The Undertaker's WrestleMania streak in review: Part 1

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A look back at how the Dead Man accomplished pro wrestling's greatest record.

On Sunday, the Undertaker puts his vaunted 20-match WrestleMania win streak on the line against CM Punk. In recent years, the streak has taken on a life of its own, becoming a de facto third title on the line at WWE's biggest event. This is how we got there.

WrestleMania VII: "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka

This match starts with an odd twist, as Gorilla Monsoon (on commentary with Bobby Heenan) calls Snuka -- not Undertaker -- "The Phenom," a nickname used on Undertaker for years following this annihilation. It gets weirder: Monsoon predicts Paul Bearer's recent demise by calling him "a very sick person."

The bigger question here is this: Just how many pure squash matches have you seen at WrestleMania? Sure, there have been really fast matches -- Sheamus defeated Daniel Bryan with one particularly Irish kick, after all -- but WrestleMania is largely devoid of old school five-minute squashes like this. Snuka doesn't even get a serious shot in; Undertaker misses on an elbow, allowing Snuka a few chops, but 'Taker doesn't even leave his feet.

There's also a great botch here, where Undertaker was supposed to catch Snuka off a slingshot and turn it into a Tombstone piledriver, but caught Snuka low and could not get him hoisted. He settled for landing Snuka on his feet and punching him in the throat before landing the Tombstone.

In any case, garden variety squash. 1-0.

WrestleMania VIII: Jake "The Snake" Roberts

Look, if there was one guy who would not be scared of Undertaker, it's Jake Roberts. Dude walked around with a giant snake in a bag for years. And yet Roberts looks positively terrified as the organ music hits. Taker's entrance didn't get to its current transcendent state for another few years, but the music and Paul Bearer's presence (presumably along with what Monsoon calls "the overwhelming smell of formaldehyde when he is around") still make it creepy as hell.

Roberts is no small man, but his strategy of individual punches to the abdomen really needed further analysis before execution. Undertaker takes quick control of the match after proving impervious to Roberts' early offense and hammers away at Roberts with the traditional Undertaker move set: Ridiculously agile moves off the ropes and heavy shots.

This was not the same squash as the Snuka match, though. Roberts lands the DDT out of nowhere at one point, and Undertaker sits up as if nothing had happened. Roberts lands a short lariat clothesline, and again Undertaker sits up. A second DDT plants Undertaker momentarily, but Roberts inexplicably pursues Paul Bearer instead of finishing the match. Undertaker chases him down outside the ring and lands a Tombstone piledriver into the floor. Ballgame. 2-0.

The best part of the match:

Heenan: Death never takes a holiday!
Monsoon: Oh, would you stop!
Heenan: These just come to me! I feel like I have two brilliant minds!

WrestleMania IX: Giant Gonzalez

This one is bullshit, and it's why the Undertaker streak is a bit absurd. Giant Gonzalez (who will always be El Gigante to me) was an eight-foot, 460-lb. Chilean monster in a bodysuit with abs airbrushed in place and managed by the legendary Harvey Wippleman. WrestleMania IX was at Caesar's Palace, so Wippleman came out dressed as Caesar. Undertaker enters the arena in a chariot with a vulture on a pole. My guess is the live vulture tied to a pole was what got the World Wildlife Fund's attention at first.

Gonzalez manhandles Undertaker, much as Undertaker had obliterated his previous opponents. Undertaker does break out one of his greatest gimmicks, the "walk down the top rope while holding the opponent's arm to land a blow to the head" thing he now calls "Old School", but it was the one positive moment in what was otherwise a complete demolition of the Dead Man. Gonzalez wears him down with a chin lock, then batters him for about 10 minutes. After a brief, half-hearted comeback by Taker, Giant Gonzalez somehow produced a rag with chloroform and knocked him out, earning a disqualification and keeping the streak alive. Undertaker comes out after a brief respite to clear the ring, but he had no chance of winning this match until Gonzalez inexplicably broke out the poisonous chemicals. 3-0 nevertheless.

The best part of the match:

A toga-clad EMT taking Undertaker out of the ring.

WrestleMania XI: King Kong Bundy

King Kong Bundy was awesome, and the presence of Ted DiBiase in his corner made him even more awesome. In the week before the match, DiBiase henchman Irwin R. Schyster stole Undertaker's urn, and DiBiase was laying the groundwork for CM Punk's current build-up by running around the ring with the urn and making Ted DiBiase faces. American League umpire Larry Young is refereeing the match, for reasons passing understanding. He is a surefire WWE Hall of Famer in about six years.

Undertaker takes back the urn just a couple of minutes into the match, sending DiBiase into hysterics. While Bundy (who Vince McMahon tells us has called out Reggie White for some unknown reason) and Undertaker exchange blows, DiBiase calls out "the ultimate fighting machine" Kama (now commonly known as The Godfather), who immediately knocks out Paul Bearer and takes the urn back. Undertaker tries to drag him into the ring by his nose, but Bundy strikes. Kong takes Undertaker to the mat and wears him down with headlocks and chinlocks, while McMahon tells us about Kama's impending feud with Detroit Lions linebacker Chris Spielman.

Bundy hit Undertaker with a splash in the corner, but Taker shrugged it off and landed a boot to Bundy's head. After a bodyslam and a jumping clothesline, Taker covered Bundy for an extremely weak pinfall. Bundy walked from the ring, apparently uninjured. That's 4-0.

The best part of the match:

They corner some random NFL'er to ask about the upcoming Bam Bam Bigelow-Lawrence Taylor match, and the interviewer asks him "The All-Pro team ... one heckuva team, huh?"

WrestleMania XII: Diesel

"HE'S COOL AND HE'S BIG HE'S BIG DADDY COOL!" This is how Vince McMahon introduces Diesel, even though Diesel's intro is completely overshadowed by Undertaker's.

Despite two giants in the ring, the match did not revert to HOSSFIGHT. For the third consecutive WrestleMania match, Undertaker goes for Old School, a well he had revisited so often by this point that Michael Cole would be referring to it as "vintage Undertaker." Soon after that, the combatants moved to the outside area, where Diesel incapacitated Undertaker with an extremely mild backbreaker against the ring post. Back in the ring, Diesel beat Undertaker down with repeated punches and a well-executed sidewalk slam, then wore the dead man down with a bear hug that looked not unlike he was slow dancing with Alanis Moriseette at a middle school social:

Diesel_taker_medium
It's the good advice that you just didn't take.

Undertaker broke the hold with a chop and a belly-to-belly suplex, but looked clearly hurt. Nevertheless, Taker climbed to the top rope and landed a flying punch. Diesel broke the pin at two, then caught Undertaker with a boot and landed two Jackknife power bombs.

Ironically, this is where Diesel loses the match. Rather than covering Undertaker and getting the win, Diesel posed for the fans, then taunted Paul Bearer, allowing Undertaker to regain his strength. A Diesel suplex was ineffective, and Undertaker landed a flying clothesline ("Vintage Undertaker!") and a chokeslam before finishing Diesel with the Tombstone. Not a bad match. 5-0.

The best part of the match:

Jerry Lawler recommending that Paul Bearer fill his urn with Folger's crystals to help revive the Undertaker after the second Jackknife. Lawler used to be so good at this job.

WrestleMania 13: Sycho Sid

The thing to keep in mind here is that this match, a no disqualification HOSSFIGHT between Taker and Sycho Sid, followed the Stone Cold-Bret Hart submission match in which Austin, busted open by the steel railing, passed out from the pain of the Sharpshooter. That match is widely considered the greatest WWF/WWE match ever. And Undertaker had to follow it against Sid.

And then Sid crapped his pants.

The match begins with Bret Hart, fresh off his heel turn just minutes before, bum rushing the ring to demand a title shot, calling Sid a fraud (Hart had lost the title to Sid under unfortunate circumstances immediately before 'Mania). Sid responds with a POWER BOMB FROM HELL. Undertaker uses the distraction to bum rush Sid, taking early control. Sid recovers and goes to the bear hug, a remarkably early time killer for a main event.

The match quickly moves outside the ring -- it was no disqualification -- where Undertaker smashes through the French announcing table (Zut alors!) before Sid resumes his submission-and-blunt-force assault. Undertaker eventually recovers enough to knock Sid out of the ring, where the two trade punches.

Undertaker takes control briefly, applying his own series of stress holds and thundering blows, but the match devolves into precisely the "everybody lay down for 30 seconds" sort of snoozer that was expected. The moves are great -- Sid goes to the middle turnbuckle multiple times, and Taker does Taker stuff, including the top rope clothesline -- but they're punctuated by long pauses. There is an awesome sequence where Undertaker goes for the Tombstone and Sid reverses it, lands some sort of side slam, and gets a two count.

Bret Hart again interferes, slamming Sid across the back with a steel chair ("What a loser Bret Hart has turned out to be," said McMahon prophetically), leading to a massive chokeslam. Sid barely broke the pin, and Undertaker botched a clothesline. Hart interfered for a third time, distracting Sid enough for Undertaker to pick him up and land the Tombstone. And that is where Sid allegedly crapped his pants. Taker got the cover and the win regardless, taking his second WWF championship in the process. 6-0, and still not a mention of the streak.

The best part of the match:

Bret Hart calling Michaels a phony and making a wisecrack about HBK losing his smile, which is such beautiful inside baseball for the night that the Attitude era was effectively born.

Also, one of the guys in the match pooped his pants.

WrestleMania XIV: Kane

We know the basic storyline: Undertaker and Kane are half-brothers, and Undertaker had burned down the family's funeral home as a child, killing his parents and horribly disfiguring his half-brother Kane, who Paul Bearer later found and brought to WWF. Undertaker refused to fight him for months while Kane exacted his revenge, largely by helping Degeneration X defeat Undertaker repeatedly through the fall and winter. Taker finally relented and took on Kane in this WrestleMania match.

Kane completely dominates the match, with only sporadic bursts of offense from Undertaker. For the first 15 minutes of the match, it's a beatdown. Undertaker finally musters enough offense to knock Kane out of the ring, but badly misjudged a flying clothesline attempt and crashed through the Spanish announcing table. It's the match's highlight.

Undertaker mounts a late comeback with a series of punches and clotheslines, then sidestepped a haymaker and landed a chokeslam. Undertaker hits two Tombstones, and Kane kicks out of both. Undertaker hits a clothesline from the top rope, followed by a third Tombstone, and Kane finally relents. 7-0. Not a good match, though.

The best part of the match:

There's a great sequence where Undertaker comes off a whip into the ropes and somehow jumps onto Kane's shoulders, putting him in a leg scissors and landing blows to the head. Kane responds by dropping Undertaker like a sack of potatoes. Impressive agility from Taker and remarkable strength from Kane.

Also, there's an epic botch where Kane throws the ring steps at Undertaker's back and completely misses.

WrestleMania XV: Big Boss Man

We are now eight matches into the streak, and (1) the streak has not ever been mentioned, and (2) Undertaker has yet to wrestle the best match at a WrestleMania. And if there was one certainty, it was that he would not wrestle it here, against Big Boss Man in a Hell in a Cell match.

Undertaker was head of the Ministry of Darkness at this point, a gimmick that cast Undertaker as Satan, presiding over guys like Bradshaw (who is actually a millionaire) and Farooq (who had enough personality to lead Rock around by the nose for a year or so). They had made vague threats to Mr. McMahon, and Boss Man was Mr. McMahon's enforcer. The whole premise was pretty stupid.

In any case, it played out like most Undertaker matches and every Boss Man match ever. Boss Man took control early and, after a brief Undertaker offensive, went to the usual Big Boss Man well ("Vintage Big Boss Man!") by handcuffing Undertaker to the cell. The whole thing literally fell apart quickly: While selling a shot from Boss Man's nightstick, Undertaker collapsed to the floor and the handcuffs broke.

After HANDCUFFBOTCH, Undertaker took control. A chair shot took Boss Man to his knees, then sent him into the fencing like a lawn dart. The crowd could not be quieter. Boss Man stages a brief comeback, but a low blow by Undertaker set up the Tombstone for a win. 8-0.

The best part of the match:

At one point, Michael Cole mentions that a combatant could get a finger caught in the chain link fence of the cell, leading an incredulous Lawler to exclaim, "A FINGER CAUGHT IN THERE?!? YOU'RE WORRIED ABOUT A FINGER?!?!"

Later, when Boss Man was cut open after that javelin toss into the chain link, Lawler wryly says, "Yeah, and you were worried about his finger." This is probably where Michael Cole first conceived of the Cole Mine.

WrestleMania X-7: Triple H

This is by far my favorite Undertaker WrestleMania match for two reasons: One, Motorhead played the Triple H theme song live and missed at least 80% of the words, including the first line of the song. Two, AMERICAN BADASS UNDERTAKER. Motorcycle guy Undertaker is by far my favorite Undertaker, because it was so remarkably ill-fitting. He went from being from "Death Valley" to "Houston". He gave up the best entrance in wrestling so that he could walk a Harley around the ring. He traded the ridiculously overwrought ring garb for leather pants. I have no doubt Mean Mark was a big motorcycle guy in real life, but he couldn't convey it particularly well.

The match is the most Triple H match ever. The Spanish announcing table is destroyed in the first 30 seconds. The match quickly devolves into haymakers and big slams. Lots of set pieces, followed by covers, followed by repeated blows to the head, followed by more set pieces. And when these two were still in their prime, that was pretty good wrestling. Undertaker sends HHH into the ropes on viciously fast whips, and every one of them leads to a big move. Triple H even breaks out the sledgehammer ("Vintage Hunter Hearst Helmsley!"), and when the ref goes to take it out of the ring, Taker catapults him into the ref. Undertaker later destroys the ref with an elbow after a two count. There were no faces or heels in 2001.

And all of this happened before the match left the ring for the obligatory "HHH goes over the rail and takes the match into the crowd" spot. Seriously, you could make up a paint-by-numbers guide to every significant Triple H match of the past 15 years. They end up in the production area (the technical area, as Jim Ross calls it), and Paul Heyman somehow ties it into the Rolling Stones at Altamont. Triple H finds a chair (of course) and batters Undertaker to a pulp with it. Undertaker recovers enough to pick up Triple H by the throat, hold him up for a solid 10 seconds, and throw him off the camera tower onto the floor ... that was conveniently covered in mattresses. An incredible spot right up until they disclose that Triple H had been slammed into a memory foam pillow.

WrestleMania X-7 was in Houston, and there was no way that WWE would let Harley-driving Undertaker lose in his adopted hometown. The only question was how they would end it. For one, the two combatants are probably 100 yards from the ring and motionless. For another, the ref is still out. Undertaker gets Triple H back to the ring and finds the sledgehammer. They trade counters to sledgehammer shots, then resort to beating the hell out of each other. Triple H went for a Tombstone, and Undertaker countered into a Tombstone of his own. With no ref, it didn't matter. Undertaker revived the ref, then went for the Last Ride without knowing Triple H had grabbed the sledgehammer. Somehow, Triple H's shot to his back opened the Undertaker's forehead, but whatever. Triple H threw Undertaker into the turnbuckle and went to the second rope to land some blows, but it set Undertaker up perfectly to hoist Triple H to his shoulders and finish him with the Last Ride. Such an absurd match, and yet completely awesome. 9-0.

The best part of the match:

An enterprising fan from Lubbock brought a "Bobby Knight for Commissioner" sign to a match involving the chokeslam guy. You can't make this stuff up:

Guns_up_wm17_medium

GUNS UP!

WrestleMania X8: Ric Flair

The only way to take the absurdity of motorcycle Undertaker and make it more ridiculous would be to add Ric Flair, so of course that's what they did. Flair, then a "co-owner" of WWF, didn't approve of Undertaker's underhanded defeat of The Rock at a previous event and publicly reprimanded him. Undertaker responded by beating the hell out of Arn Anderson and David Flair. It was pretty stupid, but this was Ric Flair at the super-excellent WrestleMania X8, in front of arguably the best crowd ever at a WrestleMania (just watch that Rock-Hulk Hogan match to see how good they were).

Flair doesn't wait for the intro music to start before going to work. They're out on the floor and over the announcer table within 15 seconds -- it was no disqualification -- and Flair had already done the "flip over the turnbuckle and run down the apron into a giant kick" thing AND bladed within the first five minutes. It only gets more brutal from there.

Undertaker absolutely obliterates Flair early, and could have pinned him off a suplex from the top turnbuckle but keeps up the assault. Flair's hair turns red. Jim Ross makes the "Crimson Mask" reference. There are moments -- those magnificent Flair chops, each with a "WOOOO" from the crowd, and Flair flipping Undertaker off the turnbuckle while Taker prepared for Old School -- but it's just sort of painful to watch.

Flair eventually pulls a pipe off Undertaker's motorcycle and busts Undertaker open with it, then lands a Figure Four, and for a second it looks like Undertaker might go down. Undertaker breaks the hold by grabbing Flair by the throat and lands a chokeslam. Arn Anderson shows up to help Flair, getting a beating of his own for his trouble. With Anderson out, Undertaker tries to go for the Last Ride, botches it twice, then reverts to the Tombstone to finish Flair off. 10-0, and for the first time the announcers acknowledge the streak.

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