LOOKBACK: 5 wrestlers' careers The Undertaker helped boost
MANILA, Philippines – The Undertaker has been known throughout wrestling history as a fearsome, soulless character who punishes anyone who stood in his way without any hint of remorse. (READ: After 3 decades, The Undertaker retires from WWE)
For 30 years, the "Deadman" wreaked havoc in the WWE and racked up numerous world championships while building up his legendary 21-0 winning streak at WrestleMania, the promotion’s biggest annual show.
However, behind the smoke and mirrors of the professional wrestling art form, he has also been known to "put over" other wrestlers, meaning he would use his fame and reputation to boost the careers of less established performers.
As The Last Ride documentary series frequently featured the Undertaker’s desire to help guide the fresh legs of the wrestling industry, it is only right to highlight some of these wrestlers who have since gone on to carve out their own identities in time.
"That’s gotta be Kane! That’s gotta be Kane!"
When WWE chairman and former broadcast commentator Vince McMahon uttered those now-famous words at the Badd Blood: In Your House event in 1997, fans knew right away that there was a new monster set to take over at the WWE.
During the first-ever Hell in a Cell match between the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, the masked Kane tore the cell door off its hinges and proceeded to attack his in-story older brother under the command of his storyline father, Paul Bearer.
The two carried their feud all the way to WrestleMania 14, where the Undertaker needed do repeat his Tombstone Piledriver finishing maneuver 3 times just to defeat Kane.
While the two behemoths joined forces and formed the Brothers of Destruction tag team, it was their rivalry that got more traction as the years went on, leading to more memorable bouts like the first-ever Inferno Match in 1998.
Masked or unmasked, Kane – now the real-life mayor of Knox County, Tennessee – proved to be just as frightening and as adaptable a character as the Undertaker and like him, stood the test of time.
Once again, the Hell in a Cell and the Undertaker helped another wrestler gain the traction his career needed, at the cost of unimaginable physical pain that even the choreography of pro wrestling cannot protect.
In 1998, Mick Foley under his deranged Mankind persona battled the Undertaker at the King of the Ring event, setting up what would become one of the most widely-known matches in all of wrestling history.
Although Foley has already made a name for himself in World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) as Cactus Jack, he had not yet reached the level of fame only WWE could offer.
That all changed on June 28, 1998, when the Undertaker threw Mankind off the cell and plummeted 16 feet through an announcer’s table.
This prompted Hall of Fame play-by-play man Jim Ross to shout out his most famous line ever: "Good God Almighty! Good God Almighty! He killed him! As God as my witness, he is broken in half!"
In line with his deranged character, Foley refused to receive medical help and once again climbed the top of the cell, only for the Undertaker to chokeslam him through the cell roof – an unplanned move – and knock him out cold.
As icing on the bloody cake, the Undertaker chokeslammed Foley on top of hundreds of thumbtacks to finally end an all-time unforgettably nauseating match.
Through that loss, Foley revived his character as a reckless, hardcore wrestler on the way to 3 WWE Championship reigns and a much-deserved Hall of Fame inclusion in 2013.
Thanks to the Undertaker and a slew of other legends, Randy Orton morphed his persona from being a generic athlete to a sadistic superstar.
Back in 2004, the second-generation wrestler was in the middle of running his "Legend Killer" gimmick, a time where WWE Hall of Famers would show up to events only for Orton to humiliate or brutalize them one by one.
His mean streak peaked one year later at WrestleMania 21, when Orton boldly challenged the Undertaker and his then-unbroken WrestleMania winning streak.
Despite the Deadman winning and ultimately preserving his streak, he made the young upstart look good in defeat and even gave fans a true scare when Orton countered his chokeslam into his RKO finisher.
The grizzled veteran and the cocky youngster continued their feud throughout 2005 before Orton set his sights on starting more title reigns.
To this day, Orton is still going strong with 13 world championship reigns capping off a surefire Hall of Fame resume.
For most of his initial run with the WWE, Jeff Hardy was known as a member of the death-defying Hardy Boyz tag team along with real-life brother Matt.
His career as a one-on-one competitor did not gain any traction until 2002, when he challenged the Undertaker for his WWE Championship in a ladder match, a stipulation popularized by the Hardy Boyz during their tag team title runs.
After a high-energy bout which the physically superior Undertaker ultimately won, a downed Hardy got a microphone and screamed: "Hey! You haven’t [broken] me, Taker! You haven’t [broken] me!"
Undertaker, who was then a villain under his "American Badass" biker persona, returned to the ring, positioned for one final punch, hesitated and instead raised Hardy’s hand – a huge sign of respect for the unyielding warrior.
From there, Hardy jumped ship to the Total Nonstop Action (TNA) promotion, where he cemented his run as a singles competitor from 2004 to 2006.
Upon returning to WWE, he alternated between tag team and singles competition before capturing his first WWE Championship on December 14, 2008, by defeating Triple H and Edge in a Triple Threat Match at the Armageddon event.
As usual, Ross was there to deliver yet another line that perfectly captured the emotional moment: “My God, I don’t believe it! From daredevil to champion! From enigma to icon!”
It may be difficult to picture nowadays, but there was a time when John Cena was not the movie-making wrestling legend he is today.
Back in 2002, Cena was nothing more than an arrogant up-and-coming wrestler who also rapped before matches under his "Doctor of Thuganomics" persona.
Although he got his first boost from his very first WWE match against Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle, it was the Undertaker who helped audiences realize that Cena was here to stay and be the next man up top.
In 2003, shortly after his foiled attempt to take the WWE Championship off Brock Lesnar, Cena got the attention of the Undertaker, who set his mind on making Cena learn respect "the hard way."
While the Undertaker took the young Cena down at the Vengeance event on July 23, 2003, it set the stage for bigger things to come for the fast-rising star.
Less than two years later, Cena won the WWE Championship by defeating John Bradshaw Layfield at WrestleMania 21, his first of a record-setting 16 world title reigns.
The Undertaker and Cena clashed for the final time at WrestleMania 34 in 2018. This time, it was the Deadman who got the small career boost he needed by defeating Cena in just 2 minutes and 45 seconds, proving he could still compete at the age of 53.
Although not every wrestler the Undertaker faced made it as big-time superstars, he never stopped having matches with the young guns and helping more youngsters backstage with his decades-long experience in the business.
As proven in The Last Ride documentary, he wanted nothing more than to help wrestling thrive in any way he can, even at the cost of his physical and mental well-being leading up to his long-overdue retirement.
Although many more stars will shine on and carry the torch, there will never be nor should there be another character as mythical and enduring as the Deadman.
In the midst of many other wrestling pillars like Hulk Hogan, Bruno Sammartino, El Santo and Giant Baba, the Undertaker makes a very strong case to be the greatest professional wrestler of all time. – Rappler.com