Last week, Kurt Angle was announced as the first member of this year’s WWE Hall of Fame class. If he’s the headliner (which seems likely), he’ll join Bruno Sammartino as the only headliner whose announcement came as a surprise. It was well known that Sammartino’s refusals were due to problems with the company, so when he finally accepted Triple H’s overtures, it was good news.
On the other hand, the news of Angle’s induction is surprising and bittersweet because it likely indicates that Angle’s in-ring career is done.
All the rumors surrounding Angle in recent years have been about him coming back to take on Rusev, or mentor American Alpha, or show up in a Royal Rumble and blow the roof off the Alamodome. Not once did dirtsheetz.net misunderstand a Dave Meltzer report and say “Kurt Angle is a LOCK for the Hall of Fame class this year.” Not to bring Randy Orton into this, but the induction is out of nowhere.
Part of this has to do with Angle’s long run. For his entire career, he’s been a top draw. In his first year in the WWF, he won the WWF, Intercontinental & European Championships, as well as the King of the Ring tournament. He remained at the top of the card until leaving WWE, when he went to TNA and became the first TNA Heavyweight Champion within 7 months without losing a clean match. In recent years he has battled injuries and graduated from full-time star to part-time attraction, but for his entire career, he has been a big deal – which not many wrestlers can say.
All that said, the main reason this came as a surprise is because Angle hasn’t come out and said he’s retired, not because he doesn’t deserve it. He’s a six-time world champion with both WWE and TNA and has wrestled 13 4.5+ star matches. He’s had great matches with everyone from Eddie Guerrero to Ethan Carter III.
Angle has also taken quite a beating throughout his career. He wrestled 520 matches between 2000 and 2002 – according to cagematch.net, no one else topped 500. His style led him to a painkiller addiction, which Angle said at his peak had him popping 65 Vicodins a day. This led to multiple DUI arrests and a stalking case filed against him by ex-girlfriend Rhaka Khan. After years of addiction, Angle went to rehab in 2013 and has been clean ever since.
That’s why it’s probably for the best that Angle retire as an in-ring competitor. He’s 48 years old and has nothing left to prove. At one point, rumors abounded that WWE was willing to bring him back part-time, but he refused because he wanted a busier schedule. Either that wasn’t true or something must have changed, because accepting this induction means Angle likely won’t wrestle in a WWE ring again. Only two people have been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as active wrestlers – Sting, who retired in his acceptance speech, and Ric Flair, who was retired the next night. All due respect to Angle, but he doesn’t quite have the stature of those two.
Even so, it will be great to hear Angle’s music one more time. It’s almost certain he doesn’t feel his WWE career ended on a proper note. Hopefully this induction means it will.