Kurt Angle: Pittsburgh’s heavyweight hero

Posted on: March 29, 2017 | Justin LaBar | Comments

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When he goes into its Hall of Fame on Friday night, Kurt Angle will rightfully join the WWE’s all-time greats.

Of course, as noted in a recent column, there is often debate about a Hall of Famer’s “worthiness.”

Not when it comes to Kurt.

So, go ahead and ask the questions: Is it professional wrestling or sports entertainment? It it about in-ring skill or creating a memorable character?

In Orlando, the headliner of the 2017 Hall of Fame class will have provided an answer: all of the above. A proud Pittsburgh native, Kurt encompassed all the elements that make a great wrestler an icon, and he did it it with intensity, integrity and intelligence.

Those “3 Is” weren’t only a catchphrase. Watch any highlight of Kurt and it’s obvious he was bringing those elements to every match, any promo, and everything.

I almost cannot believe 18 years have passed since his stunning transition to professional wrestling after one of the greatest amateur careers. Maybe that is partly because Kurt’s rise in the WWE happened in a flash. Within a span of less than two full years, Kurt signed with, debuted in and won the heavyweight title for the planet’s dominant wrestling promotion.

And then he really showed what he could do.

Kurt was over as a heel or a face. He developed chemistry with veterans or young talents, regulars or part timers, mat masters or aerial artists, big boys or little men. He was as go-to as a go-to guy could be for WWE.

He also looked legitimate. Don’t discount how important that was to his character.

Before Brock Lesnar returned from UFC and made fans believe he might break a professional wrestler in half, Kurt had people thinking he could take down anybody any time he damn well pleased.

As an athlete, Kurt was arguably the most gifted performer Vince McMahon ever employed. He also might have been amongst the most natural when it came to the art of being a WWE superstar.

His ring psychology had depth. He had a bottomless set of moves. His interviews ranged from unnerving to unquestionably hilarious.

The WWE Hall of Fame has welcomed terrific talkers, brutal bad guys, top draws, excellent workers, divas, managers, a Rattlesnake, the Giant and Ric Flair (twice).

It’s even had some wrestlers who could do a little bit of everything just a little bit better than almost anybody else.

But on Friday, it’s getting something it’s never had before.

In Pittsburgh’s Kurt Angle, the WWE Hall of Fame is adding somebody who in almost no time at all claimed supremacy at all aspects of professional wrestling.

And if you were surprised by Kurt, it’s only because you didn’t know enough about him from before.

Kurt Angle: Road to HOF

Oh, it’s true — Kurt was a grappling god long before he became a sports entertainment icon. And for a lot of folks, the story starts in Atlanta in 1996.

But the story goes back a bit for the folks who knew Kurt before he was a big deal.

Though, in and around Pittsburgh, Kurt spent much of his youth as a pretty big deal.

As this Tribune-Review story from a couple of years ago reminds, Kurt left behind a legendary legacy — not to mention 91 wins, a couple of WPIAL titles and a state championship — at Mt. Lebanon High School. Then he did even better at Clarion University.

In the early 1990s, Kurt won as many NCAA championships as the Pittsburgh Penguins did Stanley Cup titles. (Tribune-Review)

Indeed, as this gem from Sports Illustrated stated, Kurt was a “super heavyweight” in college. In fact, he was so great, his hometown fans probably took for granted that he would win Olympic gold.

Right, because winning Olympic gold is something that should be taken for granted. (It’s not like Kurt going over at the 1996 Summer Games was as sure a thing as a certain Presidential election from around that time…)

No, that’s NOT Bob Dole’s medal. Sheesh. (Getty Images)

For most of us, an all-time run from wrestling through college and then to the Olympics would be enough.

Kurt isn’t most of us. (That said, even he would admit that a lot of us might have fared better on TV than his attempts at sportscasting.)

Sadly, we couldn’t find video of Kurt playing reporter. To be fair, his scripts for TV were better than, oh…

OK, so even our Olympic Hero isn’t perfect.

But, you know, Kurt did eventually perfect the art of bringing it in front of a camera. Fans of his work from WWE and TNA can attest to that truth, but so can those who demand that Kurt be funny (or die).

Kurt sure has come a long way from taking to the wrestling mat as a 6-year-old boy and now entering the WWE Hall of Fame. And we sure have had a lot of fun watching his journey.

It’s true.

It’s damn true.

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Bob Frye is a storyteller with a passion for all things outdoors. He hunts, he fishes, he hikes, he camps, he paddles, backpacks and snowshoes depending on the season. If he’s not an expert at anything, it’s because he’s passionate to try a little bit of everything.