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[2003-01-19-WWE-Royal Rumble] Kurt Angle vs Chris Benoit

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WWE Champion Kurt Angle vs Chris Benoit - Royal Rumble 2003

Before the Benoit murders/suicide, this wasn't just my favorite Benoit match this was my favorite match period. I just rewatched the match for the first time and it just doesn't hold up nor did I expect it too. This match and the Jericho/Michaels match are definitely harbingers of the current pro wrestling style in the WWE. The strong emphasis on moves and the total de-emphasis on in-ring character and the story of the match being motivated by the characters and storyline surrounding it. Whether the standing ovation after the match was a work or not, it was clear my fellow Bostonians were searching for a chant to describe the "awesomeness" of this finish run. They tried "Holy Shit", but that did not really fit. They were not really cheering for Benoit or Angle. They were just excited for all the neat spots. The chant needed would a few years down the road in the form of "This Is Awesome". The finish run of this match is the ultimate "This Is Awesome" string of moves. In deference to this philosophy, this was a damn hot home stretch and an entertaining one. This was clearly way better than Michaels/Jericho, but this in my opinion no longer belongs among the greatest matches of all time. It is not even the greatest WWE match of 2003.

 

The match was basically wrestled face vs face. Angle is an entertaining heel on the stick, but as never been much of one in the ring. There is no bumping, no stooging. There is no real emotion. He just wrestles as a poor man's Benoit and is totally exposed. Benoit is Benoit. He always moves forward and is always bringing the fight to you. I love this style unabashedly. If he has no one to play off whether it is a Finlay going toe to toe or an Eddie bumping and running scared of him, it can be a pretty dry performance. The beginning of the match reminded me a lot of a toned down version of Benoit/Malenko from Hog Wild. I was like why the hell did I like this thing. Benoit did have the decency to at least attempt and then apply a Sharpshooter since Angle had a bad knee. The transitions in this match were pretty lame and did feel your turn/my turn. Angle was awful at heat segments especially around this time (fuck the chinlock/bodyscissors). The first half was boring once they did the double clothesline spot, the match kicked into overdrive and it was enough of a great finish run for me to call this a great match.

Benoit blows an absolutely massive snot rocket and is always the first thing pops into my mind about this match. I am glad that held up. I liked the pop up top rope belly 2 belly. I actually liked the submission reversals in this a lot. I think Benoit pugnaciously applying the Crippler Crossface at every turn was awesome and the Crossface counter out of an AngleLock was sick. The Angle Slam counter to the Crossface was even better. Angle out-pugnaciousing the pugnacious Benoit by pugnaciously holding onto the AngleLock was bitchin. Was it overkill? Probably. Was it fun as all get out? Fuck yeah!

 

In 2003, Scott Keith wrote this after giving the above match ****3/4 "But I bet that according to HHH, neither of these guys know how to work". Well what's funny Scott, is that Angle doesn't know how to work and Benoit left to his own devices could be a self-indulgent bore. The finish stretch clearly saves the match. Benoit was fine to great throughout the match. I thought Angle was badly exposed until the finish run. Give it the NJPW Juniors treatment and this is world-class as is it is merely great. ***3/4

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"Whether the standing ovation after the match was a work or not"

I'm curious what you mean by that. I was there live that night, so I have pretty specific thoughts on what was happening in that building. That line intrigues me.

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I was in the very last row of the building, as far back as you can get and I had a pretty good vantage of the place. I was probably one of the first jerks to pop up too. I lean against work.

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Well Dave is a moron. That was as organic a moment as you will find. The booking leading into that show was fuckawful. As it was the Benoit-Angle match was added fairly last minute. We had to sit through Brock-Big Show, then that shitshow of a match between Steiner and Triple H, and were waiting around for a Rumble match that was a total foregone conclusion with our only hope being some fun surprises. That Benoit-Angle match SAVED that crowd, so we rewarded them accordingly.

I remember talking to people in my section prior to the show starting and ALL the talk was about what a letdown the card was and how we were just praying upon hope that Benoit and Angle would deliver. That crowd was primed to love that match. They didn't need plants.

 

I would also suggest that if the WWE had staged that ovation they would have held on it during the broadcast instead of cutting away to whatever add they went to before hurriedly cutting back to the live crowd. Besides, it's not like they did anything with Benoit in the immediate aftermath, so if they staged it, what was the point.

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I find it very hard to believe that the standing ovation was orchestrated by WWE. It's not as if the company particularly pushed it as a must see match at the time. As far I can remember most of the hype went into that vile Triple H-Steiner match.

 

Anyway, I watched this today for the first time in years to see how it looked and I still enjoyed it. Since I last watched it i've got into the All Japan 90's stuff and it obviously can't compare to those classics, but still a fun match. There are issues, such as Kurt's problem with long term selling. I was really hoping to see him sell the back after Benoit had worked on it, but apart from putting his arm behind his back a couple of times, he didn't really bother. Shame.

 

Still, I enjoyed the finishing stretch and as ever i'm a sucker for Angle's run up to the top rope belly to belly. That is a great looking move.

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I think I'm in a middle ground between the idea of this as a ***** match and the people here who shit on it, leaning more towards the camp of it being a great match. I will admit that this is movez wrestling, but I don't have much of an issue with movez wrestling as long as it doesn't drag and they don't try to build any pretensions about it being more than that. This is pretty much a textbook example of high-octane testosterone-fueled workrate, employing constant motion even when they're just working basic headlocks. When you consider the way the feud had been built with them as the best workrate guys in the company in a perpetual quest to outdo each other, it almost feels like the idea behind this match is to find some way to transmute the concept of character work into workrate. Both guys go at each other super aggressively for the match's duration. There's some brief moments of disrespect like Angle targeting Benoit's injured neck area or Benoit blowing his nose on Angle, but you always feel they're so hell bent on out-striking, out-suplexing, and submitting each other that the match is never in any danger of degenerating into a brawl. I've seen people criticize the way that this match escalates, with them smoothly going from basic holds -> strikes -> suplexes -> submissions without really ever looking back to a prior phase, but they do it all with such conviction and intensity that it felt like there was no other way for this match to go. As long as you don't go in expecting deep psychology, it's a really fun way to spend 20 minutes. **** FWIW, my favorite moment was that look of wearied satisfaction on Benoit's face after he hit that over-the-head release suplex late in the match.

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After the shenanigans with Team Angle causes them to be sent to the back, this is worked as a straight wrestling match with Angle and Benoit trading holds to try to find out who is the better man. Every hold in this had a struggle and it never looked like they were grabbing an arm or leg to try and kill time or catch their breath. The finishing stretch touches on feeling like a spotfest at times, but the crowd is still fully behind Benoit. This was a super intense and aggressive 17 minutes of action between two of the best ever. ★★★★½

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