Instead of being content as the most decorated combat sport athlete to cross over to professional wrestling, Kurt Angle created a character with an ideology and depth that is one of the most memorable and respected in WWE history. In less than a year since his debut, Kurt Angle established his character, developed a moveset that integrated his amateur background seamlessly with professional wrestling, he won the European title, Intercontinental title, King of the Ring, and the grandest prize in the company: the WWF Championship.
In his Hall of Fame speech, Kurt said "Take chances with your personality and your character. Sometimes when you make fun of yourself, it turns out in your favor... You gotta make moments. Personality brings moments. Fans will remember your wrestling matches for a long time, but they want the character moments because they last forever."
Kurt evolved his character over time from a seemingly innocent dope with flexible moral superiority to a man who would wield that moral superiority to cling to power and do whatever it takes to regain it when it was taken away. He evolved again into an American hero, fighting for the WWE against the Alliance but then became selfish after he failed to regain the WWE championship. He was in the most important hair match in recent memory and used that to create his wrestling machine character in pursuit of the title once again. After only 2 years in WWE, Kurt Angle became the measuring stick for performers in the company. This list highlights the most memorable moments of Kurt's career in WWE. In the comments below, share your favorite Kurt Angle moments that didn't make this list.
7. Kurt wins his first WWF title
No Mercy 2000
Kurt Angle's rookie year in WWE is rivaled only by Brock Lesnar & Ronda Rousey. After finding his character as a dopey unrelatable winner who will warp his value structure of Intensity, Integrity, & Intelligence to become champion and stay champion. Kurt aligned himself with Stephanie McMahon, asking her to be permanently in his corner. As Kurt & Stephanie entered No Mercy, it was announced that the match would be a "no disqualification" match. It became clear that Stephanie McMahon had pulled some strings to make her influence a major factor in the match.
Stephanie aided Angle early by jumping up on the apron to distract The Rock, allowing Angle to get the first strike. The Rock and Angle brawled to the outside, much like many Rock matches of the time. In spite of being a superior wrestler and an Olympic Gold Medalist, Angle was the first to resort to using a steel chair as a weapon in the match. The Rock got a hold of the chair and got in some chair shots on Angle before locking him into the Sharpshooter. Stephanie got involved again, distracting the referee while Angle tapped to the Sharpshooter, allowing Kurt to escape. When Angle was finally able to execute his signature belly to belly suplex, the tone of the crowd completely changed. The audience knew that The Rock was in serious trouble. Kurt was able to get a hold of the WWF title and whack The Rock in the face with it while Stephanie distracted the referee, but The Rock was able to come back. Stephanie then interrupted a People's Elbow to take a Rock Bottom while Angle recovered to catch The Rock. Triple H came in to save his estranged wife and gave The Rock a Pedigree for good measure. Rikishi came from the back after seeing Triple H's attack on his cousin but mistakenly superkicked The Rock, allowing Angle to hit the Angle Slam to win his first WWF title. Angle reenacted his Olympic celebration after winning the title, much to the dismay of the crowd.
6. Kurt returns to compete at WrestleMania
Kurt returned to the WWE family in 2017 at the age of 49 as an inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame. Kurt's struggles with addiction have been well documented and this return to his home in WWE was a symbol of his victory over his personal demons. In spite of this honor, Kurt felt he had more to give in the ring. Kurt's goal was to return to wrestle one more match at WrestleMania. Kurt made his return to WrestleMania as Ronda Rousey's tag team partner in the most important intergender match of all time. Rousey, like Angle, had transitioned from combat sports to wrestling and Kurt served as her mentor. Kurt was able to help guide and support a very green Rousey through her first match. The amount of eyes and pressure on the performers in this match cannot be emphasized enough and the fact that all parties delivered a classic star-making match for a first-time performer should be recognized. Kurt Angle, in the twilight of his career, helped make Ronda Rousey a WWE Superstar. Kurt continued his in-ring career for WWE after this match, unselfishly giving the rub in matches with a new generation of WWE Superstars: Drew McIntyre, Baron Corbin, Jinder Mahal, Apollo Crews, and Chad Gable. His final match at WrestleMania 35 will be a highlight, but the beginning of Kurt's final chapter of his career was this historic match.
5. Kurt puts over Brock Lesnar
By 2003, Kurt had established himself as a terrifying wrestling machine: getting Hulk Hogan to submit, dominating the SmackDown roster, a championship win over The Big Show, and an alliance with Paul Heyman, Shelton Benjamin, and Charlie Haas. After Lesnar won the Royal Rumble, the two best athletes in WWE history were on a collision course for a one on one match at WrestleMania 19 for the WWE Title. Brock Lesnar's rookie year was similar to Angle's, making a matchup between the two a natural dream match.
Both men began the match trading holds and leverage. Angle attacked Lesnar's injured ribs to get an advantage leading to Kurt getting in the first suplex, but Lesnar popped right up after being slammed. Lesnar, although similar to Angle in background, was booked as a monster so much in his first year that he had a near superhuman ability to take damage but recover much like The Undertaker. Angle resorted to German suplexing Lesnar into the turnbuckle to stagger The Beast. Angle was able to execute another belly to belly suplex before Lesnar put him down with a spinebuster. Kurt tried raking Lesnar's eyes to regain control, but it was ineffective. Lesnar rocked Angle with two belly to belly suplexes but Angle answered with four consecutive German suplexes on Lesnar. The two traded momentum again until Angle hit a release German suplex, flipping Brock Lesnar. Lesnar managed to kick out after an Angle Slam and countered with an F5. Angle laid for 5 seconds before being covered, allowing him enough time to recover and be the first person to kick out of the F5. Lesnar executed a second F5 followed by his ill-fated shooting star press. With Lesnar concussing himself, the finish to WrestleMania 19 was in danger. Angle thought fast and picked Lesnar up, allowing Lesnar to muster up the strength for one more F5. Lesnar could barely stand after the win. Both men shook hands after the match and hugged. Angle passed the torch to the young Lesnar, but was far from finished with his wrestling career.
4. Kurt taps out Hulk Hogan
King Of The Ring 2002
Only Lex Luger & Sting had accomplished this feat before, but at King of the Ring 2002: Hulk Hogan tapped out to Kurt Angle. This feud started when Angle ambushed Hogan from behind. Angle called out Hogan in promos, saying Hogan was old and that he would break Hogan's ankle. Angle had just had his head shaved after losing the most exciting hair match in a decade to Edge. Angle was committed to wearing a toupee under wrestling headgear to conceal his freshly shaved head. Hogan retaliated by saying he would not only beat Kurt at King of the Ring, but he promised to humiliate Angle by removing the toupee from his head in front of everyone.
The crowd was white hot for this match, it felt like a Hogan match on Saturday Night's Main Event back in the 80s. This match was a work of art by Kurt Angle. It sets up all of the nostalgia and happiness of Hulkamania but then crushes it all with the reality that Kurt Angle is an Olympic Gold Medalist in wrestling. The match started like most classic Hogan matches: Hogan overpowered Angle in a lock-up. Hogan landed all of his signature offense, leaving Angle in a daze. Angle managed to sneak a low-blow to finally get the advantage on the Hulkster. Angle dominated until Hogan was able to have one of his classic comebacks. Hogan managed to rip off Angle's toupee to wild cheers from the crowd, making good on his promise. Angle grabbed a steel chair to take out Hogan, but ended up hitting himself in the face after missing Hogan. Hogan landed his big boot but right as he went for the Atomic Leg Drop, Kurt got Hulk's ankle. Hulk struggled and fought but the inevitable happened: Hulk Hogan tapped out to Kurt Angle's ankle lock. This was Hogan's only conscious submission in WWE(F) history - Sting & Luger accomplished that feat in WCW and Hogan lost consciousness in a bearhug from Brock Lesnar later that year. Angle stated in interviews later that he was nervous when Vince told Hogan that he was going to submit to Angle, but Hogan agreed with no pushback whatsoever out of respect for all of Angle's accomplishments.
3. Kurt steals the show with Mr. WrestleMania
This rivalry started when Shawn Michaels eliminated Angle at Royal Rumble 2005. Kurt Angle's character had evolved to become a wrestling machine by this time. He was serious, a shooter, the measuring stick for performers to show off their technical wrestling skills in the ring, but Angle would return to some of the comedic roots of his character to get inside the head of Shawn Michaels. Angle hated that Shawn Michaels was talked about in 1996 for the athleticism he displayed in his Iron Man Match at WrestleMania XII. Kurt brought back Shawn's former tag team partner, Marty Janetty for a match to exhibit his dominance over a surrogate for Michaels. Kurt also enlisted Sensational Sherri, Michaels manager for his first singles run in WWE, to help sing his own spin on Shawn Michaels theme song with the memorable chorus "I'm a sexy Kurt, I'll make your ankle hurt". This build was almost as memorable as the match itself and was highlighted in Kurt's Hall of Fame speech when the entire audience sang Sherri's part in the song.
The match itself is one of the greatest matches in WrestleMania history. Both men were out to prove that they were the best athlete in WWE while sticking to their personal wrestling styles. The match started with Angle dominating the mat wrestling game. Then Michaels unleashed his signature offense on Angle. What followed was an ebb and flow of pro wrestling moves and counters mixing with amateur wrestling moves and counters performed by two of the greatest performers to step in the ring. Both Angle and Michaels became desperate after exhausting their movesets. Michaels landed a low blow on Angle and executed a springboard moonsault onto a prone Angle on the announce table. Michaels rolled Angle into the ring to land his signature elbow drop but Angle was able to come back. The men exchanged roll-ups and false finishes until Angle finally locked in his ankle lock. Michaels struggled in a way that resembled a nature film: Angle as the predator and Michaels as the unfortunate prey. The desperation, the need to win, fully drew in the crowd without any titles on the line or outside drama. By the end of the match, Kurt Angle tapped out the greatest performer in WrestleMania history. This firmly established Kurt as one of the greatest WWE Superstars of all time in a career that had spanned just under 6 years to this point.
2. Kurt taps out Austin for the WWF Championship in Pittsburgh
The feud between Kurt Angle and Stone Cold Steve Austin brought the best out of Austin as a heel. Kurt had endeared himself to the fans through a series of comedic segments with Austin before their feud began. After losing to Austin at SummerSlam 2001, Kurt tormented Austin until Stone Cold agreed to a rematch for the WWF Title at Unforgiven in Kurt's hometown of Pittsburgh. Kurt's family was shown sitting ringside and Kurt's all-American persona was highlighted in this first post-9/11 Pay Per View.
Angle channeled a babyface Austin by attacking Stone Cold as he entered. Angle followed up with Austin's signature Lou Thesz press. Angle dominated Austin for another 2 minutes until Austin caught him in a sleeper hold. Angle got out of it by hitting Austin with a jawbreaker and then dominated Austin for another 4 minutes. Angle foiled Austin's attempt at escaping by throwing him off the stage in a callback to when Austin did the same to Angle on RAW a couple weeks prior. The two men traded back body drops onto concrete, leaving both men beaten and Austin bloodied. Austin managed to get in his signature offense while focussing on Kurt Angle's neck. Austin taunted Angle's family, drawing the ire of the Pittsburgh crowd. Angle managed to execute two German suplexes on Austin before succumbing to the pain in his neck from Austin's attack. Austin managed to hit a sloppy spinebuster and a low blow to take over once more. Angle resorted to a low blow on Austin to save himself from the barrage of offense from Stone Cold. Both men stole each other's finishers, energizing the crowd 25 minutes into the match. Austin hit a piledriver, continuing his attack on Angle's neck but when Austin went for the Stone Cold Stunner, Kurt locked him in the Ankle lock and submitted Austin for the win. Angle's family poured into the ring, hoisted him on their shoulders, and celebrated with the city of Pittsburgh and the WWE roster in a feel-good all-American celebration that was sorely needed in the aftermath of 9/11.
August 20, 2001 RAW
Kurt Angle's chemistry inside & outside of the ring with Austin was rivaled only by The Rock. Angle managed to have memorable comedic segments with Austin before their feud began. They had a fantastic match at SummerSlam 2001 with Angle managing to kick out of three Stone Cold Stunners, but when Nick Patrick (an Alliance referee) disqualified Austin, Austin retained the championship in spite of Angle winning the match. In honor of Stone Cold Steve Austin escaping Kurt Angle with the WWF title, the Alliance threw a celebration the next night on RAW. This celebration paralleled the RAW when Vince & Shane hyped up The Rock before WrestleMania 15 in 1999 but were interrupted by Stone Cold driving a beer truck through the Titan Tron and hosing down the champ and the chairman with beer. This time, Austin was the one who got hosed down. Kurt Angle drove a milk truck into RAW this night and thoroughly hosed down the entire Alliance to the loudest pop of his career. Kurt Angle has had many memorable matches and moments, but the sense of justice mixed with a little comedy gave the WWE Universe a special memory of Kurt Angle that will never be forgotten.