Historically Speaking: A Dead Man’s Gold

“And history becomes legend and legend becomes history.” – J. Cocteau

The Opening Chapter
WrestleMania is in the books once again for another year. There were the expected “WrestleMania moments,” moments like Jeff Hardy’s landing on Edge, Vince getting his head shaved and the Donald Trump Stunner. There was the expected pageantry, music, pyro and elaborate entrances. And there was another constant that remained, that of the Undertaker. Undertaker kept his much hyped WrestleMania streak alive, reaching 15-0 and further cementing his place as one of the immortals in this psuedo-king of sports we love. The one thing that made this victory just a little sweeter was the fact that the World Heavyweight Championship came as a prize for this victory.

So this week we will open up the vault not to look at Undertaker’s fifteen victories, a feat that has been looked at numerous times. Rather we will look at the five times that Undertaker has now reached the World Championship. Winning the belt only five times in a near seventeen year career is hard to think about when other men have captured the “richest prize in the game” twice as many occasions but in half the time.

Let’s take a historical look at the five instances the Dead Man, the Lord of the Darkness and the American Bad Ass won the World Championship and the story surrounding each reign.

The Thanksgiving Tradition
One year after Undertaker had made his awe-inspiring debut at Survivor Series ’90 he found himself back at the same event, this time challenging Hulk Hogan for the WWF Championship. Going from a virtual unknown to legitimate World Championship contender in one year’s time back in those days was a feat, so it was easy to see Undertaker had already a big impact. He made a bigger impact that night in 1991 by pinning Hogan after a Tombstone on a chair and starting a legacy that has yet to see an end.

The reign was short lived as due to interference from Ric Flair and the use of the chair then “WWF President” Jack Tunney to order a rematch to happen just days later at an experimental PPVcalled Tuesday in Texas. This time around the interference and cheating backfired and Hogan regained his championship. This reign didn’t last either as Tunney held up the belt due to the controversial finishes of the past two matches and put Hogan, Undertaker, Flair and 27 others in the Royal Rumble match for the vacant WWF Championship. Flair went on to win the Championship that Undertaker only held for a few precious days and wouldn’t hold again for over five years.

Thirteen Is His Lucky Number
After five years of defeating everything that Harvey Whippleman and Ted DiBiase threw at him and surviving potential career killing moments like the Yokozuna casket match and the imposter Undertaker match with his popularity and integrity still in tact it was definitely time for the Dead Man to regain the spotlight. After a screwy Royal Rumble finish that saw Steve Austin win after losing, a four way match that saw Bret Hart win the Championship and Sid Title win a day later it was time for the Undertaker to step in and step up. The battle between Sid and Undertaker was set for the main event of WrestleMania 13, with the Title on the line. It was a true battle of the big men like Vince likes. In a match that was overshadowed by the true main event of the evening, the Austin-Hart submission match, and was more remembered for Sid supposedly pooping himself the Undertaker walked out as Champion, keeping his WrestleMania streak intact for the sixth year running.

This time the Dead Man got a chance to carry the ball for awhile. He held the belt through the spring and summer of ’97, defending against the likes of Mankind, Faarooq and Vader but was saw his Title reign overshadowed again by the blazing Austin-Hart feud. He would eventually drop the belt to Hart at SummerSlam ’97 due to errant chair shot from guest referee Shawn Michaels. This led to a Undertaker-Michaels rivalry and the introduction of one of the most influential concepts from the Attitude era-Hell in a Cell. This time Undertaker-Michaels would take the main event spot while Hart’s Championship matches were relegated to the semi-main.

Over the Edge
Undertaker’s third Title win was considered an afterthought to the events that surrounded it, as the night he beat Stone Cold Steve Austin to win the WWF Championship was the same night the world lost Owen Hart, May 19, 1999, in the Kemper Arena in Kansas City, MO.

Taker was in the midst of his Lord of the Darkness phase and the Higher Power angle that ultimately just led to another chapter of the Austin-McMahon feud. After a fairly routine Title defense against The Rock at King of the Ring, Taker was set for his blowoff with Austin at Fully Loaded in July. It was a first blood match with the stipulation that if Undertaker lost then Mr. McMahon would be off TV “forever.” Austin won the match and got his belt back. In this case “forever” meant about two months, as McMahon was back on TV and winning the WWF Championship by September. As for Undertaker, he spent the rest of the summer teaming with The Big Show and picking up a couple Tag Titles before taking time off in September to heal some nagging injuries.

A Rematch Eleven Years in the Making
It would 2002 before Undertaker tasted the big gold again. It was two months after initial brand expansion and the World Wrestling Federation had just become World Wrestling Entertainment. Hulk Hogan was coming into Judgment Day as the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World and Undertaker, in his evil biker phase, was the opposition, over eleven years after they met for the Championship the first time. The match was slow and plodding and featured an even more ridiculous build-up, including Undertaker dragging Hogan through the backstage of an arena behind his motorcycle. Undertaker beat Hogan again that night, ending his one month nostalgia run. Undertaker would defeat Triple H the next month at King of the Ring and had incredible matches with Jeff Hardy and Kurt Angle on free TV during his reign. It would be another short-lived stay on top as he dropped the belt to The Rock in a triple threat match that also included Angle at the Vengeance PPV in July. The Rock was merely a placeholder for the belt until they get it to Brock Lesnar. Undertaker, meanwhile, turned face and returned to being the American Bad Ass. He got himself a run against Lesnar through the fall of 2002 that saw him not win the Championship but further the “get Brock Lesnar over at any cost” cause.

Showcase of the Immortals
Flash forward to present day 2007. Undertaker is back as the old Dead Man and since 2004 has been working a much deserved part-time schedule. After all the accolades and accomplishments Undertaker has won he adds another to his belt by winning the 2007 Royal Rumble, coming at number 30 no less. This gives him an automatic Championship bout at WrestleMania. He elects to stay on his home SmackDown! brand and challenge World Heavyweight Champion Batista. Despite going on during the middle of the show, Undertaker and Batista put on a phenomenal big man match, perhaps only eclipsed by Undertaker’s traditionally phenomenal WrestleMania entrance. Both men bust out big time moves and Batista looks motivated for the first time since his return from injury. In the end Undertaker keeps his streak alive by dropping Batista on his head and captures his fifth World Championship in the process.

It’s true that is this Title is the bastardized WCW belt resurrected for Triple H in 2002, but in WWE canon these days all World Titles are of equal prestige and meaning. As I write this piece just days after the match it is unclear where this next Title reign is headed or how long it will last. Some have said this is Undertaker’s farewell tour and will use this reign to put someone over huge. Others think he will stick around in a limited capacity for the foreseeable future. Whatever it happens it will be entertaining to see how things end up.

The Perspective
It says something about the popularity of the character that in seventeen years Undertaker has only been called upon to hold the World Title five times, and all of them for criminally short time frames. Undertaker is a perfect example of a wrestler who doesn’t need the Title to be over. It’s a statement to the man Mark Callaway to keep the same character, or variations of the same character, relevant and popular for the better part of two decades. He’s earned his part-time status and his role as locker room leader. He has the respect of the fans, respect of the marks and I dare say respect of most of the smarks as well. And he has the respect of his co-workers, which is the ultimate. I’m happy to see him get this latest shot at the top. He’s earned it.

For this week the vault is closed…

Linked to the Pulse
Take a look on the bright side says Steve Murray. I really have to agree with him on a couple points. I too agree that MVP wasn’t completely carried by Benoit, The Dragon’s cameo was completely awesome, and that was probably Lashley’s best promo yet, I think I only counted two stumbles. But Steve, the reason that people sit in the top row at Ford Field is merely for the experience, just to say they’ve been there and they’ve seen a WrestleMania live.

Be sure to read Eric’s plea to Vince to bring the ECW brand back to some semblance of its old glory. He’s spot on with everything he says about the Originals-New Breed feud.

Brashear talks about the NWA Championship and its ups and downs. Its too bad he glossed over that really bad period in the late ‘90s. Two words: Mike Rapada.

Everyone Likes to See Their Name in Print
No feedback this week which is a bummer, but hey no hate mail yet, so that’s a positive.

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