There is no denying The Undertaker is a WWE icon. Even non-wrestling fans have heard of him. In all honesty, the concept was risky. Yet, The Undertaker committed to establishing this persona. What may get overlooked is how important it was to validate it. The legacy of The Undertaker was founded and supported by 2 vital players, Kane and Paul Bearer. Without them, it’s unlikely we’d be talking about The Undertaker today.
The Undertaker debuted at Survivor Series in 1990. Tall, dark and brooding, it didn’t take much to feel intimidated. He was announced as “Kane the Undertaker” at first. In time, his name was shortened to “The Undertaker”. Resembling a modern take on the Grim Reaper, WWE (then WWF) decided to go with it. In 1991, Undertaker was paired with Paul Bearer. Bearer, an actual funeral director, would carry an urn, the source of Undertaker’s power. With it, Bearer could keep Undertaker under control. So of course, it was stolen from time to time. Bearer also held a “deep secret”. The only clue Bearer would give is that it had something to do with Undertaker’s past.
For the majority of the 1990s, The Undertaker became a formidable presence. Yet, WWE can overplay even the best of gimmicks. In 1996, Bearer did what is common in the WWE Universe and turned on Undertaker. To add insult to injury, he sided with his bitter rival at the time, Mankind/Mick Foley. In 1997, Paul Bearer began to drop hints regarding his secret. As we all know, there is always someone bigger and stronger than you in this world. Bearer proved that The Undertaker is no different. During the first Hell in a Cell Match for Badd Blood of that October, Bearer escorted to the ring a huge, masked man. This man would become unanimously known as Kane. When Kane tore off the door to the “impenetrable cell” holding Undertaker, it was clear there was a serious new challenger in town.
Over time, Paul Bearer would reveal that Kane, his son, is Undertaker’s younger half-brother. The story goes that The Undertaker was raised in a mortuary owned by his parents. In Undertaker’s youth, he set the funeral home on fire, killing them. What Undertaker didn’t know was that Bearer had an affair with his mother and the result, Kane, was also “scarred” by the blaze. This is why Kane always wore his mask. More importantly, Kane was consumed by unrivalled hatred for his brother which was fostered over the years by Bearer. The WWE Universe thrives on conflict and this one is so “personal”, there were naturally times they were dramatically brought together or devastatingly driven apart.
In 2001, the Brothers of Destruction officially formalized. They battled for the Tag Team Championship against the likes of Triple H and Steve Austin, Christian and Edge and The Dudley Boyz among others. The terrifying duo secured a believable reign of terror. Around this time, Undertaker also took it upon himself to update his image and the “American Bad Ass” was born. As the years passed, the audience veered away from the Attitude Era mentality. Undertaker felt the need to adapt. He would reimagine the original “Dead Man” in the years to follow.
As much as The Undertaker is revered, the efforts of both Kane and the late Paul Bearer must also be praised for establishing and advancing this story. Without them, it’s hard to say Undertaker would have become so iconic. The gimmick is far-fetched. It would have taken more than some basic lightning effects and pyrotechnics to sell it. The Undertaker deserves his accolades because he devoted himself to the character. Yet, Kane and Bearer had to go all-in as well. Without their earnest participation, this gimmick could have been rendered laughable. Always keep this in mind. When you honor The Undertaker, you have to honor Kane and Paul Bearer too.