Csonka Reviews Undertaker’s WrestleMania Matches (Part 3: WM 21-26)
Welcome one and all, it’s column time with Larry. Today I am continuing my special countdown to WrestleMania series. This year it’s a four-column series, looking at the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows in WrestleMania history. Today I continue my look at The Undertaker at WrestleMania; I will give thoughts and ratings for every match he had at the big show, and at the end rank them from worst to best. Taker had some truly horrible Mania matches, but his top five Mania matches are some of the very best. Sit back and enjoy, and as always feel free to share your opinions on the matches…
WrestleMania 21 – The Undertaker vs. Randy Orton [***]: Considering the bad matches Taker has been involved in (not all his fault), and Orton’s injury I was pleasantly surprised with the match. These two put on an extremely strong 14-minute match, with good pacing and some great counters an near falls. They sold the fact well that Orton was “this close” to beating the Undertaker. Cowboy Bob making an appearance with the CAST was great and added that special something to the match as well. Orton reversing the chokeslam into an RKO was a sweet spot and the crowd TOTALLY bought that Taker was about to lose. That was the key as we moved into this era of Taker matches; you had to make the crowd bite hard at least one time on a great near fall, and they did that. I loved Orton trying to use the Tombstone to defeat the Undertaker, only to have it reversed (very nicely). I get why they didn’t pull the trigger, but Orton felt like he had a legit chance to end the streak here to me.
WrestleMania 22 – Casket Match: The Undertaker vs. Mark Henry [*]: Amazingly enough, this is not the worst thing on the show; that honor goes to The Boogeyman vs. Booker T and Sharmell T. This is most certainly on the lower level of the Taker Mania scale, but not the very dirt worst. This is Henry dominating with the power game, lots of punches and kicks and very slow action. Not methodical, working over your opponent with purpose slow, just fucking slow. Taker eventually had enough of this sucking, played the hits to get a reaction, hit the big dive over the casket, and then hit the tombstone for the win. Taker goes 13-0 in what was a not good match, at all. It was back to the monster formula, but this wasn’t the awesome “Hall of Pain” era Mark Henry, so it just wasn’t all that good, but it’s not the worst of the worst. I honestly don’t even hate it, but I never once bought into Henry beating Taker here. It also didn’t have any life until the closing moments, when Taker decided that he had enough of this bullshit, and did what he could to at least make the live crowd happy.
WrestleMania 23 World Heavyweight Championship Match: The Undertaker vs. Batista [****]: At the time, this one was a match that I don’t think many had high hopes for. Sure the Undertaker has been on a roll and looked to be in tremendous shape, but since his return (at the time of the feud) from injury Batista didn’t have a good a track record with good matches, and even looked gun shy most of the time. That’s understandable when you have torn every major muscle 43 times in the last few years. Batista came out and said before the event that they would steal the show, ala Steamboat and Savage at WM III. Well, they were no Steamboat or Savage, but what they did was have an absolutely great match. Batista and Taker actually had a great and unexpected chemistry, as they were two guys I never really saw working well together. They started out quick and kept a quick pace throughout the whole match, much different than most Batista or Undertaker matches (especially during that time). Taker worked his ass off, including busting out the awesomeness of the NO HANDS DIVE. For a man in his 40’s he does that with such ease and it always leaves me in awe. Batista held up his end of the bargain as well, a top rope shoulder block, powerslam through the table outside, kicking out of the last ride. These guys clicked big time and proved a lot of people wrong. What we ended up with was a very good match and a cool moment with Taker winning another title at WM, 10-years after he last won one at WM.
WrestleMania 24 – World Heavyweight Championship Match: The Undertaker vs. Edge [****½]:At the time, I was so glad to see that Smackdown got to close the show, I think that Taker deserved it as did Edge. Now the big problem is that everyone expected Taker to win here, especially going on last. That means that they had a lot of hard work ahead of themselves to make people think that Edge had a chance to win the match. It’s the key to all of the great Taker matches at Mania. I felt that they did that and more. They smartly started slow since they were going long and built well from there. Taker did the crazy Undertaker Dive, which was awesome, but at every turn Edge was cutting him off whenever he would try his signature stuff. They played off of other times that Edge screwed Taker, like with the Camera shot and as the match went on, and Edge kept stopping all of the classic Taker spots, the crowd got hotter and people actually believed that Edge had a shot at winning. They did the ref bump spot, which was going to annoy me but the way they did it again made you think that Taker would lose. He got the tombstone, got the cover, Charles Robinson dashed to the ring and counted the near fall and you could hear the crowd being deflated as they thought Taker had the win. Taker would dispose of the Rated Rmy but ate a spear for a near fall. Edge was pissed, speared him again and out of that is where the finish came. And for those of you trying to think you know what you are talking about, Taker was not using a triangle choke, he used a GOGOPLATA, the move he had been working to get over for like 5-months at that time. The finish makes sense because Taker is a huge MMA guy, and it was a riff off of the Diaz vs. Gomi finish from PRIDE 33. Taker got the GOGOPLATA, Edge tapped and Taker went 16-0 at Mania to win the title in AN EXCELLENT main event.
WrestleMania 25 – The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels [*****]: Many times, we as wrestling fans can get over excited about an event. We can over hype it and then get pissed when OUR expectations are not met. I will say that heading into the big event that HBK vs. Taker was THE match I waned to see. Partly because I thought it could be great, partly because I have always wanted to see it on the big stage, and also because it was easily the best built feud on the card. And quite simply, this was an amazing match. The beginning was about what you’d figure, HBK avoiding the big man, using his speed, it was smart booking. I loved the part where HBK knew the dive was coming, bumped the ref and then sacrificed the cameraman. The best part was actually right after that, as he grabbed the ref, pulled him into the ring, and was praying for the count out victory. The desperation was evident as HBK was willing to end the streak in any way possible. From there they both survived each others finish, they “dug deep” and it developed into a heavyweight slugfest as Taker’s chest was being destroyed by chops. The finish was sweet as HBK went for the moonsault press, only to be caught and planted with the tombstone. The match not only lived up to, but it exceeded my expectations on every level. Some say that it can’t be a classic because we all knew that Taker was winning, but I disagree. The match was amazing, they told the story of two warriors, and they MADE the live crowd believe that HBK could win, and that makes it great. Taker is a guy that fights through injury, but once again put on a great performance. HBK is stuck together by duct tape and chewing gum, but he goes out there and shows why he is one of the very best once again. At their age, and with their physical condition factored in, I am constantly amazed at the matches they had at the time. Awesome match, awesome performances and it will be what this event is remembered for. I would also be missing something if I didn’t mention the performance of Jim Ross. I have said time and time again that NO ONE calls the big match better than Jim Ross and he did it once again here. He took a great, great match and made it EPIC with his call. The wrestling world is not as good without Jim Ross calling big time matches.
WrestleMania 26 – Streak vs. Career: The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels [*****]: The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels stole the show at WrestleMania 25, and the decision was made to do it again. Now, you had me at Taker vs. HBK II (as far as Mania matches goes), but the build to the match was such a well-crafted story. Shawn Michaels, Mr. WrestleMania, was haunted by the loss, something that came to light when he accepted the 2009 Slammy Award for Match of the Year. He challenged Taker (the World Champion) to a rematch, which was refused. Michaels became obsessed with the rematch, and turned to the Rumble to earn his title shot. The run for him in the match was well done, and the elimination worked so well as it came off like he had actually been accidentally eliminated. Shawn was devastated, and with Taker still refusing his rematch and Michaels looking as if he was closer to lunacy, he then sneaked into Undertaker’s Elimination Chamber match (which was awesome) and cost Taker the world title. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and the rematch was set, Taker’s streak vs. the career of Michaels. The WrestleMania 25 match was an all time Mania classic, and considering how it affected that show’s main event (which wasn’t good anyway) the call was made to have this match main event the show. For some this seemed like an issue, but the career of Michaels vs. Taker’s streak? Those are the highest stakes ever due to their perceived worth, and I had no issue with it going on last because I expected greatness. Unlike the Mania 25 main event, my optimism was rewarded this time around, because these warriors hit the ring again and delivered yet another Mania classic. The match came off even better than the year prior, which is a credit to both men; it succeeds because they not only have the year prior to play off of, but they have the extra-added emotion of the stipulation. You’re either going to see the streak end, or Shawn Michaels will retire. I remember discussing the match with long time 411 reviewer JD Dunn (HI JD!), and the feeling we shared when discussing this match was that it had the build, the pacing and even the psychology of a 90s AJPW match (Misawa vs. Kawada-esque) with the character work of a great WWE match all mixed together; and it is that combination that simply worked together flawlessly between two great performers. This is an all time Mania classic, and arguably the best main event in the history of the event. Retirements in wrestling often mean jack and shit, but Shawn has stayed out of the ring and only made cameo appearances since, making it mean even more as the years have gone on. I absolutely love both 25 & 26, and feel that you could flip a coin to decide which is better. But they came back and made the sequel just as great as the first, which was epic. And we all know how hard that it, I like to compare this series to Breakin & Breakin II: Electric Boogaloo; which is the greatest one-two punch in cinema history. This was an outstanding follow up to 25, and part of a tremendous arch of matches in Mania history, linking Flair, Michaels, Taker and Triple H.
– And this is where we stand at 18-0…
* WrestleMania XIII – No Disqualification Match for the WWE Championship The Undertaker vs. Sycho Sid [DUD]
* WrestleMania IX – The Undertaker vs. Giant Gonzalez [DUD]
* WrestleMania XV – Hell in a Cell Match: The Undertaker vs. Big Boss Man [DUD]
* WrestleMania XIX Handicap Match: The Undertaker vs. Big Show & A-Train [½*]
* WrestleMania XI – The Undertaker vs. King Kong Bundy [½*]
* WrestleMania VII – The Undertaker vs. Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka [*]
* WrestleMania XX The Undertaker vs. Kane [*]
* WrestleMania 22 – Casket Match: The Undertaker vs. Mark Henry [*]
* WrestleMania VIII – The Undertaker vs. Jake “The Snake” Roberts [*]
* WrestleMania XIV – The Undertaker vs. Kane [***]
* WrestleMania 21 – The Undertaker vs. Randy Orton [***]
* WrestleMania XII – The Undertaker vs. Diesel [***¼]
* WrestleMania X-8 – No Disqualification Match: The Undertaker vs. Ric Flair [***½]
* WrestleMania X-Seven – The Undertaker vs. Triple H [***¾]
WrestleMania 23 World Heavyweight Championship Match: The Undertaker vs. Batista [****]
* WrestleMania 24 – World Heavyweight Championship Match: The Undertaker vs. Edge [****½]
* WrestleMania 25 – The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels [*****]
* WrestleMania 26 – Streak vs. Career: The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels [*****]
– End scene.
– Thanks for reading.