(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle – WWE SmackDown, Sept. 16th, 2003
Few wrestling rivalries are as badass, alpha, or satisfying as Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar. Throughout 2003 these two put on great matches and helped make SmackDown the better of WWE’s two shows at the time.
There was a much-appreciated realism to everything they did and they put the spirit of competition at the forefront of their matches. And now we look back at what is widely considered not only their best match together but one of the best matches in SmackDown history. Does it still hold up well after almost twenty years? Read on to find out.
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.
Angle and Lesnar were tied with one win apiece. Lesnar beat Angle to win the WWE title at WrestleMania XIX but then failed to regain it from him at SummerSlam 2003 after Angle won it back a month prior. Both of them claimed to be the better wrestler and had their own advantages over the other. Lesnar was bigger, younger, stronger, faster, and healthier. Angle, meanwhile, was a naturally-gifted Olympian, and even though he was far removed from amateur and Olympic circles, he still had enough amateur skill to match Lesnar despite the severe wear-and-tear on his body. For many fans, deciding a winner between these two was too close of a contest. To solve that problem, Angle and Lesnar were booked to wrestle a 60-minute Ironman match.
This was the first Ironman match in WWE Judgment Day 2000 and the first televised one. Having an hour-long match created enough problems; having one on TV with commercials added more on top. But if there was any duo that could pull such a feat off, it was these two. But did they really?
This match originally took place on the September 18th, 2003 edition of SmackDown. It was rated ****1/4 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer and was voted 2003’s Match of the Year by Pro Wrestling Illustrated. It was rated ***** out of five by TJRWrestling’s John Canton as well.
This is a 60-minute ironman match for Kurt Angle’s WWE Championship and is the third singles match between Angle and Lesnar. Lesnar cheap-shots Angle right before the bell rings and then foot chokes him in the corner. Lesnar follows with shoulder checks to Angle’s gut and then biel throws him across the ring. Lesnar was crazy strong at the time.
Angle tries fighting out of a corner but Lesnar shuts him down with a kneelift. Angle blocks another corner charge and goes for a clothesline but Lesnar doesn’t move. Lesnar remains standing following another clothesline and then tries a clothesline of his own but Angle ducks and dropkicks the back of Lesnar’s knee. Angle’s next clothesline finally takes Lesnar down, as does an overhead belly-to-belly suplex. Lesnar bails to ringside to recover and then returns having shaken off everything Angle has done so far.
Lesnar calls for a time-out and sells pain in his knee, only to fake Angle out and cheap-shot him with a kick. Lesnar stiffs Angle but Angle counters an Irish whip and lands a trio of armdrags. Lesnar bails to ringside again and teases using the steel ringsteps. He breaks the ref’s count and stalls, which leads to some boos. Even Michael Cole notes that he wanted to see sixty minutes of wrestling and Lesnar’s just messing around. They tease locking up again but Lesnar bails once more as Angle goes for his leg. Frustrated, Angle rushes Lesnar as Lesnar makes it to the apron but Lesnar hotshots him against the top rope. Lesnar does more cheap striking until Angle counters an Irish whip and lands another belly-to-belly. Angle clotheslines Lesnar back to the floor and Lesnar sells his knee. Angle goes after him with strikes but Lesnar retaliates by driving Angle back-first into the ring apron and then into a ringpost. Lesnar tosses Angle into the ring and grabs a chair. Then he cracks Angle in the head with it, causing the ref to call for the disqualification!
Angle = 1; Lesnar = 0
Lesnar gets a few more chair-shots in which, strangely, don’t add to Angle’s fall tally. Angle remains splayed out on the canvas but Lesnar doesn’t pin him; instead, he grabs a drink of water. Then Lesnar hits some stiff shots followed by an F-5. Lesnar covers Angle and gets a three-count to even the score at the ten-minute mark.
Angle = 1; Lesnar = 1
Lesnar gets time to recover and then goes after Angle’s ribs. After more stalling and slow action, Lesnar applies an ankle lock and Angle taps out almost instantly.
Angle = 1; Lesnar = 2
After a commercial break, we see Angle running the ropes (way to sell the ankle lock) but then he runs into a kneelift to the gut. Lesnar sells his knee as we see Lesnar hitting an Angle/Olympic Slam on Angle during the commercial for a two-count (which partially came from Lesnar being slow to cover). Back in the present, Lesnar hits more shoulder checks to Angle’s gut and ribs, followed by a mix of head-butts and stomps. Lesnar sends Angle into another corner and charges for another shoulder check but Angle sidesteps this time. Lesnar reverses an Irish whip but Angle ducks a clothesline and hits a running elbow. Angle follows with his triple German suplexes but then Lesnar dumps him to ringside. Lesnar whips Angle into the barricade and Lesnar breaks up the ref’s ring-out count. That allows Angle to fight back a bit. But Lesnar shuts him down with a kneelift and then lands an F-5 onto the ringside mats. Lesnar hurts himself a bit there but he makes it into the ring while Angle doesn’t move. the ref reaches the count of ten and Lesnar gets a fall.
Angle = 1; Lesnar = 3
We get another commercial break at the twenty-minute mark and comeback three minutes later to Angle making a comeback. We see Angle hitting two belly-to-belly suplexes during the commercial and then in the present Lesnar reverses an Irish whip and elbows Angle so hard Angle falls back to ringside. Angle returns and eats more strikes from Lesnar. Lesnar drops some elbows on Angle’s chest for a two-count and then goes back to the corner strikes. Suddenly Angle reverses a corner whip, ducks a clothesline, and lands an Angle Slam out of nowhere. One, two, three! Angle gets another fall.
Angle = 2; Lesnar = 3
After a 30-second rest period, Angle lands a suplex for a two-count and starts stomping on Lesnar just like Lesnar did to him earlier. Lesnar hits back with another kneelift but Angle ducks Lesnar’s follow-up attack and lands another German. Lesnar blocks an Angle Slam. Angle avoids an F-5 and locks in an ankle lock. Lesnar rolls through and shoots Angle into the referee…almost. Angle stops a collision but the ref still goes down when Angle dodges a clothesline from Lesnar. Angle connects with the Angle Slam and gets a visual three-count he tries waking the ref but can’t and Lesnar capitalizes with a low blow. The thirty-minute mark passes as Lesnar lands a belt shot to Angle’s head and then drags the referee over to count the fall. One, two, three! Lesnar maintains his advantage.
Angle = 2; Lesnar = 4
After a four-minute commercial break, Angle pulls Lesnar out of the ring by his feet. Angle sends Lesnar shoulder-first into some ringsteps and then lands a diving ax handle from the top rope to the floor. Angle covers in the ring but only gets a two-count. missile dropkick by Angle. Lesnar kicks out again. then Angle channels Kenta Kobashi with a scoop slam near a corner. He goes to the top rope for a diving moonsault…and misses. After plenty of downtime, Angle ducks a clothesline and gets a two-count off a roll-up. Lesnar’s next clothesline connects and then he hits a picture-perfect belly-to-belly without leaving his feet. One, two, th – Angle kicks out. Lesnar goes for a bearhug. Angle escapes into another ankle lock. But once again Lesnar uses his power to roll and send Angle flying, this time to the floor.
Lesnar sends Angle into the steps shoulder-first and covers for yet another close two-count as we reach the forty-minute mark. Lesnar lifts some steps to bring them into the ring but Angle hits first. He dropkicks those steps into Lesnar’s face, which should be a DQ since that does count as weapons use. Angle quickly tosses Lesnar into the ring and covers for two two-counts. Angle foot chokes Lesnar in a corner and hits a back elbow for another two-count as we go to the last commercial break.
We come back from the break and Lesnar has gotten another fall off a superplex, bringing the total to:
Angle = 2; Lesnar = 5
Back in the present, Lesnar smashes Angle into the announce table and goes for the same leg-to-the-post F-5 that destroyed Zack Gowen’s remaining leg. But Angle blocks and shoves Lesnar face-first into the post instead. Then Angle F-5s Lesnar into the post and tosses him into the ring. Angle locks in a single leg crab and then switches to an ankle lock. Lesnar struggles and eventually gets a ropebreak. Angle stomps on Lesnar’s bad leg and then lifts him up but Lesnar shoves him aside with great force. Angle charges back…and walks into another F-5. But Lesnar doesn’t cover because of the damage to his knee. he crawls over…and Angle kicks out. Lesnar goes to the top rope. But Angle pounces up with an avalanche overhead suplex. Angle crawls over…and gets another three-count at the fifty-minute mark.
Angle = 3; Lesnar = 5
After the required rest period, Angle fires up with punches and another suplex. Lesnar blocks another Angle Slam and hits a DDT for a two-count. Angle retaliates with punches but Lesnar drops him with three more Germans. Angle blocks the next one and lands two of his own.
Five minutes left.
Lesnar blocks the next one and tries one of his own but Angle rolls into the ankle lock. Lesnar reaches the ropes but doesn’t hold on long enough to count as a break. Angle pulls him back and Lesnar’s forced to tap out. Angle gets another fall.
Angle = 4; Lesnar = 5
The rest period ends and Angle applies another ankle lock. Lesnar rolls through and sends Angle bouncing into the ropes.
Three minutes left.
Angle responds with an STF submission hold but Lesnar gets another ropebreak and rolls to ringside.
Two minutes left.
Lesnar tries escaping from Angle but Angle locks in yet another ankle lock, this time at ringside. Angle tosses Lesnar into the ring but Lesnar rolls back outside. Angle smashes Lesnar’s face into the steps, tosses him into the ring, and lands two more German suplexes.
One minute left.
Angle lands two more Germans for a total of four consecutive suplexes. He goes for a fifth but Lesnar distracts the ref and lands a back low blow.
Thirty seconds left.
Lesnar walks over but Angle trips him and goes for another ankle lock. Michael Cole has already noted that if the match ends in a tie the network has given them permission to go into sudden death. So this next ankle lock is Angle’s last hope.
Fifteen seconds left.
Angle grapevines Lesnar’s leg.
Angle twists Lesnar’s ankle with all his might.
Ten seconds left.
Lesnar lifts his hand to tap.
Then the bell rings! Time has run out! Lesnar wins the title!
Winner and NEW WWE Champion by a score of 5-4: Brock Lesnar
Disappointing match. I had much higher expectations for this match given its reputation. The athletic endeavor was there but the match didn’t live up to the hype. This was supposed to be a smart wrestling match featuring two of the most athletically-gifted wrestlers in WWE. They showed plenty of conditioning and endurance but they left a lot on the table when it came to strategy and psychology. Both guys failed to deliver what was promised; instead of delivering one of the best matches in SmackDown history they ended up having a good match but nothing great.
First things first: much of the action was downright boring. Big chunks of the match were composed of repetitive stomping, punching and other simple strikes. They were stiff at times, to be sure, but nothing felt like it mattered or had much of an impact. It was as if stomping was both wrestlers’ default setting when they had no idea what to do. Now, if this was a match with more ‘plodding’ or ‘limited’ wrestlers then maybe this wouldn’t be a problem. But this was Lesnar and Angle having an hour to do whatever they wanted. Where was the amateur grappling? Where was the limbwork? Where was Lesnar’s explosive power or Angle’s incredible technical ability? All of these things, which would’ve added plenty to this match, were nowhere to be found. What was supposed to be a special match ended up being just another WWE-style brawl stretched out over sixty minutes. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone reading this that the audience was very much subdued and disinterested for most of the match aside from the successful pinfalls.
There was some psychology and story early on with Lesnar being cheap, but it didn’t really accomplish much. He did something interesting by disqualifying himself intentionally, yet for some reason it took him forever to reach that point. It was a clever move that helped make the match a bit more engaging, especially since Lesnar’s chair shots caused Angle problems up to the third fall. But beyond that point, there wasn’t much else going on. The rest of the match was built on surprise pins out of nowhere and then a final short story of Angle going after Lesnar’s ankle over and over. There were good ideas here, but none of them were executed fully or well enough to make this match truly exciting,
Another reason this match lacked tension was because it had poor pacing. Ironman matches are really hard to pull off successfully because of limited fan patience. The commercials weren’t that much of a problem here; WWE showed what happened during each one so viewers understood how the action progressed. But what really hurt this match from an excitement perspective was that it had WAY too much stalling. Lesnar wasting time at first made a bit of sense because it generated heat; but all the other points later on only slowed this match down and sapped it of any real tension. As a result, there was no sense of urgency between big spots. Neither wrestler took advantage of openings that came about many times here. Angle missed a moonsault and Lesnar showed no sense of urgency to quickly cover or hit a big move to widen his lead. Angle hurt Lesnar’s leg early and didn’t go after it until way later when he was already trailing behind. The storytelling was completely off the mark here; maybe both guys were so out of their element in working with such a massive timeframe that they decided to oversimplify what they’d do so that they wouldn’t go too far and lose the plot.
It’s unfortunate that neither Lesnar nor Angle did something explosive in the first minute or so to establish control and instead took forever scoring the first fall. While it made sense for both of them to struggle to wear each other down, fan expectations for this match stipulation made it necessary to go down a different path. Imagine if this match began with a sequence similar to Lesnar’s match with Goldberg at Survivor Series 2016. It would’ve instantly gotten huge reactions from the fans and could keep viewers glued to their seats, excited over what would happen next. Instead, the match started off slow to the point that many viewers probably felt, “meh, they’re going an hour anyway; I’ll pay more attention later on.” And the only time the live audience really made noise was during the final minute. That alone should tell you how “exciting” most of this match was.
At least Angle and Lesnar achieved some success by getting multiple falls instead of fewer. The surprise factor of that direction alone made this match a bit more watchable, but it didn’t justify having so much downtime and inaction.
Final Rating: ***1/2
This match had so much potential yet it failed miserably. The effort was there and both guys showed off some cool stuff here and there. And yet, given the hype and the reputations of both men involved, this should’ve been something truly out of this world. Instead, this match was highly repetitive and bland for the most part. Out of the full hour, only about 45 minutes were shown uninterrupted. And of those 45 minutes, only about half had some actually interesting action. So really no one got their money’s worth with this overhyped mess.
If you want to see some truly worthwhile 60-minute matches, you can check my reviews here, here, here, here, and here. After almost two decades of praise, I can honestly say that this match was and is highly overrated and not worth your time.
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.