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Bad dude's just Kurt's latest angle
By TY PILSON -- Calgary Sun

 For WWF Superstar Kurt Angle, the road from hero to heel hasn't been a hard one.

 Or a long one, either.
Kurt Angle in Toronto at SkyDome in March 2000. -- Ernest Doroszuk, Toronto Sun


 As one of the premier bad guys in the WWF, Angle spends most nights being heckled and booed by capacity crowds in cities across North America.

 Not that long ago, Angle was more accustomed to the cheers and accolades that came with the gold medal he won in the freestyle wrestling class at the Atlanta Summer Olympics in 1996.

 Still, the biggest change for the budding star has been the obvious difference between the worlds of amateur and professional wrestling.

 "It was a dramatic change," said Angle yesterday in a phone interview with the Sun from his home in Pittsburgh. "I was used too focusing on one opponent and how to beat him.

 "But in sports entertainment, there's a lot more to take into consideration."

 The 6-ft., 2-in., 220-lb. Angle will wrestle Rikishi Phatu when the WWF returns to the Saddledome tonight at 7:30 p.m.

 Angle made his debut in the WWF six months ago and caused waves immediately. Playing up the All-American, red-white-and-blue, real athlete persona, Angle soon became a fan favorite -- that they love to hate, that is.

 "When I first started, I wasn't a heel until I got on television," said Angle. "It was hard at the beginning."

 Angle's journey to the world of professional wrestling was a logical one -- especially given his background.

 He retired from amateur wrestling at the age of 27, but wasn't ready to leave public life.

 "I've always wanted to be in entertainment," said Angle, now 30. "And I still wanted to be an athlete."

 Angle investigated many avenues-- including starting his own fitness show -- before looking towards Connecticut and the headquarters of the WWF.

 He spent six months at the WWF's professional wrestling school -- learning the ins and outs of the business and the all-important aspects of showmanship -- and six months wrestling untelevised 'dark matches' in Memphis before breaking onto the WWF mainstream during a pay-per-view event.

 His wrestling background made his WWF training schedule shorter than it would have been for your average person, but it was his hardware that put him on the fast track to the big time, Angle said.

 "It had a lot to do with the Olympic gold medal," he explained. "They wanted to get me in as soon as possible."

 In short time, Angle won both the WWF European and Intercontinental Championships and made a name for himself in the superstar-laden world of professional wrestling.

 But as the fans voiced their displeasure with Angle's squeaky clean and incredibly cocky attitude -- his favorite saying is: "I have the three I's ... intensity, integrity and intelligence!" -- WWF owner Vince McMahon saw the opportunity to make Angle a heel.

 It's a role he's slowly learned to thrive in.

 The fans can be fickle, though, and Angle has saw his popularity unexpectedly rise as of late. So does he see himself changing into a babyface, much like the WWF's biggest star, The Rock, did?

 That's up to Vince McMahon, he said.

 As for the life of a heel out of the ring, Angle -- who runs community wrestling schools for young athletes -- said fans understand that the real Kurt Angle isn't the knave he portrays in the ring.

 "Never insult the fans intelligence," he said.

 "They come to be entertained and to see a show.

 "They know the difference."

 Angle's star in the WWF is definitely on the rise, as is the world of wrestling in general. The former Olympian knows he was smart to get on while the elevator was going up.

 "It's still rising," he said. "I came in at the exact right time."

More on Kurt Angle