WWE Hall of Famer Kurt Angle has revealed that he was nearly replaced by Chris Benoit in the WWE Championship match against Brock Lesnar in the main event of WrestleMania XIX.
While speaking on the debut episode of his new podcast, The Kurt Angle Show, Angle revealed that his persistent neck issues nearly led to him dropping the WWE title to Lesnar on the SmackDown before WrestleMania.
“At first, when I came back from South Africa and I got the diagnosis from the doctor, I told Vince I’m going to have to have surgery and I’m going to have to skip WrestleMania,” recalled Angle [h/t/ WrestlingNews.co]. “He said, ‘I’ll call you back. I have an idea. Let me talk to the writers.’
“He decided that we were going to have a match before WrestleMania on SmackDown and I was going to drop the title to Brock and I believe Brock was going to go to WrestleMania and face a new opponent for the main event. I think they were going to substitute Chris Benoit, I believe. He was basically going to take my place. It bothered me.”
After a backup plan was in place for Mania, Angle had a run-in with a kid with Down’s Syndrome. According to Angle, the meeting motivated him to postpone surgery, overcome the odds and face Lesnar.
“The next day I went to my neighbor’s house and there’s a really good kid named Johnny. He has Down’s Syndrome. He said, ‘Kurt, I’m so sad you’re not going to be wrestling against Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania.’ I said, ‘Yea, it’s pretty upsetting Johnny.’ He said, ‘I wish you would.’
“It stuck with me so I thought I’m going to call Vince and choose to have surgery after WrestleMania. I called him and said, ‘Why don’t we have the match at WrestleMania and I will have the surgery, but I will wait and put it off. I know my arm is atrophying but another couple weeks isn’t going to hurt, so let’s have the match.’”
Despite Angle’s eagerness to battle through injury, McMahon wasn’t willing to put one of his biggest stars at risk.
“Vince said, ‘You need to get it approved by your doctor. I’m sorry, Kurt, but we have a match that is advertised on TV this past week on SmackDown before WrestleMania where you’re wrestling Brock and Brock is beating you for the title.’ I said, ‘We are going to have to change that Vince.’”
When McMahon insisted that Angle was dropping the title to Lesnar in an advertised match on SmackDown, Angle recalled saying, “What can we do so I can retain the title and move on to WrestleMania without it affecting the SmackDown match?’ He responded, ‘Let me call you back.’”
Angle continued, “I waited a couple hours and he called me back. He said, ‘We have an idea. We’re going to use your brother Eric. He looks just like you. We’re going to dress him up just like you. Put the Team Angle hood on him and we’re going to pull a switcheroo on Brock on SmackDown the week before WrestleMania.”
After Lesnar beat up Eric Angle and prepared to cover him, Kurt snuck in the ring and rolled The Beast for a quick pin fall victory.
“So I retained the title to go on to WrestleMania for the main event. It was a cool angle. It wasn’t the match that fans were hoping for. It was in my hometown of Pittsburgh. It got me to WrestleMania which was the most important thing. I believe the idea was either Vince’s or Brian Gewirtz. They were two of the ones who came up with the great ideas for the Kurt Angle character.”
Lesnar went onto beat Angle to start his second WWE Championship reign.