After competing for nearly two decades, Kurt Angle will finally be ‘coming home’ to the WWE. Kurt Angle is a multi-time world champion and Olympic gold medalist. On Friday, March 31st, he will be ‘going home,’ as he returns to WWE’s ‘hallowed halls’ as he is inducted into the promotion’s Hall of Fame. He recently took some time out of his schedule to participate in an interview with me. For the WWE Hall of Famer, Kurt Angle’s career has seen him compete in TNA for a number of years. However, it is the launch of his new Anglestrong addiction recovery mobile app that has proven to be one of his most important contributions of late. In this interview, Angle shares his thoughts about the raging opioid epidemic in the United States, who was the greatest wrestler never to be in WWE, and how his Anglestrong addiction recovery mobile app has become a passionate labor of love for him. He also opens up about his history with the business and how Vince McMahon welcomed him back into the WWE family.
Angle also reveals an inside look into his family life, and how WWE has taken steps to make the safety of their wrestlers a priority. He discusses how his life has changed, how addiction has changed him, and which current WWE wrestler is among the wrestlers he would have liked to face again.
Angle remains not just an inspiration for wrestling fans, but for people in general. He has proven that you not only can come home again but that you can recapture your life at the same time. He can be reached @RealKurtAngle on Twitter.
In life, we often learn from our mistakes. In this vein, the Anglestrong Recovery App is incredible and has become a labor of love for you. Talk about how the concept first came about and what drove you to push for its development.
Well, to speed forward, once I got out of rehab, there wasn’t any aftercare. We are taught in rehab to take care of your life and follow the rules (we learned) in rehab. However, it is the longer you are away from rehab, the more you tend to forget what you were taught. You can go through all the booklets they give you and everything like that, but no one is really holding your hand. When you are in rehab, they do a tremendous job of taking care of you. They make sure you’re healthy, you’re eating right, you’re exercising, you’re going to classes, you’re learning about your addiction and recovery. Afterward, there is nothing but AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings, if you want to go.
It is really difficult if you’re working every day, 8-12 hours a day and if you have a family, a wife and kids, and (if you) travel throughout the world like I do, there is really nothing for you unless you want to pay for a psychiatrist or counselor, which can be pretty pricey. So, I wanted to come out with my own recovery app that acts as a monitoring and support service that would be there for you 24/7/365. I figured that this can help people stay in recovery avoid relapse and re-hospitalization and my ultimate goal – to save lives. The app offers monitoring, daily reminders, lifelines, reports to show how you’re doing, links to more information when you need it, there’s even a monthly group conference call from me -the whole ball of wax and more.
The app is incredible. To create it I teamed up with a doctor named Dr. Harold Jonas who is the CEO and Founder of Sober Network Inc. in Delray Beach, Florida who is a leading addiction treatment specialist in the United States and a recovering heroin addict of almost thirty years. Dr. Jonas is the real deal – he walks the walk. He created with his team at Sober Network Inc. the award-winning FlexDek platform Anglestrong is built on, which is incredible – there’s nothing else like it. He needed a face, I needed an app, and so we came together and created the Anglestrong app. It’s a really cool concept. You check in daily, and if you don’t check in every day – your lifelines will be notified – such as your family members, your loved ones, your sponsor – all will be notified. It teaches you accountability, and if you do relapse it is GPS enabled and you’ll get the help you need. Our goal with Anglestrong is to provide you with a high tech recovery monitoring service designed to keep people in recovery and avoid relapse, re-hospitalization – or overdose.
There is a chat part portion of the app, where you go in and talk to other recovering addicts and discuss your story. We want you to discuss your recovery, we want you to discuss your addiction, your past, your life – because it does help. When I do these speeches to youths, to adults, to recovering addicts, people that are active addicts, I feel better talking about my life story. When I went to rehab, I was told ‘Don’t tell anyone you’re in rehab and don’t tell anybody about your problems, and when you get out to forget it, it never ever happened.’ Well, now we have an epidemic of tens of thousands of people dying in the last two years from opioid-addiction and opioid overdoses. Some stats say more than 70 people each day are dying. I can’t keep quiet any longer! It’s just gotten so bad that I wanted to actually do something to help others to stay in recovery. People tell me – I can always go to the free AA meeting. Yes, you can. But Anglestrong is a feature rich monitoring service that is there for you 24/7/365. There’s no waiting. You need something – it’s right there on your phone in your pocket whether it is 3 am or 3 pm.
I actually downloaded the app itself and have received the daily messages that are both inspiring and encouraging, and I can see how it would benefit those in recovery from addiction.
I appreciate that. We are excited about it. It’s the first of its kind. There are a lot of groups out there, AA groups, NA (Narcotics Anonymous) groups that are doing a lot of good, but they don’t offer 24/7/365 availability and features like Anglestrong offers. I believe that the Anglestrong app will help a lot of people out. Some may say – this is just a money grab. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m not in this for financial reasons. I’m fed up with watching people – kids – people’s friends and loved ones – die each day – this has to stop and someone has to try to do something about it. The app is $1 a day. Less than a cup of coffee. When you compare Anglestrong to the cost of rehab, counseling and psychiatrists, and other treatments – it is an inexpensive way to monitor recovery progress and keep somebody on the right path. I really commend Dr. Jonas’ FlexDek technology and what he’s been able to create on the Anglestrong app.
What are your eventual hopes for Anglestrong moving forward?
My personal hope is to put an end to the drug overdoses and deaths. It’s that simple and that’s the most important concept. Last year it was reported by the media that there were approximately 53,000 opioid overdoses. It’s now more than motor vehicle deaths annually. It’s more deaths than from firearms and gun violence. This is a raging epidemic. And a lot of people have turned their backs on the opioid crisis for so long. Many doctors don’t want to be held accountable because a lot of them are subscribing their patients the painkillers. Because of that, a lot of people end up losing their family, losing their money, losing their job and then they resort to using heroin, which is a much cheaper form of getting high.
That is where a lot of overdoses occur. I will tell you this, I have always had some form of income, so I never really hit that point where I didn’t have my job, or my family left me, or I lost all my money. As an addict, I know this: when I was going through the worst part of my addiction, I would have resorted to heroin if I wanted to because I wanted the drug so badly. I didn’t care about anything else, but the drug. A lot of recovering addicts say ‘I would have never gone to heroin, I would have just stuck to the painkillers. I was fine.’ No, once you lose everything, and you don’t have the money, and you can’t afford anything, especially if you buy them on the street it can be up to $30 a pill. You are going to resort to heroin.
At times our best contribution in life is to give back. Can you foresee a recovery program with Anglestrong also being linked to a recovery program much like DDPYOGA where the intent is the recovery of both the mind and body?
Yes, oh my God. We’re in the process of connecting with DDP. (laughs) He is our guy. What he has been able to do for retired pro wrestlers – especially Jake the Snake and guys in the military – amazing. He’s worked with people from all walks of life. DDP is incredible. He has come out with a great concept, a great workout, and a great diet. He is the one guy I looked at and I said ‘We want to implement his plan with the Anglestrong initiative.’ So, we are in the process of just talking to him. We are going to work out the details, and eventually, we are going to be working with him. I do believe that all addicts need structure. Without structure, they are lost. Addicts are compulsive.
They can’t just do something at a normal rate. I won a gold medal because I’m compulsive. That is all I did. I became the best pro wrestler in the world because I became compulsive. I did it very quickly. So, you have this passion, pretty much OCD, and when you start taking drugs you get compulsive with that. So it is just one of those things where you need structure all the time. We have the structure, the website and the Anglestrong app at Anglestrong.com, it will give you everything you need to keep living day by day. We don’t want it to be the old AA. And we aren’t saying that AA doesn’t work because it does, it’s done a phenomenal job for a number of years.
The fact is, they always tell you at rehab that things are going to get difficult for a while. You are going to relapse, you are going to mess up. I never relapsed. I never messed up. Quit telling me this. They’re trying to tell you what can’t happen to you when you get out. Ours is more of a positive message. This is your new life, enjoy your new life, embrace it and have fun with it because if you want to discuss your addiction, go ahead and do it. For so many years, I have been told not to discuss it and keep it quiet, and that it’s taboo.
Well, the taboo has become mainstream and now people need to speak up. It made me really nervous and made me feel like I was going to be a screw up with my life when I was in rehab. Don’t get me wrong, the whole rehabilitation in there was awesome. 99% of it was incredible. The fact is, and we’re sorry to say this, but most addicts relapse. The thinking kind of becomes, well, that’s great, I guess that gives me an excuse to relapse when I get out.
You can live a new life and you can find different passions and different things that can give you different kinds of highs. For me, it’s been God and family, and I haven’t looked back since. Don’t get me wrong, when I was in rehab the first thing I said was, ‘God, please tell me I can never take this drug again for the rest of my life. I don’t know if I can’t handle that. I can’t take it twenty years from now. I can’t drink, I can’t take any pills and this is impossible.’ I thought, “I don’t know how I’m going to do this?”, and you get overwhelmed. However, when you get in there the fact is that you really take it day by day. I learned in rehab that one great thing you could tell me: just live for today. Don’t worry about what you did yesterday. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Just stay clean today, and worry just about today, and I’m okay with that. I just tell myself every morning, just stay clean today. That’s all you need to do. It becomes a lot easier and the longer you stay out of rehab and the longer you stay clean the easier it does get.
As a Canadian, we’re generally unfamiliar with the epidemic of Opioid addiction in the US. How has it grown and where can you see it changing with proper support systems in place?
Awareness is the key to ending this growing epidemic.
I think that the word just needs to get out there. It has been quiet for so long. Nobody has really talked about it. The politicians just started talking about it this past year, that’s how bad it has gotten. It has been kept a secret for so long, and a lot of people usually start off with pain. A good portion of people start off with something that occurs to them. Whether they got hurt or they have a bad back, back neck, bad knees, they start taking pain medication. The pain medication, your body grows a tolerance towards it. Once you have that tolerance, then you have to double the dose and double it again, and again, and after a while, it isn’t doing anything for you because your body grows a tolerance. There is a euphoric feeling from it that no longer occurs. So then you start to chase that euphoric feeling, but after a while, there is no more euphoric feeling, you are taking them so you don’t go through withdrawal.
A lot of addicts will admit this that if they didn’t have to go through withdrawal a lot of them would probably quit. It is just really hard for them to get over that mountain, being sick as though you’re dying, sweating, you are going to the bathroom all the time, you are throwing up all the time, you’re going through cold sweats, and it’s the worst feeling in the world. When I went to rehab it took me a week to get through that. It’s a very painful process, and a lot of addicts don’t want to go through that. It’s that process of withdrawal, and any rehab is going to put you in there between three and seven days, through withdrawals and detox, and once you get out you start to learn about your addiction and recovery, and you’d be going to classes for the next three to three and a half weeks.
How have wrestling promotions taken steps to advocate for the proper treatment of their talent as it pertains to head injuries and their long-term effects?
A zero tolerance policy is firmly in place by the WWE to protect its athletes. The whole reason WWE did not want to take me back for the last few years is that they wanted to see how I was going to do. As soon as I got out of rehab, I made it apparent that I wanted to go back. They were like ‘Well, first of all, this guy ruined his reputation. Four DUI’s in five years. He has been in trouble so much. We don’t know how his neck is, we don’t know if he is taking medications. He could have relapsed. He could be an active addict right now’. And I understood that, and I understood that it was going to be a process that it was going to take a while.
WWE has done an incredible job with both their drug policy and their wellness policy. With their drug policy, very few of their athletes take any drugs, and if they do, they get suspended or fired. Every once in a while you hear about someone that gets caught. They are all getting drug tested, so it goes to show how far they have gone with their wellness policy. 99% of their athletes have stayed clean. That wasn’t happening 20-25 years ago. But, they didn’t have a drug policy back then.
Another thing is Daniel Bryan has the same neck injury as me. I wrestled at Wrestlemania after I was diagnosed with a broken neck, at Wrestlemania 19. Daniel Bryan can’t even get back. That goes to show you the type of wellness policy for their athletes. They have put the athletes first. ‘We’re sorry, but if you don’t pass the physical, you’re not ready to wrestle, if a doctor, one of our doctors, not a doctor off the street, doesn’t okay you.’ Because what I did at Wrestlemania 19, I talked my doctor into clearing me. Now you can’t do that. They have great doctors there. Dr. Maroon, Dr. Black, they are all great doctors there watching their drug policy and their wellness policy and are the ones that are going to have to clear you. They are going to be the ones to have to clear you. So WWE has done an incredible job of making it very difficult for any athlete that is subpar and not ready to return or cannot return to come back.
For me, I had not taken a physical, but if I do I would imagine I would pass. The fact is, they just wanted me just for Hall of Fame, strictly, and they would talk to me afterward. That is all the word I have gotten. I’m okay with that. If the Hall of Fame is the last thing I do, then I’m cool with that. If they do decide to work with me and in more of an ambassador role or GM role or coach or manager role or even wrestling, I’m fine with that. If it was wrestling, I’d be willing to do that. I’ve always wanted to finish my career in WWE, and at the very least I have the Hall of Fame to look forward to. There is nothing confirmed for after the Hall of Fame. Yes, we can speculate, but that is all it is. (laughs)
Wrestling has a tendency of being circular in nature. How have major wrestling promotions come around the last half decade to showcase the talent that were relatively unknown on the independent scene?
There has been a lot of talent that has come through, and I think that now, at this point in time, (there is) more talent than I have ever seen in the business. Some of it, from a wrestling standpoint, and also from an athletic standpoint, it has become more competitive and because of that when you have 20 kids that all have the full potential of being the top guy in the company, it is hard to pick the one. I think there is a sense in WWE that when John Cena was the top guy in the mid to late 2000s, there weren’t many others. There was a Randy Orton, and there were a few other guys that you knew were going to rise to the top because they were head and shoulders above everybody. That isn’t occurring anymore. There are just so many guys that are so close competitively.
WWE has also brought in lots of other talent from lots of other promotions like an AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode, Eric Young, on top of their talent and the NXT talent, and they are going to the UK to get talent, it just becomes overwhelming. Which of these guys are you going to pick and which ones are going to be your top guys? It’s a lot more difficult for WWE to pick through who they want in that position. A lot of people are going to say ‘well it’s not like it was in the Attitude Era, there were so many great guys’. I think because we had a lot more to different types of character, we had a porn star for Christ sake, we had a pimp, The Godfather, and Val Venis. It was broader it was easier to hit all demographics. Now in the PG-era, it is really difficult to separate these talents and say that this guy is this, and this guy is that, and it is harder to come under the same umbrella that the PG era is. From a merchandise standpoint, it is awesome because you are marking the kids. However, from a creative standpoint, it gets a little more difficult.
The rising popularity of NJPW in the western world continues to grow. Discuss if you could your experiences there and any moments that you hold close to you from your time competing for them.
I had an incredible time competing in New Japan. Going over there and wrestling guys like Tanahashi and Nakamura. My favorite was Yugi Nagata if you didn’t see that match you have to watch it. When you go over there and you wrestle a talent for the first time ever, you never met them before, you have never hung out with him before and you are going to work with him that night, and it turns out to be four or five stars it goes to show how much of a company they had over there. They have a lot of great wrestlers and a lot of great wrestlers from the west are going over there. There is a good mix of them. It is just amazing how far that company has come because it was big for a long time, but then it calmed down and now it is making its comeback. I am very happy. I think that pro wrestling right now, or sports entertainment, there is a lot to choose from. WWE is a monster, there is no question, and it always will be, but it’s nice to see other promotions doing fairly well.
When it comes down to it, every wrestler aspires to be in WWE, but the problem for a lot of them is the structure, the grind, performing so many dates a year. It is also about being at the arena for 12 hours every single day. A lot of talent might not take that at the time because they like the more relaxed atmosphere of the other promotions. Also, God forbid that there are those guys out there with an extreme amount of talent, a low percentage of guys that are still doing the stuff that they shouldn’t be doing and they know if they go back to WWE that they are going to be drug tested. That is a small percent.
There are some big names that I would never point out, and I have the utmost respect for them, but there are some names that want to do their own thing. The cool thing about the small promotions and the independents is you can do your own thing, from a competitive point, from a creative point, from a wrestling standpoint. I just did a match against Cody Rhodes. We didn’t discuss the match until about 45 minutes before the match. (laughs) In the WWE you are there all day, structured, you are putting (the match) together, you have your I’s dotted and your T’s crossed and it can get a little overwhelming. It’s a lot of hard work to be in the WWE, I’m not going to deny that. However, for 99% of the talent, they want to be in WWE and there is no reason why they can’t be. However, there is some talent that are out there that prefer the relaxed atmosphere that comes with working on their own
As a father myself, the challenges of work-life balance are difficult. How are you able to make it work and what do you find to be its greatest challenges?
Oh, my schedule isn’t crazy anymore. I do the Anglestrong initiative, and I can do most things from home. I do speak at different events and stuff like that, but the past couple of years I have been very, very part-time. TNA, I only did forty dates in the whole year. The year before that I did about 80. So, I was extremely busy when I was traveling so much. Last year, I think I did about eight matches for different indy promotions. So, I spend a lot of time at home. I really enjoy it and it is really hard for me to leave them. I really love being a father and I love being a husband, and I love being with my family. So I’ve learned how to be a better father because I’m at home. I’m here more with my kids and teaching them stuff and taking them to school in the morning. I’m playing with them. I’m watching movies with them. I’m spending time with them. So it is hard, especially when you are in the grind of any company that is doing over 150 or 200 dates a year to be a good father, a good husband, and a good wrestler. It’s almost impossible.
Some wrestlers are apprehensive of their kids getting involved in the business. If your kids were to approach you with their interest in wanting to pursue this profession. What would you say and what advice would you give them?
Well, for me, I don’t want to encourage my kids to be wrestlers. I have one son, Cody a special kid. I love him so much. He has a form of autism. He really enjoys wrestling. It’s his passion, pro wrestling. My older daughter Keira who is 14 years old, Cody is 10 and they are with their mother in Nashville. If it were up to me, I’d probably steer him into a different direction, most likely something in real sports. My younger kids, my three younger kids they won’t be involved in the sport. It’s not because I didn’t enjoy it. I loved it. When you get to my age and you look back and you see everything that I have done and everything that I have accomplished, it’s great, it’s wonderful. I’ve been very blessed. However, my body paid a price. I have been able to take care of it now, pain medication free, but it is a lot of work. I spend two and a half hours a day working on my body. Back massage, yoga, antigravity, stretching, working out, lifting, and cardio. It has become very high maintenance for me. Just so I can enjoy my kids. I don’t want my kids to live the second half of their life like that. There is life after wrestling and I am beginning to learn that, and looking back, do I want my kids to feel the way I do when they are 48? No, I don’t.
Arguably, one of your most underrated feuds was working with Desmond Wolfe aka Nigel McGuiness. How would you describe the experience and does he take the title of being the greatest wrestler to never to be in the WWE?
I believe so. I think he was really gifted. I really thought that he was better than I had expected him to be. Nigel was a very special talent. He had some great technique, he was one of the best technical wrestlers that I’ve wrestled. He was so good that he forgot how to be a heel. I remember when we would work he was literally out wrestling me as a heel. (laughs) I had to tone him down and make him understand ‘Listen, I’m the good guy, you’re the bad guy, I’m supposed to out wrestle you.’ There were certain holds and locks that he put me in that I couldn’t escape them. Now, in a shoot, I could have, but in a pro wrestling sense, I couldn’t. I had to teach Desmond how to give and take. Desmond could eat you alive if he wanted to, that’s how much technique he had. He knows a lot of stuff and is very good at what he does.
However, once he got that concept of being a heel, he became good at the give and take. He became a better heel because of it, and he became a better wrestler. However, when I first met him he wrestled like a babyface all the time. The reason being he was so damn good at it that he dominated every opponent he wrestled. Once I got him to tone down, he became even better of a wrestler. I think that he is the best wrestler that never went to WWE, and I think he could have gone if he didn’t have the medical issues, and he would have had an incredible career.
With your upcoming induction into the WWE Hall of Fame, you said: “I’m coming home”. Does a return to WWE help you to cement your legacy?
Yes. I always thought I would return. Unfortunately, my departure from WWE in 2006, it wasn’t a great departure. It wasn’t like WWE had bad feelings towards me, or I had bad feelings towards them, it was just more ‘You go your way, we’ll go our way, and go deal with your issues and come back when ready.’ Unfortunately, I didn’t deal with my issues for 10 years. WWE also strongly suggested I go to rehab when I left, and I didn’t. So there were a lot of harsh feelings from me towards WWE, and it was all my own doing. If I didn’t get caught up with painkillers, if I didn’t get injured so much, and if my doctor didn’t clear me. If I didn’t re-injure my neck I would have probably stayed with WWE for another ten years. It was more of my own fault.
The hardest part was going back after meeting with Vince and apologizing to him. I had to own up to what I did. It wasn’t difficult, it was just hard to go back to a guy that you had such a great relationship with, and spoiled it, and to say, ‘Hey, I know I messed up and is there a way that you can forgive me, even if I can’t wrestle anymore? Let me come back and do one thing with you and make the WWE universe happy for the career I gave you”. Before I could even say a word, he hugged me. I couldn’t believe it. I had tears in my eyes. It was like, the prodigal son comes home to his father to ask for forgiveness. I didn’t really have to ask for forgiveness. Vince had already forgiven me. I thought that was really cool.
I met with Triple H first and we talked for about an hour. We talked about wrestling, WWE, NXT, the UK wrestlers, and then he went to Vince then he hugged me and he stepped down. He didn’t even discuss wrestling, we talked about family, my kids, Vince’s family. We just talked about things that were important to us outside wrestling. It was really cool to have that meeting with him. It made me feel like how it used to be. When I first started out, Vince and I had a very, very close bond. Unfortunately, I put a dagger in that late in my career in WWE. The more reckless I became, the angrier I became. The more reckless I became, the angrier I became. It had gotten to the point where it put a lot of strain on Vince. I could understand if he had hard feelings towards me, but he didn’t. They wanted me to be happy with who I was. They didn’t want to be happy with who I was, they wanted ME to be happy with who I was. I wasn’t for years that is the one thing.
I see a lot of talent in the past have had harsh feelings towards WWE, and I find out later it was actually their own doing (laughs). I was just saying, ‘So, it was just pride getting in the way and you believe you are the most valuable guy there, whether you are or not, you are part of a machine. You are just a tool in that machine. You are not the machine, you are part of what makes it go. No matter how big or how small you are, WWE is a machine and you are just part of it.’
Who would you say was the greatest wrestler, who wasn’t the most advertised or given the most attention, that you faced?
You know, I really enjoyed this one kid’s style. He was in TNA, but now he is in WWE. We had a match and we didn’t have a lot of time, we had about 10 minutes and I really enjoyed the way he worked. There was a spot that was blown, (but) it wasn’t my fault it was his. (laughs) In all seriousness, (I’m talking about) Austin Aries. Wow, that kid is so good. I would put him up there with an AJ Styles or Samoa Joe as far as his ability to work. He is a little smaller, but he makes up for it. He reminds me of a young Chris Benoit with what he is able to do. Austin is really intense, he has a lot of skill. Not just that, but he really has a good gift of gab. He is very intelligent. He is very precise in what he says. I would have loved to go an hour with him, I think we would have lit it up. That’s the guy that, if you are asking me, (a guy) that I formally wrestled that I would have liked to work with more, it would have been Austin. He’s got it all. The only thing, in a wrestling world where everything is perfect, it would be great if he was six foot and 220 lbs, but he’s not. That doesn’t mean that he isn’t great. It just means that a lot of promoters like the big guy, but although he is not he makes up for it in other ways.
Was there anything else that you would like to share, promote, advocate as it pertains to Kurt Angle moving forward?
The only thing I wanted to say is that I am really happy to be back in WWE. I do believe that we are going to come out with a long-term relationship eventually. If you never saw me or you never heard of me, go to the WWENetwork and check out my matches. If you really think that I’m not really that good, you will find out that I am pretty good (laughs). I know there is a younger generation that might not know me as well, but thanks to the WWE Network they may already know me. For those that did get to see me back in WWE between 2000 and 2006, they have got to know how good Kurt Angle is. If they didn’t follow me in TNA then at least they saw that. I do have to say that I became a more seasoned wrestler in TNA. Unfortunately, fans of the WWE Universe didn’t get to see that. I’ve still got it. However, if you do have a chance to go back and see me on the WWE Network, go back and check out the Kurt Angle matches between 2000 and 2006. Hopefully, fans will get a chance to see that I can still wrestle, you never know.