by BROCK KOLLER
This Sunday the Undertaker will step into a WWE ring, not at a WrestleMania, but at a SummerSlam.
A lot has been documented about the Phenom’s incredible WrestleMania undefeated streak and there have been many lists debating his best Mania matches, but the Undertaker’s SummerSlam presence should not go unnoticed.
True, WrestleMania gets all the attention year-round, but SummerSlam has been around for almost as long (Mania – 1985, Slam – 1988) and even WWE is realizing that SummerSlam is worthy of the WrestleMania treatment as they have made it 4 hours long this year and created multiple attractions to in conjunction with the pay per view.
The Undertaker will be making his 18th appearance at a SummerSlam and this will be his 16th match (more on that in a bit). But before we witness the Deadman vs. the Beast, a match that is too big for WrestleMania, this Sunday, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and look at the Undertaker’s SummerSlam match history – something that is rarely documented or debated.
Over the past few weeks, thanks to the WWE Network, I have rewatched every Undertaker Summerslam match. First, I will give a recap of each match, highlighting memorable moves, storylines, and commentary. From there, I will give you my list from my least favorite match to what I consider the best Undertaker Summerslam match. Then you can debate.
While Taker’s record at the biggest event of the summer isn’t spotless (9-5-1), he did start off strong.
His SummerSlam journey begins in 1992 at Wembly Stadium in London, England in a classic Undertaker match, but not so much an Undertaker classic. When the word classic is used in pro wrestling it could mean one of two things – it was a classic five-star match as in Ricky Steamboat vs. ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage or it was a classic as in an expected occurrence based on previous examples. Undertaker vs. Kamala falls into the latter category.
This 3 minute affair is a typical early Undertaker contest that play-by-play man Vince McMahon predicts ‘is going to be a great match.’ With 80,000 looking on, Undertaker rolls to the ring on a hearse – this would not be the only time he would arrive to the ring via motor – with his manager Paul Bearer leading the way.
At the time, the Undertaker had recently turned face (good guy) earlier in the year and was very much playing a zombie. “You can’t hurt him. He’s not human,” color commentator Bobby Heenan announces. Kamala, billed as a giant from Uganda, will at least try.
Taker uses some of his already trademarked moves – clothesline, chokeslam, and walking the ropes (which was years away from being termed Old School). One of the interesting factoids watching all these matches was to see how successful Undertaker was when attempting Old School. In this match, he was successful in his first try.
This match ends anticlimactically when Kamala’s manager Kim Chee hits Undertaker with his helmet giving Taker a disqualification win and prompting Heenan to pronounce, “We have seen the end of the Undertaker.”
That was not the case and Taker walked into the 1993 SummerSlam with a record of 1-0.
Not only one was Kamala managed by Kim Chee, but he also had Harvey Wippleman at his side. Taker would meet another Wippleman protégé at the ’93 SummerSlam in Auburn Hills, Michigan in the form of Giant Gonzalez. This would be another classic Undertaker match, but not an Undertaker classic. Both matches, by the way, started with Wippleman, spewing into the microphone. Bet you didn’t remember that trivia.
This was a rematch from their WrestleMania IX encounter where Taker got his only DQ win in his illustrious WrestleMania record, however, this time their match was dubbed a Rest in the Peace Match.
The Undertaker’s urn comes into play a lot during his early years in the WWE as it was described to be the source of his mysterious powers. Wippleman has possession of the urn to start the match. How did he get it? As Bobby Heenan quips, “He earned it.”
The Undertaker gets the first hit in the match and Heenan classifies him as a ‘different Undertaker.’ Almost, Bobby. We’ll get to a different Undertaker, shortly.
So it appears a Rest in Peace Match is an early version of a Hardcore/Street Fight/ Extreme Rules match – though it was never clear. Gonzalez, a giant wearing spandex with fur, uses a chair and the steel steps to get the advantage in the match – first use of ringside weapons in an Undertaker SummerSlam contest.
Surprisingly, the giant has control for most of the match - that is until a gong is heard and out comes Paul Bearer with a black wreath. The fans give the biggest pop (cheers) of the match for a returning Bearer! Bearer then clotheslines Wippleman for an even bigger pop!
The Undertaker goes to the top rope and delivers his patent flying clothesline to get the victory.
“Now we know what a Rest in Peace Match is,” McMahon replies.
I don’t know about that, but the Undertaker walks away with a 2-0 SummerSlam record.
A year later, the Undertaker’s enemy was not Wippleman, but the ‘Million Dollar Man’ Ted Dibiase. Taker had been missing for months, until Dibiase announced he found the Undertaker and he was now under his power – the power of money. Paul Bearer called Dibiase a liar and said at SummerSlam, it shall be the Undertaker vs. the Undertaker.
The Chicago crowd was in for ‘surely a one of a kind matchup’ as McMahon put it.
The real Undertaker unveils a new purple themed attire and shoots his arms up to bring up the lights, as opposed to bringing them up slowly as he had done in the past and will do again in the future.
This was certainly not a CM Punk-era Chicago crowd as they were in stunned silence or maybe just silence at seeing a fake Undertaker battle a real Undertaker. ‘This is very strange. This is very, very strange,” McMahon describes.
Old School was successful in the first attempt and three tombstones later, the real Undertaker stood tall after 9 minutes of action.
The 3-0 Undertaker walks into Pittsburgh for the 1995 SummerSlam without his urn which had been melted down into a necklace that his opponent now wears around his neck. Kama is managed by Ted Dibiase. This is a casket match, but the camera inside the casket is called the coffin camera. You got that?
For Kama’s defense, he got the most offense of any of the Undertaker’s SummerSlam opponents thus far including suplexing Taker onto the casket and a clothesline from the top rope.
But remember this is the Undertaker and ‘If he was alive, he’d be a sick man,’ color commentator Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler says at ringside, and he fights back. The fans give a rare ‘Rest in Peace’ chant.
Undertaker’s manager Paul Bearer gets involved in the match by thwarting Kama’s attack on Taker and says to the camera, “There’s no rules.” A factual, yet funny statement. The 17 minute match’s conclusion comes after a chokeslam and a tombstone and Kama is sent in the casket. Taker continues his winning streak.
The closing of the casket in a way closed the era of the classic Undertaker match.
In 1996, the Phenom meets new rival Mankind in a Boiler Room Brawl. In this match, the first competitor to exit the boiler room of the arena, make it to the ring, and grab the urn from Paul Bearer is declared the winner. This was before the days of the Titantron, so TV monitors were set up on all sides of the ring for the fans in attendance to be able to see the boiler room brawling.
This match features the first double feature replay in Undertaker’s SummerSlam history with Mankind falling from a ladder. He retaliates by pouring ‘scolding hot coffee’ on the Undertaker. As analyst Jim Ross also describes, “This looks like a prison riot.”
After Mankind piledrives the Undertaker onto the concrete outside the ring and the Undertaker slingshots Mankind onto that very same concrete, it looks it will be another win for the Deadman.
But this is where the Undertaker story as we know it takes a turn. Paul Bearer does not give Taker the urn, instead, he bashes it over Taker’s head and then hands it to Mankind.
‘Paul Bearer’s laughing, Paul Bearer’s laughing,” Jim Ross says as he introduces us to Undertaker’s newest enemy.
This 27 minute brawl is capped off by the druids making an appearance and removing the Undertaker from the ring.
The next year we have what I consider to be the first Undertaker classic. It’s 1997. East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Undertaker walks in as WWE Champion – defending the title against villainous Canadian loyalist Bret Hart. If that’s not enough, Hart’s sworn enemy Shawn Michaels (on the cusp of degeneration) is the special guest referee.
This match even starts off with a hilarious Lawler pun, “Shawn Michaels is so full of himself when he goes to a funeral , he's upset he's not the corpse.”
At this point in his career, less than 7 years as the Undertaker, it was becoming clear he was a legend in the making.
“He is the Phenom, he is the yardstick, he is the man, the Undertaker,” Jim Ross bellows as Taker now wearing a new leather jacket makes his way to the ring – gone is the purple from last year. Hart attacks Undertaker with the title to start the match, and the use of weapons will not end there.
And this is a new Undertaker. He is a brawler and using submission holds like the bear hug. The 1993 Undertaker would not bear hug someone. As the match progresses, interlopers try to interfere – first, the evil Paul Bearer who at the time is claiming the Undertaker’s once thought dead brother Kane is alive, and second, Hart Foundation members Brian Pillman and Owen Hart. None really do much of anything.
Old School is referred to as a ‘classic Undertaker maneuver’ and is reversed by Hart into a picture perfect superplex off the top rope. Taker impressively chokeslams Hart from the outside back into the ring.
To prove his wickedness, Bret Hart grabs a chair and hits Undertaker with it. The Heartbreak Kid ref takes the chair. Hart spits at HBK. HBK aims for Hart with the chair but hits the Undertaker. Hart goes for the pin at 28 minutes, giving Taker his second straight loss in a row at SummerSlam.
The now 4-2 Undertaker is at a weird place come SummerSlam 1998. Not only is he smackdab in the Attitude Era, but he’s showing signs that he may not be the friendly Taker we have known since his SummerSlam debut. He has recently revealed that he is an alliance with his very much alive devilish brother Kane and may use him to take the title from champion Stone Cold Steve Austin in Madison Square Garden.
The red, white, and blue ropes are now replaced by red ropes and the SummerSlam logo that adorned the banners and aprons in years past is totally different, just like our Undertaker who comes to the ring with a new variation of his theme and a brand new jacket with a high collar and back.
“He is the conscience of the WWF,” J.R. explains. A slugfest ensues between Taker and Austin. The match comes to a pause when they collide heads. Old School, here called a ‘patent Undertaker’ move is reversed as Austin pulls Taker off top rope.
Kane arrives but is turned away by the Undertaker. Austin and Taker battle outside the ring and into the crowd. “Are they nuts? This is New York!” Lawler warns.
In an epic moment of the match, Taker chokeslams Austin onto the Spanish announce table and then from the top rope leg drops Austin on the table. To which J.R. shouts, “My God, they are broken in half” and “Looks like a car wreck out there.”
While Taker has control for most the match, Austin is able to counter the tombstone. Taker counters the stunner. Undertaker tries not yet coined Old School, but Austin low blows Taker. A follow-up stunner gives Taker his third SummerSlam loss in a row.
Undertaker, 4-3, is now full out evil coming into SummerSlam 1999 in Minneapolis. Earlier in the year, he ran amok with his Ministry of Darkness group, but is now happy to just have one follower - the Big Show. Just like the two previous years, this match is tied to his baby brother Kane, but where Kane was missing and an outsider before, he is now one of Taker’s opponents. It’s the Undertaker and Big Show vs. Kane and X-Pac for the Tag Team Championships.
To get the full picture of this incarnation of the Undertaker, who only have to look at him – full on goatee, demonic symbol on his ring gear, once again managed by the sadistic Paul Bearer, and when he brings the lights up with arms – he sticks his tongue out! EVIL!
During the match, Kane and Undertaker trade blows back and forth but there is no ‘Boo! Yay!’ chant back then. Sad.
Taker takes out X-Pac by throwing him midsection first into the steel post and then delivering a tombstone. We have new champs.
The first SummerSlam tag team match for the Undertaker and his last appearance as a heel at this event ended with a win at 12 minutes. His first win in four years.
A year later, the Attitude Era is still upon us and the Undertaker has reinvented himself yet again. This is the first appearance as ‘Bikertaker’ as he rides into SummerSlam 2000 in Raleigh, North Carolina on white motorcycle (see, there’s the motor again) waring a jean shirt to the tune of Kid Rock. This was not your classic Undertaker.
And just as it has since 1997, Undertaker’s SummerSlam appearance would be connected to Kane. This time he would fight Kane in a match that Jim Ross says no one wanted to officiate. J.R. also says ‘indeed this will be a slobberknocker.’ Well, it most certainly was not a typical match, that’s for sure.
Taker goes right to work on Kane even before the Big Red Machine could get into the ring. Throughout the match, Taker focuses on taking Kane’s mask off. Why? Well, why not. By this point, Kane and the Undertaker had fought so many times, Taker needed new motivation.
Both brothers trade low blows (yes, the Undertaker hit downstairs prior to attacking Brock Lesnar recently, going against popular opinion). Undertaker is able to rip off Kane’s mask, sending Kane scampering off.
“I don’t think this fight ever started. I never heard a bell,” J.R. crows, but, he was mistaken. There was an opening bell, but there wasn’t one to end the match. If there was, it would have come around the 6 minute mark.
This match gives the Undertaker his only no decision at SummerSlam, bringing his record at this point to 5-3-1.
The second tag team match of the Undertaker’s SummerSlam career has so many different facets to it than any other of his matches, we need to take a minute to go over them.
First, he teams with Kane. This will not be the final SummerSlam that Kane is affiliated with his brother, but it will end a 5 year run of the Kane story crossing with the Taker story. The Undertaker, while still in his biker gimmick, does not roll to the ring on wheels this time, though his new entrance music of Limp Bizkit’s ‘Rollin’ would have you think otherwise. And no, he is not managed by Paul Bearer this time, but by his then-wife Sara. Clad in a skit hat, sunglasses, and black pants that read ‘Deadman Inc.,’ the Undertaker was taking his character to brand new territories. Oh, and did I mention, Kane and the Undertaker are WCW Tag Team Champions facing Diamond Dallas Page and Kanyon, of the WCW/ECW Alliance, who are the WWE Tag Team Champions? And that this is all based on a storyline where DDP was stalking Sara? And it is a steel cage match?
Very different than other Undertaker SummerSlam appearance.
There are shades of the Undertaker of old though when both Taker and Kane are knocked out, and then sit up at the same time. “It was a stereo sit up,” Jim Ross says.
In a very wise move, Taker tells Kane to let Kanyon escape the cage, leaving DDP to fend for himself against the Brothers of Destruction, whose team name is first referenced in this match.
After a few punches and kicks, the Undertaker tells DDP he can also escape, but then grabs the future yoga instructor and chokeslams him from the top rope.
“The Undertaker lied!” color commentator Paul Heyman shouts.
Taker performs his new finishing move the Last Ride powerbomb and gets the pinfall win and we have new unified Tag Team Champions – second time Taker wins tag team gold at SummerSlam. This 10 minute encounter gives the Undertaker a 6-3-1 SummerSlam record.
I have to be honest, I had to ponder a bit to recall the next two SummerSlam Undertaker matches before searching on WWE Network.
In 2002, with pro-American feelings at an all-time high, the Undertaker, now with the nickname of Big Evil, rides into Long Island, New York on a black motorcycle wearing a bandana to battle the UnAmerican known as Test. As he did going into Survivor Series 1993, Undertaker took the mantle of Mr. U.S.A. to defend the country that he loves against foreign fiends.
2002 Undertaker pulls quite a feat when he leapfrogs Test and delivers his trademark flying clothesline.
“Hello LaGuardia.” Good one, J.R.
Undertaker grabs Test’s arms, walks the top rope and Ross says, “Undertaker looking for a little Old School here.” First, Old School reference in an Undertaker SummerSlam match, but he is not successful in this attempt.
Test, a big man in his own right, has control for most of the match prompting some “Taker” chants from the crowd.
Old School connects on the second try, followed up by a little Snake Eyes (face to the turnbuckle) and as J.R. calls it “a real red, white, and blue, American chokeslam.” Ameritaker, ladies and gentlemen. Test’s UnAmericans’ allies Lance Storm and Christian enter the ring only to be dismantled by the Phenom. Out of options, Test brings in a chair, but gets a big boot to the face and a tombstone for his troubles.
The Undertaker wins and then grabs an American flag from crowd. This will be the only time the Undertaker will end a SummerSlam match holding an American flag, in case you were wondering.
This 8 minute match, that is actually worth checking out if you haven’t seen it in a while, brings the Undertaker’s record to 7-3-1.
The Bikertaker has one more SummerSlam match left in him. His opponent at the 2003 event would be A-Train. It would be rematch of sorts of their handicap match from WrestleMania XIX, but instead of A-Train partnering with Big Show, he has Sable in his corner. A tad different.
The Undertaker by now has his ‘Dead Man Walking’ theme with all of the great lyrics we remember today such as ‘You’ve done it now, you’ve gone and made a big mistake.’ Picture 1994 Undertaker coming down the ring to those lyrics! He is also riding a bike with big yellow flames. He will not be riding a bike ever again at a SummerSlam.
The Undertaker comes into SummerSlam with damaged ribs, this gives A-Train a target. Taker is very tentative in this match due to his injury which limits his mobility. However, with that said, he does connect with both a flying clothesline and Old School on the first try.
A rare sleeper hold by Taker is followed up Snake Eyes and the leg drop to the back of the head of A-Train on the apron. And there we get our first, ‘Vintage Undertaker,’ by play-by-play man Michael Cole.
The ref gets knocked out and much like Bret Hart and Test did, A-Train brings a steel chair into the ring. A-Train gets a big boot right into the chair and gets chokeslammed at 9 minutes. Taker is victorious for the 8th time at SummerSlam.
“The veteran gets it done here at SummerSlam,” Cole remarks.
Post-match, interestingly enough, Taker holds Sable until a face Smackdown General Manager Stephanie McMahon is able to take her down. This would be the final image of the Bikertaker at a SummerSlam.
2004 saw the return of the gothic, undead Undertaker that we knew years ago with a touch of cowboy fighter in him. He has the black hat, black trench coat, the graveyard symphony music, but now he comes equipped with a big belt buckle and some kickboxing gloves.
Toronto is the site for Taker’s second WWE Championship match at a SummerSlam, this time as a challenger.
“'For the past 14 years, no one has been as dominant in the WWE as that man,” Cole tells the audience as Taker prepares to take on WWE Champion John Bradshaw Layfield who is accompanied by his Chief of Staff Orlando Jordan.
JBL blocks the first Old School attempt in this match, but Taker succeeds the second time. Undertaker is a mix of his old self and the biker identity as he stalks JBL as the Deadman would, but is now incorporating new submissions that were not in his repertoire years prior such as the triangle chokehold and a half Boston crab.
A steel chair comes into play in this match as well, as JBL uses it to injure Taker’s leg causing the Undertaker to limp during the match.
While this is going on, it should be noted, the Toronto crowd is doing the wave. Yep, the wave.
“This is total bizarro world here in Toronto. We got a WWE Championship match in the ring and these fans are doing the wave,” color commentator Tazz says perplexingly.
A vintage apron leg drop by Taker is followed by a superplex, spinebuster, flying clothesline, Snake Eyes, and chokeslam. Undertaker victory, right? Wrong! Jordan distracts Taker long enough for JBL to revive and both men deliver a big boot to the other. First double big boot on in this recap. Jordan then gives JBL the title. JBL hits Taker with title, but not good enough for the pin. Taker comes back and delivers a last ride that JBL kicks out of. Yes, JBL kicks out of the last ride.
Again, Jordan brings in the title and Taker grabs it and hits JBL with it. The ref sees that and disqualifies the Undertaker for his first DQ loss.
Because his record is now 8-4-1, Taker takes out his aggression by chokeslamming JBL through the roof of his limo.
By 2005, there was no mistaking that the Undertaker was a legend. But in 2005, there was a Legend Killer by the name of Randy Orton. Orton had already lost to the Undertaker at WrestleMania 21 earlier in the year, but he wanted another opportunity at SummerSlam.
“'For the 14th straight time the Undertaker heads into battle at SummerSlam,” Cole says.
As the match begins, the Undertaker readies himself in his boxing stance ready to strike a punch at any moment. Tazz exclaims that the Undertaker can use submissions. Bobby Heenan was not saying that back in 1992.
Old School is broken up by an arm drag. A vintage flying clothesline takes down Orton. The match goes back and forth as Orton delivers a scoop slam from the top rope only to be followed moments later by an Undertaker leg drop on the apron.
Orton focuses on Taker’s left leg throughout the match. Even when Old School is successful, it causes Taker great pain. Undertaker is able to push off an RKO. Orton, for his part, reverses a tombstone attempt.
Taker gets in the reversal fun too when he turns a high cross body into a chokeslam.
That’s when outside interference occurs, which has happened multiple times throughout the Undertaker’s SummerSlam history. This time an old man enters the ring. Security is able to get him out, but this distracts the Undertaker.
And then, as Cole calls it, an “RKO from outta nowhere!” for the victory and an L for Taker.
The old man turns out to be Randy’s father – Cowboy Bob Orton. Taker is not happy with this reveal and chases the Ortons to the back.
The Undertaker would not have another SummerSlam match until 2008, which will be his last one until he faces Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam 2015.
In 2008, the Undertaker steps into Hell in the Cell against Edge. The two had been feuding for months and battled at WrestleMania 24.
There is a good pause before the Undertaker’s entrance begins to build the hype.
As only J.R. could say, “Without a doubt ladies and gentlemen the Undertaker is the yardstick to which every WWE superstar past or present is measured.”
This cell match takes place in the early stages of WWE’s PG era so there was little bloodshed – but both had cuts and bruises by the end. It turns more into a TLC match inside a cell as tables, ladders, and chairs are all used.
Undertaker gets his leg drop from the apron in early and then goes for Snake Eyes on the steel steps, but Edge blocks it. Edge fights back and eventually spears Taker into the steps. He climbs a ladder and in the vein of Mick Foley, nails Taker with a chair onto a table.
One of the crazy moments of this match sees Edge spearing Undertaker through the side of the cell, taking down that part of the cage.
The action spills outside the cell and Edge spears Taker through the Raw announce table (at this time Raw and Smackdown were still separate brands). The hardcore match style continues (or is this a Rest in Peace Match?) when Edge hits Taker with a camera. The spear, however, is blocked and turned it into a chokeslam. Edge then reverses a Last Ride attempt into a spear.
Edge attempts Old School himself and gets caught on top rope. Taker then chokeslams Edge from that top rope to two tables outside the ring. The Undertaker grabs the camera and hits Edge with it. “That's human devastation if that's the HD you're looking at,” Ross says referencing WWE’s foray into High Definition.
The Undertaker adds insult injury with a conchairto – one of Edge’s signature moves – and a tombstone. He then chokeslams Edge through the ring and makes flames shoot out. Classic Undertaker.
Taker gets his 9th victory and is 9-5-1 at SummerSlam. But as stated before, this was not the last we’ve seen the Undertaker at SummerSlam.
In both 2009 and 2010, Taker makes surprise returns to confront two threats – CM Punk and Kane (there he is again). Though he didn’t wrestle a match, he did make an impact on those two occurrences.
But without a doubt he will be making a major impact this Sunday when he returns to a SummerSlam ring for a match for the first time in 7 years as he squares off against Brock Lesnar – the man who ended his WrestleMania streak.
As we just went over, the Undertaker already has a wealth of memorable SummerSlam matches and this Sunday another one will be added to the list.
Speaking of lists, where will the Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar rank in the list of Undertaker SummerSlam matches? Well, to answer that there must first be the list.
So based on all that has been stated above, my memories from rewatching each match once in the past month, my notes, and just how history has treated them – here is my list ranking all of the Undertaker SummerSlam matches in a particular order going from #15 to #1:
15. Undertaker vs. Giant Gonzalez - 1993
14. Undertaker vs. Kamala - 1992
13. Undertaker vs. Kama - 1995
12. Undertaker vs. Kane - 2000
11. Undertaker & Big Show vs. Kane & X-Pac- 1999
10. Undertaker vs. A-Train 2003
9. Undertaker & Kane vs. DDP & Kanyon – 2001
8. Undertaker vs. Undertaker – 1994
7. Undertaker vs. Test – 2002
6. Undertaker vs. Mankind – 1996
5. Undertaker vs. JBL - 2004
4. Undertaker vs. Stone Cold – 1998
3. Undertaker vs. Edge – 2008
2. Undertaker vs. Randy Orton – 2005
1. Undertaker vs. Bret Hart - 1997
May this debate never rest in peace.
And see, who says WrestleMania has to have all the fun?
Stay tuned for my SummerSlam prediction article coming soon….