Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic

Professional wrestling is at it’s best when two combatants are paired up for a long feud in which the characters mesh well, the performers bring out the best in each other, and the storyline arc remains engaging, never feeling forced or rushed. Ideal examples include Flair/Steamboat, Hogan/Sting, and HHH/Rock. In 2003, WWE fans were treated to just such a feud: Kurt Angle versus Brock Lesnar.

TODAY’S ISSUE: Angle versus Lesnar

When former national collegiate wrestling champion and the youngest WWE champion in history (at that time) Brock Lesnar stood victorious at the 2003 Royal Rumble, he set his sights squarely on another amateur wrestling great, Olympic Gold Medallist and reigning WWE champion Kurt Angle.

During the build to their inevitable showdown, Angle threw everything but the kitchen sink at Lesnar, including a gauntlet match against Team Angle members Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas, followed by the requisite beat-down. Angle pulled the wool over Lesnar’s eyes weeks later when he switched places with his brother Eric just before a title match on SmackDown!, screwing the 300-pounder and then leaving him with aching ribs and more than a little frustrated. With interference from Team Angle and Paul Heyman eliminated, Angle’s reluctance to square off against Lesnar before the big dance and their amateur credentials ensured the main event of WrestleMania XIX would be an amazing contest, and the two mat wrestling greats did not disappoint on March 30 in Safeco Field, before a crowd of almost 55,000 rabid fans.

Suffering from legitimate nerve and spinal damage, calcium buildup, bone spurs and intervertebral disc problems (in other words, a seriously damaged neck), Angle’s experimental neck surgery was just 12 days away the night he battled the big, strong, highly-skilled Lesnar, who was sure to toss him all over the ring before all was said and done. One of the disadvantages of having a little “inside” information was evident here. My heart was in my throat the entire match since I knew how bad Angle’s neck had become. I was on edge from bell to bell, watching for any sign of a bad bump or a pained reaction from the Olympic Hero. Then again, I was able to appreciate the match on another level, knowing how bad Angle’s injuries were and admiring him for being a trooper through it all, and one tough son of a bitch. He literally risked his neck in the match, gutting out a dangerous and certainly painful 21 minutes to deliver an entertaining contest for the fans.

Ironically, it was Lesnar who nearly killed himself when the WWE debut of his Shooting Star Press went horribly wrong at the end of the match. You could tell he had serious trepidation about the inverted back-flip splash he was about to perform as he bounced on the top rope, clearly both judging his distance from Angle, who was too far away for Brock, and trying to generate more velocity for this dangerous maneuver.

In an intense back-and-forth battle, Lesnar survived Angle’s onslaught and the botched SSP to take Angle’s WWE championship from him, while Angle stepped aside for his surgery and subsequent recovery.

When Angle returned to SmackDown! after a miraculously brief 3 months, we learned that one man had kayfabe stepped up during Angle’s post-surgery recovery and showed true friendship and concern for the well being of both Kurt and his family. That man was WWE champion Brock Lesnar. Angle turned face, thanked Lesnar for his support, and formed a bond based upon mutual respect with the man who took his championship months earlier. But the former champ still wanted to climb the mountain once again, so Lesnar graciously offered Angle a rematch for the title. When the Big Show interjected himself in the proceedings, the result was a no-disqualification triple threat match at Vengeance on July 27th.

While Angle and Lesnar did show flashes of teamwork against the 500-pound giant, this was ultimately a battle for supremacy that only one man could win. Kurt declared his sovereignty when he pulled the referee outside the ring while Brock had the Show covered for what may have been the victory after hitting a very impressive F-5 on the behemoth. Lesnar showed his appreciation for Angle’s competitive spirit by joining him outside the ring and pummeling him, busting Angle open in the process. When he recovered, Angle responded in kind (but not kindly) with two devastating chair shots that drew blood from the Brock’s head, returning the favor. Following a bloody stare-down, the two grapplers took it to each other in a fierce, violent way.

After fending off the rampaging Big Show and enduring the loss of his own blood, Kurt Angle recaptured the WWE championship when he pinned Brock Lesnar following an Angle Slam. Thanks to their interaction in the match, and the very fact that Angle won the gold again, tensions were now running extremely high between the new champ and the former champ.

From here the two pals engaged in some goofy backstage buddy vignettes, sharing milk, and tricking each other into pushup contests, and the sap dripping from these scenes was palpable. But all that changed on August 7th. Thanks to their respect and appreciation of each other’s talents and drive, the pals once again agreed to face each other for the title. But Vince McMahon decided that Lesnar needed to earn another shot, and he eventually goaded Lesnar into a steel cage for later that night, with none other than Kurt Angle as the special guest referee. If Lesnar were to win, he would earn the right to face Angle for the WWE championship at SummerSlam.

Lesnar was knocked out backstage before the match, and seemed unable to compete, yet he somehow summoned the strength to face McMahon inside the cage, and quickly took command of the CEO. But when Brock hoisted Vinny Mac for the F-5, the earlier attack to his head caused apparent dizziness and disorientation as the announcers speculated about a possible concussion. McMahon, ever the sportsman, demanded Angle count the fall on the unconscious Lesnar and award the match to the evil billionaire. But when Angle had his back turned on his “friend”, Lesnar popped up and attacked the Olympian, revealing the collusion between McMahon and Lesnar. It was a plot all along, and Lesnar turned mega-heel in the blink of an eye. He’d betrayed his friend and allowed jealously and frustration to change the man he once was into a psychotic, dangerous, remorseless Mack truck with Kurt Angle and the WWE championship in his sights.

In the weeks leading up to SummerSlam, Lesnar displayed just how sinister and dangerous he’d become, crushing smaller opponents like Brian Kendrick and the one-legged Zack Gowen into oblivion. Angle was about to face a bloodthirsty, 300-pound wrecking machine with his most prized possession on the line.

I was there at the event in Phoenix that night, August 24th in the America West Arena. The crowd was solidly behind the defending champ, while Lesnar had earned the jeers he received from the hot Arizona crowd. The early story of the contest was Angle’s skill, speed, and level-headedness against Lesnar’s overwhelming power and intensity. For every well-executed move Angle delivered, Lesnar simply powered out of it and regained control of the match. Hanging on tenaciously and desperate to retain, Angle reversed an F-5 attempt into a beautiful tornado DDT. He then pulled down the straps on his wrestling singlet indicating he meant business, and drilled Brock with an Angle Slam. When that failed to end the match, Angle hit one of my favorite spots. He pulled his straps back up, set himself again, then pulled the straps down a second time and tied Lesnar’s leg in his dreaded ankle lock submission hold. The crowd popped huge for that sequence, and the two performers had us hanging on their every move.

Lesnar remained in the ankle lock while the ref was bumped, and even tapped out, although it wasn’t official since the ref never saw it. Brock seemed unable to escape Angle’s clutches until his new buddy Vince McMahon appeared and nailed Angle in the back with a steel chair. Lesnar then delivered an impressive one-legged, high angle F-5, planting Kurt on his head and seemingly knocking him out in the middle of the ring. Angle just barely kicked out of the pin cover, and at McMahon’s urging, Lesnar tried for another F-5 to seal the deal. The champion executed a smooth reversal into another ankle lock, and although it appeared illegal, the referee allowed Angle to continually drag Lesnar back to the middle of the ring each time Brock reached the ropes, until finally, the “manster” tapped out. Kurt Angle had successfully defended his title.

After the match, McMahon attacked Angle with a chair once again, but this time Kurt saw him coming. He stomped a mud hole, then set the chair up in the middle of the ring and drove Vinny Mac through it with an Angle Slam, exacting a measure of revenge that McMahon had coming. This was an exciting match, and so much fun to view live. These two greats were certainly on a roll as their war raged on.

And rage on it did, as Angle defended against Lesnar again less than one month later in the first ever 60-minute Iron Man match in SmackDown! history. Before the ten-minute mark, Lesnar utilized a HHH strategy from his Iron Man match against the Rock in 2000. Lesnar willingly gave up the first fall via disqualification when he brutalized Angle with a steel chair, then calmly delivered the first F-5 of the night to take a pinfall and tie the score at 1-1. The beauty of this gambit is that while the score remained the same as before the chair shots (0-0 versus 1-1), Lesnar got those shots in and hurt Angle very early in the contest. It was a brilliant move, and it showed that Brock had a long-term, albeit dastardly, plan for the one-hour contest.

Seizing the advantage, Lesnar cinched in Angle’s own ankle lock to score a submission and take the lead 2-1. Lesnar kept up the assault, and with 40 minutes left in the match, punished Angle with an F-5 delivered on the floor outside the ring. Unable to recover in time, the champ was counted out, and Brock increased his lead to 3-1. The determined champ struck back with an Angle Slam at the 34-minute mark and scored a pin, cutting Lesnar’s lead to 3-2. Shortly thereafter, Brock bumped the ref and hit Angle with a low blow, followed by a shot to the head with the WWE title belt. These illegal attacks lead to another pinfall for the challenger, who now led 4-2 with 29:30 to go in the contest.

After more intense give-and-take action, Lesnar drilled Angle with a vicious superplex, seemingly draining all remaining starch from his smaller opponent, and the champion now faced a desperate 3-falls deficit at 5-2, with 14:00 to go. After more intense action, Angle narrowed Lesnar’s lead with an explosive pop-up suplex from top rope at 9:50, making the score 5-3 in favor of Lesnar.

With just over four minutes to go, Angle hooked the ankle lock and repeated his SummerSlam routine of pulling Lesnar off the ropes until the challenger finally had no choice but to tap out. The submission brought the tally to 5-4 in favor of Lesnar, with Angle needing just one more fall to tie the score. But the champion would not find the illusive fifth fall. Angle did everything he could to break Lesnar down once more, but with 30 seconds remaining, Lesnar grabbed the official and snuck in a low blow on the former Olympian, effectively ending his championship reign with one blow. The proud, courageous, skilled champion deserved a better end to his run at the top of the mountain, but Lesnar was desperate to regain the gold, and his underhanded, unsportsmanlike conduct was more than the virtuous Angle could overcome on this night. Brock survived one final ankle lock as the clock ran down to zero, and Angle’s WWE title run came to an end.

What a phenomenal match this was. It was the type of bout that reminded me exactly why I love professional wrestling so much. It had drama, intensity, hard-hitting action, believability, and a great story that was a fitting end to the epic saga of Angle and Lesnar. Bravo, WWE. You did it right on September 18, 2003.

The war between the two former amateur greats also led to Team Angle versus Team Lesnar at Survivor Series 2003. Although Team Angle won the match, Lesnar eliminated Angle when he pinned him after an F-5, before Lesnar tapped out to Chris Benoit’s Crippler Crossface submission move.

In their three one-on-one matches, Lesnar defeated Angle for the title twice while Angle successfully defended the championship once. Angle won the title at Vengeance in the triple-threat match and Team Angle were victorious at Survivor Series over Team Lesnar, so I’ll call their overall feud a tie. The two mat technicians were so evenly matched and were such solid opponents for each other that it’s difficult to declare one superior to the other. From before WrestleMania XIX through Survivor Series 2003, the two were neck-and-neck every step of the way.

The war between Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar possessed an epic quality few storylines achieve today. With so much in common between them, it felt special each time they faced each other in the ring. When they locked eyes the intensity seemed real, and the chemistry they shared is rare in pro wrestling feuds, but magical when it does come along. Who knows, perhaps one day TNA will coax Lesnar out of the MMA cages and into the six-sided ring, allowing the possibility of more battles in the Angle/Lesnar war. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

p.s. – “Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.” – Hellen Keller

Before you go, check out our Rasslin’ Roundtable for WWE’s Vengeance. Compare our picks to Steve Murray’s live coverage, then look below for our staff scores.

IP Staff Roundtable Results for Vengeance
NOTE: I’m not counting the ECW title match, since it was changed from the match we all predicted, or the WWE tag team title match, since Deuce and Domino’s opponents were not named beforehand.

Mark Allen
WWE Vengeance (24 Jun 07): 6-1
Total: 16-7

Paul Beasley
WWE Vengeance (24 Jun 07): 6-1
Total: 6-1

Iain Burnside
WWE Vengeance (24 Jun 07): 6-1
Total: 75-48

Vinny Truncellito
WWE Vengeance (24 Jun 07): 5-2
Total: 116-71

WWE Vengeance (24 Jun 07): 5-2
Total: 40-23

Andy Wheeler
WWE Vengeance (24 Jun 07): 5-2
Total: 16-8

Danny Cox
WWE Vengeance (24 Jun 07): 5-2
Total: 64-58

Raffi Shamir
WWE Vengeance (24 Jun 07): 4-3
Total: 4-3

Pulse Glazer
WWE Vengeance (24 Jun 07): 4-3
Total: 53-50

Paulie Walker
WWE Vengeance (24 Jun 07): 4-3
Total: 4-3