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(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Kurt Angle vs. The Undertaker – No Way Out 2006, by Alex Podgorski

TJR Wrestling

This is, in my opinion, one of the most criminally-underrated matches in WWE history. When people discuss both men’s best matches, this one is seemingly overlooked. In fact, this is the lowest-rated match of the entire series of 5-star and almost 5-star matches that I’ve looked at since I started writing for this site. When it first came out, the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer rated it four stars out of five. Today we find out if such a rating was deserved. In the review of this match by TJRWrestling owner John Canton, he rated it ****1/2 out of five.

Today we look at one of the biggest hidden gems in WWE history. Kurt Angle vs. The Undertaker from No Way Out 2006.

The story

At the beginning of 2006, Batista relinquished the World Heavyweight Championship due to a sidelining injury. A 20-man Battle Royale was announced and the winner would become the new World Champion. Kurt Angle was a last-minute surprise entrant that had come over to SmackDown from RAW. Angle won the vacant WHC, last eliminating Mark Henry, whom he also defeated at the 2006 Royal Rumble PPV to retain that same title. After that successful title defense, The Undertaker appeared and announced his intent to challenge Angle for his title. But he didn’t do this by grabbing the microphone. Instead, Undertaker, being Undertaker, made a gesture and caused lightning to burst from his fingertips which then caused the ring to collapse. Like I said earlier, his mind games were second to none.

The entire build-up to this match was about how both wrestlers compared to one another. Angle was widely considered the best pure grappler in WWE (with good reason). Meanwhile, The Undertaker was considered the best pure striker in WWE, and was continuing to adapt his style towards a more dynamic and varied match structure. So we as fans were in for a treat with this match.

The match

This match took place on February 19, 2006 in Baltimore, Maryland.

The bell rings and Undertaker immediately charges with a boot but Angle sidesteps him. Angle gets a rear waistlock and Undertaker has it broken on the ropes. As Angle breaks, he slaps Undertaker’s back and dodges a big swing from ‘Taker. He’s trying to get in Undertaker’s head. Good luck with that. Taker’s mad and charges forward with jabs, and so Angle exits the ring. He gets back in and Undertaker applies a headlock. Commentators Michael Cole and Tazz do a great job of emphasizing how Angle has spent a career out-wrestling men bigger than himself. Angle whips Undertaker but eats a shoulder block and ‘Taker gets a one-count for the first pin attempt.

They get up and Undertaker begins working Angle’s left arm with shoulder blocks and arm wrenches. He smashes Angle’s left arm into a turnbuckle and kicks away at it. Then Undertaker does one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen him do: he lifts Angle high up into the air by his arm. That gets a huge reaction from the crowd as that move puts intense pressure on the arm. As soon as Angle lands, Undertaker hits an arm drag and a leg drop onto that same arm. Great psychology from the Undertaker here. He continues with a short arm scissors to weaken the arm and gets a two-count as well. Angle tries to fight back with right arm punches but Undertaker wrenches the left arm. Undertaker tries Old School, but Angle punches him down with his free right hand. His left is basically useless right now.

Angle tries to Irish whip Undertaker, but Undertaker reverses the whip into another arm wringer. Excellent counter. The fans chant both guys’ names equally. Undertaker climbs on the top rope and lands Old School perfectly. Angle charges and attempts a Belly-to-Belly, but Undertaker blocks it into a Downward Spiral. Another great counter and another two-count.

Undertaker whips Angle into a corner and lands Snake Eyes. He charges with his running big boot, but Angle ducks and nails a huge German suplex on the Undertaker for a two-count of his own. Angle stomps on Undertaker in the corner as revenge for before. He continues his onslaught with tons of stomps and shoulder thrusts. Angle tries another Irish whip but Undertaker reverses that and lands an uncharacteristic running high knee. Man, Undertaker’s really showing a different side than what we’re used to.

Undertaker charges at Angle again, but Angle ducks and Undertaker ends up crotched on the top rope. Angle charges at Undertaker while he’s on the apron, which sends ‘Taker flying face-first into the ring barricade. This gives Angle a critical change to recover.

Angle exits the ring and smashes Undertaker’s head into the steel ring steps. He breaks the ref’s count and re-exits the ring, taunting ‘Taker all the while. Angle jumps for a double axe handle, but Undertaker catches him in mid-air in a bearhug. Undertaker charges and smashes Angle spine-first into the steel ring post. Excellent move.

Undertaker’s in control as he sets Angle up for his big apron moves. He hits a huge elbow and his trademark apron leg drop. Not only is that a great move aesthetically but Taker’s targeting Angle’s neck now. Undertaker pins but gets another two-count so he raises his arm to tease the chokeslam. He goozles Angle, but Angle tries to fight out with multiple kicks to ‘Taker’s knee. ‘Taker doesn’t like that so he hits a massive uppercut that sends Angle down. Undertaker’s already limping as he whips Angle. Angle ducks a clothesline and hits a leg clip that sends Undertaker down. Angle targets that left leg mercilessly with stomps, and even stands on it at one point. He continues his onslaught by smashing Undertaker’s ankle into the steel ringpost twice in quick succession. Then, Angle pulls a Bret Hart and locks in a ringpost Figure-4. That move always looks brutal.

Angle exits the ring and drives the point of his elbow into Undertaker’s knee. He goes for a pin in the ring and gets a one-count. Angle stomps on ‘Taker’s knee in the corner and ‘Taker grabs Angle’s leg to try and stop the assault. He stomps on the ankle some more and nails a hip attack onto Undertaker’s knee. Each time Undertaker tries a counter, Angle goes back to stomping on the knee to weaken it even further. Angle’s sense of psychology is perfect in this match.

angle taker nwo

Undertaker gets a critical reprieve when he tosses Angle out of the ring through the ropes. He hits a few knees as he hobbles on one leg. Then he goes for the apron leg drop again…but Angle catches him in the ankle lock! What an amazing counter. They’re both outside so Angle doesn’t have to let go. Angle keeps the ankle lock cinched in for a long time, breaks it just to break the referee’s count, then goes back outside and reapplies it. This has been fantastic thus far.

After another long submission, Angle tosses Undertaker back into the ring at the ref’s count of seven. Undertaker can’t even stand; his leg has been damaged that badly. Angle drags Undertaker to the middle of the ring and applies another leg lock. Undertaker tries something, anything, to escape Kurt’s submission holds, but he can’t. Angle’s in complete control. Finally, after a lengthy struggle, Undertaker heel kicks Angle across the throat to break the hold.

Undertaker gets up again and Angle double legs him and starts punching him from a grounded position. As the ref warns Angle, Undertaker catches Angle in a triangle choke, a move he hasn’t used since his days as the American Badass. Tazz does an excellent job selling how painful that hold really is by referencing his own training and martial arts background. Angle gets his foot on the rope soon, and Undertaker breaks the hold at the referee’s count of four.

Outside the ring, Undertaker smashes Angle into the ring barricade and then gets launched into Tony Chimel. Then Undertaker starts demolishing the announcer’s table and the crowd starts to wake up. Undertaker goes back into the ring to break the referee’s count and charges at Angle. But Angle ducks. Angle Slam into the announcer’s table! Wow, that was a huge move.

Angle recovers in the ring as the ref begins his count. The fans chant ‘let’s go Angle/let’s go ‘Taker’ as the Undertaker begins to stir. The referee reaches the count of nine when Angle steps in, telling him to stop. That’s admirable; he wants to win decisively and not on a technicality. Angle starts nailing Undertaker with hard strikes at ringside. He tries to Irish whip ‘Taker, but ‘Taker reverses that and sends Angle shoulder-first into the steel ring steps. Worse, Angle hits his head on a part of the announce table. Just like that, Angle’s in serious trouble.

Undertaker starts ascending the turnbuckle but Angle stops him. Angle teases a superplex but Undertaker fights back. A big headbutt sends Angle down, but only for a few seconds. Before Undertaker can do anything, Angle climbs the turnbuckle and hits a huge avalanche belly-to-belly suplex. The ref counts one…two…thr—No, Undertaker kicked out at 2.75. They both get up and start trading blows yet again. Angle charges but eats a boot for his efforts. Undertaker pins but only gets two. Undertaker goozles Angle. He lifts him up for the chokeslam and…no, Angle rolls through into the ankle lock! What an amazing counter. Then, out of nowhere, Undertaker reverses the ankle lock into the triangle choke again. But Angle reverses yet again. Another ankle lock. This is amazing wrestling.

Undertaker rolls through, breaking the hold. Angle charges. Chokeslam by Undertaker, and a big one at that! ‘Taker goes for the pin…No, Angle kicks out at 2.8! Undertaker raises his fist to signal something big. Boot to the gut. Undertaker’s going for The Last Ride. But no, Angle rolls through into the Ankle lock yet again. This is crazy. Angle torques the ankle several times. Undertaker’s fingertips away from the ropes! Angle sees this and pulls him back to the middle of the ring. Is he going to tap? Will the Undertaker actually tap out? He has nowhere to go! But somehow, Undertaker escapes again by kicking Angle off.

angle taker

Undertaker gets up and tries another big punch, but Angle ducks it and hits an Angle Slam in the middle of the ring. He goes for a pin…but Undertaker kicks out at 2.85. This is crazy. The straps come down, but Angle looks like he’s seen a ghost as Undertaker does the zombie sit up. Slugfest in the middle of the ring. ‘Taker whips Angle. He’s going for the Tombstone…no, Angle reverses it. He has Undertaker in the Tombstone position…no, Undertaker reverses that now. Angle escapes. Ankle Lock yet again! He has grapevine the ankle. How has Undertaker not tapped yet?! Undertaker boots Angle in the face and hands out of desperation. The ankle lock is broken. ‘Taker gets up slowly, but Angle explodes out of nowhere and hits another Angle Slam! He tries to pin by cradling the leg…no, another reversal. Undertaker locks in the triangle choke again. Angle’s holding as much as he can, but he’s starting to fade. He falls from a standing position to prone. His face is turning red. Angle looks like he’s out, so the ref starts checking if his arm will respond. The arm drops twice. One more and the Deadman wins.

At the third check, Angle gets a sudden burst of energy. Jackknife rollover. Undertaker’s in a pinning position. The referee counts one…two…THREE! That’s it. Angle has won.

Winner and STILL World Heavyweight Champion after 29:38: Kurt Angle

Review

Good God, what an amazing wrestling match. I cannot sing its praises enough. This was an incredible performance by two of WWE’s best wrestlers. It was almost thirty full minutes of incredible storytelling and amazing wrestling and counter-wrestling. Angle, in particular, was on fire in this match. He demonstrated his technical know-how and mastery of ring psychology perfectly. The counters were spectacular and logical, the near-falls were incredible, and the dueling stories were incredible.

On one hand, Angle put on a clinic on what wrestling psychology is and means. He targeted a body part smartly, and structured his actions to focus on that part as much as he could. On the other hand, the Undertaker managed to get the Triangle Choke over as a credible wrestling move once this match was over. Although he’d end up using the Hell’s Gate a few years later, in this match he convinced many people that he could do submission wrestling well. Not on the same level as Kurt Angle, but well nonetheless. And Undertaker did an awesome job acting like the monster that Angle had to overcome. He sold for Angle like crazy, and there were several instances he came incredibly close to tapping.

In re-watching this match, I felt like I was watching a classic grappling match from 1990’s AJPW or a 1980s Ric Flair match. The actual grappling, transitions and reversals were insane. This match had no gimmick to it whatsoever; it was a story of two wrestlers wrestling to see which of them was better. I really liked the finish as well. Angle won by reversing control over the Undertaker, catching him by surprise. He knew he couldn’t escape the triangle choke, so he had to use something surprising to win. Not only did that help elevate the triangle choke as a dangerous and believable submission hold, but it gave both guys enough credibility without harming one or the other and it also necessitated a rematch (which happened soon after and was also awesome).

Even the commentary for this match was fantastic. Michael Cole did well as lead commentator, and Tazz did an excellent job using his own experiences as a wrestler and former opponent of both guys to sell their skills and what they were doing. This was such an enjoyable wrestling match on every conceivable level.

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6gwk53

Final Rating: *****

That’s right. This is a perfect wrestling match based on the in-ring action alone. I think the only reason this match didn’t get such a rating originally was likely because the crowd didn’t make as much noise as you’d expect. They reacted quite a bit to the biggest spots throughout the match and to the ending, but the sound wasn’t like something you’d hear at a WrestleMania, for example.

Nevertheless, this was hands down the best match in WWE that year, and indeed, the best wrestling match anywhere during that year. This match is such a gem because every pretense of the Undertaker wrestling in his typical gimmick-oriented way is thrown out the window within the first few minutes. The Undertaker manages to hold his own – for a very long time – in a scientific wrestling match against Kurt freaking Angle. And oddly, he doesn’t look out of place doing so. Everything both wrestlers did made sense, and that translated into a phenomenal wrestling contest.

It’s just too bad this match didn’t occur at WrestleMania. If it did, not only would it have closed the show, but it would’ve been a fitting way for the Streak to be ended by someone that had the right amount of skill and credibility to do so.

You can check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Review series right here. Thanks for reading.