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Thursday, February 25, 2016

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Classic Rivalry: Shawn Michaels vs Kurt Angle

By @Stevesignore

In 2005, Hollywood was the setting for a wrestling fan's dream match of Kurt Angle versus Shawn Michaels. When Angle first arrived in the WWE, the idea of these two ever facing off might have seemed to be a fantasy, as Michaels was gone from the WWE due to a serious back injury. While Michaels was out of the picture, Angle became one of the new faces of WWE, mixing a pure wrestling ability with a load of charisma. Angle was able to shed the comedy persona he gained with Steve Austin because he had so much in ring talent. The humorous side just added another dimension to his character. However, by the time Shawn Michaels was back in the WWE, Angle was no laughing matter. And he proved that at the Royal Rumble that same year, when he lost his cool after Michaels eliminated him from the match.

During the Rumble, Angle blocked Michaels' superkick and went for the ankle lock. Michaels reversed it, sending Angle along the ropes, then delivering the superkick to eliminate him. This sent Angle into a frenzy, and the aggressive side of Angle reared its ugly head. Angle re-entered the ring (I've never been a fan of eliminated wrestlers re-entering) and threw Michaels over the top rope. Then the real beating began. After bashing Michaels in the head with the steel steps, Angle continued the onslaught by applying the ankle lock while Michaels was draped over those same stairs.

The feud could have thrived solely based on this outburst, but Angle added more depth to it during the coming weeks, claiming a lack of appreciation during 1996, when Angle won an Olympic Gold medal, but was playing second fiddle to Shawn, when his victory at WrestleMania (IronMan match) received more attention. Angle took this as a slap in the face, defending the fact that he was the best wrestler, not Michaels.
Angle gave this match plenty of juice with a series of infamous events leading into Wrestlemania.

One of the first messages was when Angle delivered a massive beatdown to Michaels, who was bloodied already after a Street Fight with Edge. A few weeks later, Angle took on Michaels former Rockers teammate, Marty Jannetty in a match. While Jannetty surprisingly hung in there with the Olympic gold medalist, it was only a matter of time before Angle would add insult injury and make Jannetty tap out in vicious fashion. Angle continued to lay it on thick, actually coming to the ring dressed in classic Shawn Michaels attire and accompanied by Sensational Sherri in one of the most entertaining in-ring segments in WWE history. Angle began to sing his own version of Michaels entrance theme, only using the name "Sexy Kurt," and dancing around in similar Michaels fashion. Soon thereafter, Kurt did something that would never happen on today's WWE programming and that is apply the ankle lock onto the legendary Sherri.

The stage was set for Wrestlemania, and these two men had one of the greatest matches in the PPV's history. In my opinion, this match doesn't come up as often as it should. Maybe that changes if Angle ever returns to WWE. For close to thirty minutes, Michaels and Angle emptied out their bag of tricks, trading move for move. Near falls left and right had fans coming out of their seats. At the time, I expected this build to eventually lead to a Michaels victory, but Angle triumphed in the end when he was able to force Mr. Wrestlemania to shockingly tap out.

Good news for fans, the rivalry didn't end there. It continued on several months later, with Michaels earning a victory of his own at the Vengeance PPV. Similar to the recent Jericho/Styles storyline, both men wanted to have a decisive winner of the feud, culminating (sort of) in an IronMan match on RAW in October of 2005. During that match, Angle and Michaels traded victories, deadlocked at 2-2 when time ran out. In similar fashion to his encounter with Bret Hart years earlier (Gorilla Monsoon let the match continune in a Sudden Death overtime), Michaels wanted the match to continue, but Angle didn't feel the pressure to continue and left the arena. Unfortunately, there was never real closure to this feud, and Angle would be gone from the WWE just a year later. It's still hard to believe that Angle has been in TNA longer than the WWE. But that's a different story for a different day.

In the end, regardless of how it concluded, Michaels and Angle gave us a wrestling match at WrestleMania that should be HOF worthy if the WWE ever goes that route. Someday, you will see Angle honored by the WWE, and you may very well see Michaels there to shake his hand.



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