Today’s date is April 3, which means it is the anniversary of one of the greatest WWE matches ever: Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 21 in Los Angeles.
In 2017, I wrote a list of the 33 greatest matches in WWE WrestleMania history. The series included detailed reviews of every match, information about how the match was built up, my thoughts on the match all these years later, comments from the wrestlers in some cases and what was next for the superstars. The #3 match in that listing of all-time great matches is this Angle vs. Michaels classic.
Some of you may have read this full column when I posted it four years ago or maybe you have read the WrestleMania 21 review. These are some of my favorite articles that I have ever written on the subject of pro wrestling. Anyway, here’s my detailed look at the WrestleMania 21 classic from 16 years ago when Angle met Michaels at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Let’s get to it.
Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels for the first time ever at the biggest show of the year at WrestleMania 21. No pressure, fellas. Lucky for us, they are amazing wrestlers and gave us a match we’ll never forget.
If you’ve missed anything in the countdown so far, the WrestleMania’s Greatest Matches archives are here.
Who: Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels @ WrestleMania 21
When: April 3, 2005
Where: Staples Center in Los Angeles, California
Michaels was one of the best wrestlers on Raw. Angle was one of the best wrestlers on Smackdown. Michaels returned to action as a regular in 2002, but they didn’t cross paths as the roster split in two for the first brand extension. At the 2005 Royal Rumble, they had their first encounter in the ring. Michaels eliminated Angle. Shortly after, Angle went back into the ring Angle attacked Michaels and the feud kicked off from there.
They interacted a lot over the next two months. There was a good Angle/Jannetty match from Smackdown that was so good that they nearly brought Jannetty back full time, but he wasn’t ready for that. I think he just looked great because he was with a guy the caliber of Angle. Another funny moment was when Angle brought out Shawn’s former manager Sensational Sherri and did the memorable mocking of Shawn’s theme song. It was hilarious.
What I Thought Back Then
This was probably the most anticipated match in my life as a fan. Bold statement? Nope. It’s the truth. My three favorite wrestlers ever are Michaels, Austin and Angle. I had seen the other combinations of their matches. I was ready for this matchup between my two favorite wrestlers ever because of how good they were and I thought the story going into the match was awesome as well.
If I were to think back at that period, Angle and Michaels would top the list as the best wrestlers in WWE in 2005. The fact that they were having a match for the first time ever at a WrestleMania was pretty f’n special.
I think 2005 Angle was when he was at his absolute best because he was experienced enough to do anything. Michaels was incredible after his 2002 return and was as good as ever.
Going into the match, I’m not sure who I picked to win. It was one of those situations where it didn’t matter that much. It wasn’t for a title. It was simply a dream match that became a reality.
Here’s my full review of the match, which was written in 2005 and edited again in 2012.
Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle @ WrestleMania 21
We get the video package for the Michaels/Angle.
Michaels the face is out first. Angle the heel is next. Good reactions for both. Jim Ross & Jerry “The King” Lawler were doing the announcing.
Michaels slaps Angle at the start. Angle waistlocks him all over, so Michaels grabs the ropes. Headlock for Michaels on the mat. To their knees now, Angle hits a suplex, but Michaels holds on to it. Michaels has him in the headlock for a good two minutes with Angle trying to fight out. Some small Angle chants start up. To their feet now, Angle breaks it in the corner. Waistlock for Angle, Michaels takes him down with a side headlock again. Back elbow for Angle, shoulder takedown and Michaels gets him with a hip toss, then a short arm scissors on Angle’s left arm. Angle fights out, Michaels with a cradle for two, then a backslide for two and another side headlock to the mat. Five minutes in, they’re going at a slow pace, so you know they’re going to get a lot of time. In the corner, Michaels slugs away, Angle grabs his hair, punches him in the back and goes for the ankle lock. Michaels kicks out of that, then clotheslines Angle over the top to the floor. He starts clearing the Smackdown announce table. He rolls in to break the count, so Angle clubs him with forearms when he comes out. Vertical suplex for Angle countered by Michaels, then Angle sets him up for the Angle Slam and puts Michaels back first into the ringpost. Damn. Never seen that before. Sick spot.
Back in the ring, Angle hits a suplex for two. Time to work on the back. Leg scissors on the body for Angle. Michaels gets up chopping Angle into the corner. He whips him in, Michaels flips over and does his back bump, then walks right into an overhead belly-to-belly suplex from Angle, then a second one for two. Angle digs his right knee in the back and then pulls up on Michaels’ chin in a familiar hold. Michaels fights back some more with chops, so Angle punches him and after a Michaels slap he gets decked by a hard Angle clothesline. Angle props Michaels up on the top rope, goes for a top rope belly to belly, but Michaels shoves him off. He climbs to the top, elbow drop misses everything. Angle pulls down the straps. Angle Slam countered into an armdrag, which is always a nice spot. Angle charges in and Michaels backdrops him over the top to the floor as Angle lands on his knees, which is a smart way to take that bump. Michaels to the top, he hits a crossbody onto Angle on the floor and his knee ends up hitting Angle right in the mouth. Angle gets up, goes to suplex Michaels German suplex style through the table. Michaels hangs on to the ropes. Low blow from Michaels. The ref couldn’t see it because he was looking at their faces. Little spots like that are so smart. We’re 15 minutes into the match now. Michaels kicks Angle onto the table. With Angle laying on it, Michaels hits a springboard moonsault onto Angle. Impressive. The table did not break. Lawler mentioned that the tables have been reinforced because of all the tables that get broken at shows. Good way to save it. Still a really cool spot. They both crawl into the ring on opposite sides at the nine count, which of course was really slow. They meet in the center on their knees with both guys bleeding from the mouth. Michaels with punches, chops and the flying forearm, then the kip up. Right hands, atomic drop, clothesline and the bodyslam in the center. To the top, the elbow drop hits this time. He stumbles into the corner, warming up for the superkick. The superkick attempt is caught by Angle in the Ankle Lock. Crowd is going nuts. Michaels rolls through, but Angle holds on to it. Thirty seconds in, Michaels reaches ropes. Some of the crowd boos. Even though Angle was the heel he was still very popular because people recognized just how good he was.
Angle wants him up. Angle Slam is countered into a rollup, but now Angle rolls through for an Ankle Lock. Michaels gets a roll-up, Angle kicks out, superkick caught into an Angle Slam this time. He delays a second and then covers for two. He puts the straps up, then down again and goes for his moonsault. He gets huge height on it, but Michaels rolls out of it. He nearly hit him with the top of his head. So close. Now Michaels to the top and Angle hits the running Angle Slam off the top! One…two…no! Wow. I thought that was it. So did the crowd. Amazing. He picks him up by the hair, talked a lot of trash and Michaels separates, then hits a sweet superkick, but he’s out too. They’re both out. Michaels crawls over about 20 seconds after the move, drapes an arm across and that gets 2.99999 as Angle got his shoulder up. So damn close. One of the better nearfalls you will ever see. Lawler and Ross question the speed of the Smackdown referee’s count. Michaels is stumbling, Angle is playing possum and slaps in the ankle lock again out of nowhere on Shawn’s left leg. Michaels tries to fight out with kicks not once but twice and Angle holds on. He pulls him to the center. He’s been in the hold for a good minute now. Now Angle goes down in the heel hook position. Michaels is going for ropes, fighting it and yelling at the top of his lungs. He’s close to the ropes, almost taps out. But no. Then he taps after about two minutes. Wow. Angle wins via submission. The match went 27:28.
Winner by submission: Kurt Angle
Post match, the crowd gives them a standing ovation and Michaels gets one of his own too.
Analysis: ***** OH HELL YEAH! Wow. This was amazing. This did live up to the hype. This did meet all expectations. This did deliver the goods the way we all hoped it would. My God. The amount of counter holds seen in this match were unreal. It was wrestling at its absolute best. Amazing stuff here. I can’t say it enough. The drama in this match was unreal. You didn’t know when it was going to end. There were so many incredible spots here. Finishers kicked out of, drama at the end, and everything you want in a match. The match time was great, the pacing was really good because it built up to the end and the last ten minutes were as good a finish to a match that you can have. Thank you Shawn. Thank you Kurt. That was an epic match.
That was my initial analysis in 2005. The rating stays the same. You could tell how emotional I was for this just by reading the play-by-play. This was a dream match for me. I liked the match even more when I watched it this time.
I believe it’s a match you can look at as a reason to point out why you are a fan of this business. It wasn’t a match that relied on high spots or crazy bumps to sink you in. It was a match that told a story. You saw Michaels try to ground Angle early on, slowing the pace down and keeping himself from being caught up in Angle’s arsenal of moves. Then the pace picked up with Angle hitting Michaels with everything he had. They kicked out of finishers, they did some counter wrestling that was flawless and they built to a finish that, especially for the last ten minutes, was as good as any finish I could ever remember. Wrestling doesn’t have to be about guys killing themselves going into tables and whatnot. Yeah, they did that one table spot in this match, but it wasn’t the story. The story was that neither guy would quit and the only reason Michaels quit at the end was that the pain was excruciating. They had other matches that were very good as well. This was their best, though. I’ll never get tired of watching it. It’s one of the best matches ever.
You can read my full recap of WrestleMania 21 right here.
What They Said
Kurt Angle talked about the match in-depth with ESPN:
“It was a lot of fun for both Shawn and I. I will say Shawn and I deserved to be in the main event that year, but it wasn’t in the cards for us. But to be a featured match was special, too, because even though on paper that was a middle-of-the-card match, it wasn’t really a mid-card match. That was the match that lit up WrestleMania 21. Nobody came close to the match that we had.”
“Shawn and I knew we were going to do it, even though we never [met in the ring] prior to that. We never had a match. We never locked up. We didn’t even go over anything physically before the match. We might have talked a few things out, but you have that whole week before WrestleMania to get prepared for the match, and while a lot of wrestlers are going over mat stuff, technique and moves, Shawn and I just sat down and got to know each other. I am still amazed that two athletes were able to have that type of chemistry without ever having wrestled prior to that night.”
“I commend Shawn for that. I think that he is one of the best of all time. He proved that to me, and I think he proved that to everyone when we had that match. Let’s not forget he was already in the business, gosh, 20-something years at that point. Shawn’s always been that good. When I finally had the opportunity to wrestle him in 2005, I was shown firsthand how good he was.”
Here’s Shawn Michaels talking to WWE.com about the match:
“I’ve never been intimidated going into a match with somebody on the basis of skill. But I’ve been plenty intimidated as far as the expectations of the crowds. And I knew that the expectations of the Angle match were really high. That was a match people wanted to see. Kurt was really talented. He’s incredibly technically sound. I needed to be able to match and enhance his technical attributes. That’s not something I do on a regular basis, so there was a lot of pressure. Whether it was earned, I had a WrestleMania reputation. And Kurt had one, too. So if we hadn’t delivered on the match, it probably would’ve made more news than we actually ended up doing. My WrestleMania matches weren’t graded the same way as anyone else’s. If I fall below ‘good,’ I’m in big trouble. Looking back, I’m very proud of that.”
Here are more comments from Angle from his 2021 podcast about the match.
In April 2020, WWE Untold did a documentary special all about Angle vs. Michaels as well, which I reviewed here.
For even more analysis about this match, read the Alex Podgorski five-star match review right here on TJRWrestling. He also rated it five stars out of five like me.
What I Think Now
I’m not sure what to add since my Analysis said a lot when I wrote it a few years ago. What holds true is this match will never get old. The wrestlers had a perfect match, Jim Ross was amazing on the call and the crowd was into it as much as the talent could have hoped for.
I didn’t really care that Angle won or Michaels lost. This is the kind of match where you can really say the win and the loss don’t matter that much. A lot of fans spend their time arguing about who is going to go over, then wondering why the other person didn’t go over and it’s a waste of time.
What also stands out is that I really don’t think there were two wrestlers that could have their first match together at a WrestleMania and perform as well as these two did. It’s incredible when putting it in that context. The circumstances shouldn’t have made it easy to have an amazing match, but these guys did it. I’m still in awe of it.
What Happened Next
They feuded later in the year with a few other PPV matches as well. They did that because Angle was drafted to Raw. It led to a rematch at Vengeance in June 2005 with Michaels getting his win back in another classic match.
The feud was put on the backburner bit because Michaels had a memorable rivalry with Hulk Hogan that summer. They picked it up again with a 30-minute Ironman match on the October 3, 2005 Raw Homecoming match that ended in a draw.
Their final match was a triple threat with John Cena at Taboo Tuesday 2005 where Cena got the win, so it was WWE’s way of using this rivalry to put over Cena.
Angle went on to leave WWE in the summer of 2006. He didn’t return until this past weekend for the Hall of Fame.
Michaels ended up wrestling another five years before retiring in 2010 at WrestleMania. Matches like this, even though he lost, are why Shawn is called Mr. WrestleMania.
Two of the best guys ever had one of the greatest matches of all time at WrestleMania. It’s why we watch pro wrestling as kids and keep loving it as adults. It doesn’t get much better than Angle vs. Michaels at WrestleMania 21.
WrestleMania’s Greatest Matches archives are here.
Thanks for reading. My contact info is below.
John Canton – [email protected]