Kurt Angle is known to fans worldwide as one of the most charismatic and intriguing figures in sports entertainment history. Hailing from Pennsylvania, Angle started on the road to glory as a two-time NCAA national champion wrestler and worked his way up to capture a Gold Medal in the 1996 Olympics. Shortly after returning home a champion, he set his sights on the world of professional wrestling. Many years and countless matches later, Angle dominated every organization he’s been associated and currently reigns as Impact! Wrestling’s World Heavyweight Champion. As if establishing himself as one of professional wrestling’s all-time greats wasn’t enough, Kurt Angle is plotting the next stage of his already epic career. His latest project is a role in Lionsgate’s “Warrior,” a moving, inspirational action drama from acclaimed director Gavin O’Connor (Miracle), where he plays alongside rising stars Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton. The film, which is already receiving critical acclaim across the nation, will soon serve as the start of the next exciting chapter in the Kurt Angle story. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with this iconic entertainer to discuss his role in the film, how it helped to prepare him for the upcoming Olympic trials and what his future may hold in the highly competitive world of MMA.
As a fan of the film, I am excited audiences will soon see how great “Warrior” is first hand. How did you get involved with the project initially?
It’s really hilarious. I happened to be in Pittsburgh, living in Pittsburgh, just minding my own business! A gentleman that was training me for UFC, when I was thinking about going into it, owns a fight club, The Pittsburgh Fight Club. He called me and said, “Hey Kurt, they are doing a movie around here. A fight movie! You would be great for the part of Koba, who is this fighter that is from Russia!” I said, “Ya know, I just got home. I travel 300 days a year and I am not sure that I really want to go down for it.” He said, “No way, man. This is going to be a big movie! At least come down!” So I waited a week and he called me back and said, “Listen, they can’t find the right guy for this part, you need to come down.” So I went down and they told me to start throwing some punches, start sparring a little bit and wrestle a little bit. Before I knew it, the director, Gavin O’Connor, said, “Hey, do you have any tattoos on your body?” I lied to him and said, “No!” because he couldn’t see any. Then he asked me if I could lose 30 pounds. I weighed 230 at the time and they wanted me to look like a middleweight at 185. They wanted me to be a little bit bigger than the other fighters. Thank God! [laughs] I said I could do it and then they asked me if I could stop tanning for a few months because pro-wrestlers, we obviously tan to look good in the ring. I said, “Yes, sir!” and he said, “OK! Then you are going to play Koba!” I was really shocked! From what I was told, they had interviewed over 40 different people and over half of them were Russian. They just couldn’t find the right look or the right person. I was very blessed to get the part. I just happened to be there at the right place, at the right time. My character in the movie is very strong. It wasn’t a leading character and I just have a small part in the movie but I was very happy to play Koba, who is billed as the best fighter in the world.
You seem like a great resource to have on board for this film. What do you think you bring to the table in a project such as this?
I do have a background in amateur wrestling, I have done mixed martial arts (MMA) and I work in professional wrestling. There is a great deal of choreography that goes into the fight scenes. What they were concerned about was me being on the road wrestling and then coming back there to film. They were a little worried that I wouldn’t pick up on the choreography. I told them, “Guys, this is what I do for a living! I can do in one day what you have been teaching these other guys in a month.” Thank God they believed me and it worked! I picked it up very quickly. I had five fight scenes in “Warrior.” I think that you only end up seeing two of them but you might end up seeing one or two of the others on a television where they are scouting me. I had to learn five different fights but it all came to me very quickly because of my background. Being an Olympic Gold Medal wrestler, I do have a knack for MMA and knowing what to look for as a fighter and being a fighter I can throw a good punch and protect myself. So all of those elements combined really helped me out on this project.
As someone who has been a part of the sport, and as a fan of the sport, are you surprised it has taken Hollywood so long to recognize MMA on this large scale?
To be honest with you, if you think about it, MMA didn’t really spring out until about 2001, so you are talking about 10 years. Yeah, they started in 1995 and 1996 and they went under for a little bit and were illegal in a couple of states but it only started coming on strong about 10 years ago. Ten years is not a long time for a sport to become a major force. That is relatively quick compared to any other sport, in regard to popularity. Dana White, thank God, ran the company so well for UFC that it wasn’t a long time for a movie like this to be made. As an MMA fan, you would think, “Wow, what took so long?” But 10 years isn’t a long time. This is really the perfect time for a film like this. The movie is really well done. It is very true to MMA. If you have seen it, it is very true to MMA and not exaggerated like some of the boxing movies that you have seen in the past where the guy should have been knocked out but the ref didn’t call it yet. This film is very true to MMA.
You are an extremely busy man with films, touring, pro-wrestling and training for the Olympic trails? What is the secret to your longevity?
Probably being insane or crazy. [laughs] I am always trying to have a new goal to reach. I started a food company to start making a living in a different way because I know that my pro-wrestling career is coming to a close. I signed a three-year deal and I am very happy with Impact! Wrestling. I promised them three more years before I retired. I started Angle Foods and we are doing pretty good right now, Thank God! But I have always wanted to be an actor. The thing is doing “Warrior” really rekindled my interest in trying out for the Olympics again because, at the age of 41 at the time I didn’t think I would feel so good. When I got in there, I was sparring with some really good fighters and I was doing really well! My take-down skills were overwhelming and I didn’t realize that I was still that good! I believe that pro-wrestling kept me young as far as being part of that in front of a crowd. The last thing I am going to do is choke because there is a big crowd in front of me. At the Olympic trials there are 20- to 25,000 people and I have been doing that for years. The only thing that I need to do is to get my technique down right and make sure that I am injury free and I should do pretty well. My training is going phenomenally well and I am well ahead of schedule. I am on weight and only 3 ½ pounds over already. I didn’t expect to be this light but I take this product called Ultra Fiber DX™ from Angle Foods, which you can get at www.kurtanglefoods.com, it is an eight layer matrix that helps you lose body fat quicker than any other product on the market. It came from a doctor in Germany. So I been taking that and I lost 30 pounds in three months.
What do you think the future holds for you in film and in MMA?
I want to use the movies that I have done in the past year, especially with Lionsgate, as a platform to hopefully continue my acting career. I believe that the movies that I have done are very good choices. I didn’t take the lead role, they were co-leads or a smaller part like Koba was in “Warrior,” even though he was talked about a lot during the film, I am not in the film as much as you might think I would be. The fact that I was talked about during the whole film was an honor for me. When I was shown in the film, that was when people are like, “Wow” because they bought into a different person. They didn’t say, “Hey! Look! There is Kurt Angle!” They said, “Oh my gosh! Who is that beast from Russia, Koba?!” It was cool to see that reaction from fans that have already seen the movie. The future is very bright in regard to MMA. It really depends on how well I do at the Olympic trials. If I place in the top three, I imagine that MMA will still be knocking on my door. As far as movies, that is my general focus, along with Impact! Wrestling. I have a Pay-Per-View this Sunday, “No Surrender.” I am the World Champion and I have to defend my title. I am very true to my company.
What do you think is the biggest misconception out there right now about Kurt Angle when it comes to MMA?
There are a lot of rumors. I have had a lot of opportunities, thank God, in MMA. The problem is that reason that I didn’t get into MMA, where I had the opportunities to get into it, which was just about anywhere, were because they weren’t under the terms that I thought were best for me. The reason that I am trying out for the Olympics and not signing a deal with an MMA company is because it is under my terms. I know when the trials are, I know when I have to be ready. That is all I ask. Let me be prepared, let me be ready when I know I am going to be ready and give me the time to do it.
The Olympics seem like a very good platform for me. I knew I still had it in me, thank God! I knew that I could do really well. Trust me, trying out for the Olympics is a lot harder than getting into the octagon. The problem was the terms. I don’t want to discuss the terms but I do want to say that I do love Dana White. I want to respect his privacy when it comes to what those terms were, what his terms were. He is one of my good friends and I have the utmost respect for him. I can’t really talk about the terms but they just weren’t right and I couldn’t do it at the time.
Hopefully, we will be seeing you soon, Kurt! Thanks for your time. Keep your head up and keep moving forward!
Thank you for the interview! Take care!
For more information on Lionsgate’s ‘Warrior’, visit the official site for the film at www.warriorfilm.com. To get the latest on new on Kurt Angle’s Angle Foods, swing by the official site at www.anglefoods.net. You can catch Kurt Angle on IMPACT WRESTLING every Thursday night starting at 9/8c on SpikeTV!