Episode 123: The Undertaker

Wrestlemania is this SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY, and Editor Eric has been dying to talk about the mythos of his favorite wrestler of all time, The Undertaker. Even if wrestling isn’t your thing, we think you’re going to enjoy the journey of how the Deadman went from wrestling mortician to a leader of his own cult of the undead. It’s a modern hero’s journey. Just, with more piledrivers.

This week, Julia and Amanda recommend you check out Bored Ghost. They both guest starred in the two-part Rusalka game.

Videos referenced in this episode:


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Amanda:              Welcome to Spirits podcast, a boozy dive into mythology, legends, and folklore. Every week we pour a drink and learn about a new story from around the world. I'm Amanda.

Julia:                     And I'm Julia.

Amanda:              And this is Episode 123, The Undertaker.

Julia:                     Yes, we're doing WWE Wrestling things. I'm very excited about this.

Amanda:              You know, the purview of our show is myths and legends throughout time, and we love talking about things that you would traditionally think of as mythology, but also we love deconstructing how and why we retell stories in the modern era. So talking about a character that has a mythology of their own, and understanding a mythology of this major entertainment universe was really interesting.

Julia:                     Yeah, and I mean, it's a hero's journey told over weekly television for 30 years. That is a wild concept and I really, really liked looking at it through the mythology lens.

Amanda:              You know who have excellent personal mythologies?

Julia:                     Would that be our new patrons, Deana and Kayla?

Amanda:              Absolutely. As well as our supporting producer level patrons: Philip, Julie, Eeyore, Samantha, Christopher, Cathy, Vinny, Danica, Marisa, Sammy, Josie, Neil, Jessica, Phil Fresh, and Debra.

Julia:                     You all have the WWE Championship belt hanging on your wall. You look right now, I put it there for you.

Amanda:              And never with a dusty belt in sight, are our legend level patrons: Haley, Sarah, James, Jess, Sarah P, Sandra, Audra, Jack Marie, and Leanne.

Julia:                     The universal champions of our hearts.

Amanda:              Totally. Totally. Totally. Julia, what were drinking during this episode?

Julia:                     We did an early morning recording for this one. I know you were rocking a tequila sunrise, I made ...

Amanda:              I sure was.

Julia:                     ... cold brew cocktails for Eric and I. Mostly because when you're about to sit down to watch Wrestlemania ... which is this Sunday by the way ... you absolutely need that energy. It is like an eight-hour show so you're going to want to have that caffeine level intake high.

Amanda:              Yes. And we asked editor Eric Schneider to come on board and tell us all about the Undertaker since this is his favorite wrestler. It was extremely exciting. Not his favorite wrestler, but one that he really wanted to talk about.

Julia:                     Yes. It's like something you grew up with.

Amanda:              And also this week, I wanted to let everybody know that Julia and I guest starred on this great role playing game podcast called Bored Ghost. We played a wonderful game that is not yet released, so we were very exclusive, where we played undead female water spirits.

Julia:                     Rusalka.

Amanda:              Rusalka, yeah. I'm sorry, I said undead there 'cause I was so in the Undertaker head space. But yeah, we played water spirits called rusalka. It was extremely exciting. We got to invent backstories and use spells and let curses fly upon different people, and it was a really fun time. So if you're looking for a new podcast to listen to, that's great. And if you want to just check out our episodes, there's one coming out today and one coming out next week.

Julia:                     Yeah. We had a lot of fun doing it. It was really, really interesting. And they have a massive backlog, so if you're looking for something to really deep dive into, highly recommend the show.

Amanda:              Absolutely. And we also wanted to let you know that this episode does bench in, since it is wrestling, some discussions of bodily harm and violence, so just a heads up if that isn't your thing. Feel free to skip this one. But, if this is completely up your alley and you would love to share the show with a couple of friends and invite them over to Wrestlemania, Julia and Eric talk about it in the episode, but please tweet us @spiritspodcast and let us know what your favorite musical is in order to get a wrestling recommendation, or just share with us your very punny party foods. Don't worry, it'll make sense.

Julia:                     Yes it will.

Amanda:              Without further ado, enjoy Spirits podcast episode 123, The Undertaker.

Julia:                     So listeners, as you are listening to this episode as it is downloaded and in your feed, we are four days away from Wrestlemania?

Eric:                       That is correct. No, is it?

Julia:                     Yeah. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday ... four days, yeah. So I don't know if you suggested this first, Eric, or if I approached you about it. Either way it makes sense.

Eric:                       I think I suggested it like, week two of the podcast. I was like, "We should do Undertaker sometime."

Julia:                     So, because you are the wrestling expert ... I am but a newbie when it comes to wrestling history ... I thought it would be really interesting for you to tell us about the Deadman before Wrestlemania.

Eric:                       Yeah. So today, we're gonna talk about the Undertaker, the phenom, the undead wizard of the WWF and WWE.

Julia:                     See, I didn't know undead wizard was one of his titles, and that's very good.

Eric:                       I don't know if he was ever referred to as "the undead wizard," but he is definitely an undead wizard.

Amanda:              It's true. This is definitely maybe modern folklore by some definition and I am here for it.

Eric:                       It definitely is.

Amanda:              I have a tequila sunrise. It is 11:00 in the morning and I'm ready to go.

Eric:                       I've got a cup of coffee. Now we all have some history with wrestling. You guys watched in the 90s during the Attitude Era on and off, as did I occasionally. I got back into wrestling in college when we had free cable and then ...

Julia:                     Very important.

Eric:                       ... kind of watched it for like, two or three years ...

Amanda:              Bless.

Eric:                       ... very sporadically. And then I got mostly back into it fully like, three or four years ago, right after Wrestlemania. So I think this is coming up on three full years of watching wrestling for me that I'm at right now. But in that time, I've gone back and watched lots and lots of old wrestling.

Amanda:              Can we give people a primer on wrestling is scripted, there is also a lot of athleticism involved, there's a world, kayfabe. Can you make kind of a general primer for folks?

Eric:                       So, the general thing is that wrestling is predetermined outcomes in an athletic TV show. It is presented as a real TV athletic competition where the results are predetermined backstage.

Julia:                     There is a great piece which I will link to in the actual description of the episode by a man named Mike Quackenbush, who is the promoter for-

Amanda:              What?

Julia:                     It's very cool. He follows me on Twitter. But he is a promoter for a promotion called Chikara, and he has a great, great little five-minute speech that he does which is all about, hey, wrestling is just ... imagine if your comic books performed in front of you. Imagine if you could see Marvel's Avengers: Infinity War but performed live in front of you with the very much assumption like, "Okay, what we're doing here is real."

Eric:                       And before we get fully into it ... Amanda mentioned kayfabe. Kayfabe is the fictional world of what is happening in wrestling. The characters go by their kayfabe names, the storylines happen in kayfabe. When things happen in the real world outside of that, it is referred to as shooting. So there's working, which is the working but kayfabe, and shooting is the real world, our world, exposing the peak behind the curtain.

Julia:                     In fandom terms, kayfabe is canon and shooting is out of canon.

Eric:                       The other great thing about wrestling in general is that because it is a real athletic competition, it takes place week to week. And because of that, these storylines are not told in a ten-episode season from April to May. They are told yearly over 30 years. The Undertaker's story starts in November of 1990.

Amanda:              Oh boy.

Eric:                       Which is a long time ago.

Julia:                     That is before Amanda and I were born.

Amanda:              Yeah, Julia, but as I do that math, I'm just like, "That can't have been 30 years ago." Oh, no, it's almost 30 years ago ...

Julia:                     I know.

Amanda:              ... because we are almost 30.

Eric:                       He shows up at Survivor Series and he is hailed from Death Valley.

Julia:                     Of course.

Amanda:              Oh boy.

Eric:                       This guy is ... his music is a funeral procession. There's a gong. It is extremely different from everything else you've heard before because most people are like your Hulk Hogans or your Bret Harts, and they've got loud, jamming music, and this is a dude in a giant, large brim hat, a black overcoat, a purple tie, and he just slowly, slowly walks out to the ring and just decimates people in this match. And he is just taking people out one by one. He takes out Bret Hart, he does some damage to Jim Neidhart, Birdman ... just is decimating people, and it's like, "Who is this person? We have never seen a character, slow and methodical." His signature thing he does in the ring is he gets laid out, which happens all the time, but then he sits straight up and it is ...

Julia:                     Like a zombie from the grave.

Eric:                       ... spooky as fuck. It is taken directly from the Halloween movie series ...

Julia:                     Yeah it is.

Eric:                       ... in which Michael Myers does the exact same thing. But it is so spooky. You see these heroes fighting this dude and then he just sits back up, 'cause like, hauntingly scary, especially the way other wrestlers ... they sell it in the ring. Selling is the idea of making a move feel more real than it is, because obviously they're not punching each other for real ...

Amanda:              They can't get harmed, right.

Eric:                       ... every single time. These matches wouldn't be 30 minutes long if these very strong men went at their full actual strength for that long.

Julia:                     Just faux full punch.

Eric:                       That's a no go. And when he sits up, people freak the fuck out and it is terrifying because it's so, so funny. The other thing that was very spooky about Undertaker is that he would no sell a lot of moves as a character. So early Undertaker, it wasn't like he was doing this maliciously. No selling you can do to be an asshole and be like, "You don't hurt me." But he was this-

Amanda:              So someone punches you and you don't act as if it hurt you.

Eric:                       Exactly. He would take the hit, but also remain standing to what would normally take someone down. He would still lose matches and win matches and the same kind of stuff like that, but he would definitely have this feel about him that was way, way more an undestructible force that just ... He was literally death incarnate, it felt like.

Amanda:              So how did the other wrestlers feel about this when he is not playing by the same rules?

Eric:                       I mean, back in the early 90s, we're still in a very gimmick-heavy era where there's lots of weird ... There were clowns ...

Amanda:              Evil dentist.

Eric:                       ... there were evil dentists. There was a lot of silly stuff at this point. So Undertaker is still coming off the heels of that, so it was more like this is a weird supernatural thing, but it's also being played up as very silly because wrestling is still very silly at this point. There's also this inherent comedy in the fact that an undead wizard hailing from Death Valley is at all interested in the goings on of the World Wrestling Federation, which will become more and more ridiculous as we get into deeper storylines later. But there's this level of just pure, I don't know, non sequitur comedy where it's like, "Why is this person even here?"

                                So for everyone else it's like, "I gotta beat the Undertaker. Undertaker's really good. That's my job." No one's like, "You don't belong here. Why are you even here?" kind of stuff. It is silly in a way that is also serious in another sense.

Julia:                     Well it's important to know that wrestling kind of comes out of a carnival, carnie kind of history and background, so the inherent comedy of professional wrestling comes out of this idea that you had to entertain no matter what. So even if you were just this big, strong man going up against a clown, you still had to make this performance one, believable, and two, entertaining for the crowd.

Eric:                       The first big point we'll touch on Undertaker is that he initially has a manager named Brother Love, who is this ridiculous character. Very kind of sleazy used car salesman type trying to promote the Undertaker. He eventually hands off Taker's management to Paul Bearer.

Julia:                     Which oh, that name is so good.

Eric:                       Which is a great name. It's pallbearer. The Undertaker is the undertaker.

Amanda:              That's extremely good.

Eric:                       And Paul Bearer is a mortician turned wrestling manager.

Julia:                     Of course he is.

Eric:                       He started off his career with Undertaker by helping Undertaker defeat Hulk Hogan for the WWE Championship in 1991. So big win against known racist Hulk Hogan. Pall Bearer would walk around with this urn, which seemed to have some kind of magical control over the Undertaker. No one's exactly sure what was in the urn. Sometimes it would have smoke come out of it. Sometimes it would glow. They'd shine a light onto it so it glowed in a weird way. So it was this magical urn.

Julia:                     I mean, it's gotta have his soul in it or something, right? Like if we're going from a mythology standpoint, the only way you could possibly have control over this person is if it has their soul in it. Think of Koschei the Deathless.

Eric:                       Or maybe-

Julia:                     Oh, wait, sorry. Undertaker's Koschei the Deathless of wrestling. We found it. We found it.

Eric:                       There we go.

Amanda:              So where did he bury his heart?

Julia:                     In the urn that Paul Bearer has.

Amanda:              Yeah, but is it inside a fish that's inside a bear that is under a mountain that is marked with pine trees?

Eric:                       It's just under every wrestling ring.

Julia:                     It's under every wrestling ring.

Amanda:              Oh no. Under your seat.

Julia:                     And Pall Bearer just carries it around city to city.

Eric:                       Undertaker was a heel, a bad guy ... heels are known as bad guys, faces are known as good guys in wrestling ... until backstage saves the "Macho Man" Randy Savage from a vicious attack by Jake "The Snake" Roberts. So once again, as we talk about silly wrestling stuff, there was a guy named "Macho Man" Randy Savage, who-

Julia:                     You've probably heard of him.

Eric:                       Who we will link in the show notes. My favorite Macho Man promo, in which he talks about the cream rising to the top ... it is my single favorite thing that I think has ever happened backstage at wrestling. Jake "The Snake" Roberts had a giant snake, so that's the kind of era of silliness we are in at this point.

Amanda:              Which the reason that I know the minuscule amount about wrestling that I do is that in high school theater club, Julia and I were friends with a ton of the people on the tech crews, many of whom were burly men who loved wrestling. And to me, it makes absolutely no sense that every fan of theater is not also a fan of wrestling and vice versa.

Julia:                     Yes.

Amanda:              Because wrestling is musicals is wrestling is musicals, and I think anyone who loves wrestling should watch a ton of musicals, and any Spirits fans who are like, "I love Little Shop of Horror, I love camp, I love character," I think you would get a lot of enjoyment out of wrestling, too. It's not without it's faults, but ...

Julia:                     After this episode, I am opening up my tweets. Please @ me and ask me what the best place to start with with wrestling is by telling me your favorite musical.

Eric:                       Just include me on those as well. I won't be able to help with the musical side of it, but I'll just send you to some good stuff anyways.

                                Paul Bearer and Taker have a good relationship for five years, until in 1996, Paul Bearer attacks Undertaker with the urn and aligns himself with Mankind. Mankind is a man that should not be wrestling. He is known as Mick Foley. You might have heard of this man before. He's played a couple different characters. And Mankind wore a button-down shirt, had a tie, and a weird, weird half leather, half strap kind of thing going on on his face. It was very weird. He was not a particularly physically fit looking man in an era where everyone was a big, beefy hunk. He was just a very average looking dude.

                                In 1997, Taker is now feuding with Mankind and Paul Bearer, and he sets Paul Bearer's face on fire, because of course you do. However, later Paul Bearer gets Undertaker back on his side because he claims to have a deep, dark secret about Undertaker's past.

Amanda:              No.

Eric:                       So it is revealed later on that Undertaker's mother and Paul Bearer had an affair ...

Amanda:              No.

Eric:                       ... and produced his half brother, Kane.

Amanda:              Oh no. What a reference.

Eric:                       Kane with a K. So Kane not with a C like in the Bible. But obviously extremely clear ...

Amanda:              What's happening here.

Eric:                       ... correlation here. Along with this, as a child, Undertaker set ... Now this is where it gets confusing, because Paul Bearer is a mortician who runs a funeral home. But also, Undertaker used to live at a funeral home as well. I couldn't find in my research if this was the same funeral home, because Undertaker sets this funeral home on fire, killing his parents and his half brother Kane.

Amanda:              No.

Eric:                       This is presumed an accident.

Julia:                     Sure.

Eric:                       Later in 1997, at the Pay-Per-View Bad Blood, Undertaker is wrestling Shawn Michaels, who is one of the best wrestlers then, before, and much later on as we'll talk about. And the match is a Hell in a Cell match. I think it's the first Hell in a Cell match, which is instead of a steel cage around the exact perimeter of the ring, it entirely engulfs the ring and the bit outside of the ring as well and has a ceiling. So you are trapped in this cell and the door does not get unlocked until you pin or submit your opponent. They are traditionally the most vicious matches that you get in American wrestling. Over in Japan, they do stuff where there's piranhas surrounding the ring, some real crazy stuff ... barbed wire, ropes. WWE doesn't do anything that extreme, but in WWE terms, this is one of the more extreme matches that you can get.

Amanda:              And that surprised me when I first started watching, too, which is that it's not just UFC or boxing. It's not all inside the ring. The whole arena is your playground and people leave it, they run away, they grab ladders and chairs. And the Hell in a Cell is interesting because it very much is like a bubble. It's like a birdcage or whatever around the actual ring, where there is no leaving and no tricks until the match is over.

Eric:                       During this match, out of nowhere shows up down the ramp a giant man in red and black with a very, very scary red and black mask. This dude shows up. The announcers are like, "This must be Kane." And he just rips the door off of the cell, which is lock enhanced steel. It's impossible to get open. They're stuck in here. And Kane just shows up, rips the door open, and just interferes with the match, causing Undertaker to probably win the match, because he probably punched Undertaker, which means if you're the one assaulted by an outside party, you lose. But the match doesn't end with a win by pin, fall, or submission, which makes Undertaker pretty mad.

                                So once again, wrestling's silly. Undertaker demands that there's a DNA test to prove ...

Julia:                     Obviously.

Eric:                       ... that him and Kane are half brothers.

Amanda:              Jerry Springer does it.

Eric:                       Because I mean, he's an undead wizard, but also he believes in modern science.

Amanda:              Wait, where did the wizard part come from? I got the undead bit, but why is he a wizard?

Eric:                       I didn't cover this, but he can control lightning.

Amanda:              Oh.

Eric:                       And oftentimes he'll just show up and lightning bolts will strike a bunch of parts of the ring or strike some other thing.

Julia:                     He'll cause a blackout. It's great.

Eric:                       Yeah. So when Undertaker shows up, the lights completely go black in the arena and then there's a gong ...

Amanda:              Cool.

Eric:                       ... and then there's usually lightning bolts.

Amanda:              Love it.

Eric:                       And so this is all presumed that it is not the tech team but the magical powers of the phenom himself.

Amanda:              Right. Got it.

Eric:                       After Undertaker and Kane are revealed to be actual half siblings, they team up and-

Julia:                     Obviously.

Amanda:              Oh good. Now all our differences are aside.

Eric:                       And then, Undertaker and Paul Bearer betray Kane this time.

Amanda:              No.

Eric:                       And then he admits that he did the arson on purpose.

Julia:                     Yeah he did.

Eric:                       Tried to kill his half brother. So just like a lot of stuff, Undertaker and Kane have been feuding and on the same team. They've been referred to as The Brothers of Destruction multiple, multiple times. They've had tag belts together, they've had championship rings together. They are a back and forth thing, because obviously there's a lot of baggage going back years and years and years.

                                Paul Bearer kind of leaves for a while and the only real notable other thing that happens with Undertaker and Paul Bearer is that he does come back in the early 2000s, and at one point there is a match where Undertaker is facing The Dudley Boyz and the stipulation is that if Undertaker loses, Paul Bearer will be encased in a giant glass cage with cement.

Amanda:              Oh.

Eric:                       Undertaker wins the match and then pulls the level on the cement truck, killing Paul Bearer.

Julia:                     Damn.

Eric:                       Which is not really explained why he does it. There's also a very funny backstage clip ... a very rare backstage clip ... of them rehearsing this thing. The whole thing is shot, pre-recorded, and there's a stunt double that was actually in the glass cage with the cement the other time. And then it's revealed later on that Paul Bearer was not actually killed because everyone was like, "That was a bit dark."

Julia:                     Yeah it was.

Eric:                       Killing a man with cement. So he's gravely injured and in the hospital, and then he eventually comes and goes.

                                So now we're gonna cover one specific match, which is the 1998 King of the Ring Hell in a Cell match with Mankind. A bit of lead up to this ... obviously we had talked about Paul Bearer betraying Taker to help out Mankind. So as soon as Mankind shows up in 1996, he just immediately starts feuding with Undertaker. He would ambush him for months after matches in the backstage, a bunch of stuff. There were these things that Mankind would do called Boiler Room Brawls where you had to wrestle Mankind in a boiler room of the arena you were in, which were wild. Very, very confusing.

                                After Paul Bearer betrays him, there is a Buried Alive Match. Now, this is another kind of silly wrestling match ...

Julia:                     Oh, he's so good.

Eric:                       ... in which there is a grave to the side of the ramp and the match ends when you incapacitate your opponent, throw them in the grave ... which is not super close to the ring. You have to carry them over there, throw them in, and then with a shovel, shovel some dirt onto them until they are buried alive.

Julia:                     You know, like you do.

Eric:                       Undertaker gets Mankind into the tomb and then he manages to get out, and then Mankind gets Undertaker in there and then a bunch of people, including Triple H and some other guys, all show up and they help Mankind bury Undertaker.

                                Now here's one of those supernatural things Amanda was asking about. The show ends with a lightning bolt striking the tombstone and then Undertaker's purple glove reaching out of the grave.

Amanda:              That's very good.

Eric:                       And it's like, "He's not dead yet. You can't kill him."

Julia:                     I really do appreciate the fact that they chose the very royal purple for him, because out of context of wrestling, purple is not a very intimidating color. I wouldn't be intimidated by a man wearing all purple. And yet, I am.

Amanda:              It's royal. It's royal. I just saw Cursed Child and I think they make really interesting use of the color purple in the costuming, which I appreciated.

Julia:                     Yeah. It very much reminds me of Darkwing Duck's characters, like his colors.

Eric:                       Yeah. I've always described Darkwing Duck as a real Undertaker type.

Julia:                     Thank you.

Eric:                       Although now that I think about it, they do have a similar hat as well, so maybe there's more similarities between Darkwing Duck and Undertaker than I thought. It didn't come up in the research, but you never know.

Julia:                     Okay.

Amanda:              What is that?

Julia:                     Darkwing Duck?

Eric:                       You don't remember Darkwing Duck?

Julia:                     When there's trouble you call DW.

Eric:                       Yeah. Dangerous.

Julia:                     God.

Eric:                       So there's DuckTales, and then there's also, in the same DuckTales universe, Darkwing Duck, who is essentially the Batman of the Disney duck universe.

Amanda:              Okay. Lots here I don't know about. I was like, "If that's a wrestler guy, you should probably explain who it is so the audience doesn't get confused." Nope. It was just me.

Julia:                     Nope.

Eric:                       No, this is an animated Disney show from the early 90s.

Julia:                     It's DuckTales.

Eric:                       I had all the action figures. They were the best.

Julia:                     I had all of the shows on VHS, so I feel you.

Eric:                       So a few other things before we get into this match that I mentioned leading us to. There is a match where Paul Bearer is hung above the ring in a cage. That's a common thing that they do. They just put someone in a little tiny shark tank and they loft them above and whoever wins the match gets to bring the person down and either beat them up or take them away safely.

Amanda:              Oh no.

Eric:                       It's a very silly thing. I've seen these in real life. It's almost always purposeless and there's always some kind of shenanigans where the person in the cage has brass knuckles they can throw down to the person that's on their team, that kind of stuff.

Amanda:              It sounds so video gamey. I love it.

Eric:                       Kane and Mankind team up at some point to take on Stone Cold Steve Austin and Undertaker, which just devolves into chaos. Undertaker ends up just attacking Paul Bearer and Austin and Kane finish the match on top of a Hell in a Cell, just kind of fighting, and it's just pure chaos.

                                So they book this match for King of the Ring. It is Mick Foley as Mankind against Undertaker. The match starts. Foley comes out and what does he do? He does not enter the cell. He instead climbs up the cell, which is not how ... The match cannot start until both people are in the ring. So he just climbs up there. Undertaker comes out. He's like, "Well, I guess this is what we're doing." He climbs up the cell. What happens is a giant battle on top of the cell, in which Undertaker throws Mick Foley off of the cell, onto the announcer table.

Julia:                     Yep. Describe for the audience how tall the Hell in a Cell ...

Eric:                       They estimate the fall at 16 to 22 feet, depending on the angle of throw.

Amanda:              Oh my God.

Eric:                       Onto a table. These tables are designed to break and cushion a fall a bit, but you're still falling 20 feet or so. When he falls through the stage, JR the announcer says, "Good God almighty. Good God almighty. That killed him. As God as I witness, he is broken in half."

Amanda:              Oh no. That really sounds Victorian.

Eric:                       They get Mick Foley on a stretcher, start stretchering him out. Undertaker comes back down. He's like, "Well that's that, because I threw him off the cell. He can't get up."

Julia:                     I did a murder.

Eric:                       He gets up ... Mick Foley ... he climbs back up the cell ...

Julia:                     Oh, Mick.

Eric:                       ... with a dislocated shoulder at this point.

Julia:                     Mick!

Amanda:              Oh God.

Eric:                       Undertaker follows him back up and now here's what happens. This is not part of the kayfabe. This is not supposed to happen. He choke slams Mick Foley on the top of the cell and the cell breaks.

Amanda:              No.

Eric:                       And Mick Foley goes falling through the cell and lands in the ring.

Julia:                     Oh my God.

Amanda:              No.

Eric:                       Undertaker legitimately thinks he has killed Mick Foley, 'cause he just kind of ... he gets knocked unconscious because this was not supposed to happen. And also, Undertaker was initially standing on the same piece of fencing and then right at the last second decided to move his foot onto the reinforced bars that make up the cell to get a bit more lift for the slam. If he did that, he would have come down with him.

Amanda:              Oh Lord.

Eric:                       Which would have been bad for everybody ... probably worse for everybody.

                                So then, more announcing shenanigans. They say, "Good God, good God. Will somebody stop the damn match? Enough's enough."

Amanda:              Oh no.

Eric:                       And Jerry "The King" Lawler added, "That's it. He's dead."

Julia:                     Cool, cool, cool. Let's just actually call people's death.

Eric:                       The match is not yet over, though. Undertaker has to climb back down. He gets, finally, into the cell. He choke slams Mankind onto a bunch of tacks, and then Tombstone's him and wins the match, defeating Mankind, ending their feud.

                                So that is the early few years, about the first decade or so, of the Undertaker. So I think what we should do is take a break, head to concessions, come back, and talk some more Undertaker.

Julia:                     Get a quick juice box like Mick Foley would want us to do.

Amanda:              Julia, I think a wrestling party is the absolute best excuse to break out your fresh new clothes.

Julia:                     Yeah.

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                                And, at that link, stitchfix.com/spirits, you will get 25% off when you keep all five items that the stylist sends you. That's stitchfix.com/spirits.

Julia:                     Thanks, Stitch Fix.

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Amanda:              Thanks, Lola.

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Eric:                       So we are back. We're talking Undertaker. We're going to go over the late 90s storyline of The Ministry of Darkness.

Julia:                     Here we go.

Amanda:              Oh boy.

Eric:                       So this is kind of Undertaker's second phase after his initial stuff, is 1998, so it's a few months after this match that we were just talking about, and it's at a Pay-Per-View called Judgment Day: In Your House. Because there was a series of Pay-Per-Views called In Your House, because you could watch them in your house, and it really kind of removes the scariness of Judgment Day.

Julia:                     The Pay-Per-View names were so good back then.

Amanda:              I was just gonna say, how have they not run out of extreme names? How have they not used all of the combinations of extreme words that have happened?

Eric:                       It's wild, some of the names of these things. Undertaker says he is going to unleash a plague of evil on the WWF. Once again, at this point there are no more supernatural characters. That kind of all fell away by the early 90s. I mean, there's been a handful here and there, but for the most part, wrestling is back to business kind of stuff.

Amanda:              Like individuals who are extremely strong having feuds.

Eric:                       Exactly. It's The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin are just strong guys that are badasses and have a purpose and a storyline. But Undertaker is like this mythical creature, and is like, "I will unleash evil upon the world." It's like, why are you doing that just specifically to wrestling? It seems like you should have loftier goals than taking control over a wrestling federation.

                                So this starts by him interfering with some Stone Cold and The Rock matches, hitting Stone Cold with a shovel and trying to bury and/or embalm Steve Austin alive.

Amanda:              Oh.

Julia:                     Sure, why not.

Eric:                       Just why not do that. And Kane stops him at one point.

Amanda:              Man, I just can't get over this idea of embalming as a threat. It's like, "I'm going to replace all your liquids with other liquids."

Eric:                       I mean, it's very bad. It would be very bad if it happened.

Amanda:              It would be bad, yeah, no doubt. But it's just extremely funny also.

Eric:                       So now we get into some of the more convoluted, weirder, silly wrestling plots. Stone Cold Steve Austin has this plan to get Undertaker locked away in an asylum.

Julia:                     Oh boy. Okay.

Amanda:              The criminalization of mental health in this country is awful, and asylums are horror movie tropes, so let's acknowledge that, move forward.

Eric:                       Yes. For some reason, they decide Kane needs to go to a asylum. He's the wilder one of Undertaker and his half brother, so I guess that's the plan. So because this is happening, Stone Cold Steve Austin puts a Kane mask on a knocked out Undertaker and they're like, "That's Kane. Take him away."

Julia:                     We don't know what he looks like underneath that mask. It could be anyone.

Amanda:              It's just like all Shakespeare plots, where it's like, "I don't know, he put a wig on so clearly that's a woman."

Eric:                       Yeah. Which they then do, and then Taker escapes the asylum.

Julia:                     Obviously, 'cause he's god damn magic.

Eric:                       Of course he does.

                                Then Undertaker starts recruiting people into The Ministry of Darkness. He starts with The Acolytes, JBL and Faarooq, and also gets a group of people named The Brood, which includes the future tag team of Christian and Edge and a guy named Gangrel, who I do not recall at all.

Amanda:              Oh boy.

Eric:                       These guys were vampires.

Julia:                     Obviously.

Amanda:              Okay, okay.

Eric:                       As I did say, there wasn't a lot of supernatural stuff. There was the occasional weird, "We're vampires," stuff, but kinda those not really vampire vampires.

Julia:                     Like the current wrestler Ember Moon. Her gimmick is she's a werewolf, but not really a werewolf.

Amanda:              She's just pretty and has interesting contact lenses.

Julia:                     Yes.

Eric:                       Yeah. Pretty spot on, exactly. Undertaker's goal with The Ministry of Darkness is to gain control of the WWE, and from there, who knows what.

Julia:                     Take over the world.

Eric:                       That's the beginning of the plan, and that's the end of the plan. During this time, there is the McMahon family, who you might know as the people that run the WWE. There is Vince McMahon, his wife Linda, and his son and daughter Shane and Stephanie. They are, at this point, called The Corporation, because they are quite literally the people who own the company. But they also love injecting themselves into the storylines of wrestling pretty often. Pretty often.

                                So Kane, who is still dealing with this, "We want to send you to the asylum," thing, decides to join up with The Corporation to avoid going to the asylum. So Kane then has some Inferno matches with Undertaker, as he is sided with The Corporation, where all of the ring sides are on fire and you gotta wrestle inside of that, which is scary but not that dangerous because you just don't get thrown out through the fire.

Julia:                     Ideally.

Eric:                       Undertaker then, in a very vicious move, sets a teddy bear on fire.

Julia:                     No.

Amanda:              No.

Eric:                       It is Stephanie McMahon's childhood teddy bear, which makes Vince McMahon so, so angry.

Amanda:              That makes me angry. Too far.

Eric:                       He reveals that he is taking orders from a greater power.

Julia:                     Oh no.

Eric:                       Then we get into one of the darker storylines or moments of WWE history in which Vince McMahon sends his enforcer, Big Boss Man ...

Julia:                     Obviously.

Eric:                       ... because these names are great ... to fight Taker and Undertaker beats him, and then The Brood come out and they lower a noose and Undertaker puts it on Big Boss Man and they hang him inside of a Hell in a Cell.

Julia:                     Oh boy, WWE.

Amanda:              Don't like that imagery one bit.

Eric:                       Which they got in a bit of trouble with the FCC for that one. I think it was a Pay-Per-View, but they were like, "I don't know. Maybe don't show that for kids." Now WWE is PG rated, but at this point, it was PG-13 TV stuff. So this was at that point, and it's not like that nearly as much anymore.

Julia:                     Thank God.

Eric:                       Undertaker tries to kidnap Stephanie McMahon because he believes that if he can marry Stephanie McMahon, he will gain control of the company.

Amanda:              Uh oh.

Julia:                     Here's the thing.

Amanda:              Don't like that.

Julia:                     So many wrestlers have tried to marry Stephanie McMahon at this point, I think. One actually did, like in real life.

Eric:                       Triple H actually does marry Stephanie McMahon, both in storyline and in real life.

Amanda:              Wow.

Eric:                       I think they got married in real life and then they had to weirdly fit it into the storyline. After a couple attempts, he does actually kidnap and holds the black wedding to marry Stephanie McMahon, in which Stone Cold Steve Austin shows up, interferes.

Julia:                     Jesus.

Eric:                       He's like, "I don't want you having control of the WWE."

Julia:                     That's fair.

Eric:                       And obviously this is the best way to do it. He interferes and stops the wedding. Undertaker then, in a very weird move, merges The Ministry of Darkness with The Corporation, forming The Corporate Ministry.

Amanda:              Oh no.

Eric:                       Undertaker threatens to sacrifice Stone Cold Steve Austin to the greater power. There's a lot of weird sacrificing things happening at this point. Multiple people have been hung on the Undertaker's logo, which is kind of a cross but slightly different. Wrestling in the late 90s was the wildest stuff in the world.

Julia:                     Now, do we think that the Undertaker was like, I don't know, sacrificing people to Cthulhu, or was it just weird Eldritch horror kind of thing, or was it an evil god? Who can say? 

Eric:                       Well, we do find out ... and I'll let you know, because that evil greater higher power is revealed to be Vince McMahon in a robe.

Julia:                     Of course it is. In a robe is classic.

Amanda:              It was run by aliens the whole time.

Eric:                       This higher power shows up a couple times, just in a robe, and then eventually takes off the hood and goes, "It was me, Austin. It was me the whole time." And it is revealed that this whole plot line is that it was a ploy from Vince to get revenge on Stone Cold Steve Austin because he didn't want Austin to have the championship.

Julia:                     Yep, that sounds right. That feels right.

Eric:                       Because Linda and Stephanie McMahon are mad about Vince being an asshole to them, because apparently Vince was in on all of this evil plot. They give control of the WWE to Stone Cold Steve Austin. Linda was CEO and she steps down and just makes Stone Cold Steve Austin the CEO of the company.

Amanda:              In reality, in the story, what?

Eric:                       In reality, she was CEO and steps down to run for Senate and loses.

Amanda:              Oh.

Julia:                     Real bad. She loses real, real bad.

Eric:                       She loses very poorly. And they also give him 50% of the shares of the company.

Amanda:              Which you pretty much can't do if you have a company.

Eric:                       Yeah. Well, Vince has the other 50% in the storyline. It's a publicly traded company.

Amanda:              No, no. But you never cut a company's ownership exactly in half. Someone always has a vested or voting majority.

Eric:                       To wrap up this storyline, Austin then loses control of the company ...

Julia:                     Obviously.

Eric:                       ... in a match with Vince and his son Shane, and then they gain 100% control of the company.

                                Undertaker does a lot of stuff after this. He returns after an injury as The American Badass, where he just rides a motorcycle, does not look like an undertaker at all, and has a theme song by Limp Bizkit.

Amanda:              Okay. Okay.

Eric:                       So the early 2000s, very, very different. He eventually returns to the Deadman character, but we'll finish this discussion of Undertaker with The Streak. Year over year, Wrestlemania is the big thing in wrestling and it's referred to as The Showcase of the Immortals.

Julia:                     God. God, I love wrestling.

Eric:                       Why? Who knows. So after a few years, they start to realize that Undertaker has never lost at Wrestlemania, and it's first called out in 2005 and it is referred to as The Streak. So lots of people have tried to end The Streak. We're gonna skip a bunch of The Streak matches because there's a lot of them. Undertaker is just beating people year after year. And Undertaker at this point also is taking a much more backseat kind of role. He's not as involved in these things. He's always very scary when he comes up. He's winning championships. He never holds them for very long. He's always trying to lift up other talent.

Amanda:              I respect that.

Eric:                       He is very much old school style guy where it's like, you as a big name losing to a young up and start guy is a way to boost young talent, and he was a big supporter of that. Not young talent, however, is Shawn Michaels, who we mentioned earlier in the match where Kane first shows up.

                                At Wrestlemania XXV, Shawn Michaels says, "I'm gonna beat The Streak. I need to end my career soon. I'm entering my twilight years." He, at this point, kind of has this born again Christian ... not gimmick, but he is a born again Christian and he is like, "I have the power of light. You are pure evil. I will be able to defeat you." It's not explicit, but the subtext is definitely there. Shawn Michaels struggled with drugs a lot and through Christianity found a way out of that hole, which is great for him. And so it's kind of like played into this storyline.

                                His entrance to this is amazing. It starts with ... He has this theme song that starts with, "I'm a sexy boy."

Amanda:              Okay.

Julia:                     It's, "You think I'm cute. I know, I'm sexy."

Eric:                       It's weird. It's weird. He's referred to as a boy toy in his own theme song.

Julia:                     He's the Heartbreak Kid.

Eric:                       Yeah. But before this match, he is wearing kind of the exact same outfit as the Undertaker, but in all white. It is very good. He is lowered onto the entrance ramp from this big thing, and there's angelic version of the Undertaker's theme playing. And then when he finally gets to the ramp, it hits in with his regular music. And I kinda wish it didn't, but it's still very good. He's trying to cement his legacy and he ends up losing this match. But the next year, he is consumed with finally beating Undertaker, and Undertaker's saying, "No, you've already lost. You had your chance. Whatever."

                                So eventually, after some attacks and random back and forth, Shawn Michaels convinces Undertaker to have this match, but Undertaker makes it a stipulation. It is The Streak versus his career. So if Undertaker loses, obviously The Streak ends. If Shawn Michaels loses, his career is over.

Amanda:              Okay, okay.

Eric:                       So Shawn Michaels knows this is last chance and it is amazing match. There's not a ton to get into it. It is just a solid, solid match worth checking out. And at the end, Shawn Michaels loses and he has to end his career and he never has another match again ever.

Amanda:              Wow.

Eric:                       Even if you look it up, he never ...

Julia:                     That's not true.

Eric:                       It might say that he had a match in Saudi Arabia recently, but that didn't happen, 'cause his career ended at Wrestlemania XXVI.

                                The next two Streak matches are with Triple H, Shawn Michaels' best friend. The first one is a no holds barred match, and this is where my research was the most fun, because the matches are important obviously, but before every match at a Pay-Per-View, they have this vignette where they go over to the storyline leading up to these matches.

Julia:                     That's very convenient.

Eric:                       And this one is particularly good, because they had some country guy write a song about The Streak.

Julia:                     Oh my God.

Amanda:              I want it.

Eric:                       It's just like, "18 men have fallen ..." Ridiculous, ridiculous stuff.

Amanda:              I love country music and I want to hear that without irony.

Eric:                       No, it's a legitimately good song. And also, they always show shots in sepia tone.

Amanda:              Oh, 100%. Some iMovie 7 stuff.

Eric:                       Some of the best stuff in wrestling is not the matches but these promos they put together right before a Wrestlemania match, because they tell this long story in three minutes and there's always a ridiculous song happening during them. This is one of the few examples where I think they had a custom song written for the thing.

                                Triple H is Shawn Michaels' best friend, so he's like, "I'm gonna avenge my friend. I'm gonna end your thing." He also does marry Stephanie McMahon and is legitimately at this point ... I don't know at this point if he was, but the COO of the WWE.

Amanda:              Oh.

Eric:                       So he is both a active wrestler and one of the highest people in the company. The first match he ends up losing in a no holds barred match, and the second match is another Hell in a Cell match at Wrestlemania XXVIII. It is his third time trying to break the streak. There was one other time earlier on in the decade. And he decides to get Shawn Michaels out of retirement to referee the match. And I literally just watched this match before this recording, and it is brutal. There is while stuff happening all the way through. There are sledgehammers involved. Shawn Michaels at one point takes the sledgehammer out of Triple H's hands as he is about to swing it onto Undertaker's head, which is like, "Okay, Triple H. There is a level in which we are going too far in the wrestling match." Which is like, punching someone in the gut with a sledgehammer? Acceptable. Swinging it overhead onto another man's head ...

Amanda:              We have standards here.

Eric:                       ... is too much. Like,  "It's wrestling. We gotta chill."

                                Undertaker attacks Shawn Michaels and Triple H doesn't attack his best friend, but is like, "You have to call this match. Tell him that he lost." At the end, Triple H is clearly defeated, does his signature "Suck it" move, and then Undertaker Tombstones him and loses. The acting, whatever you want to call it, the emotion behind this match is unbelievable. At the end of the match when the cage lifts, the three of them walk out arm in arm up the ramp together and hug.

Julia:                     Damn.

Eric:                       And it is a truly emotional moment, because it is kind of this final moment between these three legends. But The Streak has not ended. Enter Brock Lesnar, Wrestlemania XXX.

Julia:                     Motherfucking Brock Lesnar.

Eric:                       Brock Lesnar was a UFC champion, legitimate fighting guy, who enters the WWE and they have this match with Undertaker where it's who is gonna win on this one. No one expected Brock Lesnar to defeat the Undertaker. But after three of his signature F5 moves and a submission, he pins Undertaker at Wrestlemania, and the crowd is truly, truly blown away. It is one of the rarest instances of just no one knowing what to do with themselves. Typically, as soon as someone wins a match, the winner's music plays. They did not play Brock Lesnar's music for like, a solid two or three minutes. And it is just silence. People are shocked.

                                Brock Lesnar is a weird pick to end The Streak, a lot of people think. They were trying to build him up in this rising star, but Brock Lesnar kind of is a dick and doesn't really care about the WWE at all. But yeah, so that is the end of The Streak and I think the end of where we'll talk about Undertaker. It's a wild, wild ride and there is 25 years of wrestling history there that we condensed into as little time as possible.

Julia:                     Yeah. I'm so ... I don't know. The Undertaker's legacy and his storyline that's been told over the years is so much the epitome of what wrestling is to me, in the sense that it is these over the top, large, legendary stories that are just told over the course of years and decades.

Amanda:              No, I definitely feel that. And Eric, what does wrestling mean to you? What do you love about it? Why are you so delighted by these stories?

Eric:                       I think a big thing is that there is this unexpected novelty of it. Because it is a weekly show ... and I don't watch it every single week ... but because it's this long storyline, there are things that happen over these extremely long amounts of time, like in Wrestlemania coming up this Sunday, there is a wrestler named Kofi Kingston who has been in the WWE for 11 years, and by pure happenstance and crowd support is now in the WWE championship match. And they have made his life a living hell over the past few weeks to get into this match, and the way some of these things happen is so spontaneous and there is a plan, but the plan shifts very, very often and very, very fluidly. People will win championships that you just don't expect.

                                So there's this thing about ... Where you have Game of Thrones has seven or eight seasons, I can't remember, and it's this story that's told over eight years, but it's scripted and you're cutting between these things. You watch these people week after week, and if you are one of the people ... like I didn't watch all of the Undertaker's story over 25 years ... but if you did, you saw this amazing arc of story happen. And it's hard, because wrestling is bad a lot of the time, undeniably. But there is this amazing thing about seeing these amazing moments that take place over these long periods that you don't really get from any other form of entertainment.

                                Also, I was at a live show when Undertaker showed up and the lights went black and he showed up in the ring ...

Amanda:              You freaked out.

Eric:                       ... and it was the purest moment of joy I think I've ever experienced in my life. I screamed until my lungs hurt, because it's this iconic thing that I was just like, "Holy shit. I can't believe this is happening."

Amanda:              Yeah, it actually reminds me a little bit of my mom talking about soap operas. She had mono in high school and stayed home for a couple of months just watching soaps with her grandmother, and some of the shows are still on the air that she watched in the 70s and the characters that she empathized with then are now parents and grandparents. I realize that they're different kind of realms and moods of storytelling, but I appreciate that for her, it's something where it accompanies her through life, and different things appeal to her at different moments but it's something where it still has relevance and it's still built on something that she experienced so long ago. And it sounds like that's something that lifelong wrestling fans experience now.

Julia:                     Yeah.

Eric:                       Yeah, for sure.

                                So if this has interested you at all in wrestling, there is a WWE Network that you can subscribe to.

Julia:                     Don't plug the WWE Network on my podcast.

Eric:                       No, I'm gonna plug it for one reason.

Amanda:              This is not sponsored.

Eric:                       I don't suggest you get this involved in wrestling, but if you sign up, you can get a month free and you can watch Wrestlemania, which is approximately 17,000 hours long. I think it starts at 4:00 PM and ends at 11:00 PM this Sunday. So it is a very long show. But if you want to check it out, you can get this show for free. It is some of the wildest stuff you will see, and it is a blast. We have a bunch of people come over, people that watch only Wrestlemania, people that don't really watch wrestling at all, people that are big fans, and it is always ... We make pun foods, so I always make "undertaters," which are ...

Amanda:              Nice.

Julia:                     He's so cute.

Eric:                       ... nachos but with tater tots at the bottom layer. Very, very delicious.

Amanda:              Yum.

Eric:                       But yeah. It's a fun thing to check out. It's definitely not for everybody, for sure, but it is a lot of fun if you're willing to give it a shot.

Amanda:              Yeah, it's hard to get into stuff that has such a long history, but hopefully this whetted your appetite a little bit. And if you're interested after hearing the episode, hit us up @spiritspodcast on Twitter and Julia and Eric will give you some recommendations on where to start.

Julia:                     Yeah. And as the Undertaker would probably remind you in his deep, gravelly voice, stay creepy.

Amanda:              Stay cool.