Posted in Wrestling

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.

Posted in Wrestling

Undertaker’s Next Opponent: Who Ya Got?

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Like it or not, the Undertaker’s wrestling career is not over. I was sore about that for awhile, given how emotional everything was at Wrestlemania 33. But what’s done is done.

From a wrestling standpoint, we’ve actually seen more of ‘Taker this year than we have in some years past. He worked John Cena at Wrestlemania, Rusev at the Greatest Royal Rumble, and was part of a six-man tag at a house show at Madison Square Garden. We’ll see him at least once more in October when he wrestles Triple H at WWE’s “largest live event ever” in Australia. There’s also been some buzz about him wrestling at Summerslam

But who do you put in the ring with an icon who has virtually nothing left to prove?

The answer is: Whoever can tell the best story with him. Not to mention who can have the bring out the best in him between the ropes.

There are some obvious names that come to mind. Some are a little more obscure than others. Either way, I’ve got five. Ring the bell, ya’ll…

1. John Cena

This, of course, is the most obvious one. After the Dean Man surprised Cena in April, these two have unfinished business. Business which may be on the table as soon as Summerslam. If not, then next year’s Wrestlemania. John Cena vs. The Undertaker isn’t exactly a match you can do at Backlash.

Cena has an easy in for a rematch. Let’s be honest: Undertaker surprised him after being silent for weeks. Cena called ‘Taker a coward before Wrestlemania, and in theory, he can still go out there and say that’s true. “Prove you’re not a coward, Undertaker. Fight me on an even playing field.” Give us the build-up we all thought we’d get for Wrestlemania this year.

2. The Miz

When you read as many comic books as I do, you tend to hear the saying, “A hero is only as good as the villain he fights.” In other words, a better bad guy means a better good guy. And you won’t find a better bad guy in WWE these days (on main roster at least…) than the Miz. He’s as deserving as anyone of a match against the Undertaker.

When Miz actually has something of substance to talk about, he cuts a great scathing bad guy promo. That’s why I see him running Undertaker down for being “old,” “irrelevant,” and “a relic from the ’90s.” I can’t imagine the match would be much to write home about. But it would make for a feel-good moment for ‘Taker, and a hell of a career moment for the Miz.

3. Roman Reigns

The other really obvious name. Undertaker and Roman Reigns have unfinished business.

At Wrestlemania 33, fans still had a bad taste in our mouths from Brock Lesnar breaking the Dean Man’s fabled undefeated streak. So seeing ‘Taker lose at Wrestlemania again was the last thing they wanted to see. Much less to Roman Reigns. It was yet another attempt to pass the torch to Roman, and give him his big crowning moment as the company’s top guy. The next night on Raw, he got one of the loudest negative reactions in company history.

You know what would get an equally strong positive reaction? Having ‘Taker pin Roman after a Tombstone. And at some point, having him tell “the Big Dog” that this will always be his yard.

Dolph Ziggler

When he came back to Raw, Dolph Ziggler talked a lot about how the locker room had become lazy and complacent. In his mind, who could be more lazy and complacent than the Undertaker? A 53-year-old man who wrestles sporadically, while still cashing major paychecks? And did we mention he gets treated like a god? Meanwhile, Ziggler works his ass off on a full-time schedule and gets a fraction of the respect ‘Taker does. For that character, that’s more than enough motivation to spark a conflict.

Why Dolph and not his run-in buddy, Drew McIntyre? No disrespect to Drew, who had to fight and claw his way back to WWE stardom. But I see Ziggler getting the better match out of Undertaker, bumping around and what not. And like the Miz, Ziggler cuts a hell of a scathing promo. This one is a long shot, but it’d be worth it.

AJ Styles

The Phenom vs. The Phenomenal One. I’ve been calling for this one since Wrestlemania 32. I was pitching for AJ to come out, say he came to WWE to face the very best, and then challenge the Undertaker. He can do the exact same thing now. Only he can do it more credibly, given all he’s done in the company.

To be clear, I’m not advocating for Undertaker to win the WWE Championship again. But this match doesn’t need the title anyway. This match has all the natural intrigue in the world. And is there any doubt that if anyone in the entire industry is capable of getting one more great match out of the Undertaker, it’s AJ Styles? I sure as hell don’t.

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Undertaker’s Raw Return, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Here we go, folks. The answer we’re looking for is coming. We may even have a firm date for it.

Details have started to emerge about the Raw 25th anniversary show that’s scheduled for January 22. As we’ve come to expect with these anniversary shows, they’re bringing in past stars for nostalgia purposes. Already announced are Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, and in his first appearance since Wrestlemania, the Undertaker.

So here it is. This is their window. If they’re going to to some kind of angle for an Undertaker match at Wrestlemania, this is it. I’ve talked before about the pros and cons of Undertaker wrestling another match. I really don’t think there’s a need for it at this point, especially after the great send-off he got this year. But this is pro wrestling. You can probably count the guys who’ve retired and not come back in some form on one hand.

Chances are we’re not getting another Undertaker/Roman Reigns match. We’ve known for quite awhile that Reigns has a date with Brock Lesnar this spring. If the Dead Man is coming back, there are a bunch of names they could put him with. But let’s be honest. There’s only one potential Undertaker match that absolutely demands the pomp and circumstance of Wrestlemania. You can even argue he’s the only one worthy of bringing the Undertaker back for at all.

John Cena.

There’s been speculation about this match for a long time. Apparently it almost happened this year. Could we live without it? Yes. But if they’re dead set (no pun intended) on bringing the Undertaker back, if they’re going to renege on everything we saw in Orlando this year, this has to be the match. Cena may be the only one that doesn’t cheapen or diminish what appeared to be Undertaker’s genuine retirement.

Then again, maybe he’s not. Maybe that person doesn’t exist. But consider the actual match Undertaker and Roman had. What we got afterward was amazing. But the match itself was nothing to write home about. If Cena can give the Dead Man one last amazing Wrestlemania match, maybe it’s worth one more comeback…

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Shane McMahon commends the New Day for their actions on Raw. Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens interrupt. A match is made between Sami Zayn and Kofi Kingston. The Manchester Arena holds 21,000 people, and there were apparently only about 9,000 in attendance for this show. That’s a downer. On the plus side, the fans that were there seemed into it. Particularly during this opening segment.

Kofi Kingston def. Sami Zayn. This match made headlines, and not in a good way.

Multiple news outlets reported that Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn were sent home from Manchester after this Smackdown taping. What happened, or rather didn’t happen, after this match was apparently what prompted it. Owens and Zayn were supposed to have a lengthier post-match fight inside the ring with the New Day. Instead, they stayed on the outside. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, as the two have allegedly been difficult to work with as of late.

This was a surprise. Especially when you consider how vital these two are to Smackdown. Zayn is just now getting a chance to have a more expanded role on television. So the idea that he’s been tough to deal with seems very odd.

I’d love to think this is all part of a storyline. But the general consensus is that it’s legit. So the best case scenario here is that they come back and this becomes something they reference on television to get a reaction. Similar to Miz mentioning the incident where Enzo got kicked off a tour bus.

Randy Orton def. Rusev to deny the latter a spot on Team Smackdown at Survivor SeriesUh huh. Right. Rusev totally had a shot at getting on that team. Sure…

Becky Lynch def. James Ellsworth. Carmella lays out Ellsworth with a superkick afterward. I’m not big on inter-gender wrestling. But it’s fine as an attraction once in awhile. That’s exactly what this was, and it managed to be a fun little match. A great moment for both Lynch and Ellsworth. My only real complaint is that they didn’t save this for a pay per view. They could have drawn this out as a longer story.

Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable def. The Usos by count-out in a Smackdown Tag Team Title Match. The Usos keep the belts. When you consider what these guys are capable of, this was a let-down. But I imagine this was the first of many matches they’ll have. So let’s call it chapter one.

AJ Styles def. Jinder Mahal to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. While I can’t complain about this in the slightest, I wouldn’t get my hopes up about Styles keeping the belt for long. Remember, they’re still touring India in December. While those are Raw shows, my guess is they’ll fly both these guys in so that Jinder can get the belt back in his home country. Or rather, his fake home country. The Modern Day Maharaja is actually from Canada…

AJ deserves to stay in the top spot, though. He’s the best performer in the entire company, if not the entire world. Moving from Brock Lesnar vs. Jinder Mahal to Brock vs. AJ is like going from hamburger to filet mignon. There was no reason to think it was going to be any good, and there seemed to be little to no interest in it. I suspect that’s why this happened. While I’ve been fairly open-minded about Jinder’s abrupt shove into the main event picture, this title switch is an indictment on WWE’s failure to turn him into a solid commodity. Or at the very least, someone worthy of putting with their biggest attraction.

The way they’ve booked Survivor Series in general has been really weird. Granted, they were thrown a curve-ball when Roman Reigns got sick. So we can forgive the sudden title switch off of Rollins and Ambrose to allow for a Shield vs. New Day match. But Brock against Jinder was a bad idea from the start. Ditto for Miz against Baron Corbin. Rumor has it they’re also thinking of putting the Smackdown Women’s Title on Charlotte Flair, so she can be swapped into the match with Raw Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss.

I mean…they knew November was coming, right? They had a calendar? They could have done the appropriate title changes at Hell in a Cell if they wanted to.

On the plus side, AJ gave Jinder the best match he’s ever had. And the crowd was hot for the change.

John Cena announced as the final member of Team SmackdownThis was a swerve. Cena was at one point rumored to be the guest referee in the Brock/Jinder match. It’s a decent spot for him. Though it raises a few questions about his loyalties between Raw and Smackdown.

Who am I kidding? Those creative geniuses will forget it ever happened the night after the show, anyway…

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

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Posted in Wrestling

An Undertaker Return: Is it The Boy Who Cried Wolf?

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Since Wrestlemania XXXIII, there’s been truckloads of speculation about the Undertaker’s retirement. It’s a pretty natural conclusion to come to, given the way that show ended. The #ThankYouTaker hashtags broke out again, you saw all kinds of tributes to him, and WWE have played that moment up in a big way ever since. “I retired the Undertaker” is practically Roman Reigns’ new catchphrase. They’ve also given him Undertaker’s “This is my yard” line. Undertaker’s name was even thrown around in the big Roman Reigns/John Cena promo on Raw last week, with Cena calling the Dead Man a “battered veteran at the end of his career with a bad hip.” Hmm…

What people have been keen to point out, however, is that the announcers have been more tentative as far as ‘Taker’s retirement. They always talk about Reigns “potentially retiring” the Undertaker, as opposed to giving it any sort of finality. And of course, despite all the speculation there hasn’t been any confirmation about Undertaker being done. Until they spell it out for us that he’s retired, there’s a decent chance we’ll be seeing him in the ring again. Actually, there’s probably a really good chance we will.

I’m not sure how I feel about that.

While the Undertaker/Roman Reigns match wasn’t anything to write home about, the closing moments of Wrestlemania XXXIII were genuinely touching. There was an outpouring of emotion as fans seemingly said goodbye to a man who’d given so much of himself for over a 25 year career. Many of us had been watching him since we were children. Now, as adults, we were watching him ride off into the sunset.

To renege on a moment like that is almost in bad taste. This is twice now that we’ve gotten misty-eyed saying goodbye to the Undertaker. The first was after he lost to Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania XXX, ending his big winning streak. Me? I didn’t buy that as the end. But this Roman Reigns thing is different. In addition to drudging up all this emotion, it had a nice passing of the torch element to it. While the build-up could have been done much better, the generational aspect of the story was very appealing. And while so many detest Roman Reigns, the match had the right finish. If Undertaker comes back, it spoils all that.

Let’s also factor in the Undertaker being 52 years old, and not exactly blowing anyone away with what he did in the ring this year. Was it all his fault? Not necessarily. Remember, ‘Taker had recently come off hip surgery. He would reportedly go on to have a full on hip replacement done. There’s a lot to be said about a potential Reigns/Undertaker rematch, or the John Cena/Undertaker match so many have wanted. But if the real-life Mark Calaway is unable to perform at a high level, is bringing him back even worthwhile?

But at the same time…he’s the Undertaker. If anyone has earned the right to come and go on his own terms, it’s him. Let’s also remember that much of ‘Taker’s best in-ring work was done in his early to mid-forties. Think about his Wrestlemania matches with Batista, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and CM Punk. He has defied father time before. Given enough recovery and preparation time, it’s entirely possible he could do it again.

Regardless, the smart bet is that ‘Taker will be back sooner than later. But here’s my last lingering question: When he finally does say goodbye, how many of us will actually buy into it again? At what point does this Undertaker situation become just another version of The Boy Who Cried Wolf?

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

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