wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: Why Did the Undertaker Come out of Retirement?

April 21, 2019 | Posted by Ryan Byers
The Undertaker

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

If you have one of those queries searing a hole in your brain, feel free to send it along to me at [email protected]. Don’t be shy about shooting those over – the more, the merrier.

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Bobby S. is facing quite the undertaking:

What is the story behind Taker returning after his retirement match against Roman? Did Taker feel perhaps that the match quality wasn’t as good as he wanted and thus that’s why he came back, or was it something else? Whose idea was it?

The answer to the question is . . . it was never actually his retirement match.

Headed into Wrestlemania XXXIII, the Undertaker was quite banged up as a result of his quarter-century-plus in the business, and he was in need of some time off and a variety of medical treatment, most significantly hip replacement surgery.

There was talk behind the scenes of the Roman Reigns encounter at 33 being the man’s last match, but the fact of the matter is that it was never promoted as such, and, in its aftermath, WWE commentators and talents waffled on the subject of whether Roman truly “retired” the dead man.

Yes, Taker did leave his hat and jacket in the ring after the match, which in many cases would be taken as a sign of the end of his career, but there was never anything definitively stated. Also, though it wasn’t broadcast as part of the Wrestlemania event, he left his gloves in the ring after his Mania XXII bout the prior year, also signaling a potential retirement. .

If you put those two events together, it becomes clear that in each instance the Undertaker was looking at a situation where he thought his in-ring career *might* be over, but he wanted to acknowledge it in such a way that he could still have plausible deniability regarding the status of his career if he later decided that he had more matches left in the tank.

Well, it’s either that or, with leaving his gloves in the ring one year and his hat and jacket the next, he was engaging in the world’s longest, slowest striptease . . . which makes some sense when you think about how long it takes him to enter the ring.

It should also be noted that the Undertaker’s touch-and-go physical status played a role in how his match with John Cena at Wrestlemania XXXIV was booked. Apparently, prior to the card, it became apparent that Taker was incapable of putting on a full-length match of any quality, so WWE intentionally did not say the bout would be part of the card before the show went on the air, with the fear being that, if they did, fans’ expectations would be too high compared to what would actually get delivered. With the match occurring on an “impromptu” basis, the idea was that nobody would complain about its quality since it wasn’t part of what the show was being sold on anyway.

Bryan J. is my NXT pro:

Why has the WWE been using David Otunga as an interviewer? Is he injured? It’s bizarre having wrestlers interviewed by a guy more muscular than they are.

In January 2018, David Otunga claimed that the reason he’s no longer wrestling is that his now ex-fiancée Jennifer Hudson gave him an ultimatum and told him to choose between in-ring competition and their family.

With all due respect to Otunga, I don’t think that his stepping away from a career as a wrestler is too great of a loss. Though WWE was always in love with his look and the fact that he was engaged to a legitimate a-list celebrity, he never really seemed comfortable as an in-ring performer, and his promos always came off as stilted and unnatural.

Mike T. wants to talk to some guy who used to write this column or something:

I was listening to a Jericho podcast with Gallows and Anderson. The topic was “worst indy gimmicks they’ve come across in their time”. It eventually turned to worse names, and Jericho blurts out MASSIVE Q several times as an example.

Was Jericho besmirching the name of our own Ask411 veteran Mathew Sforcina!? And to your knowledge has Mathew ever reacted to being called out like this???

Yes, that was in fact the ring name of Mathew Sforcina that Jericho, Gallows, and Anderson were commenting on during a 2016 episode of Y2J’s podcast. How exactly they came across the 411 alumnus’s moniker I don’t know, but they did . . . and the rest is history.

Mat did briefly address the podcast in the September 28, 2016 edition of Ask 411, taking it in stride as you would expect him to do given his general demeanor and professionalism.

Also, for old times’ sake, go check out Mat’s Drabble Blog.

Michael K. is perpetually disappointed:

What do you feel are the worst reveals/mystery partners in wrestling history?

I ask because I had a side discussion about how shitty the Vince McMahon-Higher Power reveal was. The Brutus Beefcake being the mystery attacker on Hogan in WCW and Flair as the Black Scorpion also came to mind.

My biggest mystery partner let down ever was when Andre announced he was picking a mystery opponent in a tag match against Big John Studd and Ken Patera and the world was convinced it was Hogan and instead Andre picked S.D. Jones. Honestly, almost anyone would’ve been better. You have the whole roster and you pick S.D.? Andre deserved to get double body slammed and have his haircut after the match due to his horrible decision making skills.

Any other reveals, or mystery partners, that you felt fell totally flat?

The worst of all time HAS to be the Gobbledy Gooker, who emerged from an enormous egg that had been hyped up on WWF television for months headed into the 1990 Survivor Series. However, I feel like there’s been so, so much written about the Gooker’s debut on the internet over the years that talking about it here again would just be a waste of space . . . even though it legitimately is my number one answer.

Of course, the reveal of the Shockmaster is pretty high on the list as well, but, again, that one’s been done to death at this point.

Let me give you a couple of my personal least favorites that don’t seem to get mentioned in all of the lists of most disappointing wrestling reveals.

Up first is the Renegade, who WCW built up with a series of vignettes STRONGLY implying that the Ultimate Warrior would be coming to the promotion (even referring to him as the “ultimate surprise” at points). However, when he actually made his debut, it was a green wrestler doing his level best Warrior impression while having half the charisma and somehow even less in-ring ability. Don’t get me wrong, the man has since killed himself and I don’t want to speak ill of the dead. My criticism here is much more of the people who decided to create a faux Ultimate Warrior in the first place than it is of the performer who was handed the unenviable task of doing that job.

My next personal pick is oddly specific. In fact, I don’t think that I’ve ever heard anybody else complain about this one, probably because it’s such a blip on the radar of wrestling history. However, it struck me pretty hard when I was a fan watching it happen, and I still remember the events leading up to it and my visceral, “Really?” reaction to this day.

The date is September 21, 1998. The show is Monday Night Raw. It’s the final Raw before the In Your House: Breakdown pay per view, which was to be headlined by a triple threat match between “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Kane, and the Undertaker for the WWF Championship. The on again, off again relationship between Kane and Taker was definitely “on again,” as the two were heels who were “in cahoots” against Stone Cold.

Vince McMahon, who is, of course, no friend of Austin himself, books the Texas Rattlesnake in a tag team match against the Brothers of Destruction on the go home Raw, with the idea being that if anybody wants to volunteer to team with Austin, they are welcome to do so. However, if nobody steps up, Stone Cold will have to go it alone against the BoD in a handicap match. To make things even more difficult for his adversary, McMahon books the three most likely partners for Austin – The Rock, Mankind, and Ken Shamrock – into a three-way match against each other that will take place AFTER Austin’s match so that they will not risk coming to his aid.

As it’s time for the tag match, there is still no announced partner for Steve Austin. He enters with Taker and Kane already in the ring, after which some familiar music hits, introducing none other than . . .

Billy Gunn?!?!

Yes, that’s right, Billy Gunn. The (by far) least interesting member of DX hits the ring and, after a competitive match, he gets pinned with a Tombstone Piledriver.

Granted, from a purely logical booking perspective, I can understand why they went with Gunn. D-Generation X was a popular enough act at the time that they probably figured he would get a pop, but he is still somebody who the company would not see a problem with the Undertaker pinning on this show. However, as a fan who was hoping to see a big, unexpected name, it was a pretty monumental letdown, particularly because it didn’t lead anywhere. It’s not as though Gunn and Austin had any sort of relationship going forward, and it didn’t build to any sort of rivalry between the Brothers of Destruction and DX. The whole thing felt like those in power in the WWF had booked themselves into a corner.

You can find the match on YouTube if you like. I mainly recommend watching it for its truly bizarre announce team of Jim Cornette doing color commentary and Shane McMahon doing something that very, very loosely resembles play-by-play.

Chris S. also has a question about disappointments. Does anybody like wrestling anymore?

What are some of the best and worst Rumble winner filler feuds in your opinion? Meaning feuds/matches that the Rumble winner had at a No Way Out or Elimination Chamber PPV on the way to their world title match at WrestleMania.

Honestly, if I were the king of the world, there would be no such thing as a “Rumble winner filler feud.” I have long disliked the idea of having the winner of the Royal Rumble match feud with another wrestler prior to challenging the champion at Wrestlemania. I would rather that the company just took six to eight weeks to do a long, proper build to the Mania championship match, even though I know that they for some reason feel they need that February show on the schedule.

If I had to pick a favorite of these feuds, I would probably go with the feuds that were really just extensions of the feud between the Royal Rumble winner and the champion who they would go on to face at Wrestlemania. For example, Steve Austin did battle with DX at No Way Out before facing Shawn Michaels for the title in 1998, Brock Lesnar squared off with Team Angle before facing Kurt himself at Mania in 2003, and John Cena and Shawn Michaels faced the Undertaker and Batista at No Way Out 2007 before the members of each of those teams split up and faced each other at that year’s Wrestlemania.

My least favorite of all time is a pretty easy pick. Randy Orton won the Royal Rumble in 2009, and he appeared set to face Triple H for the WWE Championship in the main event of Wrestlemania XXV. In between his Rumble victory and locking horns with the Hs, who does Randy get to wrestle at No Way Out?

It’s Shane McMahon.

I would have preferred Billy Gunn.

People who have long read my work on this site over the last fifteen years (Fifteen years? Geesh.) will know that I’m no fan of Shane McMahon as an in-ring performer. He has never looked like an athlete but still gets put over like he’s a legitimate badass, and, in my opinion, it makes everyone who has to go toe-to-toe with him look phenomenally weak. His matches are awful. Yes, some of them have contained stuntman bumps that look pretty cool (others have contained lamer versions with blatantly obvious crash pads), but he is so dreadful at the basics of professional wrestling that I can’t suspend my disbelief long enough to get to the stuntman bump. I don’t think Shane McMahon should be feuding with any serious wrestler on the roster, unless he’s in a managerial role.

Tyler M. sent this question in from the deck of the U.S.S. Intrepid:

Is Yokozuna number one for big men in the 90’s?

No. As I mentioned in a fairly recent installment of this column, the best big man of the 1990s (and perhaps still the GOAT) is Vader.

Maybe you could argue that Yoko and Vader belong in different “classes” of big man because there was a 150-200+ pound size difference depending on when in their careers you are weighing them, but, if we’re going to put everybody who eclipses 350 pounds in the same superheavyweight category, Vader is the man.

It’s not an Ask 411 column without Night Wolf the Wise. Let’s give him the last word:

1. Any idea where they were going with teaming Heidenrich with Animal and why they came out to L.O.D. theme and such?

It’s a combination of two of wrestling’s favorite “n” words: nostalgia and nepotism.

The Heidenreich/Animal team formed in 2005, which is the same year that WWE released a big two-disc Road Warriors DVD set. If you want to get the most bang for your buck in marketing those DVDs, it sure helps to have an act on your TV show on a weekly basis that reminds everybody of what Hawk and Animal were able to accomplish back in the day.

Plus, John Laurinaitis, the real life brother of Road Warrior Animal, was the legitimate head of WWE’s talent relations department during this time, so at least some element of the reborn Roadies team probably stemmed from Johnny Ace wanting to get his brother a job.

2. I heard somewhere that Steve Austin and Brian Pillman were not the original Hollywood Blonds. There are four versions of the Hollywood Blondes, but Steve Austin and Brian Pillman are the most well-known version. Can you give a brief history on all four versions of the Hollywood Blonds?

By my count there are actually FIVE different tag teams that called themselves the Hollywood Blonds at different points, and there are TWO additional teams that used some variation of the Hollywood Blonds name.

None of them seven teams have any connection to each other that I can tell, aside from the fact that they used the same moniker.

Let’s run them down in chronological order.

As near as I can tell, the earliest team to call themselves the Hollywood Blonds consisted of Buddy Roberts and Jerry Brown, managed by Sir Oliver Humperdink. Many people reading this will know Roberts from his time as one of the Fabulous Freebirds, though the Blonds pre-date that. Brown, meanwhile, was a journeyman wrestler probably best known for his time in this team. They worked for a southern territory referred to as NWA Tri-State in 1970 and 1971 before jumping to Georgia Championship Wrestling in 1972 and Championship Wrestling from Florida in 1974. While there, they held the NWA Florida Tag Team Titles on multiple occasions, regularly feuding with Dick Slater and a variety of partners before moving on to a series of matches against Kevin Sullivan and Mike Graham. They also did tours of New Japan Pro Wrestling in 1975 and 1976 before returning to Florida where they eventually lost a “loser leaves town” match that caused them to transition to the Mid-Atlantic territory in 1977. They won the Mid-Atlantic Tag Team Titles after less than a month in the territory and held them for three months in total. After leaving Mid-Atlantic, they finished out ’77 in the CWA in Tennessee before a couple more NJPW tours in 1978 and 1979 finished out their career as a team.

The next team to be called the Hollywood Blonds overlapped with Roberts and Brown briefly, though they didn’t have quite as long of a run. These Blonds were Larry Sharpe and Jack Evans, and they worked primarily in the World Wide Wrestling Federation for a time in 1977 and early 1978, though they were also sent down to Puerto Rico’s World Wrestling Council for a couple of matches as part of the working relationship between the WWWF and WWC. Most wrestling fans of my age who know of Larry Sharpe know him more as a trainer than they do an in-ring competitor, as he owned and operated the northeastern “Monster Factory” school that produced wrestlers like Bam Bam Bigelow, King Kong Bundy, Chris Candido, and Balls Mahoney. Jack Evans is obviously not the current Jack Evans who is buddy-buddy with the Hart family and mainly works in AAA. Instead, this Evans is perhaps best known for wrestling under a mask as Mr. X in the WWWF and even All Japan Pro Wrestling in the late 1970s. As a tag team, Sharpe and Evans were mainly kept at JTTS status, as they could beat regular job guys but would almost always lose to folks higher up the card.

Team number three consists of Rip Rogers and Ted Oates, who wrestled as the Hollywood Blonds throughout 1984 and the first couple of months of 1985. They were essentially exclusive to Georgia Championship Wrestling during this period, where they held the NWA National Tag Team Titles on one occasion, defeating Ronnie Garvin and Jerry Oates to win them. (Jerry and Ted were brothers and former tag team partners.) Rogers and Ted Oates both have connections to the Ohio Valley Wrestling system that produced many of today’s top wrestling stars, as Oates was a former tag team partner of OVW founder and lead trainer Danny Davis in the Nightmares, while Rogers, in addition to having a lengthy in-ring career in his own right, was also an OVW trainer.

The fourth Hollywood Blonds team was active at the same time as the Rogers and Oates duo, albeit in different territories. The two men who comprised this version of the team were Dusty Wolfe and Ken Timbs, stalwart southern wrestlers who debuted the Blonds gimmick in Memphis during the summer of 1984 before taking it on the road to Florida. They are probably the least prolific Hollywood Blonds combination, as they only lasted about three months and did not hold any significant championships that I am aware of, though they did get in a couple of title fights against defending champions Chavo and Hector Guerrero. Timbs would go on to have probably the greatest success of his career as a rudo in CMLL under the name Fabulouso Blondy (the perfect setup for a hair vs. hair match), while Dusty Wolfe, sometimes under the name Dale Wolfe, became a pretty regular enhancement talent for the WWF in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He actually wrestled as recently as 2013 on the indies, where he was doing a version of the Doink the Clown gimmick . . . presumably without WWE’s consent.

Team number five is, of course, the duo of “Stunning” Steve Austin and “Flyin'” Brian Pillman who, despite being a pretty infamous tag team because of what the men who comprised it would go on to do later in their careers, actually only existed for about nine months. It was an eventful nine months, though. The Blonds held the WCW Tag Team Titles and feuded with Ric Flair and Arn Anderson of the Four Horsemen . . . and I guess Paul Roma, too. They were also voted Best Tag Team by the readers of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter in 1993, being the only team based solely in the U.S. to win that award during the decade of the 90s.

As noted above, there are also two “spinoff” teams of Hollywood Blonds. Lenny Lane and Lodi were an ambiguously gay tag team in WCW during 1999. For the most part, they were referred to simply as Lenny and Lodi, though occasionally they were called the “West Hollywood Blonds,” a reference to the fact that the City of West Hollywood is known for having a large LGBTQ+ community. They never held the Tag Team Titles, but Lenny was the Cruiserweight Champion during this time, though he was eventually stripped of it when Turner censors decided their gimmick was too controversial and the act was canned. This lead to the two men being briefly repackaged as “Standards and Practices” with Stacy “Miss Hancock” Keibler as their manager. However, the censors didn’t like THAT, either, so they were renamed “XS,” with Lodi’s name changing to “Idol” and then later to “Rave.” After WCW folded, Lenny and Lodi toured with the short-lived WWA promotion that tried to do a series of pay per view events from various international venues, and, after being out of commission for over four years, they reunited for a series of indy matches against the Heart Throbs in 2006.

Speaking of indy matches, an independent tag team called the Rehobeth Beach Crew (named after a small town on the Atlantic Coast in Delaware) who mainly worked for Maryland Championship Wrestling was rechristened as the “New Hollywood Blonds” when they wrestled on a few shows in Philadelphia in 2008. I can only assume that they were renamed because somebody thought the Rehobeth reference wouldn’t fly in Philly. The members of the team were Joseph Brooks and Link Kory, neither of whom made much of a splash outside of the Northeastern independent scene. Both appear to have moved on from wrestling.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected].