One of my favorite rivalries in WWE history involves two amateur wrestlers that transitioned to pro wrestling so quickly and easily that it shouldn’t be possible, but they did it. Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle went to have a series of matches in 2003 that culminated in one of the best television matches in WWE history. I loved it back then. I love it even more today because it’s amazing to see how good they both were so early in their WWE careers. Angle turned 35 years old in December 2003 while Lesnar turned 26 that year.
Angle started on WWE’s main roster in November 1999 at Survivor Series. As the only Olympic Gold Medalist in WWE history that that time, there was a lot of pressure and Angle showed quickly he was a natural at pro wrestling. Over the next three years, he established himself as one of the best overall performers in the company. By the time we got to 2003, Angle was a guy that could do it all from having an amazing match to cutting a memorable promo and using humor when needed. Angle was considered by many to be the best pro wrestler in the world in 2003.
Lesnar debuted on the WWE main roster on the Raw after WrestleMania in 2002. He got one of the fastest pushes ever as he became WWE Champion a few months later at SummerSlam 2002 when he beat The Rock. Lesnar lost the WWE Title at Survivor Series 2002 due to his manager Paul Heyman helping Big Show win, which was an angle that was done to turn Lesnar into a babyface. Lesnar won the 2003 Royal Rumble, which meant he got a shot at the WWE Champion, who happened to be Angle. That set up a dream match at WrestleMania 19: Angle vs. Lesnar.
The Road to WrestleMania XIX
Towards the end of 2002, it was obvious that WWE was gearing towards the first-ever Angle/Lesnar match at WrestleMania XIX. At Armageddon 2002 in December, Lesnar helped Angle win the title by giving an F5 to the Big Show, the man that beat Lesnar for the title one month earlier. Big Show was just a transitional champion. The next week, Angle turned his back on Lesnar by joining up with Lesnar’s former agent, Paul Heyman. Suddenly, the feud that many wrestling fans wanted to see had a story behind it.
The road to WrestleMania looked to be set. Lesnar won the Royal Rumble, Angle retained the WWE Title in a classic against Chris Benoit and there were two months to go until WrestleMania. At No Way Out 2003, Lesnar and Benoit defeated Angle and Team Angle (Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas) in a handicap match to continue to build to the ultimate showdown. Everything was in place for the dream match until an injury happened. While overseas on a tour, Kurt Angle severely injured his neck to the point where it was obvious that he would need major reconstructive surgery like what Steve Austin, Chris Benoit, Rhyno and others had in the years prior. We thought the match was going to be off.
A few weeks later, WWE promoted a WWE Title match between Angle and Lesnar where it was presumed that Lesnar would win the title in quick fashion due to Angle’s neck injury. According to numerous reports, Angle nixed the idea. He told Vince McMahon that he could handle the match at WrestleMania. He told him that he felt good enough that he could put on a strong performance in the main event of WrestleMania despite risking paralysis or even death. As the match drew near, fans speculated what would happen. Nobody really knew if Angle could hold up. Nobody knew if he could make it through the match unscathed or if he would never wrestle again following the match. It was the biggest question looming over WrestleMania XIX and one that everybody, including Angle himself, would wonder about as the build continued.
In that Smackdown WWE Title match on March 13, 2003, the first “official” match in their series, Angle won on a rollup after tricking Lesnar by hiding under the ring while his brother Eric took a beating from Brock. It was the WWE’s way of keeping the match fresh while allowing Angle to be healthy in the build to the match. Eventually, the time came to have the match. The result of the match, the main event of WrestleMania XIX, was something that many wrestling fans will never forget.
Kurt Angle (c) vs. Brock Lesnar
WrestleMania XIX (19)– March 30, 2003
Angle was the heel. Lesnar was the face. Good reactions for both. Michael Cole was losing his voice. They should have shoved him aside and had Ross call the match. Face to face stare. Very stiff front facelock to start. It will be interesting to see how they work around Angle’s neck injury. Angle gets a headlock, Brock fireman carry gets boos. Angle fireman carry. Mat wrestling is what this is about. Arm wringer into a headscissors followed by an armbar. They step back, crowd claps. Lots of mat based moves that I can’t even keep track of, but Angle gets the advantage with a side headlock. Into the ropes, Lesnar shoulderblocks him down. Lesnar has taped ribs based on what happened on Smackdown a few weeks before. Waist lock takedown by Brock, Kurt up, armdrag by Brock. Kurt puts Brock in the corner, knee to the ribs. Into the ropes, Brock gets an elbow to the head followed by shoulderblocks. Lesnar runs into an elbow, Angle charges into a powerslam. Very big German suplex by Angle, but not as he usually does it. There was separation between his head and the mat. It was a safer version. Angle bails then rolls in and works on the ribs some more. Overhead press slam by Lesnar puts Kurt on his back. In the corner, Lesnar eats boot. Kurt just suplexed Lesnar German style back first into the top turnbuckle. What an awesome spot. Lesnar sold it by going over the top to the floor. That was beautiful. On the floor, Kurt works over the ribs some more. Very careful back suplex on Lesnar for two. The crowd is not overly crazy about this although it would get better. Vertical suplex gets two. Angle gets a bow & arrow submission move where he is putting pressure on Brock’s ribs. Angle applies the move he did on Smackdown a few weeks earlier with his knee planted in Brock’s ribs and his hands locked around the throat. Brock gets up, Kurt is on his back in a piggyback. Brock runs him to the turnbuckle and puts him back first into the turnbuckle twice. Angle fights back, hitting an overhead belly to belly again very carefully. Two running knees to the back send Lesnar on the outside.
Back in the ring, Kurt charges at him and Brock hits him with a hard spinebuster as they take a long eight count. They trade blows, Brock gets control with a forearm, clothesline and shoulder thrusts in the corner. Back elbow by Angle. Brock hits Angle with two overhead belly-to-belly suplexes. Kurt is nuts for taking those. Angle with four rolling German suplexes. What a freak. Angle goes for Angle Slam, reversed to F5, reversed to takedown into an ankle lock! Sweet! Angle switches over after about thirty seconds to a single leg Boston Crab. Brock makes the ropes. Knee to the back. Kurt charges again and Brock gives him a backdrop over the top to the floor where Angle lands feet first. Angle charges in, shoulder blocks to the back of Angle by Brock. Angle with a release German suplex that sends Brock onto his stomach! Holy shit! These guys really are the best athletes. You know how hard that is for a guy of Angle’s size to do a move like that? Amazing. Angle Slam gets two only. Cole said that nobody had kicked out of the Angle Slam before. I’m pretty sure that’s a lie. Angle goes for another Angle Slam, Brock reverses it into a cradle for two. F5 by Lesnar, delayed cover, 1…2…NO! Nobody has kicked out of the F5 before. I think that was true. The crowd reacted huge to that. The crowd was quiet early, but they certainly won them over. Brock crowds over Angle, Kurt grabs his leg into an Ankle Lock. He wraps the leg around Brock’s legs the way he did to Benoit at Royal Rumble by doing the heel hook on the mat. Lesnar drags him over to the ropes, as some in the crowd boo again. Kurt gets a rollup for two. Angle Slam reversed into another F5 for Lesnar. He doesn’t cover right away. Here it comes. Shooting Star Press halfway across the ring, but Brock comes up short! He landed right on his head. My God! That had to hurt like a bitch. (That was my live reaction. Unedited. Legit scared for the guy.) I think that was the finish. Angle covers for two. Brock fights back into an F5 for the third time. I wonder how groggy he was at that moment. It must have been adrenaline kicking in. One, two, three. Lesnar wins it after 22 minutes.
Winner and New WWE Champion: Brock Lesnar
Analysis: ****1/2 Nearly five stars. An outstanding wrestling match. Lesnar hit the Shooting Star Press before, but when he did it here Kurt was too far away. He wasn’t even in the middle of the ring. He was towards the other side. Lesnar should have moved him over or gone up to the other turnbuckle to do it. He should have thought about it before he went up there. It was off by about four inches or so. If Lesnar hit that SSP perfectly for the finish then I’d have given it five stars. I’m just glad he was okay after it. The crowd wasn’t into it at the very beginning because it was the last match in a four-hour show, but the last ten minutes were fantastic. Not many guys can do the moves these two did. As much as I love Angle, which is well documented, I really came away impressed by Lesnar. When Angle gave him a German Suplex and Lesnar sold it by landing on his stomach I was shaking my head in amazement at how good of an athlete Lesnar was. The last seven minutes of the match were when they really cranked it up into another gear. I thought they got the perfect amount of time too. I love this match.
“Angle’s a tough son of a bitch. Kurt is a man’s man and I’ve got nothing but the utmost respect for the guy. He’s incredible. I take my hat off to him for performing, and performing as well as he did, which is top-notch.” – Steve Austin talking about Angle’s performance at WrestleMania XIX
From Mania to SummerSlam
The first Angle/Lesnar match was an instant classic. Looking back, maybe I overrated it a bit, but I don’t think I did. When I recall my feelings at the time of the match being over, it was a state of euphoria. I was happy that Angle came away from the match in relatively good shape considering his condition before the match. As it turns out, he pulled his hamstring in the first few minutes to add to the pain he had in his neck. It was a gutsy effort from a great champion whom many people, at the time, thought his career was be over due to the major neck injury.
Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Once Angle was diagnosed with this major neck injury, he sought out alternative surgeries to see if there was a way to avoid a year of rehab and possible retirement. He found a doctor in his hometown of Pittsburgh named Dr. Hae-Dong Jho of the Jho Institute for Minimally Invasive Neurosurgery. Dr. Jho performed an operation that was less intensive than spinal fusion, with a recovery time estimated originally at about two months long. There were doubters of the surgery. Where was this doctor when other WWE superstars needed similar surgery? How could it only take two months to heal an injury that takes at least twelve months? Nobody really knew at the time, but Angle was willing to take a chance to continue his career without missing too much time.
Meanwhile, Brock Lesnar somehow overcame that horrendous fall on his neck to continue without any major injuries. He had battled a cracked rib for months, but other than that he was in good condition. He became Smackdown’s main attraction once again as the babyface champion who overcame challenges from John Cena and Big Show while having solid matches with both of them. While Angle was out, Lesnar held the fort down and did an admirable job of it.
On the June 5th edition of Smackdown, Kurt Angle returned. His return was helped by one of the greatest WWE videos ever featuring Angle talking about how much the business means to him. It was an inspiring piece that helped the fans love him more when he returned and they certainly did. When Angle returned, he proclaimed that Brock was his best friend and the two were featured together in vignettes playing up that friendship.
At Smackdown’s first ever PPV, Vengeance 2002, Angle defeated Lesnar and Big Show in a triple threat match to regain the WWE Title he lost at WrestleMania. It was a fitting return for a champion who, by all accounts including his own, hadn’t missed a beat.
(Note: I didn’t post the review of this match in this post because this column is about the Angle/Lesnar trilogy of singles matches, but it’s very good if you want to check it out on Peacock/WWE Network. I rated it **** out of five. It’s probably one of Big Show’s best matches ever thanks to being in the ring with Angle and Lesnar.)
“I believe that God has a purpose for me and that’s to be the best wrestler there ever was. That’s really why I feel I’m here. I want to be like Ric Flair, a man who is considered the greatest not only by the fans, but his peers.” – Kurt Angle on July 27, after winning the WWE Title at Vengeance.
Following Vengeance, most people believed that the WWE would do something rare and have Angle defend the title against Lesnar at SummerSlam in a babyface vs. babyface match. It turns out that the WWE had different ideas. Lesnar turned heel in a match where he was against Vince McMahon in a steel cage with Angle as the referee. It turned out to be an even plan where Lesnar turned heel by siding with Vince McMahon. That ended Lesnar’s friendship with Angle since Lesnar beat up Angle in a steel cage.
The Lesnar attacks continued on helpless victims to build him up as a heel monster who didn’t care about those around him. I wasn’t sure if I liked the move. I thought a face vs. face match could have been great to see. As time went on, I warmed up to it because it was obvious that Lesnar was more comfortable working as a heel. That brought us to SummerSlam 2003 with Angle defending the title against Lesnar.
Kurt Angle (c) vs. Brock Lesnar
SummerSlam – August 24, 2003
Lesnar came out first to good heel heat. Here comes Angle with a nice pop. He’s wearing the awesome red, white and blue tights that have the white in the front. Lesnar’s in the usual black shorts. Referee Mike Chioda brings them close as the camera goes in to explain the rules. I like that because it makes it seem more professional.
They did some mat wrestling early with Angle using his speed to get the advantage. Angle ducked a clothesline, then hit three arm drags on Lesnar. Brock went to the floor where he broke TV monitor, then kicked the ring steps and tossed them. He was pissed off. He picked up the WWE Title and walked away. Angle chased him up the aisle with a clothesline and right hands. Back in the ring, Kurt with an overhead belly to belly for two. Beautiful. Brock reversed a whip into a gorilla press where he tossed Angle to the floor. Kick to the ribs by Brock. Brock throws him face first into the steel steps. He stepped on Kurt’s throat. In the ring, backdrop by Lesnar. Backbreaker by Lesnar for two. Brock gets a rear naked choke where he choked Angle’s head and wrapped up his waist with a leg scissors. He rolled Kurt up for two. Back to the leg scissors. Big “Angle” chant starts up. Lesnar gets a knee to the gut to kill the momentum. Backbreaker by Lesnar. Angle fought back with right hands, then gets a rollup for a two count. Back up, Lesnar clotheslines him down. Brock picked him up over his head in a Fisherman Suplex position, held him up over his head in a cradle position and dropped back in a Samoan Drop. Lesnar with a clothesline and he drove Angle back first into the corner. Lesnar worked him over in the corner with shoulderblocks. Whip to the other side, the tackle misses and Lesnar’s shoulder hits the post. He is selling the left arm. Angle charges into him with a shoulderblock to the left arm twice and a dropkick to the knee. Cool move that you don’t often see from Kurt. Angle with a flying forearm to knock Lesnar down. Angle hit a few German Suplex ending with a two count.
This match was good, but the crowd wasn’t overly excited about it or anything. Brock gets a sick overhead belly-to-belly suplex. Kurt fights back and an Angle Slam is reversed into a spinebuster by Lesnar for a good nearfall. A F5 by Brock is countered by Angle. I think it was supposed to be a DDT, but he didn’t hit it so Brock just collapsed with Kurt on top of him. Brock up again, F5 is reversed into a Tornado DDT by Angle. I think that’s what Angle was going for. Angle undoes the straps as the crowd goes nuts. Angle Slam and the slow cover for the two as Lesnar got his arm up. Angle put the straps up and then takes them down again. Ankle lock by Angle. Brock did a forward roll to get out of it, Angle knocked Mike Chioda down by accident. Angle goes for a flip over Lesnar, then hangs on to his waist. His legs are wrapped around Brock’s head. It’s a submission move. That’s awesome. Ankle lock by Angle. Brock makes it to the ropes, but Kurt won’t break since the ref was down. Lesnar makes ropes again, but Lesnar still holding on. Brock is tapping. Still no ref. Vince McMahon comes into the ring to drill Angle in the back with a steel chair. Brock back to his feet, kick to the gut, his left leg was not on the ground because he’s selling it. How cool! Lesnar hit the F5 on one leg! Two count! Angle kicks out. Damn, I thought that was it. Very good nearfall there. Closeup on Vince, who said “Do it again” to Brock. Here’s another F5, but it was countered by Angle. Another ankle lock on the left leg. Brock gets ropes, but Kurt rips him off. Brock breaks it three times in the ropes, but Kurt won’t let go. Lesnar taps out! Angle wins it at 20:48.
Winner by submission: Kurt Angle
Post match, Vince comes in with the chair. Angle stops it. He sets up the chair so that it’s seated. Angle Slam through the seated chair. Happy Birthday for Vince, says Cole. The crowd celebrated Angle’s win and successful post match attack.
Analysis: ****1/4 Great match. I love when these guys wrestle because they have amazing chemistry together. The last ten minutes of this match were absolutely fantastic. I thought the ref bump was unnecessary, but it was pretty cool how they didn’t do the obvious by having Lesnar win with the F5 after the interference. I loved the clean ending. That’s always good to see. Angle was put over huge here and Lesnar did a fantastic job of selling the ankle injury. It was a surprise to see Lesnar tap out like that, but it was the right finish. Since this was their last PPV singles match, I’ll take the opportunity to say my fave match of theirs was the Ironman Match on SD in September 2003.
Here Comes the Ironman
In interviews following WrestleMania, Kurt Angle seemed upset about his match with Lesnar. He felt that they weren’t given enough time. He felt that it was rushed. He went on WWE’s internet audio show, Byte This, to say that he was hoping that one day they could have an Ironman match in order to have, what he believed, would be the “greatest match ever.” When talk of an Ironman began to surface, most believed they would save it for the next Smackdown PPV, No Mercy, on October 19. The WWE had other ideas, however, as they decided to do the rematch less than a month later on an episode of Smackdown.
An Ironman match on free television? Yes, that was the plan. If you polled online wrestling fans to see if they thought it was a good idea, chances are that the decision would be split right down the middle. One side of the argument felt that giving away such a major match on free television was a stupid idea. Why give it away for free when you can get people to pay for it on pay-per-view a month later? I understand this point of view. It’s logical. However, I disagreed with it. My thinking was that an Ironman Match on free TV would be a good idea because it’s a lot better than some Smackdown main events that we saw in 2003 like Stephanie McMahon wrestling the likes of A-Train. It’s high-quality wrestling, so who am I to complain? I’ll take what I can get and love every second of it.
For two weeks after it was announced, I anticipated it more than any WWE match that year except for those at WrestleMania. Considering what these two guys had done at the two biggest PPVs of the year, I was expecting even better things this time around. Of course, as is always the case in this story, there were some setbacks.
In the weeks leading up to the Ironman match, Angle and Lesnar had several “tune up” matches at house shows. They put on 25-minute wrestling clinics for fans at non-televised events that most likely rivaled the quality of matches they had at both WrestleMania and Summerslam. Two days before the Ironman match was to take place, Lesnar hurt his knee. Reports came out that it could be a major injury, which would have likely ended the chance of the match even happening while also sidelining Lesnar for many months. As it turns out, the injury turned to be just loose cartilage in his knee. Lesnar could work through that, which he did.
On September 15th, Kurt Angle got some bad news. His 43-year-old sister LeAnne died of heart failure unexpectedly. It was the day before the Ironman match. The day before, arguably, the biggest match of his life. According to a story posted on WWE.com, Angle had his wife and baby daughter flown in to Raleigh to be there with him for support. He was determined to do the match as planned in dedication to his sister because he felt that she would have wanted it that way. When Angle walked down to the ring for the match, he pointed to the sky in salute of his deceased sister to let the world know that despite his loss, he would remain strong.
Both men walked into the Ironman with a lot on their mind. The end result? What else? Another classic.
Ironman Match for the WWE Title
Kurt Angle (c) vs. Brock Lesnar
Smackdown – September 18 (Taped on September 16)
Raleigh, North Carolina
Here are the rules to the match:
1. Superstar with the most falls at the end of 60 minutes will be the WWE Champion.
2. Falls scored by pinfall, submission, disqualification or countout.
3. After each fall, there will be a 15 second designated rest period.
Lesnar comes out first in the black trunks. Angle is next in the red, white & blue as usual. The referee is Brian Hebner. The crowd starts a “You Tapped Out” chant for Lesnar before the start. Long staredown to start. Lesnar kicks Angle in the kick before the bell to get the advantage. He follows with some stomps and a couple of foot chokes over Angle’s neck. Whip to the corner, shoulder block by Lesnar. More foot choking. Huge hiptoss by Lesnar across the ring. Angle fights back with punches, but Brock breaks it with a knee. Into the corner, Angle back elbow and two clotheslines. Charges, Lesnar ducks and Angle dropkicks the knees. Clothesline by Angle, then a belly to belly throw. Brock bails to the floor just two minutes in. He comes back in, then calls for a timeout. Angle comes in close, Brock kicks him. Club to the back, into the ropes, Angle reverses and hits three arm drags that send Angle out to the floor again. Brock picks up the ring steps, throws them, breaks the count at nine and comes back out again. At eight, Angle goes after him, but more walking away by Lesnar. Angle wants to go after him. Lesnar taunts going in, Angle charges him and he drops down again. Five minutes are up now as Lesnar goes back in.
Angle goes for a single leg takedown, then Brock bails once again to the floor to some more heel heat. Lockup on the apron, Angle gets choked over the top, sending him flying. Lesnar pounds on him some more. Angle fights back with a belly to belly, then a clothesline over the top that sends Lesnar to the floor. Lesnar starts selling the right knee as being hurt. Angle chases him out on the floor with some fists to the head. Angle sends him head first into the steel steps. Back up, Angle gets more punches until Brock breaks it with a knee to the gut. He drives Angle kidney first into the apron. Picks him up, he drives Angle back first into the ring post. Lesnar throws Angle back in. He grabs a steel chair. Angle turns around and Lesnar pops him in the head with it. Brock gets DQ’d. He follows that up with several chair shots to the back before Hebner takes it away.
Winner of Fall #1 @ 8:21: Kurt Angle by DQ. Angle 1 –Lesnar 0
The fifteen-second rest period begins with Lesnar on the floor drinking water while Angle is flat on his back in the ring. Brock taunts Angle with some kicks to the back of the head, then some forearms. Angle’s up, Brock sets him up on his shoulders for an F5. One, two, three.
Winner of Fall #2 @ 10:20: Brock Lesnar. Angle 1 – Lesnar 1
After the fifteen second rest period, Kurt’s still out of it while Lesnar is hopping around. Brock’s trash talking to Angle, asking if he wants to tap. He taunts some more to major boos. Another kick to the gut by Lesnar. Brock grabs the ankle, pulls Angle to the center, hooks up the ankle lock and Kurt taps immediately to give Lesnar the fall.
Winner of Fall #3 @ 12:22: Brock Lesnar by Submission. Angle 1 – Lesnar 2
Back from commercial, about three minutes passed. Angle takes a knee to the gut. They show during the break when Brock hit an Angle Slam, but Kurt kicked out at two twice. Back to live action, Brock gets a shoulderblock in the corner. Headbutt by Lesnar, he sells it himself. Another headbutt followed by some boots to the face. Into the other side, shoulderblock misses and Lesnar goes shoulder first into the ropes. Angle whips him in, reverse, duck, and a flying forearm by Angle. Angle hits a German suplex, then another and a third one releases Lesnar. Angle comes up to Lesnar, Brock grabs him by the tights and throws him out to the floor through the middle ropes. Lesnar slides out to meet Angle on the floor. He whips Angle into the barricade. Lesnar breaks the count. Why? They would both be counted out so what’s the difference? Angle fights back with some punches, but Brock blocks it. He hits an F5 on the floor! Damn! The crowd does a small, but audible “HOLY SHIT” chant. Angle gets counted out.
Winner of Fall #4 @ 19:58: Brock Lesnar by Countout. Angle 1 – Lesnar 3
They go to commercial. When they come back, over three minutes have passed. They show Angle getting the advantage with two belly to belly suplexes. Into the ropes, Lesnar knocks Angle down with a back elbow that puts him on the floor. Angle gets in before ten but gets stomped down by Lesnar. Lesnar gets a couple of elbow drops in the middle of the ring for two. Lesnar gets a punch to the face, followed by some stomps in the corner. Angle reverses a whip, gets a kick to the gut and an Angle Slam gets a one, two, three.
Winner of Fall #5 @ 25:58: Kurt Angle by Pinfall. Angle 2 – Lesnar 3
After the rest period, Angle gets some punches and kicks to keep Lesnar down. Vertical suplex by Angle gets two. He continues to stomp on Lesnar to keep him down. Into the corner, Brock gets out with some knees. Clothesline misses, so Kurt hits a release German suplex. Straps are down for Angle, Angle Slam is reversed into an F5, but that gets reversed into an ankle lock. Brock puts his momentum forward, sending Kurt into the ref, but he stops. He turns around, Lesnar with a clothesline knocks out the ref because Angle ducked it. Angle Slam by Angle. There’s no ref to count the likely fall. Angle goes to pick up Lesnar, low blow by Lesnar sends Angle down. Michael Cole says Lesnar should have lost two falls due to the Angle Slam and the low blow. Brock heads to the floor for the WWE title. He comes back in and drills Angle with the title to the head just as we’ve come to the 30-minute mark of the match. The ref is still out. Lesnar pulls him over by his pants. Cover for the one, two, three.
Winner of Fall #6 @ 30:28: Brock Lesnar by Pinfall. Angle 2 – Lesnar 4
When we come back, there are about 25 minutes left. Angle pulls Lesnar to the floor and then tosses him shoulder first into the ring steps. To the top, Angle comes off with a double ax handle on the floor. Brock’s on the ground face first, so Angle rolls him back in. Cover gets two. To the top, Angle hits a missile dropkick beautifully! That only gets two. Bodyslam by Angle. He climbs up again, time for a moonsault, but it misses. Man, that always looks so nice even though he’s rarely hit it. Lesnar gets up first, clothesline misses so Angle gets a schoolboy for two. Lesnar up first, strong clothesline sends both guys down. Brock with an overhead belly to belly throw. He crawls over to get the two count. Angle reverses a bearhug into an ankle lock. Brock rolls through, sending Angle through the middle ropes. I love that way to break up the move. It’s the most logical way to do it, so it works. Lesnar meets Angle on the floor, then tosses him side first into the steel steps. He rolls him back in, covers and gets two with 20 minutes left in the match.
Lesnar goes to the outside, picks up the steel steps. He goes to slide them in the ring, but Angle comes off the ropes with a dropkick to the face that sends Lesnar down. Angle throws him in the ring for two. Again, he gets two. He follows up with some shots to the midsection in the corner. Into the ropes, Angle gets a back elbow as they take the last commercial break. When they return, they show a fall by Brock Lesnar where he pinned Angle after superplex.
Winner of Fall #7 @ 45:00 (approx.): Brock Lesnar by Pinfall. Angle 2 – Lesnar 5
Back to live action, Angle is on the floor near the announce table. Lesnar is limping around the ring favoring his knee. He comes around to Angle, slamming his head off the announce table. Lesnar sets Angle up for an F5 into the pole, but Angle reverses it. He shoves Lesnar face first into the pole and then F5’s Brock into the post. Lesnar is favoring the right knee. Back in the ring, Angle hits a single leg Boston Crab on that right leg. Lesnar gets to the rope, so Kurt applies the Ankle Lock. He pulls him to the middle, but Brock breaks it. He kicks Angle off of it. Angle kicks him in the knee. Lesnar fights out with a back elbow. Angle charges, but Lesnar hits an F5 on one knee! Damn. He was favoring the leg as he was doing the move. Sweet! After the move, Angle grabs the knee, selling the injury. I love seeing that. Lesnar takes about thirty seconds to cover, so Angle kicks out at two. Brock heads out to the apron while Angle is lying on the mat, motionless. He climbs to the top, reminding all of us of WrestleMania, but Angle pops up with the overhead belly to belly off the top! Love that move. One, two, three.
Winner of Fall #8 @ 50:08: Kurt Angle by Pinfall. Angle 3 – Lesnar 5
Following the rest period, they’re both down for a long seven count. They exchange blows, both guys are looking completely spent. Angle backs Lesnar into the corner with a barrage of punches to the head. Eight minutes left as Angle hits a vertical suplex. He puts the straps up and then puts them down again. The crowd loves that. Angle goes for the Angle Slam, Brock bounces out and hits a DDT for two. With seven minutes left, Angle gets control with some right hands. Brock ducks one of them, waistlock and he hits a release German suplex. Oh, there’s another one. There’s a third release German suplex for Lesnar with just six minutes left. Another German suplex is blocked by Angle, who gets one of his own. Angle hits him with another release German suplex.
With five minutes left, Angle goes for a German suplex, but Brock does a standing switch. He goes for one of his own, so Angle rolls through. Ankle lock! Brock is trying to reach ropes, spinning around in a circle. He gets there once, twice, but Angle pulls him to the middle. Lesnar taps out.
Winner of Fall #9 @ 55:51: Brock Lesnar by Pinfall. Angle 4 – Lesnar 5
With 3:22 left, Angle goes for another ankle lock. Brock breaks it with a roll through that sends Angle into the middle ropes. Angle stalks Lesnar around his legs, then sinks in a bow and arrow submission hold. Lesnar fights out of it with back elbows. Just over two minutes left now as Lesnar bails to the floor. Angle chases him out, stomping on him. He puts an ankle lock on the floor. He rolls Lesnar in. Lesnar rolls out the other side. Angle catches him, then slams him head first into the steel steps. Back in, Angle hits a German Suplex and another just as there is one minute left. A third consecutive suplex and a fourth. He holds onto the waist, so Brock gets to a vertical base, holds the ref and does a mule kick for a low blow on Angle! That keeps Angle down. Brock gets up, slowly walks over to Angle. Ankle lock by Angle with 17 seconds left! He hooks his legs over Brock’s knee in a heel hook. 5…4…3…2…1. Lesnar wins! What a great finish.
Winner and New WWE Champion: Brock Lesnar 5 falls to 4 @ 60:00
Analysis: Wow. I give it the highest possible rating of ***** out of five. This is a definite Match of the Year contender with Angle/Benoit from the Rumble being the main challenger. I was expecting a lot from these guys and they lived up to the hype. They did an amazing job in booking this match. Lesnar was portrayed as a coward by Cole at the end, but in reality, he was the smart one in the match. He did what he had to do in order to get the belt. Was it fair? No, but as a heel he just doesn’t give a damn. Angle played the role of valiant babyface beautifully. It was shades of SummerSlam 2001 against Austin when he was on his game more than ever. The way it was handled with Angle being down 5-2 with only a quarter of the match left was very smart. I know that when I was watching the last 15 minutes I had no idea what was happening. They managed the timing of the match extremely well. The only gripes I’ve seen from people is Lesnar’s stalling at the beginning. I wouldn’t call it stalling. It was baiting. He was baiting Angle in to get frustrated by his tactics so that he would be more vulnerable to take a beating, which he was. It was fabulous booking from beginning to end capped off with a clean finish that was very memorable as well.
Analysis 2021: I think this is the best Ironman Match in WWE history. It’s better than Michaels/Hart at WrestleMania 12 in 1996 and better than Triple H/Rock at Judgment Day 2000 although I love both of those matches. It is not talked about as one of the best matches because it took place at a Smackdown rather than on a major PPV event. If this was a WrestleMania match, people would remember it more. This is one of the best examples of how the perception of a match is altered because of where it took place.
“The one-hour iron man match with Brock Lesnar. It was intense and so was Brock. Not to mention my sister passed away the night before. That match was two world class athletes going toe-to-toe for 60 mins. Intense.” – Kurt Angle explaining why the Ironman match was the mos difficult match of his career in a 2019 Q&A on Facebook.
Ranking the Three Matches
1. Smackdown on September 18 ***** (out of five)
2. WrestleMania XIX on March 30 ****1/2
3. SummerSlam on August 24 ****1/4
I have no doubt about the order. I think the Ironman match was the superior match. I hope that is what Angle had in mind when he talked about them having a longer match and delivering the “greatest match ever” as he put it. Is it the best ever? No, probably not. However, it was one of the best matches I’ve ever seen.
The WrestleMania match was full of emotions. I know it was full of emotions for the competitors and for the fans as well. The online wrestling fans all knew about Angle’s neck condition while I’m sure the news was circulating through Safeco Field during WrestleMania. Every time Angle did anything, we kept wondering what it would be like if he didn’t get up. Thankfully, he persevered and Lesnar made it out of the match alright despite nearly breaking his neck.
The SummerSlam match isn’t as memorable as the other two matches, but it’s still excellent. The ending sequence with Lesnar struggling to make the ropes was memorable, but it lacked the drama that the other two matches had. It’s not even a knock on this match. It’s more of a compliment of the other two matches because they were so damn good.
Lesnar won the first match, Angle won the second match and Lesnar got the third match. It was the older guy in Angle putting over the younger guy in Lesnar as it should be. It’s not like WWE knew that Lesnar would leave the company six months later after WrestleMania 20. They had no idea at this point.
The rivalry ended after the Smackdown match because Lesnar went on to feud with The Undertaker for the WWE Title while Angle had his first of many rivalries with John Cena. Lesnar left WWE after WrestleMania 20 in early 2004. Could these two have wrestled again in WWE ring after this match? Sure, but they didn’t because Lesnar left. They actually wrestled in Japan after Lesnar left and Angle was working for TNA. It’s a good match, but not at the level of the 2003 matches. I think that’s what makes this 2003 series so special since it was really just the one year of matches for them and then they went their separate ways.
I think it’s fair to say that Angle and Lesnar is a rivalry that will be hard to duplicate due to their abilities in the ring. Angle was an Olympic Gold Medalist while Lesnar was a collegiate wrestling champion. It’s hard to find guys like that around the same age that can wrestle at the level they did. This is one of my favorite rivalries in WWE history. I hope they loved it as much as I did.
The majority of this was written in September 2003 with a few additions since then. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Thanks for reading.