introduces us.
“Hi John. Nice to meet you,” Angle says after being introduced. We immediately shake hands. His huge, meaty paw dwarfs my meager, boney hand as we sit opposite each other on a pair of metal, folding chairs.
I quickly glance over my notes. I steal a glimpse of Angle while he briefly has a word with a WWF publicist. “My God,” I think to myself. “He’s a lot bigger in person.” I study his huge, bulging forearms and biceps and realize he could snap me like a twig if he really wanted to.
“Careful. You don’t want to piss this guy off,” I think to myself in jest. I let a mild smirk come across my face as I try to recall how many times I’ve said that to myself prior to an interview. Never. I always remind myself of what a certain instructor at journalism school told me… “Always stay detached. Always stay alert. Always stay focused.”
I quickly get it back together and tell him I’m ready and we begin the interview.
“You looking forward to WrestleMania coming up?”
“I’m very much looking forward to it,” he responds. “I think Benoit and I are two of the most technically sound wrestlers in the WWF. He’s the kind of guy that can bring an aggressiveness out of Kurt Angle. He’s the kind of guy that if you don’t fight back he’ll eat you up. So, at this point in my career, I think it’s very important that Chris Benoit works with Kurt Angle, especially in an event like WrestleMania. It’ll be good for me.”
Ever since his debut in the WWF, there’s been this comical underside to Angle and his in-ring persona. Whereas before he was this weasel-type of bad guy, he’s started to shed that and become more of a straight forward heel.
“Compare the two personas for me. Why the switch?” I ask.
“Right at this point in my career I think it’s very important that I become more aggressive, more cynical,” he responds. “I think that fans respect my work but they don’t look at me as an equal to Stone Cold Steve Austin, Rock, HHH, Undertaker, Kane because I’ve always been bumping around, I’ve always been running. Now it’s my time to shine, now it’s my time to show that I am every bit as aggressive, every bit as brutal as they are and that’s the opportunity they’re giving me… I can always go back to a little more comical approach.”
“I won that title being a cowardly heel,” he continued. “I won that title being a cowardly heel and I think it’s now time to show where I truly came from, which is amateur wrestling… how brutal my sport was and to show that in the ring.”
“You’ve had a pretty taxing schedule the past six months,” I contend. “House shows, TV tapings, pay-per-views and a full round of public appearances. Any fatigue? Any nagging injuries? How are you feeling these days?”
“I’m pretty banged up right now,” he admitted. “You’re right… I’ve been utilized quite a bit, especially the last six months. I’ve been very busy so right now I’m kind of banged up but I’ve been working around my injuries pretty well. Hopefully by WrestleMania I’ll feel pretty good and I’ll be able to put on the best performance of my life and that’s what I’m looking forward to. ”
A knock on the door. Neil peeks his head back in and tells me to wrap it up.
“That didn’t last long,” says Angle. We both shrug our shoulders and shake hands and I wish him good luck and continued success.
“Thanks. It was a pleasure talking to you,” he says before heading out the door.
I only got five minutes with the former WWF World champ. But in that brief period of time a window into another side of Kurt Angle was opened.
Contemplative. Insightful. Articulate. Respectful.
Respectful of where he’s come from and what he’s accomplished in his short time in the business.
He takes nothing for granted, saying it can all end in a heart beat. During our time together, he spoke lovingly of his wife and how she, not wrestling, is the real love of his life.
What’s refreshing to see about Angle is that he hasn’t become drunk on his fame and have his head in the sky.
Quite the contrary. He’s one of the best wrestlers in the business today who also happens to be humbly grounded.