After years of uninspiring feuds for the Undertaker against comical characters, fans finally saw the Undertaker in some meaningful feuds in 1996. The Undertaker had his sights set on the WWE Championship and he would get his chance at the Royal Rumble. The Undertaker would square of against champion Bret “Hitman” Hart. Bret was an incredible in-ring wrestler and the Undertaker proved he could hang and have a good match. Unfortunately we never saw a result either way as the former champion Diesel interfered costing the Undertaker the title.
At the next pay-per-view, Diesel had his opportunity to regain the title but this time it was Undertaker costing Diesel the championship in a cage match as he dragged Diesel under the ring. With both men’s disdain for one another this would set up their Wrestlemania match. This was yet another battle of two giants, but both men were talented enough to have a decent match for two near 7-footers. The Undertaker would improve his record to 5-0 at the Grandest Stage.
The RAW after Wrestlemania saw Mankind attack the Undertaker during a match. This was the start to the Undertaker’s greatest rivalry. The Undertaker would square off against up and comers in Steve Austin and Goldust, but there was Mankind as always attacking the Undertaker costing him victories. It is also notable that we would see the Undertaker fall victim to the Mandible Claw which would leave the Undertaker laying, a rare sight to this point.
After a loss to Mankind at the King of the Ring, Mankind and the Undertaker would compete in a series of bizarre matches that were unique to the Undertaker. First at Summerslam, the Undertaker and Mankind would square off in a Boiler Room Brawl. This match took place in a literal boiler room and would lead to both men eventually coming to the ring. It was brutal and unorthodox. Upon arrival to the ring either man would have to obtain the urn from Paul Bearer. With the Undertaker on bended knee it looked academic but Paul Bearer would do the unthinkable and nail the Undertaker in the head with the urn, leading to a Mankind victory and an apparent new alliance. With Mankind’s theme song playing in the background, this was an emotional sight for fans to see the end of a near 5 year long partnership between the Undertaker and Paul Bearer
Mankind and the Undertaker would then compete in the first ever Buried Alive Match. After much brutality, the Undertaker would chokeslam Mankind into the pit and shovel the dirt for the victory. As the Undertaker looked down upon his fallen opponent, he would be attacked from behind by the Executioner, an ally of Bearer and Mankind. The Executioner, Mankind, Goldust, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Crush and Justin Hawk Bradshaw would all help in shoveling pounds of dirt on the Undertaker. In fact I can remember doing a Grade 3 short story about this entire event. On my title page I remember drawing the lighting that hit the Tombstone and the Undertaker’s purple glove coming up through the ground proving he indeed would not be buried alive!
The Undertaker would make his return at Survivor Series descending to the ring with a bit of a Batman look. The stipulation during this match would be that if the Undertaker won he would get his hands on Paul Bearer for his betrayal. The Executioner once again got involved and saved Paul Bearer. The Undertaker would vanquish the Executioner once and for all at the end of the year in an Armageddon Rules Match.
After a year of brutality, torment and betrayal, the Undertaker would be walking solo into the next chapter of his career with a darker attitude which would prove to be dangerous for the all the Superstars of the WWE.