Monday, August 15, 2022

Wrestling Moments: WrestleMania XX, March 14 2004- Madison Square Garden

I saw this moment well after the fact, 
and even weller after the days I watched wrestling in my youth. 
Therefore it shouldn't count as part of this list.
But it will, for "reasons."

I caught it on an "Undertaker's Greatest Matches" show before all the wrestling stuff vanished off of Netflix when the WWE (and everyone else in the world) made their own streaming service.

Before getting to the moment, for anyone who still insists "wrestling is fake:" 
Find the Hell in a Cell match between the Undertaker and Mankind at the June 28, 1998 King of the Ring event.
Choreographed? Often.
Planned? Usually but not always. 
"Fake" is completely the wrong word. 

This final one of my ten moments took place years after the gimmick loaded, crazy character filled, fun, family friendly, Kayfabe era that is my favorite period of wrestling.
However, it does demonstrate the power that era maintains.

The Undertaker first appeared as a surprisingly young faced redhead at the height of WWF ridiculous characters. His f
irst WrestleMania was VII, which also had that goofy Blindfold Match from a few weeks ago.

In fact he premiered at the 1990 Survivor series, the same event as The Gobbledy Gooker. (Poor Hector Guerrero, who based on his own abilities and family's contributions to wrestling deserved far better, in what was dubbed worst gimmick ever by WrestleCrap.)

The idea of a supernaturally powered old west Undertaker fit in with every other bit of insanity (Models, Matadors, Repo Men, Clowns, Kings, you name it) going on in the ring at that time.  
Throwing in former wrestler (as Percy Pringle) and actual mortician William Moody as  squeaky voiced manager Paul Bearer carrying a magical Urn with the Undertaker's power in it was bonus craziness.  'Taker's methodical entrances in the dark to the extended dance mix of Chopin's funeral march, leading to him magically bringing the house lights back up were events in and of themselves.

The fact that finishers WERE finishers back then, made his "powers" cooler. 
When Paul raised that urn and 'Taker sat bolt upright after getting hit with a DDT at WrestleMania VIII, a chill ran through the crowd. 
(Told you I would bring this up again- signed the cranky old man.)

Fourteen years later, the WWE had no time for such family friendly foolishness.

It was well into the Attitude Era. Kayfabe was gone, Mark Callaway (for that is his name) was still billed as the Undertaker, but he was now "American Bad Ass." (Or eventually "Big Evil" as a heel.)  He became a flag waving redneck biker, who entered to current rock hits. There was little evidence of his supernatural past.

The new era of Wrestling featured D-Generation X, anti-authority rule breakers who would karate chop the sides of their crotch at the crowd and their opponents for "reasons." There were also multiple matches and challenges geared around competitors having to literally kiss Mr. McMahon's butt. 

Earlier in this era (1998) MSNBC reported Walter Gantz, PhD from Indiana University watched 100 hours of WWE and counted 1658 Crotch Grabs, 434 Obscene Phrases, and 157 Middle Fingers. (Which makes one wonder just what his PhD was in?)

It was truly high class times, folks.

The matches shown at the twentieth WrestleMania were a prime example of the type of fare common at the time.  (The event was billed "cleverly" as- "Where it all begins...again" since the first, and many anniversary Mania's, were held at Madison Square Garden.)

It included such high brow happenings as:
A ten man at once brawl for the Cruiserweight title that was a far more pointless stunts and high spots than excellence or execution.

A "Playboy Evening Gown" tag team match where "Divas" (Each possibly weighing less than one limb of Wendy Richter) tore lingerie off each other. Another classy women's match that night was a "Belt versus Shaved Head" match. 

A battle between Brock Lesnar and Goldberg that was un-compelling to the level they spent the first few minutes yelling at each other, and the fans who knew they were both leaving the promotion were chanting, "This match sucks," "BORING!" and calling for other performers. Guest referee "Stone Cold Steve" Austin gave the crowd what they wanted by giving both men his "Stunner" finisher after the match for "reasons."

Knowing the fans were knowledgeable of Kayfabe, storylines had gotten sensationalistic, but not in the fun, cartoony ways of the past. Marital strife and questions of parentage were brought in several times. The themes were "mature" in the same way an late night cable films used to be "mature."

The Rock 'N Wrestling days were gone.

Or were they?

Undertaker's last appearance was against Vince McMahon (as his "Mr. McMahon" character ... I know it's weird) at Survivor Series. 'Taker's "brother" Kane interfered, causing "The American Bad Ass" to get buried alive under a bulldozer full of dirt. 

After that, various promos hinted at odd...
maybe even...
dare I say?
(dare! dare!)
events around Kane.

The Undertaker Versus Kane WrestleMania XX match was announced, and Kane was in the New York City ring, alone.
Y'know, because his scheduled opponent had been buried alive under a truckload of dirt.

Then the lights went out.
Paul Bearer's high pitched "OOOOHH YEEESSS!" was heard.
The sound of a single gong filled the arena.
The funeral march played.
A group of druids with torches and Paul with his Urn led the way,
The Deadman returned. 

And twenty thousand fans...
Fans too old and serious for cartoony gimmicks, 
Fans who'd been catered to with "adult" storylines (i.e. women fighting in their underwear)
Fans who knew the ins and outs of Kayfabe and behind the scenes politics...

Those fans...


The cheers were non-stop.
The arena looked like it was full of kids on Christmas morning.

The excitement and yells continued as Kane stared in disbelief for a long while,
and through the back and forth of the match.

A hush filled the arena when Kane hit the Undertaker with his chokeslam finisher...
But the cheers resumed when 'Taker magically sat bolt upright, 
grabbed his brother to apply his own chokeslam, 
and finished the match with a tombstone piledriver.
The crowd continued to go nuts as the Undertaker slowly left the arena

Because it's not whether or not it's "real."
It's the magic of the storytelling that makes it entertaining.

I'm sure there will be more wrestling posts in the future.
Most likely in the form of book reviews to document the source of yet another pile of useless information in my head.

Thirty years headlining in this insane world...
'Taker NEEDS to write a book, doesn't he?

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