WrestleMania 30 is right around the corner, and I felt this would be the perfect time to start a new edition of Character Progression; and who better than the king of WrestleMania, Undertaker. The Phenom has had a legendary career. Like Hulk Hogan, Undertaker’s gimmick has managed to evolve over time to stay relevant. So let’s take a stroll down Death Valley, and see how far the deadman, the phenom, the legend that is Undertaker, has changed over his impressive career.
The Supernatural Corpse
Let’s begin with Undertaker’s debut back on November 19, 1990 in WWE. He originally came in as Cain The Undertaker, but eventually dropped it to just The Undertaker. He was a walking corpse, being controlled by a mystical urn held by Paul Bearer (after Brother Love gave him management control). He moved slow, he fought hard, and had the concept that he was impervious to pain.No this isn’t a cartoon villain, this is the over the top gimmick fest that was the 90′s. During this time Undertaker feuded with Legendary wrestlers such as: Ultimate Warrior, Randy Savage, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, and Hulk Hogan. He also had feuds with guys like Giant Gonzales, things that if you haven’t seen then consider yourself lucky. Undertaker earned his first and short lived WWE Championship reign during this time from Hulk Hogan. Undertaker would waiver to the side of good from time to time, but primarily remained heel. It wasn’t till his feud with Yokozuna that turned him face, after he was locked in a casket after being jumped by the locker room.
This is a typical Vince McMahon character. It was expected to die, but it has evolved and changed over time. Aesthetically, this is the best incarnation of Undertaker, but ring work wise; it is the worst. I can’t decide if this is my favorite version of Undertaker or my least…oh well.
A fake Undertaker would return to WWE under the control of Ted DiBiase. The real Undertaker would return to WWE in a new color scheme; rocking some purple boots and gloves. He would come back and seek revenge on the ones who wronged him. First by taking out the impostor (who was still rocking his old school gray). His next target was Yokozuna, where he avenged his Casket Match lose in his rematch at Survivor Series. After that Undertaker turned his attention to the Million Dollar Corporation. Unfortunately, Undertaker was injured again and had to take some time off. He returned wearing a weird mask and started a feud with Diesel, because Diesel cost him a title match. His historic feud with Mankind began soon after this, and they competed in a series of different and unique matches. Undertaker’s feud with a heel Paul Bearer lasted past Mankind, but the next phase of Undertaker would arise from this rivalry.
That mask was horrible, and one of the worst ideas for Undertaker (if not the worst). As for everything else, they did a good job of turning him into something more than a supernatural entity, but this is a transition period more than anything else for Undertaker.
After Undertaker’s victory over Sycho Sid at WrestleMania 13, Paul Bearer returned to the Undertaker picture. Paul Bearer unleashed Undertaker’s darkest secret. Undertaker’s past of murdering his family from a fire he started was revealed. Unfortunately for him, Undertaker’s brother Kane had survived and was looking for revenge. This led to the debut of Kane at the very first Hell In A Cell. The feud between the two began, and the story of their past unraveled. The feud between Undertaker and Kane would continue through a series of matches that provided a plethora of twists and turns. They would eventually team together for a short time, but during a championship match between the two, Undertaker turned on Kane.
I love this feud. The story of the brother’s past may be unrealistic, but it provided for great tv in my day.
After Undertaker reformed his alliance with Paul bearer, and turned on his brother, he informed the fans that he really did kill his parents, not Kane like Undertaker had claimed before. Undertaker then formed a new faction in WWE, Ministry of Darkness. The members of this new league of villains were: Bradshaw, Faarooq, Mideon, Viscera, Gangrel, Edge, and Christian. This time period brought us some of the craziest and sickening moments in WWE television. Sending Kane to a mental asylum, attempting to bury and embalm Stone Cold, hanging Big Boss Man, burning crosses in McMahon’s yard, they are all extreme moments from this group. The Corporation even joined forces with The Ministry of Darkness to become, The Corporate Ministry. The antics continued as Undertaker targeted Stephanie, and attempted a sacrifice and a wedding for more power. Undertaker claimed to be instructed by a higher power throughout his reign of tyranny, and this was revealed to be Vince McMahon. Shortly after the reveal, The Corporate Ministry disbanded, and an Unholy Alliance was formed with Big Show, Viscera, and Mideon. Again, that didn’t last too long as they disbanded after two tag title runs.
This has attitude era written all over it. I wish a taste of this was brought back on a regular basis to WWE today. I don’t want to see anymore public hangings, but that extreme excitement of over the top danger really adds to the memorable moments. Something that Undertaker’s faction excelled at. Personally loved and was a little disgusted by this…so a huge success.
After a hiatus due to injury, The Undertaker returned in a whole new gimmick. Instead of the supernatural character of the 90′s, he returned as a rugged, take no prisoners biker. Everything about the Undertaker changed in the new millennium. His attire, his entrance, even his finishing move all made a dramatic shift. Upon his return he fought the group of the McMahons and Triple H. His most memorable feud during this time was during the invasion angle with The Alliance, when DDP was stalking his wife. After Undertaker’s feud with DDP and The Alliance, he turned heel by helping Vince induct Jim Ross in the Kiss My Ass Club. Undertaker went form being the American Bad Ass to Big Evil, but this only lasted for a short while before Undertaker would return to being a good guy. Undertaker fought great talents and won majority of his championships during this time, but his character would make another dramatic shift after he was buried alive by Kane and Vince McMahon at Survivor Series.
I find it interesting how dramatic a character change this was, and the fans just went with it. Fans can be very judgmental sometimes, but I find this to be a prime example of letting a gimmick grow on you. Also, Undertaker riding a bike is awesome.
The Deadman Returns…Again
The Undertaker would return in his traditional supernatural angle, and had the beloved Paul Bearer with him. He returned at WrestleMania 20 to defeat Kane, and get his revenge. After his return, he killed off Paul Bearer by burying him in cement during his feud with Paul Heyman and the Dudley Boys. Undertaker went on to be in the main event scene for the next few years, having high profile matches for the World Championship. Other aspects of his past gimmicks came back, or were incorporated in his return, such as: his supernatural abilities, his reunion with Kane, and his move set was a combination of the two.
I know that Undertaker is one of the greats, because he is one of the few men who has improved over time. At this point it became a matter of taste when deciding what era of Undertaker you enjoyed the most. Undertaker held more title reigns as his biker persona, but he won the World title frequently in this moment of his character.
You could say this has been a part of his gimmick way before his match with Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 25. You could say it started back at WrestleMania 21 with Randy Orton, but it wasn’t till his match with Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 25 going into WrestleMania 26 that we really started to see the impact the streak has had. Now Undertaker competes once a year, maybe a couple of more times if we’re lucky, and it is to defend the streak. His undefeated streak has become his character, just as much as the phenom persona is.
The streak is the final aspect of undertaker’s career in my opinion. he should go undefeated at WrestleMania and retire knowing he is one of the best in the business.
I know this article is a bit longer than most, but it’s Undertkaer! He has over 20 years of history in WWE, and with so many great moments it is hard not to cover them all in some way. Either way I know I need to go back and relive some of these moments for myself, what do you guys think. Did I leave out your favorite Undertaker moment in his character progression? Leave your comments below, and if you have any suggestions for the next installment.