Following a dramatic debut on this day at the 1990 Survivor Series event, Mark Callaway began an unprecedented and unparalleled career as the Undertaker, an undead wrestler with a penchant for the macabre, supernatural, and motorcycles. One of the most distinguished and celebrated wrestlers of all time, the Undertaker became a well-respected and influential figure in the industry whose career pitted him against legends and giants alike, spanned generations, and resulted in the most acclaimed winning streak ever seen.
The Date: 27 November 1991
The Venue: Joe Louis Arena; Detroit, Michigan
The Commentary: Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan
The Referee: Earl Hebner
The Stakes: WWF Championship match
The Undertaker made his debut at the 1990 Survivor Series as a heel; aligned with Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Team and eventually partnered up with the repulsive Paul Bearer, the Undertaker was portrayed as a zombie-like force of nature who was impervious the pain, implacable by nature, and apparently at the whim of a mysterious urn wielded by his manager. Hulk Hogan, meanwhile, was several months into his third run as the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) Champion, having defeated Sergeant Slaughter earlier in the year at WrestleManiaVII. However, thanks to mostly being booked into squash matches, the Undertaker went unpinned (on television, at least) for a year and this impressive statistic was enough to plug him in as Hogan’s next opponent in what was billed as Hogan’s “Gravest Challenge” to date.
Rather than preceding the match with one of their trademark promo packages, this particular match is preceded by a couple of pre-taped promos from each of the competitors; Hogan, basically, has taken offense to the Undertaker and Paul Bearer’s threat to bury the hopes and dreams of all the Hulkamaniacs but ‘Taker stoically threatens that Hulkamania has had its day and is long overdue for a burial.
During his characteristically enthusiastic entrance, Hogan made a point to upturn and demolish the casket that was placed at ringside but the Undertaker maintained his stoic demeanour and remained unimpressed with Hogan’s showboating and simply set out to do what he promised: destroy Hulkamania. Unfortunately, given that it was 1991 and early ‘Taker (as well as Hogan’s limitations), this meant a lot of slow, plodding offense and an abundance of headlocks, face and beck chokes, and slow, measured strikes from the Undertaker.
Hogan, of course, was all about the superhuman energy and resolve; even though he spends the majority of the match on the back foot and seemingly unable to actually hurt the Undertaker, he continually came back time and time again even after having his head slammed off the steel ring steps and being choked by an electrical cord. Of course, Hogan had the crowd firmly in his corner right from the beginning of the match and they exploded into cheers whenever Hogan mounted some offense and showered the arena with boos every time Bearer got involved behind Hebner’s back.
A far cry from the later brawling and high-impact offense of his later years, the Undertaker’s plan of attack mainly consisted of punches, clotheslines, and full-face chokes; his gameplay, apparently, was to wear down Hogan and drain him of his much-vaulted energy and, every time he pressed his advantage with a Claw Hold or similar move, ‘Taker would turn to Bearer to draw power from the mysterious urn, his eyes rolling into the back of his head, and my interest and excitement draining right along with Hogan’s vigour.
Of course, as relentless and dominating as the Undertaker was, Hogan is still Hogan; jacked up (and blown up) to the nines and full of passion, Hogan completely no-sold the Undertaker’s Tombstone Piledriver to mount his trademark comeback. This onslaught was enough to stagger the Undertaker and drive him to his knees but, right as Hogan looked to be setting up for the finish, Ric Flair sauntered down to ringside to distract Hogan. Flair then slid a steel chair into the ring, which the Undertaker summarily Tombstoned Hogan onto, and the match ended with the Deadman being crowned the new WWF Champion to the chagrin of Monsoon, the delight of Heenan, and a brief cheer from the crowd.
It’s not an especially long of exciting match, to be honest; it’s basically every Hulk Hogan match you’ve ever seen as Hogan takes a beating, pulls out sly heel moves and tactics, and spends the majority of the match either on his back or taking a beating because he’s too gassed to work a long, involved match and is simply building up for his characteristic comeback. The story was far more interesting than the actual in-ring content as ‘Taker was more about slow, boring offense and shrugging off attacks and Hogan was only ever really good for pumping up the crowd and hitting his signature moves; the entire match was about a clash of ideals and wills and the potential death of Hulkamania but, whereas Hogan was able to overcome all his previous challenges, he failed to overcome his “Gravest Challenge”. However, he arguably only lost the match due to Flair’s interference and looked set to for a win before Flair distracted him, tainting the Undertaker’s iconic first championship win in true Hogan fashion, which is a shame as the Undertaker looked so dominant throughout the match and this should have been a clean win. Still, at least it’s a short match; the WWF was a very different time back then and, while I respect Hogan and his impact on the industry, I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of his in-ring work and he didn’t seem to have a lot of chemistry with ‘Taker, who was worked a very premeditated and limited style thanks to his commitment to the zombie aspects of his character.
Hulk Hogan and the Undertaker faced off in a rematch less than a week later at This Tuesday in Texas, which Hogan, of course, won and, by WrestleMania VIII, both men were embroiled in entirely separate feuds and the Undertaker would not win the WWF Championship again until WrestleMania 13 some six years later. Despite both being in the company at the same time for many years following this match, the two never crossed paths again and would not face off in a championship match until Judgment Day in 2002, when the Undertaker defeated Hogan (then billed as Hollywood Hulk Hogan) for the Undisputed World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Championship.
What did you think to the contest between Hulk Hogan and the Undertaker at the 1991 Survivor Series? How would you rate it compared to their other bouts and which of their feuds, matches, and moments is your favourite? Were you a fan of the Undertaker’s when he debuted and were you hyped for his showdown with the Immortal Hulk Hogan? Which of the two were you rooting for, given Hogan’s incredible popularity and the Undertaker’s dominant first year? How are you celebrating the Undertaker’s debut this year, what are some of your favourite matches and moments from his long and distinguished career, and what dream match would you have liked to see him involved in? Whatever your thoughts, drop a comment below and let me know what you think about the Undertaker.