New Delhi: Kurt Angle would not have even imagined an Indian grappler finishing on the podium in the Olympic Games had it not been for Sushil Kumar`s historic bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games, which made the TNA impact wrestling legend stand up and take notice of the country.
The 45-year-old Angle, the only Olympic gold medallist (1996 Atlanta Games) in the history of professional wrestling, was effusive in his praise for India`s only double Olympic medallist, Sushil, whom he described as "one of the best grapplers in the world at the moment". Sushil had won silver medal at the London Games in 2012.
"Today is my favourite day as I am meeting Sushil Kumar. I love what he has accomplished in his career. I have a lot of respect for him. He knows what I have done, I know what he has done. It`s a mutual respect. Before 2008, I never really saw anybody who stood out from India. Then you have Sushil beating guys from United States, Iran and Russia, that speaks volume of his achievements," Angle told PTI in an interview.
"What he has accomplished for a country like India, it`s just amazing and something that most countries like India would have considered impossible. He won the silver medal at the London Games. He created history by winning the World Championship gold medal in Moscow, Russia. This is so important for your country. Wrestling has a future in India because of guys like Sushil," Angle, who was in the capital to promote TNA Wrestling in India, said.
Sony Six, which is the broadcast partner for TNA, plans to have 500 hours of programming each year keeping in mind the huge sports market potential in the country. Angle and TNA knockout champion Gail Kim were in the country on a week-long promotion tour and interacted with fans from Mumbai, Lucknow and Delhi.
Angle revisited his golden days as amateur wrestler while interacting with Sushil on their common favourite subject and said he wanted to see the next talent in the Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) from India.
"The reason you see success in amateur wrestling is because of this man. I want to see a talent from India at TNA. I am excited about the impact wrestling and it will be a good exposure for your country."
Angle said he would like to see the diminutive grappler compete in the Mixed Martial Arts.
"Sushil will be a much better MMA fighter than the pro wrestler. He will have much more success there. There is a lot of money in MMA and he will surely taste success there."
The six feet tall American wrestler also exuded confidence that Sushil will bring gold in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
"I believe he will win gold in Rio. The age of 30 to 34 is such when you are on peak of your body...Muscular, physical and endurance. He was just a kid when he wrestled in Beijing for that bronze. He was young and just 24 at that time. For me, he was a kid. His best years are ahead of him. His body looks in great shape. He can win a gold in 2016 if he remains injury free."
Kurt made his WWE debut at the 1999 Survivor Series. Within one calendar year, he won the King of the Ring Tournament, the Intercontinental Title, the European Title and most importantly the WWE Championship by beating the Rock.
Throughout his tenure with WWE, he was a six-time world champion (four-time WWF/E Champion, World Heavyweight Champion and WCW Champion). He also held the US Championship, Intercontinental Championship, European Championship, Hardcore Championship and WWE Tag Team Championship once each.
In addition, he was the winner of the King of the Ring tournament in 2000, the tenth Triple Crown Champion, and the fifth Grand Slam Champion. He is one of three wrestlers (Edge and The Big Show being the others) to have held every currently active male championship in WWE.
Angle, however, put Olympic wrestling ahead of professional wrestling and said he regrets his decision to have quit the amateur arena so early in his career.
"I think Olympic wrestling is way more important than pro wrestling. Olympic and pro are very different. I did not stay in wrestling for long. I was just 26 when I retired after winning the gold medal. I should have continued for a longer period. In pro wrestling, you entertain fans, you travel 300 days a year, it`s very different. Personally, I like TNA. I am more comfortable there than pro wrestling," he said.