Saturday, March 21, 2015

Kurt Angle vs. Lashley — Angle's Final Hoorah?


The word impact is described as having a strong effect on someone or something. And for over a decade, making an impact has become a way of life for the athletes of IMPACT Wrestling. In this TNAsylum exclusive series, we'll take a look at some of the most impactful moments from TNA's past and present product, all in an attempt to preview what has yet to come.

This edition of INSTANT IMPACT will highlight the main event of this week's Friday Night IMPACT, when The Destroyer Lashley defended his TNA World Heavyweight Championship against a man he had never competed against—Kurt Angle.

SETTING THE STAGE

Kurt Angle is a 13-time world champion. He is the only man to have held the WWE, World Heavyweight, WCW, IWGP and TNA championships. He is professional wrestling's only Olympic Gold Medalist.

However, Angle is also 46 years old. He's been a professional wrestler since 1996. Therefore, the hands of time are ticking on Angle's illustrious career. Many even have believed that he's already overstayed his welcome, given the rash of injuries he's suffered in recent years.

Kurt Angle, though, is hellbent on proving all his skeptics wrong—thus he stepped down from his comfy job as TNA's Director of Wrestling Operations to become a full-time competitor once more. Since that occurred in January of this year, Angle has been on a path of destruction through TNA. A path that he hoped would lead to a TNA World Heavyweight Championship match, and one that did when he defeated Bobby Roode and Eric Young in a Number One Contender's Match on March 6.

His opponent, however, is a man he had never faced before. A man who has held the TNA World Heavyweight Championship for 205 days over the course of two reigns since initially winning the title on June 19 of last year. A man who many have deemed to be the most dominant champion in IMPACT Wrestling history. This man's name, of course, is Lashley.

PAINTING THE PICTURE

With a camera following both men from their locker rooms backstage all the way to the ring admidst a jam packed Wembley Arena, the challenger Kurt Angle and champion Lashley—in that order—made their dramatic, goosebump-inducing entrances.

Josh Mathews and Taz discussed their somewhat similar resumes, with both being accomplished amateur wrestlers, Kurt Angle being an Olympic Gold Medalist and Lashley being an MMA fighter who has compiled quite a resume in a short period of time. Somehow, though, these two men had never faced off before. They had never stepped into the ring with one another until this night, when that all changed.

Following the in-ring introductions, the intensity in the air was unmistakable. It was Kurt Angle. It was Lashley. For the first time ever. For the TNA World Heavyweight Championship.

The bell sounded and the combatants paced around the ring before Lashley made the first move. He went for a single leg takedown on the challenger, but Angle quickly pulled behind into position for a German Suplex. Lashley would escape the grasp of Angle, bounce off the ropes and barrel into Angle with a shoulder block. Angle took a moment to compose himself on the mat before getting back to his feet.

Lashley quickly went for another single leg on Angle, and this time was successful in taking him off his feet. A quick pin attempt failed and Angle went around to grab hold of the waist of the champion, but Lashley again broke free and this time nailed a clothesline. Angle was having great difficulty getting out of the blocks against the younger, faster, stronger man. He thought he had what it takes to be champion once more, but what he once was to his predecessors, Lashley was now to him. He was evolution staring him in the face.

Lashley took down Angle with a waist lock, and immediately locked in a headlock that trapped the arm. Angle, though, grabbed a single leg of his own before switching off to yet another waist lock. Lashley would break free of the hold, but ran right into a belly-to-belly suplex by this generation's suplex machine. Off the belly-to-belly, Lashley backed into three consecutive German Suplexes from the Cyborg. Angle whipped Lashley across the ring. An attempt for offense failed when Lashley elbowed him in the face, but Lashley fell to a drop toe hold into Angle's signature Ankle Lock.

Taz claimed Angle wasn't working by the hour as Lashley would reach the ropes to break the hold. Perhaps, though, Angle knew that the longer the match went, the more it favored Lashley. Lashley, as previously mentioned, possessed a large advantage in seemingly every tangible way. Lashley stumbled to his feet and ate a clothesline over the top rope, onto the floor. Angle pursued the champion before Lashley crawled back into the ring, only to crawl out the other side.

Lashley was trying to dictate the pace of the match, but Angle refused to let it happen. The two threw fists on the outside, preluding Lashley careening Angle's shoulder into the steel barricade. To follow up, Angle ate a back elbow to the face. Lashley drove Angle's back into the ring apron, then hit a series of elbows to the back of his neck. Smart, considering Angle's history of neck problems, in addition to his more recent well-documented knee problems.

Back inside the ring, Lashley nailed Angle in the head once more to set up an unsuccessful cover. And then, in the corner, Lashley again jabbed away at Angle with nasty forearms, followed by kicks and a quick choke. Lashley dragged Angle mid-ring and nailed a suplex of his own, this one vertical. Next, Lashley stuck a knee in Angle's spine and wrenched his arms backwards. Angle would fight out, and the two avoided some offense before Lashley nailed a clothesline.

Back on the offensive was Lashley, who key locked up the arm and shoulder of Angle—the same one that hit the steel barricade flush moments ago. Lashley worked Angle into the corner before eating an elbow. Angle then headed to the middle rope for flying shoulder block.

We were back to square one as the two athletes slugged it out inside the six-sided ring. Angle ate a knee to the gut and punch to the face. However, a large wind-up by Lashley opened up the opprotunity for a waist lock and German Suplex to follow for Angle. Three of them, to be exact, putting the grand total for the match at six.

Angle stalked for the Angle Slam, but Lashley escaped and opted for a monstrous spine buster. A cover, hook of the leg and a two count followed. Lashley now stalked, this for his patented spear, but Angle thwarted it. Angle now on the offensive hit five straight belly-to-back suplexes, placing the total at eleven.

Angle synched in his second Ankle Lock of the match, but this time, Lashley rolled through. Next was a running powerslam by the champion. Cover: 1, 2, kickout! Kurt Angle, or America's Golden Boy as Taz referred to him, still had life in this TNA World Heavyweight Championship match.

IMPACT Wrestling headed to their final commercial break after the near fall. Upon the show's return, Kurt Angle avoided a spear, sending Lashley into the steel ring post. To take advantage, Angle school-boyed Lashley, but soon opted for the Ankle Lock instead.

Perhaps the third time would be the charm for the Ankle Lock, that had won Angle so many championships over the course of his career. But alas, it wasn't meant to be as Lashley rolled through again, this time sending Angle's head into the bottom turnbuckle. Lashley looked for the spear again, but Angle kicked him in the shoulder and nailed an Angle Slam. The proceeding cover received a two count.

Lashley created momentary separation with a shove, then elbowed an oncoming Angle in the face. To follow was a clothesline that didn't sit well with the London, England crowd. Lashley hit another vertical suplex to set up for the move that had won him many world championship matches, that being his spear: 1, 2, no!

Lashley was in disbelief, but refused to let frustration get the better of him. Instead, the 278 pound powerhouse from Denver, Colorado ascended to the top rope. Lashley would have to fend off Kurt Angle, only narrowly averting a top rope German Suplex, and came flying off the top rope for a frog splash, but Angle moved out of harm's way.

Kurt Angle now headed to the top rope for a crossbody, but Lashley rolled through into Angle's own Ankle Lock. With jeers cascading down from the rafters of Wembley Arena, Angle scratched and clawed his way to a rope break. A sigh of relief was breathed by the fans in attendance as the challenger still had life. Lashley whiffed on a clothesline, opening himself up for an Angle Slam. Cover: 1, 2, no!

Lashley wasted no time in getting back on the offensive with a juji gatame armbar: a lethal jiu-jitsu move, made even more lethal by the damage that had already been done to Angle's shoulder. However, Angle picked the leg of Lashley for a fourth Ankle Lock. Angle pulled Lashley back from the ropes, placing him in the center of the ring before Angle dropped down into a grapevine.

Lashley, nearly unconscious from the pain, eventually was forced to tap out. Therefore, for the first time in two and a half years, your new TNA World Heavyweight Champion was Kurt Angle. This was his fourteenth world championship, but never had Angle had to overcome such drastic odds to get back to the top of the mountain as he had this time around.


SPINNING IT FORWARD

It's difficult to blame TNA for wanting to give Kurt Angle his fourteenth, and in all likelihood final, reign as world champion—particularly during their potentially highest attended show of the year in London, England.

Personally, while the move has been somewhat controversial amongst fans, the more questionable decision in hindsight was Lashley's first title loss.

If Lashley hadn't lost his title to Bobby Roode last October, only to win it back in his rematch, his reign would've lasted 275 days—making Lashley the longest reigning champion in the TNA World Heavyweight Championship's eight year history.

Nonetheless, the rematch of Angle and Lashley awaits us, and that alone is exciting given the great performance that they gave us the first time around. It feels like a bit of a nuanced version of Angle and Brock Lesnar years ago, and that's a giant compliment to Angle's ridiculous longevity and how Lashley has become such a beast inside the ring.

In my opinion, though, there's only one man who should dethrone Kurt Angle, and that's Ethan Carter III.

EC3 has been undefeated for a year and a half. He's the hottest homegrown commodity, and singles heel, TNA has had in years. So to pair him with the biggest star in TNA history seems like a no-brainer to me. And additionally, there's already a history to be tapped from between Angle and EC3.

Kurt Angle versus Ethan Carter III at Slammiversary seems like the closest thing to a money match that TNA could possibly produce right now. And the following month is Destination X, when the X-Division Champion can cash-in a world championship oppotunity. Need I remind you of the current X-Division Champion?