Yeah, it's Final Four weekend in Houston. We're all very excited. But a little secret (that's not very well kept) -- for me, the Saturday and Monday games are a mere buffer surrounding Wrestlemania Sunday, baby!
This year is special because Houston's very own Undertaker (real name Mark Calloway, Waltrip High School, class of 1983) tries to do what the New England Patriots couldn't do, and that is go 19-0.
19-0 at Wrestlemania, that is.
The Undertaker's 18-0 Mania undefeated streak has taken on a life of its own. I don't exactly remember when the WWE started marketing his annually defending it as part of the Wrestlemania experience, or if they even meant for it to evolve to this point. Whatever the case, this year it's Triple H's (0-1 in Wrestlemania matches with the Undertaker) turn to give it a go.
I was at the Undertaker's WWF debut in 1990. When this streak started, I was still in college. In short, the Undertaker's Wrestlemania streak has seen me blaze through one marriage, one head of hair, (almost) one liver, and spawn three kids. The internet was still a good three or four years away from being a prominent part of our daily lives when the streak started. Now, millions will watch the attempt at 19-0 on their phones or iPads.
This is the closest thing the wrestling world has to a "real life" sports feat right now. And for those who laugh at an "undefeated" streak in a genre where the outcome is predetermined, just know that the durability and the ability to navigate the political minefield that is necessary to go 18-0 on the biggest card of the year is as just as amazing as going 18-0 in an actual season of a "real" sport.
So here you go, WWE fans -- the Undertaker's 18-0 streak in video form. Enjoy!
1-0 WRESTLEMANIA VII (vs Jimmy Snuka)
This match was sad for me at the time. I remember Jimmy Snuka as the high-flying acrobat who terrorized Bob Backlund back in 1982. By 1991, the WWF had turned Snuka into a grunting, twitching jungle freak. In retrospect, it would have been better if the Undertaker actually killed him.
2-0 WRESTLEMANIA VIII (vs Jake "TheSnake" Roberts)
This was Undertaker's first Wrestlemania as a babyface (good guy). Jake Roberts had just spent the winter terrorizing Randy Savage and Elizabeth, and Undertaker had spent most of the previous year partnering with Jake Roberts. However, at some point Undertaker decided that he was going to be the quasi-zombie with a heart of gold, and he saved Elizabeth from a Roberts chair shot. And eventually it culminated, like most feuds, at Wrestlemania. If you had bet on Elizabeth being the only player involved in this match (Taker, Jake, Savage, Paul Bearer, Elizabeth) to have passed away by 2011, you would be sitting on a yacht in the Caribbean.
3-0 WRESTLEMANIA IX (vs Giant Gonzalez)
I have to admit that this is the only wrestling match I've ever seen end on a disqualification because of the use of an ether-soaked rag, and thanks to Giant Gonzalez "Slim Goodbody/Shaved Gorilla" outfit and the entire WWF staff wearing togas, the ether was only the third strangest thing about this match. Only thing saving it was the fact that it was Jim Ross' debut in WWE (then WWF).
4-0 WRESTLEMANIA XI (vs King Kong Bundy)
I always wondered why King Kong Bundy was such a big star. Fat, bald, ugly. How did I never headline Wrestlemania? 5-0 WRESTLEMANIA XII (vs Diesel)
This match, behind the scenes, is probably best known for being the final Wrestlemania before Kevin Nash left the WWF to go to WCW, form the New World Order, and eventually ruin that company. If you followed the inner workings of the wrestling business back then, this was the biggest lock this side of a Harlem Globetrotters game.
6-0 WRESTLEMANIA 13 (vs Sycho Sid, WWF Heavyweight Title match)
I was actually in attendance at this match in Chicago. Trust me, there is no need to subject you to a Sycho Sid match in its entirety. I've spared you the horror, and embedded video of the ending only. You're welcome.
7-0 WRESTLEMANIA XIV (vs Kane)
Couldn't find the full match so I got this catchy highlight video that includes the high points of the match and the most famous moment having to do with this match -- Kane delivering a pile driver to baseball legend Pete Rose. This was enough to get Rose into the WWE Hall of Fame; apparently, Vince McMahon has no problem with Rose betting on wrestling.
8-0 WRESTLEMANIA XV (vs Big Boss Man, Hell in a Cell match)
Remember the Undertaker versus Mankind Hell in a Cell match from 1998, where Mick Foley fell off the top of the cage and wound up as a human pin cushion covered in thumb tacks? IMagine the exact opposite of how awesome that was, and then make it ten times worse. That was this match. 9-0 WRESTLEMANIA X-Seven (vs Triple H)
Another match that I was at in person, this was the iteration of the Undertaker character where he went from being a variation of a zombie to a biker who came to and left the ring area on a motorcycle. Not your typical career path as most bikers go from hard-living hooligans and then become dead men walking, not vice versa. Whatever the case, my buddy Ken Hoffman told me he got chills when Undertaker left the ring area on his bike and raised his hand to the crowd. However, Hoffy was eating a plate of loaded nachos at the time, and that may have very well been what gave him chills.
10-0 WRESTLEMANIA X8 (vs Ric Flair, No Disqualification match)
Didn't like this version of the Undertaker. With the flat top buzz cut, he looked more like the backup center on a bad NBA team than "The Phenom."
11-0 WRESTLEMANIA XIX (vs Big Show and A-Train, Handicap match)
This was an era of WWE where the big guys were all just one big mashup of slow -- Undertaker, Big Show, Kane, A-Train, whoever the psychopath was outside the ring in this match. Admittedly, I had a lot going on in my life during this phase of WWE, so I don't even remember why Undertaker was fighting two guys. I think I probably spent this whole match complaining that there was no Paul Bearer. 12-0 WRESTELMANIA XX (vs Kane)
Long-haired Taker and Paul Bearer is back! Now things are getting more normal. Granted his hair is bright orange, but it's a step in the right direction.
13-0 WRESTLEMANIA 21 (vs Randy Orton)
My favorite part of this match? Undertaker's UFC-style padded gloves to give him some sort of hand-to-hand combat vibe. If you were in a combat sport where you could hit your opponent with bare knuckles, why would you pad them? That's not realistic. Please get back to some realistic storylines like the Undertaker being buried alive after a match in 1996.
14-0 WRESTLEMANIA 22 (vs Mark Henry, casket match)
15-0 WRESTLEMANIA 23 (vs Batista, World Heavyweight Title match)
I'm not a big Batista guy, and therefore this match didn't do much for me.
16-0 WRESTLEMANIA XXIV (vs Edge, World Heavyweight Title match)
Highlight video, but a damn good match. I was there for this one.
17-0 WRESTLEMANIA XXV (vs Shawn Michaels)
The gold standard for matches during the streak, which would only be topped (maybe) by these two the following year. Must watch.
18-0 WRESTLEMANIA XXVI (vs Shawn Michaels, "Streak vs Career" match)
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Shawn Michaels' final match, another showstopper which led to my writing this tribute in Hair Balls the following week. That's how you know a great performer -- you don't remember the match for whether he won or lost, just that he was involved.
One final video to get you fired up for this Sunday, from this past Monday. The final buildup. Jim Ross himself on my radio show called this a "great piece of business"....
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from noon to 3 p.m. weekdays and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.