Q & A: Kurt Angle on Raw's 25th anniversary, the brilliance of A.J. Styles, and his WWE return

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Kurt Angle returned to WWE earlier this year. (International Business Times)
Kurt Angle returned to WWE earlier this year. (International Business Times)

When WWE comes to New York City on January 22, it will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of one of its flagship shows, “Monday Night Raw.” Ahead of the event, Yahoo Sports spoke with WWE Hall of Famer, and current Raw GM, Kurt Angle about the show’s impact on the wrestling industry, fan demands, and his long-awaited return to the company.

Yahoo Sports: Where does Raw stand right now, on the brink of its 25th anniversary? Can you give me a ‘State of the Brand’ rundown from your perspective?

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Kurt Angle: I’m really confident and comfortable. This has to be the best athletic roster in the history of Raw. I wouldn’t say we have the best characters or personalities, but the fans are demanding the big matches, the four and five-star matches, and Raw continues to deliver that. It’s different these days because we’re not focusing so much on character development as we are on in-ring skills. I have to commend the wrestlers on what they’ve been able to do to keep the fans happy.

YS: Coming to New York for Raw’s 25th anniversary has to be special for the company from a history perspective. What’s the legacy of Raw, both now and in the future?

KA: There’s no other show that has been able to have the success that Raw has been able to. 25 years, that’s almost unheard of, and I’ve been a part of a lot of those moments, especially during the seven years I was here earlier in my career. I just can’t believe it.

I don’t see Raw going anywhere else, so we’re doing something right. We have the best fans in the world because they continue to follow and watch our program in a world where there are so many other options. Raw continues to do respectable ratings. Is it as high as it was in the “Attitude Era?” No, but you have so many more choices it’s a different world. For that, Raw is stronger than ever and I’m really proud to be a part of it.

YS: You mention the fans. How different are they now as compared to 10 or 15 years ago? How difficult and important is it to cater to their desires?

KA: I think social media has a big role in this, where before it was really whatever the boss wanted, that’s what the fans were going to get. I’m not saying it’s changed now, but look at Daniel Bryan and his [Wrestlemania 30 run]. The fans wanted him and the WWE denied them that. Eventually the fans went into a hysteria, they demanded either you put him in the main event or we’re done. They got their wish. That’s where it is now. We write the storyline, we do the show and then we listen to the fans and how they react. We didn’t do that before, we didn’t have to but with social media you’re getting responses every week on what they thought and where they think things should go. Not that the WWE is going to whatever they say, but if the majority of fans agree, most likely WWE is going to go in that direction.

A great example is Roman Reigns. Half the fans love him, half the fans hate his guts, but the thing is they are all responding. Even if 100 percent of the fans hated his guts, as long as there’s a response – the last thing you want is to get in a ring and fans not to do anything, that means they don’t care about you – Romans Reigns will be a big star. A lot of fans will say “He makes me sick.” Yes, he does, but at least he’s bringing emotion out of you and that’s the toughest thing to do as a wrestler. That’s where we are now, the fans will demand what they want or what they don’t want and the WWE delivers it.

YS: With the 25th anniversary coming, can you give me two of your favorite moments from the show? One you were a part of and one you watched from afar or from the locker room.

KA: The milk truck was always my favorite moment and the crazy thing is it wasn’t even a wrestling match. As a wrestler, you’re always going to pick your favorite match over anything, but the moment I had with the milk truck was priceless. I talked about it in my Hall of Fame speech. Give these fans moments, things they’ll never forget and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a match. Give them something they’ll remember, something they’ll tell their kids about. That was my moment.

As far as moments that didn’t involve me, I hate to say it, but there wouldn’t have been the milk truck without the beer truck with [Stone Cold Steve] Austin from Raw. That was my favorite moment from when I first started watching. The crazy thing was two years later here I am driving the milk truck into the arena duplicating it. For me it was an honor to follow in his footsteps.

YS: When people talk about wrestlers making immediate impacts, they often look at your first year with WWE. A.J. Styles is wrapping up his second year and has been impressive, something fans saw firsthand on Raw after TLC. What are your thoughts on him? Any chance we see him on Raw soon?

KA: A.J. Styles right now is the best wrestler in the world. I’ve known him for 12 years. We wrestled when we were with a previous company [TNA]. We had some amazing matches and it blew my mind that the WWE either did not know or take notice of him. For that span of time I couldn’t believe that WWE wasn’t reaching out and trying to get A.J. Styles.

Now, A.J.’s first year was way better than mine, but keep in mind A.J.’s been wrestling for 19 years before he made his debut. There’s a big difference. I had six months of training, A.J. had 19 years. A.J. is one of a kind. A.J. was always special to me because when you wrestle A.J. you don’t have to do anything, he does all of the work for you and all you have to do is sell. He does all of the flying around and moves, you just have to catch him and flip over, you don’t have to do a lot of work. When someone like that can make you look just as good as him [that’s special] and that is what I took pride in what I started out – the reputation I had that I could have a five-star match with a broomstick – A.J. Styles, that’s who he is. I would love to have him on Raw, I just don’t think we’ll have that opportunity after recent events.

Angle wrestled alongside Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose at WWE’s TLC pay-per-view last October. (The Independent)
Angle wrestled alongside Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose at WWE’s TLC pay-per-view last October. (The Independent)

YS: What has it been like being back in the WWE? Going from the Hall of Fame to GM of Raw to even wrestling alongside the Shield. What has this journey been like for you?

KA: It was always my intention to get back in the ring, but the WWE wanted to take it slowly. They wanted to make sure I had my stuff together, that I was clean from drugs, that I was doing everything right and properly. The Hall of Fame came first, I became an ambassador for the company, then I quickly became the GM of Raw. I knew the wrestling was coming, it just came a little bit earlier than expected. The WWE has been monitoring me, looking at me, making sure I’m doing the right things. I knew it was what I had to do and I also knew four years ago when I was trying to get back that it was going to take time. I had to earn their trust. I had to show that I had my life going in the right direction.

When Vince McMahon knew that Roman Reigns wouldn’t be able to compete at TLC, he had to make a choice and he decided he needed the biggest name he could think of. That’s where we went right from there. It was a huge honor. I knew a lot of fans might be disappointed because it’s not The Shield, one of most notorious factions in wrestling history, but it was kind of nice to be part of that and make it a special event. I’ll remember it forever, it was really cool to team up with those guys.

YS: OK, so let’s dream-book Raw 25. Give me one match you’d like to see yourself competing in on that night and one match you’d like to watch as Kurt Angle the fan.

KA: What I would love to see is Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship. I would love to get one more go at Brock, he’s a special talent, he’s got it all. I’ve never seen a guy that big do the things he does and I’ve had a lot of great matches with him.

The other match I would love to see and it’s already been done before, but I would love a main event match between Finn Balor and A.J. Styles. I know they did that previously, but let’s do it on Monday Night Raw and give them 30 minutes. You give them 30 minutes and they will give you a 10-star match.

The 25th anniversary of “Monday Night Raw” will emanate from Barclays Center and Manhattan Center in New York City on Monday, January 22, and air live on USA Network at 8/7C. Tickets are available for each event through all Ticketmaster outlets now.

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