ROANOKE HOSTS MAT MARATHON
ANGLE / LESNAR BATTLE FOR GOLD AT THE CIVIC CENTER

Published in the Radford University Tartan, September 30, 2003
Graham Cawthon

WWE Smackdown! World Heavyweight Title
Brock Lesnar (Challenger) vs. Kurt Angle (Champion)
Roanoke, VA; Civic Center
September 13, 2003

Every sport has its franchise player, the one that stands apart and possesses the intangible “it” factor. The one that can seemingly do it all. Football has its Joe Montana. Baseball has its Babe Ruth. Hockey has its Wayne Gretzkey. Basketball has its Michael Jordan. Golf has its Tiger Woods. And while these men are often referred to as icons and legends of the game, the accomplishments they achieved will all, one day, fall by the wayside as a new breed of athlete takes their spot. As times change, so do the standards of excellence.

In regards to amateur wrestling over the past several years, one would be hard pressed to find a name with more recognition than that of Kurt Angle. With a list of accolades including 200 career pins, two NCAA championships, the 1995 World Championship, and the first American Olympic Gold Medallist to ever win the 220lb weight division – it’s easy to see why he was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2001. But while Kurt’s name may live on in the Hall of Fame alongside that of Danny Hodge, Bruce Baumgartner, and Rick Tucci – it commands just as much attention when paired with names like Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and the Rock.

To elaborate on that point, Angle broke one of the biggest rules in the game of amateur wrestling. He not only began watching and enjoying the professional version following his victory at the ’96 Olympic Games but he accepted a developmental deal from the then-World Wrestling Federation soon thereafter. Few have been able to successfully make the transition from amateur to professional wrestler due to the added responsibility of creating and selling a ‘character’. Angle not only succeeded, he excelled.

Mixing his tremendous mat skills with what seemed to be a natural talent for cutting promos outside the ring (talking ‘in character’), Angle established himself as a standout rookie as well as someone that could easily raise the standards of pro wrestling given time. Four years later and that’s exactly what he and others like him have accomplished. The days of overgrown man-beasts with limited mobility are no longer the rule, rather the exception, as the new breed of professional wrestler has arrived – more intelligent, technically sound, and athletic than ever before.

While somewhat resembling an overgrown man-beast, the 300lb University of Minnesota grad and fellow WWE superstar Brock Lesnar shares many of Angle’s amateur accomplishments. After championship victories in the Big 10, NJCAA, and NCAA, Lesnar followed Angle into professional wrestling and, like his predecessor, gained instant success. Within five months of his television debut, Lesnar not only made history by capturing the heavyweight crown but he did so by leaving a line of broken bodies in his wake – including those of the Rock, the Undertaker, and Hulk Hogan. Since arriving in the WWE, he has brutalized both big and small with his technical prowess, merciless offense, and immense size & strength.

It was only a matter of time before the two amateur greats would meet one-on-one inside the squared circle. The first historic contest headlined WrestleMania XIX, held last March at Seattle’s sold-out SafeCo Field with 55,000 fans in attendance. The highly anticipated rematch occurred at August’s Summer Slam, which hailed from Phoenix. Both contests were show-stealers as the participants used their unique repertoire of amateur and professional wrestling skills to wow the worldwide pay-per-view audience. Lesnar won the initial meeting and Angle the second but it was obvious to all that the rivalry was far from over.

So on Saturday, September 13, the two did battle once again – this time at the Roanoke Civic Center as part of an untelevised event featuring the superstars of UPN’s Smackdown. With several thousand fans looking on, Angle put his WWE Heavyweight Championship on the line against the ruthless challenger, hell-bent on recapturing what was once his. While many in attendance expected a ‘cookie-cutter’ 10-minute contest with the obligatory referee bump somewhere in the middle, all on hand were amazed at what instead took place.

With all the intrigue of a classic heavyweight boxing prize fight, the two men locked eyes prior to the bell as the referee held the championship belt high in the air for all to see. The opening moments of the match saw Angle methodically out-wrestling Lesnar on the mat, taking him down with headlocks and arm drags in an attempt to slowly wear down the challenger’s strength and stamina as well as to frustrate his larger opponent. As the action picked up, both men began utilizing their extensive power arsenal with Lesnar hitting an incredible overhead throw that sent the champion crashing onto the canvas in a heap. Seeing Angle in trouble, the challenger took full advantage and continued to punish his smaller opponent with a series of powerful clotheslines and an array of devastating suplexes.

Angle valiantly fought back – this time using Lesnar’s own brawling tactics against him. With the crowd cheering him on, the Pittsburgh native avoided Lesnar’s F5 finishing maneuver (a spinning face buster from Lesnar’s shoulders) and eventually hit his own trademark move, the Olympic Slam, as hundreds of flash bulbs lit up the dark arena. Although the move has taken Angle to victories to numerous to mention it was not enough to put the challenger’s shoulders to the mat. A persistent Angle quickly prepared for a moonsault (a backwards flip from the top rope) but hit nothing but mat after the challenger rolled out of the way. Lesnar immediately caught the stunned champion in the F5 however, as he swung Angle off his shoulders onto the mat, the referee was caught in the fray and knocked unconscious – thus making it impossible for the challenger to gain the pinfall.

Seeing his opportunity, the former champion rolled to the outside and ripped the steel steps up from the ring posts – obviously with the intent to use them with deadly force on Angle. As Lesnar positioned the steps on the ring apron, the champion rushed towards his opponent and hit a baseball slide into the steps – crashing them into the challenger’s face and sending Lesnar flailing backwards into the aisle. A reinvigorated Angle rolled to the floor and attacked Lesnar with the same steps before rolling the challenger back inside the ring where he continued his assault with a series of German suplexes that jarred the challenger’s spine.

With all the heart and determination of Rocky Balboa himself, the participants continued to do battle well after they were seemingly done for. As the hard-hitting contest raged on, the ring announcer came on the microphone to state 30 minutes remained in the 60-minute time limit. Unbeknownst to many, a full half-hour had expired since the participants entered the ring. While a match of that length routinely takes place at pay-per-view events, it rarely if ever occurs on free TV or on the house show circuit. The fact that all in attendance were being witnessed to something special began to set in as Angle and Lesnar lay motionless on the canvas, both men gasping for air following a brutal exchange.

Once to his feet, the relentless champion quickly applied his dreaded ankle lock submission hold on Lesnar, forcing him into the middle of the ring. While the move had been applied earlier in the bout, the lasting effect was just now taking effect as the challenger had developed an obvious limp in his step. After having the hold broken by the referee on several occasions due to Lesnar reaching the ring ropes, a determined Angle dragged his opponent back into the middle of the ring and applied a modified version of the ankle lock in which his legs grapevined one of Lesnar’s. The challenger reached backwards for the bottom rope in a last-ditched attempt to save himself but, with Angle continuing to cinch up on the hold tighter and tighter, Lesnar had no choice but to eventually submit.

With nearly 45 minutes elapsed, an exhausted Angle proudly held his championship title in the air as the crowd applauded both he and Lesnar’s incredible display. Arguably better than either of their prior contests, both men clearly set a new standard of excellence as they showcased of what the new breed of professional wrestler is capable.

If this match is any indication to the legacy Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar will leave behind they will no doubt be remembered as icons, within both the amateur and pro wrestling world, long after they are gone.

Other results from the card included: Rey Mysterio Jr. successfully defended his Cruiserweight title over Tajiri … Albert & Sean O’Haire defeated Brian Kendrick & Paul London … Matt Hardy pinned Orlando Jordan … Nunzio defeated Sho Funaki … Billy Kidman & Jamie Knoble defeated Doug & Danny Basham … United States Champion Eddie Guerrero defeated John Cena and Chris Benoit in a triple threat match after Rhyno interfered … Brock Lesnar’s wrestling teammate at the University of Minnesota – Shelton Benjamin successfully defended the tag team titles with Charlie Haas by defeating Bradshaw & Ron Simmons … Torrie Wilson won a bikini contest also involving Sable, Nidia, and Dawn Marie

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