Welcome to the 3rd instalment of my revolving door interview series type thingy.
Part two ended with the realisation that no story has a happy ending (at least in the wrestling business). I thought I was done after that, but Mike Gojira asked if he could take part in an Undertaker-based version and, over the following 61 emails, I think we kinda covered The Deadman’s long and successful career…
*insert gong sound here*
KON: What is your earliest memory of The Undertaker?
GOJIRA: My earliest memory of the Undertaker, eh? That’s actually a tough one, in all honesty. I’m not really sure exactly when I marked out for the Deadman gimmick. I watched wrestling off-and-on in the early 90s, but I do have one vivid memory of Taker. It was my first house show at Madison Square Garden; in fact, it was my first wrestling event ever. My uncle and my father tricked my cousin and I by saying we were going to a car show. When we arrived at MSG, I saw the banners and couldn’t believe what I was seeing! The only thing I can recall from the show was a WWF Championship match between Undertaker and Bret Hart. If memory serves, I believe Taker won via DQ. At that time I wasn’t really paying attention and thought he had won the title! When it was announced that Bret would retain, I was a bit upset.
KON: That would’ve been like ’93 or ’94, I think I’d worn out the print on my Undertaker t-shirt by then.
You have no recollection of the stuff with Hogan or Jake?
GOJIRA: I only watched the random episode of Superstars here and there at that point. It wasn’t until 1995-1996 that I really got into wrestling. I didn’t see the Hogan or Roberts angles until years later.
KON: So you missed out on the start of “The Streak” as well?
I bet you were upset that you never got to experience those classic bouts with Giant González and King Kong Bundy.
GOJIRA: Who could forget those gems?
Don’t forget: I may have missed that crap, but I got stuck with Big Bossman, Big Show/Albert, and Mark Henry.
KON: I wasn’t all bad back then though, you still got to see some of the fantastic vignettes with Paul Bearer.
GOJIRA: Ah, Paul Bearer. I still remember his awesome heel turn when he hit Taker over the head with the urn after the Boiler Room Brawl.
KON: Was The Undertaker’s weird grey mask in full effect by the time you got into it?
GOJIRA: This was around the time he was returning to feud with Chainz…aka UnderFaker. I remember watching the Summerslam PPV and laughing at Leslie Nielsen. Now I shake my head whenever I see that foolishness.
KON: Do you remember Undertaker v Diesel? It was the first Mania match that kinda mattered.
GOJIRA: Of course I remember! Wrestlemania XII was THE moment I watched wrestling non-stop (with the exception being my Raw Sabbatical during the Triple H Reign of Terror). I recall thinking the match wasn’t much to speak of, but I was happy that Taker won. It wasn’t until the Summer of ’96 that I started reading the dirt sheets and discovered Nash’s contract was up. I didn’t pay attention to WCW until the Hogan heel turn.
KON: After that they did a thing with him and Mankind. The WWF was big on gimmick matches back in the day, so they threw everything in. I think they had a buried alive match, a boiler room brawl, a Paul Bearer On a Pole match…
It’s a shame they tend to stick to the same handful of match types these days. The mid-90’s might have been more cartoon-like, but a PPV centred around a Burried Alive match sounds way more interesting than one based around a fatal 4-way.
Any thoughts on the feud with Mankind?
GOJIRA: Keep in mind that I was a bit more emotional as a teenager and, as such, I was dismayed at Foley’s constant destruction of the Deadman. However, that feud gave us some great matches and really pushed Taker to the top of my “Fave Five,” so to speak. Hell in a Cell was my favorite Undertaker match for a long time…both the HBK and Mankind ones.
KON: I wasn’t huge on the Michaels Hell in a Cell match. It was good, but it wasn’t exactly hell.
The one against Mankind though? That was crazy.The match lasted less than 15mins, yet it was harder hitting than the original and everything that came afterwards. I’ve heard a lot of praise for this year’s Taker v HHH match, but the cell it’s self didn’t really play a role.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves here…
Wrestlemania XIII, Undertaker v Sycho Sid!
GOJIRA: I loved the symbolism that Wrestlemania XIII (the lucky number being 13) was Undertaker’s big moment. His previous title run was questionable at best. I didn’t like that Taker needed Bret’s interference, but the chase for the gold that took place the month before was intense. That’s something I’ve documented before, so I won’t get into that here. As for Taker’s run with the gold, it was the typical “let’s feed the champ midcarders until Summerslam.” I didn’t mind; in fact I prefer that we go back to that dynamic. It keeps things fresh and gives up-and-comers a chance to show off.
KON: After that we were introduced to Kane.
We’ve already covered the Hell in a Cell match with Michaels, so let’s jump ahead to 1998…
Shawn v Taker, Casket Match at Royal Rumble.
Kane v Taker at Mania XIV.
Kane v Taker, Inferno Match at Unforgiven.
GOJIRA: I was NOT a fan of DX. Looking back at it now, I’m still not sure if Michaels and Triple H were supposed to be full-on heels, as their material was quite comical. They were anti-authority, but at the expense of face authority figures like Sergeant Slaughter and lone wolves like Owen Hart. As for the Royal Rumble match, I saw the casket at Fan Axxess four years ago and let me tell you, that bump HAD to hurt HBK. It’s still dented to this day.
I had gone to an episode of Raw…I think it was around the New Year, actually. I saw Kane and the Undertaker working together and I thought it was awesome, but I expected the heel turn later in the month. Their match at Mania was boring and plodding. I think it did more damage to Kane’s reputation even though it took three Tombstone Piledrivers to put him away. The Inferno match was, in hindsight, a dumb concept and it definitely didn’t interest me in the least.
KON: They did a good job of keeping the story going. I think not having them fight straight away was a great move as well, it built a level of suspense that WWE these days doesn’t even attempt to reach. I guess Rock v Cena had a massive build, but that had a lot more to do with the number of dates in The Rock’s contract.
How about his tag-team run with Stone Cold?
GOJIRA: The obligatory tag team that hates one another? Meh. Next!
KON: The Ministry!
Kidnappings, crucifixions, higher powers, McMahon’s most memorable line ever… You must’ve liked what was going on with The Undertaker in ’99.
GOJIRA: The Ministry was an awesome angle, which of course was ruined by the influence of the McMahons. It introduced us to Stephanie McMahon, which was fine…until she turned heel. We got to see wrestling cross (no pun intended) the line with the crucifixion of Austin. I enjoyed the Ministry until we got the illogical reveal of the Higher Power. I wonder if we saw a Black Scorpion moment back then. Do you know why I made that reference?
KON: No. What was “Black Scorpion”?
GOJIRA: Back in WCW’s heyday, Sting was supposed to face this mysterious arch-enemy known as the Black Scorpion. The Scorpion hid behind a mask for months, but the problem as I recall was there was no end game in place for the reveal. What did WCW do? They played a lot of bait-and-switch until they decided to just use Ric Flair as the man behind the curtain. It was a pathetic angle with a terrible ending.
KON: Sounds a lot like what they did with Hogan and Brutus.
GOJIRA: I think the WWE wrote themselves into a corner with the Higher Power angle and just decided to use Vinnie Mac.
KON: Undertaker v Bossman, Hell in a Cell at Mania XV!
GOJIRA: That would have been perfect for a kennel match. The dogs shitting around the cage was a perfect metaphor, don’t you think?
KON: They really should’ve pulled a George Lucas with the DVD set of the streak.
I guess the American Bad Ass incarnation of The Undertaker is up next….
GOJIRA: Visions of Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock dance in my head.
That was a bizarre time for the ol’ Undertaker, but we got a lot of good out of his run. I commend him for wanting to shy away from the gimmick to be more realistic, but we all knew by Wrestlemania XX the Deadman would resurface. Before the return to Old School, there was a lot of good that came out of the American Bad Ass run.
Brock Lesnar: Hell in a Cell.
Jeff Hardy: ladder match.
Kurt Angle and The Rock: Triple Threat match.
KON: I kinda gave up on wrestling in 2002, so I don’t know much of what went on during that time.
The “all important” streak matches were:
XVII – Triple H
XVIII – Ric Flair
XIX – Big Show & A-Train
XX – Kane
21 – Randy Orton
22 – Mark Henry, Casket match
23 – Batista, World Heavyweight Championship
XXIV – Edge, World Heavyweight Championship
XXV – Shawn Michaels
XXVI – Shawn Michaels, No countout, no disqualification, Streak vs. Career match
XXVII – Triple H, No Holds Barred match
XXVIII – Triple H, Hell in a Cell W/special guest referee Shawn Michaels
GOJIRA: All right. Let me break it down for you.
XVII: This was before the streak became a big deal, but I was surprised to see Triple H take the fall. This was during his Reign of Terror, but I suppose there’s always someone higher in the pecking order no matter what position you hold/whose daughter you’re fucking.
XVIII: The Flair match seemed a little odd, as Taker essentially dominated the entirety of the feud and it never really seemed as though Ric had a chance.
XIX: This was supposed to be a breakout night for Nathan Jones, but apparently the company didn’t have such high hopes for him after all. What we DID get was a match that made the future Tensai and the perennial Wrestlemania jobber Big Show look inept.
XX: The return of the Deadman gimmick (and Paul Bearer). There was no chance that Kane would win here, and it wasn’t any better than their first encounter.
XXI: I believe it was Randy Orton who first brought real prominence to the Streak and turned it into an angle. I remember when he RKO’d Stacy Keibler to show he was ruthless and truly ready for the Taker. That was a decent match, if I recall.
XXIII: The second of Taker’s title matches at Wrestlemania. Both men were faces at the time, and they delivered a good match for the fans.
XXIV: The end of Taker’s feud with Ege. Once Taker won the Royal Rumble, I think we all knew it was a wrap for Edge.
XXV: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The single greatest match I’ve ever had the privilege to watch live in person. Everything about that match, from the build to the crowd atmosphere, was perfect. It’s too bad the WWE didn’t realize that THIS was the reason people bought Wrestlemania and we got stuck with two underwhelming title matches afterward.
XXVI: Some people think this was the better of the two encounters, but perhaps my being in Texas the year before has made me biased. A good match, but nothing like XXV.
XXVII: This was brutal, but mostly because Taker was in no shape to really compete. The ending was unique, as Undertaker was unable to walk out under his own power after the victory.
XXVIII: Overrated. A good brawl, with some great visuals courtesy of the Showstopper, but not their best effort. Did it tell a great story? Yes. The match itself was really just a hardcore brawl more than anything.
KON: So what’s your view on the streak as it stands?
GOJIRA: A number of years ago (around the time Orton went after Taker), I would have said that ending the streak could be a positive to solidify a talent’s status. Now, with the lack of new stars and the unreliability of established stars (like the aforementioned Orton), I can’t see how ending the streak will help anyone. He should have retired after 20. Now we have the prospect of next year to look forward to.
KON: Taker has looked unwell the last few times he popped up. If you look at guys like Flair and Hogan, you can pinpoint almost the exact match that it went from being “Awesome, Flair/Hogan is out” to “Fuck, I don’t think he’s physically able take a bump.”
GOJIRA: Honestly, as a huge fan of the Undertaker, even I know it’s time to retire. I first noticed his decline in his feud with Kane. He lost three straight title matches! For a while I thought it was mostly to put over Kane for all the times he jobbed to the Deadman. When I saw the “quality” of matches, I realized he just couldn’t do it any more.
KON: Yeah. At this point, the streak is either going to end via broken bones, heart failure, arthritis, cancer or senile dementia. I think would be a much better idea to have an active wrestler end it instead, but that’s just me.
GOJIRA: It’s too late to capitalize, what with his failing physical prowess. If company man Triple H won’t do it, nobody should. Especially Cena.
KON: WWE will wheel him out for a few more years, regardless of his physical state.
GOJIRA: Can you imagine? The fog…the flickering lights…the gongs….Paul Bearer wheeling Taker down the ramp in a scooter while druids attend to his drooling…
KON: They’ll cut the lights for like 5mins, then bring them back up with Taker in the ring. It might actually work on Smackdown, or the 324908569345 ad-breaks during RAW.
GOJIRA: They could parade his body around like Lenin’s corpse, I suppose. A little macabre, but remember: this is the same company that gave us Katie Vick.
KON: They want to bring him back for the 1000th episode of Monday Night Raw in July, maybe the entrance will take up a whole 12 minute segment.
I keep hearing about WWE trying to reel Sting in for a Wrestlemania match with The Deadman as well…
GOJIRA: I think they missed the boat on that by about 5 years.
KON: At least.
Do you think WWE will end up implementing some sort of pension scheme for old wrestlers, much like they do with the Wellness thing for guys who are addicted to
GOJIRA: Considering the way these guys are used as independent contractors, no. Maybe if they retire into an office position.
KON: They have done that type of thing in the past, I hear Ron Simmons has some sort of behind the scenes role, Goldust was a “road agent”, Duthty runs the training place… a lot of shoot interviews talk about Calaway being the guy who holds the locker-room together, so maybe he could get a Talent Relations role (gotta be better than Laurinaitis) or something along those lines.
GOJIRA: Yes, but do those guys have a pension plan?
KON: That’s one aspect you never hear about. The “talent” are classified as independent contractors, but would a guy like Luger, who’s now head of the Wellness division of WWE, not be entitled to the same benefits as Joey Styles (who runs a lot of WWE’s internet stuff)?
GOJIRA: Wait, Luger’s in charge of the Wellness Program?! That’s like putting RVD in charge of drug tests for pot.
KON: I think the idea is that Luger will go around saying things like “You know, it starts with pot, Mr. Orton. One day you’re laughing your ass off, the next you’re responsible for the death of Miss Elizabeth and have to live on Sting’s sofa.”
GOJIRA: Too soon, dude. Too soon.
KON: That seems to be as good a note to end on as any.
GOJIRA: Thanks for your time, and you’re welcome for boosting your ratings and helping to keep you employed.
KON: Thanks for taking part, Mike.
This was in interesting one. The interview was slightly difficult to conduct, mainly due to real life getting in the way and ruining the pace, but I found the conversation really enjoyable and I hope you guys do to.
Part I: DESTRUCITY – With CB and KON
Part II: HULKAMANIA – With CB and KON