WWE met horror movie genre when Undertaker and Mankind battled in the first-ever Buried Alive match.
The brutal, unnerving brawl was by no means a wrestling exhibition, but instead a novel gimmick match that perfectly complemented two wrestlers with dark, monster-like characters. WWE is the strange world where two men fighting inside a grave makes perfect sense.
Before their famous Hell in a Cell collision, Undertaker and Mankind wrestled at In Your House 11: Buried Alive on October 20, 1996 at the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis.
To win, one man had to put the other inside an empty grave and cover him with dirt. It sounded like something that George Romero would dream up.
It's a match that comes to mind now thanks to rumors of Kane carrying on the grave-centered tradition emerging. Wrestling Observer Newsletter, via Wrestle Zone, reports that if Daniel Bryan doesn't face Batista, "the likely Payback main event will be Daniel Bryan vs Kane in a Buried Alive Match."
Vince McMahon, Steve Austin, Big Show, Kane and others have entered this bizarre bout as well, but no one has been able to surpass the bar Undertaker and Mankind set almost 20 years ago.
Their previous wars had taken them inside boiler rooms and caskets and had clashes that Jim Ross said, "resembled a prison riot." They needed a match that accentuated their bad blood, that could house their next slugfest and make it feel even bigger than their previous efforts.
That was doubly true after Undertaker's long-time manager left his side.
Paul Bearer betrayed "The Deadman" at SummerSlam 1996. A wobbly Undertaker went to Bearer mid-match so that he could use his mysterious urn to recharge his powers. Bearer instead assisted Mankind in beating the big man down.
Undertaker now sought revenge against Bearer and the masochistic Mankind.
Normally this is when a cage match would come into play. These two men instead found a new battleground, one as unusual as each man's gimmick.
An open grave awaited them in the center of a hill of dirt. A tombstone featured both men's names and faces jutted out.
The match began with each foe throwing wild punches, rage taking strategy's place.
Undertaker dominated much of the early action. He rammed Mankind's head into the railing around the ring, dove at him and whacked him with the shovel lying near the grave site. The enemies tumbled in the dirt together, two animals clawing at each other.
The appeal came from the intensity, the sight of Undertaker making Mankind pay for his misdeeds and of course the surreal surroundings of their fight.
There were no suplexes or crafty reversals. This was a gritty fight that saw Undertaker choke Mankind with a microphone cord and Mankind jab a sharp implement into Undertaker's flesh. Mankind squealed like some deranged pig as he tortured his foe.
He cracked a chair onto Undertaker's head and then licked it with a grin.
It was images like these that powered this match, that had it entertain despite its lack of finesse. Flesh smacked against steel. Mankind clutched the urn to his chest and rocked like some unnerved mental patient.
The grave itself became a source of great drama.
The enemies battled inside it and around it. The crux of many cage matches is a man trying to escape a structure, but this was the inverse, titans shoving their opponent into a hole and sending them to some metaphorical hell.
It was Undertaker who managed to do that to Mankind in the end.
He overpowered the masked man, dropped him in the hole and began to cover his back with dirt. The referee called the match at that point.
That's when the miscreants began to hurry out of the shadows.
Goldust, Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Terry Gordy (as The Executioner) ganged up on Undertaker, replacing Mankind in the grave with him and shoveling dirt atop him. Jerry Lawler and Vince McMahon assumed this was the end of "The Phenom."
Just like the Johnny Cash song, though, no grave could hold his body down.
After a flash of lightning, he rose. Undertaker's hand piercing through the dirt was one of the match's most enduring images.
For Kane and Bryan to compete with Mankind vs. Undertaker, it will take creating a number of similar striking images like this one and culling the kind of drama those men did from their storyline hatred.
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