By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
Kurt Angle © vs Steve Austin 10/8/01
WWF Championship Match
Though I usually aim to avoid multiple matches in the same feud, it is hard to avoid talking about the last ever title reign of someone as important as Steve Austin. Having carried the company in the Attitude Era, alongside feuds with Vince McMahon and the Rock, to being the number one wrestling promotion in the world, this title reign at the tail end of 2001 signified the beginning of the end for Austin’s career.
Injuries and issues with booking would see Austin walk away from WWF in 2002, but this couldn’t necessarily have been foreseen as Austin was embroiled in a longstanding feud with Kurt Angle coming out of the Invasion pay-per-view. Austin had sided with the Alliance; Angle became the leader of the WWF. Two pay-per-views in a row would see these two men meet, with the second match at Unforgiven seeing Angle beat Austin for the gold via submission.
In reality, Austin had had his hand under the bottom rope when he quit, which was turned into part of the storyline. Believing there to have been a mistake by the official in not breaking the hold, Austin would convince Angle to put the belt on the line in a match on Raw. In an effort to make the match as fair as possible, Commissioner William Regal barred the members of the Alliance from ringside, an action that led to Regal dragging Debra out of the timekeeper’s chair by her ear (to be removed by other officials) and take a seat at ringside himself.
With the injuries causing Austin to modify his style over the last few years, it was always more likely to be a brawl than a technical masterpiece. As Angle came down to ringside, Austin would meet him and the two men began to trade punches. When the match ended up in the ring, Austin had some early success with a Thesz Press, only for Angle to hit one of his own to show that he was as good, if not better, than Austin. An ankle lock attempt in the first minutes had Austin scrambling for the ropes, with Heyman lauding Earl Hebner for spotting it this time.
Further brawling outside the ring saw both the announce table and the ringpost brought into play, with Austin eventually thrown rather cautiously across the desk. Angle peeled back the safety mats, but an eye poke meant that he couldn’t use it to his advantage. Hebner was never near to keeping it under control as Austin beat Angle around ringside, though thankfully for the ref the brawl eventually found its way back into the ring.
The leg continued to be a target for Austin as he used the apron to further the damage he did with the ringpost earlier in the match. A chinlock was also used by Austin to wear Angle down, a pull on the singlet not allowing his opponent to get away. An attempted Austin stunner did allow Angle to reverse the momentum into a nearfall off of a backslide, but the match was all Austin at this point, though he would require a jawbreaker to fight his way out of a sleeper. Austin would lock on a sleeper of his own, only for Angle to back him into the turnbuckle to break it.
With Angle being thrown to the outside, Austin tried to grab himself a chair, a move that was blocked by Regal as the two played tug of war over the steel. The exposed concrete was finally brought into play with Angle back dropping Austin to avoid a piledriver. The decision of Hebner to force Austin to break a Boston crab when Angle reached the ropes seemed to throw off the challenger as his righteous anger at the official allowed Angle to begin his comeback with an overhead belly to belly and multiple German suplexes.
A Stunner and an Angle slam reversal saw Angel collide with Hebner to send him flying out of the ring. With the referee down, Austin and Regal engaged in another tug of war, this time over the WWF title. It was all a ruse though, as Regal smashed Angle in the face with the belt. The champion kicked out of the first pin attempt, but the one that followed, after a Stone Cold Stunner, was enough for the Austin victory.
This was the last real high point of Austin’s career. He would have an interesting feud with Booker T that saw them battle it out in numerous strange places, but within less than a year, Austin walked out of the company after refusing to lose to Brock Lesnar or feud with Eddie Guerrero. Things would get patched up over time, yet Austin would never compete in a wrestling ring ever again. Considering how other legends went out upon retiring, Austin’s end was a damp squib with this the last moment to really savour.