This is easily the biggest surprise entrant in the history of the WWE Hall of Fame so far. Not because of who it is but why he left and where he went after he left WWE.
Before Brock Lensar, John Cena and Randy Orton, there was The Gold Medalist. Kurt Angle, who wrestled for the Team USA at the 1996 Olympics and won Gold (“Where are YOUR Gold Medals?”) came to WWE in 1998. Angle came at just the right time: Shortly after his arrival, WCW’s Finger Poke of Doom happened (Their commentators announced in advance Mick Foley was going to win the WWE Championship, which ultimately cost them The Monday Night Wars). With their biggest competition beginning to tank and WWE asserting itself as the winner of The Monday Night Wars, Kurt Angle led the charge.
He did everything: Put over new talent, had title runs and took on all challengers. Folks need to be reminded of John Cena’s first match in WWE:
…if not for this match, John Cena would not have become a 15-time Champion. It can easily be argued John Cena owes alot to Kurt Angle on a professional level. You can easily see glimpses of the superstar Cena would go on to become not long after being put over by Angle this match and after it.
Angle spent most of his WWE career as a Babyface Heel. Unlike most of the other Heels who came before and after him, Angle was an athlete and he was so damn good both in the ring and selling a promo almost all of his wins as a Heel were clean wins.
By 2006 John Cena, Randy Orton, Dave Bautista and Brock Lesnar (before the latter two left) were major draws for the company and WWE was finding it harder to work The Olympic Athele in new storylines. After being sidelined with many injuries during the latter part of his career, he was quietly released from WWE in 2006.
His arrival on TNA later that year would prove to be the second wind he needed as a wrestler. Angle would go on to become the biggest superstar in TNA and would later be joined by other former WWE Superstars in Matt Hardy, Bubba Ray Dudley and more recently Cody Rhodes, Stu Bennett (Wade Barrett in WWE), Ryback and Aron Rex (Damien Sandow in WWE). The story goes AJ Styles and Samoa Joe both left TNA for WWE after talking to Angle.
…It is worth noting, however Kurt Angle didn’t leave WWE on bad terms. In fact, he never spoke negatively about the company during his time with TNA. He still has alot of respect and class to say the least. Angle left TNA in 2015, announcing he was taking a year off from Wrestling but was prettymuch done with TNA. It goes without saying he’s trying to position himself for a possible return to the WWE. Angle was inducted into TNA’s Hall of Fame in 2013.
In an interview he gave last year, Angle said “it’s not a question of if he will return to WWE but when”. His induction into the WWE Hall of Fame being an olive branch aside, Angle did say he was very interested in having a match with Daniel Bryan. He also said he would like to have his final match with fellow TNA Alumn AJ Styles. I think it’s fair to say he will likely compete on Smackdown in that case (which he did during the first brand split).
Now that the way has been paved to make it happen, it’s a question now of when Angle himself will make his first WWE appearance in 10 years. I suspect it won’t be until after the Royal Rumble given he’s clearly looking to come back and perform. Me personally, he needs to be booked for a match John Cena. it would truly be an epic match to watch. Hell, book it for Summer Slam if not Wrestlemania =O