WATERLOO, Iowa — It was induction night on Saturday at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum. Bill Apter, Dan Severn, Joe “Animal” Laurinaitis, John Bradshaw Layfield and the late Don Curtis were all being honoured. But it was actually Kurt Angle, who didn’t attend the ceremony, that got all the attention.

Angle, a 1996 Olympic Gold medallist, was supposed to attend the ceremony where he would enter the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, based in Waterloo, Iowa, as a part of the bigger museum. Less than a week prior to the event, Angle’s manager contacted the Hall of Fame representatives letting them know his client would unfortunately not be there due to personal reasons.

“I told some unkind words to Kurt and to his manager as well, because the people here work so hard,” confessed Gerald Brisco, who is one of the directors of the museum, and he is an honoured member, as is his late brother, Jack when he accepted the award on behalf of Angle.

Gerry Brisco inducts Kurt Angle into the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. Photo by Wayne McCarty

If Angle’s absence was unfortunate for everyone there this weekend, it was even more unfortunate when the 10-minute acceptance speech video Angle sent didn’t work and therefore, couldn’t be shown at the ceremony.

“What Kurt was trying to say,” joked Brisco to start his speech, trying his best to save the moment.

After telling everyone that Angle apologized for not being there and explaining the talks he had with Angle and his manager, Brisco jokingly said that since Kurt couldn’t make it, he would auction the plaque and give the money back to the museum. But what seemed to be a joke ended up being serious when someone was willing to pony up $250 for it.

Jim Ross, who was in attendance, tweeted about this and on Sunday, Angle responded with some very harsh words towards Brisco.

“Jerry Brisco made a mockery out of me and the Dan Gable Museum HOF by auctioning off my award. This award is a huge honor. U spit on me … I’m disappointed I couldn’t go, but devastated Jerry gave away my award. Very classy Jerry,” tweeted Angle.

SLAM! Wrestling had the privilege to listen to the video Angle sent and in all fairness to both individuals, Angle seemed very touched and honoured to be inducted. He said Dan Gable was his hero and told a story when Gable used to coach him. He also talked about Lou Thesz, how he met him 11 years ago and read a letter Lou Thesz’s widow Charlie sent him after Lou passed away, in which Thesz praised Angle.

“When you think of wrestling you think of Dan Gable and Lou Thesz. Trust me, it is a very big honour,” said Angle at the end of his speech.

Later that day, Angle’s tweeted that he will settle this personally with Brisco and that Gerry was still his friend. Someone on Twitter even suggested that Kurt should give a donation to the museum to somehow make it up for his absence, which Kurt said he would gladly do.

On its Facebook page, the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum confirmed that they will send the plaque to Angle and that Brisco reacquired the plaque within an hour after the ceremony, ending all controversy.

The 2012 honorees, Road Warrior Animal, JBL, Dotty Curtis representing her late husband Don Curtis, Bill Apter and Dan Severn. Photo by Shu La

The posthumous inductee in the Class of 2012 was Don Curtis, a noted amateur star turned pro wrestler, a former NWA tag team champion with Mark Lewin, and later a Florida promoter. His widow, Dotty, accepted the award, and his daughter, Lisa, and grandson, JB, were in attendance as well.

“Since less and less amateur wrestlers become pro wrestlers, we only limit our inductions to two every year and instead, we give four awards,” explained Kyle Klingman of the National Wrestling HOF.

The Jim Melby Award for excellence in journalism went to Bill Apter. Emceeing the ceremony was Toronto’s Arda Ocal of The Score Network, and he found the best way to describe Apter.

“You know how sometimes a brand becomes bigger than its product? Cotton swabs are better known as Q-Tips, MMA in often called UFC. Well the wrestling magazines were better known as the Apter Mags,” said Ocal.

Apter’s stories were great to hear and he pleased everyone with his Dusty Rhodes impression to conclude his speech.

Dan Severn was given the George Tragos Award, to recognize his amateur career and his MMA career. To the surprise of everyone, the former NWA and UFC champion brought another belt with him, the COW title.

Bill Apter with his COW title and his award. Photo by Patric Laprade

As the story goes, back in the day’s Bill Apter created a title, the Championship Office Wrestling title, and every time a wrestler came to his office, he somehow managed to wrestle him for this self-made title. Well, Severn still had the paper belt and he brought it back to Apter. Alas, Apter didn’t have to wrestle “The Beast” to get his title back!

The Frank Gotch Award was given to Joe “Road Warrior Animal” Laurinaitis. This award recognizes an individual for bringing positive recognition to professional wrestling through work outside the ring.

Last but not least, the Lou Thesz Award, given to an individual in wrestling who has taken the skills of professional wrestling into the realm of public service, went this year to John Bradshaw Layfield.

Many are aware of what the former WWE champion is doing right now, trying to climb the seven biggest mountain peaks in the world, something he called Summit 7, to raise money for underprivileged kids in Bermuda. But perhaps many don’t know that he was also the individual behind the Tributes to the Troops, this annual event where the WWE performs for the U.S. Forces, including going to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Layfield amused all the guests when he told a story of driving with Dick Murdoch in Texas where the latter was definitely going to be sick but didn’t want Layfield to pull over. Finally, after they crossed the Red River separating Texas from Oklahoma, Murdoch asked Layfield to pull over and afterwards, he told him: “Never get sick in Texas kid!”

JBL made sure to point out that this particular moment happened in Oklahoma.

“Not Danny Hodge’s Oklahoma, but of course Gerry Brisco’s Oklahoma,” joked Layfield, who publicly admits he’s scared to death of Danny Hodge and has a long history of joking around with Brisco.

Thesz’s widow, Charlie, had the honour to grace the crowd with the final words of the evening.

“When you are a pro wrestler out in the real world, you don’t represent a team, you represent pro wrestling,” she stressed.

And it was indeed pro wrestling’s weekend at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum.

Many other activities were held in conjunction with the Hall of Fame ceremony such as a wrestling seminar given by Gerald Brisco and Jim Ross, an MMA seminar by Dan Severn, a pro wrestling show presented by Impact Pro Wrestling, a Q & A session with several legends like Ross, Brisco, JBL, Animal, Hodge, Apter, Severn, Larry “The Axe” Hennig, Baron Von Raschke and Bob Roop and of course, the traditional autographs signing. On top of all the great legends already named, this signing also showcased Mad Dog Vachon, who was in the 1948 Olympics, and former Olympic Gold medalist Dan Gable.

In an interview with Arda Ocal, Jim Ross said that the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum is the best-kept secret and no one can actually disagree with him. This is a place where all wrestling fans should go to at least once. For some others, like yours truly, making my first trip, it could easily become an annual event.