For the previous 27 months before this match, off and on, Undertaker had warred violently with the leather mask-wearing Mick Foley, together creating some of the most destructive matches seen in WWE to that point. Previously, most rivals of The Undertaker, unless they were already at a championship level, were simply mindless brutes that were lined up for WWE's Grim Reaper to cast away into the great beyond with his usual stoic fury. Mankind was different - not only was he competently versatile enough to have enjoyable matches with 'Taker, but he had the lasting power to make the ensuing matches interesting.
This is the story of how Undertaker finally met his match, how seemingly another ghoul in a long line of them gave Undertaker his greatest rivalry to date.
10. A Strong First Impression
After weeks of starring in dimly-vignettes, Foley's Mankind was unleashed into the world on WWE Raw one night following WrestleMania XII. In his debut match, Mankind polished off Bob Holly in short order with what would be his signature move, The Mandible Claw. While elements of the old Cactus Jack were apparent in Mankind's performance, it was clear that the harrowingly-deranged Mankind was a decidedly different character, a pronounced shift from Cactus' self-aware insanity.
But Holly wasn't Mankind's only victim on the night. In the main event, Undertaker doled out a beating to young Justin "Hawk" Bradshaw (the future JBL, looking more like Chris Hero back in the day), but would be assaulted without provocation by Mankind. In the aftermath, Mankind delivered his ground-covering flying elbow from the ring apron, prior to neutralizing Undertaker with his unique Claw.
9. A Stronger Second Impression
The two behemoths would collide at the 1996 King of the Ring in Milwaukee, the site of Stone Cold Steve Austin's ascendance via the historic "Austin 3:16" sermon. He wasn't the only WCW/ECW alumnus to receive a major career boost on that early summer night, as Mankind would score a major victory over WWE's time-tested guardian.
The aggressive brawl cut a torrential path through the ring and surrounding area, but it would end somewhat simply - a row between Mankind and Paul Bearer over the urn would see Bearer accidentally strike Taker with the weapon. Mankind applied the Claw on the pained Undertaker, drawing a victory that would shock the 9,000 fans on hand at Milwaukee's Mecca. While the finish employed a bit of screwiness, it was a mostly-emphatic win for the relatively-new Mankind.
8. Ultimate Betrayal
The big rematch would come at that year's SummerSlam, when Mankind and Undertaker were matched up in the first ever Boiler Room Brawl. The rules were unique, but simple enough. Paul Bearer would be stationed in the ring holding the urn, while the two combatants fought in the boiler room of Cleveland's Gund Arena. They would essentially have a race to the ring in order to claim the urn from Bearer, and the man who did so would be victorious.
The brawl made for some unusual TV (with long periods of no commentary), but there was a stark realness to the violence. After a lengthy and wearying fight (half of which was filmed the night before), Mankind and Undertaker spilled out into the arena, gradually making it to the ring. But yet, when Undertaker was in position to win, Bearer refused to hand over the urn, walking away with a devious chuckle. Then it happened: Bearer stood over a battered Phenom, cracking his skull with the object. He then handed the urn to Mankind to end the match, as well as his long association with Undertaker.
7. The New Alliance
It was never really fleshed out effectively on TV, but from Bearer's post-SummerSlam promos, he made it sound (through his, "Sick and tired of being sick and tired" speech) as though he were tired of what he felt like Undertaker not pursuing the top of the WWE mountain more consistently, instead focusing more on personal issues with others. Mankind, meanwhile, could be positioned toward championship pursuits.
This was made apparent when Mankind challenged Shawn Michaels for the WWE Championship at Mind Games in September 1996. The two had an absolutely hellacious match, one of the best of either man's career. In the wild aftermath following the DQ finish, Bearer opened up the casket that had ported Mankind to the ring, only to horrifyingly discover Undertaker was now waiting inside. The war with Mankind was not over.
6. Six Feet Under
If a Boiler Room Brawl weren't creative enough, how about a match where the rites of death are acted out? And no, it wasn't the old Casket Match standby - it was a Buried Alive match. Yes, you literally had to toss your incapacitated opponent into an open grave, and shovel dirt on them until the referee said: "Yeah, he's pretty well buried, you win."
As expected, the match was a combination of unflinching brawl and wild stunt show, with both men taking high-risk bumps and dives to heighten the intensity. Undertaker would ultimately win the match after Chokeslamming Mankind into the grave and piling on some dirt, only to be interrupted by the masked Executioner (Terry Gordy), who smashed him with a shovel. After pulling Mankind from the plot, he, Mankind, and a host of other heels (including Triple H, Bradshaw, and others) began to bury Undertaker with the provided dirt. Then, in the usual supernatural twist, Undertaker's gloved hand billowed up from the dirt as the show went off the air.
5. New Look, Same Mean Streak
The two would square off yet again at Survivor Series, with Paul Bearer suspended above the ring in a pre-Mattel-deal shark cage. Bearer wouldn't be the only principal of the match to be tethered from above - Undertaker made his entrance from a suspension wire, sporting a new costume with black leather and a vampiric bat-winged cape. Variants of the attire would be his norm up until his injury hiatus that began in the fall of 1999.
The match was fairly pedestrian, given their prior brutal encounters, and concluded with Undertaker Tombstoning Mankind for a decisive pinfall victory. In the post-match, Bearer's cage was lowered into the ring where a vengeful Undertaker waited, but there would be no beating for his ex-manager. The Executioner arrived once more to aid his co-horts, although Undertaker would dispatch of him at the December In Your House in a modified Texas Death Match.
4. Competitive Fire
The two mostly went their separate ways after Survivor Series, with Mankind joining a team with Vader, while Undertaker pressed onward into the main event scene. At WrestleMania 13, Undertaker felled Psycho Sid for the WWE Championship, but Mankind would be waiting in the wings to renew bad blood. A title match between the two was set for the April 1997 In Your House, which Mankind heated up (literally) by throwing a fireball into Undertaker's face weeks before the show.
Undertaker would gain his revenge (aptly, the show was subtitled "Revenge of the Taker") by retaining the gold over Mankind in yet another melee that did away with the rules. In the post-match, Undertaker lit a fire of his own, but it wasn't Mankind who was singed - it was Paul Bearer that endured a ball of fire to his mug. This would be the catalyst for Bearer introducing a certain charbroiled relative of Undertaker's to the WWE franchise.
3. Breaking Up The Lull
Once more following Revenge of the Taker, Undertaker and Mankind focused on other foes, save for the brief period in which they were both managed by Bearer, after Bearer blackmailed his former charge into following him once more. Mankind would soon turn face, using all three of the Foley personas to positive effect, before turning heel once more in April 1998 as a corporate version of Dude Love.
When McMahon fired Dude Love after his failures to unseat champion Steve Austin, Foley re-emerged as Mankind once more, costing Undertaker a shot to earn a title match in a bout with Kane. Mankind was once more part of Bearer's fold, along with Kane, where he would remain through the summer months. And there was one more piece of business for Undertaker and Mankind to tend to. You may have heard of it.
2. One Night In Hell
It's been immortalized many times over by participants, fans, and raconteurs across the globe, with not even a hint of yellowing though the passage of two decades. Hell in a Cell lowered around the ring of King of the Ring 1998, with Undertaker and Mankind set to wage war once more within its steel walls. But the match actually began atop the structure, and that's where the problems started.
Mankind was thrown off of the 16-foot high cage through a table. Then, after managing to climb back up the cage, he was Chokeslammed through a chain-link partition, down into the ring below. But Mankind fought onward, despite being in a clearly-unwell state. Undertaker (wrestling on a broken foot) and Mankind tore each other up, with Mankind getting the clear worst of it. Before it was over, he would be slammed harshly upon a river of thumbtacks twice, before a Tombstone put him out of his misery. The legend of this unholy massacre remains as awing today as it did when it first played out before shocked eyes in 1998.
1. The Aftermath
Undertaker and Mankind, through a threading story that involved Austin, Kane, Bearer, and even Vince McMahon, exchanged the WWE World Tag Team title twice in the summer of 1998. The angle culminated with Kane turning on Mankind to form an uneasy alliance with his estranged half-brother, who himself veered toward the evil side of the line once more.
Undertaker would end up becoming the fearsome leader of the controversial Ministry of Darkness, which cast 'Taker as a Satanic overlord with cult leader sensibilities. Foley, meanwhile, gave in to the charming goofiness that he'd always been capable of, fleshing out Mankind in a sympathetic underdog that would soon win over scores of fans in his bids to unseat The Rock for the WWE Championship.