WWE Classic of the Week: Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Kurt Angle, SummerSlam 2001

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WWE Classic of the Week: Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Kurt Angle, SummerSlam 2001
Credit: WWE.com

The history of WWE SummerSlam is dotted with classic matches, including the epic Intercontinental Championship bout between Bret Hart and Davey Boy Smith in 1992, the intense Unsanctioned Street Fight between Shawn Michaels and Triple H a decade later and the titanic clash between in the Mega Powers and Mega Bucks at the inaugural event in 1988.

A source of great matches on a seemingly annual basis, SummerSlam has also been home to some hidden gems that have gone somewhat underappreciated.

One such bout was a war over the WWE Championship between Kurt Angle and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. With more than just pride and gold on the line, the match was key in establishing control in the battle between Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Entertainment and the Alliance between World Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling.

Would Angle be able to wrest the title away from the Texas Rattlesnake, restoring power to WWE, or would Austin retain and continue to strengthen the Alliance's stranglehold on the wrestling landscape?

Find out in a moment. First, relive all of the events leading up to the monumental struggle for power and championship glory.

 

Background

The 2001 King of the Ring pay-per-view was both celebratory and painful for both Angle and Austin. The former Olympic gold medalist had defeated Shane McMahon in a Match of the Year candidate Street Fight but, in the process, had fractured his tailbone. As one could imagine, it sent pain coursing through the body of the double-tough competitor and necessitated some time away from the squared circle.

Austin suffered injuries to his back and his hand when he was violently tossed through an announce table by invading Superstar Booker T. The former WCW headliner was making his debut and decided to do so by targeting the top guy in the industry.

With both sidelined, the consummate performers resorted to backstage vignettes involving Mr. McMahon and Debra that played to their entertaining and comedic sides. Austin would play guitar, singing a horrible rendition of "Kumbaya," while Angle would irritate the WWE champion.

Both Superstars fought for the affection of McMahon, who seemed somewhat disgusted by the childish nature of two of the men tasked with defending his company from the outsiders invading it on a weekly basis.

Returning to the squared circle in July, they focused their attention on presenting a united front against the Alliance. They teamed together at the Invasion pay-per-view, leading a team consisting of Chris Jericho, Kane and Undertaker into battle against Diamond Dallas Page, Booker T, Rhyno and the Dudley Boyz.

The match was a war that appeared to be going WWE's way. Then it happened. Austin betrayed Angle, McMahon and the entire company by aligning himself with Stephanie and Shane McMahon's ragtag bunch of invaders. It was a shocking development, one that immediately thrust Angle into a role he was unfamiliar with: lead babyface.

As the leader of WWE, Angle became immensely popular with the fanbase. He defeated Booker T to win the WCW Championship on July 24 but dropped it back to him six days later following interference from Austin. It intensified a rivalry that, quite frankly, did not need it.

As the Superstars arrived in San Jose for the annual summertime spectacular, the tension had reached a fever pitch.

 

The Match

 

Analysis

There is simply no better way to put over a Superstar as an unbeatable force than the way Steve Austin put Kurt Angle over at SummerSlam 2001.

The Olympic gold medalist fought through several Stone Cold Stunners, a deep laceration that left him sporting the proverbial crimson mask and crooked officiating from Alliance referee Nick Patrick to nearly capture the WWE Championship.

Angle turned in the performance of a lifetime, the type of which that should rank among his best but for whatever reason is often forgotten. He was unstoppable and had the San Jose fans eating out of the palm of his hand.

At the time, the booking was questioned. Austin looked dominant as he worked over Angle throughout, and some wondered why the heel was allowed to take advantage of the babyface. The fact was that Angle needed to appear vulnerable and needed to look like a resilient badass to be fully accepted by WWE fans.

That happened, and the Olympic gold medalist was a made man as a result.

 

Aftermath

Just 24 hours after seeing his championship dreams dashed by referee Nick Patrick, Angle rolled into Monday Night Raw and doused the entire Alliance in milk, recreating Austin's historic beer truck angle to a tremendous reaction.

The feud would continue over the next month, leading to a pay-per-view rematch in Angle's hometown of Pittsburgh at Unforgiven. With the hearts of Americans still heavy from the unprecedented and unforeseen terrorist attacks of September 11, the American hero forced Austin to tap out to the ankle lock.

He celebrated the huge title victory with his family to send the show off the air and deliver the happy ending so many had hoped for.

Of course, Austin would regain the title on the October 8 episode of Monday Night Raw, thanks to the shocking turn of WWE commissioner William Regal. The title switch was necessary, as the Alliance needed to maintain the power that came with the title if the faction was to be taken seriously following a myriad of awful booking decisions.

At the Survivor Series PPV in November 2001, Kurt Angle would reveal himself to be a mole for Vince McMahon. Weeks earlier, he had seemingly turned his back on WWE in joining the Alliance, but it was all a ruse, a deep-planted seed to ensure the WWE's triumph over the evil invaders in the Winner Takes All main event.

In December at Vengeance, a freshly turned Austin defeated McMahon's heel associate in Angle to retain the WWE Championship during the one-night tournament to crown the undisputed champion.

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