WWE Legacies Series: The Undertaker and the Superstars He Helped To Establish
This series is aimed at discussing the impact that wrestlers have left on the business, regardless of their personal achievements. The impact I am aiming to discuss is the way they have improved the product or careers of other superstars.
Due to my age and when I started to follow the WWF/WWE, I am solely focusing this series on individuals whose careers date from around 1997 onwards and, more specifically, on less active or retired wrestlers.
For the second installment, I am focusing on The Undertaker. Without a doubt, his gimmick has been the strongest in the history of the WWE, and even today when the comic book style characters are obsolete, The Undertaker's persona is simply timeless. Credit should be given to the creative team, however Mark Calaway has embodied the Deadman so well over the years, that he has truly created an aura about the gimmick that makes his presence truly unique.
During such a long and successful career, The Undertaker has helped to create and establish the careers of many future WWE Hall of Fame candidates. However, he himself has one of the rare careers like HBK, whose efforts arguably would deserve an individual wing, should a building ever be built to physically house Hall of Fame memorabilia.
His streak alone has helped to launch and strengthen his opponents careers on several occasions, ironically as they have so far always lost. He has portrayed both heel and face roles and was a major superstar during the Attitude Era, feuding with the likes of Stone Cold, The Rock, HHH and Mankind. A constant amongst the main event scene, his legacy can be compared to few others, and when he finally retires, he will leave a void that cannot be replaced.
Previous Articles in the Series -
As a wrestler, Mick Foley has portrayed three instantly recognisible and unique characters in Dude Love, Cactus Jack and, of course, Mankind. He has feuded with The Undertaker on several occasions, including early feuds involving Vadar and Paul Bearer. On his own merits, Mick Foley has helped to change the nature of the business, and in particular he was a pioneer in popularising the hardcore wrestling style that was prominent in ECW and WWE in the mid to late 1990s.
It would be fair to argue that The Undertaker didn't necessarily make Mankind, however in the WWE, one match that will forever be etched in our memories involved both men. At King of the Ring 1998, the two future hall of famers maybe accidentally delivered two of the most famous spots in the history of professional wrestling. Still to this day, there are few moments that truly compare to watching Mankind crash through the announce table, highlighted by the immortal commentary of Jim Ross.
I would argue that this match firmly thrust Mankind into the main-event scene, and therefore I would suggest that The Undertaker helped to make Mankind. It is fair to state that Mick Foley came up with the ideas, however Mark Calaway performed as The Undertaker and he stayed in character and continued to punish Mankind until he won.
Stephanie McMahon may currently be the single most powerful female within the WWE. Behind the scenes, she is acting as the Executive Vice President for Creative Development & Operations, a high ranking role within a multibillion dollar company. However, her presence on TV initially began during The Undertaker's Ministry of Darkness period.
Stephanie McMahon was portrayed as the innocent daughter of Vince and Linda McMahon, daddy's little girl who The Undertaker attempted to "sacrifice" in order to gain a measure of leverage over Vince McMahon. While the angle was highly controversial, it gave Stephanie McMahon her first tenure on WWE programming and introduced her as the final member of the McMahon family.
I accept that Jericho and The Rock really helped cement Stephanie McMahon's character in the WWE, however, if it were not for this highly creative, imaginative and quite evil storyline, Stephanie McMahon's TV career in the WWE may have been a flop similar to that of her mother's.
Since making his debut as The Undertaker's brother at Badd Blood 1997, Kane could easily be considered his strongest rival. While Taker has perhaps had his finest matches against Shawn Michaels, Kane's initial feud with The Undertaker would be a strong contender for the greatest feud ever.
When Kane first came to the WWE, he was a legitimate threat to The Undertaker. He destroyed the likes of Mankind, Ahmed Johnson and Hawk, on a mission to face and defeat The Undertaker. At the Royal Rumble in 1998 he attacked Taker before locking him in a casket and setting fire to it. This event lead to their first official match at Wrestlemania 14. Whilst Taker has since had some outstanding matches, including the pair against Shawn Michaels, as well as both against HHH and Edge, the first match with Kane sticks out as one of his finest because Kane was pushed to be almost unstoppable. The two big men were able to put on a classic super-heavyweight match, and Kane kicked out of two tombstones, before finally being defeated after a third.
The pair of them have faced off against each other in two inferno matches, as well wrestling against each other twice at Wrestlemania. They have had a relatively successful tag-team partnership in the past, and even though Kane has been known as The Undertaker's brother since his debut under the gimmick, he has managed to carve out a Hall of Fame career for himself, though he may unfortunately never truly move out of Taker's shadow.
When Edge debuted in the WWE, he was a loner who walked the streets in a trench coat. When he joined The Brood and became a member of The Ministry of Darkness, Edge was still a rookie, however he had a platform on which he built a Hall of Fame career.
From the split from The Brood, Edge and Christian went on to carve out arguably the greatest WWE tag-team career, including developing and establishing creative and innovative takes on the ladder match, as well as being instrumental in popularising the TLC match. The chemistry between the Hardy Boyz, the Dudleys and E&C is perhaps the finest example of tag-team chemistry, particularly memorable because of how young The Hardy Boyz and E&C were at the time of their initial feuds.
When Edge's singles career began to gather momentum, he was pitted against the likes of Christian, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero and Randy Orton, and he learned his craft in these feuds and matches. As he became championship material, Edge suffered a potentially career-ending neck injury and was off the roster for over a year. Following his return, Edge climbed each rung of the ladder, literally in some respects, as he became the first MITB winner and finally became a world champion.
The second time Edge cashed in the MITB in 2007, really helped push Edge as a legitimate champion. It strengthened his persona as The Ultimate Opportunist, and his rivalry with Taker became a student vs. teacher feud that showed Edge off as one of the finest superstars of his generation. His heel gimmick drew huge amounts of heat, and I doubt that Taker would have performed as the face as well as he did against any other superstar on the roster. Edge's ability to gain heat from the crowd was unparalleled at the time, and he finally moved out of Taker's immense shadow and proved himself as a real headliner.
In 2005, Randy Orton had already become the youngest ever world champion in the WWE. His legend killer gimmick had almost hit its peak. However at Wrestlemania 21, he challenged The Undertaker in an attempt to make himself a legend.
The match was a great stepping stone for Orton, as was the ensuing feud that lasted several months following the Wrestlemania match. The quality of the build-up, including the use of legends like Jake "the Snake" Roberts, made Orton a viable opponent for arguably the highlight match of Wrestlemania. The Undertaker's match at Wrestlemania has taken on a mythological status on its own merits. Each Wrestlemania, the match either helps to establish the opponent, or in recent years, provide the audience with some of the finest in-ring storytelling in the wrestling world.
Orton spring-boarded from this platform of this match and for a while seemed so much more viable as a world champion before a series of idiotic acts halted his momentum towards becoming one of the top superstars in the company. Of course, Orton has now become the No. 2 or No. 3 man in the company, and so he is back on track towards a HOF career, all of which really kick-started from his feud with The Undertaker.
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