A Look Back: The American Bad Ass
The Undertaker is undoubtedly one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. This much is true. From his debut at Survivor Series in 1990, all the way to his time now as a legend in professional wrestling, the Undertaker and his "Deadman" gimmick have been celebrated.
However, most people tend to vilify to the gimmick in 2000 that The Phenom decided to unveil. During the first Judgment pay-per-view, held May 21, 2000, the "American Badass' version of Undertaker made it's appearance during the main event against Triple H and the Rock.
Undertaker attacked Triple H, inadvertently costing the Rock the belt and the grueling start to the Undertaker's run as the American Badass began. While this is how many people see the gimmick, the bike riding version of The Undertaker was nowhere near as bad as history remembers it.
Now, I know the entire internet is screaming for my head right now, but there are a few things the gimmick got right that no one gives it credit for and booking affected how people would view Undertaker during this period far more than the gimmick itself.
For starters, one of the simple, yet effective, things the gimmick did right was create legitimate badass persona around Undertaker, without having 'mysterious powers' or an entire Ministry of Darkness stable. In an industry where more fans ask for 'realism' in their wrestling, it makes sense to try and reinvent a character, if nothing else to keep it fresh. While myself and everyone love the deadman gimmick (is he dead or just controls the dead? Still haven't figured that one out) having a different look at Undertaker was nice.
This also arguably created a much better heel character to use compared to the 'Ministry of Darkness' version of Undertaker we witnessed fight Stone Cold at Summerslam. Sure, then the Undertaker was a powerful monster who worshiped....something. Intimidating? Of course. Believable? Not so much.
When Undertaker turned heel, it gave the WWE a true arrogant giant to essentially bully people in the ring. I know all the athletes are supposed to be tough competitors, but the way Undertaker would wrestle his matches changed. It was a much more aggressive and abusive pace that was set during matches.
One of the best uses of psychology during his matches was breaking his own pins during matches. There was a real sense of arrogance and the feeling that Undertaker was going to break whoever he was up against. Granted, it was used too much, actually almost every match, but it could create some heat and to be honest, how many things haven't been overused in this business?
One of the best things that came from the Undertakers badass persona were some of the ways it out guys over. Two matches that come to mind immediately are the matches he had with Rob Van Dam and Jeff Hardy.
During Undertakers reign as the hardcore champion, he and RVD had a match that helped to put RVD over. RVD has always worked well with bigger opponents and it showed against Undertaker. Not only could RVD impress with a high flying style, but he looked much tougher and extreme after the match with Undertaker.
Most people will recall the latter mentioned match with Jeff Hardy. With Undertaker destroying opponents and Hardy being the never give up competitor, it made for a great storyline. The Underdog everyone routed for, against the titan who was out to essentially end everyone’s career. At the end of the match Hardy continued to keep getting up no matter how many beatings he received from ‘Big Evil’.
In the end, Hardy would earn Undertaker’s respect and it made Hardy look like he could take anything after the beatings. Would Hardy have become a huge start without the rivalry, sure, but it no doubt helped him along the way.
Gimmicks are about how much someone can do with it and how far it can go. The biker gimmick had a lot of potential to it and here were storylines and moments that really stick out. It allowed the Undertaker to do some things in different ways that were intriguing.
Booking hurt the gimmick more than the idea itself. For one thing, debuting the gimmick at a PPV and interfering in a match as a supposed face, only to have the finish to the match end in terrible fashion. The Rock and Triple H were having one hell of an iron man match and for it to end in dq did not give the Undertaker’s new gimmick a good start.
People were focused on the finish and if you are going to debut a new gimmick for the Undertaker, who went from a mysterious figure to a biker, you might want to add to any other negative reaction. Honestly, maybe the writing staff at the time wanted to distract from the change, but anyone is going to realize that the evil wrestler turning into a biker wrestler makes very little sense.
At times, it also seemed like the writers, or Undertaker himself, were trying too hard to make him seem like a badass. Calling the ring "His Yard" and attacking people was fine, but it seemed like it happened far too much. Why couldn’t the aggressive ring style and attitude not tell the story? Did we really need to see poor Maven getmurdered by the Undertaker night in and night out. Granted, I found some of those moments entertaining (sorry Maven) but seeing Undertaker destroy a lower tier wrestler did not do much for me.
I am not saying the gimmick was the greatest one anyone has ever thought of or the best Undertaker gimmick, but it wasn’t the worst. Of course changing the character makes no sense, but if anyone fit the mold of a tough biker it was Undertaker. Ot was a more simplistic gimmick. It fit the over the top model of gimmick we love in wrestling, but was a just real enough to be just different enough.
Were there bad moments? Of course there were. It’s pro wrestling. There are always cringe worthy moments at times. Again, the gimmick was far from great. In fact, the gimmick can be considered average at best to most, but the gimmick is not the abomination many consider it to be.