Brock’s career in his own words.
Previous chapters can be found here: https://www.voicesofwrestling.com/category/vow-latest/columns/brockumentary/
Brock’s WrestleMania main event was set, as he was going to challenge Kurt Angle for the WWE Championship. There was just one slight issue. Remember that spot from No Way Out that I told you to remember? The spot where Brock sent Kurt into the turnbuckle very hard, with Angle looking like he got whiplashed right over the rope? Well, as it turns out, that spot broke his neck again.
From the March 10, 2003 Wrestling Observer:
“His neck problems date back to amateur wrestling, as he suffered a broken neck in late 1995, and was not nearly recovered from it when he won the Olympic trials in freestyle wrestling at 220 pounds (against competition that included Mark Kerr, Mark Coleman, and Dan Chaid) and later the gold medal. With all the bumps he’s taken in delivering so many great matches this year, his body, like everyone’s, is starting to wear out. What he’s pointed to as the big blow was a spot where Brock Lesnar whipped him into the turnbuckles at the No Way Out PPV on 2/22 in Montreal. He still wrestled on Smackdown and all four shows in South Africa, but the pain progressively got worse.”
There were only weeks to go until WrestleMania, but Kurt Angle’s neck just couldn’t hold up anymore. Plans had to change, and WWE had to make an audible.
March 6, 2003
Steel Cage Match
Brock Lesnar def. Paul Heyman
Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas jumped Lesnar before the bell, but Lesnar killed them off quickly. He went outside the ring to bring Heyman in the cage, but Angle jumped him too. Lesnar fought him off before shoving Heyman into the ring. Because this is a WWE cage match, Angle just…climbs up the cage and starts beating up Lesnar. What is the point of the cage then? From there, Angle kept trying to buy Heyman time to get out, but Lesnar got him back every time. Eventually, Lesnar hits the F-5 to win and get his WrestleMania title match a few weeks early.
The plan was this: Kurt Angle would defend the title against Brock Lesnar on SmackDown. It would essentially be an angle to get the title off of Angle without risking more damage to his neck. Then, Brock would go to WrestleMania and defend the WWE Title against Chris Benoit, who would give Brock the great main event they felt he had to have to be a true money-drawing superstar.
March 13, 2003
Kurt Angle (c) def. Brock Lesnar
This match starts with four minutes left in the show, so it will be short. As I type that, Brock hits the F-5 for the win. Well, he would have, but Brock got off of the cover looking confused. Team Angle comes out, and as Lesnar runs them off, Angle swaps out with someone from under the ring. Lesnar comes back and runs right into a small package, as…Kurt Angle pins him? Yes, Angle retains here. As it turns out, Kurt Angle had swapped places with his brother Eric Angle while Brock was making his entrance. This isn’t the first time they’ve run Twin Magic with the Angles, as they had pulled it off at Survivor Series 2000 against the Undertaker. So Kurt Angle retains before his title defense against the same person in 2 weeks. Wait a minute? Wasn’t this set up so Kurt could lose? N/R
As it turns out, plans changed. Again. According to the March 17 edition of the Observer, Angle went to Vince McMahon and asked him to do the WrestleMania match, despite the neck injury that was believed to be career-ending. After discussing the situation with his wife, Brock, and Benoit (who would have taken his place), Kurt decided to tough it out so he could give Brock his WrestleMania moment. Well, that and earn the biggest payoff of his career at that point. The WrestleMania main event slot that year was expected to earn between $250,000 and $500,000, depending on the gate the show pulled in. But I’m sure Brock’s Wrestlemania moment was part of it too.
The WWE was keen on Brock getting his first WrestleMania moment as well. He was the Next Big Thing, he needed to make a spectacular Wrestlemania debut. As per usual though, Brock saw through the bullshit immediately.
“John (Laurinaitis) wanted to do something special because a lot of corporate eyes were on him since he was being groomed to take over Jim Ross’s job as the head of talent relations. He was now the agent for the biggest match of the year, the main event of WrestleMania. The WWE title was on the line between two amateur champions, two real wrestlers with legitimate athletic backgrounds. Apparently, that wasn’t enough for John Laurinaitis. He thought the match needed a WrestleMania moment.”
Brock wasn’t keen on the idea of doing the Shooting Star Press in this spot. He hadn’t done it since his dark match tour over a year ago, and he knew what the risks were if he didn’t hit it properly.
“John, however, was relentless, “Brock, you gotta finish the match like that. It’s so memorable. It’s your WrestleMania moment.” I kept thinking my WrestleMania moment was beating Kurt, just like I had beaten everyone else, and winning back the title that had been stolen from me at Survivor Series. Wasn’t that the story we were telling? I didn’t want to do the Shooting Star. It didn’t make any sense to me. To crank up the pressure on me a little more, Jim Ross sat down with us, and John started saying, “Don’t you think Brock should finish the match with the Shooting Star Press? It’s so impressive, no one has seen him do it for such a long time, it’s such a great move, blah blah blah.” J.R. thinks about that for a moment and drawls, “Hell, kid, that would be one helluva WrestleMania moment!” They had their routine down pat.”
Eventually, Brock was convinced to do the Shooting Star Press as the finish. The stage was set for Brock Lesnar to cap off his first year in WWE with the most memorable finish in Wrestlemania history. And well, it certainly was memorable.
March 30, 2003
Brock Lesnar def. Kurt Angle (c)
Lesnar came into this match with bad ribs. That athletic tape Brock wore would probably have been more helpful if it was around his ribs instead of his waist, but alas. Angle is coming into this match seven pounds lighter, which Cole attributes to an intense training camp. It was actually because Angle’s left side was beginning to atrophy from the nerve damage he had been suffering from. The first turning point in this one came when Angle sends Lesnar into the top turnbuckle with a German suplex. Despite Angle’s neck apparently hanging on by a thread, he worked this match normally. He took the same corner bump that he took at No Way Out, which caused his neck to flare up. He took overhead suplexes, and he gave German suplexes in return. If you didn’t know Kurt was hurt, you wouldn’t have figured it out watching this match.
Angle sent Lesnar inside-out with a german before hitting the Angle Slam for a nearfall. Michael Cole, his voice sounding like a gravel road, claims it’s the first time anyone had ever kicked out of the Angle Slam. I doubt that, but I don’t feel like looking it up. Brock got an F5 for two before Angle caught him in the Ankle Lock. Brock gets to the ropes, and they jockey for position before Brock hits a second F5. Angle is laid out, but Brock starts looking at the top rope. He goes to the apron and climbs, as Cole and Tazz wonder what he’s doing. Angle is closer to the parallel corner than he is to Lesnar’s, but Brock gets to the top rope. He jumps.
Everyone says that Brock slipped off of the ropes. Brock says in his book that the ropes were wet and that he slipped. I watched this Shooting Star Press a couple of times, and I don’t see where Brock could have slipped. His feet look sure as he jumps, and he gets good height on it. I think the issue is that Kurt was further away than Brock needed him to be. Brock tried to get some more length on the jump, and he ended up landing directly on his fucking head. Angle thought Brock was dead. But Brock kicked out of an impromptu cover. He somehow had the agency to hit an F5 and cover Angle to win the title. ****1/4
When Mike Chioda hands Brock the belt after the match, you can see in his eyes that Brock is on another planet. He suffered a pretty bad concussion and, as you can see in the Mania of WrestleMania documentary, refused medical attention once he got to the back. When you think about that scene, then add the fact that Kurt Angle went into shock soon after the adrenaline wore off, you imagine that the post-WrestleMania mood was dampened a bit knowing that the top two stars on Smackdown may have both gone down in one fell swoop.
However, this was 2003.
Concussions were basically papercuts back then! Brock would be back in the ring two weeks later, and his run as the top babyface on SmackDown would officially kick off. But that’s a story for another chapter. What are your memories of this time in Brock’s career? Do you think this is the best WrestleMania main event of all time? Let me know on Twitter, @SuitWilliams. See you for the next chapter of the Brockumentary.