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WWE Classic of the Week: Undertaker vs. Mankind from SummerSlam 1996

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistAugust 11, 2015

Credit: WWE.com

When Undertaker returns to WWE SummerSlam on August 23 for his epic encounter against Brock Lesnar, it will be yet another marquee match at the annual extravaganza in the legendary career of The Deadman.

In 1996, The Phenom was in the midst of a rivalry with Mankind, a deranged newcomer who had tormented and beaten him in ways no other Superstar ever had before. He was a lunatic, someone unafraid to put his own body at risk if it meant dishing out pain and punishment to his opponent.

With his trademark Mandible Claw finisher, Mankind was a bigger thorn in the side of The Deadman than anyone could have imagined. He had cost him victories, beaten him in their first high-profile match and left him lying in a heap of his own pain and suffering.

At that year's SummerSlam, though, Undertaker would have his opportunity to beat Mankind at his own game. In the first-ever Boiler Room Brawl, the dark and demented Superstars would unleash hell on each other, punishing each other in the place that Mankind called home.

Would The Phenom be able to exorcise his mask-wearing demon or would Mankind score the biggest victory of his career to that point?

And what role would Paul Bearer play in the outcome of the bout?

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Background

Just 24 hours after WrestleMania XII, Mankind made his WWE debut with a victory over Bob Holly. Later that night, he shockingly attacked Undertaker during the main event of Raw, applying his Mandible Claw finisher and leaving a lasting impression on fans.

The rivalry between the company's greatest phenomenon and the maniacal newcomer would stretch into June, leading to one of the biggest matches on the King of the Ring card.

There, Mankind would pick up the win, capitalizing on miscommunication between Undertaker and manager Paul Bearer that saw the latter hit the former with his trademark urn. It was a shocking upset, one that cemented Mankind's status as one of the top stars in WWE just months after his run in the organization began.

Beating Undertaker meant something, and the fact that Mankind had gotten over on him on more than one occasion proved that managementand The Deadman himselfbelieved in the unconventional worker as a legitimate headline act.

One month earlier, at In Your House: Beware of Dog, Undertaker challenged Goldust in a Casket match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship. It was one of that night's biggest matches, and near its conclusion, it appeared as though the man from the Dark Side was on his way to capturing the one title he had never held before.

Mankind had other plans, emerging from the casket to assault his foe and help Goldust to successfully retain his title.

With frustration at a high, Undertaker accepted a challenge for a Boiler Room Brawl in which the only way to win was to fight to the ring and take the urn from Paul Bearer, who would be watching from inside the squared circle.

The Match

The Analysis

This was a wild, violent brawl that perfectly suited the rivalry that Undertaker and Mankind had built to that point. It was cringe-worthy at pointsfor all the right reasonsand really demonstrated each Superstar's dedication to their craft.

The bumps were high-impact and painful and really sold the hatred between the two.

Above all, the shocking conclusion of the contest is what stands out the most some 19 years later.

Paul Bearer's betrayal of Undertaker remains one of the most unforeseen moments in WWE history. The legendary manager was an integral part of helping The Deadman get over. Yet there he was, blasting his charge with the urn and handing it willingly to Mankind.

It was a moment that set the next year of all three men's careers in motion and led to the continuation of their epic rivalry.

The Aftermath

Undertaker and Mankind continued waging war on each other for the better part of three years, working some of the most barbaric and dangerous bouts of all time.

In October 1996, they competed in the first Buried Alive match, a bout in which the only way to win was to bury your opponent alive. Despite winning, Undertaker found himself six feet under, covered by a ton of dirt.

A month later, at Survivor Series, he finally got a measure of revenge, defeating Mankind in singles competition.

They revisited the program at In Your House: Revenge of the Taker in April 1997, with Undertaker again picking up the win and burning the face of his former manager at the same time.

But no match has received the same amount of attention as their Hell in a Cell match from King of the Ring 1998. That epic contest featured some of the most death-defying stunts in wrestling history, leading to Mick Foley being forever immortalized in both WWE lore and on film in the 1999 documentary Beyond the Mat.

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