Kurt Angle is arguably one of the best in ring performers in wrestling history, and after transitioning from his Olympic success to the professional wrestling industry, he has delivered in every big match he has had, with an ability to play both heel and baby face, and work several different in ring styles. After 10 years away from the WWE, the company has finally decided to rightfully induct the Olympic Hero into their Hall of Fame in 2017, but after not competing for the biggest wrestling company in the world since 2006, there are many fans out there who don’t quite know how great Angle truly is.
Thankfully, I’m here to help, as I’m going to run down a list of 15 matches (in no particular order) from Angle’s time in both WWE and TNA that you need to see before his induction, so that you can truly appreciate his greatness (although there is countless matches that show off the different skills that Angle possesses).
15 Vs. Steve Austin – SummerSlam 2001
Stone Cold Steve Austin may have not been Kurt Angles best opponent, but it was this rivalry that truly cemented Kurt as a main event player, and after all the backstage interactions and entertaining promos between the two, their blend of different styles worked perfectly at the main event of SummerSlam. The match came in the midst of the Invasion storyline, and the two perfectly personified the hate that was meant to exist between the two companies, as the beat the living tar out of each other from start to finish, again showing Kurt’s great diversity. This is WWE though, and the finish was terribly overbooked, but until that point, it’s a must see match, as the two were able to captivate the audience and take them on a journey for what was an amazing bout.
14 Vs. Jeff Jarrett – Lockdown 2011
WWE are no strangers to using real life heat and altercations for ratings purposes, such as Matt Hardy and Edge’s problems in 2005, and 6 years later in TNA, management found themselves in the exact same situation. Kurt and his ex-wife Karen had just completed their divorce, when she began to see Jeff Jarrett, and word was that there was major tension between the two backstage, so the company decided to make this the top feud on the program. The story wasn’t told particularly well, but the matches they had were very entertaining, with Kurt helping Jarrett to look like the star he believed he was. This match was very personal and entertaining, contested inside a steel cage, and although Double-J got the win thanks to his now wife Karen Jarrett, Kurt would get the best of the feud, and sent Jarrett ‘To Mexico.’
13 Vs. Edge – Judgment Day 2002
When putting this list together, I knew that I had to have a one-on-one encounter with Edge featured, but there were so many to choose from, yet none that stood heads and shoulders above the other, but eventually, I realized that this one was a defining moment in both men’s careers. Edge was beginning to separate himself as a singles competitor, and Angle was looking to prove that he could work in any capacity, whether heel or face with any style, and thus this magnificent rivalry was born. This match in particular influenced Angle’s career in more than one way, as it was a hair vs. hair match, which saw Angle lose and adopt the famed bald hair that has defined his career thus far. The match itself was a typical bout from two such talented performers, but it is the one that stands out the most in their early rivalry.
12 Vs. Samoa Joe – Lockdown 2008
With Brock Lesnar returning to WWE in 2012, it is clear that the professional wrestling business as a whole was looking to replicate real physicality and MMA style bouts, due to the rising success of the UFC, and if any bout in TNA’s history represents this feeling, it’s the steel cage bout that was contested between Angle and Joe in 2008, for the TNA World Heavyweight Championship. You would have been forgiven if you thought you were watching an MMA bout, as two of the toughest guys in pro wrestling hit each other with every high impact move they could, in a match that made people think TNA could be true competition to WWE. It was a grueling and captivating match, and seeing Samoa Joe have his hand raised after victory was one of the best moments in the companies 11 year history at that point.
11 Vs. Shane McMahon – King of the Ring 2001
We all know by now that Shane McMahon is a daredevil, and has been responsible for some of the most jaw dropping moments in WWE history, but as an untrained wrestler, not many performers carried Shane to an overall great match. Enter Kurt Angle. This match was memorable for many reasons, but it was another example of how truly great Angle was, carrying Shane to a back and forth brutal match, where Shane took Kurt to his limit. The high point (or low from Shane’s point of view) was when Kurt attempted to suplex McMahon through a pane of glass, until they realized the wrong glass was used, and Shane landed straight on top of his head. Shane insisted that he try again (thankfully it worked this time), and it took Kurt delivering a top rope Angle slam to finish of the brutal bout.
10 Vs. Desmond Wolfe – Turning Point 2009
Nigel McGuinness, known in TNA as Desmond Wolfe could have been a huge star for WWE, after honing his skills all around the world and in Ring of Honor, but after he made a stop in TNA, his career ended very abruptly. To announce his arrival in the company, which at that stage was still enjoyable to watch, the U.K’s best technical wrestling talent (at the time) engaged in a feud with Kurt Angle, which featured one of the best matches in the company, or any other in the year 2009. Despite hurting his back in the early stages of the bout, Angle continued on like nothing had happened, and the story the two told throughout 25 minutes of action was great, with each man needing to settle a score with the other.
9 With Chris Benoit vs. Edge and Rey Mysterio – No Mercy 2002
When the original brand split occurred just after the Attitude Era, RAW was seen as the superior show with all the big stars, but Smackdown gradually supplanted RAW, mainly due to the ‘Smackdown 6’. That group consisted of Eddie and Chavo Guerrero, Edge, Rey Mysterio, Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle, and under the tutelage of Paul Heyman, they defined what Smackdown was, and it became a much better and consistent show than Monday Night RAW. This match was perhaps the crowning jewel of the rivalry between the three teams, as they looked to become the first ever Smackdown Tag Team Champions, they wrestled a furious pace which to most would have been hard to keep up the entire bout. This was an absolute master class in character work and true tag team wrestling.
8 Vs. AJ Styles - Hard Justice 2008
AJ Styles has established himself as one of the best wrestlers in the history of the industry over the last decade, and one of his most memorable opponents comes in the form of the Olympic Gold medalist, Kurt Angle. The two have had a storied history in their time in TNA, being both tag team partners (and even Champions at one point) and extremely bitter rivals. With two performers so talented, you’d expect all their matches to be great, in fact any of them are worthy of this list, but I’ve gone with the brutal Last Man Standing match from Hard Justice in 2008. The Phenomenal One got another victory over Angle, proving that both men were very capable of adapting their styles to suit any emotion or match, and thus the reason they will both be at the top of each others best rival lists.
7 Vs. Brock Lesnar – WrestleMania XIX
We will get to another Brock Lesnar match later in this list, but for very, very different reasons, as this bout featured one of the biggest botches in wrestling history. The match itself was great, another battle of two hard-hitting warriors in an intense struggle to see who was the better man, and who would walk out with the coveted WWE Championship. In doing this, Brock and Kurt tried to top everything they had done before, and this led Lesnar to the top rope to attempt the Shooting Star Press which he had executed several times down in developmental to finally put the nail in Kurt’s coffin. Unfortunately, Angle was too far away, and Lesnar landed directly on top of his head, a fall that could have killed most men, Brock somehow managed to go on. He somehow delivered his third F-5 of the match, winning the WWE Championship in the process. It was a worthy main event, and a great match, and one you have to see for the botch alone (if you haven’t seen it before).
6 Vs. Eddie Guerrero – WrestleMania XX
When you think of two wrestlers who could literally do it all, inside and outside of the ring, two of the top names that have to be mentioned are Kurt Angle and Eddie Guerrero, and after Eddie defied the odds and took the WWE Championship from Brock Lesnar at No Way Out, the two were set to square off in the most anticipated match of the big event. With the serious build to the match focused on Eddie’s real life struggles with drug and alcohol problems, the match felt much bigger than expected, and it was an emotional rollercoaster from the outset, as the two looked to reverse and top each other at every point. Like Eddie does so well, he switched up the emotion to end the bout, as he famously loosened his boot knowing the Ankle Lock was coming. This worked perfectly, as Angle was fooled by this, allowing Eddie to capitalize and win with a roll up, capping off what was an amazing match.
5 Vs. The Undertaker – No Way Out 2006
This match came around the time people were starting to question whether the Undertaker could still go at an elite level, so the two put all story lines and gimmicks aside, and just went out and waged war over the World Heavyweight Championship. Even throughout ‘Takers matches with Brock Lesnar, we had never seen him on the defensive as much as he was in this match, and it was amazing trying to see both men figure out new and innovative ways to put each other away. The match flowed well, had a huge table spot and a very surprising and exciting finish, where Angle reverses the Hell’s Gate submission into a pinning combination. Simply put, this match will be on both men’s top 10 by the time their career is over, as it was just a beautiful wrestling match.
4 Vs. Shawn Michaels – WrestleMania 21
When speaking of dream matches that happened, fans often point to Hogan vs. Rock, Cena vs. Rock or Sting vs. Triple H (essentially WCW vs. WWE, despite how bad it went), but one that blew all expectations out of the water was the classic WrestleMania encounter of the Heart Break Kid and the Wrestling Machine. The theme of WrestleMania being Hollywood was perfect, as these were two men who knew how to perform best under the bright lights, and they proved it on this night with over 25 minutes of flawless chain wrestling, reversals, high spots and near falls. They had other matches, but on the biggest stage, this was definitely their best, with Angle managing to get the best of Michaels with his patented Ankle Lock after a grueling spectacle.
3 Vs. Chris Benoit – Royal Rumble 2003
Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle are considered two of the best in ring technicians of all time, so when the two came together for a series of matches on Smackdown between 2002 and 2005, fans knew that they were in for an absolute treat. Despite clashing on bigger stages and with brutal stipulations involved, but from start to finish, nothing topped the classic that this pair put on at the 2003 Royal Rumble. The two were battling for the WWE Championship, and after Team Angle (Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas) were ejected from ringside, it was down to just the two to put on a technical masterpiece that would be among the best of both men’s careers. After escaping the Crippler Crossface, Angle would lock in the Ankle Lock for the final time, forcing Benoit to tap out so he could head to the main event of WrestleMania 19.
2 Vs. Samoa Joe – Turning Point 2006
Kurt Angle leaving the WWE for TNA in 2006 was highly shocking, and came completely out of nowhere, but when fans got over the initial shock, there were so many dream matches for Angle to have on the highly stacked TNA roster, but none more so than the undefeated Samoan Submission Machine. Despite many calling the previous match on this list in 2008 their best work, their second encounter at Turning Point was marginally better, with the fresh setting Angle was in making this feel truly special. Joe and Angle really personified what made TNA great, and this series of bouts was the highlight, with Joe managing to get his win back at Turning Point after Angle handed him his first TNA loss a month earlier. This was the peak of both men’s careers, and looking back on Kurt’s TNA career, this was definitely his best work.
1 Vs. Brock Lesnar – 60 Minute Ironman Match
Not only was Brock Lesnar one of Kurt’s best friends behind the scenes, but he was without a doubt Angle’s greatest rival, and on one throwaway episode of Smackdown in 2003, these two had one of the best matches in wrestling history. The two were engaged in a thrilling story that was all to see who was the Alpha male, and who would take home the WWE Championship, and they decided the only way to do that would be in a 60-minute Ironman match. It was a back and forth, hard hitting affair as you’d expect from these two men, and their story was told perfectly for a grueling and captivating hour. Angle may have lost after falling down to Brock 5-2 and struggling to even up the score, eventually losing 5-4 with his ankle lock locked in as the final bell sounded, but it was one of the most impressive matches in wrestling history, and would definitely be up there as the best match in both men’s careers.
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