As the hearts and minds of this world motion towards South Africa and the sport of the people, it helps to remember the so-called “Sport of Kings” never pauses for breath. In the midst of perpetual motion, there is always a strong possibility that events transpiring once can thus occur again and again (and again.) This mentality has exhausted the careers of many men and women, as a fresh perspective cannot necessarily revive fan interest. Nevertheless, there are those who have survived and thrived in this environment. One such individual is a fella by the name of Glen Jacobs. His resume includes a dentist, a cheap imitation and – most famously – a fraternal psychopath with a penchant for fire and the wits to survive anything thrown at him. He is the Undertaker’s “baby brother”, Kane.
They say art very often imitates life, and it is ironic in the extreme that a persona conceived as a six-month boost for the Undertaker would ultimately become an uninterrupted thirteen-year veteran. The WWE was a radically different place when the first version of the Kane character arrived to much fanfare in October 1997. The Attitude era was shortly to explode into prominence, and Kane’s arrival was the culmination of a months-long soap opera designed to prepare the indomitable Undertaker for another profitable year. If God had enlisted Wes Craven to direct the fable of Cane and Abel as a feature film, it would have looked just like this. Probably.
After yet more melodrama the likes of which would make Elton John blush, Kane and Undertaker clashed at Wrestlemania XIV in a heavy hitting (and exceptionally long-winded) encounter that ended in victory for the ‘Taker after a third Tombstone pildriver. The Brothers Grimm met again the following month in America’s first ever inferno (human torch) match, which again saw Undertaker emerge victorious. This marked the end of the original ‘Taker/Kane feud. The rest of 1998 was spent engaged in alliances, betrayal and much chicanery. It was a different – yet utterly glorious – era.
If you look past the cringe-worthy pyrotechnics and B-movie plotting, a very different image emerges. The Kane character is a fitting testament to the effectiveness of logical and coherent booking. WWE required their monster to be a credible foil for the essentially indestructible Undertaker. Therefore, the “monster push” was implemented and Kane was selectively deployed and booked against performers with the requisite talent to make Jacob’s alter ego seem virtually invulnerable. Lost amidst the commotion of the Montreal Screw Job at Survivor Series 1997 was an expertly implemented match between Mankind and Kane. Mick Foley was an excellent choice of opponent for the sluggish “Big Red Machine”, and Kane left Survivors with considerable momentum after a commanding (and convincing) victory.
The long-term build up, crushing (and carefully selected) victories and favourable associations with genuine stars established the Kane character in the eyes of the WWE fanbase, and they accepted him as a credible addition to the WWE product. The combination of this and Glen Jacob’s own hard work has protected Kane from collapsing into obscurity in the wake of bigger (and better) opponents, and has seen push after push and story after story to keep the saga of Kane surging onwards. The monster went from firing lightening bolts to giving crotch chops, and the fans were with him all the while on his journey to humanity and unlikely popular acceptance. He is now a bona fide WWE institution.
Thirteen years is an eternity in wrestling, so naturally Kane’s tenure has not been without strife. The infamous Katie Vick saga, which contradicted the mysterious origins of the character in favour of a shock-orientated necrophilia storyline, inflicted horrendous damage in 2002. Indeed, many predicted the previously unbreakable Kane would never recover from being cast as a murdering deviant. How apt that in the midst of Kane’s personal nadir, the survival instincts that have so defined the character re-emerged and propelled him back into the realms of relevance.
The elephant in Kane’s padded cell was always his mask and more to the point, the reasons for his wearing it. The original origin tale painted the picture of a horrifically scarred social outcast, destined to wreak vengeance on an uncaring world. By the time the Katie Vick debacle began, the mask had already been reduced to something more revealing, reflecting the humanisation of the monster. In the wake of Kane’s figurative castration, the decision was made to remove the now tainted symbol entirely. WWE cleverly bypassed the problem of Kane’s “burns” by simply explaining he wasn’t actually scarred at all; it was all a figment of his demented imagination and though it wasn’t an exercise in subtlety, it achieved its purpose in full. Reemphasised and pushed with renewed vigour by WWE, the Lazarus-like Kane had defied expectations and risen once again.
The Kane that was birthed in 2003 has now existed longer than his masked forbearer, and the proceeding years have seen title reigns, brand switches and even a Hollywood production with our man as the star (the surprisingly acclaimed “See No Evil”.) The one constant in the life and times of Kane has been his seemingly unshakable bond with the WWE audience. He’s been a babyface, a heel and almost invisible, yet for as long as the character has existed he has remained a part of the WWE product, and he will continue do so until the day Glen Jacobs decides to retire and enjoy the millions he has earned portraying his alter ego.
The Kane odyssey is a lesson in the importance of getting things right in the first instance. Everything that has followed stems from the bond that was built between the man and his audience. At a time when WWE is attempting to recast itself as a young, family-centric entity, a steady hand is required to assist in facilitating promise into prosperity. Those who have followed the extraordinary times of Glen “Kane” Jacobs should not be surprised that the man finds himself yet again as the “go-to guy” for Vince McMahon. In Vince’s mind, Kane may very well be his finest creation. He is a large athlete with a vivid character whose shortcomings as a wrestler are largely offset by the knowledge of his reliability and perpetual presence. As Vince McMahon turns to him once more in uncertain times and utters the phrase “do the job for me”, the wealthy and contented man behind the mask must surely reflect on the old adage: “It is better to be lucky than good”. For Glen “right place, right time” Jacobs, satisfaction must surely abound.
Daniel R. Browne.