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Posted in: Requesting Flyby
REQUESTING FLYBY: The Undertaker Is For Life, Not Just For Wrestlemania (10: The American Badass)
By Maverick
Nov 4, 2015 - 10:30:32 AM

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The Undertaker Is For Life, Not Just For Wrestlemania
(10: The American Badass)

The Undertaker’s injury at the end of summer ‘99 actually came at a good time for him, relatively speaking, as his partnership with The Big Show was really a cul-de-sac he wasn’t getting out of any time soon. Rumour has it that ‘Taker was originally slated for a surprise return at 2000’s Royal Rumble match, but a setback led to his return being held off. Whether his gimmick change was formulated for the Rumble or for his actual return at Judgment Day, I’m not certain, but for the first time since his debut in November 1990, the Undertaker underwent a substantial makeover. Previously, minor cosmetic changes had been applied: grey gloves to purple. Ginger hair to black hair. Cotton to leather. But essentially, his character was instantly recognisable. This time, the difference would be substantial; it was less a shift, more a reboot. For anyone who happened to leave WWF fandom in the early 90s, only to return in 2000, I can only imagine that they would have been taken aback by the difference. In real life, Marc Calaway was a Harley riding Texan, and in common with many Attitude Era gimmicks, WWF decided to turn up this real life persona and make The Undertaker more relevant for the times. The new “American Badass” incarnation of the character would first appear at the conclusion of the huge ironman main event of Judgment Day, where his cleaning house of the McMahon-Helmsley faction ironically handed Triple H the title retention via a closing seconds DQ. The timing was somewhat botched on this “ride in” actually, but it was still a huge and iconic moment.

After the controversial conclusion to the Ironman main event at Judgment Day, Vince was out to start the 05/22 Raw and it very much felt like we were back in 1998, and I mean that as the sincerest of compliments. I’d be tempted to say that it felt a bit tired except for the fact that his gloating was so entertaining. He laid it on thick with Biblical references aplenty, explaining that God must love the McMahon-Helmsley faction because they were all triumphant on the night of the pay-per-view. He boasted about the “most lavish victory party he had ever thrown” and then proceeded to book The Rock against X Pac, Road Dogg, Shane and Triple H in a four on one handicap match. Unfortunately for Vince though, none of the four was in the building, as all were apparently nursing hangovers. Because of that, Rocky was able to ambush Vince in the parking lot and beat the ever living hell out of him, before the boss sped away in his limo. The People’s Champ would then wait in the car park for the rest of the stable to even the odds for the main event in some hilarious TV. Road Dogg and X Pac were attacked with a lead pipe and thrown in a service elevator, while Shane ignored Brisco’s warnings about the presence of the Brahma Bull and came out to gloat about his victory at Judgment Day, only to get chased out of the building by the incensed former champ. Brisco got on the phone to Triple H, and when Steph and he finally arrived, they came out to confront Rock, who was occupying the ring. Rocky of course told them to bring it, and the two top guys in the company went after each other. DX came out to make the save, having escaped from their lift based prison, and their numbers told, despite The People’s Champ managing to Rock Bottom Mr McMahon. However, as the beat down went on, ‘Taker’s new tron and his new Kid Rock music hit and he rode out to destroy the McMahon-Helmsley regime. With his back up chased away by the American Badass, Trips ended up getting a Rock Bottom through the announce table to end the show.

This end to Raw set up the speculation over whether HBK had really seen The Undertaker’s interference during regulation time or whether he had disqualified Rock simply as a favour to his pal Hunter. Cole showed him video footage and Michaels gave a passionate defence of his actions, but the controversy persisted. On Smackdown, Vince called in the cops to arrest The Deadman for trespassing if he showed up at the arena, but the returning legend literally ran roughshod over those hopes by riding into the parking lot and almost running Vince and the Stooges down. In the ring, Vince reminded the Badass that he was out of contract and therefore trespassing, but ‘Taker came back with the revelation that Linda McMahon had signed him to a fat new contract with lots of years and lots of zeroes! The cops left ringside at this point, and The American Badass went to chokeslam Vince, only for Shane to make the save with a chair, but The Deadman no sold the shot. It did, however, allow the McMahons to escape. Later in the night, a match between Shane and ‘Taker ended with Shane getting a Tombstone after Rock had come out to chase DX away. Whenever they played up animosity between McMahon and The Phenom, it was always highly watchable.

After that stellar start, I’m afraid the TVs surrounding The Undertaker’s return descended into something of a booking mess. They had so many eggs in the main event basket that they couldn’t quite decide what to do with them, and thus we got something of a fudge. I have never been a fan of tag matches where the first pinfall results in the person who got that pinfall winning the title (see also: Judgment Day ‘01), because psychologically, why would you tag anyone in? Anyway, Kane made his return on May 29th after a short absence from the Fed, and made quite an impact, stealing Trips’ WWF Title and demanding a title shot a few days later on Smackdown. Hunter said he could have one if he beat him in a non-title match, but a fearful Vince also granted ‘Taker a shot so long as the Badass could beat Roadie and Pac in a handicap match. To complete the confusion, Shane booked Edge and Christian against The Rock, with the stipulation that they would get a tag title opportunity if they beat the Brahma Bull, but if the main eventer won, he would get a WWF Title match. In the event, all three men won, so then there was an impasse. After much flim flammery, the issue was finally settled by Linda, who booked a six man tag of Rock, Undertaker and Kane against Triple H, Shane and Vince. Following that, after a load more stip matches and hoops jumped through, it was determined that Hunter would defend the title against the King of the Ring winner if his team won, but if a member of the other team pinned one of his, that wrestler would win the title. It was a mess to be honest, though it was at least an entertaining mess, with tension teased within the McMahon-Helmsley regime, as The Game was furious with Vince for booking a load of bouts that ended up putting him at a disadvantage.

Despite the iffy booking that led to this confusingly stipulated main event, the body language of both the heel and face teams was absolutely brilliant, playing into the distrust felt on all sides. The McMahon-Helmsley faction appeared to be disintegrating in front of our eyes, while the three blockbuster babyfaces prowled around each other like alley cats itching to fight each other. ‘Taker first made it into the match with a blind tag. Interesting psychology there with the faces ensuring they got into the action by blind tagging, knowing that each of their team would not be making tags because they wanted to win the title. This was reinforced further when Undertaker hit a chokeslam on Shane and The People’s Champ broke up the cover. Bad luck in title matches would be a feature of The American Badass era. This dissension was what convinced Triple H to tag in and go to work on The Undertaker, but his advantage was brief, with the seven footer going for high impact offense which The Game sold ike Curt Hennig in a wind tunnel. Shane broke up the pin and drags Hunter to the corner to recuperate. Unfortunately for Shane, he got dragged into the action by Rock, who tagged himself in, but a triple team outside took him down. Things have broken down in true Attitude style now, and it’s Triple H who rises from the rubble, taking Rocky to school as only The Cerebral Assassin could. The Pedigree was delivered, but Undertaker broke up the pin at two. ‘Taker took it to Hunter on the outside, throwing him contemptuously into the ring post, before tossing him back into the ring. A groggy People’s Champ refused to tag out as he wanted Triple H’s title, but he looked in no condition to close the deal. The fans were very into this portion of the bout, as Rock was dominated in the corner of the McMahon-Helmsley faction. This face in peril segment of the contest seemed to be approaching Road Dogg levels of time spent getting a beating, as the evil threesome tagged swiftly in and out, and brief flurries of Rock offense against The Game were swiftly cut off. Meanwhile, in an interesting plot twist, The Badass and his storyline brother took out Shane O Mac on the outside, only for Kane to live up to his name and destroy ‘Taker from behind.

Trips ran straight into a spinebuster from Rock, who set up The People’s Elbow, but Kane stopped it dead in its tracks with a hellaciously high chokeslam. The WWF Champ smirked to himself, thinking that Kane has joined the faction, but he then Tombstoned him! An irate Undertaker appeared, dragging his brother out the ring and then striking him with an insane chair shot. Shane went to the top in the mean time, hoping to hit the prone form of The Brahma Bull, but the American Badass caught him and chokeslammed him right off the top through the table in an absolutely insane highlight reel spot that seems to have been forgotten amidst all of Shane’s other insane spots. Vince saw that Rock was still down and wwnt for a parody of the People’s Elbow, but Rock nipper up and the chairman of the board ran straight into a Rock Bottom! Slight logic hole here in the sense that Triple H was, I think, the legal man, but the ref counted the three and the People’s Champ was the new WWF Champ! Undertaker continued ro destroy the faction on the outside as a distraught Trips realised he had lost the belt. Undertaker promised he was coming for Rocky as he rode to the back, as the new champion posed down to end the show. This was a much better match than I remember it being, despite the awkward booking, strange rules, and seeming disregard for who was the legal man towards the end.

Despite teasing The Undertaker vs The Rock, WWF actually went with a programme with Kurt Angle for Fully Loaded. Angle earned The Badass’ ire by costing The Brothers of Destruction the tag titles by whacking him with his newly won King of the Ring sceptre. The build up featured one hilarious skit where Angle vandalised ‘Taker’s bike with milk, then trying to gift him a scooter in recompense! It was a throwaway one month programme, and the match itself would end up being nothing more than an entertaining extended squash, which kind of showed that they didn’t really know what to do with their returning legend now that the upper end of the card was so crowded. Before Kurt even finished his entrance, The American Badass hs attacked him, and the two men brawled on the outside before getting in the ring to the sound of the bell. The intent of the Deadman is most certainly to put the hurting on Angle, as seen by him pulling out of two covers to deliver more punishment. The Olympic Hero is tossed outside of the ring, but when the Phenom comes outside to get him, Angle picks the knee and continues to go after it inside the ring in typically tenacious fashion, but the Badass countered and used his street fighting skills to down Angle. This time the was successful, but rather than go for the cover, he picked up his foe and hit his new finisher, the elevated powerbomb known as the Last Ride, for the win. Very good while it lasted, this one. I remember hating it at the time because I was such an Angle mark, but this was a story of comeuppance and the story demanded that the established guy win really. And as we know, Kurt would be just fine moving forward.

As was often the case through the Attitude Era, the Summerslam main event scene was fluid, involved an eclectic cast of characters, and had all of them up in each others’ business. Commissioner Foley started the post-Fully Loaded Raw by putting over just how good his first PPV in power had been, then stating how Kurt Angle, who demanded a rematch with The Undertaker, which Foley duly granted. What followed was the most retarded of all of Big Show’s heel turns, with ‘Taker the collateral damage. Having chased Shane O Mac all around the building, he finally caught him in the ring during the ‘Taker/Angle rematch. The Badass actually held Shane for the Big Nasty Bastard to deal with, but Show decked The Deadman instead and he, Angle and McMahon proceeded to take The Phenom to pieces. Ridiculous. Honestly, if you thought some of Paul Wight’s more modern turns were laughable, this one takes the cake. Has to be seen to be believed. Backstage, they ambushed ‘Taker again and smashed a cinder block over his knee.

After his return from his storyline injury,The Undertaker was helped by Kane helped in fighting off his enemies several times, but his defence of his big bro turned out to be a ruse, and he planted him with a clothesline in the Badass’ match against Benoit, later stealing his motorcycle and busting him open with a steel chair. It was a pretty ridiculous heel turn, and if they’d taken their time over Kane’s change of alignment they might have got a better result. The actual match was one of the poorest of all the Kane vs Undertaker matches. It had no real heat, and was boring as sin. It was essentially just two massive men slugging it out; this would honestly have slotted right into 1986. The American Badass continually went after the mask, essentially making it a kind of mask vs no mask match, which was weird, as there was no reference to that in the build. Eventually, ‘Taker would get hold of the mask and send the demon scurrying to the back with his tail between his legs. The fact that the feud ended here and Kane basically went back to being a babyface by Survivor Series shows you what terrible filler it really was. What the match did transition into was a fatal fourway between Kane, The Undertaker, Chris Benoit, and the WWF Champion, The Rock. The two rivalries from the summer came together in a simplistic and convenient way, and really, there was nothing more to say about it than that. The fatal fourway was watchable and entertaining, as most title matches in 2000 were, no more or no less. It ended with a typical series of finisher break ups and kick outs, before the ongoing battle of the Brothers of Destruction allowed The Rock to pin the Canadian Crippler and retain.

The first six months of The American Badass are something of a historical curiosity. On the one hand, the freshening up of the character and the new gimmick made The Undertaker vital again, and he certainly seemed to enjoy and embrace the change. He was able to show more emotion, he was easier to hurt in kayfabe and sold a lot more, which made his matches more even affairs, and he was as over as he’d ever been (the crowd mark outs for the footsteps and “Deadman walking” are amazing). However, WWF seemingly had no idea what to do with him or how to fit him into their existing storylines and roster, which led to The Undertaker being booked in a lot of throwaway feuds and a lot of multi-man matches. With the ten year anniversary of his arrival on the scene, something needed to happen to launch him into the prominence he deserved again. And that’s where we’ll pick things up next time.