An athlete like Kurt Angle comes along once in a generation. Throughout his years in WWE and TNA, Angle delivered nonstop matches of superior quality on an almost weekly basis, using his intimate knowledge of amateur wrestling in every one of his many matches.
The American successor to Bret Hart, Angle’s achievements in the pro wrestling landscape speak for themselves, evidenced in his 13 world title reigns and his induction into WWE’s prestigious Hall of Fame. A consummate professional and all-around gifted wrestler, Angle helped carry WWE and a fledgling TNA on his back for over 20 years, giving fans some of the most remarkable matches they’d ever seen.
From his lauded WWE matches against Shawn Michaels and Brock Lesnar to his later bouts in TNA, here are some of Kurt Angle’s best wrestling matches, ranked from best to worst.
Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania 21)
While it’s difficult to name Shawn Michaels’ absolute best match, it’s safe to say HBK’s WrestleMania 21 bout against Kurt Angle is the greatest match in the Olympic Gold Medalist’s career. Infuriated by his Royal Rumble elimination at Michaels’ hands, a vindictive Angle challenged Michaels to a dream match at the grandest stage of them all.
Kicking off the match with some mat-based technical wrestling, Angle soon escalated the bout into a test of strength and agility, beating Michaels down with a series of high-impact offensive maneuvers. With Michaels struggling to hold his own against Angles’ unending onslaught, HBK managed to withstand several punishing Angle Slams and multiple Ankle Locks. Despite his impressive wherewithal, Angle’s patented submission proved too much for the Showstopper, forcing Michaels to tap out in defeat.
Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar (SmackDown)
One of the few WrestleMania rematches that surpassed the quality of the original, Angle and Lesnar’s Iron Man match on the September 18 edition of SmackDown remains the stuff of wrestling legend. Quite possibly the single best Iron Man match of all time, Angle and Lesnar’s epic 2003 feud came to a head here.
With far less focus spent on mat-based wrestling, Lesnar and Angle came at each other with unadulterated ferocity, beating each other senseless throughout this hour-long bout. With stiffer bumps, heightened violence, and plentiful pinfalls, Lesnar and Angle used every minute of this match to their advantage. While unable to retain his WWE Championship from Lesnar, Angle still ushered in yet another extraordinary wrestling match – and on free television, no less!
Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit (Royal Rumble 2003)
While fans never got to witness the dream match between Kurt Angle and Bret Hart, they did get the next closest thing with Angle’s frequent matches against Chris Benoit. Recurring rivals throughout the Attitude Era, the Rabid Wolverine established himself as one of Angle’s most persistent foes from the 2000s onward, their single best match occurring at the 2003 Royal Rumble.
Flanked by his young proteges Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas, reigning WWE Champion Kurt Angle defended his title against his former ally-turned-bitter nemesis Benoit at the all-important pay-per-view event. Harking back to the proficient technical matches of their earlier encounters, Angle and Benoit had an intense back-and-forth bout loaded with counters, suplexes, and taut submission holds left and right.
Kurt Angle vs. The Undertaker (No Way Out 2006)
For such a large man, one might not expect to see The Undertaker move in a fluid manner, the Phenom instead relying on his size, strength, and stunning agility in most of his matches. In the main event of No Way Out 2006, however, the Deadman drew on Angle's more conventional amateur wrestling style in his quest for the World Heavyweight Championship, giving fans one of the most unique bouts in ‘Taker’s career.
An encounter that harkened back to Undertaker’s earlier matches against Bret Hart, The Undertaker brought out his more athletic side when facing Angle, introducing a range of MMA-style holds and creative reversals to Angle’s patented Ankle Lock. Through a controversial finish, Angle narrowly held on to his World Heavyweight title, to the obvious chagrin of the Demon from Death Valley.
Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar (WrestleMania XIX)
As many standout opponents as Angle has had over the years, it’s difficult to name a better rival for the Olympic Gold Medalist than his amateur wrestling counterpart, Brock Lesnar. Winning his third WWE Championship from The Big Show (ironically thanks to some crucial help from Lesnar), Angle became the target for WWE’s Next Big Thing after Lesnar won the 2003 Royal Rumble, cashing in his world title shot at WrestleMania XIX.
A technical wrestling fan’s ultimate dream, Lesnar and Angle made for ideal foes against one another, trading suplex for suplex, submission hold for a submission hold, and impressive counter with an impressive counter. With Lesnar relying on his strength and Angle relying on his speed and stamina, both men were on an even playing field regarding their raw physicality and consistent energy. Yet in the end, the future Beast Incarnate won out, earning the WWE Championship and – perhaps most importantly – Angle’s respect.
Kurt Angle vs. Eddie Guerrero (SummerSlam 2004)
Costing Eddie Guerrero his WWE Championship at The Great American Bash, Angle found himself thrown into a WrestleMania rematch against Latino Heat at SummerSlam 2004. A bitter and personal feud that had lasted throughout the preceding months, Guerrero and Angle again handed in a match on par with their earlier WrestleMania encounter.
Like their WrestleMania showdown, Angle and Guerrero’s SummerSlam bout saw each man using mat-based wrestling in lieu of heavy brawling. Whenever it seemed like Guerrero dictated the match's pace, though, Angle’s outside enforcer (Luther Reigns) interfered, brutalizing Guerrero from outside the ring. While Guerrero made a valiant effort to cheat his way to victory, a sudden Ankle Lock prevented Guerrero from seizing the win, with Angle redeeming his earlier WrestleMania loss in dramatic fashion.
Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit vs. Rey Mysterio and Edge (No Mercy 2002)
Without a doubt, the best tag team match of Angle’s career, the tournament finals to decide the inaugural WWE Tag Champions at No Mercy 2002 is also among the finest tag team bouts in wrestling history. Using the unparalleled chemistry each man shared in the ring, the match contained little to any dull moments, with every performer getting ample opportunity to shine.
Feuding against each other throughout the late summer, Angle and Benoit found themselves thrust into a mismatched tag team later that fall. Forced to put aside their mutual animosity, the fierce Attitude Era contemporaries became a decisive duo in the tag team division, their most daunting opponents coming in the form of Edge and Mysterio. Foreshadowing the fast-paced nature of 2010s-era tag team matches in NXT and AEW, Benoit and Angle captured the titles in an otherwise classic match – one that also ignited a lengthy rivalry between Edge and Mysterio, Angle and Benoit, and Los Guerreros.
Kurt Angle vs. Eddie Guerrero (WrestleMania 20)
One can describe Eddie Guerrero’s first and only reign as WWE Championship as the perfect underdog story. Securing the title in an upset victory over Brock Lesnar a month earlier, Latino Heat had to prove to himself, the WWE audience, and the backstage locker room he had what it took to hold the world championship – something he accomplished at WrestleMania 20.
Betraying his former ally Guerrero on the February 19th edition of SmackDown, Angle used his number-one contender’s shot to challenge Latino Heat at the show to end all shows. As with most of the matches on this list, Angle and Guerrero relied on an extensive technical moveset, with Guerrero struggling to keep up with the Wrestling Machine’s submission holds and suplexes. Just when it seemed like Angle might end Guerrero’s short reign, Eddie used a creative counter from the Ankle Lock, rolling Angle up and using the ropes to secure the win.
Kurt Angle vs. Shane McMahon (King of the Ring 2001)
One of the most violent and unpredictable matches of Angle’s career, Kurt Angle’s brawl with Shane McMahon at the 2001 King of the Ring also has the distinction of being among the greatest wrestling matches of WWF’s Attitude Era. As destructive as an ECW bout, the match left both men in physical shambles, with Angle suffering a broken tailbone and McMahon some serious head trauma that required each man to receive legitimate medical attention afterward.
Like most Attitude Era matches, Angle and McMahon’s Street Fight is the kind of match fans will never again see in WWE – a dangerous and fiery bout loaded with “oh my god” moments that put the performers’ health and safety on the line. Whether suplexing McMahon through a glass panel or slamming each other off the top rope, these two men put their bodies through excruciating physical torment – all for the sake of fans’ perverse enjoyment.
Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels (Vengeance 2005)
Upon being drafted to Raw in mid-2005, Angle came across his former WrestleMania 21 opponent, Shawn Michaels, the two reigniting their feud from several months prior. Facing off in a historic WrestleMania rematch at June’s Backlash, Michaels and Angle handed in the same high-caliber match-up last seen at WWE’s flagship show.
Like their earlier WrestleMania show-down, Michaels and Angle started the bout with a heavier emphasis on mat-based wrestling. With Angle busting out heavier offensive moves, Michaels did his best to fend off the Olympic Gold Medalist, relying on his resilience, speed, and constant reversals to ward away Angle. Just when it seemed like Angle might replicate his WrestleMania victory, though, the Heartbreak Kid hit two back-to-back Sweet Chin Music superkicks, evening the score against the Wrestling Machine.
Kurt Angle vs. Samoa Joe (TNA Genesis 2006)
Needless to say, Kurt Angle’s innate wrestling talent meshed well with most opponents he squared off against, whether in WWE or TNA. While Angle had no shortage of standout matches against the likes of Sting, Mr. Anderson, Christian Cage, or AJ Styles, his single best TNA opponent remains his stylistic successor, Samoa Joe.
Upon arriving to TNA in 2006, Angle entered a heat feud with Joe that came to a head at Genesis 2006. The first man to end Joe’s lengthy TNA undefeated streak, Angle managed to crank up the physicality of this match to a solid 10, the Olympic Gold Medalist and the Samoan Submission Machine alternating between suplexes, submission holds, and MMA-style strikes and kicks. Looking back at this match today, it not only has the honor of being not only Angle’s greatest match for TNA, but one of his best matches, period.
Kurt Angle vs. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin (SummerSlam 2001)
In the summer of 2001, the WWF combated its most formidable enemy yet with the infamous WCW-ECW Invasion. With Steve Austin turning his back on the WWF and joining the Alliance as its de facto leader, Vince McMahon called for a number of WWF talents to win the company’s championship back to the promotion, including the Olympic Athlete Kurt Angle.
Squaring off at SummerSlam 2001, Angle displayed a far more pugnacious in-ring style than most of his other matches, matching “Stone Cold” with stiff punches, knife-edged chops, and high-impact clotheslines. With Austin keeping up most of the momentum, Angle relied on his Olympian stamina to stay in the fight, kicking out of three Stunners, a suplex on the concrete floor, and a total of six head-first collisions into the ring post. By some miracle, the match eventually swayed in Angle's favor, only for the intervention of Alliance referee Nick Patrick to disqualify Austin by a technicality, leaving Angle the victor – but without any title in his possession.
Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio (SummerSlam 2002)
Though a mere 9 minutes in length, Kurt Angle’s bout against Rey Mysterio at SummerSlam 2002 remains one of the pay-per-view’s single greatest matches. Featuring an explosive opening attack from Mysterio, the two performers played to the strengths of their contrasting movesets, alternating between Angle’s penchant for suplexes and submission holds and Mysterio’s high-diving maneuvers.
The first significant interaction between Angle and Mysterio, the stellar quality of the match foreshadowed the excellent chemistry Angle shared with his masked counterpart – something that became all too apparent in Angle and Benoit’s tag team matches against Edge and Mysterio in the months ahead. While Mysterio dominated most of the bout with his high-risk offense, a sudden counter from a top-rope hurricarana into an Ankle Lock left Angle standing tall.
Kurt Angle vs. The Rock (No Way Out 2001)
As extraordinary as Angle’s matches against Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit were in the 2000s, Angle’s WWF Championship defense against The Rock might be the most important match the Olympic Gold Medalist had had up to that point. Having won his first world title from The Rock four months earlier at No Mercy 2000, Angle attempted to retain his championship and headline his first WrestleMania following No Way Out 2001.
Opening with some old-fashioned back-and-forth brawling, the majority of the match’s first half fell in The Rock’s favor, the Brahma Bull hitting suplexes, clotheslines, and other high-impact moves that wore the reigning champ down. As The Rock closed in on victory, though, some outside interference from The Big Show evened the playing field, prompting Show to chokeslam Angle, The Rock, and the referee. Upon recovering, both men traded their signature finishers, with The Rock coming out on top with two back-to-back Rock Bottoms.
Kurt Angle vs. Edge (Judgment Day 2002)
After the dissolution of Team E.C.K. in 2011, Edge spent the next year combating his former allies in the faction from 2001 into 2002. Following his incendiary feud against Christian for the Intercontinental title during the Invasion, the future Rated R Superstar squared off against the Olympic Gold Medalist in mid-2002. After a momentous victory over Edge at Backlash, Angle again fought his ex-friend at Judgement Day – this time in a high-stakes hair versus hair match.
In many ways, Angle and Edge’s Judgment Day clash ended up being even more exciting than an average title match, with more long-standing repercussions on the line in the match’s key stipulation. As valiant as Angle’s repeated efforts were, not even the Olympic Gold Medalist could escape fate’s barber clippers, leaving Angle with a freshly shorn head.