Wrestlemania 35: Kurt Angle's 10 Best Matches In WWE History
At Wrestlemania 35, Kurt Angle will retire from active in-ring competition, after two decades of wrestling at the highest level of the sport. He leaves behind an unparalleled legacy of technical excellence, on a pure move-for-move, spot-for-spot basis. And celebrated as he is--he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame two years ago--he is still underrated. He is not mentioned in the same breath as "Stone Cold" Steve Austin or The Rock. But he deserves to be.
Part of the reason for this status is that Angle worked as a heel for the majority of his career. His character was a sly meta-commentary on the Attitude Era, replete with badass antiheroes. Angle, on the other hand, was squeaky clean to a fault; he was the type of fresh-faced, jingoistic, All-American hero that would have been widely cheered in the '80s. This man won the gold medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics with a broken freakin' neck!
But instead, he was booed and mocked by audience for representing the very qualities they once cheered. He was always the most awkward, goofiest guy in the room. And he juxtaposed this with vicious technical skill; it was easy to mock the guy until the bell rang, at which point he made quick work of his opponent. There's nothing more frustrating than the villain who talks all the trash, and more than backs it up.
Recent weeks have seen Kurt Angle working a retirement angle on Raw and Smackdown, and during these matches, his opponents are largely carrying him; he can barely turn or move his neck due to his accumulated injuries. His Wrestlemania 35 is now set, and he'll go out facing Baron Corbin.
In case you're a newer fan who wasn't watching WWE during Angle's prime, or if you're an older fan who wants to revisit the Olympic champion's glory days, Gamespot Universe has you covered. Here are Kurt Angle's top 10 WWE Matches. And check out the match card and our predictions for Wrestlemania 35, which airs live on the WWE Network on April 7.
10. Kurt Angle vs. The Undertaker
No Way Out (2006)
In an interview with Complex Media, Kurt Angle told a story about how Undertaker wanted to face (and lose) to Angle at Wrestlemania. Vince McMahon, however, rejected those plans, and the two men had to settle for this match at No Way Out, one month prior to the big show.
The two men did everything they could, however, to treat this like a Wrestlemania main event. With several near falls and plenty of Angle's signature reversals, it was vastly superior to Undertaker's Wrestlemania match against Mark Henry later that year. And after enduring a close loss to the Olympic champion, Undertaker pulled Angle to his feet as a grudging sign of respect.
9. Kurt Angle vs. Shane McMahon
King of the Ring (2001) - Street Fight
Like Mankind vs. Undertaker at King of the Ring, like Mankind vs. The Rock at the Royal Rumble, this match was violent in a way that felt unprecedented.
The worst spot in the match was actually an accident. Angle was supposed to perform a belly-to-back suplex on Shane, sending him through a pane of glass. Instead, the glass didn't break, Shane landed on his head, and backstage, Vince almost stopped the match out of fear for his son's safety.
But the two men continued, and Angle picked up the win after performing an Angle Slam from the top rope off a plank of wood. Visceral, violent, and memorable, this match showed early on that the All-American boy had a darker, meaner side to him.
8. Kurt Angle & Ronda Rousey vs. Triple H and Stephanie McMahon
Wrestlemania 34 (2018)
Although Angle wasn't the focal point of this match, he played a vital supporting role, delivering what many considered the best match of the evening. To say it outperformed people's expectations is an understatement.
A first-time wrestler (Ronda Rousey), two aging legends (Angle and Triple H), and a non-wrestler (Stephanie McMahon) made it work via exhaustive planning and choreography. And Angle and Rousey, two athletes who gained their notoriety by dominating in legitimate shootfighting, emerged with the victory and the crowd's acceptance.
7. Kurt Angle vs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin
In 2001, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin turned heel, aligning with Vince McMahon to capture the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania X-Seven. He later turned even further to the dark side, by joining the WCW/ECW Alliance against WWE. And with the biggest antihero in the company now a villain, Kurt Angle's squeaky clean persona had become a perfect foil.
Angle, for one of the few times in his WWE career, was now a babyface. He went into this title match with the wind at his back; the audience was invested in an Angle victory, and the emotional component elevated what was already a high stakes confrontation; they didn't even wait to get into the ring before attacking each other. And although Angle lost due to some corrupt officiating, he got some revenge the following night on Raw, when he drove a milk truck to the ring and soaked Austin with a massive hose.
6. Kurt Angle vs. Eddie Guerrero
Wrestlemania XX (2004)
This match is overshadowed by everything else that happened that night. Brock Lesnar and Goldberg got booed out of the building. The Undertaker returned as his Dead Man persona with Paul Bearer. Chris Benoit toppled both Triple H and Shawn Michaels to capture the World Heavyweight Championship for the first time. And of course, there was the in-ring confetti celebration with Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit to close the show.
But the match that got Eddie to that picture-perfect conclusion is criminally underrated. In the lead-up to their fight at Wrestlemania, Angle brought real-life elements into the feud, slamming Eddie as a drug addict who didn't deserve to represent the company. And match itself was booked beautifully; the two men started slow with some classic mat wrestling, and then slowly transitioned into the bigger, flashier spots. Eddie won a with a big of signature trickery; he wriggled out of the Ankle Lock by taking off his boot. And the New York crowd ate it up.
5. Kurt Angle vs. The Undertaker vs. The Rock
Triple Threats can get predictable unless all three athletes have the stamina to grind them out. And in this regard, the Triple Threat between Kurt Angle, The Undertaker, and The Rock was perfectly timed. All three men were in the best conditioning of their respective careers, engaging constantly with their opponents and breaking up multiple pin counts
They fought in every possible permutation; as alliances against the odd man out, and as every man for himself. And they did a great job of incorporating the steel chairs and ring into the match, never making it feel like the hardcore elements were pure brutality for their own sake.
Angle has a gift for elevating the people around him. As technically stylish as he is, he was also an unselfish seller of everyone else's offense. The Rock was a bigger star leaving this match than he was entering it.
4. Kurt Angle & Chris Benoit vs Edge & Rey Mysterio
No Mercy (2002)
The old boxing adage holds true in professional wrestling too; styles make fights. And this match for the tag team titles at No Mercy was a great example of that. In one corner were Angle and Benoit, two of the most skilled technical grapplers on the roster. And on the other side, you had the flash and sizzle of Edge, and the high-flying antics of lucha libre from Rey. Lots of near falls, assists, and tag team chemistry made this match for the books.
One of the best parts of this bout is how Kurt played the heel, by treating Rey Mysterio as beneath him, and not worthy of his attention. He later paid for that lack of respect by when Rey, the ultimate underdog, rose to the occasion.
3. Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar
Smackdown (2003) - 60-Minute Iron Man Match
Kurt and Brock Lesnar had an incredible main event at Wrestlemania XIX, during which Lesnar famously under-rotated his Shooting Star Press and landed on his head. But the two of them were turning heads long before that. And their 60-minute Iron Man match on Smackdown was probably the best match the two of them ever put together.
These long matches have the potential to get tedious, but Angle and Lesnar mixed things up constantly. It started with Lesnar getting himself disqualified by using a steel chair. This gave Angle the first point of the match, but it also weakened him and allowed Brock to eventually win the match, and the WWE Championship, with a score of 5-4. In the final seconds of the fight, Angle cinched in the Ankle Lock, but Lesnar managed to hold on without tapping, thus avoiding the risky prospect of sudden death.
2. Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels
Wrestlemania 21 (2005)
The Heartbreak Kid is best known at Wrestlemania for his pair of matches against the Undertaker, But before that, his greatest Mania accomplishment may have been his barnburner of a match against Kurt Angle.
Shawn set the tone early on, by slapping Angle across the face in a blatant sign of disrespect.. And for the remainder of the match, Kurt Angle proved himself more than game for Mr. Wrestlemania. The match concluded, as so many Angle matches do, with an Ankle Lock. But Shawn and Kurt upped the drama of the submission by getting creative; Kurt rolled with Shawn every time he tried to twist his way out. Kurt eventually had to lock in the modified Grapevine Ankle Lock to stop Shawn from moving. Shawn tapped, and Kurt added another prestigious win to a storied career.
1. Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit
Royal Rumble (2003)
This is the greatest single match of Kurt Angle's career, and it came against a wrestler who, unlike the vast majority of the roster, could match Angle move for move.
From an in-ring standpoint, Chris Benoit was one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time. A graduate of the Hart family "Dungeon," Benoit was well-trained in the art of submission wrestling, and because he knew how to make things hurt, it gave his character that extra edge of believability.
And that's what makes this WWE Championship match stand head and shoulders above so many other WWE matches; it works as both a piece of theater and as a believable athletic, competition.There are narrative stakes, but they are completely baked into the action, rather than standing apart from it.
The storyline heading into the show is that Kurt Angle had Team Angle, comprised of Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin, flanking his every move. It was unlikely that Benoit would ever get a fair clean fight with those two skulking by ringside. But then, the referee sent Benjamin and Haas to the back, and the crowd cheered. Maybe, just maybe, Benoit could eke this one out.
And boy, did he try. One thing you'll notice when rewatching this match is there were a minimum of punches and kicks; it's almost wall-to-wall grappler-wrestling, in the truest sense of the word. And although Angle won the match and retained the WWE title, the crowd showed its approval of Benoit, giving him a standing ovation as he staggered to his feet.
A little over a year and a half later, Benoit would capture the World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania XX. His road to that eventual triumph, and his elevation from the midcard to the main event, started here. And Benoit had Angle to partially thank for that.