Kurt Angle, the 1996 Olympic gold medalist who performed for WWE from 1998 to 2006 as a six-time world champion, will headline the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2017.
Angle received the news Monday afternoon. The American will be inducted during a ceremony on Friday, March 31, as part of the WrestleMania 33 weekend festivities, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.
While the news is likely to catch many pro wrestling fans off guard, considering Angle's standing with WWE since his departure, no one was more surprised than the decorated former amateur who also won two NCAA Division I national championships during his time at Clarion University.
"I was shocked. I've been out of WWE for a long time and out of touch with them, so I didn't really expect this," Angle told ESPN.com. "It's a huge honor. This is the only Hall of Fame that I'm not in and probably [the one] I want to be in the most. This is the one that means the most for me. I had a lot of fun entertaining the fans for seven years with WWE, and I'm glad that my hard work paid off."
Angle, 48, spent 10 years with rival Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) after asking for his release from WWE in 2006. His post-WWE career was littered with legal issues and well-documented problems with substance abuse, though he's been clean for the last three years.
Asked to describe his relationship with WWE executives Vince McMahon and Paul "Triple H" Levesque over the past decade, Angle laughed before saying, "There wasn't one." But he went on to describe their breakup as mutual.
"It was one of those things where, when I left WWE, it wasn't on bad terms," Angle said. "It was just that I couldn't do anything for them anymore because I was banged up and they couldn't do anything more for me. I never felt ill will against them. It wasn't like a nasty parting, it was just our time is up. You go your way, and I'll go mine."
Angle said he spoke briefly with Levesque last May, when the seeds were planted for an eventual reunion of some kind with the company. But an immediate follow-up call never came, causing Angle to doubt his chances.
On Monday afternoon, Levesque made the call himself to break the news regarding the Hall of Fame.
"I figured they either decided they didn't want to do anything with me or they forgot," Angle said. "[Levesque] said they never forgot, and he called and told me this is the first thing they want to do. And whether I wrestle or not after this -- which is irrelevant right now -- I'm just really proud to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
"I gave a lot of energy and time to WWE those first seven years, and I'm grateful that they recognized it."
Angle said the first phone call he planned to make after hearing the news was to his old colleague, Hall of Famer "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.
"Steve and I have been up and down the road together. We had a lot of fun, and he is the one guy I have always kept in touch with," Angle said. "He taught me a lot about wrestling and he taught me how to be funny. I'll never forget that. He is a good friend."
While Angle expects Austin to be happy for him, that doesn't mean he expects Austin to show it.
"He'll just say, 'You deserve it, kid,'" Angle said. "Steve doesn't get excited for anything. He's just even-keeled all the time. Nothing surprises him. That's 'Stone Cold.' The character you saw on TV, that's him in real person."
Angle admits he had difficultly watching the current WWE product in recent years, not knowing if he was going to one day return. Although his WWE contract runs through the Hall of Fame ceremony, Angle said Monday that his new deal does not include a WrestleMania match.
"We have not talked about any wrestling," Angle said. "Whether we do or not, that remains to be seen. ... There are no guarantees. I think right now the most important thing is the Hall of Fame -- and I think both sides feel that way."
Angle took off most of 2016 from active wrestling, save for a few independent dates, to spend time with his wife, Giovanna, who gave birth to their third child in November. But he let out a hearty chuckle when asked how much he has left in the tank just two years shy of 50.
"Almost entirely full," Angle said. "The thing is -- I can still go. I think I have proven that in the other company [TNA] up until the day I retired. But that's not important to me anymore. I have a beautiful wife and five kids. I'm spending a lot of time with them.
"I took this year off and enjoyed it thoroughly; almost too much, to the point where I was thinking maybe I'm not going to go back anywhere. But I really believe that the contract with WWE, whether I wrestle or not -- and there aren't any guarantees either way -- I feel like being an ambassador to the company is the most important thing for them and for me right now."
Despite acknowledging how much he enjoyed his time during WWE's famed Attitude Era, Angle said he identifies with the company's current PG product aimed at children and families. He credited WWE's developmental third brand, NXT, with creating more talent within the company right now than at any point in WWE history.
"There are guys [I enjoy watching] like Rusev and Cesaro, Kevin Owens and Roman Reigns," Angle said. "But the ones that stick out to me are AJ Styles and Seth Rollins. I really like those talents. They seem to be carrying the torch right now. ... If I had my last match with whomever, it would be AJ Styles or Seth Rollins."
Angle captured just about every major title with the company and is regarded by many of his peers as the quickest learner they have ever seen, going from novice to prime time in record time.
"I literally started months before I started on TV," Angle said. "I want fans to remember me as a guy who could have an incredible match with just about anybody. That's what I take pride in. I didn't take pride in winning or losing. It was, how do I make my opponent look better? It was all about the quality of the match.
"There was unfinished business [with WWE] the day I asked for a release. I always knew that I would come back, I just didn't know when. This is my real home, and even though I was gone longer than when I started, this is where I made my name."