Over the course of the last 21 years, almost every aspect of the Undertaker’s career has been covered extensively. From his battles with pro-wrestling greats such as Shawn Michaels and Triple H to the speculative date of his retirement, the WWE’s longest-active performer is often in the limelight.
Oddly, however, the Deadman’s championship accolades frequently take the backseat when considering his iconic career.
Despite being a highly respectable, seven-time world champion, the Undertaker is not known for his championship credentials.
The Brothers of Destruction. The Hell in a Cell bout with Mick Foley. The Ministry of Darkness.
Events such as those are often mentioned before the fact that the Undertaker has beaten famous names like Hulk Hogan and Stone Cold Steve Austin in order to win championship gold. Several essential Undertaker bouts (such as the exemplary 2002 Ladder Match with Jeff Hardy) occurred whilst in possession of a WWE heavyweight strap, therefore the importance of his title history must be acknowledged.
In this article, the spotlight will be deservedly placed upon the Undertaker’s WWE and World Heavyweight title victories.
(Note: Title wins will be ranked in terms of match quality and success of resulting championship reigns.)
In May 2002, the Undertaker was in the middle of the increasingly stale "American Bad-Ass" gimmick. However, fresh life had been injected into the character with a well-executed heel turn (at the expense of Jim Ross) and the "Big Evil" element had elevated the Undertaker to the top of the card.
The title reign that followed Judgment Day 2002 was considerably successful, containing a solid Ladder Match with a rookie Jeff Hardy on the July 1 Raw as well as other enjoyable bouts with Triple H, The Rock and Kurt Angle.
What let down the Undertaker’s Undisputed title run, however, was the way in which it began.
Hulk Hogan had recently returned to the company, and had been given a nostalgia-inspired “once last run” at the top. Defeating Triple H for the recently unified Undisputed Championship, Hogan was still in great physical condition—but not quite as sharp between the ropes.
Despite the Undertaker’s admirable ability to carry a match on his own, the much-anticipated showdown with Hogan was, unfortunately, a mixture of woeful miss-timing and dismal botched spots (such as the legendary “worst Chokeslam ever”).
A let-down, the only notable aspect of the Undertaker/Hogan angle from 2002 is the stellar promo work that The Phenom provided prior to the event.
Contrary to the bout the two would have in 2002, the Undertaker vs. Hulk Hogan confrontation from Survivor Series 1991 was a highly entertaining WWF Championship match.
At the time, Hulk Hogan was still the hottest entity in the professional wrestling world. Undertaker, however, was only 12 months into his WWE career going into this event.
Dubbed “the Gravest Challenge,” the Undertaker pinned Hulk Hogan to win his first WWF title in an extremely well-worked match. Whilst the ending was overshadowed by the involvement of Ric Flair (in order to set up the dream WrestleMania bout with Hogan that failed to materialise), it is worth noting the fan reaction that the challenger received, as Undertaker himself highlights in the 2002 video release This is My Yard.
Undertaker’s first WWF Championship run (bar this match) was ultimately forgettable, with it lasting a ridiculously short seven days before he dropped the belt back to Hogan at the This Tuesday in Texas event (that, incidentally, was a pay-per-view flop).
The original Undertaker/Hogan match began a trend that would follow the Deadman throughout his career. The mortician gimmick—effectively the monster heel—is a character designed to be feared. However, Mark Calaway’s outstanding capabilities as a performer endeared the Undertaker to the entire WWE fan base.
With rumours running rampant of a potential WrestleMania 29 showdown between Undertaker and current WWE champion CM Punk (via Nick Paglino of Wrestle Zone), an example of the chemistry between the two can be found in their World Heavyweight title match from October 2009.
Taking place in the imposing Hell in a Cell structure, Undertaker’s victory over CM Punk marked the start of the Deadman’s last World Heavyweight title run to date. An impressive showing from both combatants, the match was a somewhat boundary-pusher in terms of PG-era brutality, if not slightly marred by the company’s post-2008 ban on extreme violence.
At the event, the Undertaker pinned Punk following a Tombstone Piledriver in a satisfactory finish that made amends for the nonsensical Montreal Screwjob re-enactment at Breaking Point a month earlier.
Undertaker held the World Heavyweight Championship from Hell in a Cell 2009 all the way to February 2010, competing in fine matches with the likes of Rey Mysterio and Chris Jericho along the way. Dropping the belt to Jericho at the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, Undertaker’s 2009/2010 World Heavyweight title reign was effective in laying the groundwork for perhaps the greatest match of his career against Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXVI.
On a night most remembered for the tragic death of Owen Hart, Undertaker defeated the white-hot Stone Cold Steve Austin to win his third WWF Championship.
A competent match complete with a relevant interference finish from Vince and Shane McMahon, Undertaker vs. Austin was a solid match that both elevated Undertaker to champion and protected Austin as the top babyface of the company.
Around the time of Over the Edge, Undertaker was in the midst of the ‘Ministry of Darkness’ angle—a storyline that contained some of the most controversial TV programming in the history of the WWE. Events such as the “sacrifice” of Big Boss Man at WrestleMania XV and the Black Wedding involving Undertaker and Stephanie McMahon solidified the Ministry angle’s reputation as a cornerstone of the fabled WWF "Attitude Era."
Whilst in the midst of some of his most interesting storylines to date, the Undertaker’s 1999 title run only lasted a month. However, in that time, Undertaker participated in an array of decent matches, including a five-star outing with The Rock at King of the Ring 1999.
Added as an almost haphazard replacement for the originally slated WrestleMania XII re-match between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, the Undertaker’s first WWF title win since 1991 came in the form of a decent “big man” match with champion Sycho Sid.
Leading into the 1997 edition of WrestleMania, Sid had been riding a considerable wave of momentum following his heated WWF Championship victory over Bret Hart on the Feb. 17 Raw. Undertaker, fresh off a revered feud with Mankind and Paul Bearer in late 1996, was also looking strong heading into the “Showcase of the Immortals.”
With the HBK/Hart bout scrapped due to (dubious) injuries, the WWF found itself with only Undertaker and Sid as viable WrestleMania main eventers—and the match was set.
The match itself, whilst not a technical masterpiece, was adequate for its high-profile billing, with several entertaining exchanges showcasing both competitor’s ability to carry a marquee match (including the impressive high spot of the 6'9" Sid receiving the Tombstone Piledriver).
Following WrestleMania, the Undertaker held the WWF title belt for a significant portion of 1997, participating in respectable matches with Vader, Stone Cold Steve Austin and (somewhat surprisingly) Faarooq of the Nation of Domination. Eventually losing the gold to Bret Hart in an exceptional contest at SummerSlam 1997, Undertaker went on to feud with his "brother" Kane for the remainder of the year in one of the Deadman’s most notable storylines.
Among the Undertaker’s unprecedented 20 WrestleMania matches, his bout with Batista in 2007 was the first truly excellent affair to feature gold on the line.
In early 2007, Dave Batista was arguably at the peak of his popularity, holding the World Heavyweight Championship credibly for a combined total of 13 months between 2005 and 2007 (only vacating the title due to injury). Undertaker, on the other hand, had been absent from the title scene for some time—despite a series of thrilling showings against the likes of Ken Kennedy and MVP toward the tail end of 2006.
It had also been a whole 10 years since the Deadman had won the “big one” at a WrestleMania.
This all changed at the “Grandest Stage of them All.” Setting up the match with a triumphant Royal Rumble Match appearance in January (Undertaker last eliminated Shawn Michaels in a very exciting finish to book a spot at ‘Mania), The Phenom defeated Batista in one of the finest outings of the illustrious winning streak.
Packed with extremely convincing near-falls, this was one of the first WrestleMania contests in which the Undertaker’s undefeated record was felt to be in believable jeopardy.
Nevertheless, Undertaker was victorious and embarked on a deserved title run that lasted until May (with the strap only being dropped due to a torn bicep muscle sustained around the time of the Backlash 2007 pay-per-view). In one of the most memorable moments in recent WWE history, Undertaker handed the title to Edge on the May 11 SmackDown after the “Rated-R Superstar” cashed in one of the first Money in the Bank contracts.
A culmination of storyline events stretching back almost a full year, Undertaker vs. Edge from March 2008 was a classic World Heavyweight title match, and can rank as one of the most breath-taking main events in WrestleMania history.
Before the match even began, a determined Edge set the tone by delivering one of the best interview segments of his career.
In a thrilling back-and-forth affair, tense referee bumps and interference from the “Rated-R Entourage” of Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins heightened the drama before the Undertaker ultimately defeated Edge with his recently unveiled Hell’s Gate submission manoeuvre.
The resulting re-matches with Edge at Backlash and Judgment Day, combined with the electric Tables, Ladders and Chairs bout at One Night Stand marked the Undertaker’s sixth Heavyweight title reign as perhaps his most entertaining, and undoubtedly the most consistent in terms of in-ring quality.
A timeless bout, the main event of WrestleMania XXIV is an example of a modern professional wrestling classic.
The mixture of sensational action and the platform on which it was staged renders the Undertaker/Edge showdown as the greatest World title victory in The Phenom’s distinguished WWE career.
As is evident in his extremely light schedule over the last several years, the Undertaker appears to be in the early stages of winding down his 25-plus-year professional wrestling career.
Alas, it is a sobering thought to think that one of the greatest characters in WWE will most probably never hold heavyweight gold again.
Luckily, in considering the Undertaker’s legacy, the industry has a rich back catalogue of his championship matches to reflect upon.
These contests, along with the untouchable WrestleMania streak, will define Mark Calaway’s contribution to the business, and serve as a reminder that, when done properly, professional wrestling is still one of the most gripping mediums of entertainment in existence.
The Undertaker is in a unique position—he will forever be a top draw, with or without a championship belt around his waist.
And that in itself can rank as one of the Undertaker’s most incredible achievements.
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