WrestleMania REIMAGINED: WrestleMania 21 Kurt Angle vs Shawn Michaels

Diehard professional wrestling fans like myself have certain matches we proudly show to non-wrestling fans without fear of critical judgment.  These are the matches that incorporate all the things that make pro wrestling great. Sometimes pure athleticism, exceptional storytelling, and high stakes come together to create something magical. One of these matches is the inter-promotional showdown between Smackdown’s Kurt Angle and Monday Night Raw’s Shawn Michaels that took place on April 3, 2005, at WrestleMania 21.

The first time this match was live on pay-per-view and even then fans could tell we had witnessed something phenomenal. It wasn’t until a second viewing with a room full of non-wrestling fans that we realized just how great this match truly is. By the midway point of this match, all eyes in the house were fixated on the Olympic Hero and Showstopper painting a damn near perfect picture of a pro wrestling match. Before it reached its conclusion this match had all guessing who was going to win and when the match was finally over they were all fully entertained. It still remains one of the greatest moments in pro wrestling. This is our latest selection in the WrestleMania REIMAGINED series. 

Photo @Youtube.com

The Build-Up

Before the 2005 Royal Rumble, Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels interactions were minimal.  One perfectly placed Sweet Chin Music by Michaels changed all of that. Angle entered the Royal Rumble match as one of the favorites to earn the main event spot at WrestleMania. 

He entered the match like a ball of fire and dominated all who crossed his path, that is until Shawn Michaels eliminated him. Angle, being the ultra-competitive Olympic Gold Medalist he is, couldn’t let this stand, returning to the ring and illegally eliminating Shawn Michaels from the match. 

Photo @IMDB.com

Taking their exchange to another level, Angle applied the ankle lock on the steel stairs to a bloodied Michaels. The fuse for a heated WrestleMania rivalry had been lit and over the next few months that rivalry became even more personal. 

Angle was hell-bent on proving he was the better man. He made it his goal to not only prove he could do everything Shawn Michaels had done in his career but do it better. His deep resentment for Michaels began after he won his gold medal in 1996.

He hated the fact that Michaels WrestleMania performances garnered more attention than his Olympic accomplishments.

Shawn Michaels, my issue with you does go well beyond the Royal Rumble. It goes all the way back to 1996. I won a gold medal and people were talking to me about some guy named Shawn Michaels gliding down from the rafters that year and putting on a wrestling clinic and that ate me up, Shawn. Because truth be told, you are one of the best of all time, but to even suggest that you’re the greatest wrestler of this generation is an insult to me and everything I stand for.

In his pursuits to achieve the accomplishments of his rival in a shorter period of time, Angle won a ladder match referencing Michaels’ classic from WrestleMania X with Razor Ramon. 

He also challenged Michaels former tag team partner turned rival Marty Jannetty to a match.

Angle quickly forces the former Rocker to submit. Then, showcasing his comedic chops Angle brought Michaels former valet Sensational Sherri to Smackdown. There he sang Michaels signature entrance song. But, instead of saying “Sexy Boy”, he changed the words to “Sexy Kurt”. Then in a despicable display Angle applied the ankle lock to Sherri. 

While Angle was ready to prove he was the better man, Michaels was ready to once again prove why he was called Mr. WrestleMania. With tension at its peak, these two were on a collision course to steal the show at WrestleMania 21.

The Match

Michales enters first in typical show stopper fashion. Angle follows and is greeted with “You Suck” chants by the Los Angeles audience. The atmosphere is electric as the two meet in the middle of the ring for a prematch stare down. The crowd can feel the tension and both looked determined to put on a classic. Michaels starts the match with a slap to Angle’s face. Quick to respond Angle uses a textbook amateur wrestling takedown to take control. 

A rope break gives Michaels a reprieve from Angle’s early attack. Surprising Angle, Michales takes him down with a side headlock and is relentless, refusing to release the hold despite all of Angle’s efforts to break free. Similar to Michaels escape, Angle uses the ropes to eventually break the hold. 

WrestleMania 21 Kurt Angle Shawn Michaels
Photo @Youtube.com

This early use of basic wrestling not only confuses Angle but surprises-both Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler on commentary. The two stars begin to brawl in one of the ring corners before Angle attempts his first ankle lock. Michaels was quick to avoid damage rolls through the hold before clotheslining Angle to the outside. 

On the outside, Michales clears the Smackdown announcers table, obviously plotting out some form of punishment for his opponent. Sliding back into the ring to break the referees ten count allows Angle to get the upper hand and he Angle Slams Michaels into the steel ring post. In knowing Michaels history with back problems, Angle begins focusing on damaging his opponents back. Two belly to belly suplexes highlight his focus. After avoiding a suplex from the top turnbuckle, Michaels goes for his patented elbow from the top turnbuckle but, Angle showing his intelligence moves out of the way. 

The momentum is quickly shifted back into Michaels favor. After Michaels avoids an Angle Slam and sends the Olympic Hero to the outside once again. Michales builds more momentum with a crossbody dive from the top turnbuckle to the outside. However, as he tries to get back in the ring, Angle quickly pounces. 

In the next few seconds, a dramatic scene unfolds.

Michaels holds on to the top rope desperately trying to avoid being German suplexed from the ring onto the announcer’s table. A precisely placed low blow ends the threat as a smattering of boos begins to rain down on Michaels. Michales connects with a springboard moonsault on to Angle who was laying on the announcer’s table.

However, the table “reinforced with steel” as Lawler puts it, doesn’t break making the bump even worse for both men. Both men barely beat the referees, ten count, to return to the ring. Once there they slowly rise to their feet at the same time. Face to face with one another a battle of fisticuffs begins. Afterwards, Michaels explodes with a flying forearm. Michales vintage kip-up sparks a huge reaction from the audience only made louder when he connects with his patented elbow drop from the top turnbuckle. 

With victory seemingly at hand, Michaels begins to tune up the band.

He readies himself for some Sweet Chin Music. Angle amazingly catches Michaels kick and locks in his ankle lock. Michaels attempts to roll through but this time Angle holds on. Michaels is only able to break free after reaching the ropes. What follows is one of the greatest sequences in WrestleMania history. Angle attempts the Angle Slam. However, Michaels reverses it into a roll-up. This is transitioned into the ankle lock by Angle.

At this point, Michaels rolls him up for a dramatic two count. 

Photo @AminoApps

 

They follow that sequence up with a Sweet Chin Music attempt by Michaels that is reversed into an Angle Slam by Angle for an even closer two count.  Needing to dig deep into his bag of tricks, Angle attempts a moonsault from the top turnbuckle but Michaels avoids the maneuver. 

Now it’s Michaels turn to climb to the top turnbuckle, but before he can decide what to do, Angle sprints to the top turnbuckle and Angle Slams his opponent for a two count that sends the audience into a tizzy. With frustration setting in, Kurt Angle begins to berate Shawn Michaels, screaming at him to tap out. Michaels responds with a beautifully placed Sweet Chin Music.

A move the legendary Jim Ross  beautifully summarizes “A shot heard round the world by Michaels.” Michaels slowly crawls over to cover Angle. However, once again Angle kicks out at two. After Michaels rises to his feet, Angle snatches his leg and applies the ankle lock.  Michaels tries his best to kick free two times. However, Angle showing the intensity that made him one of the greatest refuses to release the hold. Shawn Michaels does everything in his power to break free, but Kurt Angle won’t allow it. 

Once Angle grapevines Michaels leg in the middle of the ring it’s only a matter of time before the Heartbreak Kid dramatically taps out. 

Kurt Angle Shawn Michaels
Photo / StiilRealToUs

After the match, the two future Hall of Famers are greeted with an enthusiastic standing ovation from the live audience. In a show of appreciation for the greatness that just unfolded in front of their very eyes.