While the comparisons to amateur wrestling and professional wrestling seem obvious very few men have been able to make the transition to professional wrestling in the modern era.
Kurt Angle is the total package. He has athletic ability, intestinal fortitude, and is probably one of the most surprisingly entertaining men considering his background. No matter if he was main evening WrestleMania or opening match, Kurt Angle made sure his performance was remembered over all others.
While the last few years have been somewhat uneventful in his career there is no doubt in my mind that there is no one who has accomplished so much in such a short amount of time as Kurt Angle.
The Olympic gold medalist has won every title there is in the WWE and TNA and will no doubt be looked back on as one of the greatest professional wrestles of the early 21st century.
In his nearly 15 year career, half with WWE and half with TNA, he has had some of the best matches in both companies history so deciding on only ten was absolutely agonizing. There are only a select few men I enjoy watching in the squared circle more than Angle and many of those men will also be talked about today.
So without further adieu I present my tribute to a man with integrity, a man with intelligence, and a man with unmatched intensity. Oh it’s true – it’s (damn) true.
KURT ANGLE VS. SHANE MCMAHON (KING OF THE RING 2001)
Leave it to Kurt Angle to get a five star match out of a man who is not even a professionally trained wrestler. Shane McMahon might legitimately be certifiable. The spots he did in matches during the early 2000s were just bat shit crazy.
Angle and McMahon had a really intense street fight that worked to the benefit of the son of the WWE owner, and showed off what the traditional wrestler, Kurt Angle, could do outside of his element.
This matches claim to fame is obviously the spot when Kurt Angle attempts to throw “The Prodigal Son” through the King of the Ring’s glass displays.
Twice he bell-to-back supplexed him into the glass only for him to fall on his head. Angle, ever determined, muscled Shane ‘O Mac through the spots and then had to wheel his delirious opponent back to the ring on a piece of portable storage.
I mean it was almost as if Angle was wrestling a rag doll.
Shane managed to finish the match and even get some offense in near the end, but an Angle Slam off of the top turnbuckle sealed his fate and allowed Kurt Angle to get a measure of revenge against the owner of the newly emerging Alliance.
10. KURT ANGLE VS. AJ STYLES (HARD JUSTICE 2008)
This was the rematch to their first encounter at Slammiversary 2008 in which Angle was seeking revenge for Styles marrying his former wife, Karen Angle.
When Kurt Angle entered TNA in the late summer of 2006 I was beyond ecstatic. I immediately wrote a short list in my head of opponents I wanted him to meet. At the very top of list was AJ Styles.
The flashy high flying style from AJ really mixed well the seemingly endless variants of supplexs in Angle’s arsenal.
Since 2006 Styles and Angle have been opponents many times over, been in an alliance together at least twice, and even won the TNA Tag Team Championship together.
However, when they meet in the ring you can expect nothing but the best match of the night. Watch any match they’ve had and you’ll understand.
In the end this Last Man Standing match ended the same way their match at Slammiversary ended, with “The Phenomenal One” once again standing over a broken Kurt Angle.
The following TNA iMPACT! AJ Styles would even win Kurt Angle’s Olympic gold medal before Angle finally got his final redemption over Styles and his (storyline at the time) ex-wife later on. The two have a very storied history now and may once again find themselves on the same side of the ring when Kurt Angle returns.
9. KURT ANGLE VS. EDDIE GUERRERO (WRESTLEMANIA XX)
The interesting thing about Kurt Angle is that when he has one great match with an opponent he seems to continue to have many more.
With almost every opponent on this edition of the Countdown I could probably name two to three other great matches Angle had with them.
However, when it comes to Eddie Guerrero and Kurt Angle one clearly stands above the rest and that is their match at the 20th Anniversary of WrestleMania.
This match was a heel Kurt Angle spouting nonsense about how he had to give the fans a WWE Champion that they could be proud of. He brought up Eddie’s drug and alcohol addiction and his runs in with the police in an attempt to slander him.
Guerrero and Angle have a really good mat based encounter and add in Guerrero’s catch-catch-can reversals and you get a perfect WWE Championship match.
Guerrero sneaked out the victory by loosening the laces of his boot and luring Angle into applying the Angle Lock.
One he did so, Guerrero slipped out leaving the Olympic gold medalist holding his boot in bewilderment. Angle then unwisely charged Guerrero who rolled him up and used the ropes to get a quick three count.
Guerrero lied and cheated to defeat Kurt Angle and stole the match on the grandest stage of them all. it was a perfect ending to one of Guerrero’s best matches. Often the best matches someone has are when they are putting someone else over.
Angle certainly did a wonderful job of giving Eddie Guerrero his most notable moment.
8. KURT ANGLE & CHRIS BENOIT VS. REY MYSTERIO & EDGE (NO MERCY 2002)
To put it frankly this has to be among the greatest Tag Team matches in WWE history.
I can scarcely think of a Tag Team match that’d I’d be more okay with main eventing a Pay-Per-View event. This honestly could have closed No Mercy and I doubt anyone would have complained.
Few titles active in the WWE have had as good of a start as the WWE Tag Team Championship which was crowned to the winning team of this match.
Kurt Angle, with his reluctant partner Chris Benoit, took on the babyface pairing of Rey Mysterio and Edge in the finals of a tournament to decide the newly christened belts.
2002 was truly a great year in the WWE from an in-ring perspective.
WWE was enjoying the fruits of their monopoly and the influx of ECW and WCW talent had bloated the roster so much that McMahon and his team separated their brands.
In 2002 and 2003 WWE Smackdown! truly enjoyed the better roster. This is a prime example.
While these Edge was really the only tag team specialist every one in this match used some wonderful tag team maneuvers with their partners.
The rivals, Angle and Benoit, eked out the victory and became the first ever WWE Tag Team Champions. If you hate the state of the tag team division now go back and watch every detail of this match.
7. KURT ANGLE VS. JEFF JARRETT (LOCKDOWN 2011)
Art always finds a funny way to mimic reality.
I have no problem admitting that I think Jeff Jarrett is a complete joke. He is a great storyteller and has a wonderful understanding of the professional wrestling business, but his thinking he was a star that could stand among the likes of Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair is ridiculous.
However, it would be unfair of me to slight this awesome Steel Cage match and many of his other very entertaining performances.
This rivalry is very similar to the Edge-Matt Hardy-Lita saga from 2005.
TNA turned a real life situation between Jeff Jarrett and Kurt Angle and spun it into a storyline. Kurt and Karen Angle did in fact get a real divorce in late 2008 and she did go on to marry Jeff Jarrett in 2010.
So in the early months of 2011 this feud was drummed up due to the fact that most of the iMPACT wrestling fans already knew about it, and the company thought it would make for good television.
So= they went ahead and made a really personal, and somewhat uncomfortable, storyline about it. It was not the best told story, but the matches these two had were better than I would have ever imagined.
Honestly though, Kurt Angle gave Jeff Jarrett the best matches of his career and I think this Steel Cage match might actually be the single greatest match of his career.
Steel Cage matches are perfect for really personal rivalries like this and I’m glad I got to watch this live.
Near the end Angle, at 42, moonsaulted off of the top of the cage and missed Jarret. I thought his career might have been over after that. It looked so nasty.
Angle fought back, but his ex-wife would be the deciding factor in this match and allowed “Double J” to escape the cage. Angle would get the last laugh months later when he defeated Jarrett and “sent him to Mexico.”
6. KURT ANGLE VS. SAMOA JOE (TURNING POINT 2006)
Kurt Angle deserves the distinction of having the greatest debut in TNA history. Not only that, but his first feud/opponent might also be one of his greatest.
There MMA style bout at Lockdown 2008 is often pointed at as their best encounter, but as time has passed I think their original series of matches aged much better. None more so, than their second encounter at Turning Point 2006.
A month earlier Kurt Angle had his first ever match in TNA at Genesis 2006.
A match in which he handed Samoa Joe his first ever pin fall loss in TNA after over a year+ of being undefeated.
Angle, having just debuted, was really able to act both like a heel and fan favorite in this match. This made it interesting as he was able to low blow and use a chair against Joe, but somehow not come off like “the bad guy.”
This match was really the Angle Lock versus the Coquina Clutch.
It was great seeing all the reversals and counters. Just seeing Angle in a new environment with new opponents really revitalized his career for the next couple of years (even though it is now stale again).
I still maintain that nothing he has done in TNA has eclipsed the excitement and hype around his first series of matches with Samoa Joe.
This is how I like to remember TNA. Before Hogan. Before Bischoff. Just the best of the independent scene meeting the most unappreciated of the WWE. It was a formula that worked. In 2006 and 2007 it was the perfect mix of both worlds. Joe vs. Angle really captured that essence.
5. KURT ANGLE VS. THE UNDERTAKER (NO WAY OUT 2006)
Its no secret. This is one of my favorite matches of all time. Being a huge Undertaker and Kurt Angle fan, this is my Holy Grail.
The action in this match speaks for itself. I honestly think it is one of the few matches I could enjoy with no commentary from anyone.
There was no in depth storyline in this feud. It was just Undertaker wanting Angle’s World Heavyweight Championship. Simple. The match these two created was off the charts awesome. Kurt Angle controlled the pace of much of the match and dominated Undertaker in the offensive.
It is such a rare thing to see Undertaker play defense for such a majority of the contest, but it made for an unpredictably exciting 25 minutes.
The ending was perfect when it could have been disastrous to the match.
Angle reversed Undertaker’s gogoplata into a pinning combination. Angle won and looked like a badass for defeating “The Phenom” without burying the challenger by making him tap out after a long match where he played defense to the World Heavyweight Champion.
Many have speculated that this was, and should have been, Smackdown’s main event for WrestleMania 22.
Truth be told, I’m glad it was the main event of No Way Out instead. It truly shined bright on this smaller card and it might have just suffered terrible time restrictions on the latter WrestleMania show.
To me, this was Undertaker’s greatest non-gimmick match. He managed to put on one of the best matches of his career even when the bright lights of WrestleMania were not on.
As much as I love “The Deadman,” we all know that he cannot have great matches with just anyone, but when the right guy comes along he can absolutely put on match of the night no problem. Angle always brought out the work horse in Undertaker.
They had many good matches, but to me this was their bets collaboration.
4. KURT ANGLE VS. STEVE AUSTIN (SUMMERSLAM 2001)
Anytime I hear Jim Ross utter the words “slobber knocker” this is the match that immediately pops into my head.
Like the last match we discussed this is a personal favorite of mine. This is one of SummerSlam’s best main events and felt worthy of being a WrestleMania main event if I am being honest.
This match occurred during one of my most loathed story arcs in WWE history. The Invasion.
In saying that, some of the matches that occurred during this nearly endless story arc are amazing. The main event of SummerSlam 2001 probably being the greatest of all of them. It was a sloppy mess of a match, but Austin and Angle made their odd mixing of styles work and the end results is really entertaining.
Austin and Angle really more or less had a brawl rather than a match, but it looked so bad ass. To me, this might even be better than the main event of WrestleMania X-Seven which had occurred several months earlier.
The only knock I can give this match is the overbooked ending in which multiple referees are knocked out and an “Alliance” referee screws Kurt Angle out of the WWE Championship.
It was all a vehicle to make Austin the most hated man in the WWE, but now out of context the ending is too much. Even with the crap ending, this match just barely misses the top three.
3. KURT ANGLE VS. BROCK LESNAR (WWE SMACKDOWN!, SEPTEMBER 2003)
Where Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart missed the mark, Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle set the president for all future Iron Man matches to come.
I went back-and-forth on whether I wanted to give the third spot to this match or their more notable match at WrestleMania XIX.
Finally, I settled with their Iron Man match from WWE Smackdown! later that year. This may not be a popular decision, but for me it feels like the right one.
At SummerSlam, Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar had a second match which Angle won, but not before Lesnar enlisted the help of Mr. McMahon effectively turning him heel. So going into this rubber match both men had switched roles.
Not only is this one of Kurt Angle’s greatest matches, but it might be the greatest match in WWE Smackdown! history.
It was a one hour-Broadway, the WWE Championship changed hands, and it was a match between two of the most talented and over guys in the WWE at the time.
Stuff like this is what made the Thursday night show the “A Show” during it’s 2002-2003 run.
This also marked one of the last major one-on-one matches between the two men who spent most of 2003 feuding.
I have to say, after fantastic matches at WrestleMania, SummerSlam, and elsewhere, this match on Smackdown! was the perfect ending to one of the most back-and-forth rivalries in the WWE Championship’s history.
Brock Lesnar regained the title after Angle could not secure a fifth fall to tie the two men at five falls each. If he had he would have kept the WWE Championship.
Angle had the Angle Lock on Lesnar’s foot, but “The Next Big Thing” held on long enough for the time limit to expire and take the WWE Championship off of Kurt Angle for the second time in a year.
This would be the beginning of Brock Lesnar’s final reign as WWE Champion before an eight year exile to football and mixed martial arts.
I may regret not selecting their WrestleMania match, but like an good trilogy the final act is always the most well received.
2. KURT ANGLE VS. CHRIS BENOIT (ROYAL RUMBLE 2003)
There WrestleMania X-Seven match and their Steel Cage match from WWE Raw came to mind, but those honestly pale in comparison to Benoit and Angle’s clash at the 2003 Royal Rumble.
This match is a visual and audible example of why Benoit and Angle were in a league of their own during their WWE runs. They did what so many other men could not. They made mat wrestling entertaining.
To me this looked like WWE seeing how the crowd would react to “The Rapid Wolverine” in the main event. I don’t think management was disappointed.
They both wrestled a nearly perfect match for over 20 minutes. Supplexs of every kind, chops, submissions, and more unique counters than I could possibly name. This might be one of my personal favorite WWE Championship matches of all time.
What made these two so good was their pride. They both took so much pride in delivering the best match their worn down bodies could afford. I have so much respect for them for their efforts on this night.
Angle won after slipping out of the Crippler Crossface and locking in the Angle Lock for the final time. Benoit had no choice, but to submit to the champion.
After the match the Boston crowd gave Chris Benoit, the man who lost, a standing ovation as he stood in the center of the ring. Something which is almost unheard of in this day and age of professional wrestling.
A year later Chris Benoit would be the first man to enter the 2004 Royal Rumble – and the last to leave.
1. KURT ANGLE VS. SHAWN MICHAELS (WRESTLEMANIA 21)
We’d hate to be predictable, but in this case we were backed into a corner with nowhere to run.
“What is your dream match?” is the question wrestling fans often ask one another.
Angle and Michaels would not have sprung to my mind, but after watching this match live I think the meaning of “dream match” was forever redefined for me.
Some professional wrestlers just step into the ring and can make anyone of the roster look a million times better than they actually are. Angle and Michaels were two of those guys.
So even though they were wrestling for the very first time, their immeasurable skill at match-making allowed them to deliver one of the most revered WrestleMania matches of the modern era.
I suppose I need to point out that this is the third time Shawn Michaels has given someone their number one match on the Pro Wrestling Countdown.
Chris Jericho and The Undertaker being the previous two. I don’t want this to take anything away from the other three men. I think it is just proof that when you put two men who are some of the best at what they do, amazing things happen.
Kurt Angle forced Shawn Michaels to submit to his Angle Lock to end the match.
This finish followed an incredible 25+ minutes of chain wrestling, reversals, moonsaults, and near falls. They would go on to have two more matches of equal quality, but nothing could recapture the magic that these two created at under the lights of Hollywood and WrestleMania.
To me, was the closest WWE has ever come to replicating something like Flair/Steamboat. Bar none this is simply one of the best one-on-one matches I have ever seen.