WWE Classic of the Week: Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle from WrestleMania XIX

On March 29, Brock Lesnar will return to the main event of WrestleMania when he defends the WWE World Heavyweight Championship against Roman Reigns.

It will not be the first time the Beast Incarnate has taken to the grandest stage in sports entertainment for the biggest match of the year.

It was 12 years ago at WrestleMania XIX when Lesnar, then dubbed "The Next Big Thing," made his debut at the Showcase of the Immortals, challenging Kurt Angle for the WWE title in the most prestigious bout of the night.

After just one year on the main roster, Lesnar had climbed the proverbial mountain, standing tall over any and all who had been put in front of him.

Except for the Olympic gold medalist.

Lesnar had seen Angle as a role model while growing up in South Dakota, an American hero who succeeded and thrived in the sport he so adored. It was only natural that he would follow in his footsteps, transitioning from the world of amateur wrestling to sports entertainment.

But to prove himself as the undisputed best in the industry, he had to conquer the man who had previously been so inspirational to him.

Two all-time mat greats clashed with the top prize in all of WWE at stake in a main event befitting a show with the pomp, circumstance and spectacle of WrestleMania.

The Background

In November 2002, Brock Lesnar was the WWE champion, enjoying the greatest rookie year in the history of pro wrestling.

Having defeated The Rock at SummerSlam to capture the title and Undertaker at Hell in a Cell to retain it, he was on a streak of dominance that few thought would ever end.

Then it did, thanks to the challenge of the massive Big Show and a shocking betrayal on the part of manager Paul Heyman. At Survivor Series, Heyman double-crossed a defiant Lesnar, causing his first pinfall loss to the World's Largest Athlete.

Not only did the defeat result in the first blemish on his otherwise sparkling win-loss record, it cost him his first heavyweight title.

A broken rib would put Lesnar out of action for nearly two months, opening up the main event for another Superstar to step up to the plate and challenge Big Show for the heavyweight title.

That Superstar would be Kurt Angle.

At Armageddon in December 2002, Angle won the championship thanks in large part to the interference of Lesnar, who flattened Big Show with a massive F5.

A month later, at the 2003 Royal Rumble pay-per-view, Lesnar defeated Big Show for the right to enter the Royal Rumble match. Beaten, battered and bruised from his encounter with the giant, Lesnar showed outstanding perseverance and was able to win the 30-man bout and earn a WrestleMania title opportunity. 

His opponent at the show? Angle, who defeated Chris Benoit in a 5-star classic to retain his title on the same night when Lesnar reigned supreme.

But it would not be an easy road to WrestleMania for Lesnar.

The title bout was supposed to occur earlier on an episode of SmackDown. Trickery from Angle and his brother, Eric, proved to be Lesnar's downfall as the former Olympian caught him with a small package roll-up and pinned the No. 1 contender.

It was OK because SmackDown general manager Stephanie McMahon would ensure that Lesnar got another chance to battle Angle for the title against at the Showcase of the Immortals, ruling that if anyone interfered on behalf of the champion, he would lose the title.

But another hurdle presented itself as Angle was suffering from a very real neck injury. A wrong fall or hard bump could have resulted in paralysis or worse.

Up until the time the match began, there were very real questions about Angle's ability to compete in the contest.

He did compete, turning in one of the best matches of his Hall of Fame-worthy career and helping to make Lesnar the undisputed face of WWE's bright future in the process.

The Match

The Analysis

Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle from WrestleMania XIX is a beautiful wrestling match.

Unlike any other main event in the history of the show, outside of maybe the Iron Man match from WrestleMania XII, Lesnar and Angle worked a technical wrestling masterpiece.

It was ground-based and really helped the challenger prove that, while he was this hulking beast of a competitor, he has no problem mixing it up with a celebrated worker like Angle.

Add to that his ability to overpower Angle, and you had the one man capable of out-wrestling the Olympic gold medalist.

The biggest testament to Lesnar's skill and ability is that he was as strong and powerful as he was but not once during the contest did he ever worsen Angle's injured neck or even really put the WWE champion in harm's way.

He was safe with him, despite what looked like a very hard-hitting, physical main event.

Lesnar's missed shooting star press, which nearly ended with him crippling himself, remains one of the most replayed moments of his career. However, it was the match around that spot that he should be most proud of.

The Aftermath

Angle would take time off to deal with his neck injury while Lesnar focused on defending his title against the likes of Big Show and young upstart John Cena.

By the time the former champion returned, he again found himself at odds with Lesnar.

At Vengeance in July 2003, Angle defeated Brock and Big Show in a Triple Threat match to regain the gold. 

Lesnar suddenly underwent a heel turn and continued his rivalry with his idol, losing a match at SummerSlam but regaining the title on the September 18 episode of SmackDown in an Iron Man match.

While the two would battle on and off throughout the rest of the year, that contest would be their last major bout of sorts.

At least until June 2007, when Angle defeated Lesnar for the IWGP (International Wrestling Grand Prix) Heavyweight Championship in Japan.

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