Connect with us
Advertisement

TV

20 Years Later and How ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ Revolutionized the Sitcom

Published

on

malcolm in the middle review

Remembering Malcolm in the Middle

It’s hard to believe two decades have passed since Fox premiered a series that would help shape how Hollywood approached the making of American sitcoms. Malcolm in the Middle premiered on January 9, 2000, on Fox and introduced the world to a then-unknown Frankie Muniz with a supporting cast that included a pre-Walter White Bryan Cranston. Every studio, every producer, and every network was convinced the series would be a flop— everyone but former Fox president Doug Herzog who loved the script so much he took a chance and did everything in his power to ensure its success, including spending a boatload of money on marketing the series for months before the premiere. The aggressive marketing campaign paid off as twenty-three million people tuned in to watch the first episode. Of course, it probably helps that Herzog also decided to debut the new sitcom on Sunday nights sandwiched between the network’s two biggest shows: The Simpsons and The X-Files. Regardless, if it wasn’t for Herzog, arguably one of the greatest sitcoms of this century may have never had a chance to find the audience it deserved.

Doug Herzog may have been the man who greenlit the project but Malcolm in the Middle was the brainchild of Linwood Boomer, formerly an actor on the hit NBC series Little House on the Prairie before moving behind the scenes to work on shows like Night Court and 3rd Rock From the Sun. Boomer never imagined that his semi-autographical family comedy would ever make it onto the screen but after friends and family encouraged him to pursue the project, he wrote the show’s first episode purely on spec, hoping that a network would pick it up. With the help of Regency Television, his script landed it the hands of the right producer and the rest, as they say, is history.

Why Malcolm in the Middle was Revolutionary

It’s no secret why Malcolm in the Middle was such a huge success. The revolutionary series broke just about every rule in the half-hour comedy handbook and went on to create a formula that would pave the way for future sitcoms such as Modern Family, The Goldbergs and Parenthood. Malcolm in the Middle was blessed with innovative direction, superb sound design, and an offbeat visual look with a camera that almost never stops moving from one scene to the next. The series made great use of frequent wide-angle extreme close-up shots and slick, fast-paced editing with hundreds of edits per half hour. A simple dinner scene, for example, could be shot from a bird’s eye view while the camera would swirl around a conversation between two cast members with jaunty camera angles and swift cuts. And Unlike most sitcoms at the time, Malcolm in the Middle was filmed in the now-ubiquitous single-camera style—allowing for more dynamic cinematography which captures spontaneous funny moments.

These sorts of practices were extremely uncommon for traditional American sitcoms which were usually filmed from multiple angles at once and didn’t rely heavily on post-production. Malcolm in the Middle, however, was different— it would use every trick in the book from slow-motion to digital effects to underscore scenes in clever new ways. It was also shot on film instead of digital video— and while this did make it far more expensive and time-consuming to make, it also gave the filmmakers more freedom to play with lighting techniques and far more experimental editing styles. And since there was no need to entertain a live audience, the creators were able to leave the sound studio and film anywhere they pleased. This freedom allowed them to film in unusual places creating some of the best episodes of the series including “Traffic Jam,” the first episode of Season 2 which begins directly after the season one finale “Water Park” ends— and sees the family stuck in a traffic jam in the middle of the desert, while Dewey has a long adventure on the road after his babysitter is rushed to the hospital.

malcolm in the middle traffic jam
Season Two, Episode 1: “Traffic Jam”

Of course, another reason why Malcolm in the Middle stood apart from other half-hour comedies at the time is that the creators chose not to use a proper laugh track like most sitcoms. This decision not only allows each scene to breathe but it is far more respectful to the audience— allowing viewers to decide when to laugh. Personally, I’ve always found laugh tracks irritating. In my eyes, if the writing on your show is good, the audience doesn’t need to be told when to laugh.

In place of the laugh track, the creators relied on setting the mood instead with sound effects, sometimes silence, and a soundtrack that included tracks by major stars such as ABBA, Kenny Rogers, Queen, Phil Collins, Tears for Fears, and Citizen King whose song “Better Days” is played at the end of both the pilot episode and the series finale. Even the show’s theme song, “Boss of Me“, which was written and recorded by the alternative rock group They Might Be Giants, won a Grammy. It seemed like the creators could do no wrong. In fact, there’s not a single bad episode to be found— at least not in those first four seasons, and some episodes were downright groundbreaking for the time.

Bowling

Take for example “Bowling,” the twentieth episode of the second season written by Alex Reid and directed by TV veteran Todd Holland of Twin Peaks fame. In my eyes, “Bowling” is one of the five best episodes of the entire series and it’s easy to see why the episode garnered two Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Directing and Writing for a Comedy Series in 2001. The episode’s plot serves as a parody of Sliding Doors, in which we witness two different timelines unfold simultaneously. In one timeline, we see what it’s like when Malcolm and Reese are escorted to a bowling alley by their mother and in the other timeline, we see what it’s like when their father takes them instead. While the playful visual structure is what makes the episode stand out, the stylistic flourishes are complemented by a simple, but a well-written story about how different parenting styles can shape a child’s experience, sometimes in big dramatic ways and sometimes, not changing much at all.

Malcolm in the Middle Bowling Episode
Season Two, Episode 20: “Bowling”

The Cast

Setting aside the production values and gifted team of filmmakers, it’s the talent of the then relatively unknown actors that gives the show its charm and energy. Frankie Muniz is perfectly cast as the titular character and if the wrong actor was cast in the role, Malcolm in the Middle would have never been a success. Muniz, only 14 at the time of filming season one, brought the right balance of smarts and naivety to his part with his big, expressive eyes and frequent asides to camera. Muniz played Malcolm to be smart enough to narrate his family’s idiosyncrasies on a level that appeals to both adult viewers and kids, and like any kid, Malcolm is needy, insecure and unsure about his life while coping with the horrors of adolescence.

Muniz is often credited for carrying the series on his tiny shoulders, but Christopher Kennedy Masterson (Francis), Justin Berfield (Reese) and Erik Per Sullivan (Dewey) deserve equal credit as Malcolm’s three brothers who play their roles as distinctive overblown but authentic kids who never feel like they’re acting. The chemistry between the four boys is something truly special; their jokes always hit the right notes and the comedic beats are always timed to perfection. Also, impressive is the supporting cast, with hilarious turns by actors like David Anthony Higgins as a Lucky Aide employee madly in love with Lois and Craig Lamar Traylor as the sharp but physically disabled Stevie.

Rounding up the main cast, of course, is Bryan Cranston and Jane Kaczmarek who were finally given a chance to flex their comic skills as Malcolm’s loving parents. Originally intended to have very small roles, the series creators were so impressed with their performances they opted to give them equal screen time to the children— which turned out to be a wise decision since, in retrospect, it is clear that Cranston and Kaczmarek are the true strength of the series and the glue that holds every joke, every gag, and every storyline together. Everybody loves Bryan Cranston for his role in Breaking Bad, but long before he played Walter White, Cranston showed why he’s a gifted comedian and the writers capitalized on his talent by placing Hal in unusual situations such as being covered in bees or befriending a bunch of bodybuilders or showing off his talent as a figure skater in one of my favourtie episodes titled, “Rollerskates”. Then there is Jane Kaczmarek as Lois, who is somewhat revolutionary in her portrayal of a sitcom mom. Kaczmarek plays Lois with complete control, all while rejecting the stereotypical female tropes in sitcoms. It’s funny how some viewers at the time criticized Lois saying she was a bad mother because, in my eyes, she was loving, caring and unquestionably devoted to her protecting her family. Sure Lois is a drill sergeant of a mother and the unequivocal leader of the household but despite often overreacting to her children’s extreme misbehavior, it was always clear she is fiercely proud of her sons. Kaczmarek was so good in the role, her operatic performance earned her seven consecutive Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series —one for every year Malcolm was on the air.

Season One, Episode 13: “Rollerskates”

Malcolm

When Malcolm in the Middle premiered, critics were quick to compare it to The Simpsons thanks to its cartoonish sensibility, slapstick humour, wild set pieces, and over-the-top situations that the family of six (and later seven) would get themselves mixed up in. In fact, Malcolm is a bit of a hybrid of Bart and Lisa Simpson. Malcolm, like Bart, is a mischievous 10-year-old kid who is always getting into trouble but like Lisa, Malcolm is also incredibly smart. In the pilot, he discovers he’s a genius— his IQ is 165, and now he’s in an elite class full of gifted kids. Like Lisa, people suddenly treat him differently as he outwits his peers and confuses the adults around him with his own twisted logic. He’s exceptionally gifted but like Bart, he’d rather be skateboarding. While he rattles off the answers to complex mathematical problems without blinking, his mother just wants to know why he can’t remember to brush his teeth. And like Bart, Malcolm spends his days causing trouble, tormenting his siblings and protecting his nerdy friends.

I always loved how Malcolm would regularly turn to the camera, break the fourth wall and confide in the audience while expressing his feelings. The gimmick of breaking the fourth wall has since been used a little too often in mediocre shows but with Malcolm, it always worked— partly because of Freddie Muniz’s performance and mostly because of how it helps the audience understand his point of view. Malcolm is a mouthpiece. He has plenty of opinions and he has plenty to say about life, but he’s also the centerpiece of the entire series and it helps to know what he’s thinking. “The best part about childhood,” Malcolm says in the cold open of the pilot, “is it ends.” That one line of dialogue, which he delivers directly to the camera, sets up his worldview. As the series’ theme song states, “life is unfair” and in Malcolm’s eyes, nothing comes easy. Malcolm knows what it’s like to be young, lost and trying to figure things out but he’s also fully aware of what it’s like being a grownup, desperate for stability and constantly working hard (and sometimes struggling) to support your family. It’s not just childhood that’s rough, adulthood is just as bad.

Season One, Episode 16: “Water Park”

The Lower-Middle Class Family

Malcolm in the Middle is many things. It’s the story of a child genius. It’s a coming of age story and a comedy about a dysfunctional family who just so happens to be struggling to make ends meet. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Malcolm’s family are poor given that they have a house, a car and can afford to buy their children fancy gadgets like a Nintendo 64— but there are plenty of times throughout the seven seasons in which Lois and Hal have difficult paying the bills. Unlike a lot of family sitcoms, Malcolm in the Middle is much more honest in the way it represents the financial burden that comes with having a family, especially a family with four and later, five kids. In season one, Malcolm gets a babysitting job which provides him relief from the trailer the family uses while their house is being fumigated. Enamored by their hospitality, Malcolm ends up spending more time at the home of the upper-middle-class family who has hired him. At first, Malcolm adores the family, constantly remarking on how better life is when he’s babysitting and not at home, but it doesn’t take long before he learns that the trust placed in him in his new position is strictly limited. I especially love this episode because it shows how much the family cares for one another and gives us an early glimpse into the struggles the Wilkerson family must deal with. Only five episodes into season one and it became quite clear that Wilkersons were not your typical sitcom family.

"Malcolm Babysits"
Season One, Episode 5: “Malcolm Babysits”

In any other sitcom, this would be a feel-good rags-to-riches story, with Malcolm growing up and using his intelligence to elevate the family to a better life. Instead, Malcolm in the Middle presents a brutally honest snapshot of a lower working-class family and the sacrifices they make in order to get by. Take for example the episode in which the Wilkerson’s have to cancel a summer holiday to pay for Malcolm’s hospital bills, or better yet, the episode in which Hal loses his job and in a bout of depression tries to pursue his childhood dream of being a painter. In the end, Malcolm’s gift doesn’t bring him and his family out of their financial struggles; in the show’s finale, he is accepted into Harvard but must take a job as the university’s janitor in order to afford the tuition fees. It was storylines like this that made Malcolm in the Middle a success because it created situations that most American families could relate to. And despite a few bad episodes towards the end, the series was able to end on a strong note by perfectly encapsulating the overall message and overarching theme of the entire series in one of its final scenes— a scene in which Malcolm and his family are literally covered in shit and Malcolm is forced to make a tough decision that will shape his entire future. In the end, creator Linwood Boomer finished his series with one of the stronger episodes, as the family — whose name, Wilkerson, was used only once – came together to prove that no matter how bad life got, nothing could tear this family apart.

The Legacy Left Behind

Over seven years, we watched Malcolm and his siblings grow up in front of our eyes and despite the child actors getting older, more introspective, and well, less cute— the show never lost its innocence or charm. Sure, the last three seasons paled in comparison to the first four seasons, but Malcolm in the Middle was still more original and far more ambitious than other sitcoms airing at the time. More importantly, Malcolm in the Middle stands the test of time. Twenty years later, and I found myself binge-watching the entire first season in just two days. I spent the rest of the week cycling through the best episodes of the following six seasons only to appreciate how the show managed to develop every member of the family into three-dimensional characters (well, except for, of course, baby Jamie). Even the side characters such as Grandma Ida were often brilliantly written creations.

Malcolm in the Middle ran for seven seasons and 151 episodes between 2000 and 2006. The series received critical acclaim and was nominated for seven Golden Globes and 33 Emmys. In total, Malcolm in the Middle won seven of those Emmy nominations, one Grammy and a Peabody Award. It was also one of the highest-rated sitcoms of the 2000s, averaging 15 million viewers per episode and over the years, Malcolm in the Middle gained a cult following with its own fan site and even a video game. And now twenty years later, anyone will be able to watch or rewatch the series when it lands on Disney Plus later this year!

  • Ricky D

Also check out, the 20 best episodes of Malcolm in the Middle

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. dawstonfilmsTV

    January 9, 2020 at 3:33 pm

    This is an amazing article, and I’m so glad someone else shares my love and view of Malcolm in the Middle, but how could you think any of the last 3 seasons weren’t as good as the first 4? The first 2 seasons were the not as good ones. Again, this article is great, you wrote it geniously.

  2. Ricky Fernandes da Conceição

    January 9, 2020 at 4:14 pm

    I do like all seven seasons but you have to admit, the last three — once Jaime is born — are not as good as the first four. I also wrote an article listing the best episodes (link is above) and most of those episodes came from the first four seasons.

    Take for example, Francis. He only appears in about 7 of 22 episodes in season seven. They struggled with certain characters and Frankie Muniz did lose a bit of his charm as he got older.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Advertisement

TV

‘Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet’ Levels Up Gaming’s TV Reputation

PAX South Preview

Published

on

Mythic Quest

Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet is a faux-documentary series for Apple TV+

From the very start, Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet had a bold task ahead of it: take the relatively marginalized medium of gaming and represent it for a mainstream TV audience. Going off the first episode, which received an early screening at PAX South this weekend, the result is something of a mixed success. This Apple TV exclusive suffers some pacing issues and sometimes struggles to rise above the stereotypes of the typical office comedy, but at the same time, it manages to represent a wide view of gaming culture for mainstream media, offering a unique setting that allows it to rise above its shortcomings.

Mythic Quest follows Rob McElhenney as Ian Grimm (perplexingly pronounced Eye-an), the creative director of the world’s most successful MMORPG, the eponymous Mythic Quest. This cultural phenomenon is about to receive its first major DLC pack, and just before launch, the development team breaks down into conflict over one major issue: the inclusion of a shovel.

The lead engineer, Poppy (Charlotte Nicdao) is in support of the shovel’s inclusion as a new game mechanic, while Ian is insistent that it conflicts with his artistic vision. This conflict grows to a massive scale, to the point where it involves the entire game studio by the end of it. Each member of the development team has their own perspective on the matter, and their own personal storylines to go along with it as well.

The first episode of Mythic Quest may only be a half-hour long, but it stuffs tons of subplots into that brief runtime. And with so little time to work with, most of these side stories are left largely undeveloped, with most characters remaining little more than caricatures and stereotypes. The episode rushes from one subplot to another, and although this is likely a symptom of this being the first episode in the series, that doesn’t change that the pacing could have felt more natural.

That all being said, the main appeal of Mythic Quest is its setting of the world of game development, which it aims to legitimize in mainstream media. McElhenney even acknowledged as much himself in a Q and A following the screening, mentioning how gaming is often relegated to the butts of jokes and is rarely taken seriously – except when it can be sued as a political scapegoat. Mythic Quest thus addresses many of the hot topics of the industry, including crunch time, playtesting, artistic differences, toxic content creators, and the tendency of gamers to make penises in their games whenever possible.

It’s these vestiges of gaming culture that help Mythic Quest stand apart from the crowd of typical workplace comedies. It includes jokes based on full-motion video modeling, on faulty character animations, and a running gag about an immature, potty-mouthed streamer, to name a few. It’s a unique setting that appropriately allows for unique humor.

On its own, Mythic Quest is filled with stereotypes. Ian is the pretentious, self-obsessed boss, Poppy is the sensible yet underappreciated one, and so on. Yet it is the setting and the context for these stereotypes that breathe new life into them. Gaming is essentially a new frontier for mainstream comedy, so it’s refreshing to see these old tropes in a new light.

Following the screening, McElhenney stated that Mythic Quest was intended to present the issues facing the games industry in an accessible manner for a popular audience. In that regard, the first episode is already a success. As a show on its own, it suffers from a handful of stereotypes and succumbs to some pacing issues, but hopefully, these can be patched out in the context of the full series. Mythic Quest certainly isn’t perfect, but considering gaming’s poor reputation in previous media, then it’s certainly a level up.

Mythic Quest airs on Apple TV on February 7

Continue Reading

Wrestling

Greatest Royal Rumble Matches: Triple H and Cactus Jack Street Fight

Published

on

Royal Rumble 2000 Triple H Street and Cactus Jack Street Fight

Royal Rumble 2000

WWE Championship: Triple H vs. Cactus Jack

The thirteenth annual Royal Rumble gave us one of the best matches in WWE history.

The event took place on January 23, 2000, at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It was the start of a new decade and the WWE was gearing up to build their next great champ. And this was the match that gave one participant the push he needed to become a heavyweight legend over the next decade and arguably the greatest heel for the entire Attitude Era.

Of course, I’m referring to the Street Fight match between Triple H and Cactus Jack for the WWF WWE Championship.

It was the match the helped Triple H earn everyone’s respect; in fact, in retrospect, it’s clear the whole match was designed as one giant promo in order to give Triple H a believable physical prowess as an ongoing champion contender. And for WWE fans who weren’t familiar with Mick Foley’s earlier hardcore wrestling, the match pretty much certified the man was indeed, truly insane.

Yes, Mankind and Undertaker had already wrestled their legendary Hell in the Cell match two years prior at King of the Ring— and yes, we had already seen plenty of street fights in the WWE— but the WWE Championship match at the 2000 Royal Rumble was a brutal, violent, and extremely bloody affair. By WWE standards, it pushed the boundaries, delivering a level of violence that casual WWE fans weren’t accustomed to seeing.

It was also a match that told an excellent story and had a remarkable buildup leading into the event.

Greatest Royal Rumble Matches: Triple H Street and Cactus Jack

By the summer of ’99, Triple H was finally getting the main event push he deserved thanks to the McMahon-Helmsley Faction, a partnership that benefited from that fact that at the time, Stephanie McMahon had almost full control over the WWE. Great power means great responsibility but for Stephanie McMahon, it meant scheduling unreasonable matches for the wrestlers who were deemed a major threat to her husband. The superstar most affected was none other than, Mick Foley.

Triple H and Mick Foley put on a series of exciting matches in the first year of the new millennium and with this rivalry, came some of the best writing in the history of the WWE. The compelling storyline featured legendary promos, unforgettable drama, and unusual matches designed to wear down Triple H’s main competition. One such match was the “Pink Slip on a Pole Match” between The Rock and Mankind, with the loser forced to leave the WWE. Mankind lost, and thus was fired unceremoniously, only to return two weeks later when the Rock and the rest of the WWE superstars threatened to walk out unless Mick Foley was reinstated. That night, Foley requested a Street Fight for the WWF WWE Championship at Royal Rumble— and on a January 13 episode of SmackDown!, Foley shocked the world when he returned to the ring in his Cactus Jack persona! It wasn’t Mankind set to fight Triple H at the Royal Rumble— instead, it would be the hardcore legend.

WWE Championship: Triple H vs. Cactus Jack

With Mick Foley entering his final year as a full-time professional wrestler, fans were expecting big things from the legend, and the 2000 Royal Rumble Championship match did not disappoint. There have been plenty of Street Fights in World Wrestling Entertainment history, but one would be hard-pressed to find one better than this classic. It was the fifth match of the night— in one of the best Royal Rumble pay-per-view events to date— and by far the most memorable match on the card.  

Royal Rumble Matches: Triple H Street and Cactus Jack Street Fight

Cactus Jack gained the early advantage after repeated punches but it didn’t take long before both men took to the outside the ring using everything in their reach including the ring bell, the stairs, a couple of trash cans and more. The match featured multiple chair shots to the head along with the destruction of both announce tables and at one point, the two men even took the fight into the crowd. But the real turn of the match came earlier when Cactus brought out a 2×4 wrapped in barbed wire, and slammed it across the skull of Triple H, busting his forehead wide open. It was brutal. It was bloody, and for some fans, it was hard to watch.

Royal Rumble Matches: Triple H Street and Cactus Jack Street Fight

Reminiscent of prior a Royal Rumble, Triple H managed to handcuff Cactus Jack and continue to use the steel chair as a weapon, taking advantage of a man who could barely defend himself. Eventually, The Rock made a brief cameo, striking Triple H across the head with a chair, and allowing a police officer enough time to remove Jack’s handcuffs so he could continue to fight. Soon after, Cactus Jack was ready to seal the match but made the mistake of pouring hundreds of thumbtacks onto the ring. In a quick turn of events, Triple H fought back to take control of the match and hit his Pedigree finisher on his opponent, slamming the challenger face-first onto a large pile of thumbtacks and in the process and sealing the victory. The finish was gut-wrenching and graphic but well-scripted given the level of hatred and disdain the Superstars had for each other. Both men took a beating, but in the end, it was Triple H who escaped the victor.

Royal Rumble Matches: Triple H Street and Cactus Jack Street Fight

The brutality of the match is a reminder of the differences between the current WWE and the Attitude Era. Nowadays, the WWE doesn’t allow blood in their matches, never mind the use of barbwire and thumbtacks as weapons to use against your opponents. It was a match of its time; a match that stands the test of time— and one of the greatest matches in Royal Rumble history, fueled by the emotion of the competitors, and an epic storyline that would prove Triple H a legitimate headliner.

On a night filled with memorable moments such as the Tables Match between the Hardy Boyz and the Dudely Boyz, not to mention The Rock’s unforgettable Royal Rumble win, Triple H and Mick Foley ended up stealing the show— but it was far from the latest chapter in their rivalry. With the stage set for another iconic battle, the Hardcore Legend and Triple H would step inside a Hell in the Cell for yet, another epic encounter.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing series. Click here to see every entry.

  • Ricky D
Continue Reading

Wrestling

Greatest Royal Rumble Matches: Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit

Published

on

Royal Rumble 2003

WWE Championship: Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit

WWE’s annual Royal Rumble pay-per-view is famous for its over-the-top main event, but there have also been many legendary single and tag team matches over the years that wound up overshadowing the titular 30-man brawl. One such match came during the Ruthless Aggression Era when two of the greatest wrestlers in the history of professional wrestling, squared off in what would be a technical showcase between two mat technicians. Of course, I’m referring to the 2003 Royal Rumble WWE Championship match between Kurt Angle and the Rabid Wolverine, Chris Benoit.

The match between Benoit and Angle isn’t just one of the greatest matches in WWE history— it is hands-down, the best match of 2003— a non-stop classic that doesn’t get the full recognition it deserves.

This match took place on January 19, at the Fleet Center in Boston. It was the sixteenth annual Royal Rumble and it unfolded during the pinnacle of the first WWE brand split. Monday Night Raw placed a heavy emphasis on soap opera drama while Smackdown focused more on technical wrestling. And if this wasn’t evident at the time, it became crystal clear during the 2003 Royal Rumble pay per view. In short, there was a huge difference in quality between the Angle/Benoit match which headlined the Smackdown brand and the primary match for Raw which saw Triple H and Scott Steiner fight for the World Heavyweight Championship. It was no contest. The Smackdown brand came out on top thanks to the sheer talent of Benoit and Angle; two world-class competitors in their prime and arguably at the time, two of the best wrestlers on the planet.

WWE Championship: Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit

For roughly twenty minutes the Canadian Wolverine and the U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist went to war in a non-stop physical encounter which simmered with an amazing series of transitions from the Ankle lock to the Crippler Crossface. Needless to say, both men pulled off every single one of their special movies, multiple times throughout the match. Benoit attempted a diving headbutt on Angle, only Angle avoided the move and attempted an Angle Slam on Benoit which Benoit countered. Later when Benoit applied the sharpshooter on Angle, Angle in dramatic fashion, slowly made his way to the edge of the ring and touched the ropes to break the submission. Their chemistry was off the charts and the action in the ring kept the audience at the edge of their seats, as did the incredibly convincing near-falls which were executed to perfection. At one point, both men laid on the mat unable to get to their feet which almost resulted in a double count-out. It as a back and forth battle that had spectators believing anyone could win at any given moment.

WWE had built Benoit up as a babyface, and despite being the underdog— with the crowd behind the Canadian wolverine, many believed he would finally hold the belt over his shoulders. By the time Benoit executed a diving headbutt, nobody in the arena was left sitting on their chairs. In the end, however, Benoit applied yet another Crippler Crossface on Angle, only to have Angle counter it into a modified ankle lock, forcing Benoit to submit to the hold. It was a clean finish that featured a rare submission from the famously resilient Benoit.

Angle vs. Benoit at the 2003 Royal Rumble

The match exceeded any expectations and in the end, both men received a standing ovation. And while Benoit didn’t win, he walked away as the man who stole the show. Thankfully, it wasn’t the end for him but only the beginning. Over the course of the next year, he would rise in the ranks of the WWE roster and in 2004, he would win the WWE Championship at WrestleMania XX against Shawn Michaels and Triple H in a triple threat match.

As Kurt Angle said when asked about his career-defining match: If you want to learn and understand the art of pro wrestling, you need to watch the 2003 Royal Rumble World Championship match.

View this post on Instagram

Up next….. Royal Rumble in January 2019. 16 years ago I had the privilege of defending my WWE Championship at the Royal Rumble. This is how the match was explained verbally to those who haven’t watched it. “Professional wrestling in its purest form is as beautiful as ballet, as elegant as a ballroom dance and as captivating as a theater. By purest form I mean technical wrestling, which in today’s world is almost non-existent. The fiery chain wrestling, involving great chemistry, in-ring psychology and dream like story telling is something that happens when all the stars align.” This match was one of my best performances of my career. If you haven’t seen it, give it a look. #itstrue #wwe #championship #royalrumble

A post shared by Kurt Angle (@therealkurtangle) on

Angle vs. Benoit can be viewed as the single greatest non-Rumble match in the history of the pay per view. Watching it again after all these years proved to be just as thrilling— even if I already knew the outcome.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing series. Click here to see every entry.

  • Ricky D
Continue Reading

Popular