Many highly skilled athletes have entered the world of professional wrestling hoping to make a splash and become a major star in the sport. A few may become solid midcard performers, and others will sniff the main event before falling back in line.
When Kurt Angle debuted in 1999, he immediately set out to prove what an outsider coming into the industry was capable of. A gold medalist in the 1996 Olympics, Angle was an amateur wrestler that proved to be legitimately tough when he competed in the finals of the Olympics with a broken neck.
Now in the strange world of professional wrestling, he would have to prove himself to be the best once again, this time in a land where wins and losses mattered little but performance and character development determined the success of any man or woman who stepped through the doors.
Placing tremendous pressure on himself to succeed, Angle set out to make history and become one of the greatest wrestlers in WWE history.
He did just that.
The 1999 Survivor Series saw Angle make his in-ring debut. After weeks of vignettes hyping his arrival, he took to the ring to square off with Shawn Stasiak, a second-generation Superstar looking to make an impact on a major stage.
Angle outwrestled Stasiak and scored an impressive victory, though the fans were anything but supportive of the celebrated "real athlete." Sensing the crowd's dislike of him, he rolled out of the squared circle, grabbed a microphone and chastised them for booing an American hero such as himself.
It was the first hint that Angle could succeed in the world of sports entertainment and, more importantly, that the crowd would help him do so thanks to their disdain for his pompous character.
Angle Strikes Gold
Angle wasted little time making an impact in World Wrestling Entertainment. Despite his winning streak coming to an end in January of 2000 at the hands of Tazz (or The Rock, depending on who you listen to), Angle rebounded by defeating Val Venis on the February 10 episode of SmackDown.
Weeks later at No Way Out, he cheated his way to a victory over Chris Jericho for the Intercontinental Championship.
Angle would reign as both Intercontinental and European Champion until WrestleMania 2000, where he met Jericho and Chris Benoit in a two-fall, Triple Threat match. Jericho won the European title by defeating Benoit while Benoit won the Intercontinental title by downing Jericho.
The former champion would protest the title losses, to no avail.
The Love Triangle
Almost from the moment he debuted, Angle captured the attention of Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley. Despite being married to Triple H, she repeatedly hinted at an attraction to the "cute" and "handsome" Angle.
By the time the summer of 2000 rolled around and Angle began sending Stephanie flowers, it irked "The Game" and ignited a love triangle that captivated audiences and led to one of the best storylines of the year.
The tension between Angle and Stephanie was palpable and, somehow, it managed to turn the vile and despicable Triple H into the fan favorite in the entire ordeal. Stephanie would ask Angle to show her moves for her women's title defense at the expense of her husband. The two would be caught flirting, and many wondered just how long the McMahon-Helmsley Era would last in WWE.
On the August 24, 2000, episode of SmackDown, the entire situation was taken to a new level when Angle kissed Stephanie. The moment was a shocking one that provided a tremendous hook for fans leading into SummerSlam.
At the biggest event of the summer, Angle was knocked unconscious early in the bout following a botched Pedigree through a table. When he returned later, he did so at the behest of Stephanie. He attempted to take Triple H out with a sledgehammer.
During a struggle, Triple H laid Stephanie out by accident, leading to The Rock retaining his WWE Championship in the much-hyped Triple Threat match.
A month later, the storyline came to a sudden and unexpected end when Triple H defeated Angle. Stephanie would remain aligned with her husband but take an adviser role with the Olympian.
WWE Champion and Waging War with The Alliance
In October of 2000, Angle completed the greatest rookie year in WWE history by defeating The Rock to become WWE champion. He capitalized on interference from both Rikishi and Stephanie to do so, but at the end of the night, all that mattered was that he had the title in his possession.
At December's Armageddon pay-per-view, he defeated Rock, Rikishi, Triple H, Steve Austin and The Undertaker in the first (and only) six-man Hell in a Cell match.
He would lose the title back to The Rock in February.
He would then feud with Chris Benoit, wrestling a series of outstanding matches against "The Rabid Wolverine" that culminated in a 2-Out-Of-3 Falls match at Judgment Day.
At King of the Ring in June 2001, he wrestled three matches, two of which came in the annual tournament. In the first match of the night, he defeated Christian. In the tournament finals, he lost to Edge. Finally, in a legitimate match of the year candidate, he defeated Shane McMahon in a brutal and violent Street Fight.
Injuries slowed him for a short period, but he returned to the ring and became the leader of the WWE faction during its war with the united WCW-ECW Alliance. His matches with Steve Austin, who turned on Vince McMahon's promotion, were tremendous, especially the SummerSlam bout that ended in a DQ victory for the Olympian.
Angle would end Austin's WWE title reign the following month at Unforgiven but would drop it back to Austin weeks later. As 2001 came to an end, Angle returned to his villainous ways and aligned himself with Mr. McMahon.
Feuding With Edge
In April of 2002, Angle began a feud with Edge that saw him elevate the young Canadian via a series of great matches. The first came at Backlash and saw Angle catching a charging Edge with a kick to the face and finishing him with the Angle Slam.
A month later at Judgment Day, they met in a Hair vs. Hair match in which the loser would have his head shaved bald. Edge delivered the performance of his career to that point, knocking Angle off with a roll-up and following through on the match stipulation later in the night by shaving the Olympian's head.
Angle recovered from the loss and defeated Hulk Hogan at June's King of the Ring.
The SmackDown Six
The fall of 2002 was a banner period in SmackDown history. With Paul Heyman guiding the ship, Angle joined Chris Benoit, Rey Mysterio, Edge and Los Guerreros to create some of the greatest free television matches in WWE history.
Every week, fans were treated to pay-per-view-quality matches featuring the six tremendously talented individuals. The three teams competed against one another throughout September and October before culminating their feud in a Triple Threat match for the WWE Tag Team Championship at the Survivor Series.
The Lesnar Feud
At WrestleMania XIX, Kurt Angle lost the WWE Championship to Brock Lesnar in a match of the year candidate.
The match proved to be Angle's last match for nearly four months, as he underwent surgery to heal his injured neck. When he returned, he defeated Lesnar to regain the title in a Triple Threat match involving Big Show. That victory set in motion a heel turn for Lesnar that would freshen up the rivalry between Lesnar and his childhood idol.
On the September 18 episode of SmackDown, Angle lost a 60-minute Ironman match to Lesnar, essentially ending their rivalry.
Stopping The Show
In 2005, Angle faced Shawn Michaels in a feud that resulted in a five-star classic at WrestleMania 21 in Los Angeles.
That match saw an epic back-and-forth battle between two outstanding ring generals. Despite Michaels' Sweet Chin Music rocking Angle late in the match, the machine-like Angle soldiered on, trapped Michaels in the ankle lock and forced a tap out.
Two months later, Angle and Michaels met in a rematch at Vengeance. This time, it was Michaels who emerged victorious, setting up a situation in which both Superstars had a victory over the other.
This led to a 30-minute Ironman match on Raw in the fall. That match failed to settle the score as they tied at two falls apiece.
The program with Michaels would prove to be the last great one of Angle's career in WWE, despite a decent feud with John Cena over the WWE title. By the time September of 2006 rolled around, the Olympic gold medalist would be gone from WWE following concerns about his health and drug use.
Angle has been a part of Total Nonstop Action Wrestling since 2006, meaning that his stint there has eclipsed his WWE career in length alone.
Since debuting for TNA, he has won the company's heavyweight title five times and has been TNA X-Division and TNA Tag Team champion as well. In 2013, he was inducted into the company's Hall of Fame.
During his career there, he has competed against, and defeated, the legendary Sting and stole plenty of shows against AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Desmond Wolfe (Nigel McGuinness) and Christian Cage.
Injuries have plagued him, and as TNA continues to bleed money, one has to wonder how long it is before Angle is considered expendable and makes his way back to WWE, where he should finish up his all-time great career.