No professional wrestler encompasses as much of the historical WrestleMania landscape as "The Dead Man" himself, The Undertaker.
His 27 matches across the first 36 events speak to an endurance befitting the infallible spectre that Mark Calaway portrayed for three decades. But more so than simply the sheer quantity of his WrestleMania resume is what became known quite simply as The Streak. In The Undertaker's first 21 WrestleMania matches, he defeated a who's who of wrestling royals, monsters, and oddities, without conceding a single loss. The unbeaten run grew to mythic proportions, and is perhaps the first line of the epitaph that defines The Undertaker's 30-year WWE run.
When The Undertaker first arrived in the WWF in 1990, it became apparent that this wasn't going to be any ordinary wrestler. When you can convincingly portray an unflinching zombie mortician, and do so with the sort of gusto that gives the youth of the world nightmares, then you've got staying power.
A wrestler like The Undertaker isn't beaten all that easily, and would usually require the employment of either a magnesium stake, or the recitation of an ancient spell, to adequately slay. As such, it's no surprise that his first WrestleMania foray was little more than textbook enforcement of the overall Undertaker character.
The Undertaker's WrestleMania debut took place at the event's seventh incarnation, on March 24, 1991, in the city of Los Angeles. As was custom in those days, the WrestleMania undercard featured a great number of matches that didn't really have a feud or storyline purpose - they existed just to get everybody involved. And at this time, Undertaker was just simply collecting victims, regardless of occasion.
His opponent was aging star "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka, whom he dispatched in a matter of minutes. The match is mostly without note, except as a retroactive footnote - it was the beginning of something that would one day be cherished. But here, it was just ho hum, Undertaker squashed a guy.
Following a face turn in early 1992, Undertaker's WrestleMania forays started coming equipped with grudges.
At WrestleMania 8, he sent a treacherous Jake "The Snake" Roberts packing after Tombstoning him on the floor. A year later, he withstood the onslaught of bodysuit-wearing mercenary Giant Gonzalez before garnering a DQ victory. And following a rest and recovery layoff in 1994, Undertaker returned to WrestleMania for the 11th event in 1995, waylaying King Kong Bundy in the midst of his long and winding feud with The Million Dollar Corporation.
To this point, The Streak had not been formally acknowledged in any form, which is to say that it probably wasn't even realized at the time that Undertaker was 4-0 at WrestleMania, at least by those in power. As the new age Andre in some respects, Undertaker was simply a colourful attraction, a popular means to an end that wasn't there to have all-time classic battles, but rather to vanquish various nuisances on the big stage. Him defeating a parade of heels at WrestleMania was more out of sensibility, rather than a concentrated effort to make history.
In fact, the first WrestleMania match of his that one could consider good was his victory over Diesel at WrestleMania 12. The battle of the big men was spirited enough, and an outgoing Kevin Nash was more than happy to make Undertaker look strong on his way out the door.
A year later, 5-0 became 6-0 when The Undertaker defeated Psycho Sid in a convoluted main event to become WWF champion. The match was pretty bad by most measures, but importantly, The Undertaker emerged with his first World title win in more than five years. And more important than that, another year passed without him sustaining an arbitrary WrestleMania loss.
But whether one was aware of The Streak or not, they would've found it hard to fault the WWF if they'd had The Undertaker lose at WrestleMania 14.
The most imposing challenge to Undertaker's untarnished slate was his hell-spawn brother, Kane. Ever since he first confronted The Undertaker months earlier, Kane had been presented as being just as powerful and invincible as his kayfabe sibling. Months of mounting tension led to WrestleMania 14 in Boston, where brother would meet brother in the evening's semi-main.
Undertaker eked out the victory that night over Kane, to the surprise of those who figured it would've been a major feather in Kane's mask to ultimately overpower "The Phenom". But Kane didn't go down lightly, requiring the employment of three Tombstones to finally leave him in a crumpled heap. Thus, Undertaker was now 7-0.
Though the previous year's match was for the WWF championship, one could certainly argue that this was Undertaker's most memorable WrestleMania match to this point. There was an actual storyline to Undertaker-Kane, whereas Taker vs. Sid was randomly thrown together due to the general disarray of the 1997 main event scene.
A year later, The Undertaker won a WrestleMania bout that was far less memorable as it was, but would've been more so if not for the questionable ending.
Now the ruler of the hellish Ministry of Darkness, Undertaker battled the Corporation's lead heavy, The Big Boss Man, inside Hell in a Cell. But while Undertaker's prior two Cell matches are all-time classics, this was a dull slog to the finish line, but alas another Undertaker victory. Oh, and the Boss Man was hanged in the post-match, but that grisly sight notwithstanding, The Undertaker's WrestleMania record remained unblemished at 8-0.
After missing out on WrestleMania 2000 due to injuries, the biker version of The Undertaker was what rolled into WrestleMania X-Seven in Houston, to do battle with sworn enemy Triple H. While the brawl was probably Undertaker's best WrestleMania match up until then, and it brought his record to 9-0 at the event, something more notable happened: his record was finally acknowledged.
Granted, it was just a quick off-hand mention by Jim Ross on commentary, but regardless - it wasn't until Undertaker was more than eight matches deep into his personal WrestleMania chronology that the WWF openly broadcast his historic record.
A year later, The Undertaker waged war with Ric Flair in a highly-contentious battle at WrestleMania X8. The methodical, hate-filled slugfest was an interesting pairing of icons (one that gave us the lesser-known "Spinebuster Outta Nowhere" from Arn Anderson).
After finishing off Flair with his Tombstone instead of the Last Ride, Undertaker gave us one of the greatest silent acknowledgements in wrestling history, when he stood on the apron and slowly unfurled all ten of his fingers before raising both outstretched palms to a sizable cheer. Ten and oh, indeed.
To put that record into perspective, it took 15 more years for any other wrestler to even reach ten *total* wins at the event, when John Cena gained a win as part of a mixed tag team bout at WrestleMania 33. At the time of Undertaker's tenth win, Cena was still swimming to the shores of the main roster.
After polishing off Flair to reach double digits, Undertaker's WrestleMania resume picked up a couple more "no doubt" victories. At WrestleMania 19 in Seattle, Undertaker was supposed to team with Australian goliath Nathan Jones against Big Show and A-Train. It ended up being a handicap match out of deference to Jones', shall we say, "profound clunkiness". In any event, Undertaker winning was the only acceptable result.
A year later, Undertaker's WrestleMania match was all about the pomp and pageantry. Kane snuffed him out the prior year, but rather than just staying dead, The "Phenom" version of Undertaker was reborn with all of the old accompaniment - the graveyard overture, the Druids, Paul Bearer, the urn, and the hat and trench coat. With that sort of grand return, Kane had a better shot of winning a spelling bee while in a medically-induced coma than beating The Undertaker that night. That win made a solid dozen.
Come 2005, however, The Streak was more than just an accomplishment worth calling attention to - it was now a specified target.
Randy Orton looked to make good on his "Legend Killer" nickname by challenging Undertaker's untarnished mark. In the closing stages of the competitive bout, Orton deftly reversed a chokeslam into an RKO, and it looked for all the world like WWE was about to canonize 25-year-old Randal Keith as the demon slayer...but then Undertaker kicked out. A Tombstone later, and Orton's dream was all that was killed.
With The Streak now sitting at 13-0, and with an understandable opening for a loss passed up on, it looked as if WWE was content to let it ride forever.
Though Mark Henry would eventually pick up traction as the curator of his self-created "Hall of Pain", the Hall was still under construction in 2006, and he was the one getting the lid closed on him in the WrestleMania 22 casket match. Make that 14-0 for Undertaker.
From there, a pair of championship bouts loomed large, but few truly believed Undertaker's record was in jeopardy. This takes nothing away from Batista and Edge, but for the respective World Heavyweight title matches at WrestleManias 23 and 24, the timing just didn't seem right for either man to pull that sword from the stone.
Thus, despite two very excellent match-ups (especially the Batista one, which surprised a lot of people at the time), the end results didn't really seem to be in doubt. The Tombstoning of Drax brought the mark to 15-0, while the Money Plane's grounding at Hell's Gate notched it up further to 16-0.
After 2008, The Undertaker never wrestled in another championship bout at WrestleMania, nor did he really need to. His Streak was reward enough, and his matches were about to become the hallmark segment of ensuing Manias, belt or no belt.
When Shawn Michaels stepped up to the plate for WrestleMania 25 in 2009, many wondered if the two forty-somethings could equal the quality and gravity of their Hell in a Cell match of 1997.
Depending on who you ask, their "Heaven vs. Hell" epic may not only have surpassed their Cell match, but could be the greatest WrestleMania bout of all time. The half-hour spectacle was a battle for the ages and, after Undertaker gave the world a meme-worthy look of dejection, he caught a Michaels moonsault and planted HBK with the decisive Tombstone, climbing to 17-0.
A year later, a desperate, freakishly-competitive Michaels drew Undertaker's ire, and got the rematch he desired. But to receive it, he'd have to wager his career. And here, even the odd Undertaker fan was kinda hoping he'd take the fall, lest we have to say goodbye to Michaels' virtuosity.
But we did at WrestleMania 26, as the two icons nearly equalled their prior effort, and a defiant Michaels went out to another Tombstone.
Michaels' tearful exodus overshadowed 18-0 to an extent, but 18-0 was still 18-0.
By now, it was abundantly clear that Undertaker's WrestleMania match was an attraction all to itself - not only because of The Streak being on the line, but the increased reduction in Undertaker's working schedule put more focus on his Mania outings. And as such, he was saving his best performances for that springtime Sunday. The previous four WrestleMania matches had all been either Match of the Year candidates, or comfortably in the conversation.
That didn't change in 2011, when what was apparently intended to be Undertaker vs. Sting pivoted (after Sting got cold feet about a move to WWE) into Undertaker vs. Triple H. This match met the lofty expectations of the new standard for Undertaker's 'Mania clashes, but rather than build to the usual feverish crescendo, the ending took a different tack. "The Game" managed to beat Undertaker down into a writhing shell, but just couldn't seal the deal. Then, out of desperation, The Undertaker snared Triple H into Hell's Gate and managed to squeeze out the narrow submission win. Undertaker won, but was shown to be in a bad way afterward.
A year later, it was *Undertaker* who desired revenge, wanting to show that he wasn't as decrepit as the events of WrestleMania 27 seemed to indicate. With 20-0 at the edge of the horizon, Undertaker goaded corporate Triple H into accepting one more match, but there were two counter-caveats: it would take place inside Hell in a Cell, and Shawn Michaels would be special referee.
The "End of an Era" match at WrestleMania 28 polarized fans, with some considering it an all-timer, while others found it inferior, perhaps a bit too self-indulgent. But the end result was indeed 20-0, as Undertaker vanquished Triple H for the third time on the grandest stage of them all.
At the time of this feature, ahead of WWE WrestleMania 37 in 2021, it should be noted that while Undertaker reached 20 WrestleMania wins in 2012, no other wrestler before or since has gone beyond ten wins at the event.
After four years of battling the two Kliq cornerstones, Undertaker moved onto a wrestler in a similar position to Kane and Orton before him. He was an undeniable star that could've used the win over Undertaker at WrestleMania, and would've been an acceptable choice in the eyes of many: CM Punk.
Though it wasn't Punk's first wish of being eliminated first in a John Cena vs. The Rock World title main event, it still proved to be the best match of a mostly-middling WrestleMania 29. After some exciting back-and-forth (including the timeless Anaconda Vice/zombie situp spot), Punk succumbed like the 17 other men before him.
The streak had reached a staggering 21 victories.
But it wouldn't see 22.
On the surface, most figured there was no reason for Brock Lesnar to defeat The Undertaker. For one thing, he was a part-time talent, and surely WWE wouldn't sacrifice 23 years of build at the altar of somebody that only wrestles a handful of times a year. And on top of that, Brock was already a made man - an iconic athlete with legitimate credentials as a UFC Heavyweight champion, so it's not like he required the boost.
When Lesnar took a concussed, weary Undertaker and deposited him with a third F5 at WrestleMania 30, the packed house at New Orleans' SuperDome, watched with a half-hearted gaze. "Here comes the kickout", most figured.
That's why when Chad Patton's hand slapped the mat a third time, it struck one's guts. It felt like a cosmic jostle, a profound shock that causes the blood within your veins to evaporate.
The Streak is dead?
The "21-1" graphic that flashed overhead confirmed the unthinkable.
The 21-0 event streak seemed so unbreakable that the idea of Lesnar (a snarling killing machine that's portrayed as every bit the terrifying fighter he is) challenging it didn't phase that many fans and critics. Just another notch for Undertaker's belt, they all thought. Another Tombstone, another number in the win column, they all thought.
But then the opposite happened. And no fan who witnessed it will ever forget how they felt when reality sunk in.
In the aftermath, we learned how arbitrary the decision to end The Streak was. Vince McMahon opted to kill off the unbeaten run on the day of WrestleMania 30, believing that that no one outside of Lesnar was a viable candidate to end it, and that Undertaker didn't have many matches left, so the sooner, the better.
So many years later, the decision to end The Streak is widely debated. Some feel it should've been preserved forever, sanctified and hallowed. Others believe another wrestler should've gotten the honours, instead of someone like Lesnar that didn't "need" it.
Meanwhile, some were ultimately okay with the booking, because to even the most cynical, seen-it-all fan, The Streak dying before their very eyes shook them from their default state. The people who relish calling other fans "marks" were probably marks themselves when they witnessed The Streak's end.
Wrestling is at its best when you get caught up in it - even if it requires p*ssing you off.
When Undertaker finally pulled himself up after the match, he was met with increasing applause, from fans and ringsiders alike. The pictures told the tale of unanimous respect for a man that sustained such an unforgettable run. And, if one were to speculate, perhaps this was The Dead Man's so-called "last ride".
But it wasn't. In fact, The Undertaker wrestled 19 more times between then and 2020. Five of those matches occurred at WrestleMania: a simple-but-affable win over Bray Wyatt at 31, a convoluted Cell match with Shane McMahon at 32, a hard-to-watch loss to Roman Reigns at 33 that *appeared* to be his official end, a bizarre squash of John Cena at 34, and, finally, a well-received "Boneyard" match win over AJ Styles at 36. Twenty-five event wins is not likely to be matched by anyone.
Close to eight months after leaving Styles for dead under a mountain of dirt, Undertaker affirmed his retirement, bringing to an end not only an unparalleled wrestling career, but an event legacy that's just as unequalled. WrestleMania 35 is a recent-enough reminder that the grand spectacle can in fact occur without The Undertaker, but it just isn't the same without him.
When The Undertaker is inevitably the headliner of a future WWE Hall of Fame class, there will be a deep body of work to retroactively dissect. The ghoulish mystique, the harrowing gimmick matches, the awing brilliance of his character work, and the main event rivalries will all spring to mind.
The strongest threads in the tapestry that is The Undertaker's WWE legacy will be the ones that comprise his WrestleMania streak, as well as the Mania matches that occurred following its ceasing.
The variety of opponents he faced is a murderer's row of characters: he faced Jake Roberts *and* CM Punk. Diesel *and* Batista. King Kong Bundy *and* John Cena. He faced the fathers of Charlotte Flair and Tamina, and the sons of IRS and Sika. He battled members of The Kliq in six different matches, across three separate decades. His tenth Mania win was over the face of Jim Crockett Promotions, and his last was over the face of TNA. Ten of his victims are in the WWE Hall of Fame [Snuka, Jake, Diesel, Boss Man, HHH, Flair, Henry, Batista, Edge, Shawn]. Five of his opponents are on WWE's active roster today. [Orton, Edge, Wyatt, Reigns, Styles]
Few other wrestlers have made such an indelible mark on the business that they share the ring in high profile matches with those many generational waves of talents.
That in itself may be the ultimate legacy of The Undertaker and The Streak, forever intertwined as constants in a business (and a world) with fewer constants than we'd like.
We tend to fear death and its inevitability. But ironically, wrestling fans embraced the inevitability of both The Deadman, and his thorough dominance at the most watched wrestling event of the year.
The Streak may now rest in peace, but it rests with the notion that it sparked attachment, created moments, and cemented a legacy that will never, ever be duplicated.