Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated’s in-depth look at MMA. Every week, this column offers insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.
Kurt Angle won an Olympic gold medal in amateur wrestling. He followed that up with an impressive second act, becoming a global entity as one of the most compelling pro wrestlers of all-time.
Had he ever competed in MMA, would the success have continued?
“We almost found out,” says Angle, who was recruited by UFC president Dana White more than 15 years ago after parting ways with WWE. “I was prepared to compete for UFC. There was a point in time I thought I would be with UFC and leave [pro wrestling promotion] TNA. Dana White was really nice to me. He offered me a one-fight deal for a lot of money, but I passed on that to stay with TNA. I got another great offer for The Ultimate Fighter with Kimbo Slice [in 2008], and that would have led to a six-fight contract. Ultimately, I stayed with pro wrestling.”
Given the chance to rewrite history, it would have been fascinating to follow Angle’s career had he signed with UFC. Although Angle wrestled at heavyweight, he would have been a perfect fit for the light heavyweight division—and it is fascinating to envision bouts against the likes of Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones.
“Daniel Cormier, that would have been a phenomenal matchup,” Angle says. “I would have loved to fight Daniel. I have a lot of respect for him. I consider him one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time. He struggled to beat Jon Jones, but Jones is one badass. When he’s on, I’m not sure there is anyone that could beat him. He had a lot of demons, but when that guy was on, he was the best.
“I would have loved the chance to test myself against them. I always had success at heavyweight in my career, but my natural weight is 200 and I do think light heavyweight would have been a better division for me.”
Angle will be a celebrity judge Friday night for Week 3 of the PFL Challenger Series. Eight heavyweights will compete to earn a PFL contract, which streams live on Fubo Sports. Judging remotely, Angle will be joined by former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir and former UFC light heavyweight champ Vitor Belfort.
“The PFL contacted me, and I’m thrilled about it,” Angle says. “I’m really honored to be a judge. I take pride in being an amateur wrestler, but I’ve also taken a lot of pride in studying the other fields of mixed martial arts.
“I’ll be judging the heavyweights. This could be the beginning of something I could do long-term. I’ve always wanted to be involved in MMA.”
Angle adds a lot of excitement to any broadcast. He concluded his brilliant pro wrestling career at WWE’s WrestleMania 35 in 2019. He has no plans to return, other than the occasional cameo, like he did last month at the 13th anniversary of WWE’s flagship show Monday Night Raw.
An element that made Angle so unique in pro wrestling was his comedic flair. In addition to being a world-class athlete and performer, he was able to capture the emotions of the crowd through his comedy. That was on display during the Raw celebration, as Angle joined the DX-led Shawn Michaels and Triple H group that made for an extremely entertaining segment.
“When I heard what was going to happen, I said, ‘Oh, I’m on board,’” Angle says. “I thought it was going to be a lot of fun working with those guys, and it was.
“A lot of wrestlers get insecure about making a goofball out of themselves, but it never bothered me. I have a legitimate background, so I always knew people would still take me seriously when I got in the ring. That’s the concern—you don’t want to be too funny or else you won’t be taken so seriously. But my background as an Olympic gold medalist made me different. I was a threat every time I walked in the ring.”
For those hoping for one more match, Angle, 54, said it is not going to happen.
“I don’t plan on doing another retirement match,” Angle says. “Once you do, you’re never retired—you just keep on going back and doing it over again.”
If Angle’s role with PFL expands, he will be a tremendous asset for the forward-thinking combat sports promotion. His insight is strong, and he possesses the ability to break down fights in a very understandable manner.
“People really should check this out on Friday night,” Angle says. “This company is hungry, and all year there are going to be great fights.”
Volk’s Stay in Featherweight Could Be Short-Lived
If Alexander Volkanovski defeats Islam Makhachev at UFC 284, he will be the sport’s newest champ. He is already the featherweight champ, and he would be adding the lightweight belt with a win–if that occurs, there will be a long-term opening atop the featherweight division.
There is every reason to believe Volkanovski can defeat Makhachev. He can scramble, strike and defend in ways that could pose problems for Makhachev, especially if he underestimates the threat Volkanovski poses.
Volkankovski has already announced his intent to defend both belts. Realistically, he will eventually have to relinquish one. And the money is at lightweight if he defeats Makhachev. There is the potential rematch against Makhachev, as well as bouts against Charles Oliveira, Dustin Poirier, Justin Gaethje, Michael Chandler, and potentially even Conor McGregor.
At this point, Volkanovski’s success has allowed him to outgrow the featherweights. Even if he loses the fight on Saturday, the best long-term for Volkanovski’s career is as a lightweight.