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

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistSeptember 22, 2015

Credit: WWE.com

The second half of 2001 was a six-month period dedicated exclusively to telling the story of The Alliance vs. WWE, a story that saw Vince McMahon's company invaded and nearly put out of business by an unholy pairing of WCW and ECW stars, headed by the chairman's own children, Stephanie and Shane.

At the heart of the program was the rivalry between Kurt Angle and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin over the WWE Championship.

The Olympic gold medalist may once have been a milk-drinking goofball of a villain, but the betrayal of the promotion by The Texas Rattlesnake unleashed a side of Angle that fans had never seen, leading to his ascension as the top babyface in the company and the savior of WWE.

Just weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11 shook the United States and changed the world forever, United States hero Angle entered his hometown of Pittsburgh to challenge the vile "Stone Cold" for the top prize in the industry.

But first, their story.

Background

Austin's heel turn at WrestleMania X-Seven and subsequent alliance with Vince McMahon not only changed the face of WWE programming but led to a series of unexpectedly awesome, hilarious backstage segments involving fellow villain Angle.

With both Austin and Angle banged up following an intensely physical King of the Ring pay-per-view, they were left out of the squared circle for nearly a month, instead appearing in numerous backstage promos in which they vied for the affections of the boss.

From Austin strumming his guitar and singing to his presentation of both McMahon and Angle with cowboy hats, the pre-taped vignettes were outstanding and proved to the world that the two consummate entertainers could still bring a great deal to Raw and SmackDown even if they could not necessarily compete between the ropes.

As the Invasion angle unfolded, though, Austin stepped away from WWE programming, not feeling the love he needed from McMahon in order to serve as the face of the WWE front.

That changed on the final Raw before the Invasion pay-per-view in July, with Austin unleashing hell and looking more like the tough S.O.B. whom fans had come to love.

But it was a charade.

At Invasion, Austin betrayed WWE, leading to an emotionally charged main event at SummerSlam in August.

The Olympic gold medalist Angle attempted to wrest the heavyweight championship from Austin, thus bringing it back to WWE. Unfortunately for him, crooked refereeing by Alliance official Nick Patrick led to a disqualification.

Enraged over the events that unfolded one night earlier, Angle rode a milk truck into Monday night Raw and sprayed Austin and his Alliance peers with some Grade A wholesome milk, much to the delight of the fans.

Shortly thereafter, he humiliated Austin, forcing him to grant him a rematch amid threats of tossing him from a bridge. Instead, he simply shoved him into a kiddie pool, making the once-tough Texas Rattlesnake look more like a whimpering fool.

With Angle having Austin's number ahead of the much-anticipated main event, many wondered whether or not he could seal the deal and win the title in front of friends and family at Unforgiven.

The Match

The Analysis

There is no denying the killer in-ring chemistry that existed between Steve Austin and Kurt Angle. The Olympic gold medalist regularly brought the best out of Austin, allowing him to dip into the technical wrestling prowess he showcased during his days as a mechanic of a worker in WCW.

In return, Austin brought out an aggression in Angle that fans had never seen before.

Their match at SummerSlam may have been more intense and more emotional, but their Unforgiven bout had the added element of American pride, as Angle represented the pride of the United States, a country still reeling after the most devastating attack ever on its home soil.

Angle's locking in the ankle lock and defeating Austin by submission not only provided him and his family with an emotional moment following the bout but also allowed the Red, White and Blue to stand tall at a time when Americans needed it most.

For the first time in quite awhile, WWE Creative did the right thing, providing the easy and predictable finish rather than getting too cute with it. The result was a satisfying conclusion that sent fans home happy.

The Aftermath

Angle's championship reign would be short-lived. The first week of October brought about a rematch between the two on Monday Night Raw. Courtesy of a heel turn by general manager William Regal, Austin was able to regain his championship.

The Pittsburgh native would have his opportunity to regain the title at No Mercy in October, as both he and Rob Van Dam challenged Austin for the title in a Triple Threat match. He failed.

Then there was Angle's betrayal of WWE as the Invasion angle descended into nonsense, with no real clear path or logical storytelling.

It was all a ruse, though, as Angle revealed at Survivor Series in November that he was Vince McMahon's mole, turning on The Alliance and assisting WWE in victory. The feud would continue into 2002 before wrapping up just before February.

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