Can’t Hold My Body Down: A Short Retrospective of the Streak
Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and John Cena. They are just a few names that have headlined WrestleMania. It is considered the greatest goal you can achieve in professional wrestling to headline a WrestleMania. Stars with longevity have headlined multiple Mania shows. Few wrestlers can say that they have been in the main event of WrestleMania, and even fewer have been in the main event on more than one occasion. Past all of the accomplishments the greats of the industry have achieved, nobody could have ever imagined that there would be a man with a WrestleMania streak. This is not a matter of a handful of matches, but a fascinating seventeen victories at the biggest show in the wrestling business. The Undertaker has never once lost at WrestleMania. Heading into the twenty-seventh Mania show, Undertaker is looking to defeat Tripe H to gain his eighteenth Mania victory. When Undertaker debuted in 1990 under the management of Brother Love as a pale, redhead big man, nobody could have guessed that he would go on to make the his mark in the industry by branding WrestleMania events with his very presence.
Jimmy Snuka is a legendary name to wrestling fans. Mick Foley idolized him for jumping of the top of a steel cage. He was even involved in the main event of the very first WrestleMania in 1985. In 1991, he was involved in another first when he faced Undertaker in Taker’s inaugural Mania match. Already an imposing figure on the roster, Undertaker made short work of Snuka by soundly defeating him to pick up his first Mania win. Nobody could have guessed that night at WrestleMania VII that they had just witnessed the birth of something special.
Things had changed drastically for Undertaker between his first Mania appearance and his second. He made his way to the top of the card and even knocked Hulk Hogan off the top of the WWF mountain to become world champion, if only for a few weeks. Within a few months, Undertaker was no longer one of the most feared villains in wrestling, but a baby face quickly endearing himself to the heart of the audience. At WrestleMania VIII Undertaker squared off against Jake Roberts, making short work of Jake the Snake after giving him a Tombstone pile driver on the floor of the Hoosier Dome.
Over the next few years Undertaker would go through a line of monsters. Emanating from Caesar’s Palace, WrestleMania IX was Undertaker’s third Mania appearance. Having previously appeared in WCW as El Gigante, Giant Gonzalez attacked Undertaker at the Royal Rumble. Their first pay per view encounter occurred in Caesar’s Palace. 1993’s WrestleMania was packed full of over the top characters. There was the Narcissist, Tatanka, the Headshrinkers, and Doink the Clown. Gonzalez was one more character. Wearing a flesh-colored bodysuit, Gonzalez came across more laughable than intimidating, but his eight foot stature made for an interesting addition to the roster. Undertaker gained a DQ win, but would face off again with Double G at SummerSlam for the final victory.
Having missed WrestleMania X in Madison Square Garden, Undertaker was back for WrestleMania XI to face King Kong Bundy. Bundy had appeared at previous mania shows and even headlined WrestleMania II with Hulk Hogan in 1986. Going up against a former Mania headliner was nothing short of a tremendous accomplishment. After defeating Yokozuna at the end of 1994, Undertaker began going through the members of Ted Dibiase’s heel stable. Bundy naturally the best choice for a Mania opponent out of the group. In 1995, Bundy became notch number four in Taker’s Mania belt.
Since 1992 Undertaker had spent his time fighting monsters like Kamala, Gonzalez, Yokozuna, Kama, and Mabel. He was slated to face another big man at WrestleMania XII, but with a twist. Diesel’s character had undergone a change when he lost the WWF Championship at the end of 1995. He became a hybrid of his rookie edginess combined with his experienced wit in the main event scene. He spent several months as a tweener before he became a nall-out heel in the weeks leading up to Mania. The story of the match was that they were so evenly matched that neither one could gain the advantage. But in the end, Undertaker proved unbeatable on the Mania stage yet again. It would be the last time Diesel would perform in a match at WrestleMania.
Even though he had been a main event player since the end of 1991, Undertaker had yet to headline a WrestleMania. He finally got the chance in 1997. With Shawn Michaels out of the WrestleMania picture with an injury, the WrestleMania XIII main event was up in the air. The decision was made to put the belt on Psycho Sid and have him defend his title against Taker. The Dead Man showed up in his old school attire with grey gloves and boot covers. That night, he captured the championship for the first time in six years. After serving as the company’s cornerstone for over half a decade, Undertaker was given the spotlight on the Mania stage when he won the championship. WWF Magazine declared that the “Dark Daze” were upon us. Undertaker’s reign would last much longer than his fist as he held the title until SummerSlam.
Not that long after winning the belt from Sid, Undertaker was blackmailed into letting Paul Bearer managing him once again. The idea was that Bearer had a secret about Undertaker that he would reveal if unless Taker followed Bearer’s instructions. After weeks of ridicule, Undertaker had enough, and Bearer revealed the secret. The revelation led to Undertaker’s WrestleMania XIV match against Kane. The brother that Undertaker had supposedly burned in a fire so long ago debuted in October of 1997, costing Undertaker the first ever Hell in a Cell match, and a shot at the WWF title. Undertaker was reluctant to fight his brother. After a couple of months it appeared that Kane and Undertaker were united. That came crashing down when Kane once again cost Undertaker a match with Michaels, this time at the Royal Rumble. The show closed with Kane setting a casket on fire, with Undertaker inside. Taker was back in a matter of weeks. This time he was ready face his brother. “I will walk through the fires of Hell to face you, Kane.” Undertaker proclaimed. The battle was set for WrestleMania. Even though Undertaker was back to fighting monsters, we began to gain insight into his character. As powerful as he was, Undertaker was also deeply conflicted, and his character would continue to undergo changes over the next several months. In the meantime, Undertaker was able to gain the first victory in his war with Kane. Their Mania match ended with an Undertaker win, albeit the toughest Mania match he had fought so far.
Undertaker had reinvented himself into a darker character in 1999 and created the Ministry of Darkness. It was a far cry from the beloved hero we knew just one year prior. A lengthy feud with Kane, a Hell in a Cell with Mankind, and a failure to win the WWF title had changed Taker. He finished off 1998 as a villain, and returned in 1999 to lead the Ministry. The Ministry began a feud with Vince McMahon’s corporation that led to a Hell in a Cell match between Undertaker and Big Bossman at WrestleMania VX. The match did not have the violent stunts that were seen in the Shawn Michaels and Mankind encounters. Instead, after beating Bossman, Members of his Ministry, incusing future Mania opponent, Edge, descended from the rafters and tied a noose around the neck of Bossman. They then hung his body for the whole world to see.
Regardless of all the changes the Undertaker character had gone through, he was about to undergo his biggest change yet. After nearly a decade with the company, Undertaker evolved from his Dead Man gimmick and became a much more humanized character as the American Badass. Gone was the hat and black hair. In their place were a motorcycle and a doo rag. It was only natural that the character evolve and become more tangible over time. He made his debut as the American Badass in May of 2000 by attacking Triple H. The one-on-one feud never developed as Triple H’s place was to feud with The Rock. By the time the 2001 WrestleMania rolled around, Rock had moved on to a program with Steve Austin while Triple H and Undertaker were left was the other two top guys. In the weeks leading up to WrestleMania X-7, a feud ensued. They had a violent brawl on an episode of SmackDown! The following Monday, HHH attacked Undertaker backstage. Pinning Taker to the concrete floor with a chair while he sat on the seat, Triple H said “Do not screw with me.” The hate between these men escalated over the coming weeks. With no signing of a match between them any closer, Undertaker threatened physical harm to Stephanie McMahon to get Commissioner William Regal to grant him a match with HHH at the Texas-hosted Mania. They had a violent brawl. Both men spilled blood in a battle that saw Taker toss HHH off a stage into the crowd. They bloodied and beat each other before Undertaker scored his ninth WrestleMania victory.
That night was the first time WWE openly acknowledged Undertaker’s streak at WrestleMania. It was unprecedented that not only a wrestler be undefeated on the Mania stage, but that he have as many as nine victories. How long could it last? Little did anyone know, Undertaker was only halfway through his WrestleMania career, and Triple H would again be in line for a chance to end the streak.