Ex-WWE star Kurt Angle: Family more important than wrestling now

LONDON -- Kurt Angle shuffles into a backstage room at London's Wembley Arena looking like his body is more than a little bit sore.

He tells ESPN he suffered a concussion while wrestling a match the previous night, January 29, in Manchester, the first date of TNA's UK Maximum Impact 8 tour.

"I'm healthy, I don't have any problems. You have injuries, you're gonna have injuries in wrestling. Everybody does," Angle, 47, tells ESPN.

Having been cleared by a doctor to continue competing, there is no way Angle is going to miss the next two nights in London and Birmingham where his final Impact Wrestling matches are taking place, after nearly 10 years with the company.

You would expect nothing less from the man who won an Olympic gold medal for the United States on home soil at Atlanta '96 "with a broken frickin' neck", as went his signature catchphrase in the WWE.

"A lot of people feel I'm banged up. I had some bad luck with my neck for a couple of years in WWE. Ever since I've been pretty healthy as far as my neck," says Angle.

"Obviously I've had knee injuries, shoulder injuries, we all do. It's just a matter of the recovery time and when you can come back, and I've been very fortunate to come back soon."

Angle suffered several setbacks while in the WWE, where he wrestled from 1998 to 2006, related to fracturing two of his cervical vertebrae in the run-up to the 1996 Olympics. He underwent neck surgery in 2003 and had to step out of the ring again in 2004.

But it is the issue of concussions and head trauma, much like in professional U.S. sports like the NFL, that is beginning to cause concerns in professional wrestling.

WWE star Daniel Bryan, a former four-time world champion, prematurely retired at the age of 34 earlier this month. Bryan revealed to ESPN SportsCenter that he had suffered "at least 10" concussions, and likely more because it would have been impossible to document them all, throughout his 17-year career.

"One of the things that's been hard about this is I have had post-concussion seizures that I've hid for a long time. There was never any evidence to see why I would have these seizures but then we finally found some," said Bryan.

"You have a responsibility to yourself, to your family, to your friends, all of that, to report it just to protect yourself."

Angle had also suffered a concussion while wrestling for the WWE, nearly 16 years ago at the Summerslam pay-per-view event in 2000 in a match against Triple H.

"There was a spot where Triple H was going to hit me with his sledgehammer, but I had the concussion and didn't even know I was out there," Angle told Sports Illustrated last month.

"My mind was blank. I came to two hours after the pay-per-view. When Triple H was going to hit me, but he actually put his hand on my head and made sure I ducked. If you watch it over, you'll see that I was clueless, but he was looking out for me the whole match. They literally had to walk me through every step of the match to make sure I was safe. I don't remember any of it."

But having begun amateur wrestling at the age of seven in his native Pittsburgh, Angle is still going strong and refuses to submit at the hands of Father Time, though he may at least start winding down.

"Wrestling has treated me very well. I had a great time in WWE, I had a great time in TNA. I'm very proud of my accomplishments, but I'm at a point in my life where, right now, family is more important, and it's time for me to spend more time with them," says Angle.

"I'm gonna take a break from [professional] wrestling, I know that for sure, at least a year. So we'll see how it goes and I'll go from there.

"I'm not gonna say I'm gonna retire. I am pretty much done with TNA. Not sure, maybe down the road, maybe I might come back, but most likely I probably won't, because there's a chance that I might not wrestle again. I just wanna get a feeler this year and see what I wanna do and see where I wanna go."

Angle clearly can't help scratching the itch, though. Just two weeks after this interview, it was announced that he will face fellow former WWE star Rey Mysterio at fledgling hybrid promotion UR Fight's March 20 show in Phoenix, Arizona, an event also featuring MMA and boxing bouts.

Will he then finally take that well-deserved break? If his career to date is anything to go by, Angle may find it hard to resist proving he is still the best in the business.

"I feel it now [the injuries] ... and I don't regret anything I've done, in amateur wrestling or pro wrestling," he says. "I'm 47 years old and I have my pains and aches just like anybody else but the thing is, I can still go in that ring. I'm as good as anybody if not better.

"Even at 47, I'm at the top of my game, so the only thing I need is a little bit more time to recuperate, but other than that I can put on the five-star matches. So I'm not really concerned about my performance, I'm more concerned about how I'm gonna feel for the next 30, 40 years."

The fans in attendance at Wembley Arena on January 30 agreed with Angle's sentiment, showing their appreciation with a prolonged "Thank you, Angle" chant.

"I've had a great career in TNA. The company's treated me very well," adds Angle. "A lot of great athletes, I've had a lot of excellent matches. It's kind of nice to have it here in the UK with big crowds and enthusiastic crowds, so it is emotional. I know this is the end of the road for me and I couldn't have it any other way, it's really special for me.

"I wrestled all the greats. Sting, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, the new guys that came in like Bobby Roode, Bobby Lashley, that stepped up to the main event level. Eric Young. There were a lot of great matches. It's really hard for me to pinpoint, but I would have to say the best wrestler I wrestled was AJ Styles.

"He's a special talent. A rare breed and I believe he's going to do really well in the WWE. If there are people that didn't think the fans knew who AJ Styles was, then they're crazy. Because of social media now I think that everybody's aware of who the best wrestlers are. And AJ Styles is by far one of the absolute best today."