“I’ve been at my very best here, but I never thought I’d be back. I just felt like I burned a bridge that I thought I would never be able to build again.” — Kurt Angle
Here’s my look at the WWE Network WWE 24 special on Kurt Angle called “Homecoming.” It debuted this week after Monday Night Raw, it’s now available on demand on WWE Network, it has a run time of 56 minutes, and it’s an incredible look at the successes and struggles of WWE Hall of Famer Kurt Angle.
It began with a man trying on cowboy hats. Yes, that is Kurt Angle, a new WWE Hall of Famer and the current General Manager of Raw. Before all of that, he was your Olympic hero, a five time WWE Champion and quite frankly, one of the greatest professional wrestlers ever.
In the first few minutes of the documentary, they show a clip of Angle going to WWE headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut four weeks before the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony this year. It was Kurt’s first time visiting WWE HQ eleven years. Here he was, this champion of a man that is 48 years old and he was looking as nervous as ever.
Kurt saw Stephanie McMahon in the hallway. They spoke about their kids with Stephanie having three girls and Angle noting he had five kids including three girls with his second/current wife. When Angle went into Triple H’s office, they shared a big hug. If you’re wondering, Kurt called him Hunter rather than his real name, Paul.
One of the best scenes is when Kurt goes into Vince McMahon’s office. This is the clip that aired in commercials for months. It was their first time seeing each other since Kurt was fired in 2006. That image of Vince hugging Kurt is one of those moments that makes you smile as a fan because it’s at that moment where Kurt really returned home. Immediately after the hug, Vince told the cameras to leave because he wanted to have a private conversation with Kurt. That was followed up by Kurt talking about how Vince was like a father figure to him and he got emotional talking about how much Vince meant to him. Kurt noted how glad he was to be back home.
Kurt talked about what it was like growing up in his family with his four brothers and how his dad was into a sport. He said he was 2-14 in his first year of wrestling. Kurt noted that his dad passed away by the time he got to high school and by the time he got to high school his wrestling got better. There were clips of Angle wrestling in high school.
Kurt spoke about how he broke his neck at the US Open in 1996 when he was freestyle wrestling. They showed the highlight of the moment when it break and Kurt knew it right away, but he managed to win that match. Kurt wrestled in the finals and he won, so he was the national champion. After breaking his neck, he found Dr. Maroon in Pittsburgh to help treat his broken neck. Dr. Maroon talked about how a champion like Kurt played through agony, not just pain. Angle said they gave him shots of novocaine to help his neck. Kurt won all five of his matches at the Atlanta Summer Olympics in 1996 and became an Olympic Gold Medalist. Angle on winning Olympic gold: “It’s a sense of pride that is comparable to nothing else.”
There was a funny story where Angle met Vince McMahon soon after the gold medal win. Angle thanked him for the offer and told Vince that he’s an Olympic gold medalist that can never lose. Kurt said he never watched wrestling growing up because his brothers told him not to, but he started watching in 1998 and realized they were world class athletes. Kurt spoke about how he became a huge fan of Steve Austin because he could connect with fans so well. That led to Kurt talking to Jim Ross, which led to his tryout. There were clips of the training camp led by Dory Funk. You could see guys like Edge, Mark Henry, Steve Blackman, Albert, Kurrgan and Droz there. Angle admitted he was scared and nearly quit on the first day, but his manager told him to keep at it. Kurt said he got a contract offer from WWE during his third day of training.
I thought they would have mentioned the famous story of Angle going to an ECW show, seeing a crucifixion angle between Raven and Sandman and walking out. I get why they didn’t mention it because of time constraints, but apparently Angle was so mad he never wanted to wrestle again.
There were clips of Kurt backstage at a Smackdown taping in Pittsburgh (where Kurt lives) just two weeks before WrestleMania. He looked so happy seeing familiar faces like AJ Styles, John Cena, Rhyno, Mickie James and he reflected back on his career. There was a clip of Kurt in March 1999 in Pittsburgh with Tiger Ali Singh, who was a cheap heel at the time. I vaguely remembered that, so it was great to see it again.
Vince McMahon spoke about how he wanted Kurt to be a heel because he (Kurt’s character) considered himself a real wrestler. Kurt admitted that he doubted Vince from day one and he didn’t think people would hate him. Kurt was booed at Survivor Series 1999 in his debut, which I was at in Detroit, by the way. I remember booing him and also thinking this rookie was going to do great.
There were comments from several guys he worked with during that period including Triple H, Shane McMahon and Big Show. If you’re wondering, they didn’t go into his King of the Ring 2001 match with Shane, which became pretty legendary for how violent it was.
There were a lot of great clips of Angle in his early days. Angle spoke about how closely Vince worked with him. You could tell he had a special bond with Vince that meant so much to him. Angle talked about how he learned from the best and he was the top heel in the business.
Vince McMahon on Kurt: “I’ve always had great chemistry with Kurt. He was like a son to me in a lot of respects and I was so proud of him.”
I feel like Vince was genuine when he said that. Why wouldn’t he be? Vince was a father figure to a lot of wrestlers in the last 30 years, but when guys become the top guys like Angle would become, they work with Vince even more. A lot of those top guys also had problems with Vince along the way and it happened to Kurt as well. It’s a reminder that even when somebody can be like a son to Vince, the relationship can still suffer because of how strenuous the wrestling business is.
They moved on to some comedy aspects of Kurt’s career including the “You Suck” chant that is still with Kurt about 15 years after the chants started. Triple H put over Kurt’s willingness to do anything for a laugh. Shawn Michaels said that Angle could do it because he had the credibility of being a gold medalist.
Kurt spoke about No Way Out 2003. Kurt was wrestling Brock Lesnar (it was actually a tag match with Angle teaming up Haas & Benjamin vs. Lesnar & Benoit) and took a bump into the turnbuckle. Kurt said he knew right away he had a broken neck for the second time and he knew he needed surgery. WrestleMania was happening one month later with Kurt in the main event against Brock and he couldn’t believe it was happening. There was a clip of Kurt from the day of WrestleMania 19 in 2003 with him saying that he told Vince he would wrestle and Vince told him he loved him.
I’ve never been as nervous watching a match as I was watching Lesnar vs. Angle at WrestleMania 19. Everybody that followed wrestling online knew about Angle’s serious injury. The concern was that if he took one wrong bump he might end up breaking his neck again or something worse might happen. Kurt noted that with the medical testing that goes on in WWE today, they likely wouldn’t have let him wrestle. Thankfully he got through the match okay, although I remember at the time he had some issues backstage. That wasn’t covered in the documentary.
A week after WrestleMania 19, Angle had surgery on his neck and the cameras were there. Dr. Jho performed the neck surgery and was confident Kurt would be fine after the surgery. Kurt was shown talking after the surgery and holding one of his kids (I believe his oldest daughter Kyra). Kurt was back on Smackdown on June 5, 2003, so he was only out for about two months. I remember thinking it was a miracle surgery for him to be back so quickly because at the time guys that had major neck surgeries missed a whole year, yet Kurt was back faster due to a different kind of surgery.
Kurt admitted that he tried to hide the pain from others. He did it for about six months and he broke his neck again. That led to another surgery. Kurt spoke about how he got cleared for WrestleMania 20 against Eddie Guerrero and he broke his neck again. This is where Angle got really emotional as he admitted he didn’t think he could come back after that.
Kurt said that one day he took 25 painkillers, shoved them in his mouth and swallowed them hoping he wouldn’t wake up the next day. This was the most startling admission in the documentary. I knew he had issues with drugs and alcohol, but for him to do something like that shows how far he had fallen physically and mentally. Kurt was told by a doctor that he couldn’t have another surgery, so he waited it out. This was mid 2004 when he was Smackdown GM. Eventually his neck healed and he was told he could wrestle again, which led to another match with Eddie at SummerSlam 2004.
The story focused on the WrestleMania match between Angle and Michaels at WrestleMania 21 in 2005. It’s one of the best matches ever. Michaels said that he had confidence in Kurt because he’s a machine. Jim Cornette spoke about how Angle always felt like he had to steal the show. I thought they might talk about that match for a few minutes, but they moved on quickly. Kurt said he was having these incredible matches because he thought they would be his last. He thought maybe he won’t be able to wrestle tomorrow, so go have the best matches possible until you die.
Kurt admitted he was very angry and bitter because he couldn’t take care of his problems. He knew Vince saw a change in behavior. Vince wanted Kurt to get help, Kurt said no, so Kurt said he wanted to part ways, Vince said okay, but he still wanted Kurt to get help with Kurt saying he opted not to. Vince called it “heartbreaking” because there was nothing you can do. Vince called it a “rotten feeling” when you care for somebody and then Vince said goodbye to him. Kurt explained his WWE exit in the summer of 2006 saying he rode the wave as much as he could and he left.
The story shifted to Angle moving to Total Nonstop Action in 2006 shortly after leaving WWE. That led to Dixie Carter, the former TNA President, talking about how the schedule was good for him, but that you could see he was physically in pain. Mickie James and Samoa Joe spoke about how Angle was like a machine out there that kept going and pushing. Kurt said that he was always hoping that Vince was watching him in TNA to see how good he still was, but he didn’t know. Kurt admitted he was still doing bad stuff he wasn’t supposed to be doing.
There was a clip of Kurt his father’s grave. He noted that his dad was an alcoholic (he died when he was 55) and his sister Leanne died of a heroin overdone in 2003. Kurt admitted that his mom would call him to ask about how he’s doing and he would lie to her.
I thought this admission by Kurt was one of the most poignant of the whole documentary: “I used to be a role model twenty years ago and now I’m a recovering addict.” It shows how much of a star he was and far he had fallen.
The story shifted to Kurt’s current life with his wife Giovanna, who he has three daughters with. Giovanna said they met on a movie set and got married within a few months. He has a daughter and son with first wife Karen. There were clips of Angle picking up his kids from daycare. Dixie said she had a talk with Kurt about how he had to focus on himself and not always focus on work while noting it was hard for him to do.
Kurt talked about how he had four DUIs in five years. He didn’t think he had a problem. Kurt said his wife sat him down and said if he continues doing that then she would have to leave him. Giovanna spoke about how he would black out from drinking. That led to Kurt going to rehab. Kurt said he went for 30 days the first time and that was it because he was better. Kurt said he learned that the finer things in life are important, and not the drugs.
The final chapter in the story focused on Angle’s return to WWE during WrestleMania weekend earlier this year, which included the Hall of Fame, being at WrestleMania and Raw the next night. There were clips of him meeting the likes of Kevin Owens and reuniting with old friends Edge & Christian. Shawn Michaels told him it was great that he was back in WWE where he needed to be.
Angle was shown preparing for the Hall of Fame ceremony on March 31. John Cena said it was a tremendous honor inducting Angle because he had his first match with him and Angle toughened him up a lot. There was an event a shot of Angle at Hall of Fame rehearsals that included a hug from Vince. AJ Styles noted that Kurt always used to talk about how he loved Vince and that Vince treated him like a son.
Vince said they picked up where they left off in terms of appreciating eachother and that Angle was the same guy he was 10-15 years ago.
There were highlights shown of Angle’s Hall of Fame speech where he had a lot of fun. AJ Styles thought the speech was perfect. Shane McMahon said it was one of the best speeches he’s seen. It really was one of the best with a memorable ending as Kurt sprayed milk all over himself.
A clip aired of the Raw after WrestleMania with Angle being announced as the new GM of Raw. I marked out huge that night even though it was obvious it was going to happen.
Angle on his return to WWE: “I always thought some day I would get back there. It’s too important to me even when I was out of it. This company is what kept me going. This is my first love.”
A video package aired showing some more of Angle’s highlights and that wrapped up the documentary on a very happy note.
I’m a huge Kurt Angle fan and always will be. When people ask me who my favorite wrestlers ever are, my answers are Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin and Kurt Angle. They are the ones that I rooted for the most. With Angle, the good times were so good that it was easy to root for him. I remember the down times though. When he spoke about those DUIs, it was tough to support a guy like that. It was obviously a problem for him, but he admitted he had no idea. Thankfully he didn’t injure anybody while driving under the influence because that could have been scary. I’m glad his wife got him to go to rehab because it clearly saved his life.
Angle might be the most natural professional wrestler ever. A lot of people in WWE say it and I think we, as fans, can see it. How many other wrestlers can say they were the best in the world within four years of stepping into a ring? Angle was the best by 2002 and he continued to be through most of the 2000s even when dealing with a broken neck as well as drug issues. Imagine how good he could have been in his prime if he didn’t have the neck injury and a drug problem? The fact that he was that talented even while having those factors there to slow him down shows how special of a talent he was.
The Kurt Angle story is one of the most unique in wrestling history. After all, he’s the only Olympic Gold Medalist ever and the things he’s done in his career are unprecedented. When you also factor in the highs of what he accomplished along with the lows of what he dealt with with his drug problem, it’s amazing that he’s still here.
The WWE 24 series delivered another gem here. I enjoyed their WWE 24 documentaries on guys like Seth Rollins and Finn Balor when they were coming back from injuries. “Homecoming” was even better because it showed his journey to get to WWE, his rise to the top, his fall from being the man and the way he turned his life around to return “home” to WWE. Please check it out if you have WWE Network. It’s definitely worth your time. It’s true, it’s damn true.