Kurt Angle and Samoa Joe had a fierce rivalry with intense battles during their time in TNA. They even had unique matches in which Angle fought barefoot in a different style than usual! Learn the secret story behind their hard-hitting, not-talked-about-enough rivalry, their MMA match, and the headbutt that rocked TNA for many years that followed.
Kurt Angle Debut in TNA
After TNA’s No Surrender pay-per-view on September 24th, 2006, a major announcement was about to shock its fans.
The on-screen authority figure Jim Cornette introduced a video package that sent the live crowd into a frenzy. A familiar shadowed figure was shown that those watching recognized in mere seconds.
The company rocked the business by signing one of the best professional wrestlers on the planet: Kurt Angle.
“It’s real, it’s damn real,” Kurt exclaimed. His signing was about to ignite the promotion’s biggest rivalry.
Total Nonstop Angle
Wrestling since 2000 against all-time greats like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Brock Lesnar, The Undertaker, and myriad more, Kurt Angle was at a turning point by 2006. After suffering the ill effects of a brutal schedule, working injuries, and addiction, the multi-time world champion departed WWE in the summer of that year.
The lighter workload and schedule of Total Nonstop Action (TNA) appealed to a talent with a lot still to give to the sport. The Olympic gold medalist joining TNA unquestionably assisted in it becoming the second-biggest promotion in professional wrestling at the time.
When Kurt switched from the undisputed biggest brand in professional wrestling to TNA, there was a young talent who was on the cusp of reaching the business’s upper echelon.
Samoa Joe was TNA’s X-Division Champion and had never been pinned or submitted inside TNA’s six-sided ring. However, a former Ring of Honor world champion, Joe, was about to hit the jackpot and be booked to feud with Angle.
The pair engaged immediately on television, to the delight of its fans.
Kurt Angle and Samoa Joe: A Rivalry Is Born
A feud unlikely to materialize just weeks prior due to Kurt Angle’s tenure as a staunch WWE guy and Joe being TNA’s next big star started with a bang.
A legitimately stiff headbutt by Angle cut Samoa Joe and was the catalyst for an initial trilogy of pay-per-view matches. Security kept the pair apart at TNA’s version of WrestleMania, Bound For Glory 2006, as the anticipation built for their burgeoning battles.
Less than two months after Angle’s introduction, TNA immediately rushed to what they billed as the “Dream Match of The Decade” at Genesis 2006. Joe’s 18-month undefeated streak was under serious threat.
Kurt Angle vs. Samoa Joe at Genesis 2006 – The First Match of their Lauded Trilogy
At the TNA Genesis pay-per-view on November 19th, 2006, Kurt Angle made Samoa Joe submit via an ankle lock after a brief but intense 13-minute match. The live crowd at Universal Studios was completely hyped throughout the bout.
After his defeat, Joe admitted his opponent and victor was the better man and requested an immediate rematch.
Backstage, the TNA creative team was supposedly torn on whether Angle should immediately beat Joe in their first match, thus ending Joe’s undefeated streak. A former WWE guy beating TNA’s top star in their premier contest was understandable, given Kurt’s star power, but parity was about to be restored in their war.
It happened at next month’s Turning Point pay-per-view. Such was the magnitude and prestige of Angle vs. Joe matches; they were headlining above NWA world title bouts featuring the likes of Sting, Christian Cage, and Abyss.
On this occasion, Joe submitted Kurt just shy of 20 minutes, despite Kurt cheating by hitting a low blow and his attempted use of a steel chair that backfired. They were tied at 1-1 as the show faded to black, and fans chanted, “One more time.”
A Chance at Redemption
A desperate Kurt Angle caused chaos and mayhem in his plea for a trilogy bout and a shot at redemption against Samoa Joe.
His wish was granted at Final Resolution 2007 as the rivals competed in a 30-minute Iron Man match, with an NWA World Heavyweight Championship shot as the reward for the winner.
Angle survived a late scare in the match to claim a 3-2 victory, tapping out one second after the bout’s climax.
The trilogy was complete, but there were many more chapters to write in this pulsating rivalry.
By the time Joe and Angle teamed up for a contest dubbed The Match of Champions at Victory Road 2007 against Team 3D, Angle had already claimed the TNA world title (after TNA established its own championships and stopped using NWA championships) and the IWGP world title (after defeating Brock Lesnar in Japan).
Joe was the X-Division Champion, and Team 3D held the TNA Tag Team Championships. However, Joe pinned Brother Ray to retain his title and bizarrely claimed the tag titles for himself.
At Hard Justice 2007, Angle main-evented against Samoa Joe in a winner-takes-all match. Kurt’s heel act and rocky marriage to Karen Angle were significant parts of the storyline.
A visibly distracted and dejected Angle seemed destined to lose his gold while his estranged wife sat at ringside with a mystery man. Kurt surprisingly prevailed despite tapping to a rear naked choke following a ref bump.
The inevitable swerve by Karen Angle distracted Joe, who was leveled by a steel chair shot from Kurt handed to him by his wife.
Total Nonstop Mixed Martial Arts
Kurt Angle and Samoa Joe would go their separate ways for a short while after this until continuing their war in the spring of 2008, with Kurt in his second reign as TNA World Heavyweight Champion. At this juncture, they created a match slightly different from the norm at their annual Lockdown PPV.
Kurt Angle spoke about this on Episode 107 of his Kurt Angle Show podcast:
“This was the time to give Joe the world title,” he explained. “This was a great opportunity for him and a great moment, and I was happy to be a part of it.
“We decided to have an MMA-style match, which was very different. This came up because MMA started getting really popular in the early 2000s, and by the time 2006/2007 came around, it was a mainstream sport. I just felt that doing an MMA-style match might be intriguing for the fans.”
The idea of doing an MMA match in TNA was reportedly both of their ideas, and the creative team embraced it. Angle praised how receptive TNA Creative was to fresh ideas from on-screen talent. The two put the match together themselves.
“I was working with the writers very closely,” Angle continued. “We came up with concepts and ideas together, and the same was true with Samoa Joe. He was really articulate, too. He was bringing some stuff to the table. This was all of us working together as one.”
Joe’s career was on the line in their Title vs. Career match in Lowell, Massachusetts, at the jam-packed Tsongas Arena. A crowd of around 5,500 was one of TNA’s best-ever gates and their third-highest ever in the United States.
Kurt was not happy with the stipulation about Joe’s retirement, fearing that it would give away the finish of the new champion’s crowning.
Episodes of Impact, building towards Lockdown, featured training footage of Joe working with MMA veteran Marcus Davis and Kurt “sparring” with enhancement talent and top stars, including AJ Styles and Tomko.
MMA Gets Added to the Mix
Marcus Davis, a UFC standout, was in Hollywood doing a cover shoot for Real Fighter Magazine when he realized the gym he was in was doing a Spike TV Samoa Joe MMA training vignette. Suddenly, he got tossed in the mix.
Portraying Joe’s MMA coach, footage showed Joe working the pads with Davis.
Having Davis involved helped the authenticity of it feeling like a fight. Marcus followed this up by presenting the belt to the winner of the Angle-Joe clash.
Joe was 3-1 down against Kurt in major pay-per-view matches. An even more intense than usual Kurt Angle appeared insurmountable, but TNA wanted Joe to be the face of the company.
On a PPV stacked with gimmick matches, the main event felt important, having a legitimate big fight feel, and the steel cage helped give it an authentic MMA aura.
Kurt wore fight shorts and wraps on his hands and bare feet, ditching his singlet and imitating an old-school MMA fighter. However, Angle admitted it felt strange working without his typical footwear. Kurt also asked for his wife to be removed from ringside by security to reduce distractions.
As the fight commenced, Kurt Angle and Samoa Joe worked with their hands up, replicating boxers and MMA fighters, working for strikes and submissions.
They would take each other down, looking for a superior position before resetting. It was a while before any traditional pro wrestling moves were utilized.
Marcus Davis wasn’t the only MMA competitor involved in the match; former UFC world title challenger Frank Trigg worked commentary along with Mike Tenay and Don West.
On commentary, Trigg explained holds and what each fighter was trying to do. As the bout wore on, they slowly reverted to type and gave the fans another classic. It felt and looked more like a fight than a wrestling match.
The champion, Kurt Angle, was pinned at 17:45. Two of the best in the world at the time put on a show widely praised by fans and experts.
Praise for Kurt Angle and Samoa Joe
“The strong style of pro wrestling has been going on for years,” former UFC fighter Frank Trigg told me in an episode of my former show, the PWB Podcast, a few months after the bout.
“Josh Barnett is a legit pro wrestler who, when he’s not fighting, pro wrestling is what he is doing. He just does what he does in a fight in pro wrestling.”
He continued, “One rule about wrestling is that the storylines follow pop culture, and right now [in 2008], the biggest thing in pop culture is MMA. Do you think Trump wanted to hang around MMA five years ago? As it’s now so big, he met Tito Ortiz on The Apprentice and realized it’s a big deal.
“Pro wrestling is following that lead, so as a result, you’ll see more MMA guys like myself crossover because we can make the crossover into pro wrestling by using the style we use in our fights.”
At the time, Trigg had recently transitioned from MMA to pro wrestling and had nothing but respect for the difficult task pro wrestlers have making a living from the sport.
“Believe me, pro wrestling’s a lot harder than I thought it would be,” Trigg opined. “I went in there with the attitude that I’m a professional fighter who gets punched in the face for a living, and I went out there, and I suck. It’s incredible how bad I am at pro wrestling because the career change is so difficult.”
Total Nonstop Success
On the January 1st, 2009 episode of Impact, TNA announced their Year End Awards for 2008, with Kurt Angle versus Samoa Joe in the Six Sides of Steel Cage match for the TNA World Heavyweight Championship named Match of the Year.
Moreover, Lockdown 2008 was TNA’s third highest-grossing pay-per-view of all time, only beaten by Bound For Glory 2006 and Genesis 2006 – the latter also headlined by Angle vs. Joe. PWTorch gave the match 4.5 stars, and some felt a new style of realistic pro wrestling may have evolved.
“We thought we were going to. We thought this match was so good that things were going to change,” Angle said on his podcast. “But they didn’t.”
This was the closest Kurt Angle got to emulating his dream of being an MMA fighter. For years, his name had been touted to sign with the UFC and other major MMA organizations.
When discussing a question regarding Angle’s potential jump to MMA, Trigg exclaimed, “Right here, right now [in 2008], I think it’s a little bit past Kurt because his body’s beat up, and to make a change that drastically from pro wrestling to MMA would be too hard on his body.
“There are guys out there he could beat, the lower-level guys. But Kurt’s one of the guys who wants to fight at the top end.”
Samoa Joe’s title reign wouldn’t reach the heady heights expected, ending six months later at Bound For Glory. He would never regain TNA’s top title. Instead, Angle would win the title three more times.
Good Friends, Better Enemies
Rivals Kurt Angle and Samoa Joe would dance again at Destination X in 2012 and be the marquee attraction for the main event of TNA’s 10-year reunion show in 2013.
In March 2019, they rekindled their rivalry but on a new stage when they wrestled each other on an episode of WWE Monday Night Raw. Paying tribute to their first encounter in TNA thirteen years prior, they recreated the infamous headbutt, although Joe was striking Angle this time.
The Olympic champion stated on record that the match at TNA Lockdown 2008 was one of his top ten matches in his entire career and that he rates Joe as one of the all-time top ten workers in the business.
“He could have been one of the best in the WWE,” he proclaimed on his podcast. “He should’ve been a consistent champion. This guy can carry a title. He can carry himself, and he can carry a company.
I think Joe wouldn’t have minded if we did it for real,” Angle joked in response to a question about if either man wanted the Lockdown match to be a shoot fight. “Joe’s that kind of person. He’s fierce, and he’s competitive. But, no, we never considered doing it live for real.”
It would undoubtedly have been as entertaining as the magic they made in TNA if they had.
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