By Will Pruett
In anticipation of WrestleMania, we'll be reposting this series with a new section covering Undertaker's 21st WrestleMania win appearing on Saturday.
I wanted it to end. More than anything at that moment, I wanted it to end. I sat in my seat in the upper deck at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona and screamed. For a moment I remembered what it was to be an unspoiled wrestling fan. Instead of remarking on and evaluating the artwork in front of me, I participated. As I stood and watched the career of my favorite wrestler of all time come to an end, I had to applaud the man who accomplished it. This is how I remember WrestleMania XXVI and the epic encounter between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker. This is the first thought in my mind when I think of The Streak.
How did we get to this? For two years I have pondered that. Now, I am searching for it. It is so easy to just call matches a part of "The Streak" but not to see them as they are. We see clips and moments. We see pivotal turning points in matches and memorable shots of outfits and entrances. We rarely look at the full picture.
With this series, I want to see the full picture. I have never gone back to watch all of the matches in The Streak. I've poured over some, but I've ignored others. I want to track the momentum, the moments and the magic that The Streak gained as it went from a random collection of matches to the most important prize in wrestling today.
WrestleMania VII - Undertaker vs. "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka:
This match took place just four months after Undertaker's debut at Survivor Series 1990 and he was still operating under the original rules of the character: invincibility with a whole lot of no-selling and zombie-walking. Jimmy Snuka was in his awkward goatee phase but had yet to turn heel. That man should not have rocked facial hair.
This match was an extended squash match. At five minutes long, it was hard to resist the urge to get up and grab a beverage from the refrigerator. Undertaker comes to the ring in all of his grey-gloved glory with Paul Bearer and the mysterious urn accompanying him.
Snuka's job in this match was to make Undertaker look like a monster in what would be a meaningless squash match. He did just that. Imagine if this had been another wrestler in this situation. Would we accept "Pretty" Paul Roma, The Warlord or Dino Bravo as a part of what has become one of the greatest achievements in wrestling history? That easily could have happened. Instead we have a name that looks impressive, but a star that was in the twilight of his career.
This is more of a number than a match one can emotionally connect with. Odd as it may seem today, if this match had been left off of the show no one would have cared.
WrestleMania VIII - Undertaker vs. Jake "The Snake" Roberts:
Now this is an opponent in their prime up against Undertaker. In fact, Roberts was coming off of the most important and best feud of his career with "Macho Man" Randy Savage. This match occurring on this show was caused by the trickle-down effect of the scheduled Hulk Hogan vs. Ric Flair main event for this show being canceled.
Since March 1991 things changed quite a bit for The Undertaker. He was still dead and fairly invincible, but he was also a former WWE Champion. The urn was still mysterious and his in-ring work was still lacking.
This feud started with Undertaker not allowing Jake Roberts to hit Elizabeth with a chair. This babyface turn would stick with him well into 1999; when everyone would lose the base of their character and play shades of gray.
The Undertaker mentions that today will be "Black Sunday" for Roberts in his pre-match promo. This is a less gravely and slower paced delivery from him than we are used to today. The deep voice still felt put on.
When the gong hits, the crowd erupts, showing just how over you can get not allowing a woman to get hit with a chair. It is daytime for his entrance so we don't see a normal Undertaker entrance. The match is slow moving. Undertaker still has not found his working boots. In fact, I'd say he would not find working boots until he found purple boots. If 'Taker's in gray, you best stay away.
The final moments of this short match do get mildly exciting. Undertaker falls victim to Jake's lethal DDT not once, but twice. He does his classic sit up each time. Jake then decides that Undertaker's strength must be coming from the urn (the only logical choice) and chases Paul Bearer. This leads to Jake suffering a Tombstone on the outside of the ring, being rolled inside and pinned.
More interesting here is what could have happened to The Streak in its second year. If WrestleMania had not been politically reshuffled due to Flair and Hogan, who knows what Undertaker would have been doing? Would he have still been a babyface? If he was not, would he still go over on the happy ending pay-per-view? These are questions only a lost notebook that belongs to Vince McMahon and is probably buried in a graveyard of Muscle Milk bottles and Rockstar cans can answer.
WrestleMania IX - Undertaker vs. Giant Gonzalez:
From my original inspiration to write this blog series, this was one of the matches I realized I had never seen. It was also the one I wanted to see the least. I remember an old WrestleMania highlight VHS tape I owned had highlights of this and those were more than enough, even for 11 year old Will.
Now modern day Will was tasked with watching this one. There was a lot of good surrounding this match. Las Vegas looked majestic for WrestleMania. The unique atmosphere was one of the only worthwhile things about this show, but being a nerd for production values, that was all I needed.
This is a notable WrestleMania for Undertaker for a number of reasons. The first is that this is the first real, true Undertaker-style entrance at WrestleMania. There may not have been Druids and fire, but we saw greenish-black smoke, a chariot and a vulture. This more than made up for a lack of darkness and is still one of the coolest entrances that Undertaker would get.
This is also the first match in The Streak called by Jim Ross, who was debuting with WWE that night. Ross still sounded like a WCW-style announcer and had not found his sports-entertainment groove. This is the first appearance of the man who would call the most important matches in The Streak.
Giant Gonzalez, who debuted in WCW as El Gigante in 1990 was originally a basketball player signed to the Atlanta Hawks. Unfortunately he could not play basketball in the NBA (at least not well) and Ted Turner made the call to transfer him to WCW. He moved from WCW to WWE in 1993 and found his true calling: wearing airbrushed muscly bodysuits with strategic hair placement. He launched straight into a feud with Undertaker under the guidance of all time horrible manager Harvey Wippleman (seriously, why did this guy have a job?). His entrance at this show was far less impressive than Undertaker's.
It is interesting to see what happens with Undertaker's in-ring style in this match. He is still the no-selling Deadman, but he is now the no-selling outsized underdog babyface Deadman. This got complicated quickly. This is the story for the first part of the match. Undertaker takes punishment, then no sells it, then takes more. Well, that was part of the story. The rest was a never-ending chinlock that would make Randy Orton circa 2005 blush.
All of the chinlocking and no selling lead to the one thing that can take a horrible match and make it comedic gold: chloroform. Giant Gonzales was given a rag by his manager, and shoved it in Undertaker's face for a long period of time. The announcers sold the smell like there was a rapidly decaying body at ringside and Undertaker slowly passed out. Of course with the smell and the fading Deadman, the referee put two and two together and called for the bell.
This was the only match in The Streak that ended in a disqualification. This was also the first time that Undertaker left the ring on a stretcher (I'll count the WrestleMania XXVII cart as stretcher-esque). Of course, he was (and still is) undead, so as the stretcher reached the backstage area the gong hit and Undertaker came roaring back. He clotheslined Gonzales and was forced to the back by security.
The fluky disqualification win could have easily been a fluky pin-fall loss following chloroform and referee ignorance. The match and post-match angle would have been the exact same, but there would have been a WrestleMania loss on Undertaker's record. We could be talking about Giant Gonzales' WrestleMania streak today.
WrestleMania XI - Undertaker vs. King Kong Bundy:
This is another match that I have managed to avoid until this project. Can you really blame me? My general rule when it comes to WWE in 1995 is not to watch matches that don't involve a football player or a ladder. I knew going in that this project would be a challenge.
This match was a part of the larger story that dominated WWE at this moment: Ted DiBiase's heel faction The Million Dollar Corporation and their feud with the top babyfaces. While they were the heel component of the main event scene, their place in history is marred by the down period WWE was in.
The Undertaker had an interesting couple of years between WrestleMania appearances. He feuded with Yokozuna in 1994, proving himself to be the most patriotic zombie in wrestling history. He was thrown into a casket by Yokozuna and about 100 others then was not seen from January to August. This created the first gap in The Streak, as Undertaker didn't appear at WrestleMania X. When he was seen again, it was for the all-time classic Undertaker vs. Undertaker match. By "all-time classic," I mean horrible horrible match.
King Kong Bundy was returning to the WWE ring after a six year absence. After main-eventing WrestleMania 2 and crushing midgets at WrestleMania III he dropped out of the mainstream eye. This was until he showed up as a part of the Million Dollar Corporation.
Going into this match, Undertaker's urn had been snatched by DiBiase and there was a question of whether his strength would still exist.
When it came time for Undertaker's entrance, we saw something resembling what we see from him now. The lights went out, the gong hit and Vince McMahon proclaimed that it was "thundering and lightning-ing." Undertaker appeared in purple for the first time at WrestleMania (the purple look debuted at SummerSlam 1994). This entrance also features the first mention of The Streak. While it is not referred to reverently, Vince McMahon does mention Undertaker's lack of defeat at WrestleMania.
The referee for this match was a baseball umpire who was out of work because of a labor dispute. This would be the only special referee that would grace an Undertaker match at WrestleMania (at this point, at least).
The true entertainment of this match occurs outside the ring when Paul Bearer and Undertaker reclaimed the urn from Ted DiBaise. This would not last long as "The Supreme Fighting Machine" Kama would come down, hit Paul Bearer, steal the urn and run to the back. Jim Ross confronted him about why he would steal the urn and Kama revealed his plot to melt it down into a necklace. I do believe that this affinity for gold chains would cause him to turn into "The Godfather" about three years later.
As the finish approached, Undertaker looked like he was attempting to get Bundy up for a Tombstone, but opted for a slam instead. This was followed by a clothesline and a pin for Undertaker. Undertaker celebrated his victory by dimming the lights and ominously posing for the first time at WrestleMania.
The urn business saved this match from being a true throwaway, but Undertaker was in a down period and it showed here. Bundy was the opponent of the hour. He looks impressive as a former WrestleMania main-eventer that joined The Streak, but the full picture reveals that this match is far less than than what that entails.
The Verdict at 4-0:
So what did I actually learn from watching this set of matches? The most ordinary of matches can become extraordinary in the lens of history. They are the humble beginnings that the most coveted prize in wrestling today stemmed from. They also showed just how deficient Undertaker was as a worker in this time. He was saddled with some poor opponents (only Roberts could be considered in his prime or a great worker), but Undertaker's own work does not hold up.
These four names are major ones on the list of victims Undertaker and his opponents have run through for years, but the actual matches lack the notoriety The Streak would eventually gain.
Of course, every story must start somewhere...
Special thanks to Dot Net Staffer Ryan Kester for his awesome editing skills and assistance as I went through drafts of this blog.
Let's do some good old fashioned talking about this blog and Undertaker's Streak! Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or to follow me on twitter at twitter.com/itswilltime.
Pruett's Blog Flashback: The Undertaker's Streak Series Part One - The Streak's Humble Beginnings - WrestleMania VII - WrestleMania XI
Mar 31, 2014 - 01:15 PM
Mar 31, 2014 - 01:15 PM
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