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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

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Classic Rivalries: Taker versus Mankind

There are some once in a lifetime rivalries that can never be duplicated. For me, the rivalry that is Undertaker versus Mankind is one that's legendary. I remember watching Mankind's debut, the night after WrestleMania 12, and as a child, I was instantly intrigued. Undertaker, at the time, was a creepy supernatural force that received power from an urn and his manager Paul Bearer. Taker was a draw all by himself without having to be WWF Champion or even in the picture at the time. Mick Foley, fresh off his departure from ECW, did a complete change, as he went from the character of Cactus Jack, to the slum dwelling, cellar living, rat befriending weirdo that became Mankind. The dichotomy that was built between these two characters was perfect. When Mankind arrived and set his sights on Taker, you knew you were in for something epic.

This feud essentially was a long running two year feud from 1996 to 1998, with very few breaks or different opponents in between. After the feud kicked off on RAW following Wrestlemania 12, we didn't see Mankind go after The Undertaker for a few weeks, when he helped Goldust to bear down Taker, setting up their first encounter at King of The Ring 1996, which Mankind shockingly won. Essentially, Undertaker went ahead and put over Mankind, solidifying him as a threat, as well as making him a made man. The feud continued with what is probably their 2nd most known encounter, the Boiler Room Brawl at SummerSlam 1996.


This match was significant, because it was the first of its kind, and it featured the ultimate swerve of Paul Bearer turning on Undertaker to manage Mankind. In reflection, that might be the biggest story of this entire feud. Bearer, who was Taker's manager for years at this point, found someone who he saw as much more worthy of his power than Taker, and the ultimate mind games were beginning. Thus far, Mankind had been dominating the feud, winning both matches and taking Taker's manager and urn. Keeping up with energy of having such an inventive feud, Mankind and Taker would clash at a PPV called In Your House: Buried Alive, in the main event. This was the first ever Buried Alive match, with the objective to put your opponent into a makeshift grave. One would assume that this would certainly mark the feud's end, as there is nowhere to really go after a Buried Alive match. The Undertaker technically won the match, but end up buried under dirt by Mankind and some heels, almost guaranteeing the feud would continue.

The feud had one last big 1996 encounter at Survivor Series, with Taker picking up the victory and going on to feud briefly with The Executioner, who helped save Bearer from an ass whooping from Taker. After Survivor Series, it seemed as if this feud had simmered down, until Wrestlemania 13, where Taker won the WWF Championship from Sycho Sid. Who would Taker's first PPV opponent be?? You guessed it. Mankind vs Taker took place at the April 1997 In Your House PPV, with Taker soundly picking up the victory, seemingly bringing that feud to an instant close again. Taker would go on to feud with Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and Faarooq through the rest of 1997, before getting trapped in a huge feud with his "brother," Kane.

It was the Kane feud that would bring things full circle for one last epic encounter. Mankind had aligned with Kane, and cost Taker a no. 1 contender match against him, rekindling the feud and setting up an epic Hell In A Cell encounter at King of The Ring 1998, two years exactly after their first match on PPV.


This match is one of the most famous matches in both of their careers, mostly for the sheer brutality. Foley took a huge fall off the top of the cage, and a chokeslam through the top of the cage soon after. Taker picked up the victory, but Foley walked away with fans' respect forever. That iconic image of him in mid air falling from the top is one of the greatest moments in wrestling history. Which goes back to the point I made earlier: Undertaker helped make Mankind into a formidable star in 1996 during their year long feud, and at the end, he helped get him that long lasting respect and validation that Foley had searched for his whole career.

The feud finished up the next month with a tag team title match at Fully Loaded 1998 with Austin as Taker's partner and Kane as Mankind's partner. They crossed paths on RAW after that feud ended a time or two, but that rivalry had finally come to a close. Two years of intense matches, breaking new ground and introducing two new matches to the WWF, Taker vs Mankind is hands down one of the best rivalries period, and definitely Foley's defining rivalry in his career.

Until next time,
-True

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