Undertaker’s Best Promos: The Dead Speak!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

For my money, on Monday the Undertaker cut one of his best promos in years. If you haven’t seen it, you should see it.

So watch it.

In recent years a lot of fans have been clamoring for him to return to his American Bad Ass/Big Evil persona. That’s the closest we’ve gotten to it in a long time. In the right context, this Undertaker is every bit as menacing and intimidating as the Dead Man persona.

Like fine wine, the Undertaker improved with age. Critics, podcasters and “pundits” have talked about his matches with Kurt Angle, Batista, Edge, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, CM Punk, among others. Mind you, the first of those matches took place in February 2006. The real-life Mark Calaway had been wrestling for almost 20 years, and played the Undertaker for about 16 of them.

But what about the Undertaker’s mic work? His “character work,” so to speak. At the start of his run he was given a mouthpiece: Paul Bearer. The formula for an Undertaker/Paul Bearer promo was pretty simple. Paul would do most of the talking in that unsettling high pitched voice, and ‘Taker would chime in with something spooky at the end. But at that point he was playing the character like a zombie, or Frankenstein’s monster.

Below is a perfect example, and actually one of my favorite times we heard the Dead Man speak…

But after years at Paul Bearer’s side, and six years of growing and evolving the character, he clearly became more comfortable on the mic and began to take a more commanding presence in his promos. At times it was almost to the point where Bearer would simply speak to compliment what Undertaker would say.

Case in point, this little gem where he talks about a match on Valentine’s Day…

In 1996, the Undertaker/Paul Bearer tandem was split up. The Dead Man was left to fend for himself on the mic. Some nights were better than others. But on certain shows, he could make absolute magic. Especially when he had the production team behind him. These promos for the Buried Alive pay per view that fall are the stuff of legend.

Holy crap.

The changes continued into 1997 and 1998. The introduction of the Kane character, and the revelation of the Undertaker’s storyline family history would humanize the Dead Man in ways we’d never seen. In rare occasions he’d be in street clothes, albeit still black. As they built to an Undertaker/Kane match at Wrestlemania XIV, he would have to talk about his parents, his childhood, etc. The emotional needs of the story required a kind of acting that would prove challenging for anyone not trained traditional theater.

In the scene below, we see him talking to his deceased parents at their grave site. Y’know, that standard wrestling promo you’ve seen a thousand times…

But pre-produced Undertaker was not the same as arena Undertaker. That’s not to say he was bad. But a spooky, undead character obviously lends itself to more quiet settings. When you’re among screaming fans, it’s obviously very different.

Here we have a fairly famous “worked shoot” promo from 1998. He’s dressed in plain clothes, but allegedly that’s because his gear was lost in transit. It’s not the most polished mic work you’ll ever see. But the substance of it is great. I love the “slayer of dragons” line.

I’m not in love with this next one. But certain elements of it are very strong. Most notably Undertaker not looking into the camera as he’s threatening Vince McMahon. Mind you this is 1999. Years before WWE wrestlers were told not to look into the camera. This was done for effect. Then you’ve got the music, the lighting, the hood. It’s just a great looking piece of television.

Then came the American Bad Ass. In 2000, all the talk about taking souls and eternal damnation was over. After 10 years, the Undertaker was simply a tough-as-nails biker, looking like he might kill somebody at a moment’s notice. We’d seen a humanized Undertaker before. But I’d argue this was the first time we heard the Undertaker talk like Mark Calaway.

Even the Rock wasn’t safe.

The American Bad Ass would morph into Big Evil. The difference? As Bruce Prichard once said, “Semantics.” Although I suppose you could argue the American Bad Ass was a babyface, and Big Evil a heel.

By the time Wrestlemania XIX rolled around, ‘Taker wanted a match with Ric Flair. And he was going to get it. By any means necessary…

In hindsight, the really bone-chilling thing about this segment is that he references not only the future Charlotte Flair, but the late Reid Fliehr.

This next one from April of 2002 was special. Not just because of its delivery, but because they put the Undertaker with the recently-returned Hulk Hogan, and they let him talk about the elephant in the room. They let him talk about his first WWF Championship win in 1991 and say, “I beat you.” For so long, it had been taboo to reference Hogan unless it was some kind of joke or parody. But now he was back. And as you’ll see, he was fair game.

Big Evil was around until the end of 2003. By Wrestlemania the following year, the Dead Man was back. And yes, he would wear gold again. Specifically, the World Heavyweight Championship, a.k.a. the “Big Gold Belt.” He wore it three times between 2007 and 2009.

Here he is on Smackdown in 2009 after taking it CM Punk in a Hell in a Cell Match the previous Sunday. My favorite part of this promo is that he puts the belt over, and explains why he wanted it so badly. He even calls it “the Holy Grail of everyone who steps foot in this ring.”

At this point, what we were getting was a Dead Man/Big Evil hybrid. Lots of talk about souls, graves, etc. But at times, we’d see flashes of Big Evil.

Earlier that year, Wrestlemania XXV had taken place. The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels had that classic match, and started what would ultimately be a four-year saga that in time would include Triple H.

Once Triple H got involved in 2011, we started to see in-ring segments between all three. What resulted were some of the best, if not the best back-and-forth promos of all their iconic careers. There’s a tension in the air that you can’t script. It has to come from the performers and their chemistry.

I present to you, Exhibit A.

A year later, Triple H and the Undertaker would face off again. This time inside Hell in a Cell, with HBK as the guest referee. But initially, Hunter refused to face the Dead Man again.

What’s interesting about this segment is that it’s one of the rare times we see Undertaker come from a place of vulnerability. He’s been waiting a year for this opportunity, and he needs Triple H to say yes.

You wanna talk tension? That line about Shawn being better isn’t remotely as effective out of context. But with these characters and this dynamic, it’s huge.

Fast-forward to 2015, and we’ve got the Undertaker coming for Brock Lesnar after the Streak was broken at Wrestlemania XXX. I was so dissatisfied with that initial promo ‘Taker cut on Brock. It made him look like a sore loser. If they’d simply done something like the promo below, and included something about revenge and ‘Taker having nothing left to lose, it would have been perfect.

This next segment contains, in my opinion, the Undertaker’s last really good promo. Until last Monday, of course.

There’s not much to it, really. It’s ‘Taker declaring himself for the Royal Rumble Match. But it’s always stood out to me for two reasons. First, I love the “29 holes for 29 souls” line. Secondly, and more importantly, look at how he acts toward Stephanie McMahon. At this point (and perhaps to this day), nobody stood up to Stephanie like that.

But what could she do? He’s the Undertaker.

Email Rob at at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

WWE Super Show-Down Predictions – A Throw-Away Show?

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

I’ve been debating over whether to call Super Show-Down a throw-away pay per view. It’s tempting. But I think a better term for it would be “special attraction pay per view.” If not for the special attraction WWE has thrown in for the overseas fans, this would be a pretty sub-standard pay per view.

The Greatest Royal Rumble was the same kind of show. Yes, we had the cage match between Roman and Brock. But in the end, we got a non-finish. What held that show up was the big Royal Rumble Match that Braun Strowman won. It’s the same thing with Super Show-Down and the Undertaker/Triple H match.

Still, they’ve definitely packed it full of talent. So let’s take a look.

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH
Cedric Alexander (c) vs. Buddy Murphy

I’m blown away that this hasn’t been bumped to some kind of pre-show yet. Because 205 Live doesn’t build to pay per view matches. It builds to pay per view pre-show matches held in front of half-empty buildings. Don’t believe me? Ask Cedric Alexander and Drew Gulak how their Summerslam match went.

Yes, Buddy Murphy will be in his home country at Super Show-Down. But I still don’t see them taking the title off Cedric. My opinion hasn’t changed about Mustafa Ali being the man to take it from him, possibly at Wrestlemania next year. Or more accurately, the Wrestlemania pre-show.

PREDICTION: Cedric Alexander

Naomi & Asuka vs. The IIconics

You know what the problem is with the Smackdown Women’s Division these days? Actually, there are a a few. But do you know what the biggest problem is with the Smackdown Women’s Division these days? They turned the wrong woman heel. Instead of Becky Lynch (which was utterly stupid in the first place), it should have been Asuka.

It’s been painful, physically painful, to see Asuka’s fall from prominence since Wrestlemania. Charlotte beat her, and she’s become utterly and unbearably average. Just another name on the roster. This is unacceptable.

Billie Kay and Peyton Royce should take this one home. As they’re Australian, this match is tailor-made to give them a big win. But after the match, Asuka needs to turn on Naomi. This is the biggest stage she’s performed on in months, and the heel turn opportunity is practically gift-wrapped for them. For the love of God, give this woman something.

PREDICTION: The IIconics

WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The New Day (c) vs. The Bar

This should be good, as these guys rarely disappoint. And while I’d be just fine with the Bar taking the titles, I wouldn’t look for it here. I’ve got to believe that when the time comes, they want them to drop the belts to a team that hasn’t had them before. I’d love for SAnitY to be that team. But maybe not. Either way, this will be another feel-good moment for the New Day down under.

PREDICTION: The New Day

John Cena & Bobby Lashley vs. Kevin Owens & Elias

I’ve actually been very surprised at how little we’ve seen John Cena since Wrestlemania. As far as I can remember, this is his first televised match, if not his first match altogether, since losing to the Undertaker. I’d be surprised if the good guys didn’t win here, specifically after an AA by Cena.

Oddly enough, the person I’m thinking about going into this match is Lio Rush. His on-screen partnership with Bobby Lashley is very much in its infancy. But it’s packed with intrigue. Lio Rush could, and I’ll emphasis could, be for Bobby Lashley what Paul Heyman was for Brock Lesnar. Those are huge shoes to fill. But give it time Even if Lio can’t fill them, he might surprise you by coming close.

PREDICTION: John Cena & Bobby Lashley

STIPULATION MATCH:
The Miz vs. Daniel Bryan
Winner gets a WWE Championship Match.

I was surprised to see Daniel Bryan and Brie Bella lose at Hell in a Cell. If they’d won, this would have been the rubber match between Bryan and Miz. But since they lost, I’m thinking Bryan picks up a clean win over Miz here. Bryan can go on to challenge whoever the WWE Champion is, and Miz can go on TV and complain that he’s beaten Bryan twice and deserves a shot himself.

But what’s fun about the WWE Title picture on Smackdown right now, is that the immediate future isn’t so obvious. There are a few ways this could go, most of which are intriguing. Coming out of Super Show-Down, we could be looking at AJ Styles vs. Daniel Bryan, or Samoa Joe vs. Daniel Bryan. Or perhaps AJ Styles vs. The Miz. Smackdown may very well avoid the annual “autumn slump.”

PREDICTION: Daniel Bryan

Ronda Rousey & The Bella Twins vs. The Riott Squad

I’m not a big fan of six-person tag matches on pay per views. I’ve been conditioned to see them as TV filler over the years. That, combined with the fact that the Bellas (Brie in particular) haven’t exactly turned in quality in-ring work lately, make me wonder if this is the bathroom-break match. Nothing personal, ladies.

There’s been plenty of buzz about Ronda defending the title against Nikki Bella at Evolution. As revolting as that sounds, it’s looking like that is indeed where we’re going. And if they’re going to do a heel turn with Nikki, this would be the place to do it. I’d still expect Ronda and the Bellas to win, though. Most likely with an armbar by the champ.

Incidentally, I really enjoyed that Ronda vs. Ruby match we got on Raw this past week. How about we make that the match for Evolution, instead of Ronda vs. Nikki?

PREDICTION: Ronda Rousey & The Bella Twins

The Shield vs. Braun Strowman, Dolph Ziggler, & Drew McIntyre

Again, six-person tags and TV filler. But this one at least has a decent story going for it. I’ve actually been digging the stuff they’ve done with Dean Ambrose lately. Honestly, now is as good a time as ever for them to shoot for a Reigns vs. Rollins vs. Ambrose match for Wrestlemania. I’d go with that over Reigns vs. Rock.

I originally picked the Shield to go over here. But now that we’ve got a Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman vs. Brock Lesnar match on the horizon, I think it’s gotta be the heels. Have Braun pin Roman, perhaps due to a blunder with Ambrose. Thus, Braun has a little added credibility going into Crown Jewel.

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman, Dolph Ziggler & Drew McIntyre

WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Becky Lynch (c) vs. Charlotte Flair

Becky finally got her big win at Hell in a Cell. Now the question becomes, what do you do with this match? This is Flair’s championship rematch, of course. So if Becky can win this one, she should theoretically be done with Charlotte for awhile. Assuming they want Charlotte to remain a babyface, that’s probably the best course of action here. Right now, anyone they put against Becky is going to get booed.

In a perfect world, this is where Asuka would come in. A newly heel Asuka could make the perfect challenger for Becky, who for all intends and purposes is a babyface right now anyway. Considering how dominant Asuka used to be, if she can recapture some of that magic it might help Becky keep that underdog quality that fans love about her.

Mind you, that doesn’t leave much for Charlotte to sink her teeth into. I suppose you have the IIconics, Mandy Rose, and Sonya Deville. Maybe even Zelina Vega. But that’s all small potatoes by comparison. Hm. Perplexing…

PREDICTION: Becky Lynch

NO-DQ MATCH FOR WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Samoa Joe

They protected Samoa Joe in his loss to AJ Styles at Hell in a Cell. But nevertheless, he walked out empty-handed. The operative question here is, have they missed their chance to put the title on Joe?

I think the answer, at least for now, is yes.

If Joe takes the belt here, I think this program continues for at least another month. Styles will be owed a rematch, which he’ll probably get at Crown Jewel in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, they will have already established a new top contender in the Miz/Bryan match. So they’d have to do a little more clean-up in that scenario. Plus, at this point they’ve kept the title on AJ for so long. They may as well let him carry it past the one-year mark. That’s a hell of a notch on his belt.

The time to give Joe the belt was Hell in a Cell. Granted, I’d love to be wrong. But for now, I think the best we can hope is that he gets an another opportunity somewhere down the road.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

The Undertaker w/Kane vs. Triple H w/Shawn Michaels

There’s been some speculation about whether this match is the first in a series that will lead to Shawn Michaels coming out of retirement. First in a tag match with Hunter against Undertaker and Kane. Then another big one-on-one match with Undertaker.

I have no desire to see Shawn Michaels come out of retirement. I say that as a tried and true Shawn Michaels fan. His career had a perfect storybook ending that shouldn’t be tarnished. If he wants a little physicality, that’s fine. Throw a superkick, take a chokeslam, whatever. But no more matches. I want Shawn to be the one guy who keeps his word.

At this point in his career, I really don’t think the Undertaker should lose unless they’re trying to get a new star over, i.e. what they did with Roman at Wrestlemania 33. Obviously, that match sucked and was ill-conceived. But their intentions were good, and the right guy won.

But after all the “Is he retired?” drama that took place after that match, people want to see the Undertaker win. They want a Tombstone Piledriver and a pinfall. So I say we give that to them. Hopefully we get a good match in the process.

PREDICTION: The Undertaker

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