A&E Biography WWE Rivals Preview: Mankind vs Undertaker

WWE Rivals press image

Tonight, A&E’s WWE Rivals will go in-depth on what was one of the most transformative rivalries of the 90s for them in the form of Mankind vs The Undertaker. So we’ll be taking a similar in-depth look, from a fan perspective. This rivalry holds a special place in this writer’s mind. As his first instance of watching U.S.-based pro wrestling was in fact the 1998 Hell In A Cell match, with Mankind’s famous falls and Jim Ross echoing through my head. It was mind-blowing. And now, here we are 25 years later.

WWE Rivals: Mankind vs The Undertaker

Let’s Set The Backstory

The feud between Mankind and The Undertaker started the day after WrestleMania XII, kicking off the tradition of post-WrestleMania debut believe it or not. Mankind, as we all know, was portrayed by Mick Foley. Who was fresh off a year-long stint in IWA Japan including his victory in a much-remembered King Of The Death Match tournament. He participated in a massive variety of bloody and certainly “different” types of matches. WWE wanted to adapt this. As such, we would see the majority of matches between Mankind and Undertaker being things like a “Boiler Room Brawl” and the “Buried Alive match”. Mick Foley would always be known for his amazing “go all out” performances, but it was this series of brutal death matches in IWA Japan that would set the template of his WWE run. How to adapt all that for the more “sports entertainment” based western audience.

As for The Undertaker, already six years deep into his WWE career, a short WWE title reign under his belt, truth be told, he wasn’t much outside of a special attraction on the show. He was certainly there. He was certainly different. But was he truly this revered figure as WWE would love to say? Truth be told, at this time? No. Feuds with the likes of Harvey Whippleman, Diesel, Yokozuna and such would have a memorable moment or two. But they weren’t exactly game-changing stories. That started to change with the arrival of Mankind. Mixed in with the story of Paul Bearer turning on The Undertaker, the impending arrival of Kane and Mankind exposing Undertaker’s more human side in these brutal matches, it would set the stage for the level of storytelling that makes us remember The Undertaker so fondly today.

That Good Old “Longterm Storytelling” We Love To Talk About

The rivalry between Mankind and Undertaker was not this perpetual cycle of continuous matches, PPV after PPV over the course of 3 months which would then be labelled as “long-term” by WWE. No. This was notably different. Things would change. The two would drift apart. Then come back together. Then separate again. These two would continue to have matches against each other all the way until late 1999. It never felt exhausting because, as already stated, their dynamic would change. The feud started in 1996. But after a year, Mankind turned babyface and became Dude Love for some time. Separating from The Undertaker as the stage for Kane’s debut later in the year was being set as well as the very acclaimed feud with Shawn Michaels that culminated in the first-ever Hell In A Cell match.

When the stint as Dude Love ended, Mankind resurfaced and immediately went back to a feud with The Undertaker. Setting the stage for Hell In A Cell at King Of The Ring 1998. Their match and the First Blood main event between Kane and Stone Cold Steve Austin intercepting to keep things going for the rest of the year.

Despite that match being billed as the major end of their near two-year-long rivalry, Mankind and Undertaker would continue to meet. In particular, during late 1999. While Undertaker was a heel and teamed with The Big Show as The Unholy Alliance, facing off against The Rock & Sock Connection for the WWE Tag Team titles. Trading them back and forth in an assortment of familiar matches including the Buried Alive match.

Why It’s So Celebrated

It’s not hard to see why this feud is so celebrated. It came just prior to WWE’s most well-known time period and set a lot of templates that WWE tries to recreate to this day. From long-term storytelling, to that supernatural love WWE still tries so hard to recreate with characters like Alexa Bliss, Bray Wyatt and Joe Gacy. Not to mention, it changed The Undertaker from this special attraction to a genuine, impactful star that would forever be remembered. It turned Mick Foley from what would be your “indie darling” from back in the day, into a genuine top-level star.

Did the story have its flaws? Oh, of course it did. Especially when you drift into Kane territory. A story loaded with retcons. But it was successful in capturing the fan’s eye through pretty much all of it. So it’s certainly one to remember.

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