It was not just the Undertaker that would enter 1997 with a new look and more importantly new attitude but the entire WWE and roster would have a change in attitude as 97 progressed.
The Undertaker would kick off the year having a featured match at the Royal Rumble versus the Mastodon, Vader who Paul Bearer would later align with as a means for getting back at the Undertaker. The Undertaker would also enter that year’s Rumble match. Undertaker along with Vader and Bret Hart were controversially eliminated by Steve Austin who himself has been eliminated early in the match.
This would set up the Final Four matchup between the four competitors. The original stipulation was that the winner of this match would go on to face the champion, Shawn Michaels, at Wrestlemania. Later, Michaels was deemed inactive due to an injury and so the title was on the line in this Final Four match. Bret Hart would win this match by eliminating the runner-up: the Undertaker. The ruling after this match was Bret would defend against former champion Sid and the Undertaker would then be the #1 Contender to have his match at Wrestlemania.
Sid would defeat Bret and these two behemoths would square off at Wrestlemania 13. It would prove to be lucky 13 for the Undertaker. The Undertaker was undoubtedly one of the most popular wrestlers in the company. I remember at the time, I was 9 years old and at recess we would chat about who we wanted as champion. Overwhelmingly among 8-11 year olds was the Phenom, the Undertaker.
The Undertaker would successfully defend his title against the likes of Mankind, the British Bulldog, Triple H, Steve Austin, Faarooq and Vader. Eventually, the Undertaker would cross paths with Bret Hart. Shawn Michaels was named the special guest referee. In controversial fashion, Michaels inadvertently nailed the Undertaker with a steel chair aimed for Bret Hart. Michaels made the count of three giving Bret the win and ending the Undertaker’s reign.
This would set up a feud with Shawn Michaels at two straight pay-per-views. The first match went to a No Contest as Undertaker and Michaels brawled all around and took out anyone in their path. The next match was a modification on the classic steel cage match, with a roof and caging that surrounded the floor around the ring. This match would be dubbed “Hell in a Cell” and it’s reputation has preceded it since it’s debut. Shawn Michaels would win this match due to outside interference but let’s do a background check of who aided Michaels in his victory.
Early in the Undertaker’s reign, Paul Bearer continued to be a thorn in the Undertaker’s side. The Undertaker would eventually get some retribution, albeit sadistic, as he sought to burn the face of Paul Bearer. Paul Bearer returned bandaged and with a new, less cartoony, look. Bearer threatened to reveal a secret about the Undertaker’s past unless the Undertaker would do Bearer’s bidding. The Undertaker at first obliged, making fans think there was truth to the secret being hidden. The Undertaker later could handle no more of Bearer’s antics. Paul Bearer would reveal that the Undertaker was a murderer of his family, including a younger brother. Paul Bearer told the Undertaker that this brother Kane was very much alive. So we return back to the Hell in A Cell match and as the Undertaker was about to capitalize on a beaten and battered Shawn Michaels, the lights go out and then a red aura surrounds the arena. An ominous, masked monster with Paul Bearer led Vince McMahon to make one conclusion, “That’s gotta be Kane!” Kane ripped the cell door off and entered, looked his brother in the eyes and nailed Taker with a Tombstone.
As the year wound down and Kane began to wreak havoc in the WWE by destroying superstar after superstar. The Undertaker vowed he would never fight his flesh and blood. Paul Bearer used Kane to intimidate and confront the Undertaker, but we would have to wait some time before the two brothers would battle in the squared circle.