The main event of WrestleMania 19 is up next on the countdown as Brock Lesnar challenge Kurt Angle for the WWE Title. It was Lesnar’s WrestleMania debut and he was in the main event.
If you’ve missed anything in the countdown so far, the WrestleMania’s Greatest Matches archives are here.
Who: Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle @ WrestleMania 19
When: March 30, 2003
Where: Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington
It makes me very emotional just thinking about the build to this match because I’m such a huge fan of Angle. In the weeks leading to the match, there were various reports that Angle’s neck was in bad shape (even worse than usual) and there was a possibility that he may need major surgery while also missing the show. Angle worked through the pain and made it to WrestleMania although he did have surgery soon after. More on that later.
Lesnar was turned face at Survivor Series 2002 when his manager Paul Heyman cost him the WWE Title against Big Show. It turned out that Show was just a transitional champion because Angle beat Show for the WWE Title at Armageddon 2002. When Angle won the WWE Title, it made the Royal Rumble very predictable. Lesnar won that match easily to the surprise of nobody, so that set up Angle vs. Lesnar for the first time ever at WrestleMania 19.
On the March 13, 2003 edition of Smackdown, Lesnar challenged Angle for the WWE Title. Lesnar easily hit an F5 and went for a cover, but he stopped. Team Angle members Charlie Haas & Shelton Benjamin showed on the ramp to distract Lesnar. When Lesnar went back into the ring, Angle did an inside cradle to pin him. After the match, Lesnar attacked Kurt’s brother Eric, who wore the same outfit as Kurt and was the one that Lesnar originally went after. Replays showed that Kurt switched spots with his brother to trick Lesnar.
I remember that angle well because heading into that taping there was concern that Angle was too injured to make it to WrestleMania, so he would drop the title to Lesnar. The alternate Lesnar match would have been against Chris Benoit, per rumors at the time. However, Angle was able to make it to WrestleMania healthy enough to have the match.
As a friend pointed out to me a few days ago, this was also the first WrestleMania main event where both competitors used their real names.
What I Thought Back Then
My excitement level was off the charts heading into this match. It’s hard to put it into words because I’m such a fan of these two guys and I still am all these years later. I’m not much of an amateur wrestling fan, but these two men did a lot with multiple NCAA Titles and Olympic gold for Angle. Both of them also adapted very well to WWE. They had more credibility than anybody else on the roster, so it was easy to get excited about it.
The storyline going into it was well done. Honestly, they didn’t even need a big storyline because of who they were. Angle vs. Lesnar was enough to sell me. I always thought Lesnar was better as a heel, but I can see why he was turned face a few months earlier because he was getting a lot of cheers after he impressed so many people.
Angle was as good as ever at this point in his career. The match he had with Chris Benoit at Royal Rumble 2003 is one of my five favorite WWE matches ever. As long as Angle’s health was okay, I thought this would be an amazing match as well.
I was really concerned for Angle. I was heavily involved with writing about wrestling online and reading about it all the time. There was a lot of chatter about how Angle was one bump away from having a broken neck or worse. Lesnar always had a rep as being a tough guy that worked a very physical style, so what if something happened and Kurt was hurt? It was a real concern for everybody watching at home.
The outcome of the match was pretty obvious. Lesnar was going to go over and we all knew that, but it didn’t hurt the build to the match at all.
Here’s my full review of the match plus the analysis, which was written in 2003 and edited in 2012.
The main event was Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar for the WWE Title on the Smackdown brand. They did a great job of keeping them apart for many months. Lesnar won the Royal Rumble and Angle was the champion, so the match was inevitable. The problem was that Angle’s legit neck injury had gotten so bad that there were rumors that he wouldn’t be able to wrestle here. I was so nervous for Kurt as I watched this match. We really didn’t know what his condition was going into it. The build was pretty good as they used Kurt’s brother to pretend to be him and Kurt ended up beating Brock in a match in a fluke manner. It wasn’t a real match, though. This was the real thing. It was a dream match for a lot of us because Angle was an Olympic gold medallist at the amateur level while Lesnar was a very accomplished amateur wrestler too. I was very excited for this and happy that they got to go on last.
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.
WWE Championship (Smackdown): Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar @ WrestleMania 19
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 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 piggy back. 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 in to 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. 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 at 21:07.
Winner by pinfall and New WWE Champion: Brock Lesnar
Analysis: ****1/2 Outstanding wrestling match. Nearly five stars. 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 may 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.
Post match, they shook hands and hugged. What an awesome moment. Angle was gone for a few months after neck surgery. He returned as a babyface, so that’s why ending it with a respectful hug here was the right move.
What They Said
Here’s Angle talking to WrestlingInc about the Shooting Star Press spot to end the match:
“That was my idea, I will take responsibility for Brock doing that. At the time I had to leave (WWE), it really wasn’t in the plans for me to drop the title at WrestleMania. I had suffered a broken neck and was going to have surgery, so I wanted to do something that people would remember. I asked Brock to do the Shooting Star Press, which he had done many times in OVW. I just thought it would be a great way to end the show.”
“Unfortunately, Brock came up short. I think I was a little too far away, and Brock kinda double guessed before he went. If you ever watched the tape, you’ll see he goes, then he kinda stops, then he says screw it. So that hesitation caused him to land on his head. But that was my call. I know that Brock didn’t necessarily want to do it, but we did practice it earlier in the week and he was doing it perfectly well; he just got in a situation in the match where he kinda slipped a little bit and that was it. But I can tell you this, fans still remember it!”
Angle also claimed that Vince McMahon wanted to call the match off due to Angle’s injuries. From 411Mania:
“Vince didn’t want me to wrestle at WrestleMania. We knew I was going to have surgery, and were going to cancel the WrestleMania match and have a 30 second match on TV the week prior to drop the title to Brock Lesnar. I was over at my neighbor’s house, and his child with down syndrome showed me the DirecTV magazine cover and was all excited to see me wrestle. I literally looked at him and started crying. I called Vince and said I’d do it. Back then it was fine. It won’t happen anymore. I respect Vince for that.”
Here’s more from Kurt Angle on a recent podcast episode.
What I Think Now
It’s an outstanding technical wrestling match just like I remembered. After having watched Lesnar matches in the last four years, it’s easy to forget how good he was at technical wrestling. While Lesnar wasn’t at the level of Angle in terms of doing different moves, Lesnar had a similar style in a lot of ways.
The Shooting Star Press spot was unfortunate, but like Angle said the fans still remember it. If Lesnar hit it would it be remembered as well? Possible. We don’t know that for sure. I don’t blame Lesnar for trying the move since he hit it in OVW with regularity. I can remember watching clips of it for years while people online wondered Lesnar might do the SSP on television. It was smart to save it for WrestleMania. I wish they could do it again because it would have been a spectacular way to end the match. Kudos to them for finishing it in a big way with a third F5 from Lesnar.
This was one of the best WrestleMania main events ever. They barely left the ring. It was more about having a technical wrestling match with a bunch of suplexes from each man and an exciting finish with Lesnar finding a way to win.
What Happened Next
Angle was in bad shape after the match. On the “Mania of WrestleMania” documentary about this event, there was footage of Angle in a lot of pain after the match and he was hospitalized. He ended up having an alternative neck surgery that put him on the shelf for a few months rather than a more extensive surgery that would have kept him out of action for one year.
I loved this rivalry. I remember in late 2003 I wrote a detailed article about how brilliant it was from start to finish. This match was their first big match together. After Angle came back from neck surgery, they faced off against at Vengeance 2003 in a triple threat match against Big Show with Angle winning back the WWE Title. Following that loss, Lesnar turned heel and Angle retained the WWE Title against him at SummerSlam 2003.
Their final match in the series happened on a Smackdown episode on September 18. It was an Ironman Match – the first and only Ironman Match in Smackdown history. I thought the match was an outstanding, five-star classic with about 42 minutes of action shown due to the commercial breaks. The falls were really well booked. In the end, the heel Lesnar left with the WWE Title.
Lesnar left WWE at WrestleMania 20, which was just one year after this match. It changed the course of history in WWE since he was going to be one of their most important guys going forward. His next WrestleMania match was at WrestleMania 29 when he lost to Triple H.
As for Angle, he was WWE’s best performer that unfortunately was burned out from working so hard for so long with so many injuries. He left the company in the summer of 2006. His return will officially take place on March 31 as he is inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
There have been a lot of matches in this countdown where I talked about matches that had a lot of hype and lived up to it. This one definitely fits that label because it was their first major match together and they delivered one of the best WrestleMania main events ever. Two legends doing their thing on the biggest stage of them all. It doesn’t get much better than that.
That’s all for me. Check out the full list of my WWE PPV Review archive right here. Thanks for reading.