Unlucky 13 – The Wrestlemania Undertaker Victims
Ever since first gracing the stage at Wrestlemania VII in 1991, the Undertaker has been undefeated at the prestigious event. That’s the press report from the WWE around this time of year for the dead man. This year though, they’re making a bigger deal out of it that ever before. Every time someone has challenged the Undertaker at Wrestlemania, it’s usually because they don’t like the Undertaker for one reason or another. This year, Randy Orton is challenging the Undertaker not because of how he feels (since he supposedly has the highest respect for the Undertaker) but because he is a legend. Orton’s very purpose the challenge is because ‘Taker has stood undefeated. Very much akin to the many people who have climbed mount Everest, Orton is looking to beat something that for so long people have said to be unbeatable. In this column, I’m going to go over each subsequent Undertaker Wrestlemania match. From beginning to end, from 1991 to 2004, and by the end of it, I’ll have made my decision as to who I think will win the match between ‘Taker and Orton on April 3rd, and hopefully you will too.
Wrestlemania VII VS Jimmy Snuka
Undertaker was a rookie at this point – he’d only been in the WWF for 5 months, but his character had been booked incredibly well. He was a man who felt no pain, knew no limits, and would only answer to Paul Bearer, a man who always held tight a mysterious urn. The Undertaker’s strength flowed from this urn. His entire schtick was designed to send shivers through both the audience and his opponent. His music began with a loud bell, followed by the funeral march. His music and entrance would become more and more elaborate with time, but in 1991, it was all about that cold, white stare. When he entered the otherwise brightly-themed arena on March 24th, the crowd went silent. It was not because they did not know him; it was because they were all very much afraid of him. And so was Snuka, though he did a good job keeping it to himself. He attacked the Undertaker, but any offense was completely futile. Within a scant few minutes the Undertaker, dressed in a black ripped suit and grey gloves, hoisted Superfly Jimmy Snuka upside down and delivered his first Wrestlemania Tombstone piledriver.
The victory against Snuka seemed rudimentary at the time. Snuka’s career was fading, and this would be his last Wrestlemania match. Looking back though, it’s clear that there’s a little piece of that match in every single one since. If not the cold stare then the chilling entrance. If not the strange actions of Paul Bearer and the Urn then it’s the complete and utter decimation of his opponent. This match isn’t really remembered in any sense. It was a little like the first wrestlemania – short on actual substance but important since it was the first one. It was a template, and it would be drastically improved, and with amazing haste.
Wrestlemania VIII VS Jake the Snake Roberts
Beginning at the wedding reception at Summerslam the year before, these two men had been a sort-of team. I don’t remember them ever actually wrestling together (they completely might have, I’m not sure at all) but they were a collusion nonetheless. Jake seemed mortally determined to make life hell for Randy Savage, and he used the Undertaker as backup. I don’t remember the specifics, but just after the Royal Rumble, this team crumbled. It might have had something to do with the time Jake came on the Undertaker’s interview show, the Funeral Parlor, and managed to trap the Undertaker’s hand in a casket and get in some well timed right hands. I also remember Undertaker saving Elizabeth at some point, which might have been the face turn right there. In any case, ‘Taker found himself cheered for the first time in his career that spring, and was the clear favorite heading into the match.
Undertaker would have a similar match with Roberts as he did with Snuka. It was short, it was harsh, and it sent a very clear message. When Jake went after the urn (Jake was a smart man, and knew that the urn contained the secret to defeating the Undertaker) ‘Taker caught him, and hit the Tombstone Piledriver on the floor. He then calmly placed Jake inside the ring and pinned him. Jake wouldn’t return to the WWF for another four years.
Wrestlemania IX VS the Giant Gonzalez
Who, you might ask, is the Giant Gonzalez? That’s exactly what everyone was wondering at the Royal Rumble 1993 when this eight foot monster came down and tore apart the Undertaker, eliminating him from the contest. He was accompanied by Harvey Wippleman, the manager of Kamala. The Undertaker had just finished a long feud with Kamala, and had subsequently beaten him finally in a casket match a month before. Harvey was looking for revenge, and had found the man to exact it.
At Wrestlemania IX, the Undertaker had a very unique entrance. He stood upon a black chariot, which carried with it a large vulture. The effect was so chilling; I still remember that entrance as clear as yesterday. Gonzalez was not so easily fazed, and would actually have the advantage for most of the match. Okay, most of the match could be categorized by three words; chop, kick, resthold. It was not a fast match. Actually, it’s quite painful to watch. There was something in the water that night. The Undertaker was not his dominant self. He couldn’t even get Gonzalez off his feet for the entire duration of the match. Equally though, Gonzalez could not keep ‘Taker down long enough to pin him. Eventually, Gonzalez became frustrated, and proceeded to soak a rag in Cloroform and choke ‘Taker out with it. This caused and instant disqualification and Undertaker was stretched out of the arena. the Giant may have lost the match, but the revenge had been properly enacted.
Or so Gonzalez thought. Moments later, the Undertaker emerged from the back, woozy but conscious, as he stalked Gonzalez. ‘Taker hit a triad of clotheslines, and the giant fell. They brawled in the aisle and were separated by security. The moral victory had been ripped away from Wippleman and Gonzalez, and the Undertaker was more popular than ever, literally coming back from certain death to defeat his enemy.
Wrestlemania XI VS King Kong Bundy
I have never seen Wrestlemania XI. It’s the only hole in the collection, and it’s like that because from all accounts, it was not an important Wrestlemania. However, if you were really into the Million Dollar Team storyline, it was great, because they were in a bunch of matches. King Kong Bundy at the time was under the management of Ted Debiase, a man so rich that he could turn a bunch of mid card faces evil and low card heels into mid card heels. The biggest storyline in the Million Dollar regime had been Undertaker VS Undertaker the Summerslam before, and Ted Debiase, I guess, was still looking for revenge after losing that battle, so he sent in Bundy. At least, I think that’s how it went down.
Where was Undertaker during Wrestlemania X? Still buried and dead, courtesy of Yokozuna and a dozen other bad guys at the Royal Rumble 1994, in probably the worst match of the decade, if you were curious.
As I said, I haven’t seen WMXI. I know that Undertaker won the match, and that soon after, the Million Dollar Team disbanded and was never heard from again.
Wrestlemania XII VS Deisel
In my Wrestlemania coffee table book (I think that cements my wrestling nerd-dom right there, thank you) the author says that while Wrestlemania XI was chalk full of celebrities, Wrestlemania XII was all about the wrestling. And to an effect it was. Marketed almost solely on the Iron Man Match main event, in which there would be over an hour of straight technical wrestling, the rest of the card didn’t have much of a shot of one upping the marquee bout in terms of memorability. Two matches tried, though. Piper VS Goldust worked because it focused on the kind of wrestling that is needed when there’s so damn much serious stuff going down – slapstick comedy. Just as well, Deisel VS Undertaker worked because it represented the kind of wrestling that dominated the WWF side of wrestling for the past quarter century – larger than life spectacle. Both men stood over seven feet tall, and all of their moves (comes to about 9 in total for the both of them, I think) are hard hitting. The question that needed to be answered was this; just who was the WWF’s best big man?
Wrestlemania XII would be the last time Undertaker would come to the ring with Paul Bearer (until last year, that is) as well as the simple lights-off effect. More spectacle would be added to his entrance in the coming years, but his subtle entrance was still scary. They brawl for quite a bit of this match, and several times it appears that Deisel has the Undertaker’s number, mostly with a surprising amount of psychology on Deisels part (I’m as shocked as you). Deisel worked on Taker’s back during any moment where they weren’t throwing punches or chokeslams, in preparation for the jackknife powerbomb. Taker however, had learned a thing or two from Hulk Hogan a few years back, and was able to do the ‘nothing hurts me’ act at the end and land a Tombstone Piledriver to win the match.
Wrestlemania XIII VS Psycho Sid
Was it just blind coincidence or planned brilliance that the darkest character in all of wrestling would have his championship match at the thirteenth version of the event? Whichever the case, this would be the Undertaker’s biggest challenge yet – the month-long reigning WWF Champion Psycho Sid. I always liked the fact that both these guys were feuding with Hulk Hogan, with the WWF belt on the periphery of the feud 6 years earlier. Revisionist history should have made some sort of connection, but alas, lost cause there. The really interesting thing about this match is that unlike most of Undertaker’s matches thus far, there was no real animosity between Sid and Taker. At this point, there were five people in the WWF Championship fold; Bret Hart, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, and these two. Shawn lost his smile and went to milk injuries for 6 months. Bret and Austin were too busy with one another, and that left these two to fight over the title.
The match begins with Bret Hart telling both of them that basically they don’t deserve to be in the main event. Sid follows up by powerbombing Bret, and the two men go at it. A methodical, big man match follows, full of brawls and chinlocks. Near the end, Bret returns and waffles Sid with a chair shot, and soon after Undertaker would hit the Tombstone piledriver to win his second WWF championship. He celebrated in the ring, alone, raising the gold high. This would be Undertakers only championship match at a Wrestlemania, and he made good on the opportunity.
Wrestlemania XIV VS Kane
The lead up to this match is almost as memorable as the match itself. Paul Bearer, still angry at Undertaker for winning the feud with Mankind, promised to reveal horrible secrets about his past and exacting revenge (what’s with managers going off to find people to take revenge on the Undertaker? That doesn’t seem to happen to anyone else). One of the secrets was that Undertaker had a brother, and was horribly scarred by the burns inflicted by Taker himself. During the Hell in the Cell match with Shawn Michaels, Kane finally appeared and decimated the Undertaker. In the following weeks, it seemed that Kane, by being around Taker, had come to forgive him. However, at the Royal Rumble, Kane once again interfered in Taker’s match with Shawn Michaels, this time a casket match. He locked Taker in the casket, doused it with gasoline, and ignited it to a blaze. The following weeks would include some pretty cool pyrotechnic powers being used by both Taker and Kane, seeing as both of them had the power to hurl lightning bolts and fire balls at one another (though really neither of them used these tricks against anyone else.) The setup promised it would be a match for the ages.
The spectacle began with Pete Rose making fun of the crowd, and Kane getting his first set of cheers by giving the guy a tombstone piledriver. Undertaker came out in his most impressive entrance yet. A set of over a dozen ‘druids’ lined the aisle, carrying torches and chanting. Smoke grew from the aisle, and the arena went dark. Sounds of thunder and lightning had been added to the Undertaker’s theme music, which was now a more menacing remix of the funeral march. When the Undertaker was on the steps outside the ring, he hoisted his arms up quickly, and the sound of lightning accompanied all the lights suddenly turning on. This was a change from the slow raise of the lights he had done before. He calmly came into the ring and stood nose to nose with his brother.
People’s opinions on the match itself are split. It was another big-man style brawl in Taker’s fashion. Little psychology was used, and little actual wrestling was used. This was a battle between two people who were seemingly invulnerable. No amount of punishment seemed to put either monster away. Finally, after three consecutive tombstone piledrivers, Kane was defeated. Interestingly, Kane would go on to be only one of two wrestlers who would still be wrestling a year after the Undertaker had beaten them. Every opponent before Kane left the WWF soon after losing to the Undertaker. No doubt this helped the mystique of the undefeated behemoth.
Wrestlemania XV VS The Big Boss Man
The Undertaker’s look had changed again by this year. Now wearing a long, black leather coat and a new ‘widows peak’ style haircut, he looked more demonic than ever. Around this point is where the apparent ‘switch’ happened, where someone else took over to play the Undertaker. This never happened, mind you, but I remember that rumor better than I remember most of the matches from 1998, so there you go.
In terms of the historical revisionists, this match never happened. Whenever they mention Hell in the Cell matches (a gimmick which appears to have been retired, now that both brands have their own respective types of cages) they gloss right over this one. As well they should; this match was a disgrace to the cage in just about every way.
First off you’ve got a complete lack of a feud between Taker and Boss Man. Taker had just begun his ‘ministry’ story, and had promised a sacrifice at Wrestlemania. He was right on the fence between good guy and bad guy, and wasn’t really on anyone’s bad side but Vince McMahon at the time. Vince sent Boss Man, one of his loyal employees, after Taker to stop him. For some reason, it was made a Cell match. Secondly, you’ve got the Boss Man, who, rest his soul, didn’t have a hardcore bone in his body. It was not pretty.
The only memorable moment that came out of the match was the ending. Untertaker’s victory wasn’t even the issue. It was one of those matches where the winner of the ‘match’ didn’t matter whatsoever. What mattered was the after match. The brood-consisting of Edge, Christian, and Gangrel, had associated themselves with the Undertakers’ group. They came down from the skies on top of the cell, and lowered a rope down to the Undertaker. He proceeded to wrap it around the neck of Boss Man. Slowly, the cage began to raise, and with it the Boss man-by the neck. He struggled the best he could, but eventually passed out from, well, asphyxiation. It was not easy to watch, and to me is still one of the worst acts I’ve witnessed in wrestling. It didn’t make me hate the Undertaker; it made me hate myself for being a fan. Big Boss Man would be okay, of course, but at the time it made me pretty sick.
Wrestlemania XVII VS HHH
Undertaker would take a few months off in late 1999 to 2000 to recoup from injuries – or was it that he was buried alive? Yeah, he was actually. Anyways, he came back in May of 2000 in a very different form. Riding a motorcycle to the ring and wearing redneck biker gear, this was a much different Undertaker than the ‘higher power’ worshiping demon that had left us late 1999. He was announced as from being from Texas instead of Death Valley, he talked with a southern accent instead of his dark monosyllable. He started shouting ‘old school’ whenever he’d do his rope-walk. This was different, indeed.
As for the problem with HHH, well, I’m not actually sure. I think it had something to do with them both always being in the WWF title hunt at the same time, and I guess they just locked horns. HHH had a restraining order placed on Taker to protect his wife from assault, but that just led to Kane holding her above a scaffold and only letting go if Undertaker got this match at Wrestlemania. You’d think if I could remember a detail like that I could remember the reason they wanted to fight each other in the first place. Just for closure’s sake, lets go with Jericho spilling coffee on Kane and it going from there.
I thought this match was awesome. No, not in a technical wrestling sense, but that’s okay because there was an Angle/Benoit match on the card, and not in an important sense, but that’s okay because Rock/Austin main-evented. This match was awesome because it was fun, exciting, and there were quite a few holy shit moments. The two I remember most is the scaffold chokeslam and the sledgehammer shot. The first one provided one of those great snapshots of Wrestlemania. The two battled through the crowd and found themselves at the soundboard, which had a staircase and was a good 20 feet high. They traded chair shots up there, and it looked like either could fall at any time. Undertaker grabbed HHH by the throat, however, and hoisted him above the 60,000 people in the arena. He then dropped him into oblivion. The camera cut to show that HHH had landed 10 feet down, luckily on a padded surface, but man that first visual was so powerful. Later on, back in the ring, the Undertaker pulled HHH up to hit the Last Ride Powerbomb, but HHH picked up a sledgehammer on the way and blasted Taker with it. Because of that, Taker was busted open and seemingly unconscious, and it looked like finally someone would beat the Dead man. (Funny side note, in the HHH DVD, he admits that he used a fake sledgehammer for the shot, but it was the only time he did, as well as the only time he’s ever made someone bleed from it). HHH would only get a two count, and Taker would turn a top rope attack into a powerbomb and win the match, but for a while there it looked like the end was nigh.
Wrestlemania XVIII VS Ric Flair
Two legends locking horns, right? Not quite. Flair was still new to the whole ‘wrestling’ thing at the time, since he hadn’t had a full schedule to wrestle in about 3 years, and Taker was fresh into his “you will respect me” mode of evildoing. He targeted Ric Flair because he was a legend, not because he posed a threat. He wanted to use him as an example as to why Taker deserved everyone’s respect. Initially, Ric didn’t want to fight Taker, but after a few minutes of watching Taker pummel his son, David, he accepted and it was on.
This is my favorite Undertaker Wrestlemania match. By far the best technically, but also emotionally. You can literally see Flair changing from a fledgling retiree to willy veteran who can take anything within the confines of this match. You can also see Undertaker’s respect for the Nature Boy grow throughout the match. As well, there’s an Arn Anderson run in, which is always nice to see. This was also the Wrestlemania where it became clear that he would break out the Tombstone piledriver for special occasions. This match should be curriculum for all, since the story being told (as well as the story happening spontaneously without any planning) is so much stronger than just the string of moves or the feud in general.
Wrestlemania XIX VS Albert and The Big Show
Similar to the match with Big Boss Man, I’m not really all that sure why this match happened. I know that Taker was feuding with Big Show and Albert, but it was for absolutely no reason. I know that Nathan Jones was supposed to be Taker’s tag partner, but got mysteriously ‘injured just before the show’ (read:they didn’t trust him to wrestle a match because he was awful). I also know that the match sucked. The slow beat down of Taker was boring, not methodical. The comebacks were uninspired and predictable. The last minute save by Nathan Jones and tombstone piledrive on Albert were both way too choreographed. The biker character was really on it’s last legs by this time, and was heading in no direction, and this match is probably better off forgotten. The fireworks in his entrance and the patriotic flag waving at the end were nice images, but that’s pretty much it.
Wrestlemania XX VS Kane
In the Survivor Series 2003, Kane buried his brother alive. During the Royal Rumble, when the 13th entrant was supposed to enter, the Undertaker’s music played, and scared the hell out of Kane. In the following weeks, caskets appeared whenever Kane was in the area. Clips in the fashion of ‘the Ring’ were shown, all mind games by the Undertaker. In the graphic screen for Wrestlemania, all that was shown in the Undertaker’s spot was a giant Victorian cross. Nobody really knew what to expect. Would he still be the USA loving biker he had been the last 4 years? Would be return to the original character, complete with funeral music, fog, and darkness? Or would it be something new?
The BONG echoed in the arena, and Druids lined the aisles, much like their original contest. Paul Bearer led them, carrying an urn. Then, finally, the Undertaker appeared, wearing a thin black jacket, MMA gloves, and a black hat. It was a dark mixture of his two previous incarnations. Kane couldn’t believe it.
The match itself seemed rudimentary, so much to the point that Kane didn’t even lose any steam for laying down. The entire value was for the entrance and the reveal; the work afterward was largely ignored. The Undertaker was invincible again. He had the music again, the smoke, and that cold, dead stare. That’s all that mattered.
This year, Randy Orton has challenged The Undertaker, based solely on this list of matches. He wants to eradicate this history, make it null and void. He doesn’t just want to beat the Undertaker, he wants to say that he’s better than every single wrestler the Undertaker has defeated. But does he have a chance in hell?
There’s a rule in improv; if you say it, you have to run with it. This is often quite true in the WWE. You can hear it in all their promotions. A few weeks ago, HHH beat Chris Benoit on Raw, and because one guy at some point said that HHH had never beaten Benoit before this, Jim Ross and even HHH wouldn’t shut up about how HHH hasn’t beaten Benoit. However, that simply wasn’t true, as anyone who watched wrestling in 2000 could have attested. Randy has brought in the idea of ending a ‘streak’. In wrestling, it’s very much about breaking records, not sustaining them. It would go against many rules of symmetry for Randy to make all this ink about breaking the Undertakers’ streak, as well as everyone else hyping how much he doesn’t have a chance, and not have it happen.
But at the same time, what the hell does Randy Orton have that these 12 guys don’t? Okay, he might have more than a few of them, but HHH? Flair? Kane? These are all world class athletes, all veterans. Randy is still very much a rookie. What’s he got?
Personally, I don’t think Randy has much of a chance. Physically, he’s smaller, lighter, and less war-torn. Mentally, nobody plays better mind games than the Undertaker. Politically, Randy is coming off a failed good-guy push, and Taker is riding as high as ever. Every base seems to be covered for Orton to go down, and go down hard.
But there’s always that if that seems to follow Orton around everywhere. He’s beaten much older, smarter, better opponents before. He beat Benoit and Foley on his own, with seemingly no ultimate payoff. The same thing could easily happen here. Also, he’s the legend killer, and he’s already checked off the Undertaker box in his list of victims. Did he jinx himself, or could be foresee the future? It’s all very up in the air, and there’s just as much chance for either of them to go. Technically, as of right now, they’re both undefeated at Wrestlemania. One of them is losing that, and we’re all going to have to watch to find out.