Kurt Angle and Ken Shamrock | The Fight That Almost Was

An MMA fight between Kurt Angle and Ken Shamrock was all but ready to occur. Here is how it almost went down.

The 1996 Olympic gold medallist and multi-time WWE and TNA world champion Kurt Angle versus 'The World's Most Dangerous Man' Ken Shamrock was discussed on several occasions, but unfortunately never came to fruition. Shamrock explains why. [design: JP Zarka / ProWrestlingStories.com]
The 1996 Olympic gold medalist and multi-time WWE and TNA world champion Kurt Angle versus “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” Ken Shamrock was discussed on several occasions, but unfortunately never came to fruition. Shamrock explains why. [design: JP Zarka / ProWrestlingStories.com]

The Money Fight That Never Came To Be

“The World’s Most Dangerous Man” versus a 1996 Olympic gold medalist and multi-time WWE and TNA world champion seems like a money headline. While this came close to reality on several occasions, unfortunately, a fight between Kurt Angle and Ken Shamrock failed to materialize not only as mixed martial arts bout but as a pro wrestling contest, too. They even shared the same finishing maneuver — one thing they could at least agree on! 

Ken Shamrock utilized the ankle lock during his run with the then-World Wrestling Federation between 1997-1999. As Shamrock was leaving the promotion to return to MMA, Kurt Angle joined the WWF. He began what would eventually be a Hall-Of-Fame career, tapping the likes of Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, John Cena, Brock Lesnar, and more out with the submission maneuver.

Ken Shamrock in 1998 at a WWF event wearing a t-shirt for the UFC 5 pay-per-view where he fought Royce Gracie for half an hour.
Ken Shamrock in 1998 at a WWF event wearing a t-shirt for the UFC 5 pay-per-view where he fought Royce Gracie for half an hour. [Photo: Wikipedia]
Before becoming a pro wrestler, Ken Shamrock was a legitimate star in the world of mixed-martial-arts and won the UFC Superfight (now Heavyweight) World Championship in 1995. He’s a true pioneer of the sport and a UFC Hall-Of-Famer. Amid his meteoric rise followed a sudden demise where he eventually saw defeat after defeat, many against opponents who would not have troubled him in his prime, causing his stellar career to become somewhat sullied. His record stands at 28-17-2. Unable to live the quiet life, Shamrock is still performing for Impact Wrestling at fifty-six years of age.

 

Kurt Angle, on the other hand, retired at WrestleMania 35 in a drab affair against Baron Corbin, but his two-decade career was anything but drab. A multitude of world championships in WWE and TNA, as well as countless enthralling matches on grand stages, ensured Angle had cemented his place as one of the very best professional wrestlers of all time.

After a tumultuous departure from WWE in 2006, Kurt Angle arrived in TNA and helped push the company to unscaled heights with his star power. Being part of the TNA roster was a considerable drop in workload and it gave him some well-earned time away from the road.

Kurt Angle as TNA champ in 2011
Kurt Angle as TNA champ. [Photo: Impact Wrestling]
During this time in Kurt Angle’s career, speculation began to rise over the potential of him taking up MMA. Considering his background as an Olympic gold-medal-winning wrestler, it was feasible that he might have some success within the sport. As a current example, Henry Cejudo, a fellow Olympic gold medalist, is a two-weight UFC World Champion. Wrestling is a fantastic foundation for any budding mixed-martial artist.

 

MMA, and more specifically, the UFC, was surging in popularity by the mid-2000s. It was beginning to appeal to pro wrestlers as an alternative way to earn a significant payday. A certain Brock Lesnar was taking his first steps in MMA by 2007 and was only five fights away from winning the UFC World Heavyweight Title. The bouts that Brock Lesnar was involved in were substantial commercial hits for the UFC, and he was proving that a standout amateur wrestler could cut it at the top of the MMA world. Undoubtedly, another big name from the popular pro wrestling platform would appeal to UFC promoter, Dana White. At least you would think so.

At this time, Ken Shamrock had been back fighting in the UFC and was on the wrong end of a trilogy of fights with UFC Light-Heavyweight World Champion, Tito Ortiz. Despite losing all three battles, Shamrock had helped all of those contests set record pay-per-view buy rates and television ratings for the UFC. His prowess was beginning to decline, but he could sell tickets, and fans tuned in to watch him in droves.

Kurt Angle and Ken Shamrock Fight – Where It All Went Wrong

As 2008 dawned, Ken Shamrock was struggling with some niggling injuries. Despite that, he signed with EliteXC and was preparing to battle Robert “Buzz” Berry in London in what turned out to be an infamously poor showing from Shamrock with the MMA legend suffering yet another first-round TKO loss. While promoting the fight, myself and the co-host of our former show, PWB Podcast, quizzed him about the potential clash with Kurt Angle proposed to be staged by the short-lived IFL (International Fight League).

“It’s just like when I went from MMA into the WWF world. I took less money when I first came in.”

“It wasn’t my world,” Shamrock explained. “I had to earn that money for [Vince McMahon and the WWF] to be able to pay me what the rest of the stars were making because I was worth it. I had to go into the world of professional wrestling, and I had to earn my stripes even though I was good at fighting. It took me a year-and-a-half to do that, and I did it.”

Shamrock continued, “Now, Kurt Angle was talking about coming into an industry where it’s real fighting, coming from the entertainment world, and he wanted to be paid like me, Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, and Chuck Liddell. He wanted pay like that when in fact, he hasn’t earned the right to get that money. Obviously, he has a name, but he’s coming into this industry unproven. Therefore there was no reason for him to get that kind of money. Not right off the bat.

“He wins a couple of fights – boom – he gets his payday. But, if he’s coming in right off the bat and he thinks he should get that kind of money, he isn’t the king in this sport. Maybe in wrestling, he gets that. If I were to go over there and wrestle and work with him in pro wrestling right now – he would make more money than me because he has the name, and I’m going to make good money, but he’s going to make more because that’s his world. For him to come over here and want to get paid more than the top guys here, that was just ludicrous.”

As it happens all too often in the fight game, it appeared that money became an insurmountable obstacle. Kurt Angle talked a lot about wanting fights with guys like Shamrock and Lesnar, but these ideas weren’t coming to fruition. UFC President Dana White expanded on why things never happened for Angle in a 2011 interview with MMAWeekly.com.

“What I offered [Angle] was, I said, here’s what I’ll do: ‘I’ll put you on The Ultimate Fighter during the heavyweight season when Kimbo was on.’ I was gonna put him on The Ultimate Fighter. He wanted to do it. We worked out a deal, but he didn’t pass the medicals.”

That’s not exactly a stunning revelation considering how Angle was renowned for wrestling while injured. Hell, he even won the 1996 Olympic Games with “a broken freaking neck!” He was often too tough for his own good. When he left the WWE under a cloud in 2006, injuries had been plaguing him, which then led to an unfortunate addiction to prescription drugs. 

“With the Olympics when I broke my neck and wasn’t cleared by the doctors, it felt like my life, my dream, was taken away from me,” Kurt Angle described in a 2016 interview with JP Zarka of Pro Wrestling Stories. “The same thing happened in the WWE. My neck kept breaking on me; four times in two-and-a-half-years, from 2003 to early 2006. It just felt like I just started in WWE in late ’99, early 2000, and now in 2003, I’m at the height of my career, and it’s being taken away from me. I just wanted to numb it.

“I was also in a very bad relationship,” Angle admits. “That didn’t help, either. I felt like as long as I was medicated, I would just keep working as hard as I could and make the best career that I could while it lasted, and that would be fine. As long as I could take the pills and not feel the pain, I would be okay.

“I got remarried and had more kids. I realized that there’s more to life than wrestling. My new wife really pulled me out of my mess. She was there at my worst. She was the one that said, ‘Listen, you need to do something. If you don’t, I’m going to leave you.’

“To me, that was too valuable. I didn’t want that to happen. I had the love of my wife and my beautiful kids. I went into rehab for them.”

Thankfully, today he is in a good place.

On the topic of Kurt Angle, just last year Ken Shamrock told Chris Van Vliet on his popular YouTube show that he still harbored hopes of wrestling Angle, despite the Olympian having retired at WrestleMania in 2019. Dreams of an MMA bout had all but disappeared, yet the born fighter in Shamrock still wanted to meet Kurt Angle in a contest of the sports entertainment variety.

“That’s a dream match for me, it really is. I respect Kurt. If you know Kurt’s history, that guy was a stud mentally and physically. He was just one of those kinds of guys that I could get behind. Having a match with him would really be an honor,” stated Shamrock.

I’ve had the privilege of speaking with Ken Shamrock on several occasions, and he couldn’t be more friendly. But running deep inside him is a fighting spirit that has burned since the day he was born. Competition is in his blood. Another quote from my interview with him for the PWB Podcast in 2008 summed up his attitude to life.

“Once a warrior – always a warrior. I don’t care if I was in a wheelchair and they wanted me to fight somebody – I’d fight ’em. That’s just my heart; it’s who I am.”

We’ll never know how a Kurt Angle and Ken Shamrock bout would have concluded in MMA or even pro wrestling. That’s left for fans to debate. But there is one thing that is for sure- a prime Ken Shamrock versus a prime Kurt Angle would have been quite the spectacle.

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Ian Aldous
Ian Aldous is a boxing writer and contributor to Pro Wrestling Stories. He has covered boxing for BoxingNews24.com since 2011 and represents the International Boxing Organization as a publicist. He briefly covered pro wrestling in the late 2000s for WrestlingNewsWorld.com and the PWB Podcast. He can be reached on Twitter: @ibopub and by e-mail: [email protected]