James Dixon: Despite the plethora of Undertaker tapes that have been released previous to this one, this marks the first time that he has been given the WWF bio treatment, as opposed to just a stream of bad matches one after another as is the case on his prior outings. You can understand why of course, with his supernatural gimmick not lending itself to behind the scenes footage and out of character interviews. Now as the ‘American Badass’, Texas redneck biker, he is fair game. He gives a rare non kayfabed sit down interview exclusive for the tape, and he is an affable and engaging subject. Even so, it is still fairly jarring to see Skyscrapers footage and hear Taker discussing his life before he was erm, dead. He recounts how an unnamed genius in WCW told him that: “No one will ever pay for a ticket to see you wrestle”. I wonder how that guy feels now that the Undertaker is the most enduring personality in WWE history, one of the most famous people on the planet and one of the all-time great industry draws. Let’s be frank, all those WrestleMania shows from the John Cena Era were sold on the back of Taker’s famous winning streak at the show ahead of anything else on the card. As an example, did anyone buy WrestleMania XXV to see the advertised “main event” of Triple H vs. Randy Orton? Of course not, no one cared about that, they came to see the Undertaker against Shawn Michaels.
Growing frustrated with a lack of opportunity in WCW, Taker claims he attempted to get a meeting with Vince McMahon about heading over to New York, but he describes the ordeal as “like trying to get an audience with the Pope”. The reality is that Taker worked alongside Hulk Hogan on fun for the family movie Suburban Commando, and Hogan hooked him up a meeting with his holiness. Of course, Hogan is not back in the WWF good books at this point, so the credit isn’t given. Instead Taker says that the call eventually came, with the proposal leaving him taken aback. “You’re going to be the Undertaker” he was told. Taker was less than convinced about the potential for the gimmick at first, describing his thoughts as “What the hell is this!?”. Even with the doubts, Mark Calaway still played the character with a commendable conviction and was thoroughly imposing and impressive at Survivor Series ’90 on his TV debut. Taker talks about the origins of the character some more, saying how Vince envisioned him in the style of a mortician from classic Western flicks, and then he stops off to put over the great mind of Jake Roberts, who he learned a lot from. Probably things like where the best strip joints were and how to drink yourself into oblivion on a night and still perform at a high level the next day…
A whole host of superstars have leaped on board to be involved in this release in an attempt to score political brownie points with the locker room leader, all offering up glowing appraisals. The sycophants include DDP, The Fink, Edge, JR, Matt Hardy, Chris Jericho and the ever-present Steve Lombardi, whose official WWE job title is seemingly “talking head”. We then see the finish of the Undertaker vs. Hulk Hogan WWF Title match from Survivor Series ’91 where Taker won his first title only a year after his WWF debut. Pat Patterson though, thinks the trigger was pulled six months too late! Yes, he thinks A YEAR was too long to wait for the zombie to win the richest prize in the game.
We skip ahead SEVEN YEARS to the Inferno Match at Unforgiven ’98, as Edge and Kane mark out about Taker’s topé over the flames. Taker says it was hot and he couldn’t breathe because the air was burning. He tells the story of when they came to him with the idea for the match (I bet this was Russo), and he thought “That sounds like a real good idea… Pfft…. Yeah [right]”. Ever the company man, he went along with it and it turned out pretty well. The bout often gets criticised, but I enjoyed it in a perverse way. We see a few highlights, including the infamous big fake arm finish, with Jim Ross describing the bout as “challenging”. That’s Jim Ross speak for the shits, but it also segues into the Hell in a Cell match at Badd Blood some six months before the Inferno Match. We get more highlights, this time set to that creepy dramatic instrumental music that the company loved so. Jericho calls the bout the epitome of Taker’s career, which in 2001 when this was released it probably was, but he has done so much more since then. There is no one with as many legendary moments in their career. Unfortunately we then see a few moments that are not so legendary, with idiot Lombardi discussing how he enjoyed the death and rise to Heaven of the character at Royal Rumble ’94 and Fink getting a kick out of the woeful Undertaker vs. Undertaker match at SummerSlam ’94. He is the only one who did.
We stop of briefly for X-Pac and Matt Hardy to gush over the honour of being in the ring with Taker, before footage, inevitably, of one of his most famous matches, the insane Hell in a Cell match from King of the Ring ’98. Taker disputes claims of it being the greatest cage match of all time, clearly realising that it is remembered for Mick Foley’s ridiculous bumps ahead of the actual bout. JR claims he had the willies prior to the show and a feeling that something was going to go down, but I am inclined to not fully believe him on that one. DDP’s reaction to Foley’s famous first bump is simply: “Good GOD”. Jim Ross throws out his dismissive argument against people who claim: “Those wrestlers know how to fall”. Well allow me to retort… While the bumps certainly hurt and Foley has a helluva lot of fortitude to take them, there is no doubt that pro wrestling training, specifically training how to bump, helped to prevent him from getting seriously injured. Landing correctly in a way to break your fall does significantly reduce the risk. That’s not to take anything away from Mick, or indeed any wrestler for any big bump, but the fact is they DO know how to fall. Anyway back to the tape, and Taker calls throwing Mick off the cell an out of body experience, which he says felt like it lasted a lifetime and we get replays of the bump from every angle approximately twenty times. “It was off the charts, man” he says. The other, more painful, bump through the cage is ignored. This would have been better on a Mick Foley tape really, and he should at least been here to comment at the very least, but it is interesting to hear Taker’s perspective on it.
We skip approximately a year to the Ministry of Darkness, which Taker calls the last hurrah for the old character. Ha, not quite. I enjoyed the Ministry, and it may even be my favourite Undertaker era. It was way out there and probably went too far at times with the crucifixions and kidnappings, but Taker looked like a badass motherfucker, and even though it was borderline Satanic and often quite disturbing, it was a blast. “It looked so genuine because it was” says Taker, before adding that the character was “natural” for him. Yes, because he is a big ginger mosher at heart. Taker says the Ministry was good for others because the likes of E&C and the APA were given a chance and a break via the faction, which he was happy about. “Those were the good old days” he says, before also adding that it was a low point too because he allowed the character to be subservient to something/someone else, referring to the horrible Higher Power angle and formation of the Corporate Ministry. “Naturally with the McMahons involved, the issue’s gonna revolve around them”. Some things never change.
We move on to late-1999 and Taker talks about his injuries and having to nearly retire because of them, but says a bike ride cleared his head and made him realise he had to return. And return he did, in style at Judgment Day 2000, to an immense reaction. This was the debut of Taker’s new ‘American Badass’ look, which signalled the end of the zombie character (for a few years) and a transition to Hell’s Angel, essentially. JR puts over the new gimmick, while Taker talks about his initial apprehension with it being a new character. Personally, I detested this gimmick. It was just DOA 2000, and Taker started to suck in the ring too. Actually, he sucked way worse in the early 90s, but at least he had a zany persona to counterbalance that and it was almost expected and accepted because of the nature of the gimmick. But here, for the first time in his career, the Undertaker became boring. Taker says the American Badass character is the real him. That’s a shame.
We touch upon the Angle-Taker feud, which features some typically stellar work from Angle. “I’ve been scared of a man who rides a bicycle” he says, and then drives around on a little scooter. Footage from their shitty 7-minute match a Fully Loaded 2000 airs, with Taker destroying the red hot Kurt Angle cleanly with his new Last Ride finisher, nearly killing all of his momentum just as he was primed to explode. Three months later, Angle won the WWF Championship and struggled to get over fully as champion. Gee, I wonder why.
And now, a tedious piece about motorcycles! Insight of the tape: Taker loves skulls. Now, that’s a revelation! Oh good, a feature on his then wife and now ex-wife Sara too. My wife thinks Sara is the spitting image of Michelle McCool, and that this is somehow surprising. Of course, it is not surprising at all because Sara is small and blonde, which is obviously his type. “I think that Sara rounds out the Undertaker’s character very well” says Kane. No! She killed it. Oh jeez, now the talking heads are putting over Sara! I am not on board with this at all. To permanently shatter all illusions of Taker’s aura, we see Sara beating up Taker with a cross arm breaker, and he taps out. Yes folks, his only ever tap out, and it was to a woman. Taker then discusses his tattoos and mentions the prominent Sara one on his neck. No regrets on that one then…
Back to wrestling, and resident genius Steve Lombardi calls Undertaker a “high flyer”. Jesus. We return to Badd Blood and Kane’s debut. We really are all over the place chronologically. Kane talks us through it and then the discussion moves on to him and the potential struggles he might have had portraying the role. Not because of Glenn Jacobs’ ability, but because of the footsteps he had to follow. Obviously, he took to it rather well, and the Kane character is second only to the Undertaker himself in terms of company tenure. Taker puts Kane over big and says that WrestleMania XIV was one of his favourite matches, describing it as an “all time, all-out physical war” while Kane says: “He always brings out the best in Kane”. The matches they had opposite each other would strongly suggest otherwise.
Fast forward to mid-1999 and Chris Jericho’s RAW promo just after debuting, where he runs down Taker (and Big Show) as boring, and says people watching them clamour to change the channel. Jericho claims he probably wouldn’t have said the same things now, which reading between the lines suggests he got chewed out, because he says he re-evaluated what he said from then on. Kurt Angle next, and Taker calls him “prodigy like” because of the speed he learned both as a performer and a personality. He is absolutely right. Outside of the Rock, who else comes close to the levels of progression in such a short time frame as Angle achieved? Triple H is next in line for the Undertaker seal of approval, with the no-longer-Dead Man referring to him as smart and a student of the game, declaring him his heir apparent in the WWF. Well, he certainly was the heir, but to Vince McMahon rather than the Undertaker. As much as he thinks he is in the same bracket as the likes of the Undertaker, Steve Austin, the Rock, Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels and other WWF legendary figures, he is not. No matter how hard he pushes himself as being in that truly elite upper echelon.
To the spring 2001 Steve Austin feud, which was set up by Austin pulling a hoax on Taker that claimed Sara was involved in a car crash. That resulted in Taker beating the piss out of Austin and then stealing his ambulance commandeering gimmick from four years earlier, revealing himself as the driver when Austin was set to go to hospital, and beating the piss out of him some more. It ended up coming to a head at Judgment Day 2001, in a long no holds barred match, which I peg at around ***. Taker says there will be more between them in future. There was; a hideous outing at Backlash 2002 which flirted with negative stars and was their last match together.
Much discussion of “the yard” and Taker’s stroke/respect backstage follows. Paul Heyman says that in twenty years, the locker room will remember him even more than the fans. 2021? He will be at WrestleMania XXXVII for sure. “I’ve got a lot of fights left in me” says Taker to wrap things up. No kidding: thirteen years after this release, which is longer than his tenure in the company prior to this tape, and he is still going!
Summary: I had a blast watching this. The Undertaker character and indeed the man behind it, have both often been shrouded in mystery. The WWE rarely lets Taker speak or appear not in character, and thus a chance to glimpse the man behind the monster is a welcomed one. Long time fans won’t learn anything they didn’t already know, unless you particularly want to see Taker’s bike collection or watch him horseplay with his ex-wife, but the hour flies by and is entertaining and interesting throughout. Highly recommended for all Undertaker fans, and definitely worth a gander for everyone else. Good stuff.