By Mike Mooneyham

June 26, 2005

If Kurt Angle has his way, he’ll be working in WWE the rest of his life.

In the relatively short six years that Angle has been wrestling professionally, he’s made more of an impact than most stars have during their entire careers. And if winning an Olympic gold medal wasn’t enough, Angle took to the pro game like a duck to water and added virtually every major title to his collection.

The Pittsburgh native won the 220-pound freestyle wrestling competition at the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996. Making the feat even more remarkable was the fact that Angle, with two fractured cervical vertebrae, did it with a broken neck.

Angle had a distinguished career in amateur wrestling even before winning in the Olympics. He was a two-time NCAA Division I champion and a three-time NCAA Division I All-American while attending Clarion University. He also was 1987 USA Junior Freestyle champion, two-time USA Senior Freestyle champion and 1988 USA Junior World Freestyle champion.

Angle, who combined technique with credibility and charisma, was on the fast track to superstardom the first night he stepped into a WWE ring. He officially made his WWE debut in November of 1999 at the Survivor Series pay-per-view at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Instead of making Angle’s wrestling alter ego into an all-American hero, the then-WWF gradually turned his character into a pretentious, arrogant heel fans could love to hate.

Angle has never looked back.

Kurt Angle

Kurt Angle

No stranger to adversity, Angle has competed, oftentimes hurt, at the highest level in a business where injuries are practically mandatory. It was the same in the Olympics where doctors told him he needed six months to rest and that he risked paralysis by continuing. Angle not only found a way to compete, but he found a way to win, admitting that he trained so ferociously that he would make himself sick.

Six knee surgeries and chronic neck problems also have threatened to curtail and even end his in-ring pro career. Angle, who had three neck injuries in a year and a half, underwent surgery in April 2003 to repair two herniated discs that were pressing on his spinal cord. A string of recurring injuries forced him into a non-wrestling role as the general manager of Smackdown last year.

But Angle, 36, has been as unyielding and relentless in dealing with his medical problems as he has been in the ring while attempting to further his legacy. The recovery he has made since being given time off after the third neck injury, says Angle, has been nothing short of “a miracle.”

“My doctor told me not to go to rehab and that my neck would be fine,” Angle said Thursday. “But I went to rehab and I found out the more I went, the better I felt. Now I do all the rehabilitation exercises that the (rehab) lady taught me, and I feel great. I’m not having any problems with my neck. My arm and hand strength have come back. At one point both arms were at about 30 percent strength. Now they’re at about 80 percent. I can’t say it’s perfect. But I really haven’t felt this good since before I injured my neck the first time. I’m just about back to where I was. I’m wrestling the same and I’m feeling good.”

Angle believes his physical turnaround is a major reason WWE owner Vince McMahon recently sent him over to the Raw brand. He says he feels McMahon now has confidence in him to carry the Raw title, and he’s looking forward to working with a new crop of opponents. Angle says the switch to Raw also will help his game and freshen up his character.

“I’m very excited. On Smackdown I was having a little bit of a problem after those neck injuries. I think Vince was a little nervous about giving me that title again since I had hurt my neck the last two times I had it. He was a little leery. But I haven’t gotten hurt in the past year and he’s seeing that I’m pretty durable and working full-time. So he wanted a new beginning for me and brought me over to Raw. It looks like I’ll be in the title hunt, so hopefully I’ll get the title and have a nice, long title run.”

He realizes that he’s putting his body on the line every time he steps into the ring. But he also subscribes to the motto that a champion never quits and a champion never dies.

Perhaps the best example of Angle’s physical toughness was his match at Wrestlemania 21 earlier this year with Shawn Michaels. Many veteran observers hailed it as one of the greatest matches in the history of the storied event.

“When you have guys like Ric Flair, Paul Orndorff, John Bradshaw Layfield and Chris Jericho tell you it was one of the greatest matches they had ever seen, I just took a step back and wondered if it could have been. The fans may or may not have thought so. I never asked any of them. But when your peers tell you that … Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan told me it was the greatest match he had seen in his 44-year career. That blew me away.”

The four-time WWE champion hopes to go even one better tonight at the Vengeance pay-per-view.

“I don’t want to say anything because I don’t know if I can top that. I would like to top it, but it’s hard to top a match that’s considered almost perfect. But no one ever has a perfect match.”

Angle knows that one day it will come to an end. But he says he can’t ever see himself working for anyone other than Vince McMahon.

“I’ll always be in the WWE. I’ve had offers to fight and wrestle over in Japan. I’ve gotten offers for three matches for six million dollars. That’s a lot of money. But I would never leave Vince – not for what he’s done for me and what he is in this company. I’m going to stay with Vince and pursue my wrestling career for as long as I can. I’ll probably end up doing a lot of PR for the company and also being an agent.”

Angle says he’s also interested in pursuing a film career.

“Vince has already written one for me which we’re supposed to start filming by the end of this year. At least Vince is looking out for life after wrestling, especially for the guys who have made him money. He’s looking to have these guys make him more money in a different way,” chuckles Angle. ” Vince is a very intelligent individual. He told me that I’ll always have a job with him. I trust him. I would do a deal with him with a handshake.”

Angle hopes he can compete for another five years. It’s the amount of time, he says, that could ensure he will be remembered as one of the greatest ever in the wrestling business.

“It’s going to take another five years if I can make it. I talked to ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin about that last week. He told me, ‘Listen, Kurt, you’ve done more in this business in five years than anyone has ever done or ever will. But what you need to do is stay healthy. You need to alter your character a little bit because I see you having success on the other end of the totem pole (as a good guy). What you need is a little more attitude – a little more ‘Stone Cold.’ You’ve already built a legacy, but it’s not long enough. You need to stay healthy. But as long as you do what you’re doing, there’s no doubt you’ll be considered one of the greatest ever. You’ll be up there with Ric Flair.'”

– Former Memphis police officer David Tate pleaded guilty to several charges last week in the Jerry “The King” Lawler burglary case.

Tate, the son of longtime Memphis newsman Jerry Tate, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court Tuesday to all but two counts of an 11-count indictment that charged him with extortion, conspiracy, transporting drugs and prostitutes across state lines and plotting to burglarize Lawler’s East Memphis home. In exchange for his plea, federal prosecutors agreed to drop two drug counts and child pornography charges. Under terms of the plea agreement, Tate will serve 14 years.

The 18-year police veteran was charged in November with taking bribes to tip off topless club owners before raids, agreeing to take prostitutes to Tunica, Miss., casinos to entertain “high-rollers” and agreeing to protect supposed drug couriers. He also was charged with plotting to burglarize Lawler’s home while he was at an out-of-town wrestling match. A co-defendant, topless dancer April Veach, had convinced Tate that Lawler kept $200,000 in an antique jukebox. Tate recruited another Memphis police officer, Billy Scott, to take part in the heist.

Both Veach and Scott have pleaded guilty and await sentencing. John Vaughan, another Memphis police officer, was enlisted to help escort drug couriers into Mississippi. Vaughan also has pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing.

– George’s Sports Bar, 1300 Savannah Highway, will air the Vengeance pay-per-view tonight at 8 p.m. Cover charge is $7.