The wrestling world was shocked to learn of Kurt Angle’s induction into the WWE Hall of Fame. Admittedly, it’s something I didn’t think would happen so quickly either. Still, here we are – Angle is finally getting the recognition he deserves. If you look back through the annals of WWE history, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more well-rounded superstar than Angle. At one point, he was one of if not the greatest technical wrestler on the planet. He very rarely had a poor performance. But, it was also his adaptability that made him great. You see that in a lot of the greats – Edge, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Dusty Rhodes – men who were veritable character Swiss army knives. They could be funny and entertaining, or serious and threatening. They could do whatever was asked of them flawlessly.
Angle belongs in that category. His comedy bits were gold. Conversely, he could come across as intense and competitive as anyone else. Regardless, he could flat out go when the bell rang. But, because of his unceremonious exit from the WWE, the door appeared closed on a return for a long time.
Now, Angle is headlining the WWE’s Hall of Fame class of 2017. They always say, “anything can happen in the WWE,” and I guess it continues to ring true. Nonetheless, let’s all celebrate this occasion by taking a trip down memory lane – Angle’s greatest matches in WWE history:
10. WWE Tag Team Championship: Kurt Angle & Chris Benoit vs. Edge & Rey Mysterio vs. Los Guerreros, Survivor Series 2002 – As the kids would say in 2017, that 2002 Smackdown tag team picture was straight fire. Between these three teams, the WWE Tag Team Championship matches were stealing the show each and every night. Though every iteration of these three teams entertained, it was the big three-way dance at Survivor Series that best encapsulates Smackdown’s early tag team scene.
9. Street Fight: Kurt Angle vs. Shane McMahon, King of the Ring 2001 – Everyone remembers the brutal spot when McMahon was dumped on his head, and the ensuing suplex through the glass. Angle and McMahon brawled for nearly 30 minutes that night. But, what many may not remember is that Angle had already wrestled in two matches, for a cumulative 18+ minutes, earlier in the night. Overall, it was a strong night for Angle, and created a moment that will forever be played in his career highlights.
8. WWE Championship: Kurt Angle vs. Eddie Guerrero, Wrestlemania XX – This was classic intense Angle versus classic, “lie, cheat, and steal” Guerrero. Like in his feuds with Benoit and Brock Lesnar before, Angle went out and put on a strong technical performance. Guerrero avoiding the ankle lock by slipping out of his boot was ingenious – a classic Wrestlemania moment.
7. Hair vs. Hair Match: Kurt Angle vs. Edge, Judgment Day 2002 – The single most underrated characteristic of Angle is his sense of humor. I don’t think it ever shined quite like it did after losing the Hair vs. Hair Match to Edge in Nashville, Tennessee. Sure, the match itself was great – but, it’s the image of Angle running around wearing a toupee under his wrestling headgear that really drove this feud home.
6. WWE Championship: Kurt Angle vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin, Summerslam 2001 – The WCW invasion angle of 2001 failed on a lot of levels. The fact that Austin turned on Vince McMahon and the WWE speaks to the lack of real star power on the side of The Alliance. But, over the course of that summer and fall, some great matches took place. Namely, Angle’s 22-minute classic opposite Austin at Summerslam.
5. World Heavyweight Championship: Kurt Angle vs. Undertaker, No Way Out 2006 – This one feels like somewhat of a forgotten classic. Some might argue that it’s Angle’s greatest match in WWE. It’s a shame that this couldn’t have headlined Wrestlemania that year, but early 2006 was all about Rey Mysterio. The match took place between Mysterio’s emotional Royal Rumble win and his emotional World Championship win in Chicago. If you’re having trouble recalling this match, there’s this thing called the WWE Network – $9.99 per month. Watch this one right away.
4. WWE Championship: Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit, Royal Rumble 2003 – Benoit seemed to physically push Angle about as hard as any opponent he had. The two were known for their supreme technical style, and though their bout at Wrestlemania X-Seven is largely underrated, it doesn’t top this battle for the gold at 2003’s installment of the Royal Rumble. It’s a clinic in technical wrestling.
3. WWE Championship: Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar, Wrestlemania XIX – Where do you go with the tremendous feud between Angle and Lesnar? It defined wrestling in 2003 – the two had an amazing Iron Man Match on an episode of Smackdown, they had a strong title match at Summerslam, a great Triple Threat Match (involving Big Show) at Vengeance, and even captained their own teams against each other at Survivor Series. I still default to that first one-on-one between the two at Wrestlemania XIX. It was a supreme test of wills on the biggest stage of the year (what remains one of the greatest Wrestlemania events to this day). And sure, Lesnar botching the Shooting Star Press is pretty memorable – have to acknowledge that.
2. WWE Championship Hell in a Cell: Kurt Angle vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. The Rock vs. Undertaker vs. Triple H vs. Rikishi, Armageddon 2000 – The match certainly wasn’t Angle’s finest from a pure wrestling standpoint. Arguably the biggest moment in the match came when Rikishi came tumbling off the top of the cell at the hands of The Undertaker. Nonetheless, it was loaded with WWE Hall of Famers, and Angle astonishingly walked out the victor. It capped off one of the WWE’s greatest rookie years in history, and established Angle as a main player in the landscape of the WWE.
1. Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels, Wrestlemania 21 – The opportunities for true dream matches come few and far between in professional wrestling – The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan, John Cena vs. The Rock, Sting vs. Triple H are just a few that come to mind. Those matches cover a span of 13 years. Think of all the ones we’ve missed out on along the way, too – Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Goldberg, The Undertaker vs. Sting, Daniel Bryan vs. Shawn Michaels. In 2005, WWE pulled the trigger on one that fans had been clamoring for since Michaels returned to the ring in 2002. Angle & Michaels were considered two of the best workers on the planet at the time. What they delivered in the ring that night in Los Angeles was truly special.