Buying a ticket to a sporting event usually comes with a few guarantees. First, you are going to see one team take on another. There might be a rivalry between them, like the Packers versus the Bears or the Yankees versus the Red Sox. You know that you have booked yourself to see Tom Brady take on Patrick Mahomes with that ticket. Barring injury, that matchup is set! In the world of professional wrestling though, it’s a bit different. We see it now with the anticipation of AEW’s “The First Dance” Rampage show in Chicago on August 20th. No matches were announced. They needed only a few winks and nods of a CM Punk appearance to sell the United Center out. But those circumstances are more common than you think in wrestling. Often you see a company like WWE is coming to your town for a Pay Per View in five months. You might know the name of the event – “WWE Backlash”, and you may have a general idea that the WWE Champion is going to wrestle, but that’s it. No matches to go off, no card to anticipate. That’s the situation I found myself in when my Dad and I purchased tickets to WWE No Way Out in Baltimore, Maryland over 15 years ago.
We knew that the PPV was on February 19th, 2006, and it would be the last stop before Wrestlemania 22. This was before WWE had like eleven big shows between the Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania. Speaking of the Rumble, watching that show with tickets to the next PPV was very exciting. Seeing Rey Mysterio live his dream and go the distance to win the Royal Rumble match is a moment I will never forget. I knew from my couch in Maryland that Rey Mysterio would be heavily featured at my PPV (it truly started to feel like MY PPV as it was the biggest show to take place in Baltimore in years). Still, I wondered why the Royal Rumble match wasn’t main eventing the Royal Rumble Pay Per View. The 06 Rumble would be the first since 1998 not to feature the 30-man match as the Main-Event. That year, it was an intense feud with Shawn Michaels defending the WWF Championship against the Undertaker in a Casket match. Surely the Royal Rumble in 2006 would have a similar worthy main event.
After Mysterio’s miracle win, John Cena faced off against Edge for the WWE Championship. Edge had just cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase the month prior, and this was Cena’s rematch. I am a traditionalist when it comes to the Rumble and think the match itself should always go on last, but a Cena and Edge clash seemed like a worthy enough replacement. Except it was not. John Cena defeated Edge to win back his WWE title in the semi-main event. So that left…Kurt Angle versus Mark Henry. I love Mark Henry, and I genuinely think his Hall of Pain era stuff was some of the best television WWE has done in a long time (him barking at the Big Show “IF I CHARGE FOR AIR, YOU KEEP YOUR BILLS PAID” that’s just insane and I love it.) But Mark Henry in 2006 was not really up to snuff.
Kurt Angle has a legitimate argument for the greatest of all time, but the build to this clash was rushed. The World Heavyweight Championship had just been vacated by Batista weeks early. After a long and prosperous reign, Batista had to relinquish the gold. Smackdown as a brand was so strapped for main-event good guys that they went and just – got Kurt Angle. Kurt Angle, the Raw superstar who was such a heel he had Daivari as his manager and was weeks removed from his promo about wanting to make “Jesus tap out.” But the blue brand had a champion to crown. They set up a 20 man over the top rope battle royal, and sure enough, the Olympic gold medalist went off! The wrestling machine was back. Angle took care of business and last eliminated Mark Henry (who was feuding with Batista at the time.) Due to the injury to Batista, WWE had to scrap together a new World Heavyweight Champion. They did a damn good job picking Angle, and honestly, Henry was a fine challenger for a lower-card title bout. The problem was THIS was the main event of the Royal Rumble.
Fans everywhere had to be asking themselves, why would WWE deliberately place Kurt Angle versus the 2006 version of Mark Henry in the main event of one of their most significant Pay Per Views. I certainly was confused, but I was confident I would see Kurt Angle as World Heavyweight Champion in Baltimore even before the bell rang. Maybe he and number one contender Rey Mysterio would be in a tag team match at the Pay Per View? That would be fun! First, Angle had to retain his title. Kurt is widely regarded as someone who could have a good match with a broom, so I wasn’t too worried. I’m not sure I would say the Rumble main event clash as good per se, but it was not bad. Kurt Angle retained his championship over the World’s Strongest Man with a roll-up in a fine match that lasted a bit under ten minutes. The World Heavyweight Champion could breathe a sigh of relief…until the lights went out.
GONG! GONG! GONG! The combination of that sound and the lights going out will forever mean only one thing in the world of wrestling. The arrival of the Undertaker. One of the most feared and greatest competitors in wrestling history. The Deadman had been out of action since vanquishing Randy Orton in a brutal Hell in a Cell match in December. The Undertaker spent most of 2005 dealing with the Orton Family, and it seemed like with that behind him, he was now focused on a new goal. The World Heavyweight Championship. A full-blown HORSE DRAWN CARRIAGE brought the Phenom out from his slumber. The Undertaker lifted both of his arms in the air, and a CRACK of thunder went through the American Airlines Arena. Lightning struck the squared circle that housed Angle, and the ring collapsed! Two things were clear in an instance. One: The Undertaker was back and coming for the World Heavyweight Championship. Two: I was going to see Kurt Freaking Angle versus The Freaking Undertaker live!!!
Sure enough, the match was soon made official. Michael Cole put it perfectly “the best pure striker in the WWE versus the best pure wrestler in the WWE.” This was a Wrestlemania calibre main event, and it was going to be the biggest match I had ever seen live. The question was, would it live up to the hype and be that good?
I mean, at the time, absolutely. I have been blessed to go to a lot of wrestling in my life and lucky enough to see A LOT of fantastic matches. Have I seen a better match live since this clash in 2006? Perhaps. Probably, if I am honest with you. But as they say, you never forget your first. This was a match that had me up and out of my seat throughout the entire thing. This was a match that had young “smart” fan me SURE-SURE he had just seen the match’s finish. Only that was not the finish. There were still ten minutes to go. The main event to No Way Out 2006 lasted a total of 29 minutes and 38 seconds, but it did not feel a second over 15. Time flies when two of the best ever are making magic in the squared circle.
The match starts FAST with The Undertaker going for a big boot which Kurt Angle countered into a lock-up from behind. I have seen hundreds of Undertaker matches, and I can count on one hand the number of times he started a match out this fast. The Deadman usually lets the fight come to him, but very clearly, he is aware of the kind of threat the World’s Champion is. Tazz mentions on commentary that “neither of these men has ever tapped out and that’s huge,” while both men trade submission holds early. Taker had started to infuse more and more MMA-inspired moves over the last few years into his repertoire, but there is something incredibly bold about trying to out-wrestle an Olympic Gold Medalist. The Phenom is working the left arm of Angle, setting up for his “Old School” top rope attack, but Kurt quickly counters him. The Undertaker gains control again, picking up the smaller Angle and dropping him headfirst into the turnbuckle for his Snake Eyes manoeuvre. He runs the ropes, but Kurt ducks the big boot and nails a huge German suplex. The crowd in Baltimore is H-O-T and duelling “Let’s go Angle!” “Un-der-ta-ker!” chants ring out.
Kurt knocks Taker off the apron into the barricade, and the legend hits the wall hard. Just when it seems like Angle will take complete control, the Deadman grabs the champion and rams his back and oft-injured neck into the steel post outside. The first of the Undertaker’s signature moves to hit comes in the form of his leg drop on the apron, driving all the air out of Angle. Tazz (who is fantastic on the call here with Michael Cole) mentions that he spoke to the Deadman years prior about Angle, and he said Undertaker told him that Kurt is one of the best and just wants to beat him. To Tazz, this win seemed like something Undertaker HAD to pull off.
The beauty of this match is there is no wasted motion. That can rarely be said about a 30-minute match. Taker rolls the champion into the ring and signals for the chokeslam, a move that has previously won championships for the Deadman. But again, Angle is here with a counter. He is out of the chokeslam and pounces on the ankle of his challenger. With his Ankle Lock finishing manoeuvre in mind, the champion continues the assault of the leg and ankle of his opponent. He takes the former Big Evil to the corner and wraps his legs around the steel post. Then, utilizing almost the entirety of the five-count, Angle locks in the illegal figure four on the post. Undertaker screams in pain, and the Deadman sounds more human by the second. But you do not rack up an unprecedented undefeated streak at Wrestlemania easily, and the Undertaker fires some huge shots off to the smaller champion. He starts to hold up his “best pure striker in the game” mantle and take some control back in this match. Taker goes back to the well with the one signature move that he did hit, the leg drop on the apron. Okay, here is the part where I tell you to stop reading this article. Seriously. Stop it and pull up Peacock or the WWE Network and watch this match. From here on out, these two men take this match to another level. Once you are done (or if you are feeling like a rebel), I will meet you in the next paragraph.
Kurt Angle CATCHES THE UNDERTAKER’S FREAKING ANKLE OUT OF MID-AIR. I’m sorry, this was WILD. There are so few things in an art-form and/or sport like wrestling that one has not seen before, but this was one of them. The Undertaker’s signature leg drop was countered by the “best pure wrestler” by snatching the ankle out of mid-air. Angle applies an Ankle Lock out on the floor and once again has control of the championship bout. Back in the ring, Angle goes right to the Ankle Lock again. However, it’s the Undertaker’s turn to counter into his new weapon, the triangle choke! In a matter of seconds, the Undertaker goes from surely done for to almost certainly new World Heavyweight Champion. But I promised a different level, and Angle delivers with a counter to Taker’s counter! Take a breath here, my god. It is not long before both men are back outside the ring, this time almost completely ignoring the referee’s ten-count. The two exchange harsh blows and holds until the count of nine, when one of them will break the count – just so they can go back out and inflict more punishment. Being the bigger man gives Taker an edge on the outside, and he sets up the announce table to be Kurt Angle’s final resting place. The Undertaker goozles Angle up for a chokeslam, but Kurt counters that bad boy into a massive Angle Slam that shatters the table.
Angle rolls back into the ring, and it becomes clear that this time the Undertaker is not going to make it back to the ring in time. Not any of that “oh he just BARELY made it,” no Undertaker is going to be counted out. That is when Angle shocks everyone by grabbing the referee and forcefully stopping the count. From in the crowd that night, I could only see Kurt getting the count stopped. Those watching at home could hear Kurt yell, “I’m going to beat this motherf*cker in the ring!” and then he poses on the apron – yelling like the most badass madman alive. If there was any doubt about who the best in the world was at that moment, Kurt Angle slammed them shut.
Experience is not something we have talked about here, but it is noteworthy that the Deadman had at least a decade on Kurt coming into the fight. It shows when Kurt’s decision to forego the count-out win backfires and Taker reverses Angle right into the steel steps at ringside. They are back in the ring now, Taker finally in control again, and he decides to go to the top rope? Not for “Old School” but for, like, a dive. Clearly, the Deadman is willing to do anything to beat Kurt Angle. But this is not Taker’s comfort zone, and Angle pops up quickly and throws The Undertaker off the top rope with a belly to belly suplex. Taker barely kicks out at 2.999 seconds. These men don’t have much left.
They are trading blows. Taker’s are landing a little harder. Undertaker grabs Kurt for a chokeslam and AGAIN A ROLL THROUGH INTO THE ANKLE LOCK. Kurt has him in the middle of the ring now. Are we playing Uno? Because it is nothing but reverses being played here. Taker reverses Angle for a split second for the triangle choke, but Angle spins with him and has the leg lock even deeper in now. But the Deadman draws another reverse card and uses his long limbs to pull Kurt into another triangle choke. Relentless. Kurt uses his Olympic gold-worthy base to ROLL THROUGH into another Ankle Lock. Taker uses his legs to get Angle off him, and Kurt runs right into a thunderous Chokeslam. Angle is out, but Taker is hurting from all the damage done to his ankle. He takes a beat too long to get to the cover, and Kurt kicks out before three. Undertaker calls for the Last Ride. He hoists him up, and all Kurt does is ROLL THROUGH. COUNTER. ANKLE LOCK. It is one of the most incredible counters you will ever see (in a match with about five of them.) But his Ankle Lock is in DEEP. The crowd is LOUD. They sound almost uncertain if they want Taker to tap. They do not want this match to end. There are no defined chants, rather just a sea of noise that only comes with a match of this calibre. The Undertaker makes it to the ropes, but Angle yanks him back quickly to the middle of the ring. Taker reverses out and is rewarded for his efforts with an Angle Slam. Cover! 1….2….NO!
Angle pulls the straps down; he intends to finish it. The second the straps are unhooked, the Deadman sits up. Here. We. Go. Both men again exchange strikes in the ring, and Taker gains the edge here. He lifts Kurt up for the Tombstone Piledriver, but Angle shimmies his body into his own Tombstone and grabs the god blessed Ankle!!! This is truly insane! He locks it in, sits in it, and figure fours the leg. We are reminded the Undertaker has never tapped out over a visual that surely must result in a Deadman tapping. Wrestlemania is on the line. The World Title is on the line. Pride is on the line.
Taker rolls to his back and strikes Angle hard in the face with his free leg. Both men get to their feet, but the THIRD Angle slam of the match plants Taker flat. Kurt goes for the pin and is CAUGHT in the triangle choke. Somehow, someway, The Undertaker has found one last gear. This must be over. The ref raises Kurt’s arm. It goes limp. He does it again, and it is still limp. If it happens a third time, we have a new champ. Arm up, but NO. Kurt is still alive. He does the only thing he can think of at that moment. Kurt uses all his strength left to push himself and FLIP over the Undertaker in a bridge pin while still locked in the triangle choke. 1…2….3. The crowd is stunned. There is no music played. The title is grabbed, and it’s announced that STILL your World Heavyweight Champion- Kurt Angle. The finish was like an incredible dunk at the Dunk Contest. You cannot truly appreciate how beautiful it is until you see the replay. And then you cannot stop thinking about it.
Truly this finish is one of my all-time favourites. Still probably my favourite ever. In a vacuum, it’s creative as hell, but with 29 minutes of buildup, it’s downright superb. The counters were the story of the match, and it had seemed like The Undertaker had used his last bit of strength to win the match with the counter into the choke that he had been going for all match. Angle flipping over Taker in that pin was something I had never seen. That match took place in 2006. Even now, there are things they did in that match I have not seen since. It’s not just a technical masterpiece, but a masterpiece of a main event. Unfortunately, Kurt left the company later that year. Combine that with the fact this took place on a “B” level PPV, the match does not get brought up much. But to everyone who was there live that night, they knew they experienced something special.
So next time a wrestling company announces a show in your town, and you are undecided whether you should grab a ticket, think about this match. Is every show going to have a five-star classic on it? No, but every single show, even with no announced card, can leave you with memories that will last a lifetime. It’s been 15 years, and watching this match brought everything flooding back. I promise you, to see a match like this is beyond worth it. Then hey, one day you’ll have your own tale from sports entertainment to tell!