Examining The Evolution of The Undertaker’s Wrestlemania Excellence and Offering the Best Way to End “The Streak”
The Undertaker’s unprecedented streak at Wrestlemania has taken on a life all its own by this point. Let’s take a look back and analyze the history and possible rationale behind the decisions leading us to the present day domination at The Show of Shows by the Dead Man.
Wrestlemania XVII – vs. Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka (1991) – 1-0
All streaks must have a starting point. The Undertaker’s starting point was a hugely influential WWF Superstar named Jimmy Snuka. Snuka gained notoriety in the early to mid-80s as a revolutionary pre-cursor to the innovative, high-flying style that would flourish by the end of the decade and throughout the 90s. In 1991, Snuka was in his second stint with the WWF and had been used primarily to put over younger stars on the rise in the company. He did this the year prior at Wrestlemania VI as he put over “Ravishing” Rick Rude in just under four minutes, so it’s no surprise he would be asked to do the same for The Undertaker, still a young, but imposing, figure in the industry. The surprise may be that Snuka lasted longer with ‘Taker (4:20) than he did with Rude.
Wrestlemania XVIII – vs. Jake “The Snake” Roberts (1992) – 2-0
Coming off his feud with Hulk Hogan, which included a WWF Title win at the 1991 edition of Survivor Series, The Undertaker received his first lesson in the WWF in true ring psychology from Jake “The Snake” Roberts. This feud featured excellent mic work from Roberts and let UT focus on being the unstoppable zombie his early characterization epitomized. While Roberts had been on a role with recent feuds against The Ultimate Warrior & Randy Savage, backstage disagreements with Vince McMahon led to Roberts threatening to no-show Wrestlemania unless he was released from his contract. Obviously, Vince would not let Roberts defeat The Undertaker under these conditions. Roberts did the job and was released.
Wrestlemania IX – vs. Giant Gonzales (1993) – 3-0
The less said about this one, the better. Basically, a horrible wrestler with an even more horrible gimmick (and flesh & fur covered bodysuit) nearly defeated The Undertaker with chloroform. However, in a rare case of competent officiating, the referee disqualified Gonzales and kept the dead man undefeated at the granddaddy of them all.
Wrestlemania XI – vs. King Kong Bundy (1995) – 4-0
After missing Wrestlemania X, dispatching the fake Undertaker and exacting a measure of revenge on Yokozuna, the one true Undertaker became embroiled in feuds with various members of “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase’s Corporation, including King Kong Bundy. Bundy, much like Jimmy Snuka, was a Superstar who made his impact in the 80’s boom period and wrestled periodically on the independent scene thereafter. He did return to the WWF for just over a year in 1994-95 and that brief run saw him face The Undertaker at Wrestlemania XI. Although still an imposing figure in the ring, Bundy’s best days were behind him and, despite the theft of The Undertaker’s urn during the match, the King fell to defeat at the hands of the Phenom.
Wrestlemania XII – vs. Diesel (1996) – 5-0
This match was The Undertaker’s first bout against true main event competition and the first real threat to what would become known as “The Streak.” After costing each other title opportunities in the prior two months’ PPV offerings, these two goliaths stood across the squared circle prepared to do battle. Diesel had successfully defended the WWF title at Wrestlemania XI, so the perception of the 7-footer as a legitimate threat to defeat The Undertaker was not without merit. However, much like the case of Jake Roberts, backstage politics would come in to play in the determination of the winner in this match as well. Diesel’s contract was set to expire in the coming months, and, instead of re-signing with the WWF, Diesel chose to jump to rival company WCW. Vince McMahon again chose to put The Undertaker over against a departing worker.
Wrestlemania 13 – vs. Sycho Sid (1997) – 6-0
The Undertaker had only one title reign in the WWF prior to this match, and that reign had lasted barely 48 hours thanks to Hulk Hogan. Vince may have wanted to reward The Undertaker for his success over the years by allowing him to have another run with the big belt. Sycho Sid was another popular (at least with the fans, if not with the workers backstage) big man and was bringing the title into The Show of Shows after defeating Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart in recent months. However, as dependable as ‘Taker had been, Sid was the exact opposite. He had bounced from WCW to WWF to the indy scene and was making the rounds again. Rumors at the time stated he wanted to take time off from wrestling to focus on a semi-pro softball league he played in during the summer months. Regardless, thanks in part to interference from Bret “The Hitman” Hart, The Undertaker secured his second WWF Championship.
Wrestlemania XIV – vs. Kane (1998) – 7-0
Following Kane’s debut at Badd Blood in 1997 (where he cost The Undertaker a victory against Shawn Michaels in the first ever Hell in a Cell match), he embarked on an impressive run of domination not seen in the WWF since, well, The Undertaker. The brothers finally faced off one-on-one at Wrestlemania XIV. If ever an opponent was going to have an advantage over The Undertaker, it would be Kane. Physically and mentally, Kane seemed to know The Undertaker’s weaknesses and, with the help of former ‘Taker associate Paul Bearer, looked to exploit them. Perhaps Kane was never intended to last as long as he did in the WWF. Prior stints as Dr. Isaac Yankem (an evil dentist!) and The New Diesel certainly didn’t inspire much confidence, and the intended run for the Kane character may not have been originally planned to go much farther than the Wrestlemania faceoff with his brother. While Kane has been able to stand the test of time as a character, and has been one of the more dominant big men of the past decade and a half, he wasn’t able to turn his Wrestlemania debut into a victory against The Undertaker, as three tombstone piledrivers secured the victory for big brother.
Wrestlemania XV – vs. The Big Boss Man (Hell in a Cell match) (1999) – 8-0
The Big Boss Man enjoyed a highly successful first run with the WWF in the late 80s & early 90s, including feuds with Hulk Hogan and a tag team run with Akeem as The Twin Towers. He headed to WCW for about five years and then made his way back to the WWF in the fall of 1998. He became the head of security for Vince McMahon’s Corporation. While most fans fondly remembered Boss Man, he never achieved the glory of his prior stint and was looked upon as a true longshot to defeat The Undertaker in any match, not to mention a Hell in a Cell match, especially at Wrestlemania. What may have been the most impactful reason was the recent revamping of The Undertaker’s character into the head of The Ministry. It’s highly unlikely the creative team of the WWF would invest the time and effort to retool a major talent’s character and direction only to have him lose in a specialty match custom suited for him against a performer who is several years removed from his best run in any wrestling promotion. And they didn’t.
Wrestlemania X-Seven – vs. HHH (2001) – 9-0
Hunter Hearst Helmsley had become one of the top draws in the WWF. He had shed the Connecticut blueblood aspect of his gimmick entirely and was now, and forevermore, The Game. The Undertaker had shed his Dead Man persona and re-emerged with a new biker/tough guy image and became known as The American Badass. The conflict between these two boiled down to bragging rights. HHH demanded to be a part of the ‘Mania title match since he had defeated everyone in the WWF, including main event participants The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Undertaker took objection to this remark, as HHH had never defeated him. In what would become an instant classic, The Cerebral Assassin and Big Evil faced off to see which dog would rule the yard (WWF). Of all the match-ups to this point, this is the first I believe Undertaker may have been in danger of losing. It’s also about the same time when announcers and fans started acknowledging “The Streak.” Personally, I think HHH saw this match as a rite of passage for his character and a showing of respect to The Undertaker. It certainly didn’t harm his standing in the company (of course, marrying a McMahon surely didn’t hurt either) to become a victim to the dark side.
Wrestlemania X8 – vs. Ric Flair (No DQ) (2002) – 10-0
After Flair, as co-owner of the WWF, condemned The Undertaker’s actions and interfered in his match against the Rock, ‘Taker challenged The Nature Boy to a Wrestlemania confrontation. Ric refused initially, but after The American Badass targeted his friends and family members in the following weeks, Flair acquiesced.
In a brutal and bloody brawl, Flair enlisted the aide of long-time friend and former Horseman Arn Anderson to try and defeat The Phenom. Despite a No DQ stipulation and several chairshots, Flair failed to disrupt the pin after a Tombstone piledriver. While the dirtiest player in the game might have been expected to garner the win in a prior decade, his primarily non-wrestling role left him ripe for defeat at the hands of the now 10 and 0 Undertaker and The Streak truly came to the forefront in ‘Taker’s career.
Wrestlemania XIX – vs. A-Train & The Big Show (Handicap Match) (2003) – 11-0
The Undertaker truly had the deck stacked against him at Wrestlemania XIX. He was scheduled to face A-Train & The Big Show in tag team action with his protégé, Nathan Jones. After Jones was attacked backstage and deemed unable to compete (rumor has it WWE officials decided at the eleventh hour to pull Jones from the match due to his lack of experience and recklessness in the ring), The Undertaker proceeded to the match to take on both men. Despite being at a disadvantage, The Phenom fought valiantly, and thanks to a distraction by an “injured” Jones, was eventually able to pin A-Train (definitely the lesser of the two opponents, though arguably neither were the caliber of opponent now necessary to have a chance at Wrestlemania against The Undertaker) via a Tombstone piledriver. It would be interesting to know if the creative team had intended for ‘Taker/Jones to win the match initially, and if they had lost, how that would or would not have affected the solo streak, but by overcoming the odds, the legacy of The Undertaker continued to grow.
Wrestlemania XX – vs. Kane (2004) – 12-0
The first Wrestlemania rematch for The Undertaker would come in a challenge from his brother, Kane. Five years removed from their initial match, Kane had proved himself to be a dominant force in WWE and now had to be looked upon as the odds-on favorite to break The Streak. He had defeated The Undertaker in other matches at other events, so why should WM XX be any different? Not so fast … Undertaker had not been seen since losing a Buried Alive match against Mr. McMahon at the previous year’s Survivor Series. McMahon, with the help of Kane, had been able to defeat The American Badass persona of The Undertaker. Making his return to as The Dead Man in classic ‘Taker garb, and even enlisting the aid of Paul Bearer, The Undertaker refused to bow to defeat as the Creatures of the Night cheered him on to yet another Wrestlemania victory.
Wrestlemania 21 – vs. Randy Orton (2005) – 13-0
Randy Orton was a fresh, young Superstar fresh off his first major title victory the year before as a part of Evolution and now coming into his own with his “Legend Killer” angle. He was also the first opponent to summarily focus his intention on ending the Wrestlemania streak of The Undertaker. Many fans believed Orton would win to elevate himself and his career and further establish his “Legend Killer” status. Orton’s confidence seemed to increase as the match got closer, but despite the interference of his father, “Cowboy” Bob Orton, he would succumb to The Dead Man. After arrogantly attempting to win the match by executing a Tombstone piledriver on ‘Taker, Orton’s attempt was reversed instead and led to another victory for The Phenom, and, as with HHH before, seemed to become a rite of passage for WWE Superstars.
Wrestlemania 22 – vs. Mark Henry (Casket Match) (2006) – 14-0
Mark Henry had no shot here. Even on his best day, Henry’s best chance at beating The Undertaker at Wrestlemania would be minuscule. After costing ‘Taker a chance at winning Kurt Angle’s World Heavyweight Championship, UT laid down the challenge and made quick work of The World’s Strongest Man, closing the casket just under the 10 minute mark.
Wrestlemania 23 – vs. Batista (2007) – 15-0
The Undertaker kicked off 2003 with another landmark for his career: a Royal Rumble victory which secured a title shot at Wrestlemania. UT chose Batista as his opponent by chokeslamming him in the ring at RAW. Tensions mounted as Batista abandoned The Undertaker in a tag team match against John Cena & Shawn Michaels, allowing them to pick up the win. At Wrestlemania 23, the story went a little differently as ‘Taker picked up the win and kicked off a feud that would last the next few months and see neither man able to answer a 10 count in a Last Man Standing Match and see both men escape at the same time in a Steel Cage Match. Batista had been initiated much like Randy Orton before and also became the final piece of The Dead Man’s “Evolution/Wrestlemania Grand Slam,” as he had now defeated all four members of the faction Evolution (HHH, Flair, Orton & Batista). The Phenom also became the first man to win WWF/E and World titles on the grandest stage of them all.
Wrestlemania XXIV– vs. Edge (2008) – 16-0
After winning the Money in the Bank Ladder Match at Wrestlemania 23, Edge capitalized by pinning an already-beaten Undertaker. So, after UT won the Elimination Chamber match to secure a World Title shot against Edge at Wrestlemania XXIV, revenge seemed to be close to reality for The Dead Man. And after the antics of Edge and his Edge-heads, most fans were ready to see the “ultimate opportunist” get his comeuppance. Following the sentimental retirement match of Ric Flair earlier in the evening, WWE went with the “send ‘em home happy” philosophy for the final match. This allowed ‘Taker to pick up his second consecutive Wrestlemania World Title and allowed Edge into the ultimate fraternity of “Streak Victims.”
Wrestlemania XXV & XXVI – vs. Shawn Michaels (2009-10) – 17-0 & 18-0
The initial challenge by Shawn was well-received by most fans. At this point in his career, Shawn didn’t need to win this match by any stretch of the imagination. Before 1998, Shawn might have politicked to be the one to end the streak, but at that time, while it was occasionally mentioned that ‘Taker was undefeated, “The Streak” was never really played up. After 2002 and his remarkable return from what would have been a career-ending injury for most, Shawn didn’t seem to need to feed his ego as he had in the past. He was more content to go out and do what he loved for fans who truly loved and appreciated him. He would be the main event (no matter the placement of his match on the card), he would stop the show, and he would be Mr. Wrestlemania win, lose or draw. And at Wrestlemania XXV, that’s exactly what happened. He and The Undertaker tore the roof off and dared anyone to claim otherwise.
So, when Shawn decide to challenge The Dead Man again at Wrestlemania XXVI, most looked forward to the possibilities of a rematch. Bottom line, we were pretty much guaranteed another instant classic from, arguably, the best big man and, again aruguably, the best overall talent to ever lace ‘em up. And the analysis began: Would Shawn win this time? Would that then set up the rubber match at Wrestlemania XXVII? Or would The Phenom continue his dominance and leave Shawn to other feuds with other wrestlers and maybe someday these two titans of the ring would might meet again at The Show of Shows? Then, the bomb was dropped. Undertaker would accept the challenge, but only on the condition of Shawn’s career being placed on the line as well as the streak. Almost immediately, Shawn accepted. The debate raged: Shawn couldn’t really be retiring, could he? The streak had to end now, right? OK, it’s a No DQ match, so someone will come out to interfere and Shawn will win so he doesn’t have to retire and ‘Taker’s integrity, though not his streak, would remain intact. As March 28th loomed ever closer on the horizon, the rumors came hot and heavy. Shawn was looking to spend more time with his family and possibly become the subject of a faith-based reality show. Some fans were still sure he would end the streak, even if he did retire after the match. Why not go out on top having literally done it all?
Shawn’s decision to retire had apparently been made for a while. Shawn’s respect for the industry, his peers (most certainly for The Undertaker) and for the traditions of the business dictated he go out the right way. His love for his family dictated that he go now. So the show stops for the last time for The Heartbreak Kid, and “The Streak” lives on after exacting its heaviest toll to date.
Looking back at the streak, we can see how and, for the most part, why it has become such a monumental feat. Looking ahead, will the streak end? And if it does, who should be the one to break the streak? Many arguments have been made across the IWC and beyond, but I find flaws in nearly every one. So I now give you my thoughts on the only true way to properly end the streak.
First, let me say I hope this doesn’t happen anytime soon. I’ve been a mark for HBK & The Undertaker for years, and with Shawn packing it in, I’d like to see ‘Taker go as long as his health and desire allow him to go. Also, this should only happen when Undertaker is ready to retire. With that being stated:
The first obstacle is determining who the opponent should be. Some say it should be an established Superstar. HHH, John Cena, Edge, Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, Batista are just a few of the names I’ve heard mentioned. Others counter that it should be a younger performer, someone who will benefit from the win and use it as a step up to the main event level or to cement their status there once it’s been reached. CM Punk, Christian, Jack Swagger, The Miz, MVP or Drew McIntyre could be potential candidates in the future.
A sentimental choice of mine, and actually the individual I feel should have broken the streak, if not in their initial match, then at their Wrestlemania XX rematch, was, of course, Kane. The storyline lent itself to a natural procession that could have easily handed The Dead Man his first ‘Mania loss. Who would know him better and therefore be able to beat him than his own flesh and blood? Alas, it was not meant to be then and that ship has already sailed.
Instead, my choice for the person to end the streak is sure to be controversial, but that’s what the man lives for anyway. And, ironically, he has a bit of a Wrestlemania steak of his own going as he has yet to win a match in five tries at The Super Bowl of Wrestling. I’m referring obviously to none other than Vincent Kennedy McMahon.
Of course, Mr. McMahon would love for his first ‘Mania victory to coincide with The Undertaker’s first ‘Mania defeat. You think he’s smug now? Just wait. But there’s no way Vince could, or should, defeat The Undertaker one-on-one? True. That’s why this match, like the WM XXVI bout, will carry a No DQ stipulation. It will not be a clean victory by any means. As a matter of fact, it could take nearly every Superstar on the roster to help determine the outcome. McMahon will reward the Superstar who enables him to pin The Dead Man with a guaranteed title shot at a time of their choosing and will make it clear that he will ensure their victory. The heels, and a few surprises from the babyfaces to spice things up, will get involved in the match to help the owner of WWE. Undertaker will fight valiantly and will be able to drive off several of these interlopers. He will also receive unsolicited aid from the majority of the faces as they come out to try and keep order and continue feuds. Big names like Edge, Orton, Cena will have a bit of mystery surrounding their intentions: Will their respect for ‘Taker win out as they try to even the odds or will they be selfish and seek their own glory instead? Kane will come out, and since his one major title run seems to be the only one he’ll get, maybe he now decides to sacrifice his brother’s streak to renew his career. Or perhaps the ultimate opportunist comes out only to be stopped by The Big Red Machine? Maybe the cerebral assassin comes out to help Kane turn back the onslaught of greedy Superstars just to set him up for the swerve? Regardless, the eventual end would see a bloody (sorry PG rating) Undertaker motionless in the ring as one or more of the heels pull a disoriented and equally bloody Vinny Mac over to drape his arm over UT for the win. At least one, OK two, false finish sit-ups from The Dead Man until the urn is brought out one last time to deliver the final blow and bring the first and ultimate victory to McMahon.
Of course, this would close the show and end The Undertaker’s career. Kind of a downer to close a ‘Mania , but can you imagine the heat on Vince and every single heel who assisted him? And that’s not to mention the pop UT will get when he does get to his feet, realizes what’s happened and drops to one knee for the final time as the streak, the career and The Undertaker all, finally, … REST … IN … PEACE!
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