The Definitive List of Must-Watch Matches from Kurt AngleDecember 7, 2021
The Definitive List of Must-Watch Matches from Kurt Angle
Only a fool would try to limit a list of definitive Kurt Angle matches to 10.
Yet, here we are.
The 2017 Hall of Famer provided fans with a seemingly infinite number of classic encounters over his 22-year career, with championship clashes and high-intensity grudge matches making up an incomparable resume across WWE and TNA/Impact Wrestling.
The 52-year-old was a wrestling machine, a master of the mat and a 1996 Olympic gold medalist who adapted to the sports-entertainment industry faster than anyone before or since. He was a once-in-a-lifetime prospect who eclipsed even the loftiest of expectations.
One of the greatest professional wrestlers to lace a pair of boots and a man responsible for many modern-day epics, Angle was excellence personified and these are 10 definitive matches that have helped establish his legacy.
10. TNA Genesis 2009 vs. Jeff Jarrett
Rarely does a match get more real and raw than the showdown between Angle and Jeff Jarrett at TNA Wrestling's Genesis 2009. With the personal lives of each competitor spilling onto TV in the weeks leading into the match, fans knew to expect an emotionally intense contest.
What they didn't know is that both men would deliver a physical and dramatic battle that would rank among the best of their careers.
Placed in an unenviable position in which they had to set real-life animosity aside in the name of producing the best match possible, they more than delivered in a chaotic brawl that ended with the Olympian outwrestling his opponent with a crucifix pin.
It would not be the last time we saw the two do battle in a Dixie Carter-owned ring, but it was their best match by far and a reminder of just how well Angle could adapt his style to match his opponent.
So routinely characterized as a technical wrestler because of his unparalleled mat work, it was also further proof that when he wanted to, Angle was a badass brawler, too.
9. Backlash 2002 vs. Edge
There is a real argument to be made that every bit of Edge's success, including the world titles and 2012 Hall of Fame induction, would not have been possible without Kurt Angle.
At Backlash 2002, the Olympian battled the future Rated-R Superstar in a match that did more to elevate Edge in one night than anything WWE had attempted before.
Angle was an established star and clearly the best wrestler in the world, while his rival was still trying to find himself as a performer. The raw talent was there and he had the personality to succeed at the top of the card, but he needed that one match to really define him early on.
He got it with Angle.
The 13:25 barn burner saw Edge hang with a superior wrestler and nearly upset him, coming within seconds of defeating Angle on multiple occasions, only to have his opponent catch him mid-Spear with an Olympic Slam for the win from out of nowhere.
In the wake of the contest, no one remembered Edge lost, only that he and Angle had a hell of a contest that instantly elevated the young star.
For Angle, it was proof of his own star and how valuable it could be in helping bring along fresh new talent. He was the best in the business between the ropes and his employers recognized it, tasking him with helping establish one of the men who would stand atop the WWE mountain in the years to come.
That is a major compliment and a testament to just how great Angle was just three years into his own career.
8. WrestleMania 20 vs. Eddie Guerrero
Two of the best in the world battled for the top prize in professional wrestling, on the industry's grandest stage at WrestleMania XX when Angle challenged Eddie Guerrero for the WWE Championship.
What ensued was a balls-to-the-wall match with great psychology and a clever-as-hell finish.
Angle was the machine, a relentless force between the ropes who could punish opponents by picking them apart before inevitably tapping them out. Guerrero knew this. After Angle continued to target the champion's lower left leg, looking for his devastating ankle lock, Latino Heat unlaced his boot.
Angle went to apply the hold but was stunned when Guerrero's boot slid off his foot. Rushing the champ, the Olympian fell prey to a small package roll-up and some added leverage by way of the bottom rope as the titleholder retained.
There is no fascinating back story or obvious reason this belongs on Angle's definitive must-see list, other than the fact that it is a great professional wrestling match between two otherworldly talented individuals on a stage most wrestlers crave.
And sometimes, that's all the justification that is needed.
7. TNA Genesis 2006 vs. Samoa Joe
Angle shocked the wrestling world when he was released from WWE and showed up in TNA Wrestling just weeks later, arriving by way of a surprise video package and then confronting Samoa Joe days later in a segment that ended with a headbutt from The Wrestling Machine and a pull-apart brawl.
The feud between the best in the world and TNA's unstoppable badass, Joe, culminated in November 2006 with one of the most anticipated dream matches in wrestling history at the Genesis pay-per-view.
It did not disappoint.
The gritty, physical battle between the two men wowed fans in the Impact Zone and proved that the Angle, who had been beaten down and muddled in the mediocrity of the ECW relaunch just months earlier, was still an elite performer who could hang with the younger, more celebrated stars.
Not only could he hang, but he could also beat them.
Angle dealt Joe his first loss that night, establishing himself a top dog in Impact and intensifying a rivalry that would become one of his best and most grueling.
For the Hall of Famer, it turned out to be a watershed moment that allowed him to rediscover himself as a performer and begin to grow as the industry evolved around him.
6. WrestleMania XIX vs. Brock Lesnar
What Angle accomplished at WrestleMania XIX is nothing short of extraordinary.
Entering the main event of the industry's biggest extravaganza with a neck badly in need of surgical repair, he proceeded to have a 21-minute classic with Brock Lesnar, despite knowing one wrong bump could result in paralysis...or worse.
Just finishing the match would be a massive accomplishment, but Angle's heroics did not end there.
When Lesnar executed an ill-advised Shooting Star Press and landed directly on his head, concussing him, Angle took charge and saw to it the match finished. He essentially F-5'ed himself and directed Lesnar so The Beast Incarnate won the title as scheduled.
The post-match events, which saw Angle embrace Lesnar and put him over on wrestling's grandest stage, was evidence of the general he had become between the ropes. No longer just a really good pro wrestler, he was a leader who knew what needed to be done and saw to it that it happened, even when his own health was questionable to say the least.
It remains one of the gutsiest performances in modern wrestling history and the subject of the 2004 documentary The Mania of WrestleMania, which followed Angle's journey over the course of the weekend in Seattle and up to his surgery days later.
5. No Way Out 2006 vs. the Undertaker
Angle and The Undertaker had wrestled numerous times prior to February 2006 and while most of their matches had been good, the rivalry lacked that one transcendent bout to really establish it as one of the best of either man's career.
That all changed at No Way Out when the Pittsburgh native defended the World Heavyweight Championship against The Deadman in a hugely dramatic main event.
Borrowing from MMA, relying on the drama-heavy near-falls and thriving on reversals and counters, the contest was unlike anything anyone expected from the competitors based on what they had shown in previous encounters.
It was simply a phenomenal match that had the fans in Baltimore hanging on every spot, wondering how Angle would manage to counter his opponent's next attempt at a chokeslam or the tombstone piledriver. They got their answer when he shifted his body weight out of the Hell's Gate triangle choke and scored the win via pinfall.
The best wrestler on the planet outwrestled his opponent to retain the title. It was simple storytelling between two grizzled vets who knew how to produce the match that fans demanded of them. That was one of the best of that year and a turning point in the career of The Phenom that helped him evolve his style.
That likely doesn't happen if Angle hadn't forced it out of him in that instant classic.
4. King of the Ring 2001 vs. Shane McMahon
Before the 2001 King of the Ring PPV, we knew Angle could wrestle. He quickly established himself as one of the best in that field early in his career. What his match with Shane McMahon forced him to do was raise the intensity of his performance in a spectacle of a match that introduced the wrestling machine to uber-violence.
That Angle worked the majority of the match on a broken tailbone following a suplex on the floor only adds to the lore of the contest.
There was shattered glass following repeated attempts to suplex McMahon through the entrance stage, only for Angle to have to throw him through it. There was blood pouring from both men, with their bodies cut and sliced following the spot.
Back in the ring, a gutsy McMahon fought through the greatest beating of his career, refusing to quit until a top-rope Angle Slam off a piece of plywood gave him no other choice. Angle won the match, but more important than victory was the toughness both men showed.
There was no denying they were total badasses and that Angle could thrive in the brawling, hardcore style of wrestling. He was willing to push the envelope, too, something that set him apart from his fellow main eventers. That he could work that style and deliver a show-stealing, Match of the Year contender only further enhanced his legend.
3. No Mercy 2002 with Chris Benoit vs. Edge and Rey Mysterio
SmackDown was by far the best wrestling show on TV in the fall of 2002, thanks to head writer Paul Heyman's focus on six Superstars: Angle, Chris Benoit, Rey Mysterio, Edge, Eddie and Chavo Guerrero.
At No Mercy in October of that year, in the finals of the tournament to crown SmackDown tag team champions, Angle and Benoit battled Mysterio and Edge in an instant classic.
The match included four of the best wrestlers of all time, so it is no real surprise that it wound up being as great as it was. It was almost expected given how extraordinary that in-ring content between them and Los Guerreros had been in the lead-in to the show.
With a red-hot crowd, some superb sequences and a finish that saw Angle tap out Edge to the ankle lock for the clean win, the contest exceeded even the loftiest of expectations.
For the Olympian, it was merely the latest stepping stone on his journey to pro wrestling immortality.
No one doubted he was among the best in the industry, but his performance in the match only intensified chatter suggesting he was one of the best ever. And rightfully so. Just three years into his career, he had analysts tossing around star ratings few had ever achieved as consistently as him. He was at the top of his game as a singles competitor and had now conquered the industry as a tag performer, too.
Adaptable, intense, cerebral, funny; Angle he was a complete performer and no one could touch him at this point.
2. WrestleMania 21 vs. Shawn Michaels
Not since WrestleMania XII and the Iron man Match had a wrestler stood across the ring from Shawn Michaels and been his equal from an in-ring performance standpoint. That is, until WrestleMania 21 when Angle battled the Heartbreak Kid in one of the most anticipated matches on the jam-packed card.
The epic encounter unfolded at Staples Center in Los Angeles and, appropriately, had all the drama of an Academy Award-winning Hollywood blockbuster. The match was in-ring artistry at its best, with each spot intricately placed to generate a specific reaction and set up something later in the bout.
It was brilliantly orchestrated by two pro wrestling masterminds, both fully equipped to deliver the match of fans' dreams. They did, too, and captivated the audience all the way through until Angle applied his ankle lock and tapped Michaels out after two minutes of "will he, won't he" intrigue.
The match is, arguably, one of Angle's biggest and most meaningful.
We knew he was great before he set foot in the ring with Michaels, but there is something about proving it against the measuring stick in pro wrestling that makes it that much more significant.
Faced with a task that would be daunting to a much lesser-talented performer, he excelled and strengthened his argument as best of his generation.
1. Royal Rumble 2003 vs. Chris Benoit
Determining the best match of Angle's career is a daunting task but one would be hard pressed not to look at the WWE Championship defense against Chris Benoit from the 2003 Royal Rumble and recognize it as such.
A technical wrestling masterpiece that built on previous encounters between them and improved on every one, it captivated fans with professional wrestling rather than gimmicks and high spots. Two of the best technicians the industry has seen put together a masterclass in athleticism, strategy and physical toughness en route to Angle scoring the submission win.
The best match of either man's career, probably, it supported the idea that two wrestlers go to the ring and have their style of match and still be accepted in the main event role, something that would not have been the case a few years earlier at the height of the Attitude Era.
Angle and Benoit were equally essential to changing that mentality among fans.
Just two years earlier, it was a match relegated to the midcard at WrestleMania. Here, it was a world title contest, proof of just how much Angle and Benoit had helped to change perceptions about their style and where it could slot in on any given card.
They repaid the faith in them with an all-timer, a five-star encounter that can be put against any modern match and still be recognized as pro wrestling excellence.
The Definitive List... is an ongoing series detailing the 10 greatest matches in the careers of wrestling's greatest Superstars. Catch up now with these previous installments: "Macho Man" Randy Savage, The Attitude Era, Scott Hall and Mick Foley.