Welcome to what will hopefully be the first in an on-going series looking at some of the greatest feuds in WWE history. We start with what was easily the greatest feud of 2005, and one that resulted in a bona-fide classic match, along with two further excellent efforts.
Shawn Michaels versus Kurt Angle was nothing more than a fantasy match-up for a number of years. 'The Heartbreak Kid' was in retirement following a serious back injury as the Olympic gold medallist began his meteoric rise to the top—proving himself as one of the greatest wrestlers in the world in the process. And following Michaels' comeback in 2002, the two best in-ring performers in the company had been kept apart as a result of the brand extension, and the match remained wishful thinking.
Until the 2005 Royal Rumble, that is.
Shortly after 'The Showstopper' had eliminated Angle from the Rumble match with Sweet Chin Music, 'The Olympic Hero' returned to the ring and threw Michaels over the top rope, before busting him wide open with the steel ring steps and trapping HBK in the ankle lock until he was dragged off by security. Fans were buzzing about the dramatic altercation, and the dream match came a step closer to reality.
The wheels had been set in motion for one of the most anticipated collisions in WWE history.
The following month at No Way Out, Angle lost a number one contender's match for the WWE Championship to John Cena, leaving him without an opponent for Wrestlemania. The following night, 'The Heartbreak Kid' made his intentions clear to Smackdown General Manager Teddy Long—he wanted Kurt Angle at Wrestlemania 21.
With anticipation for the clash between two of the all-time greats beginning to build, things came to an explosive head on the February 28 episode of Raw, after Michaels had managed to overcome Edge in a bloody Street Fight in the main event of the show.
The 'Wrestling Machine' stormed the ring and battered HBK to a pulp, before snarling into the microphone that he had accepted the challenge. Angle displayed ferocious intensity during the post-match attack, and the sight of him standing over the fallen 'Heartbreak Kid' with his civilian clothes stained in blood is one of the most memorable images seen on WWE television in recent years.
A week later, Angle made the rivalry more personal than ever. Adding an extra dimension to the rivalry, the Olympic gold medallist began belittling the achievements of 'The Heartbreak Kid' in an attempt to get inside his upcoming opponent's head.
Declaring himself the better wrestler, Angle vowed to rival the accomplishments of Shawn Michaels in only four weeks. Proving a man of his word, Angle quickly defeated a local competitor in a ladder match, mocking HBK's Wrestlemania 10 classic.
'The Olympic Hero' then furthered his intentions on the following episode of Smackdown, when in another 'blast from the past' Angle forced HBK's former tag team partner Marty Jannetty to tap out in a surprisingly competitive match-up.
The highlight of these segments came undoubtedly on March 24, when Angle came to the ring to Michaels' music, wearing his attire. To add further insult, he was accompanied by none other than Sensational Sherri; HBK's former manager.
Unleashing a reworked version of Michael's entrance theme dubbed 'Sexy Kurt', Angle vowed that 'I'll make your ankle hurt'. The song was hilarious and played to perfection by Angle, and his continued belittling of 'The Heartbreak Kid' only made the hatred between the two more intense.
Interrupting the promo to show the audience a highlight package of his career, Michaels received a rapturous ovation and almost brought Sensational Sherri to tears with the retrospective. Angle snapped, trapping the helpless valet in the ankle lock, before he was eventually removed by security.
The 'Wrestling Machine' also interfered in HBK's match with Muhammad Hussan on the final Raw before Wrestlemania, and the two traded blows before Angle fled.
With only six days to go, anticipation had reached fever pitch. Would the match live up to expectations?
Going back and forth and move for move for almost twenty-eight minutes, two of the greatest ever put on a wrestling clinic that was more than worthy of their lofty reputations. One of all-time greatest Wrestlemania matches, Angle secured the historic victory in the inaugural clash by forcing Michaels to tap out to the ankle lock.
One of the best technical encounters ever seen in a WWE ring, both men used nearly every move in their arsenal to try and put the other away. As the contest slowly built into a gripping near-fall contest, the fans were on the edge of their seats.
Winning the 2005 Pro Wrestling Illustrated 'Match of the Year' award, the crowd gave both men a standing ovation after the 'Wrestling Machine' had managed to overcome 'Mr. Wrestlemania' in his own back yard.
Three months later on the June 13 episode of Raw, Kurt Angle was moved to Raw as part of the WWE draft. Later that evening, HBK challenged his new stablemate to a Wrestlemania rematch at the upcoming Vengeance pay-per-view, which the Olympic gold medallist accepted.
At the event on June 26, 'The Heartbreak Kid' levelled the playing field when he got the three-count on Angle following Sweet Chin Music. Although they never managed to equal the incredible first encounter, both men were given a standing ovation by the crowd after the twenty-five minute battle.
With the rivalry now tied at one apiece following two excellent encounters, fans were hoping the eventual deciding contest would come sooner rather than later.
Following the news WWE's return to the USA network would be celebrated with a three-hour 'Homecoming' edition, it was announced that Shawn Michaels and the Olympic gold medallist would have a deciding match. This was no ordinary rubber match; it was contested after 30-minute Iron Man rules.
On October 3, 2005, the two great rivals held another excellent technical bout. The score was tied at 2-2 before the time limit expired, but 'The Heartbreak Kid' wanted more. Michaels grabbed the mic and demanded sudden death, but Angle instead retreated up the aisle to a chorus of boos from the audience.
Ultimately, Angle would leave the company the following year and we would never get to see the decisive final confrontation between the two that would have finally drawn the line under one of the greatest rivalries in recent years.
Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle are without question two of the greatest talents the business has ever seen, and their feud lived up to the incredibly high expectations.
Slowly building into a deep-seated personal rivalry over who was the better wrestler, the feud had it all; post-match attacks, surprise appearances, excellent promo work and of course, top quality in-ring action.
The feud saw some of the best work of Angle's career, as he was able to draw on multiple facets of his persona—the over-confident heel who belittles the accomplishments of his opponents, the more comedic side of his character was allowed to shine in the hilarious 'Sexy Kurt' segment, and the intensely driven competitor was allowed to shine in their multiple pull-apart brawls and in-ring classics. 'The Hearbreak Kid' also played his role to perfection, matching Angle every step of the way in both the physical and verbal confrontations.
There is often a danger when putting two legends in the ring together that the feud may not live up to the hype. This most definitely was not the case between these two great rivals and much like the performers themselves, the feud will go down as one of the best.