Before you bury me alive (sorry, I had to), let me just say that I am as huge a fan of The Phenom as you are.
Big Evil has provided each one of us with many moments of entertainment throughout his career, and he is quite possibly the most talented big man—if not of any size—of all time.
Let's face it: whether you love him or hate him, you respect the (dead) man for leaving an indelible mark on the psyche of multiple generations of fans.
But even though he has had dozens of highly touted bouts in his storied career, his clashes at each WrestleMania are the ones that have, more or less, defined his career.
This time each year, rumors and hushed whispers pass down the corridors regarding whom Undertaker will be facing at the next WrestleMania.
"Is this the year?" they ask.
"Will someone finally slay the Deadman once and for all?" the fans wonder.
"Who will be the next victim to rest in peace?"
The speculation snowballs to the point where, many times, Undertaker's match dwarfs every other one on the card (sometimes rightfully so).
Personally, the earliest memory I have of The Undertaker at WrestleMania was at WrestleMania XII, his matinee against Big Daddy Cool Diesel.
For those of you who remember, back then "The Streak" was not something which was ever talked or thought about. It was not until a few years later that some writer or legion of fans must have realized The Undertaker had racked up a series of wins without a strike against him.
And so began Undertaker's march into immortality.
At this point, we have witnessed The Streak having taken on a life of its own, to the point that many tune in to the granddaddy of them all just to see what will happen in his match. If The Streak ever snaps, it could possibly be the biggest "rub" in professional wrestling history.
But we're not fools. It would not make sense to compare this streak to John Wooden's seven NCAA championships or Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting spree.
In fact, now that we think about it, should The Streak even be recognized as something more than Undertaker being in the right feud or angle at the right time? Was he just in a fortunate situation many times in his early career, then later luckily found himself in a position where management could start building a storyline around his streak?
Did the Demon from Death Valley really vanquish anyone worth defeating before his streak became more important than the matches themselves? Based on the state of affairs between Undertaker and the WWE at each moment of the individual clashes, was the outcome of any of the matches ever truly in doubt?
Let's briefly break each of the victories down, look at the circumstance surrounding each one and decide for ourselves:
WrestleMania VII (Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka)
As expected, aging veteran Jimmy Snuka "jobbed" to a young phenom in less than five minutes. This is a classic example of putting young talent "over," and it wasn't the first time Snuka had done it. The year before, he took the fall for Rick Rude. 1-0.
WrestleMania VIII (Jake "The Snake" Roberts)
By this time, Undertaker—already WWE Champion, but for less than a week—Ultimate Warrior and Roberts had been involved in a feud with each other for some time. However, Warrior was out of the company by WrestleMania VIII, and Jake Roberts had asked for his release. Roberts' last match was scheduled for that night, so an Undertaker win was the only logical move. 2-0.
WrestleMania IX (Giant Gonzalez)
This feud had more to do with manager Harver Wippleman and less with Giant Gonzalez. The Undertaker won this one by disqualification, but Gonzalez was never going to be a major force within the company and was finished with the WWE a few months later. 3-0.
WrestleMania XI (King Kong Bundy)
The Undertaker's angle with the Million Dollar Corporation was the catalyst for this match. However, Bundy was nearing 40 and had already had his time in the sun. It wouldn't make sense from a business standpoint to kill the momentum of a star in his 20s. Like Snuka, the seasoned veteran took a hit for Undertaker. Like Gonzalez, Bundy was out of the company by the end of the year. 4-0.
WrestleMania XII (Diesel)
The contract of Diesel was set to expire, and he was about to sign with WCW. Just like the settings in the match against Jake Roberts, it would not make sense for the departing superstar to be "put over" before going to a rival company. A few weeks later, Kevin Nash would debut with WCW. 5-0.
WrestleMania 13 (Sycho Sid)
His peers, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, had won championships at WrestleMania. Now it was 'Taker's turn. There was a lot of drama involved in even setting this scenario up, with the original plans being HBK vs The Hitman for the strap.
Steve Austin was involved in the mix but ended up going against Bret Hart in the famous "I Quit" match. Meanwhile, Sycho Sid found himself as the transitional champion. He dropped the belt to Undertaker and was out of the company a couple months later. Notice a pattern? 6-0.
WrestleMania XIV (Kane)
This was the first time I thought Undertaker may lose at WrestleMania. For months leading up to their historic encounter, Kane had attacked his older brother in more ways than one. Other than the brutal psychological torture that Paul Bearer and the Big Red Machine heaped upon Undertaker, several of his matches were sabotaged, he was stabbed in the back after a false truce and was also lit on fire.
But the more one thinks about it, it made more sense for the Phenom to win the first match between the two. If he had not, as a "face," would it logically make sense for him to want to fight Kane again, considering he only begrudgingly faced him in the first place? The rational booking was to have Kane lose this spar to set the table for the next match between the two. 7-0.
WrestleMania XV (Big Bossman)
This match, widely believed to be one of the worst of the lot, served one purpose: to get Undertaker over as a sadistic villain. The Undertaker had debuted his new persona a couple of months earlier, and this match did its duty to bolster his new demonic persona.
It was not going to be enough to defeat the head of security of The Corporation; he had to literally hang the man. The facts that Undertaker was inside his Hell in a Cell with a more evil image and facing a weaker heel told us that even before the bell rung to start the match, the victory would eventually be with the dark side. 8-0.
WrestleMania X-7 (Triple H, Part 1)
The Game had been boasting about how he had thrashed everyone there was to beat and therefore deserved a title shot. Yet, he forgot that 'Taker was not on that list of vanquished foes.
Just like the slugfest against Kane, it was hard to predict which man would have their hand raised when it was all said and done. Yes, I agree that hindsight is 20/20, but after the match, the Cerebral Assassin turned to Steve Austin, the WWE Champion, as an ally. He proceeded to engage himself in feuds over the Intercontinental Championship with the likes of Jeff Hardy.
With The Rock in Hollywood, Mick Foley retired and Triple H wanting to become a Grand Slam Champion like his buddy HBK, the plan was to have Undertaker momentarily go on to challenge Stone Cold for the belt. That meant Triple H had to lose. 9-0.
WrestleMania X-8 (Ric Flair)
This was the first time I can recall that fans and announcers alike had started to really talk about Undertaker's undefeated streak at WrestleMania. However, Ric Flair being a 30-plus year veteran of the squared circle and holding 16 World Championships to his credit, would not have benefited from ending it. Having the much younger Undertaker win to keep his streak alive was the only reasonable decision. 10-0.
WrestleMania XIX (Big Show and A-Train)
A handicap match that featured interference from Nathan Jones in favor of Undertaker. It made both parties look okay, in that a two-on-one victory would have had no pomp next to it, and a clean victory for the handicapped wrestler would have made the other side look weak. A loss for Undertaker in a handicap match would not have given the Big Show any added credibility, since he was already established as a World Champion, nor would the A-Train have deserved this push. 11-0.
WrestleMania XX (Kane)
While this match was not as spectacular as their first encounter, Undertaker's grand entrance (reawakening from beyond the grave to right a wrong) and the return to his old look, as well as the return of Paul Bearer with the urn, all sowed the seeds for an obvious Undertaker win. 12-0.
WrestleMania 21 (Randy Orton)
Most agree that they felt this was the moment that The Streak was going to come to an end. The "Legend Killer" versus The "Legend." A whole essay could be devoted to the brilliant lead-up to this match and how The Streak was used as the sole motivator for Randy Orton, but I personally believe that as the first to defeat Undertaker at WrestleMania, Orton would have been the No. 1 poster boy of the new generation.
However, with John Cena and Batista winning their first championships on the same show, the much younger Orton was given the shaft, since it would immediately have boosted his stock above that of the other two. If that happened, it would be a bad business decision. 13-0.
WrestleMania 22 (Mark Henry)
Come on. Did anybody really think Sexual Chocolate, though a loyal company man, was going to be the one to seal the deal? The fact that he was even able to face Undertaker at WrestleMania was a nod of respect from the WWE brass. 14-0.
WrestleMania 23 (Batista)
Although these two had many great matches throughout the year, having a wrestler in his mid-40s and the current champion end the streak would have been a silly move. It would not have done any great service to either of their careers. The WWE thought the same.15-0.
WrestleMania XXIV (Edge)
Edge, meanwhile, was building a mini-streak of his own. However, he was also around 35 years old and had already been a world champion multiple times. These two warriors had a great match, but Edge ending The Streak and using it to catapult himself would have probably been a more legitimate decision a few years prior. 16-0.
WrestleMania 25 (Shawn Michaels, Part 1)
In quite possibly the greatest match ever, the two icons gave us everything we could handle, and then some. I'm not going to write any more about this match because it would not do it justice. However, the Showstopper didn't need to win it, and ending The Streak would have been a waste. 17-0.
WrestleMania XVI (Shawn Michaels, Part 2)
This match, like that of the year before, was simply jaw-dropping. The added incentive here was that Shawn Michaels' career was on the line. Whether the fans knew about it or not, HBK was hanging it up that night. 18-0.
WrestleMania XVII (Triple H, Part 2)
There was no one else in the locker room who was going to be able to face Undertaker in a meaningful match, as Shawn Michaels had done in the two years preceding this brawl. Triple H was the sole man who could do so, but at that point in Triple H's career, ending The Streak would have been severely frowned upon as an unnecessary notch in his belt. 19-0
WrestleMania XVIII (Triple H, Part 3)
The end of an era, with Shawn Michaels as the guest referee. Another mentally and emotionally exhausting match to watch, this was a gesture of thanks to all the fans. 20-0.
Based upon his opponents and the circumstances, it does not seem as though Undertaker really defeated anyone truly worthy before The Streak became more important than the storylines. By then, he was facing fellow wrestlers who simply would not have benefited as much from the rub of picking up such a career defining win.
Sure, guys like Jake Roberts, Jimmy Snuka, etc. are legends, but they were at vastly different stages of their careers. After looking at each match, only his match against Randy Orton sticks out as one that the Deadman could have logically been booked as losing.
Since there were so many external factors involved with many of his opponents, it is therefore my concluding opinion that The Streak is overrated.
Am I wrong?
Is the Undertaker's winning streak at WrestleMania rated exactly where it should be?
Or is it underrated?
Whom do you think was the closest to defeating the Phenom on the biggest stage of them all?