Friday, March 28, 2014

Strange Bedfellows - The Ultimate Warrior & The Undertaker

What makes the idea of "strange bedfellows" so fantastic is that they sometimes make dreams come true and make fans go sploosh. If ever was there a tag team to draw massive dollar signs, it would be these two.

I don't really to need explain who these two WWF legends are, but for those not initiated: The Ultimate Warrior was an uncontrollable powerhouse who constantly ran to ring and gas himself out pre-match, booked to look strong in short bursts, and always delivered batshit insane promos about rocket fuel and killing airplane pilots. The Undertaker, on the other hand, is the best example of how sports entertainment can make anything work; he was a somnambulist who was powered by an urn carried by his manager, Paul Bearer naturally, no sell often with the Michael Myers spot and destroy his opponents with chokes and lariats before killing them off with the Tombstone Piledriver.

The two crossed paths first in 1991, when Taker locked Warrior in a casket on his talk show segment, The Funeral Parlor. After much struggle, the WWF crew were able to break him out but the damage was done; Warrior passed out from his panic attack and showed that he was no longer invincible. To set up their main clash, Warrior went under the guidance of Jake "The Snake" Roberts, in order to combat his fears through a series of tests. Unfortunately, that's where the feud stops due to two huge reasons: Roberts turned heel when Warrior was bitten by a hidden cobra at the final test, causing Taker to end up as Roberts' crony and out of the picture. But this new Warrior-Roberts feud too was scuttled when Warrior allegedly blackmailed Vince McMahon for a payout at that year's SummerSlam and being suspended soon after.

Despite these immoral events, the two would make up fast next year for a tag team match. After all, they were both faces now and brought major contributions to Wrestlemania VIII: Taker buried Roberts out of his job and Warrior returned during the botched main event with an awful haircut and a slimmer build, causing many to still theorize that the original Warrior died and was replaced in the absence.

Post-Wrestlemania, Warrior was facing up against Papa Shango, the Baron Samedi-inspired voodoo priest who was the main botcher of said main event, thanks to his ultra late run-in. Shango would place numerous curses on Warrior in the coming weeks, much to the horror and acclaim of wrestling fans, mostly notably the time when Warrior puked on air (Darren Drozdov was too busy in the NFL to sub-in). Taker, unfortunately, was a bit lost in the shuffle due to his sudden fan popularity and quick face turn. Instead of returning to the top of the bill, he was stuck against The Berserker, John Nord as a viking/tribute to the late Bruiser Brody. He would be the first in a long line of dark and/or stale opponents for Taker before finally breaking out of the rut with his blood feud against Mankind in 1996.

I should be talking about this Berserker/Shango pairing (with Mr. Fuji as manager) as well, since they are bizarre (™ Davey Boy Smith), but there's nothing much I can muster up to say about them. They are both too goofy and I simply didn't care for either of them back during my childhood.

But when it comes to Warrior and Taker, it makes perfect sense. Both shared an enigmatic place of origin, Parts Unknown and Death Valley respectively. They were both booked to be complete monsters, chucking out jabronis left and right and always coming up on top in the end. The high and low energy of their charisma levels made it easy to generate buzz from the crowd and to make the desperate tag white hot. And finally, they shared the same mammoth accomplishment: They both beat Hulk Hogan for the WWF title. Warrior ended Hulk's second title reign in a "passing of the torch" match at Wrestlemania VI, only for Warrior to be booked terribly and lead to the first warning sign of WWF's decline, while Taker nailed Hogan with a Tombstone on a chair at 1991 Survivor Series, only for Hogan to no sell the career-ending injury by whining for a rematch at the next PPV literally days later (Tuesday in Texas) and pinning him. To be fair, Taker still looked strong, as it took tons of cheating tactics in order for Hogan to win the title back. Taker was supposed to remain a heel and face off against Hogan at the following SummerSlam but the massive rewrites and the growing public disdain of Hogan and his lame "retirement" angle would lead to matters such as this match.

Man, that's a lot of baggage to claim, so let's just get started already!

After a staredown between the two, to sucker in the audience of possible dissension, Warrior & Taker then deliver two awful big boots and clotheslines to the outside. So much for being a great tag team.

The fan favorites stay strong until Warrior gets a short clothesline by an aproned Shango. For the next couple of minutes, Warrior's idea of being Ricky Morton is to just lower your head, immediately get up from every move, and keep slightly running in place. Despite this storytelling setback, the crowd is very energetic for this match; not much of a wonder considering this was filmed in Toronto.

Taker gets the hot tag and runs wild. Then, we get something really cool: The heels try for a double team maneuver, only for Taker to plant a standing choke on both of them. Instead of a double chokeslam, Warrior revs himself in the corner, Taker 180s them, and Warrior clotheslines them to the canvas.

Then, the weirdness factor ratchets completely up: Warrior is now somehow legal and wins with his running body splash. Before celebrating in the corner, he puts on a small purple tassel necklace (?). Meanwhile, Taker stands on the apron, staying in character but confused as all hell before Warrior finally walks over and they share a mighty handshake.

Despite the easy outcome and the blatantly bad work rate of Warrior and Shango, I'm always in a state of glee whenever I watch this match. Warrior & Taker could have been a mighty team in a year where the tag division was rapidly falling apart; a possible feud with the Legion of Doom would have been amazing in how much no selling would take place, with time limit draws every night. Sadly, this was the only taped match for this duo. They had a dark match a week later, against Shango and Kamala at a Superstars taping and an one week house show run in 6-man matches with The Big Boss Man. Warrior was fired in November for a drug violation, kicking him off another major payoff. But that's a tag team for another day.

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