Can’t Hold My Body Down: A Short Retrospective of the Streak
The Undertaker was on a roll in 2002 after he had turned heel and taken his American Badass persona in a new direction. He was now the schoolyard bully who would do what he wanted, when he wanted. Anyone who got in his way would be sorry. As the man in charge of the Raw brand, Ric Flair had several run-ins with Undertaker in the early part of the year. Undertaker finally challenged Flair to a match at WrestleMania, but Flair refused. Undertaker, frustrated, tried to coax Flair into a match. No matter what he did, Flair wouldn’t budge. Undertaker decided to take his rage out on Ric’s son, David. Ric was now ready to take Taker at Mania. After a violent and raging brawl, Flair failed to end Undertaker’s streak and gain his revenge. Ric Flair went on the same list as King Kong Bundy, Sycho Sid, and Jake Roberts as men who tried and failed to defeat Undertaker at WrestleMania.
2003’s Mania show had some fans wondering if it was time for the streak to end. Undertaker was scheduled to team with Nathan Jones to face A-Train and Big Show. By teaming Jones with Undertaker at WrestleMania, WWE was very clear they were serious about him. Devout Taker followers worried that Jones would take a fall in the match, or worse, turn on Undertaker and allow Train or Show to capitalize for the win. Those fears were relieved when Jones was removed from the match and Undertaker was successful in a handicap match. That night in Seattle was the last time Undertaker would make a WrestleMania appearance as the American Badass.
When Wrestlemania returned to Madison Square Garden in 2004, Undertaker also returned after a multi-month hiatus as his Dead Man character again. After being buried alive by his brother Kane at Survivor Series, Undertaker’s entrance brought back the goose bumps that had chilled audiences in years past. His cold, dead stare was back in place of the sunglasses. A raging Undertaker made short work his brother and demolished him to gain his twelfth WrestleMania win. The Dead Man was back in a big way.
For the first time, Undertaker’s Mania streak was the main reason for the match he had on the big stage when Randy Orton challenged him in 2005. Orton had been known as the Legend Killer as he had taken out Mick Foley, Shawn Michaels, and even kicked Steve Austin out of the company for a brief time. After a successful first half of the year in 2004, Orton was booked to win the World Championship and turn baby face. His run bombed. After failing to regain the championship from Triple H, Orton seemed in limbo going into WrestleMania XXI. That changed when he boldly claimed that he was going to make his mark on WrestleMania by defeating Undertaker. Orton even resorted to his heel tendencies by giving the RKO to his girlfriend, Stacy Keibler. Now back as a full-fledged heel, Orton was ready to add another notch in his belt as the Legend Killer. Even though ending the streak was Orton’s sole purpose for facing Undertaker, he was unsuccessful. Orton became lucky number thirteen.
With Undertaker back to the Dead Man character, it only made sense he would go back to facing monsters. Given the drastic changes wrestling had undergone during Undertaker’s time as the American Badass, monster heels were no longer dressed in silly costumes and acting like cavemen. Mark Henry had it his stride as a performer by the end of 2005. He even headlined the Royal Rumble pay per view. Being booked to face Undertaker in a casket match at WrestleMania XXII, WWE entertained the possibility of Henry ending the streak. Those talks didn’t last long as evidenced by the match’s outcome.
When Undertaker had his first title match at WrestleMania, it was six over six years after his WWE arrival. Most of that time had been spent in the upper echelon of the card. As long as it took to get Undertaker to a WrestleMania main event, it would be even longer before he would get another title match on the Mania stage. Ten years after dethroning Sycho Sid at WrestleMania XIII, Undertaker went back to the championship ranks of WrestleMania when he challenged Batista at WrestleMania XXIII. What’s more surprising than the length of time it took to get Undertaker back to the Mania title ranks was that he finally won the Royal Rumble to gain the match. Even though they were bumped to the middle of the show, Undertaker and Batista tore the house down. Like Orton before him, Batista was a viable candidate for ending the streak. Regardless, Undertaker once again was victorious and walked away with his second championship win at WrestleMania.
That reign did not last long as it was quickly ended by Edge. Undertaker had suffered an injury and would need to take some time off, but not before dropping the belt. From that night in May of 2007, Edge appeared a lock for Undertaker’s next WrestleMania conquest. The difference with Edge was the he too had not been defeated at WrestleMania. Sure he had failed to win a multi-man match at one Mania show, but he had never suffered a pin fall loss at the event since he entered Mania competition in 2000. Edge had a couple tag team match wins and a one-on-one win over Booker T. Due to an unfortunate injury he missed both the 2003 and 2004 shows. He came back with a vengeance in 2005 by winning the first Money in the Bank match. He continued his tear by demolishing Mick Foley at WrestleMania XXII. While unsuccessful in the 2007 MITB match, Edge still had great momentum going into Mania in 2008. As champion he had been able to stay a step ahead of Undertaker. But once WrestleMania XXIV came, Edge fell like all the others and Undertaker picked up his third WrestleMania title win.
Nobody can mention Undertaker’s next two WrestleMania showdowns and leave one of them out. They go hand-in-hand. Both matches were against Shawn Michaels. Taker and Michaels were the last from their time and had not faced each other in over eleven years. After winning a feud with JBL, Michaels felt confident that he could end Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak. At WrestleMania XXV, Michaels tried everything he could to defeat Undertaker. He even tried to gain a count out victory. Even after hitting Undertaker with everything he had and kicking out of Taker’s Tombstone, Michaels fell. HBK couldn’t believe it. He was so sure he could defeat Undertaker at his own game. He knew how close he had come and was sure he could do it if he could just have one more shot. Towards the end of 2009, Michaels began a campaign to face Undertaker one more time on the Mania stage. Despite his efforts, Undertaker refused. Michaels was deeply troubled. He felt that defeating Undertaker would vindicate him. He felt that without that win, his career was over. After costing Undertaker the World Championship, Michaels now had Taker’s attention and would get his rematch, but on one condition: he had to put his career on the line. Michaels agreed, and at WrestleMania XXVI, he threw everything he had at Undertaker. Again, despite his efforts, Michaels failed. For all his ability, he couldn’t defeat Undertaker at WrestleMania.
This year Undertaker will once again face a ghost from WrestleMania past in Triple H. The Game will become the third man to face Undertaker twice at WrestleMania. The motivation behind HHH’s challenge to Taker is that he has done everything he can, except defeat Undertaker at WrestleMania. Few believe that Triple H will be the one to end the streak. Still, many believe it will be a fantastic match. A recent poll on Wrestleview asking what feud was the best going into WrestleMania ended with Triple H and Undertaker far above the rest of the pack.
Regardless of whether or not the streak comes to an end, there is something so intriguing about the streak. As impressive as a streak is, let alone an 18-0 streak at WrestleMania, there is more to the story. A WrestleMania streak isn’t as fascinating on anyone else. Undertaker’s captivating character makes it all the better. There’s just no way would a streak, even at 18-0, be as fascinating on a Triple H or a John Cena. Undertaker is one of the single greatest characters ever in professional wrestling. A WrestleMania streak seems tailor made for him. It has become just as big, if not bigger than the title matches or celebrity appearances. Every year when WrestleMania rolls around, the biggest question people ask and debate is not the title matches or the celebrity appearances. They wonder who Undertaker will face on the Mania stage. Even after Undertaker is gone, the legend of the streak will live on for many years.