KURT ANGLE
Interview and illustration by Vinnie Baggadonuts
Additional illustration by Fphatty Lamar

HE WON OLYMPIC GOLD WITH A BROKEN FREAKIN' NECK. HE SHOT BIG SHOW WITH A TRANQUILIZER GUN. HE EVEN PARODIED BILLY CRYSTALíS ROLE IN WHEN HARRY MET SALLY FOR ONE OF THE MOST HILARIOUS WRESTLEMANIA 21 PROMOS. AS AN ATHLETE AND AN ENTERTAINER, KURT ANGLE IS WWEíS GREATEST AMERICAN HERO. AND ON A RATHER BUSY MEDIA DAY, HE GAVE US A QUICK SCOOP ON HIS UPCOMING MATCH WITH SHAWN MICHAELS, HIS TRIP TO IRAQ, AND THE FUTURE OF THE WWE'S ONLY OLYMPIC MEDALIST.

Vinnie Baggadonuts: Howís it going?

Kurt Angle: Very good, thank you.

VB: Is today a day off? Youíre just doing a media thing today?

KA: Yeah, yeah.

VB: And youíre on the road this week?

KA: Oh, yeah. We start tomorrow, and we go until Wednesday. Weíll have a couple days off, and then weíre on the road 12 days straight after that.

VB: So, youíve got whatís probably going to be one of the best matches at Wrestlemania this year, with Shawn Michaels.

KA: Sure.

VB: Is this the first time you guys have faced off?

KA: Yeah. Weíve never touched, aside from what weíve been doing on TV lately. Thatís actually incredible, considering heís been around for a while, and Iíve been around for five years. I think Vince McMahon came up with the idea of having this dream match at Wrestlemania. Vince and everyone else considers Shawn and I the two best wrestlers in the company.

VB: Yeah.

KA: So the idea came about a little while ago, and itís obviously going to be advertised as one of the greatest matches ever. Iím excited about it. I think Shawn Michaels is the greatest ever. And hopefully, at Wrestlemania, Iíll prove that Iíve taken over that spot.

Both: (laugh)

VB: Well, how do you prepare for that-- facing off against someone youíve never faced off against before?

KA: Well, heís always in shape. Heís very athletic. One thing Iíll have to do, and Iíve already done it, is step it up a notch in my training. Shawnís very tricky. Heís got a lot of good moves. Heís not only a high-flyer, but heís also a great ground wrestler. Heís got a lot of tools. Me, I depend solely on my amateur wrestling techniques, so thatís helped me quite a bit.

VB: Yeah?

KA: I have a lot of respect for Shawn, although I donít show it.

Both: (laugh)

KA: The guy has proven himself-- and I have, too-- so this is something that the fans... when the time comes at Wrestlemania, this will be the most-watched match of the whole show.

VB: Now, performing at an event as big as that, do you still get nervous?

KA: Yeah, I get very nervous. I feel like Iím in the Olympics again. Last year, we broke a record by doing over a million buys [Pay Per Views], which is a record. Weíre looking at breaking that record this year, because of the card, because itís in L.A., and itís just been promoted so well. The thing is, Wrestlemania, youíve got everyone in the world watching you. Youíve got all the celebrities watching you. Youíve got Hollywood producers watching you. Youíve got people from all over the world, even CEOs of major companies watching you. So, itís a time to show your stuff and perform in front of all these people that are watching, that could possibly give you more opportunities in life. Itís the grand stage, you know? And when you have all these people watching, and seeing what kind of performer you are, it means a lot. More importantly than that, itís giving the fans what they want to see.

VB: Yeah.

KA: We have the greatest fans in the world; theyíre the most loyal fans. So Iím dedicating my match to the fans for what theyíve done for me.

VB: Does your family get to attend Wrestlemania?

KA: Oh, yeah. They go every year. Thatís the one event they get to go to. But itís almost impossible to get tickets! In fact, I have no tickets for my family, so theyíll be sitting backstage watching it on a monitor. Thatís the way it goes, though. Wrestlemania sold out in, they said, eleven minutes.

VB: Wow!

KA: Thatís another world record. But itís good to have them there. I can see them before my match, and I can see them afterward. You know, you meet so many faces there. Itís like watching a Lakers basketball game and seeing Jack Nicholson sitting in the stands. You never know which celebrities are going to be there.

Both: (laugh)

[CONTINUED AFTER IMAGE]

VB: Have any celebrities ever come up to you as an adoring fan, and you were completely caught off-guard by it?

KA: Oh, yeah, many times: Shaquille OíNeal; Charles Barkley; a lot of the basketball players; football players, like James Farrior, an all-pro linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers; Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers' quarterback. And Joey Harrington from Detroit came up to me and said, "I love you, man! Youíre the best!" Itís funny how many actors watch, too. Ben Stiller has come up to me to tell me how much heís enjoyed it. Although a lot of people donít admit it all the time, everybody watches wrestling to a certain extent.

Both: (laugh)

KA: Itís just an honor to have people come up to you and say, "We enjoy what you do for us."

VB: Are there any actors that you look to for the entertainment aspect of what you do? Because youíre so intense in the ring, and when you do promos and things like that, are there any actors you look to for inspiration?

KA: You know what? My intensity has outweighed everything else in what I've done this past year and a half. And thatís due to the remaking of Kurt Angle. We kind of switched my character from being funny and gullible and comedic, to being very intense. I really havenít taken it from any actor. I just kind of reach within myself and let the intensity come out on my own. I havenít really copied anybody. But you know, Iím more of a comedy kind of guy. I enjoy doing that more than anything. Although Vince McMahon isnít crazy about that kind of stuff, the fans seem to enjoy me more as a funny guy.

VB: Yeah.

KA: But at the same time, they look at me now as a serious threat. That has a lot to do with my intensity and my solid wrestling.

VB: I want to ask you what it was like to go to Iraq.

KA: Oh! That was very exciting, but very scary. You probably havenít heard, but one of our helicopters got shot at.

VB: I did, actually!

KA: Yeah! When we were doing our show, a bomb went off on our base, too. You look at these young men, these soldiers who are over there every day, and their lives are on the line. Itís like they canít sleep one wink without thinking that something might happen.

VB: Yeah.

KA: I remember feeling that way at the Olympic Games [1996] when the bomb went off right next to me at Centennial Park. I felt that same feeling, but nothing like what these soldiers are going through. I just feel for them so much, because theyíre over there, but have their families here. And their families donít know whether or not theyíll be alive from day to day. I have a lot of respect for the soldiers over there, and the Iraqi people fighting for their freedom. Iím not sure if you know this, but [wrestler] John Bradshaw Layfield stayed over there for Christmas, for the soldiers over there. Well, the tent that the bomb went off in, the one that killed 22 people, he was in that tent six hours before it happened. The bomb was actually planted in there already. So, that shows the risk factor of what some of the wrestlers went through in going over there. So, as exciting as it is, and as honorable as it is, itís a very scary time, and I really feel for these soldiers. I pray every day that they make it home safely. Itís up to over 1,500 soldiers killed so far. Thatís a crying shame. But theyíre fighting for the same thing we have here: freedom, but for the Iraqi people. I pray to God that it happens.

VB: After living through an experience like that, and doing some of the things youíve done since you wrote your first book [It's True! It's True!], do you think youíll write another one?

KA: Yeah, yeah. When I wrote my first book, it was more about what I did before the WWE. I was only in the WWE a year when I was asked to write the book. It was unfairly done, and at the wrong time. I felt that I should have been in this company at least until around now before I put my book out. At that point, I think the company wanted me to write my story, and since I was a champion at the time, they wanted me to get my story out right away. I disagree. I think we could have waited. But, yeah, I am going to write another book, and itís going to have a lot to do with all the stories that happened since I joined the WWE; more than when I grew up, trained for the Olympics, and won the gold medal.

VB: Yeah. My last question for you is, what should people expect from you this year?

KA: Well, to stay healthy, for one.

Both: (laugh)

KA: Iíve had a very difficult two years with my neck. But Iíve been going on eight months straight without my neck being injured. I think that I not only have to show faith in my fans, but I have to show Mr. McMahon that he can have faith in me, as well. He hasnít given me much of a shot at the title because he canít allow me to hold the title knowing at any time I could hurt my neck again. Itís been a very difficult year for me because Iíve been trying to prove, "Hey-- Iím gonna stay in there. Iím going to be okay. My neckís fine." The longer I go, the more durable I am, the more opportunities I will have in the future to be the number one man. When I went out with my neck injury, I was the man on SmackDown! I was the number one guy on the show. But immediately, when that happened, I had that taken away from me because of my neck. Thatís when Brock Lesnar stepped in-- and thank God he did-- and then Eddie Guerrero and Big Show and Undertaker. And John Cena, of course. But I havenít had the opportunity of being the man. I had that taken away from me, so Iím going to have to work my butt off to get it back again. I know I will. Itís just gonna take some time and some faith by Vince McMahon. Once he sees I can stay in there and carry the load, I will be the number one guy once again.

VB: Right on. Thanks, man. Youíve always been one of my favorites to watch.

KA: Thank you! I appreciate that.

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AND CLICK HERE TO READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH BIG SHOW!