Welcome back to Undertaker: Five Decades of the Deadman. This series has been chronicling the career of The Undertaker – who is set to make it five straight decades as a professional wrestler. The last installment of this five-part series covered arguably the most active decade in the career of The Undertaker. We dived into the 1990s; running through Taker’s WWE debut and feuds with Hulk Hogan, Mankind and Kane (to name but three). This time, we will be covering Undertaker’s last full-time decade: the 2000s.
Deadman No More: The American B.A.
When Undertaker returned at the Judgement Day pay-per-view (May 21st, 2000), fans were stunned. Gone was the iconic “Rest in Peace” theme song. In its place was Kid Rock‘s pop hit “American Bad Ass”. The switch from Funeral March inspired theme to hit pop song was all the evidence you needed that The Deadman was gone. Gone was Undertaker’s mortician attire – variations of which Taker had worn throughout the ’90s. Gone was the black Stetson; a stapble of the Deadman’s signature look. Instead, Taker wore a long, black leather trench coat – complete with sunglasses, ear piercings and bandana. The Deadman had become a biker; a 6″10 behemoth of a biker, arriving to chokeslam the McMahons and Triple H.
By attacking the McMahon-Helmsely faction, Taker was a babyface once more. After teaming with The Rock and Kane at King of the Ring, it looked like the family feud was finally at an end. The Brothers of Destruction were finally on the same page. Of course, it wasn’t to be. On August 14th, after losing to Edge & Christian, Kane chokeslammed Undertaker through the ring. This would mark the first of many feuds with Kane during the 2000s.
The Undertaker would face Kane once again at SummerSlam 2000. The match would end in a no contest, after Taker unmasked Kane. Kane ran away to avoid being seen. Undertaker would incorporate dirty tactics to win matches – whilst also resorting to trash-talking. This new, “American Badass” version of The Undertaker was clearly a different direction for the character. Undertaker described it best on Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Sessions podcast.
“I’m on pay-per-view. on a bike and it’s a completely different gimmick… the coat was the same, but the guy was just completely different… everything that can go wrong-if this doesn’t work, it’s dead right there.”
The gimmick turned out to be a stroke of genius. The edginess of this new Undertaker character was a perfect fit for the tail-end of the Attitude Era. Undertaker would go on to face Kurt Angle for the WWF Championship at Survivor Series. Angle would score a victory, after an early version of “twin magic” (switching places with a doppelganger) would see him use real-life brother, Eric Angle, to cheat to victory. Taker would then appear in the first Armageddon Hell in a Cell match, throwing Rikishi off the cell. Shortly afterwards, the Brothers of Destruction would reunite once more.
The Brothers of Destruction Versus The Two Man Power Trip
The Brothers of Destruction failed to capture the WWF World Tag Team Championships from Edge & Christian at No Way Out 2001. With that failure, Taker set his sights on capturing the WWF Championship from “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Before he could do that, he would have to defeat Triple H at WrestleMania XVII. This would be the first of a trilogy of matches between the two at WrestleMania. Of course, Undertaker won – he would remain undefeated at WrestleMania throughout the 2000s. The feud with Triple H would continue into Backlash 2001.
This time, it would be a tag team match against the Two Man Power Trip: Steve Austin and Triple H. Austin’s WWF and Triple H’s Intercontinental Championships would be on the line. The Brothers of Destruction, having recently won the WWF World Tag Team Championships from Edge & Christian, would defend them in the match. If the Brothers won, Kane would win the Intercontinental Championship and Undertaker would finally recapture the WWF Championship.
Sadly, it was not to be. With thanks to Triple H plowing Kane with his sledgehammer, the Two Man Power Trip would pull off the victory and take all the gold. Undertaker would face Austin for the WWF Championship once more at Judgement Day 2001 and would again fall just short. It was around this time when the Invasion Era began. Undertaker feuded with a debuting Diamond Dallas Page, who had been stalking Taker’s then-wife, Sara. With DDP and Kanyon arriving, they would win the WWF World Tag Team Championships from the APA (Farooq and Bradshaw). This would lead to a unification match at SummerSlam 2001. The Brothers of Destruction – having recently captured the WCW Tag Team Championships from Chuck Palumbo and Sean O’Haire – would defeat DDP and Kanyon. They would unify the tag team championships.
Big Evil is Born
Between SummerSlam and Survivor Series, the Brothers of Destruction would drop the tag titles to Booker T & Test and The Dudley Boyz respectively. Both brothers would end up in the Survivor Series 2001 match, billed as The Alliance vs Team WWF. The Alliance would win the match, thus bringing the Invasion Era to a close. Shortly after, Undertaker would turn heel once more – after forcing Jim Ross into Vince McMahon‘s “Kiss My Ass Club”. Big Evil is often confused with The American B.A., but there is a difference. Big Evil was, of course, more of a trash talker – it became a major part of his gimmick. He wasn’t shy of cheating to win. He rocked shorter hair, vests and leather pants. This was the American B.A. gimmick turn up to 10.
Big Evil would feud with Rob Van Dam – winning the WWF Hardcore Championship from him at Vengeance. At Royal Rumble 2002, Taker would enter into a feud with Maven. Maven, whose gimmick was that of a rising-star rookie, eliminated Undertaker from the match. In retaliation, Taker returned and eliminated Maven – before beating him down on the outside. The Rock would mock Big Evil for the humiliating elimination. They would then square off at No Way Out 2002, with Rock winning after a distraction by Ric Flair. This would, of course, lead to The Undertaker defeating The Nature Boy at WrestleMania X-8. Ric Flair was soon named General Manager of RAW, as the brand-split began. Taker was drafted to RAW – causing Big Evil to be furious at ending up on Flair’s brand.
Undertaker Becomes WWE Undisputed Champion
At Backlash 2002, Undertaker would defeat “Stone Cold” Steve Austin to earn a shot at Triple H’s WWE Undisputed Championship. Hulk Hogan – freshly babyface after his match with The Rock at WrestleMania X-8 – was to face Triple H that same night. Undertaker interfered in the match, taking out Triple H. Hogan fought Big Evil off before pinning Triple H for the championship. If you read Part II of this series, you might recall that The Undertaker won his first ever World Championship from Hulk Hogan in 1991.
History would repeat itself as – at Judgement Day 2002 – Taker would do it again. Big Evil was now the WWE Undisputed Champion. Shortly after, on the July 1st episode of RAW, Undertaker would become face once more. After a gruelling but excellent ladder match with a young Jeff Hardy – freshly a singles competitor, after being separated from brother Matt Hardy in the draft – Undertaker raised Jeff’s hand in a rare show of respect. Big Evil would retain much of his heel persona, but he was truly a babyface once more. Something of an anti-hero.
Undertaker lost the Undisputed Championship during an excellent triple threat match with The Rock and Kurt Angle at Vengeance 2002. The Rock would be the victor. Undertaker is synonymous with SmackDown and on August 29th 2002, Taker was drafted to the blue brand – where he would remain until 2011.
The Undertaker Feuds with Brock Lesnar, Big Show and Vince McMahon
The Ruthless Aggression Era was now underway. If you had to choose two superstars who most define that era, you would probably pick John Cena and Brock Lesnar. With The Rock and Stone Cold out of the door – at least as full-time superstars – the newly named WWE needed fresh blood. Cena and Lesnar were, to Taker, merely two new guys entering his yard. At SummerSlam 2002, Brock Lesnar captured the newly-named WWE Championship from The Rock.
The Undertaker would earn his shot for the title at Unforgiven 2002. The match would end in a no contest and a rematch would be set for No Mercy. Hell in a Cell had become something of a match specialty for Undertaker, but the favorable stipulation wasn’t enough to secure the win. Brock Lesnar – the dominant, monstrous young Champion – had bested Big Evil in his own yard. As we all know, this would not be the last time these two men met in the ring. We will return to this feud in Part IV.
Undertaker would take some time off shortly after; Big Show threw him off the stage, causing injury. This would set up a feud for Undertaker’s return at Royal Rumble 2003, which would lead to Big Evil choking Big Show out at No Way Out 2003. The feud would carry over into WrestleMania XIX, with Undertaker taking on Big Show and A-Train in a handicap match – with Nathan Jones in his corner. Taker would win the match, thus ending the feud.
A few months later, The Undertaker was to feud with WWE’s Evil Chairman, Mr. McMahon. After McMahon cost Undertaker a chance of reclaiming the WWE Championship from Brock Lesnar at No Mercy 2003, Taker would set his sights on Vince. Undertaker was set to get his revenge at Survivor Series 2003. The added stipulation? A Buried Alive match. Undertaker dominated for most of the match. Towards the end, unmasked Kane interfered – costing Taker the match. Big Evil was buried alive.
The Deadman Cometh
For months after Taker’s burial, Kane mocked his “deceased” brother. He claimed Undertaker was “dead and buried” forever. In reality, Undertaker – who had been sporting a more clean cut look – was growing his hair out. The Deadman was to return at WrestleMania XX, stunning Kane. Taker’s victory over Kane would make it 12-0. Undertaker was back in his true form – with Paul Bearer returning to his corner. Feuds with Heidenreich and JBL occupied much of Taker’s 2004. By the time of WrestleMania XXI in 2005, a new challenger had appeared: Randy Orton.
The self-proclaimed “Legend Killer” was promising to break Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak. Though not the first time the streak was acknowledged (it is widely believed that Jerry Lawler‘s mentioning of it after Taker beat Flair at WrestleMania X-8 was the first), it was the first time an opponent had alluded to breaking the streak being their reason for wanting the match.
The Undertaker – who spent months taunting and haunting Randy Orton – would make the young star 13-0. It would not be unlucky. Undertaker would feud with Muhammad Hassan shortly after. Hassan was getting the upper-hand over the Deadman in the feud – which was to culminate at the Great American Bash. Though Taker won the match (with the stipulation being the winner becomes number one contender for the World Heavyweight Championship) before last riding Hassan through the stage – writing him off WWE programming forever, it wasn’t always to be. Hassan was scheduled to defeat The Undertaker, before moving on to defeating Batista for the championship. It would have made him the youngest world champion in WWE history. However, with the London bombings in 2005, Hassan’s character – that of an Islamic extremist – was too edgy for TV. He lost the match and was quietly released shortly afterward.
Undertaker would not get the title shot with Batista. Randy Orton would cost Taker a number one contender match with JBL, thus reigniting their feud. Orton would avenge his defeat at SummerSlam 2005. He would follow this up with another victory – after help from father, Cowboy Bob Orton – at No Mercy 2005. Taker would win the sequel at Armageddon 2005, in a Hell in a Cell match. After failing to beat Kurt Angle for the World Heavyweight Championship at No Way Out 2006, Taker would feud with Mark Henry. Henry would become Taker’s 14-0 at WrestleMania XXII. This was the second time a superstar would vow to break Undertaker’s winning streak. The yearly theme was underway and would provide excellent WrestleMania matches in the coming years.
World Championship Feuds
Undertaker would win the 2007 Royal Rumble match, making him number one contender for Batista’s World Heavyweight Champion at WrestleMania XXIII. Batista was now established as a top main eventer – SmackDown’s answer to John Cena. “The Animal” would become number 15 on Undertaker’s winning streak – Taker was champion once more. However, the two fought again at Backlash 2007 – the Last Man Standing match ending in a draw. They fought a final time on the May 11th episode of SmackDown. To emphasize how evenly matched they both were, they drew once again. The Undertaker was so exhausted and beat down that after an attack from Mark Henry, Edge would easily cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase on the Deadman. The championship reign was at an end.
Undertaker would spend the rest of 2007 getting revenge on Mark Henry (who he beat at Unforgiven 2007) and chasing his former championship gold. Taker would enter the 2008 Royal Rumble match – hoping for a repeat of the previous year’s performance. However, he would be eliminated by fellow contender for GOAT status and long-time foe, Shawn Michaels. This would plant the seeds for the following year’s WrestleMania (more on that shortly).
Undertaker would avenge his previous loss to Edge at WrestleMania XXIV – winning back his World Heavyweight Championship. After Undertaker successfully retained at Backlash 2008 with the Hell’s Gate submission, then SmackDown General Manager, Vickie Guerrero, would strip him of the championship. Featuring on television as Edge’s on-screen girlfriend, this would be a plot to eliminate the Deadman from the title picture once and for all. Undertaker then spent the remainder of 2008 feuding with Guerrero, Edge, Big Show and Vladimir Kozlov. He would not win back the championship that year.
In the build-up to WrestleMania XXV, Undertaker entered a feud with long-time foe, Shawn Michaels. This would lead to what many would argue is the greatest match of all time. In the weeks leading to WrestleMania, HBK was bragging about how Undertaker had never defeated him in a one-on-one match. This was true and would serve as HBK’s reasoning for being the one who can break the streak. Of course, this never happened; the Deadman made HBK number 17 in 2009. The match, however, was spectacular. It made national news; it was all wrestling fans talked about in the weeks following WrestleMania XV. For possibly the first time, it truly looked like Taker’s streak was coming to an end. Instead, it was HBK’s winning streak against Taker which was broken. Of course, the Heartbreak Kid would want a rematch.
Taker would make HBK number 18 at WrestleMania XXVI the following year – doubling his tally over Michaels at WrestleMania. Though not quite to the level of the first match – a true five-star spectacle – this was still an excellent match between two certified veterans of the game. Of course, this match would prove to be Shawn Michaels’ final singles match – he would retire on the following RAW, receiving a retirement ceremony where even The Undertaker himself would pay tribute. Check out our recent article A Decade Of Heartbreak: Shawn Michaels Retires 10 Years Ago Today for a more in-depth analysis of the two Undertaker/Michaels WrestleMania matches.
The Undertaker in the 2000s: Summary
In 2000, The Undertaker was 8-0 at WrestleMania. In defeating Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XVI, he would become 18-0. He missed just one WrestleMania during the 2000s; WrestleMania XVI. The 2000s was the decade where Undertaker truly got to showcase his in-ring prowess. The great matches began during the Big Evil era and they continued into the Deadman’s return. It is hard to deny that the 2000s was Undertaker’s best decade and though the ’90s can be argued, the Undertaker’s matches weren’t nearly as consistent. Part IV will focus on the 2010s – the decade Undertaker moved to a part-time basis. It is the decade which featured his final title run and the end of a certain streak. Join us for Part IV this coming week!
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