“As Humans, We Have Evolved To Compete; It Is In Our Genes, And We Love To Watch Now.”
A true competitor spirit displays an absolute desire to win, achieve success, and be considered the best in your respective field. Back in the early 2000s, I cannot think of two individuals who embodied this spirit more than Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle. This is the definitive timeline of their build towards the main event of WrestleMania 19.
Kurt Angle was simply born to win and established himself as one of the most accomplished amateur wrestlers in American history.
Angle became a two-time NCAA champion for Clarion University, a World freestyle champion in 1995, and a 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist.
When Kurt gravitated towards professional wrestling, he adapted to the industry far more quickly than anyone could have ever envisioned and ended up producing one of the greatest first years in the history of WWF/E.
As a member of the Minnesota Golden Gophers, Lesnar compiled a record of 106-5 overall in his four years of college. Upon graduating from the University of Minnesota, he was widely considered one of the best collegiate wrestlers in the world, capturing the NCCA Heavyweight Champion in 2000.
Brock was soon recruited by WWF, receiving the largest rookie contract ever provided to a talent. Given his lack of professional wrestling experience, this was a true testament to his limitless potential.
As expected, Brock quickly climbed the ranks of OVW, conquering the promotion with a short period of time and was labelled the Next Big Thing upon joining the main roster, a moniker he rightfully deserved.
A clash between these two alpha males with remarkably impressive backgrounds seemed all too inevitable.
Armageddon – December 15, 2002
After losing the WWE Championship to The Big Show due to interference from Paul Heyman who turned on his former client, Brock Lesnar decided to get even in the weeks that followed but found himself suspended by Stephanie McMahon. After having his suspension lifted, Kurt approached Brock to back him up, but would Lesnar actually show up?
After The Big Show kicked off Angle into referee Mike Chioda, the crowd in unison started chanting, “we want Brock!” Instead, Kurt Angle slammed Big Show with a chair shot, but after kicking out, Kurt’s body was once again launched into Chioda, rendering him unconscious for the second time during the match.
Show tapped out to the Ankle Lock without a referee alert enough to call for the bell.
Suddenly, A-Train appeared in the ring and hit a vicious backburner on Kurt Angle which allowed Big Show to recover hit a Chokeslam. This prompted Brock to rush down and hit a massive F5 onto the Big Show.
Kurt Angle crawled over to Show’s fallen body and successfully pinned him to become the NEW WWE Champion thanks in part to Brock Lesnar.
Smackdown – December 19, 2002
Smackdown opened with the new WWE Champion celebrating his victory at Armageddon. As Tazz pointed out there were respectful “You Suck’s!” as he received a standing ovation.
“Well, here I am, Kurt Angle. I’ve been the Tag-Team Champion, Intercontinental Champion, King of the Ring, NCCA Champion, World Champion, Olympic Gold Metalist and once again your WWE Champion! Woo!”
Kurt Angle noted he wasn’t out there to celebrate, but to get something off his chest. The WWE Champion stated he won every title on his own, but this one was different admitting he may have not defeated The Big Show on his own so he wanted to personally thank Brock.
As Brock’s music hit, he made his way to the ring while Angle applauded.
When the two stood toe to toe, Kurt Angle brought up how Brock wanted what all the fans wanted, the most anticipated match in WWE history, Kurt Angle vs Brock Lesnar one on one for the WWE Championship.
Well Brock, I’m a man of my word. I said if I won this title, you’d be the first one to get the title shot. So here it goes Brock, the NCAA Champion vs the Olympic Gold Medalist. The match that everyone wants to see. The most anticipated match in the world. Brock, you earned it. Anytime. Anywhere. Any place. You name it.”
Brock nodded in approval as the crowd roared. He grabbed the microphone.
“I’m glad you feel that way Kurt, because I want that match, here, tonight in Tampa.”
Kurt, who was stunned and unprepared noted it sounds incredible, but it wasn’t going to happen since he was scheduled against Chris Benoit in a non-title match. Instead, he proposed the match next week on Smackdown instead. Brock, visibly disappointed, reluctantly shook his hand and agreed.
I loved the little nuance of Kurt having to get the upper hand by stating it’s the NCAA Champion vs the Olympic Gold Medalist since it was clear Angle was stating he was the better and more accomplished of the two. A snarky jab that continues throughout their story together.
Kurt Angle then returned later on in the show to explain he’s been a man of the three I’s and integrity is one of them. With so much on his plate, Kurt announced he hired a management team to take care of his dealings. In a shocking turn of events, Kurt introduced Paul Heyman as the head of his management team, much to the disgust of the fans.
As the master strategist, Paul Heyman noted that the goal was to keep Brock Lesnar away from the WWE Championship and that’s why the two conceived of the plan one week prior to Armageddon.
This piece of deception was brilliantly executed and legitimately surprising, despite Kurt Angle’s past as a disciple opportunist.
“As my first act as Kurt Angle’s agent, I want to publicly declare that the Brock Lesnar/Kurt Angle match for the WWE title is nearby postposed indefinitely.’“
Interrupting the hug-fest was The Big Show, with a look of fury upon his face. He backed Paul into the corner and demanded answers.
Heyman weaselled his way out of the tense situation by claiming Big Show was his favourite client and even Kurt knows that while also explaining they collectively possess power and leverage. As long as the title belonged to either man and not Brock Lesnar, they will maintain this authority.
During the main event, The Big Show interfered while Kurt Angle was locked in Chris Benoit’s Crossface, which also brought out Brock Lesnar to save the day until the numbers advantage too much to overcome.
God, this was an absolutely riveting episode of Smackdown stacked with hall of fame worthy talent.
Smackdown – December 26, 2002
Stephanie McMahon kicked off the show to explain the match between Kurt and Brock would not be transpiring due to The Beast throwing The WWE Champion into the ring post after Smackdown went off the air the previous week. Therefore, Kurt Angle was not able to compete and likely wouldn’t again until the Royal Rumble.
The Big Show then confronted Stephanie and got into her face since he desired the first shot at Kurt.
Instead, The Big Show was scheduled Chris Benoit in a Number One’s Contender Match to earn an opportunity to face Kurt Angle.
Later on, in the show, Paul Heyman introduced Kurt Angle, who hobbled down to the ring with a knee brace and crutches due to the act of retribution at the hands of Brock Lesnar the week prior.
Angle labelled Lesnar a remorseless animal and ultimately a disgrace. Furthermore, The Olympic Gold Medalist proclaimed that while both he and Brock won the WWE Championship within one year of their careers, Brock required Paul Heyman’s services while Angle won gold on his own. The bragging continued:
“But more importantly, I accomplished something that Brock will never, ever accomplish. I’m an Olympic Gold Medalist.”
Kurt compared himself to Michael Jordan and justified requiring an agent since he’s a very important person.
Paul Heyman revealed a contingency plan to ensure Brock would never lay his hands on Kurt Angle again. The concept was, of course, Team Angle, consisting of the Shelton Benjamin (Brock’s former roommate/teammate at the University of Minnesota) and Charlie Haas.
Kurt Angle declared, “checkmate!” over Brock Lesnar.
Once again, the numbers were not in Brock’s favour.
As for Chris Benoit, he defeated Big Show in the main event after countering the chokeslam into a roll-through pin for the victory. Unfortunately, the numbers advantage were also not in The Rabid Wolverine’s favour who is beaten down by Show along with Team Angle.
Smackdown – January 2, 2003
With Brock Lesnar entered into the Royal Rumble, Paul Heyman’s obsession with keeping him away from the World Championship continued. This time, he proposed they raise the stakes at the Royal Rumble with Brock Lesnar going one on one with the Big Show in a Winner Takes All match. The victor gets into the Rumble.
Out walked Brock Lesnar who was attacked from behind by Matt Hardy and Shannon Moore with a pair of chairs. Before a three on one beatdown, a bloodied Brock Lesnar fought his way out of a potentially dangerous situation.
After Brock Lesnar destroyed Matt Hardy and Shannon Moore, Big Show stared down The Beast to conclude the show.
Royal Rumble (2003) – January 19, 2003
We skip ahead several weeks to the Royal Rumble at the Fleet Center in Boston, Massachusetts.
Big Show and Brock Lesnar opened the show. Despite interference from Paul Heyman, Lesnar would kick out of the dreaded chokeslam, counter a second attempt and then nail an F5 to earn his way into the Royal Rumble match.
Kurt Angle narrowly defeated Chris Benoit to retain the WWE Championship. The match was so good that even though he lost the bout, Benoit would receive a standing ovation following the match, which very likely acted as the catalyst that would finally convince Vince McMahon to give him his moment in the sun at the following year’s WrestleMania. Anytime that Benoit and Angle stepped in the ring together it was magic, and this was their undeniable masterpiece together.
Entering the 29th spot, Brock Lesnar would last 9 minutes tossing out the likes of Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas of Team Angle along with Matt Hardy. After The Undertaker hit Batista with a chair, knocking him out of the ring, Brock Lesnar ran up from behind to toss Taker out of the ring to be declared the winner and earn a Championship opportunity at WrestleMania. In a show of respect, the Undertaker returned to the ring and acknowledged Brock’s victory.
Smackdown – January 23, 2003
Kurt Angle chastised Team Angle for losing and embarrassing him.
In a backstage segment, Brock Lesnar opened up about his goals.
“My goal was to be an NCAA champion. My goal was to make an impactful debut the day after WrestleMania. My goal was to become King of the Ring. My goal was to beat Rock at SummerSlam for the WWE title. My goal was to beat the Undertaker in Hell In A Cell. I accomplished all of those goals. Then at Survivor Series, I was betrayed and screwed from my WWE Championship by Paul Heyman and then beat by the Big Show. Since then, I have two more goals I want to accomplish. Hell, I have a lot of goals I want to accomplish here WWE. But for now, those goals were to beat The Big Show and win the Royal Rumble, which I did. I have two other goals I want to accomplish. To F5 Paul Heyman and then beat Kurt Angle for the WWE title at WrestleMania.”
Smackdown – Feb 6, 2003
Under the tutelage of Kurt Angle, Team Angle was crowned Smackdown Tag-Team Champions WWE Tag Team Championship from Los Guerreros. Team Angle held all the gold.
Meanwhile, John Cena decked out Harlem Globetrotter swag, called out Brock Lesnar.
In a rematch from their epic encounter at the Royal Rumble, Kurt Angle retained his WWE Championship over Chris Benoit with an Angle Slam.
In a falsified show of respect, Kurt Angle extended his hand to Chris Benoit and held up his arm while Team Angle attacked the Rapid Wolverine from behind. Edge came down to the rescue but suffered the same fate as Benoit, but Brock acted as the great equalizer and cleaned house.
Smackdown – February 13, 2003
Holding a solo red rose, Kurt Angle waited for Stephanie McMahon in her office. Stephanie wanted to talk about a match while Kurt interjected to note they are the perfect match. He went in for a kiss, but the moment was broken up by an entering Brock Lesnar.
“Am I interrupting something here?”
Stephanie announced a 6-man tag-team match at No Way Way featuring Team Angle vs Brock Lesnar, Chris Benoit and Edge.
Brock then invited Kurt Angle ringside for his match against John Cena so he could witness Lesnar first-hand.
In what was intended to be Angle vs Lesnar for the first time ever, Angle created a stipulation that Lesnar would first have to defeat Team Angle (Charlie and Shelton) in a Gauntlet Match to earn the right to fight him.
“In other words Brock, you have to get through them to get to me.”
After defeating Charlie with an F5 and Shelton with an Angle Slam, Brock earned his opportunity to go one on one with Kurt Angle.
Instead, Paul Heyman hit Brock in the back with a steel chair as a distraction as Angle swooped in to attack a pre-occupied Beast.
Brock finally gained his retribution on Paul by easily picking him up to deliver an anticipated F5 until Kurt slid back in to save the day.
Both Benoit and Edge ran down to even the odds and clear the ring to conclude the show.
No Way Out (2003) – February 23, 2003
Edge was written out of the match due to being found unconscious backstage, but in reality, he was forced to undergo neck surgery that would leave him out of action for more than a year.
With Edge out, this quickly became a Handicap match.
Despite being outnumbered, Chris Benoit forced Charlie Haas to tap out to the Crossface while Brock Lesnar simultaneously hit Kurt Angle with an F5.
Lesnar wore Kurt’s WWE Championship over his right shoulder as Michael wondered if this would be a preview of WrestleMania.
Smackdown – February 27, 2003
Brock Lesnar defeated the WWE Tag Team Champions, Team Angle in a Handicap match after pinning Shelton following an F5.
While Brock grabbed Paul Heyman to set up the F5, Kurt Angle rescued his Head of Management by attacking Brock’s left knee from behind.
The show concluded with Brock reminding Kurt that he could pick any member of his team to face him next week in a steel cage. While it was suspected Brock would choose Kurt, he instead chose Paul Heyman, who provided one hell of a memorable reaction to conclude the show as he stood frozen in shock.
Tazz: “Hey Heyman, if you don’t believe in God, start!”
Smackdown – March 6, 2003
The Tale of the Tape tells the full story
Brock Lesnar – 6’4’’ 295 (Highly decorated athlete)
Paul Heyman – 5’9’’ 232 (No formal experience)
Paul Heyman walked down to the ring in a three-piece suit wearing his ball cap.
Team Angle double-teamed Brock Lesnar prior to the match officially getting started. The Beast eventually tossed them both out of the door.
Heyman’s repeated apologies fell short on Brock, but it was enough for Kurt to jump Lesnar from behind.
Once the match officially started, Brock toyed with Heyman which lead Kurt to climb the cage and intervene. Since there were no disqualifications, this was perfectly legal.
Brock eventually fought off Angle and hit a vicious F5 on Paul Heyman to win the match.
The following week in Pittsburgh, WrestleMania comes early as it’s Brock vs Kurt in Angle’s hometown.
Smackdown – March 13, 2003
Kurt Angle made his entrance first and then crouched in the corner while his red sweater covering his head as he awaited his opponent. Remember, this detail played a key role in this outcome.
Brock Lesnar would hit several brutal shoulder thrusts to the back of Angle into the turnbuckle. After a few knees to the gut and chest, Brock easily lifted his opponent up and landed the F5. While the referee started to count, Brock Lesnar broke up the pin.
Kurt Angle switched with the individual in laying in the ring while Brock was distracted by Benjamin and Haas.
As Brock Lesnar went to pick him up, Kurt Angle went for a small package win to retain his WWE Championship.
Lesnar then turned his attention to the imposter Angle who turned out to be Eric Angle, Kurt’s real brother. Never the less, Eric was thrown into the ring post for his role in this trickery.
Kurt Angle came down to the ring with Eric Angle, leveraging crutches sporting a brace around his right knee.
Stephanie McMahon interrupted Kurt after he demanded an apology from Brock for injuring his brother.
She noted that Kurt will still be forced to defend the WWE Championship at WrestleMania. Furthermore, Kurt would forfeit the title if any members of Team Angle were to intervene on his behalf.
Stephanie’s decision was made in part to simply to protect the integrity of the match since the two owed it to themselves to produce the most epic WrestleMania match possible for the fans.
Brock Lesnar then made his entrance and specifically targeted Eric and greeted him with a stiff clothesline. This allowed Angle to attack his WrestleMania opponent with a steel chair, proving the crafty veteran got the upper hand ahead of their big match.
Smackdown – March 27, 2003
Kurt Angle was seen searching for Brock Lesnar backstage. When he found himself in Brock’s locker room, Angle admitted the two were a lot alike. Both champions. Both winners. But noted the biggest difference between them is that Brock at 25 years old is still just a kid.
Kurt then highlighted the danger of a one on one match at WrestleMania and promised he’s not coming at Brock at half speed.
Lesnar eerily stood in silence until he promised to gain the WWE Title at WrestleMania and also noted, “Here Comes The Pain.”
Meanwhile, the show concluded with John Cena seeking Brock Lesnar backstage as the two came to blows. Just as Brock Lesnar gained the advantage, the opportunistic Kurt Angle attacked his WrestleMania opponent from behind with a 2 x 4.
With the inability to have Team Angle in his corner, Angle’s plan was to injury the beast heading into the bout and create his own distinct advantage.
WrestleMania 19 – March 30, 2003
From top to bottom, WrestleMania 19 featured a loaded card with the likes of The Rock vs Steve Austin, which ended up being Stone Cold’s retirement match, the incredible clash between Chris Jericho and Michaels along with the much anticipated Vince McMahon vs Hulk Hogan Street Fight. Yet the main event featured a 25-year-old Brock Lesnar challenging the Olympic Gold Medalist Kurt Angle, which was a true testament to the confidence that the company had in both men as an attraction along with the potential money invested in The Next Big Thing as the flag bearer for the company moving forward.
Untraditionally, it was the WWE Champion, Kurt Angle who made his entrance first while Brock Lesnar was given the champion’s spot. Sporting freshly taped ribs, Safeco Field was firmly behind the 25-year-old.
In a highly competitive bout that featured beautiful chain wrestling, vicious slams along with calculated counters, this was a true chess match between the two most decorated amateur wrestlers in WWE history.
Angle expertly attacked Brock’s injured ribs, which rapidly depleted his stamina, while the champion slowed down the pace with various holds and submissions.
The Angle Slam was not enough to put away while Lesnar could not capitalize on his original F5.
Following a second F5, Brock Lesnar uncharacteristically went to the top rope. In reality, the Shooting Star Press was his finisher throughout most of his tenure in OVW. Despite successfully executing the move throughout the week, Angle was positioned beyond the halfway point of the ring, which would prove to be even more challenging to hit.
In Brock Lesnar’s book Death Clutch (which I purchased upon release), he admitted stupidly agreeing to do the stunt after being pressured by John Laurinaitis despite his gut telling him to say no.
In his book, he further described exactly what went wrong:
That night, Kurt and I put on the best show possible considering the circumstances. We had a really physical match, which wasn’t easy when you think about how injured he was. It finally came time to hit the Shooting Star Press, but Kurt and I had been throwing each other off the roles and working the corners all night long. When I grabbed the top rope to boost myself up, it was all wet. Not good. As I climbed up, I was dripping even more sweat onto the ropes, but wasn’t thinking about that. Everyone at Safeco Field in Seattle knew what was coming, and they were all screaming for me to hit the move, and beat Kurt Angle for the championship.
There I stood, on the top rope, both arms raised in triumph, my head back, letting the crowd take it all in….and then I launched the Shooting Star Press.
Every wrestling fan knows what happened next. My boot slipped off the top rope, I under-rotated, crashed in spectacular fashion, and gave myself a massive concussion. I damn near broke my neck. I still had enough sense left to know I had to win, but I don’t remember finishing the match. I did finish, which meant I was the champion again, but I sure don’t remember it. Not at all.
After crashing, Kurt went for the cover, but Brock somehow got the shoulder up. As Kurt helped him up, Brock mustered up the strength to execute a third F5 to become the new WWE Champion. As Brock held the title up, you could tell the lights were still out and no one was home.
As for Kurt Angle, he went in for alternative surgery following the match and wouldn’t return for several months while Brock was immediately back on the road.
Kurt Angle recalled the story of Brock Lesnar’s failed Shooting Star Press during an interview with ESPN Sports Center in 2017.
Brock Lesnar missing that move made our match that much bigger at WrestleMania. It was my first main event at WrestleMania. So, you have Brock Lesnar who is relatively new, so I’m in the main event with this new kid that could probably kill anyone in 10 seconds if he really wanted to. Brock’s not only a great athlete, he’s mentally, physically, emotionally equip to take on anything and he’s proven that in UFC. He could have been a 10-time all-pro in football. I remember telling Brock. Hey, why don’t we make a WrestleMania moment? And your finish move you used to use in OVW, let’s do it here for your win and it was a Shooting Star Press off the top rope. Brock practiced all week and he was doing it literally all across the ring, but unfortunately, Brock fell short and it was a WrestleMania moment, not in a good way. I believe him missing that move caused bigger commotion than if he would’ve landed it. I think the stars were set up and everything happened the way it should have. We displayed one of the best main events of all time.
The scene backstage could only be described as chaotic with an angry and understandably raddled Brock Lesnar resisting any and all medical attention and further advising those assisting to, “get off me!” Gerald Brisco was reportedly the only individual capable of calming down Brock.
As Brock alluded to earlier in his quote, he was diagnosed with a concussion, which was undoubtedly the best-case scenario as it eliminated any heartbreaking outcome related to paralyzation.
While the missed Shooting Star Press went down in history as one of the most shocking botches in professional wrestling history, it should not overlook the incredibly physical main event against two of the greatest wrestlers of the 2000s.
So, what made this story so compelling?
Betrayal. Firstly, Kurt Angle using Brock Lesnar to gain a championship while enlisting the help in the man who betrayed him, Paul Heyman.
A Disadvantage. With the recruitment of Team Angle, Paul Heyman ensured the Brock Lesnar was always as the disadvantage, thus making him a dominant underdog.
Anticipation. Despite Brock earning multiples opportunities to challenge Kurt for the very first time one on one, the proposed matches were constantly postponed or featured trickery such as Eric Angle, which further built anticipation.
Overcoming Obstacles. Brock’s perseverance over the hurdles such as The Big Show, Team Angle and by winning the Royal Rumble setting him up for the perfect scenario to dethrone Kurt Angle.
Redemption. Lastly, two of the best athletes going toe to toe in the main event on the grandest stage of them all.
With Angle opting for alternate surgery that only kept him out for two months as opposed to a reported 12 months if he decided on a spiral cord fusion, the two picked up where they left off, but we’ll leave that for a future definitive timeline that includes chugging milk, a friendship torn apart due to a Lesnar heel turn along with a 60 minute Iron Man Match that arguably surpassed their WrestleMania encounter.
ARTICLE COURTESY: Chris Toplack
Roberto Villa is the CEO, Founder, Executive Writer, Senior Editor of FightBook MMA. Has a passion for Combat Sports and also a podcast host for Sitting Ringside. He’s also a former MMA fighter and Kickboxer.
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