“This is awesome” is a chant often times overused and misplaced by wrestling crowds everywhere. A high spot here or a nearfall there seems to warrant the coveted chant in today’s standards. Despite what I consider to be an ill-advised placement of those three words, I must admit beauty is in the eye of the beholder. However, it’s safe to say, the following match is universally recognized and accepted as true beauty inside a squared circle. Oh, it’s true. It’s damn true.
Case study: WrestleMania 21, Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle (Interpromotional match)
Michaels versus Angle at WrestleMania 21 in 2005 was noteworthy for a number of reasons. The brand extension was in full effect at this point. With Shawn Michaels representing RAW and Kurt Angle exclusive to SmackDown, a showdown pitting both superstars on wrestling’s biggest stage did not appear feasible. The 30-man co-branded Royal Rumble match, which took place two months prior, presented an opportunity to initiate a confrontation and spark a ‘Mania program between the two. Shawn Michaels seized the opportunity when he superkicked Kurt Angle over the top rope resulting in Angle’s elimination from the Rumble match. Angle, in full heel mode, rushed back into the ring to attack Michaels costing Michaels his shot to main event WrestleMania. And so their feud commenced. WWE would go on to use the term “interpromotional” to hype the match which was their way of promoting the matchup as a special attraction.
This matchup was so much more than just an interpromotional match. In fact, it marked the first time Shawn Michaels squared off against Kurt Angle. Fans had been fantasy booking their encounter for years. A dream match became realized. Jim Ross expected a classic and Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle fulfilled those expectations.
The match begins with a series of headlock takedowns from Shawn Michaels. After several unsuccessful attempts to break the headlock applied by Michaels, Angle connects with a right elbow and a shoulder tackle, but Michaels slams Angle with a hip toss and applies a short arm scissors. Angle eventually uses his strength to power out of the short arm scissors, but a missed clothesline from Angle provides Michaels the opportunity to ground Kurt Angle with a headlock takedown yet again.
Analysis: Storytelling is a key component in wrestling. Shawn Michaels controlled the bulk of the offense in the early portion of the match. His offense told a story; the story that Michaels would not be outwrestled by Angle. In the buildup to his match with Angle, Michaels referred to himself as “Mr. WrestleMania.” Jim Ross further cemented Michaels’ claim when he said “nobody has ever, ever outperformed Shawn Michaels in a big match situation.” With Kurt Angle as Michaels’ opponent, Michaels’ backed up his words with actions when he showcased his mat wrestling abilities against a mat technician in Kurt Angle. Angle smacked the canvas and tugged on Michaels’ hair in frustration each time Michaels applied a hold. The story from the onset focused on Angle’s uphill climb to defeat Michaels since Michaels came prepared to neutralize Angle’s strongest suit… grappling.
Angle finally backs Michaels into a corner to force a break. Referee Brian Hebner requests a clean break, but both men remain tangled. Angle and Michaels exchange punches before Hebner pulls Michaels out of the corner. With Michaels’ back turned to Angle, Angle blindsides Michaels with a forearm shot. Angle applies the Ankle Lock, but Michaels quickly gets out of it and tosses Angle over the top rope with a clothesline.
Analysis: A story continued to be told through their actions. They seamlessly transitioned from mat wrestling to brawling. Both men are not obeying the referee’s count of five, which could lead to a double disqualification. But the idea is to convey to the audience their storyline hatred for one another.
Angle lands a right hand on Michaels and two European uppercuts. Angle places Michaels in vertical suplex position, but Michaels blocks Angle’s intention to deliver a suplex onto the SmackDown announce table with a pair of chops to the chest of Angle. Angle dodges a clothesline from Michaels and lifts Michaels on his shoulders in an Angle Slam position but instead drives Michaels’ lower back into the steel ring post.
Analysis: This is the part where the heel is in control for a substantial amount of time. It’s a common theme in matches for the heel to be on offense at the halfway mark of a match. I mentioned this in my previous match breakdown of Booker T versus The Rock from SummerSlam 2001. Angle shifts the momentum in his favor in a cheap manner by using the steel ring post, which is a clever and effective way for a heel to garner jeers from the crowd.
The action returns to the ring where Angle locks in a body scissors on Michaels. Michaels fights out of it, but Angle Irish whips Michaels into a corner (Michaels sells it with his signature flip) and hits a belly-to-belly suplex. Angle connects with another belly-to-belly suplex and crawls into a cover. Michaels kicks out at two. Angle plants his right knee on Michaels’ lower back as he applies pressure on Michaels’ neck. Michaels battles back with body blows, punches and chops, but Angle takes him down with a stiff clothesline after Michaels slaps Angle in the face. Angle covers again and gets a two count.
Analysis: Michaels previously had slapped Angle in the face at the very beginning of the match. Keep in mind, Michaels is not a “white-meat” babyface. In other words, he’s not your all-around good guy. Heel-like tendencies like a slap to the face of his opponent are common from a babyface like Michaels. Angle’s facial expression sold the slap perfectly. The decision to go with a stiff clothesline following the slap was appropriate. It looked as if he had chopped Michaels’ head off.
Angle tries to belly-to-belly suplex Michaels off the top rope, but Michaels knocks Angle off the turnbuckle. Michaels performs his signature elbow drop off the top rope, but Angle moves out of harm’s way. Angle elevates Michaels for the Angle Slam. Michaels, though, counters with an arm drag. The action spills outside for a second time when Michaels back body drops Angle over the top rope.
Analysis: The pace of the match is picking up with both guys attempting their signature maneuvers.
Michaels drops Angle with a top rope crossbody on the outside. Angle recovers soon after and attempts to German suplex Michaels off the apron. Michaels counters with elbow shots to the face and a low blow that goes unnoticed by the official. Angle gets back to his feet, but Michaels kicks him away and Angle lands on the announce table. With Angle resting on the announce table, Michaels dives onto Angle with a springboard crossbody off the apron. Both men are down as the referee begins to count. Angle and Michaels drag themselves back into the ring at the same time before the count of 10 to prevent the double countout.
Analysis: I believe that had to be the first time that someone teased a German suplex off the apron. The springboard crossbody off the apron and onto the announce table was also very innovative on Michaels’ part. So far, this match has featured mat wrestling, brawling and high spots all presented in a meaningful, fluid manner. It has the makings of a classic.
Michaels hits an atomic drop, a clothesline, and body slams Angle. Michaels climbs the turnbuckle and this time connects with his signature top rope elbow drop. Michaels sets up for Sweet Chin Music, but Angle catches his leg and reverses into the Ankle Lock. Michaels eventually grabs the bottom rope to force Angle to break the hold. Angle picks up Michaels for the Angle Slam, but Michaels momentarily reverses into a sunset flip. Angle, however, rolls through and re-applies the Ankle Lock. Michaels counters with a rollup on Angle for the first believable nearfall of the match. Michaels attempts Sweet Chin Music, but Angle counters with an Angle Slam. Angle covers Michaels for the second believable nearfall of the match. Angle places his hands over his face in disbelief that Michaels has managed to avoid losing the match after back-to-back Ankle Locks and an Angle Slam.
Analysis: That was a tremendous sequence with countless reversals that led to believable nearfalls. Angle’s facial expressions reinforce the story they’re aiming to tell in the ring. Michaels is “Mr. WrestleMania” and Angle must go above and beyond to defeat Michaels.
Angle attempts a moonsault off the top rope, but Michaels rolls out of the way. Michaels slowly makes his way up to the top turnbuckle when Angle rushes at him and hits an Angle Slam with Michaels standing atop the turnbuckle. Angle goes for a quick cover and Michaels again kicks out to create the third believable nearfall of the match.
Analysis: Storytelling at its finest. Angle decides to try something different since his finishing moves are not leading him to victory, so he attempts a moonsault which isn’t exactly a move he is known for. It shows desperation on Angle’s part.
Angle pulls Michaels up by the hair and yells in his face that his days are done and to tap out. Michaels strikes Angle with Sweet Chin Music out of nowhere. Michaels does not go for a pinfall attempt right away. Instead, he slowly crawls towards Angle and covers him with one arm. Angle raises his shoulder before the count of three to produce the nearest of nearfalls.
Analysis: Superb selling from Michaels. He convinces the audience of how grueling the match has been.
Both men are lying beside each other in the middle of the ring almost motionless. As Michaels gets back to his feet first, Angle suddenly reaches for Michaels’ left ankle and secures the Ankle Lock. Angle relentlessly keeps the Ankle Lock applied despite Michaels’ valiant effort to fight it off. Angle wraps his legs around Michaels’ left leg preventing Michaels from reaching the ropes. Michaels taps out giving Angle the submission victory.
Analysis: A fitting finish given Michaels’ tenacious efforts to not lose at various moments in the match. Michaels again sold the pain of the Ankle Lock very well by shaking his right leg, tapping his foot, and pulling his own hair.
Additional comments: The storytelling in this match shined throughout. The story of Angle’s determination to defeat Michaels and show that he belongs in the conversation of greatest wrestler of all-time was easily interpreted through Angle’s actions in the ring. Michaels looked strong in defeat because it took Kurt Angle several Ankle Lock attempts to make Michaels submit. They were allotted close to 30 minutes to produce something memorable and worked a perfectly paced match to succeed in doing so. Their chemistry was impeccable. Their match serves as a prime example of how a traditional singles match should be. In the end, the crowd gave both men a well-deserved standing ovation.
Verdict: An indisputable classic.
Final rating: *****
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Kevin Pinto- [email protected]
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