Kurt Angle is one of the greatest professional wrestlers to ever live.
Whether he was wrestling in WWE, TNA/IMPACT or elsewhere, Angle brought his a-game and left it all in the ring. Fans make the tired “with a broken freakin’ neck” joke about him all the time because it’s true: Angle was able to create an incredible legacy of amazing matches and moments all while being on borrowed time and while wrestling at way less than peak physical form.
And while most fan praise has gone towards his work in WWE, it’s important to look to his work in other companies to see if that success was as much about his environment as it was about his own innate skill. To that end, today we revisit his classic cage match with Ken Anderson from Lockdown 2010.
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.
Throughout the first quarter of 2010, Angle tried time and again to win the TNA World Championship but kept coming up short. Undeterred, Angle entered an eight-man tournament that would determine a new #1 contender for that title. But in his first-round match, Angle was defeated by Ken Anderson (the former Ken Kennedy) after Anderson cheated to win.
But Anderson didn’t just cheat; he did something so dastardly that Angle couldn’t contain himself: Anderson used Angle’s dog tags to choke Angle out for the win. Not only was it embarrassing for Angle, the ultimate submission specialist, to have been beaten via submission hold, but Anderson’s actions also disrespected US soldiers. And Angle, being a patriotic American, wasn’t going to let Anderson get away with such a heinous act.
A month after that first loss, Angle evened the score with Anderson at Destination X. But since neither man was content with the 1-1 score, a rubber match was needed, and one that wouldn’t allow for any shenanigans or controversy. And so, the decision was made for the third match between them to be a steel cage match. But Anderson wasn’t down to wrestle Angle in a pure competition; he wanted some sort of advantage. So, the week before, Anderson beat Angle in a ladder match to win a key to the cage door.
One has to question why anyone would want to see them face off again after said ladder match since, technically, that ladder match was now the rubber match, but I digress. TNA’s booking was all over the place in 2010 and so the wrestlers had to compensate for it by putting more effort into the matches themselves.
So even though this match no longer made sense from a story perspective, there was still plenty of interest in this match because of Anderson and Angle being such great wrestlers. Anderson was on fire as a heel in TNA and was putting on some of the best work of his career.
As for Angle, around this time he was…well…to put it mildly, a physical and mental wreck. Years of wrestling in an intense and demanding style continued to take their physical toll on him. At the same time, Angle’s marriage was falling apart and this was worsened by his soon-to-be-ex Karen appearing on TNA programming and then getting close with Jeff Jarrett. With his personal and professional life both spiraling out of control at the same time, Angle, like many other wrestlers, began abusing substances. In this case, Angle’s choice of poison was painkillers, which led to some corners of the internet referring to him as “Perc Angle”. It was both endearing and saddening. Angle was going through such difficulties in his life that it looked like he was living up to that tired old trope of wrestlers wanting to die in the ring. Angle was pushing himself beyond what anyone thought possible, all for the love of wrestling. Some compared this period in Angle’s life to watching a car crash in slow motion; others saw this as Angle reaching a new phase of dedication for wrestling. But which one was it? Let’s find out.
This match originally took place on April 18, 2010. It was rated ****1/2 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. Additionally, I’ve heard from many fans that this match was much better than that and was one of the many reasons Angle in particular deserved much more praise than what he has already gotten. Let’s see how well it holds up after over a decade.
Anderson teases a test of strength and then blindsides him with punches to the head. Angle blocks one punch but then Anderson counters back with a dropkick to Angle’s knee. Anderson ties to unlock the cage door but Angle stops him, only for Anderson to hit back with punches using the key wrapped around his fist. Angle stops him again with a back suplex and some corner stomps as Anderson’s key remains stuck in the padlock. Angle hits a snap suplex and sends Anderson into the ropes for an Irish whip. Anderson holds onto the ropes which causes Angle to rush him, but Anderson counters with a flapjack lift that sends Angle head-first into the cage wall.
We’re only three minutes in and Angle’s already bleeding. Anderson punches the wound, chokes Angle against the ropes, mocks him, and drives him head-first into the cage wall some more. Anderson rubs Angle’s blood over himself and slows things down because he knows how far ahead he is. Angle tries to block a diving attack by getting his foot up but Anderson has him scouted, blocks the leg, and lands an elbow drop to Angle’s chest. Anderson follows with a leg drop and then unlocks the cage but Angle fights up some more. Angle lands some punches but Anderson counters once again and sends Angle flying face-first into the cage wall once again.
Angle blocks a piledriver and tries opening the cage door but Anderson cuts him off. Anderson’s bleeding a bit too now as he climbs a corner for a big dive. But he takes too long gloating/setting up and Angle fires up. Angle pounces and hits an avalanche belly-to-belly suplex. Big move for Angle. But Anderson’s relatively healthier at this point so he gets up first, unwraps some of his wrist tape, and uses it to choke Angle. Angle sinks down and Anderson adds more pressure with some bodyscissors. Angle looks like he’s seconds away from passing out when, suddenly, he breaks the bodyscissors and starts fighting back again. Angle hits another back suplex to escape the hold and both men collapse.
Both men fight to their feet and then Angle gains control with some short clotheslines. Angle follows with a back body drop and when Anderson blocks a corner charge Angle retaliates with another overhead belly-to-belly. Anderson blocks an Angle Slam and hits a standing Green Bay Plunge. He goes for a Mic Check but Angle blocks it and hits not one, not two, not three, but six German suplexes. Huge ovation for Angle.
Angle walks over to the cage door and then decides “nope, more violence!” and applies an ankle lock. He can’t win by submission but maybe Anderson won’t be able to walk or crawl with only one functioning leg. But Anderson escapes and lands his Mic Check finisher. Then Anderson opens the cage door but Angle hits an Angle Slam. Angle’s all fired up as he closes the cage door. He flips Anderson off and throws away the key. “I’m not stuck in here with you; you’re stuck in here with me” – Kurt Angle, probably. Anderson freaks out and tries in vain to snap the chain holding the cage door closed. Anderson starts climbing a cage wall right in front of Angle but Angle chases him up. Anderson tries throwing hands but Angle cuts him off and hits a German suplex off the top rope. The crowd chants “this is awesome” but Angle hasn’t shown them everything yet. He drags Anderson’s body towards a corner. He climbs to the top turnbuckle. You know what’s coming. But then Angle stops. He sees he still has more to climb. And so he ascends to the top of the cage…AND HITS A DIVING MOONSAULT FROM 15 FEET IN THE AIR! PERC ANGLE IS GOD!
Angle crashes and burns on that moonsault as we get replays from different angles (pun very much intended) of that insane move. Angle gets up remarkably fast and opens the cage door. Anderson yells at him from the other side of the ring and flips him the double bird. Angle rushes over and walks into a low blow and another Mic Check. Anderson starts crawling over towards the open cage door. Angle crawls behind him and catches him in another ankle lock. Anderson taps but that won’ do him any good. Anderson rolls through to send Angle into another cage wall. Anderson slithers over towards freedom but he doesn’t see Angle pull something out of his singlet. It’s another key and keychain. Angle chokes Anderson out with it. Angle then spits on Anderson and stomps on his groin as he literally walks over his opponent and out of the cage to win the match!
Winner after 20:53: Kurt Angle
I usually don’t think much of wrestlers that do crazy things just to get high off cheating death but Kurt Angle is an exception. The guy was simply awesome. Even with a body being held together by rubber bands and “vitamins”, Angle went out of his way to exceed high expectation and carve out an incredible legacy for himself. Watching him put himself through such danger and risk was like watching a man trying to sculpt Mount Rushmore with his fists, but that’s what Angle did here. And with Anderson’s help, he succeeded. Kurt Angle put on one of the best matches in TNA history and easily one of the best cage matches in modern times.
This match was slow but insane. Angle was much slower than he was in previous years (albeit for obvious and justifiable reasons) so he filled the space between key moments with some interesting storytelling. Anderson did everything right here by pushing Angle’s buttons and working around any limitations any of them had. When Angle tried to wrestle, Anderson went for cheap-shots. When Angle tried to stay professional, Anderson goaded and taunted him into making a rash decision. When Anderson went for the easy way out, Angle took the high road and continued fighting like a man. These two were polar opposites as characters yet complemented each other to tell a fascinating story. Anderson had all the advantages but he let his arrogance get in the way of his immediate goal. And yet, he made life hell for Angle by taking a minimalistic approach. Anderson did very simple things but got so much out of them. Things like the flapjack into the cage wall, the wrist tape as a choking aid, and the sub-story with the key, all pushed the story forward meaningfully. Even Anderson’s selling towards in the end, when he had that “oh s**t, get me outta here” look on his face as Angle grinned like The Joker was better storytelling than, for example, a needlessly-convoluted acrobatics routine.
There was no need for either man to go excessively long or squeeze forty minutes’ worth of high-speed action into twenty minutes. Instead, this match had much more solid pacing that built towards the big crescendos that came with Anderson’s underhanded tricks and Angle’s sheer lunacy. Honestly, I don’t know which of these two men had the bigger balls: Kurt Angle for pulling off that incredible dive and all those other insane literal high-spots, or Ken Anderson for staying put knowing what was coming, like a condemned man blindfolded yet still capable of hearing the guns being cocked as his final countdown began. That was easily the match’s best peak from a physical standpoint, and from there the story was able to conclude in a logical way. Anderson tried one final salvo of a cheap-shot, only to end up on the receiving end of some poetic justice as Angle used the same warrior medal to choke Anderson out and nonchalantly walk out of the cage.
Final Rating: ****3/4
Fantastic match. One of the most insane cage matches in modern times and one of TNA’s best matches. It had the right blend of wrestling as storytelling with wrestling as athleticism. Angle and Anderson had great chemistry and worked off each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The match didn’t drag nor was it excessive. It had the right mix of drama and tension, plus some satisfying insanity from Kurt Angle. I know it’s kind of sad to the shape Angle’s in now and hearing what he has gone through is a bit of a sobering reminder that wrestlers sacrifice more than we as fans can ever hope to understand to satiate our demands, and at times, our bloodlust. So instead of getting down on what one of the best wrestlers in the world has become, it’s better to look back with fondness on one of his biggest and most unsung accomplishments.