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Monday, January 25, 2016

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Retrospective: The Undertaker in The Ruthless Aggression Era

By @TrueGodImmortal

Well, as you know, it is Ruthless Aggression Week on the site and we are talking the most debated period in wrestling history. Myself and others who are on the team feel the era ended in 2005 with the rising of John Cena and Batista, while some feel it ended in 2007 or 2008. Regardless, the era began in 2002, and evolved from there until the tide changed around Wrestlemania 21. If one would consider the next year or two to also be a part of it, I would consider that the lackluster years of the Ruthless Aggression era. One name that remained through the era and the one that followed was the legendary Undertaker. After going through a character change to become the American Badass in the end of the Attitude Era, Taker would make a pivotal heel turn at the end of 2001, signaling a new path for him to coincide with this new era.

Taker would begin 2002 as the Hardcore Champion, and with his character becoming a bit more ruthless (pun intended), Taker would embark on mini feuds with Rob Van Dam and even Tough Enough winner Maven. What made this so interesting to me was that Taker was seemingly in a position to start passing torches and throughout 2002, he would essentially bounce between doing that and staking his claim as a legend. He would defeat Ric Flair at Wrestlemania 18, beat Stone Cold at Backlash and then squash Hulk Hogan to win the WWE Title again. After engaging in a feud with Triple H, and losing the belt to the Rock in a triple threat match that featured Kurt Angle, Taker would end up moving onto feud with Brock Lesnar and putting him over hugely in the fall of the year.

The Brock feud would be the crowning achievement in many ways for Taker in the Ruthless Aggression era, even in a losing effort, Taker looked the best he had in years in ring and overall. He put on a classic match with Brock at No Mercy 2002 in the Hell in A Cell stipulation, and then he went away with an injury for a few months. This is where things get a bit interesting to be honest. While Taker was out, he wasn't missed too much, but news of his impending return definitely sparked interest. The reasoning for the interest growing? The vignettes for his return seemed to signal a return to form for Taker to his darker Deadman gimmick.

As the 2003 Royal Rumble approached, Taker would eventually change plans and return to his Big Evil Red Devil persona, which was his evolution from the American Bad Ass. Upon his return, he was saddled with a terrible feud against the Big Show and A-Train, before eventually going to a small feud with John Cena and rekindling his rivalry with Brock. Taker was sort of floundering in the company during 2003 and had no direction, when coincidentally, a feud with Vince McMahon led to him going against Kane again, after he was "buried alive" by Kane at Survivor Series 2003.

This would prove to be the beginning of an old chapter with new elements, as Taker would finally revert back to his older Deadman character, bringing back the Gong, the smoke, the long coat, and even bringing back the late great Paul Bearer. However, this resulted into a lackluster match against Kane at Wrestlemania 20, which did nothing for the actual advancement of Taker. Taker would go on to feud with Booker T and JBL, and slowly but surely get back into the groove of things. He would maintain a bit of his Big Evil Red Devil fighting stance and momentum even while back as the Deadman, and the hybrid seemingly worked well for him in many ways.

Still, as 2004 came to a close, Taker needed a feud to revitalize him completely in the era. Something that give him new life if you will. He found that feud in Randy Orton. Orton vs Taker would culminate at WM 21, but continue into the "second chapter" of the Ruthless Aggression Era so to speak during the rest of 2005. With a Casket Match, a No DQ match, as well as a Hell in A Cell match, Orton vs Taker was truly the feud of 2005 and with that, it made Taker not only revitalized, but gave him momentum to led into 2006 and beyond. The story with that becomes the fact that 2006 was a rough year for Taker, as he would lose to the Great Khali, have to fight in a Punjabi Prison match, and fought Mark Henry at Wrestlemania 22.

If 2007 and 2008 are considered the Ruthless Aggression era, then in many ways, these are the years that Taker finally evolved into the real big match leader, after winning the 2007 Royal Rumble. He would engage in a feud with Batista, win the world title at Wrestlemania 23, return from injury and feud with Edge up until Wrestlemania 24, where he won the title yet again. That would be the cap of a great year plus run that saw Taker at his most dominant and strongest we had seen him in years honestly. During the course of the Ruthless Aggression Era (or Eras), Undertaker reminded us just why he was the legend that he was after the later parts of the Attitude Era almost made us forget.



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