Earlier today, I wrote an article about Undertaker’s match with Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXV. In it, I asked for help in figuring out when Taker truly managed to get over with the crowd as a babyface character. My best guess was the year 1994.
It started with the Royal Rumble. At that year’s installment of the classic event, The Dead Man wrestled Yokozuna in a Casket Match for Yoko’s WWF Championship. This match completely mystified me when I was younger. I rented the VHS from Blockbuster more than once. I’d sit in front of my television, transfixed. Every time the finish hit, my mind would shatter.
Did Yokozuna kill Undertaker? How could they let that happen on television? What the actual fuck?
To explain: Taker lost the match, and then somehow appeared on the big screen, where he crushed a promo for a match that wouldn’t happen for another ten months (Survivor Series in November). Then he sort of floated away.
The overall fan base already wasn’t a fan of Yokozuna. He was a heel. When he sent Taker to the next plain, he got rid of his greatest opponent. He wouldn’t be truly challenged again until a few months later, at the Tenth Showcase of the Immortals.
Basically, the massive Samoan reigned supreme from the Royal Rumble, all the way up to WrestleMania.
NOTE: Am I the only one whose world was shattered when they learned that Yokozuna was Rikishi’s brother, and not a massive Japanese man?
This is back when the WWE didn’t have one PPV every month. They had five, and they had to make all of them count. ‘
Somewhere around there, they started to hype Undertaker’s return. This is where the Million Dollar Man, Ted DiBiase comes in. He started to claim that he had Undertaker under his control, and even brought out a man who certainly looked a lot like him.
NOTE: Decide for yourself, but I don’t think it’s Matt Hardy in the video below.
Paul Bearer eventually made his return, and claimed that DiBiase’s Undertaker was an impostor. This led to SummerSlam 1994, where the real Dead Man returned to take on The Million Dollar Man’s paid phony (as seen in the featured image). This is another match that completely mystified me.
Keep in mind, I was born in 1989. By the time I was renting these VHS tapes at Blockbuster, I’d say it was 1996.
6-7 year-old Joey couldn’t comprehend what he was seeing.
Unfortunately, the match isn’t as good as the premise it was built on. It’s still fun to watch, but the act quickly grows thin. That’s 2015 me talking, of course. Wrestling is in an entirely different place now, and so am I.
I can confidently say, however, that you could still show Undertaker vs. Undertaker to any kids who watch the WWE, and they’d lose their mind. It’s all spectacle, and not much substance. If I had to assign blame for that, I guess it’d go to Brian Lee Harris a.k.a. fake Undertaker. He had to imitate one of the most inimitable styles in the history of Professional Wrestling.
He did a great job in getting the match where it needed to be, but he was no Glenn Jacobs, that’s for damn sure.
After he put away his impostor, Undertaker built towards a return Casket Match with Yokozuna at Survivor Series 1994. I never actually saw this match as a youngster, so it doesn’t have the sheen of nostalgia to protect it. I watched it for the purpose of writing this article, and it wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t great, either, but it did have one amazing thing going for it: fuckin’ Chuck Norris was the “troubleshooting, special guest referee.”
That is hilarious (mainly because I got to see Jeff Jarrett test him, and catch a kick to the chest for his troubles). If you’re wondering why they needed someone like Chuck Norris to be around for this match, it’s because, at the Rumble, in order to win their first Casket Match, Yoko required the assistance of ten other superstars. So, they got Walker, Texas Ranger to come in, and put a stop to that shit.
After fifteen minutes, The Dead Man managed to stuff Mr. Fuji’s Yokozuna into the double-wide, and double-deep casket, putting a cap on their stellar rivalry, as well as a dynamite year-long run for Undertaker. He worked opposite two of the best villains that the company has ever seen: Yoko and The Million Dollar Man (I definitely count fake Taker as DiBiase – he was the man with the green, pulling all the strings).
I brought all this up in my WrestleMania XXV article, because I couldn’t help but think about how crazy a character Undertaker is. By all rights, he should’ve always been a heel. He’s an undead monster, who, at one point, was sold as the WWF’s equivalent of Lucifer (Ministry of Darkness era). Yet, most WWE fans will love the man forever.
I think it’s because he’s been such a huge part of so many childhoods now. The 2015 edition of Survivor Series was in November, and it was hyped as the 25th anniversary of Undertaker (he debuted at Survivor Series 1990). Think about that. I’m 26. Taker was a star from the jump. That means that he’s been a star in the WWE for almost as long as I have been alive. There is no possible way to measure the amount of lives that he’s touched by now. He is a true icon.
He also Tombstoned the shit out of a turkey on Fallon, and that’s pretty cool.
FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Courtesy of WWE.com.