Date: 2001 (exact date unknown)
Location: South Dakota
Source: Jim Ross, Sports Illustrated, Sportster.com, Powerslam magazine,
Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle are two of the best legitimate amateur wrestlers the United States has ever produced, and also among the top pro wrestling stars of the post-Attitude era. The two of them never got into a backstage fight, but they did have a legitimate impromptu wrestling match in the ring in order to see who could beat whom.
Angle was more successful as an amateur, having reached the holy grail of wrestling: an Olympic gold medal, which he won in 1996 (with a broken neck, no less). Lesnar never reached Olympic status, but he was still a two-time All American and won the NCAA championship twice.
Even though Angle’s skill level was higher, Lesnar still had almost 100 pounds on him, was taller, younger, and less removed from real athletic competition. He had fewer injuries and was considerably stronger. Both are also very competitive, and Angle himself had to know if he still had retained enough of his skills to beat the much bigger Lesnar, as he had beaten men his size before in his amateur days.
We’re unable to determine exactly when this encounter took place. It wasn’t reported immediately after it happened, but it’s believed to have happened before a Raw taping in South Dakota. It was before Lesnar debuted in the WWF as an on-air character, but was still work dark matches and about to be part of the main roster in a major way. However, there is no record of a Raw taping in South Dakota in 2001 or 2002. There is a record of a Raw taping in South Carolina in January 2002, so perhaps people remembered it incorrectly as being from South Dakota, since that is where Lesnar was born.
Angle has said Lesnar was in the ring practicing with the Big Show, throwing him around with relative ease. He told Show to get out of the ring, tapped Lesnar on the shoulder, and said, “Let’s go.”
Gerald Brisco and Jim Ross were witnesses to the “match,” and Brisco (a former amateur star himself) said it was close but that Angle got the better of it. Ross didn’t recall either man having a clear advantage over the other. Other unnamed witnesses have agreed with Brisco’s opinion, and that has been the general consensus.
For his part, Angle said it lasted almost 15 minutes and was very tight, and that he scored one takedown. He praised Lesnar’s wrestling ability, said he moved around like a lightweight despite being a heavyweight, and said when it was over that he had no desire to wrestle him again.
Lesnar, however, told a different story. He claimed he pinned Angle in 30 seconds and it was over. It should be noted that Lesnar was likely working the press, and that probably isn’t his on-the-record version of what happened. He also made that statement to Powerslam magazine, which is based in the UK and perhaps Lesnar felt if he told an overseas magazine, it wouldn’t get much media play in the US.
Given that not one other witness told the version Lesnar did, it’s safe to say it’s not true. On the other hand, if the two had a match today, there is little doubt Lesnar would win soundly. He’s still near peak form, has trained extensively in MMA (Angle has as well, but not to the same degree), and Angle is all banged up from numerous injuries from his days in the ring. In a legitimate fight (as opposed to an amateur wrestling match), it’s also a sure thing Lesnar would win, perhaps even back in 2001 as well.
Each man can lay claim to being tougher than the other. Lesnar went onto become a UFC champion, while Angle’s gold medal is the highest pinnacle of athletic achievement. But on that night, Angle scored a victory, and he should be proud of that. And Lesnar shouldn’t be ashamed of it.
As a side note, Ross said he and Gerald Brisco got in trouble with Vince McMahon for letting the match happen. He was probably afraid either would get hurt, which is a valid concern. Angle was one of his top stars, and Lesnar was being groomed to be the company’s biggest star at the time (which he later did become). Also, Angle was contemplating a return to the Olympics during this time, and this skirmish made him think twice about his ability to compete at that level anymore.
Angle made public comments that he would likely return to WWF as part of their 2016 brand split, but that ended up not happening. McMahon has been afraid to employ Angle ever since he departed in 2006, fearing it would be awful publicity for WWE if Angle died on their watch. Angle was considered a high risk performer in 2006, as rumors surfaced he had a substance abuse problem that made many in the company think he was a ticking timebomb. He flourished with TNA when he debuted there in 2006, but he did have a few public incidents while employed there involving DWIs. Had it not been for those incidents, it’s more likely WWE would’ve taken him back in 2016.