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Posted in: Requesting Flyby
REQUESTING FLYBY: The Undertaker Is For Life, Not Just For Wrestlemania (12: InVasion)
By Maverick
Nov 21, 2015 - 8:28:57 AM

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The Undertaker Is For Life, Not Just For Wrestlemania
(12: InVasion)

Following the earth shattering conclusion to Wrestlemania XVII, The Undertaker suddenly found himself back in the top babyface role for the first time since the summer of 1997. The heel turn of Stone Cold Steve Austin, along with the confirmation on the opening Raw of the post-Mania landscape that Triple H was not only remaining a villain, but forming a “Two man Power Trip” with Austin to dominate the company, led to The Rock being suspended “for his own safety” (in reality, he was off to Hollywood for his first big breakthrough), leaving the kind of void on the heroic side of the ledger that only ‘Taker had the pedigree to fill. WWE enhanced this fact by leaving The American Badass off TV until the predations of the dastardly duo of The Rattlesnake and The Game reached fever pitch. The only men who had dared to stand in their way of the Power Trip to that point were The Hardy Boyz, with Jeff actually getting one over on Trips by stealing his Intercontinental Title in a classic underdog title match, but in the rematch, with Matt decimated backstage, Jeff and Lita were at the mercy of the heels until the music of The Phenom hit and the Brothers of Destruction came out to make the save to a huge pop.

From there, the feud progressed quickly and compellingly; The Undertaker and Kane won the tag titles from Edge and Christian, but a rematch between the teams allowed an ambush by The Two Man Power Trip, with the former tag champions joining in, before The Hardys ran out to even the odds. This led to an incredible eight man tag TV main event which I thoroughly recommend you taking the time to check out; I swear you’ll never hear a hotter crowd. Funnily enough, despite Edge and Christian having the chance to win back those tag straps earlier in the show, the main event for Backlash had already been booked as a “winner takes all” titles on the line match, with The Two Man Power Trip putting up their WWF (Austin) and Intercontinental (Triple H) titles, whilst The Brothers of Destruction put up their tag titles. So if The Undertaker or Kane were to pin Austin, he would be a tag and world champion, and if one of them were to pin Trips, they would be tag and Intercontinental champion, whereas The Power Trip had the opportunity to corner the market on every major male title in the company. It was a fantastic storyline to follow up on the greatest Wrestlemania of all time, and Backlash 2001 as a whole is one of the best cards of professional wrestling you could ever wish to see. The absence of The Rock was barely felt, as The Hardys and The Brothers of Destruction had stepped so seamlessly into the supporting and leading babyface roles, with Chris Benoit starting to break out as a top face in his feud with Kurt Angle. It’s one of my favourite times in all of WWF/E history.

The main event of Backlash did not disappoint; firstly it had a palpable big match feel. Make no mistake, this was a hotly anticipated bout, because ‘Taker and Kane were always booked strongly even when they were marking time in the midcard, but when they were in a top face role? Watch out, because these were two dominant big men; meanwhile, Austin and Triple H were the two top stars in the company without Rocky around, and their new alliance was being pushed heavily (though most of the people they ran through benefited from the association). As I watched this in the kitchen of the flat I rented during my third year of university, live on Channel 4 (for those Brits who remember those great days), I was honestly not sure who was going to come out of this on top. I should say also that people LOVED the American badass motorcycle entrance. The pops for it were always enormous. Also, to do a little mythbusting, people were more than ok with jeering Stone Cold during this part of his turn. He was in brilliant character form, and there’s no doubt that the crowd wanted The Brothers of Destruction to vanquish the arrogant Two Man Power Trip. However, there was an immediate storyline barrier to this quest, as Kane’s arm was hurt in kayfabe after an assault on the Smackdown that preceded the show, and this was constantly played up throughout the course of the contest as a vital plot point. The Undertaker was reluctant to tag in his storyline brother even in the early stages, and as the match wore on, this became chronic. However, this was mitigated somewhat by the individual power of the two brothers, and the heels bumped like crazy to sell this. After Kane ended up tagging and getting isolated, the frustration of The Deadman was palpable, particularly as the drive by attacks of the Power Trip often prevented potential tags. After several hot tag teases, the ultimate revenge of ‘Taker is awesome to behold as he dominates his two enemies, but in a brilliant twist, Hebner suddenly reveals that the tag was unseen just as The Phenom is covering Trips after a Last Ride. The finish was typically chaotic for the time, as a stream of interference finally brought The Game his signature sledgehammer, and a pair of shots, one to the injured elbow and one to the dome, brought The Two Man Power Trip the tag titles under very shady circumstances.

Very sensibly, after that heated tag encounter, WWF split them into feuding pairs: junior partners Kane and Triple H warred over the Intercontinental strap, whilst senior partners ‘Taker and Stone Cold battled over the WWF gold. This world title feud was one of the more personal, or to put it another way, “real”storylines that The Undertaker had engaged in to date, as the cunning and psychotic Austin tricked The American Badass into thinking his wife Sara had been hurt in a car accident to destabilise him. This was of course a consequence of bringing The Deadman “up to date” through 2000, and allowing him the opportunity to show a more human, emotional side. We could also see this angle as a dress rehearsal for what would come later in the summer with Diamond Dallas Page. The response of The Undertaker to this cruel trickery on Austin’s part was to get very physical indeed; he was beaten with a biker chain, thrown through a window in the backstage area and assaulted in an ambulance (essentially the kind of punishment The Rattlesnake himself had dished out back in his top face days) as ‘Taker sought revenge. Once Judgment Day came around, it was announced on the night that a request from The Phenom for a no holds barred match had been granted, with Heyman and JR speculating as to why on earth Stone Cold would agree to such a thing.

Of course, we soon got our answer when Vince McMahon took his place in the announce booth, lending his typically Machiavellian aura to proceedings. The Deadman attacked Austin on the ramp as he made his entrance, setting the tone for the war that was to follow. In a heated brawl which felt very personal, the hot start of The Undertaker was negated when his desire to beat up Vince too allowed Austin an opening. It was fairly standard pattern face/heel wrestling in some senses, but when you have two legends of the business in those roles, it elevates the whole thing to another level beyond the semantic weight it might otherwise possess. This was the time of the big beasts, the titans of the business that had taken it to new financial heights. Every match back then was an event, and this one is no exception; in fact, I think it’s shamefully neglected. In a fantastic comeback, our hero chokeslammed Austin through the announce table in a spot which, though hugely familiar by that point, was executed so well that it shone as a high point in the challenger’s momentum. As further chokeslams and a series of chair shots seemed to indicate the end of Stone Cold’s title reign, the audience reach fever pitch, but the familiar train of interventions from McMahon and Triple H allowed sufficient space for a sledgehammer shot, meaning that an exhausted Redneck was able to cover his opponent just before Kane hit the ring. The only funny thing about the ending was the slight suspension of disbelief issue inherent with Kane only coming out after several minutes of villainous shenanigans; it was not unlike the end to One Night Only in 1997 when the Hart Foundation didn’t save Bulldog from DX for several minutes and looked a lot like chumps as they rushed the ring late.

Even so, I consider the Undertaker and Kane vs Austin and Triple H feud to be a hugely successful post-Wrestlemania programme which produced large swathes of incredible television and a trio of superb matches which get lost in the shuffle due to being lost between X-Seven and InVasion. I should also say that I’ve never been able to get onboard with the idea that Stone Cold and The Phenom didn’t have good matches together. To my mind, that is bunkum. Cold Day In Hell, Summerslam 98 and Judgment Day 01 all featured excellent singles matches between the pair, whilst the buried alive match from Rock Bottom is, for my money, one of the better iterations of that gimmick. That’s before you even start looking at multi-man scenarios like Armageddon 00 and Backlash 01. For me, it’s another one of those wrestling myths we need to expose as having very little substance. Following Judgment Day, Austin and Triple H moved onto Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho (leading to the famous quad injury for The Game and not long after, neck surgery for The Wolverine), and The Undertaker would become embroiled in an angle which remains controversial to this day; it turns out that the Austin phone calls about Sara really were a dress rehearsal for something, as it was revealed in mid-June that somebody was stalking Sara. The Deadman himself was convinced that it was Kurt Angle, but a week later, on the go home show for King of the Ring, a masked Diamond Dallas Page appeared on a motorcycle to announce that it was him and that if one wants to make an impact on the business, one needs to go after the “biggest dog in the yard”, also promising to be at the pay-per-view itself.

I should state from the outset that I don’t think the way WWF brought in the various WCW personalities was a mistake per se. The reveal of DDP was a cool moment, as was the run in of Booker T in the King of the Ring main event between Austin, Benoit and Jericho. I never watched WCW myself, so I didn’t really have any preconceptions anyway, though of course I do understand why those that did might have been disappointed with what ended up happening. It has to be said that wrestecrap angles like stalking require a careful hand, because it’s all too easy for them to get silly or unbalanced. WWF had proved in early 1999 with The Ministry of Darkness and Stephanie McMahon that such stories could be pulled off effectively, but the path of the ‘Taker/DDP feud was not to be quite so well paved, particularly in terms of who had the upper hand. It would certainly have been more sensible for Page to hold the upper hand for a while before the inevitable Undertaker win on pay-per-view, but in actuality, the very first face to face between the two at King of the Ring saw The American Badass dominate a brawl around the arena and saw the former WCW champion running like a scalded dog. This theme continued when DDP interfered in an Intercontinental Title match between ‘Taker and Albert, and he was thoroughly chased away by Kane, although some balance was redressed a week later when Shane McMahon caught The Phenom in a two on one situation and Page hit the Diamond Cutter on him and Sara both. By now, a whole host of WCW alumni had invaded the company, and the famous moment where former ECW stars betrayed the WWF at Steph and Paul Heyman’s urging to form The Alliance with Shane and the WCW guys had occurred, and the stalker angle kind of bubbled away in the background as The Undertaker, as the real life locker room leader, took that role on in kayfabe alongside the APA, giving motivational speeches to rally the boys in the back against the threat of the desperate, jobless (in storyline) wrestlers from Atlanta and Philly.

The main event of the InVasion pay-per-view was “The Inaugural Brawl” pitting the best five WWF stars against the best five from The Alliance. Stone Cold had gone through an existential crisis as champion before finally coming back as THE OLD STONE COLD and clearing house at the conclusion of the go home. He captained the Fed squad, which was completed by The Undertaker, Kane, Kurt Angle and Chris Jericho. Meanwhile, The Alliance fielded Booker T, Rhyno, DDP and The Dudley Boyz. Various rivalries and beefs existed between the teams and within the teams, and it was another main event with an exceptional big fight feel and a delirious level of unpredictability (as well as very high kayfabe stakes). In a fantastic, criminally underrated tag match, The Undertaker took both himself and DDP out of the equation, as the two brawled all the way to the back near the conclusion of that bout. Funnily enough, The Deadman had form in that department, with previous pursuits of Dusty Rhodes and Yokozuna in similar spots in the past. Page’s harassment of Sara continued with “videos” and a “shrine”, and he was assisted by Kanyon, who helped the master of the Diamond Cutter ambush ‘Taker within the shrine to Sara on Raw. To be honest, the story had long since gone south by then, but some urgency was injected into it when Kanyon and Page won the WWF Tag Team Titles from the APA and the Brothers of Destruction relieved Palumbo and O’Haire of the WCW tag titles. A grinning William Regal announced a winner takes all tag title match inside a steel cage; this made storyline sense too, as Page would not be able to escape the wrath of the Badass. If you talk to most people who were around at the time, they’ll tell you that the cage match was a burial; I’m not sure I’d go that far. The only way the story could end was with ‘Taker finding satisfaction in revenge, so the WCW boys had to receive the L really. Still, the dominance of the booking can’t really be disputed, and after a game first few minutes, Kanyon and Page took one hell of a beating. The escape of Kanyon actually meant that DDP could’ve carried the day if he could have escaped the behemoths, but instead, they punished him, made him think he could escape and then finally put him out of his misery with the Last Ride.

I suppose your perspective on the InVasion rather depends on which side of the fence you were on. I had only ever been a WWF fan, so the course of the whole thing didn’t bother me in the slightest, and I found all the defections and story twists some of the best writing WWF had done. The TV was compelling, and a group of very good pay-per-views were put together. Following the Page and Kanyon feud, The Brothers of Destruction dropped the WWF Tag Team Titles to The Dudley Boyz on the September 17th Raw, but they still held the WCW straps, and were challenged for them by the returning Brian Adams (who had been Adam Bomb in the early nineties) and Brian Adams (who had been Crush). Arriving at the behest of Steven Richards, Kronik (as Adams and Clark’s WCW tag team were known) dominated Kaientai on Smackdown before challenging The Undertaker and Kane. In a truly awful match, marred by some horrific botches (Adams in particular was never much of a worker), The Brothers of Destruction retained, once again in dominant fashion. Kronik were fairly much released the next day, as Calaway and Jacobs were reportedly furious with the amount of errors made by them at Unforgiven.

The Undertaker’s next challenge from The Alliance was Booker T, whose partnership with Test relieved the Brothers of Destruction of the WCW Tag Team Titles in the aftermath of Unforgiven. In revenge, ‘Taker cost Test and Booker those same titles in a defence against the Hardys, meaning that a challenge was made by Booker to face him at No Mercy. Although there wasn’t much to the story, it turned out to be an excellent midcard match that massively enhanced the overall quality of the show. Booker was on a real hot run of form, and had impressed WWF brass with his attitude, work ethic, and charisma after coming in back in June. I don’t think it’s a surprise, looking back, that Booker was the biggest WCW success story that crossed over. His look, mic chops and charisma were ideal for the Federation’s product; he just fit right in. During his match with the American Badass, he proved himself to be a resourceful and game opponent, and he was on ‘Taker from the very first bell. A physical and athletic encounter came down to one man making a mental mistake, with Booker’s turnbuckle strikes costing him as The Deadman countered out of the corner with the Last Ride for the hard fought victory. A forgotten gem of a match which I encourage you all to check out.

The grand conclusion to the InVasion angle was, of course, the winner takes all elimination match for control of the industry, and Undertaker was an integral part of Team WWF, having been a huge part of the war right from its beginning. Almost inevitably, with ten men on the apron plus valets at ringside, it broke down into a hugely entertaining and chaotic brawl for survival, with all the shenanigans you would expect from the time period. The Undertaker actually fell early, stunned out of his boots by Austin behind the ref’s back for Kurt Angle to cover, but Team WWF was victorious in any case, and with his popularity riding high, there was no reason to expect anything but a resumption of his popular tenure as the American Badass. But in the fall out from the hard fought InVasion, all the chips were in the air, and when they fell, we would have a new attitude from an angry Undertaker demanding respect for his achievements, a brilliant heel turn which we will discuss next time around.