WWE Classic of the Week: The Rock vs. Kurt Angle at No Way Out 2001

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 27, 2015

Credit: WWE.com

The main event of the No Way Out pay-per-view in February 2001 pitted The Rock against WWE champion Kurt Angle for the most prestigious prize in sports entertainment.

The second half of that night's double-main event, it would determine who would head to WrestleMania X-Seven to defend the title against Royal Rumble winner "Stone Cold" Steve Austin in one of the biggest and most important matches of all time.

For The Rock, the match was an opportunity to regain the title from a Superstar who defeated him the previous October for the gold. In that instance, the Olympic gold medalist had benefited from interference by Stephanie McMahon and Rikishi, stunning the world and The Great One by capturing the championship less than one year into his main-roster career.

For Angle, the match was a chance to prove that he was a legitimate main event star, one who did not need trickery or underhanded methods to beat the best competition in the world.

It was against that backdrop that the two iconic stars battled with the WWE Championship at stake.

But first, their story.

Background

No Mercy 2000 was a pay-per-view seemingly built to cap off the most amazing rookie year in WWE history with a heavyweight championship win. Kurt Angle, a 1996 Olympic gold medalist, had made as great an impact in as short a time as any fan had ever seen.

Emerging from the midcard to become a legitimate main event star thanks in large part to outstanding in-ring performances and growth as a worker, Angle earned the backing of management and the trust that they could strap the WWE title on him and let him run as champion during the typically down months of the fall and winter.

At the October event, Angle defeated The Rock in a match plagued by outside interference. Still, the victory did what it was intended to do in that it created another major main event attraction for the company to utilize.

Rock and Angle would again cross paths in December when they were two of the six Superstars to compete inside Hell in a Cell for the former amateur standout's heavyweight title.

Despite facing the challenge of five elite stars and wearing the proverbial crimson mask for the first time in his career, Angle emerged victorious.

On February 8, Rock defeated longtime rival The Big Show to earn his latest title opportunity against Angle, rekindling a rivalry between the two that would intensify when Angle put the Great One through a table to win a Six-Man Tag Team Tables match shortly before the event.

Showing more aggression and utilizing an ankle lock to nearly cripple his opponents, Angle was a completely different competitor than he was the last time he and his top contender battled on pay-per-view.

The Match

Full match available on WWE Network. For only $9.99, in case you were not aware.

Analysis

The war between The Rock and Kurt Angle at No Way Out 2001 was the first bout that really showcased the main event style Angle would incorporate in the months and years that followed. It relied heavily on the trading and countering of notable, signature and finishing maneuvers in an attempt to build drama.

Building said drama continued with extremely close near-falls that popped audiences and left them on the edge of their seats. Never before had the industry seen a perfect blend of traditional, catch-as-catch-can wrestling with the high-energy, high-impact style typical of the Attitude Era.

The interference by Big Show was unnecessary but did fit within the context of the story, given the fact that he had been feuding with both Rock and Angle since returning to the company a month earlier at the Royal Rumble.

Despite the fact that fans knew for a fact that Rock would be competing against Austin for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania, the performers were able to keep the audience in the palms of their hands, proving just how immensely talented they were.

There was a slight botch by referee Earl Hebner late in the match that threatened to drag down the quality, but Rock and Angle recovered, didn't miss a beat and delivered a satisfying conclusion to their heavyweight bout.

Aftermath

The feud between Kurt Angle and The Rock did not end at No Way Out. While they spent the majority of 2001 as allies in the war against the WCW-ECW Alliance, they revisited their rivalry in 2002.

At Vengeance in July, they were part of a Triple Threat match for the WWE Championship (also involving The Undertaker) that at the time was recognized by some as one of the best of its kind.

Rock would win the match and the title, further frustrating Angle.

Unfortunately, wrestling's most electrifying star would take his talents to Hollywood, robbing fans of more outstanding matches against his extraordinarily talented rival.

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