You cannot talk about the success and progress of professional wrestling without talking about Kurt Angle’s impact on a post-Kayfabe era of the “sport.”
When wrestling had finally achieved true mainstream status – even with the understanding by the masses of the unrealistic nature of reality television, Angle was just what the WWE needed to help balance its Attitude Era.
Angle made his first appearance at a professional wrestling event in 1996, with his in-ring debut following in 1998. He had previously turned down an offer to join the WWF, but signed a multi-year contract with the company that year, and participated in his first televised storyline in March 1999. After months of unaired matches, Angle made his official debut that November and received his first major push in the company in February 2000, when he held the European Championship and the Intercontinental Championship simultaneously.
Four months later he won the King of the Ring tournament, and not long after, began pursuing the WWF Championship, which he won in October; this capped off a rookie year which is considered by many as the greatest in sports entertainment history. Throughout his tenure in the company, Angle was a six-time world champion (a four-time WWF/E Champion, a one-time World Heavyweight Champion, and a one-time WCW Champion).
He also held the WCW United States Championship, Intercontinental Championship, European Championship, Hardcore Championship and WWE Tag Team Championship once each. He is the tenth Triple Crown Champion, and the fifth Grand Slam Champion.
After leaving WWE, Angle joined TNA, where he became a five-time TNA World Heavyweight Champion, a two-time TNA World Tag Team Champion and a one-time TNA X Division Champion, the second Triple Crown winner in TNA history and the only one to hold all the required titles at once. While in TNA, his then real-life wife Karen began accompanying him to the ring and playing a part in his on-screen storylines
Between WWE, TNA, and Japan, Angle has won 12 world championships and 20 total championships. In 2010, the Wrestling Observer Newsletter named Angle the Wrestler of the Decade of the 2000s and in 2013 he became the second inductee into the TNA Hall of Fame.
Now that he is toward the twilight of his career, where he matchmaker/general manager of Impact Wrestling, it can be argued that Angle’s “impact” is far more reaching than Flair, Triple H and Randy Savage – icons in the business who helped to create superiority in different eras of the business.
The addition of Angle to the business added legitimacy – where a “wrestler” in freestyle wrestling could make the transition to something people follow as cult figures and a nomadic trail of fans who bounce from town to town to support their favorite stars. Angle did not want the WWE in the first place, but came to accept it as performance where he could use his true wrestling skills.
There has been plenty of talk about Angle finishing his career back where it all started. Whether that becomes a reality is unknown, but having already been where he has been is enough to put Angle among the greats of all time.