(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar – WWE SummerSlam 2003

wwe summerslam 2003 angle lesnar

If there’s one feeling or emotion that seems to be more widespread than others among wrestling fans it’s nostalgia. It seems like every fan yearns for things to go back to how they were in the past. Some fans want a full-on return to the Attitude Era.

Others want to see larger-than-life characters like Hogan and Savage. Others still prefer a time when wrestlers were taken a lot more seriously and didn’t act like everything is a joke.

Myself? I just want to see great matches that aren’t exclusively about flips and constant finishers and kick-out spam. And while there’s a place for that sort of match (for better or worse), it seems like older matches tend to hold up better than the wilder matches of today. But is that always the case? Well today I seek to find out. I recently reviewed the first match in the Kurt Angle/Brock Lesnar 2003 trilogy and now I’m looking at the second one. I want to see if these two wrestlers could make lightning strike twice in the same place and put on an equally-good as match as they did when they fought each other for the first time.

Today we revisit the singles match between the WWE Champion Kurt Angle and the challenger Brock Lesnar from SummerSlam 2003.

As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.

The story

Angle went into WrestleMania XIX as WWE Champion but lost it to Lesnar in a hard-fought battle. Angle was the villain in that match while Lesnar had been a babyface for months, and when Angle returned from neck surgery in June, the story became one of friendly competition between him and Lesnar. And when the Big Show attacked and injured Rey Mysterio, both Angle and Lesnar were on the same side in opposing the giant. The three of them met at Vengeance in July and Angle won the title in a triple threat match by pinning Big Show.

Lesnar was desperate to reclaim his lost WWE title; so desperate that he shook hands with the devil, which came in the form of Vince McMahon. Nine days before this event, Lesnar faced McMahon himself in a steel cage match to earn the right to face Angle for the title, with Angle acting as a special referee. Towards the end, Angle refuses to rule a decision since McMahon had used underhanded tactics and attacked Lesnar backstage before the match even started. Or so everyone thought. The whole thing turned out to be an elaborate ruse and Lesnar attacked an unsuspecting Angle, turning heel and aligning himself with McMahon officially.

The match

This match originally took place on August 24th, 2003. It was rated ****1/4 out of five by both the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer and TJR’s John Canton. That’s a pretty impressive rating for WWE at the time, since 5-star matches were few and far between during the 2000s and 5-star WWE matches were basically nonexistent at the time for whatever reason. I disagree with that notion, as several matches during the 2000s were, in fact, extremely good and some of them rank among the best ever. Let’s see if this is one of them.

They lock-up and Lesnar easily powers Angle into a corner for a clean break. Lesnar goes behind Lesnar and takes him to the mat but Lesnar counters into a hammerlock. Angle counters that and takes Lesnar down again, this time into a grounded side headlock. Lesnar escapes quickly, leading to a stalemate.

Lesnar tries taking Angle down but Angle counters with a drop toehold into another headlock. After more chain grappling they lock-up and Lesnar shoves Angle across the ring. Twice. On their next lock-up Angle shoves Lesnar into a corner, causing Lesnar’s cocky smile to disappear. Angle hits some quick armdrags casing Lesnar to escape to ringside to vent his frustrations. Lesnar throws a few objects around at ringside and starts leaving with Angle’s title belt but angle goes after him up the entrance ramp. Not sure why he’d do that; he could’ve just waited in the ring and gotten a count-out victory. Angle hits forearm clubs but Lesnar answers with a kneelift and then throws Angle into the side of the ring. They brawl a bit more at ringside but once in the ring Lesnar hits first with forearms. Angle dodges a corner charge and lands an overhead belly-to-belly suplex for a two-count. Angle goes for a corner whip but Lesnar repeats a spot from WrestleMania XIX and counters with an overhead press. But this time Lesnar marches around the ring with Angle above him and then drops him ringside.

Lesnar leaves the ring and whips Angle into the steel ringsteps. Back in the ring, Lesnar lands a belly-to-belly of his own for a two-count. Lesnar goes for another overhead press but this time Angle lands behind him and goes for a roll-up. One, two, Lesnar kicks out and hits a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker. Another cover and another kick-out. Lesnar applies a rear naked choke with bodyscissors to target two body parts at once but Angle escapes one hold at first and then the other. Angle elbows out and charges but rungs into a kneelift to the gut. Lesnar lands a rib breaker and some corner stomps/chokes but Angle fires back with punches and a roll-up for another two-count. Lesnar clotheslines Angle and then lands a delayed overhead cradle suplex for another two-count. Lesnar lands more corner shoulder thrusts and applies some kind of clasp but angle fights out, but only briefly because Lesnar drops him again.

Lesnar hits many more heaving shoulder thrusts into Angle’s midsection, but when he tries the same in a different corner Angle sidesteps and Lesnar hits his shoulder on the ringpost. Angle follows with a shoulderblock but Lesnar remains standing. Angle hits one more shoulderblock and then dropkicks the back of Lesnar’s knee. Lesnar tries shutting Angle’s momentum down but Angle manages to land a forearm smash. Angle follows with triple German suplexes and pins but only manages a two-count. Angle goes for an Irish whip but Lesnar counters with another belly-to-belly.

Lesnar goes for another one. Angle blocks and tries the Angle Slam. Lesnar blocks, sends Angle into the ropes, and hits a massive spinebuster. One, two, Angle kicks out. F-5 – No, Angle counters with a DDT. Angle covers but Lesnar kicks out. Angle signals the end. Angle Slam connects. Lesnar kicks out. Ankle lock. Lesnar touches the ropes but Angle pulls him back. Lesnar rolls through, breaking the hold and sending angle into the referee. Angle jumps onto Lesnar and locks in a type of Figure-4 neck lock. Lesnar starts fading. Angle switches to the ankle lock. Lesnar gets to the ropes twice, but there’s no ref to enforce the ropebreak. Lesnar taps out, but there’s no one to call the decision. Well, it turns out someone comes down. It’s Vince McMahon, and he’s got a steel chair. Vince whacks Angle with the chair. Lesnar gets up and despite having one bad leg he still hoists Angle onto his shoulders. One-legged F-5 connects. Lesnar’s slow to cover due to the pain in that leg. But he makes it over eventually. One…two…thr – Angle kicks out. Both Lesnar and Vince are furious over this yet their eyes meet and they seem to come to an understanding. Lesnar hobbles over for another F-5. Angle counters into another ankle lock. Lesnar reaches the ropes again but Angle pulls him back all the same. Lesnar taps out again. In full view of the referee this time. The ref calls for the bell. Angle retains his title.

Winner via submission and STILL WWE Champion after 21:28: Kurt Angle


This was disappointing. It was the worst of the Angle/Lesnar trilogy. It was hampered by too many ‘WWE-isms’ and tired wrestling clichés being shoehorned in to give the match a false sense of ‘drama’. But by going down that path, WWE stripped this match of what made it truly unique. They turned it into yet another WWE main-event match void of special attributes and turned into another subpar contest with hamfisted interference.

The match wasn’t anywhere near as good as the WrestleMania XIX match, but it was on its way down a similar path…until the last five minutes. It started off strongly with good wrestling, nice counters, and decent psychology from, of all people, Lesnar. He found a sudden opening once he dumped Angle to the floor. From then on he targeted Angle’s ribs and back with power moves that gradually softened Angle up until any big move could’ve ended the match for Lesnar. Although Angle didn’t have as much of a focused strategy as Lesnar, he still wrestled well and did whatever he could to exploit any weakness he could find. In this case, he found a simple one in targeting Lesnar’s leg with a dropkick and then an extended ankle lock that saw Lesnar tap not once but twice. I would’ve preferred it if Angle actually set up that move and weakened Lesnar’s leg a bit more over time, but that’s a minor nitpick compared to the elephant in the room: the convoluted closing sequence.

As soon as Vince came down the match went well down the path of silliness and opened a Pandora’s Box of questions that even the most casual of fans would’ve asked and probably did ask. Once the first ref got bumped, why didn’t another one come down right away like at SummerSlam 2001 (which, coincidentally, also involved Kurt Angle)? Why didn’t Vince just enforce a decision on his own? He’s the man in charge; why doesn’t he replace the ref and rule a decision? All the refs work for him and it’s not like any ref will argue with the guy that pays them.

But Vince’s sudden appearance wasn’t the only illogical moment in the match. There was another one when Lesnar left the ring with the title belt and started walking back up the ramp. Why would the challenger leave with a belt he hadn’t yet won? And if Angle was champion, why wouldn’t he just wait for the referee to count Lesnar out to retain his title? I know some might argue that Angle was being professional and valiant as a fighting champion and Lesnar was building cheap heat. But Lesnar isn’t a wrestler that succeeds as a villain by getting cheap heat. His whole gimmick is that he’s a special kind of ass-kicking monster. Lesnar suddenly cowering away is so out of character that it doesn’t build cheap heat, and damages the special aura he was supposed to be building and cultivating at the time.

I know people might say I shouldn’t apply common sense to something as ridiculous as pro wrestling by asking all these questions. But I’ve already seen examples of wrestlers wresting commonsensically and being logical. And once you have that precedent in place, it’s impossible to ignore it or pretend it never happened.

And really, that’s what hurts this match the most. Instead of letting these two wrestlers do their thing and make this into something special, the powers-that-be overthought everything and added too many unnecessary elements to it. The silliness of the ending contrasted so blatantly with the serious and straightforward match that was going on beforehand. There was simply no need for Vince to get involved or even for the referee to go down. There was already a solid story taking place: Angle was out-grappling Lesnar despite Lesnar’s power advantage and sound rib-targeting strategy. Angle made the superhuman Lesnar tap out and thus evened the score between them with one a piece. Why muddy the waters with such a simple storyline by shoehorning outside elements that didn’t belong in the first place?

Final Rating: ***3/4

Despite having amazing chemistry together and incredible athletic abilities, Angle and Lesnar just couldn’t be left alone here. For whatever reason, someone in WWE thought that a match between two incredible amateur wrestling greats wasn’t good enough on its own. What this match needed, apparently, was shenanigans.

This match was interesting on its own because it flips the script compared to the WrestleMania XIX match since the roles were reversed here. But really there’s nothing truly special here aside from seeing Lesnar show his freakish strength once again by landing a one-legged F-5. But if you’re interested in all the other stuff that supposedly makes this match iconic – great wrestling, cool counters, the story of two equally-skilled badasses facing off – then stick to the ‘Mania XIX match. That one does everything this match does better and has a proper ‘pure’ ending. And as a viewer, I’d take a botched dive over unnecessary interference any day.

Thanks for reading. You can email me with any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.