THREE GUYS AND… RETRO WRESTLING
series created by Marvin Mercer and Nick Stephenson
“THE UNDERTAKER: 25 YEARS”
written by Dominick Cappello
The Phenom… hailing from Death Valley… The Undertaker arrived in the WWF at the 1990 Survivor Series as a member of “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase’s “Million Dollar Team.” He was originally managed by Brother Love, who would soon hand the reigns off to Paul Bearer, who then managed The Undertaker for a large portion of his career. At WrestleMania VII, The Undertaker defeated Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka and thus began an illustrious undefeated streak which would endure for over two decades. 1&0. He formed an alliance with Jake “The Snake” Roberts to combat The Ultimate Warrior and to crash the wedding reception of “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth at SummerSlam 1991. Under the tutelage of the sinister Jake Roberts, The Undertaker was prepared for the gravest challenge at the one year anniversary of his debut, facing none other than “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan for the WWF Championship at Survivor Series 1991. With the assistance of “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and a steel chair, The Undertaker defeated Hulk Hogan to become the new WWF Champion. Then, WWF President Jack Tunney, perhaps showing a bit of favoritism towards Hulk Hogan, ordered a rematch less than a week later at Tuesday in Texas and Hulk Hogan regained the title. A six day title reign for the grim reaper? Seems like he was shafted.
The Undertaker soon turned his back on Jake Roberts and the two former friends squared off at WrestleMania VIII. The Undertaker withstood two DDTs, which was unprecedented, and beat Jake Roberts, banishing him from the WWF for almost four years. The streak was now 2&0. The Undertaker became a major fan favorite and feuded with “The Ugandan Giant” Kamala for most of 1992, scoring a victory in the first ever Casket Match (or Coffin Match at the time) at Survivor Series 1992. Even as I longtime fan of The Undertaker, I will admit that his matches with Kamala were of poor quality. It was the start of the “monster of the month” club. He was relegated to second rate feuds for the next several years.
The Undertaker was the odds-on-favorite to win the 1993 Royal Rumble Match, but he was attacked and eliminated by someone who was not even an official entrant in the match, The Giant Gonzales. The first adversary to ever dwarf The Phenom. After his battles with The Giant Gonzales, which were a slight improvement over his bouts with Kamala, The Undertaker crossed paths with the reigning WWF Champion, “The Mighty” Yokozuna. This was at the 1993 Survivor Series, when the two big men were on apposing teams. Yokozuna was the most formidable of all the monsters of the month. The irresistible force meeting the improvable object. Soon after this, The Undertaker was ranked as the #1 contender. It would be a Casket Match at the 1994 Royal Rumble. Yokozuna’s manager, Mr. Fuji, deviously recruited nine mercenaries to gang up on The Undertaker and The Phenom was then locked inside of the casket which he had built himself and vanished from the WWF for seven months. During his absence, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase recruited an imposter Undertaker, but neither the fans nor Paul Bearer were fooled by this cheap carbon copy. The true Undertaker made his return at SummerSlam 1994 and decisively defeated his doppelganger. There can be only one.
The Undertaker continued to settle some old scores, besting Yokozuna in their rematch at the 1994 Survivor Series with Chuck Norris as the special enforcer. The Texas Ranger himself? Nice. Ted DiBiase’s “Million Dollar Corporation” then proceeded to “repossess” the urn, the talisman which Paul Bearer always carried down to ringside as the symbol of The Undertaker’s power. The Phenom spent most of 1995 attempting to recapture the urn, facing corporate team members Irwin R. Shyster, King Kong Bundy, and Kama. A feud that dragged on for far too long.
On Monday Night RAW, King Mabel crushed The Undertaker’s orbital socket, forcing him to compete wearing a protective “Phantom of the Opera” like facemask until the 1996 Royal Rumble, when he challenged Bret “Hit Man” Hart for the WWF Championship. The Undertaker clearly had the match won, but “Big Daddy Cool” Diesel interfered. The Undertaker won the match via DQ, but titles can only change hands by pinfall or submission. The Undertaker had his revenge the next month at In Your House, interfering in Steel Cage Match between Bret Hart and Diesel, dragging Diesel down into the depths of hell like something out of a horror movie. The Undertaker defeated Diesel at WrestleMania XII despite being the recipient of two Jackknife Power-Bombs. The streak was now 5&0.
The next night on RAW, the deranged Mankind debuted and targeted The Undertaker. It was the beginning of one of the all time great rivalries. Mankind upset The Undertaker at the 1996 King of the Ring when Paul Bearer inadvertently struck The Undertaker with the urn… or at least it appeared inadvertent. At SummerSlam 1996, The Undertaker faced Mankind in the Boiler Room Brawl. It was one of the early hardcore style matches in the WWF, a precursor to the “Attitude Era.” It was also the fateful night when Paul Bearer betrayed The Undertaker in favor of Mankind. The Undertaker looked to gain a measure of revenge at In Your House: Buried Alive. The Phenom was victorious against Mankind in the first ever Buried Alive Match, but he was the one who was buried after the match was already over by several henchmen recruited by Paul Bearer. The Undertaker did score a decisive victory over Mankind at Survivor Series 1996, but still failed to get his hands on Paul Bearer. After over five years, The Undertaker finally regained the WWF Championship by defeating Sycho Sid in the main event of WrestleMania XIII. The streak was now 6&0. Mankind and Paul Bearer looked to rain on his parade, burning him with a fireball on RAW. The Undertaker successfully defended his title against Mankind at the next In Your House and burnt Paul Bearer with a fireball of his own. Paul Bearer returned sans his mustache and claimed that The Undertaker was not only responsible for the death of his parents, but that his baby brother was still alive. A brother named Kane.
The Undertaker tried to focus on defending the WWF Championship and not on these accusations, but he was still defeated by Bret Hart at SummerSlam 1997. Shawn Michaels was the referee and he inadvertently struck The Phenom with a steel chair, costing him his title. The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels then squared off at In Your House: Ground Zero. This wild match was declared a No Contest, which lead to the first ever Hell in a Cell Match at In Your House: Bad Blood. The Undertaker had the match won, but Kane made his debut and planted his big brother with a Tombstone Pile-Driver, allowing Shawn Michaels to pick up the victory. The Undertaker refused to accept the challenge of his brother, but after Kane cost him the WWF Championship at the 1998 Royal Rumble in a Casket Match with Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker finally agreed to a grudge match at WrestleMania XIV. Kane made quite an accounting of himself and it actually took three Tombstones for The Undertaker to keep him down for a three count. The streak was now 7&0. The feud continued and The Undertaker defeated his brother again in an Inferno Match at In Your House: Unforgiven. The Undertaker then resumed his epic rivalry with Mankind and they competed in one of the most infamous matches in WWF history. A Hell in a Cell Match at King of the Ring 1998. Mankind was not only propelled off the cell by The Undertaker, but was also driven through the cell. Ouch.
The Undertaker buried the hatchet with Kane, but refused his assistance at SummerSlam 1998 when he challenged “Stone Cold” Steve Austin for the WWF Championship. Steve Austin retained the title, but WWF Chairman Vincent K. McMahon (Mr. Salted Caramel) was so desperate to get the gold away from The Texas Rattlesnake, that he had both Kane and The Undertaker challenge him at In Your House: Breakdown. Since The Brothers of Destruction could not share the title, they turned on each other and The Undertaker inexplicably reunited with Paul Bearer. In 1999, The Undertaker formed The Ministry of Darkness, a satanic faction which tormented Mr. McMahon, but it was all a rouse and The Ministry merged with The Corporation to form The Corporate Ministry. So, Mr. McMahon was cool with The Undertaker abducting Stephanie McMahon and attempting to make her his bride? Odd, but how hot was Stephanie in that black dress? The Undertaker won the WWF Championship for a third time and successfully defended it against The Rock at King of the Ring 1999, only to lose it the next night on RAW back to Steve Austin. After a brief reign as WWF Tag Team Champions with The Big Show, The Undertaker went into self imposed exile for eight months.
He returned at Judgment Day 2000, no longer as the lord of darkness, but as a tough-as-nails biker. His new moniker was “The American Badass.” I missed the grim reaper persona initially, but I eventually warmed up to the biker. He defeated 1996 Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle at Fully Loaded 2000, then faced him again for the WWF Championship at Survivor Series 2000, marking a decade of destruction, but Kurt Angle was victorious in the rematch by switching places with his brother, who was hiding underneath the ring. Wait… wasn’t that the Doink the Clown finish from WrestleMania IX? The Undertaker squared off with Triple H at WrestleMania XVII. In what was one of several classic bouts held that night, The Undertaker was taken to the limit by The Game, but ultimately prevailed and the streak went to 9&0.
The Brothers of Destruction reunited and won the WWF Tag Team Championships from Edge & Christian, only to lose them to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Triple H at Backlash 2001. A low point in his career was when Diamond Dallas Page debuted in the WWF and began to stalk his wife, Sara. An uncomfortable situation for all involved. I don’t blame DDP. This was the WWF going overboard in their attempts to humble a former WCW mainstay. The Undertaker was a leader in the WWF locker room during the WCW/ECW Invasion and along with Kane, unified the WWF and WCW Tag Team Championships in a Steel Cage Match at SummerSlam 2001.
After the ill-fated invasion, The Undertaker demanded more respect and turned on the fans. Big Evil won the WWF Hardcore Championship from Rob Van Dam at Vengeance 2001. He was then royally embarrassed when he was eliminated from the 2002 Royal Rumble Match by Maven from “Tough Enough,” which did nothing to help with his newfound bad attitude. Maven? Really? The streak went to 10&0 when The Undertaker defeated Ric Flair in a “No DQ” Match at WrestleMania XVIII.
After WrestleMania, the WWF was divided into two brands. RAW and Smackdown!. The Undertaker was the #1 pick for the RAW brand. After defeating Steve Austin in a controversial #1 Contenders Match, he won the WWE (formally the WWF) Championship from Hulk Hogan as Judgment Day 2002. The Undertaker is one of the few superstars to have defeated Hulk Hogan for a world championship on more than one occasion. A memorable title defense was when The Undertaker beat a gallant Jeff Hardy in a Ladder Match on RAW. The Undertaker lost the WWE Championship to The Rock at Vengeance 2002 when The Rock pinned Kurt Angle in a Triple Threat Match. The Undertaker then became a member of the Smackdown! brand, but after being bested by Brock Lesnar, the youngest WWE Champion in history at the time, in a Hell in a Cell Match at No Mercy 2002, The Undertaker competed only sporadically due to injuries. He faced Mr. McMahon at Survivor Series 2003 in a Buried Alive Match because the chairman had vowed that The Undertaker would never again be WWE Champion. It seemed like it would be an easy win, but Kane betrayed his brother yet again and handed the victory to Mr. McMahon. I’ve lost track of how many times he’s been double-crossed by Kane.
The Undertaker haunted Kane leading up to their match at WrestleMania XX and made his triumphant return under his classic dead man persona. Paul Bearer was once again in his corner. The Phenom defeated his brother for the second time at a WrestleMania. The streak was now 12&0. Over the course of 2004, through a number of lucky breaks, John Bradshaw Layfield was able to retain the WWE Championship in a series of matches with The Undertaker. At WrestleMania XXI, “The Legend Killer” Randy Orton challenged The Undertaker with the sole purpose of breaking the streak. This was the beginning of The Phenom defending the streak as if it were a title. Randy Orton gave The Undertaker a hell of a match, but became the unlucky thirteenth victim. The Undertaker and Randy Orton traded victories for the rest of 2005. At Now Way Out 2006, Kurt Angle became one of the few superstars to score a legit victory over The Undertaker, successfully defending the World Heavyweight Championship, which was now exclusive to the Smackdown! brand. For the remainder of 2006, new superstars looked to make a name for themselves at the expense of The Undertaker. The Great Khali defeated The Undertaker at Judgment Day and Mr. Kennedy bested The Phenom in First Blood Match at Survivor Series. The Dead Man was being quite generous at the time.
The only major accolade which The Undertaker had yet to achieve was winning the Royal Rumble Match, which he finally did in 2007. The thirty man match came down to The Phenom and Shawn Michaels. It was the first time that the two legends had squared off in nine years and it was a classic encounter. At WrestleMania XXIII, The Undertaker not only became 15&0, but also took the World Heavyweight Championship from “The Animal” Batista, in a match which surprisingly overshadowed the WWE Championship Match. After a Steel Cage rematch with Batista on Smackdown!, The Undertaker was jumped by “The World’s Strongest Man” Mark Henry, then Edge cashed in the “Money in the Bank” contract and stole the title.
The Undertaker recovered from his injuries and challenged Batista, who had since regained the title, in a Hell in a Cell Match at Survivor Series 2007. Edge also returned and cost The Phenom the gold by striking him with a television camera. The Undertaker won a #1 Contenders “Elimination Chamber” Match at No Way Out 2008, then defeated Edge for the World Heavyweight Championship Match in the main event of WrestleMania XXIV. The streak was now 16&0. Smackdown! G.M. Vickie Guerrero, who was romantically involved with Edge, stripped The Undertaker of the title for using an illegal choke hold, then fired him. The Undertaker was reinstated at SummerSlam 2008 and again defeated Edge. This time it was a Hell in a Cell Match. The Undertaker then resumed an old rivalry with The Big Show and beat the world’s largest athlete in an old school Casket Match at Survivor Series 2008.
The next superstar to challenge the streak was Shawn Michaels, who is known as “Mr. WrestleMania.” In what was arguably the most competitive WrestleMania match of all time, The Undertaker went 17&0. For Shawn Michaels, it was a devastating loss that he could not cope with and he desperately sought a rematch. Meanwhile, The Undertaker won the World Heavyweight Championship from CM Punk at Hell in a Cell 2009. This has been The Phenom’s final title reign to date. He held the gold until Elimination Chamber 2010, when thanks to interference from Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho won the championship. The Undertaker agreed to a rematch on the condition that Shawn Michaels put his career on the line. HBK complied and in the main event of WrestleMania XXVI, which was another classic match, The Undertaker went 18&0 and retired Shawn Michaels.
The Undertaker mysteriously disappeared in the summer of 2010. Kane accused Rey Mysterio, but The Phenom returned at SummerSlam and revealed that Kane was the culprit. The Undertaker had dominated the rivalry with Kane for over a decade, but Kane went on to defeat his big brother at three consecutive PPVs. Paul Bearer also returned, but to lend his support to Kane and not The Undertaker. Their final match was a Buried Alive Match in which The Nexus, as lead by Wade Barrett, assisted Kane in his victory. Curiously, The Undertaker never sought any retribution against The Nexus for their actions. Wade Barrett just can’t catch a break.
When The Undertaker returned in time for WrestleMania XXVII, it was Triple H who challenged the streak. Strangely, no mention was ever made on WWE programming of their previous showdown a decade prior. Perhaps to downplay their aging? In what could be described as a vein attempt to recreate the chemistry between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker defeated Triple H with the Hell’s Gate submission hold, which is a modified triangle choke. The Undertaker remained off TV almost an entire year, then he returned to challenge Triple H to a rematch at WrestleMania XXVIII, feeling that it was moral loss the year before. The Game was hesitant, believing that time had passed The Phenom by, but he eventually accepted. It was billed as “the end of an era.” A Hell in a Cell Match with Shawn Michaels as the referee. In a match that was truly worthy of the streak, The Undertaker beat Triple H for the third and final time at a WrestleMania.
All of this was occurring during CM Punk’s fourteen month reign as WWE Champion. The longest reign of the new millennium. The straight-edge superstar wished to make history again and challenged The Undertaker to a show-stealing match at WrestleMania XXIX (even though CM Punk actually felt that this match was beneath him since it wasn’t the last match on the card). The match was dedicated to Paul Bearer, who had recently passed away. The crowd was split as to whom they were rooting for, but The Undertaker prevailed once again. The streak was now 21&0. The Undertaker remained a while longer to battle The Shield (Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, & Roman Reigns) on both RAW and Smackdown!
Eventually, The Undertaker sealed his own fate by demanding Brock Lesnar exercise his open contract for a match at WrestleMania XXX. Brock Lesnar, the only athlete to be a NCAA, UFC, and WWE Champion had his advocate, Paul Heyman, in his corner. In what may have been the most shocking moment in WWE history, after three F5s, Brock Lesnar pinned The Undertaker. The streak was over. 21&1. Fans all over the world are still coping with the loss. Many suspected that he would retire, but the dead man rose again and defeated Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania XXXI. The Undertaker had unfinished business with Brock Lesnar, costing him the WWE Championship in a match with Seth Rollins, and defeating The Beast Incarnate in a highly controversial match a SummerSlam 2015. So many low blows. Brock Lesnar then won the rubber match at Hell in a Cell 2015. After the match, The Undertaker was abducted by The Wyatt Family, which has lead to a tag team match at Survivor Series 2015 with The Brothers of Destruction being pitted against two members of The Wyatts. It will be the 25th anniversary of The Undertaker’s debut and it should be a triumphant moment for the future Hall of Famer.
– Dr. Rochester
*Obviously, I focused solely on Mark Calaway’s WWF/WWE tenure as The Undertaker. His time in WCW as “Mean” Mark Callous is not as interesting as the lore of the dead man gimmick. I glossed over certain matches and angles to make this a more compelling read. If his WrestleMania undefeated streak was still intact, I may have mentioned that he only defeated The Giant Gonzales at WrestleMania IX via DQ since that would have been the only blemish on his record, but I don’t see the point now. I was a bit uncomfortable with most of “The Ministry of Darkness” stuff like him hanging The Big Boss Man at WrestleMania XV. His 2000 feud with Kane when they had a non-match at SummerSlam was the most inconsequential of the many times they worked together, so I ignored it. Paul Heyman stealing the urn in 2004 and his series of matches with Heidenreich were also not worth mentioning. He was bumped from the SummerSlam 2006 card because WWE officials feared that his opponent, The Great Khali, would not be able to perform up to live PPV standards. Lame. I’ll leave these matches for Dr. Frisbee.