Historically Speaking: A Dead Man’s Gold (v2.0)

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

The Opening Chapter
It’s hard to believe I’ve been writing for Pulse Wrestling for over a year already. Just like a year ago, another WrestleMania is in the books. Just like last year there was some crazy Money in the Bank moments, and there was the expected pageantry, music, insane pyro and elaborate entrances. And just like last year, another constant that remained, that of the Undertaker. Undertaker kept his much-hyped WrestleMania streak alive once again, going to a remarkable 16-0 and further cementing his place as one of the immortals in the wrestling game. And just like last year, this victory was a little sweeter because the World Heavyweight Championship came as a prize for this victory.

So this week I am going to dip back into the third ever column I wrote for Pulse Wrestling and look back at the now six times that Undertaker has become a World Champion. It’s amazing he’s won the World Championship only six times in his eighteen year WWE career when other men have captured the “richest prize in the game” twice as many occasions but in half the time.

Six times is apparently the charm for the Dead Man, the Lord of the Darkness and the American Bad Ass.

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 big feat, so it was easy to see Undertaker had already made a big impact. He made an even bigger impact that night in 1991 by pinning Hogan after a Tombstone onto a chair and starting a legacy that has yet to see an end.

The reign was short lived, as interference from Ric Flair and the use of a steel chair caused then-“WWF President” Jack Tunney to order a rematch to happen just days later at an experimental PPV called 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. He 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
He spent five years defeating everything that Harvey Whippleman and Ted DiBiase threw at him. He survived 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 finally Sid winning the 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 on 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. However two weeks before the PPV, Undertaker dropped the belt to Austin live on RAW. Their Fully Loaded match still went off with Undertaker in the challenger role. 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 McMahon was gone “forever.” 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 then 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.

Detroit Rock City
Then we look back to last year to 2007 and WrestleMania 23. Undertaker was 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 added another to his belt by winning the 2007 Royal Rumble, coming at number 30 no less. This gave him an automatic Championship bout at WrestleMania. He elected 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 busted out big time moves and Batista looked motivated for the first time since his return from injury. In the end Undertaker kept his streak alive by dropping Batista on his head, and he captured his fifth World Championship in the process.

This looked like it would be Undertaker’s well-deserved long Championship reign that had eluded him his entire career. Unfortunately injury struck in May and the Dead Man would have to go out to heal himself. So in quick fix, Edge won the Money in the Bank contract from Mr. Kennedy on a Monday and then cashed it in the next night at the SmackDown! taping, by pinning Undertaker after he had just finished a cage match with Batista and received a beat down from Mark Henry.

Underneath the Florida Skies
Undertaker returned in September 2007 to beat Mark Henry in the main event of Unforgiven. He then challenged Batista, who was now World Champion again, at Survivor Series, only for Edge to interfere and cause Undertaker to lose once again. After Edge won the Championship the next month in a triple threat involving both Batista and Undertaker, the match was all but set in stone for WrestleMania-Undertaker v. Edge, streak v. Title. After a mere formality by winning an Elimination Chamber in February 2008, the match was official. Surprisingly Undertaker and Edge got the nod to main event WrestleMania XIV in the Citrus Bowl, and it was just like the previous year, same song but different verse. Undertaker made Edge submit to his bastardized gogopolatta finishing hold and extended his incredible WrestleMania streak to 16-0. This was the Dead Man’s first official WrestleMania main event in over a decade.

The Perspective
I predicted last year at this time after Undertaker won the belt that maybe he was on his “swan song.” That maybe last year would be his final, grand run before finally fading back from active competition. I was quite wrong on that account. But I do think that, barring injuries, this will be the big Championship reign that fans have been expecting for years. However I don’t expect Undertaker to be going anywhere any time soon. Next year WrestleMania XV, the silver anniversary, will be in Undertaker’s real life backyard of Houston, Texas, and there’s no way that he won’t have an integral part in that show. Speculation has already started to run rampant about him facing someone the caliber of Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels or John Cena at that WrestleMania.

One thing’s for certain, Undertaker certainly deserves this Championship reign and all the accolades that goes along with it. It does say something about the popularity of the character that in almost eighteen years he has only been called upon to hold the World Title six 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 honor in the wrestling business. Now if we could only figure out what the hell Michael Cole is talking about when he mentions a “vintage Undertaker.”

For this week the vault is closed…

Linked to the Pulse
IP’s Top 100 Wrestlers feature is rolling on, and #28 is causing a little controversy.

Vinny talks about the greatness of tournaments in our favorite “sport.”

Glazer got the chance to interview one of the independent scene’s top female stars – “The Death Ray” Sara Del Ray.

This Day in History
I figured if we are talking history around here we should pay homage to what has happened on this very day in the years gone by. It will either make you long for the old days or be happy for what we have now.

1987 – NWA Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Cup, Baltimore Arena, Baltimore, MD – Day 1
1995 – Cactus Jack defeated Colorado Kid for the Music City North American Heavyweight Title
1998 – Buddy Landell defeated Ricky Harrison for the SSW Heavyweight title
1998 – Beau James defeated Buddy Landell for the SSW Heavyweight title
1998 – Danny Christian defeated Brooklyn Bad Boy #1 for the SSW Appalachian title
2000 – Eric Bischoff and Vince Russo return to WCW and declare all WCW titles vacant
2001 – Jeff Hardy defeated Triple H for the WWF Intercontinental title

1955 – Paul Bearer AKA Percy Pringle was bon

The Assignment
It’s important to know your history to know where you have come from and where you are going. Back when Nova was in charge of the WWE developmental system he implemented mandatory history assignments for the students of the developmental territories so they would know pro wrestling’s history and they would learn just how many moves Nova created and apparently the best ways to get on-line prescriptions. I feel Nova had a great idea there and every week I will assign a book or DVD for you to check out and learn from. They are not only educational, but very entertaining.

Thanks to some good sales at Blockbuster I recently picked up Heartbreak & Triumph: The Shawn Michaels Story for damn cheap. The WWE hype machine was in full swing during the documentary portion of Michaels’ story. I actually came away from watching the DVD thinking that Michaels really is the second coming of, well, you know. Of course I’m a WWE mark and pretty much love all the documentaries that they put out thanks to their crack editing team. It was quite entertaining barring the constant verbal fellatio Michaels received from the other talking heads. And hearing some good stories from Marty Jannetty really helped out the entertainment quotient. I was disappointed that his brief time running the Texas Wrestling Academy was pretty much glossed over, save for a brief little cameo from fellow trainer Rudy Boy Gonzalez. I would have liked to hear about the process in more detail, maybe bringing up some of his star pupils like Kendrick, Cade and Danielson. Put the extras of course are what makes this worth the price of admission. There’s some great AWA era Midnight Rockers tag matches, the underrated Rockers-Orient Express opening match from Royal Rumble ’91, the hidden classic with Triple H from a late December 2003 RAW and of course the infamous 2-out-3 falls Tag Championship match where The Rockers beat The Hart Foundation to win the belts. The match wasn’t nearly atrocious as Bret Hart made it out to be, and The Rockers did win the first fall in about 10 minutes before the rope broke so I don’t know why they didn’t just air that as the Title change in a one-fall edit job. The best part of that match was watching Hart bitch and moan to the referee the rest of the way through the bout. There’s also the abysmal Royal Rumble ’95 victory, so they aren’t all winners. Overall it’s a fantastic three-disc set that was well worth the mere $15 I dropped on it.

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