Last week, the wrestling industry lost Bill Moody, known best for his portrayal of the spooky mortician manager Paul Bearer. In a scummy business, Moody was considered like the Tom Hanks. Just about everyone referred to him as the nicest guy. The other night on Monday Night Raw, they did a night-long tribute that showed a bunch of his career highlights. His first appearance, his big returns, the first appearance of Kane and so on. One clip that appeared towards the end was a completely bizarre one involving Mr. Fuji and Nicholas Tuturro. Thinking back to that clip, it made me realize how that was the final stage of a feud that when viewed together in one collective chunk is one of the most outright surreal storylines in all of wrestling history.
Let’s reminisce about the utter insanity that is the Undertaker vs. Yokozuna.
In the blue corner, we have the Undertaker. The invincible zombie wrestler has been a huge deal in the WWF ever since debuting at the end of 1990. As a monster heel, he was once pushed to the heavens in one segment where he both manhandled the Ultimate Warrior and shrugged it off when Hulk Hogan slammed a belt into his face. He turned face due to outright popularity and became something of a special attraction for a few years. Despite having a gimmick as silly as being an undead dude in kitchen gloves, he’s been treated as a serious character, even to this day. At the time of this story, he’s coming off a feud with Giant Gonzalez, a wrestler whose gimmick is that he’s really tall and fake-naked.
In the red corner, we have the late Yokozuna. An extremely large Samoan depicting a Japanese sumo wrestler, he also became a huge deal immediately. Managed by Mr. Fuji, Yokozuna rose through the ranks within months, dominating the Royal Rumble and defeating Bret Hart at Wrestlemania. By this point, he’s only suffered two losses and both controversial. Still champion, he’s been feuding with Lex Luger, who foolishly threw away what appeared to be his only chance to win the title.
At the end of November, the stage is set for Survivor Series 1993. In a PPV filled with four-on-four elimination matches, the most high profile is the All-Americans (Lex Luger, Tatanka, Rick Steiner and Scott Steiner) vs. the Foreign Fanatics (Yokozuna, Ludvig Borga, Quebecer Jacques and Quebecer Pierre). During this, Tatanka has been on an undefeated streak that’s been in place since his debut, almost two years earlier. A televised match between Tatanka and Borga ends with Borga being the first to pin Tatanka after some interference by Mr. Fuji and the use of a chair. The Quebecers had set it up so that Steiner Brothers are stuck in their locker room and can’t do anything as the Foreign Fanatics put the boots to Tatanka. Yokozuna crushes Tatanka’s ribs with a couple Banzai Drops as the Quebecers hold Luger back. Luger eventually reaches the ring, but his buddy is in rough shape and definitely won’t be able to compete at Survivor Series.
With only a couple weeks left, Luger and the Steiners do an interview to explain that they have found a replacement. They introduce the Undertaker to a huge ovation. Hey, he’s a great acquisition, but what the hell does a magical walking corpse have to do with America? He explains.
“Through out… Through out… all of eternity… I’ve walked alone. My existence has been filled with eternal darkness. But I’ve stood tall… in my beliefs. And even when condemned for my actions… I’ve stood by what I believed in. And now… these three men stand up for what they believe in: American priiiiiiide. And in honor of their devotion… I will stand with them and I will survive with them. So let… let freedom ring… and let these Foreign Fanatics rest in peace…”
Then he opens up his coat to reveal this. And Luger is PUMPED!
Like I’ve said, Undertaker’s been treated as a pretty serious dude for the past three years of his career, so this is the first truly nutty thing we’ve seen out of the character. I remember seeing this as a kid and just going, “Haha, what?” But even then, this is completely normal compared to what’s yet to go down.
The main event at Survivor Series begins with Undertaker and Yokozuna staring each other down, which is a great “irresistible force vs. immovable object” type of image. The man who crushes everyone in his path vs. the man who will not be crushed. Which reminds me, Pierre was replaced by Yokozuna’s sidekick Crush. Crush’s story here never made sense to me. Yokozuna horribly injured him, so Crush’s response upon coming back was, “Yokozuna is my buddy now. I hate my previous friends and I now hate America too for some reason.” Anyway, Undertaker decides to step onto the apron and remains there for much of the match
Towards the end, we’re down to Luger/Undertaker vs. Yokozuna/Borga. Luger’s getting creamed and finally musters the energy to tag Undertaker. It’s Undertaker’s first time in the match and he goes to town on Yokozuna.
Thanks to a distraction from Borga, Yokozuna is able to take down Undertaker. Undertaker sits up from a couple attacks, but Yokozuna keeps on him and keeps him horizontal. He drags him over to the corner and hits the Banzai Drop. Going for a second one for the hell of it, Undertaker sits up at the last second and Yokozuna’s butt slams into the mat. Undertaker gets right back up and attacks Yokozuna some more until they’re both outside the ring. Yokozuna slams Undertaker’s skull into the steel steps and it does nothing more than make Yokozuna shit himself in fear.
The two are counted out. Luger ends up beating Borga and ending their crappy little feud, but the groundwork has been laid down. The couple minutes of Undertaker/Yokozuna are electric, thanks to both the excited crowd and Bobby Heenan going completely mental over it. Heenan’s commentary makes this must-watch.
A week or so after the show, Yokozuna and Mr. Fuji come out to cut a promo about how dominant Yokozuna has been as champion. With a need for a new challenger, the lights go out and the ringing of the gong fills the arena. Following up on the PPV, Undertaker is going to challenge Yokozuna for the WWF Championship at the Royal Rumble.
Not only that, but it’s going to be a Casket Match. After the showing at Survivor Series, the monster vs. monster mystique is done away with and they play up that Yokozuna is legitimately scared of Undertaker and, more importantly, caskets. For weeks, we see Undertaker and Paul Bearer constructing a giant casket capable of holding someone as large as Yokozuna. Yokozuna is depicted as the underdog, which makes the lead-up fun. The selling point is, “Pay money and watch Yokozuna finally get his just desserts.” And if that isn’t a good enough selling point, who cares? It’s the Royal Rumble. People are going to watch anyway.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for Undertaker. Having Yokozuna beat, Undertaker prepares to roll him into the casket. Then Crush appears to attack Undertaker. Undertaker fights him off. The Great Kabuki and Genichiro Tenryu appear to attack Undertaker. Undertaker fights them off. Then Bam Bam Bigelow shows up, followed after by Adam Bomb, Jeff Jarrett, Samu, Fatu and Diesel. Although Undertaker is able to get his second wind thanks to Paul Bearer commanding him with the power of the urn, he keeps getting beaten back down by the superior numbers. Yokozuna punches down Bearer and steals the urn. He opens it up and pours it out, causing green smoke to erupt out of it. The ten guys keep curbstomping Undertaker to the point that you’d think he invented Comic Sans. Finally, Undertaker is completely immobile and they place him in the casket, allowing Yokozuna to retain.
Having all the heels work together made enough sense, but I think it’s a dick move that none of the faces came to the rescue. Thanks a lot, Luger. Way to pay back your partner.
Then shit gets weird. As they wheel the casket towards the entrance, green smoke comes out of it and the lights go out. An image appears on the Titantron of the Undertaker from within the casket.
A bizarre scene, it’s saved by its abject creepiness. On the screen, Undertaker cuts a promo on the ten men who annihilated him.
“Be not proud… the spirit of the Undertaker… lives within the souls of all mankind. The eternal flame of light that cannot be extinguished… The origin of which cannot be explained… The answer lies in the everlasting spirit… Soon all mankind will witness the rebirth… of the Undertaker… I… will not rest… in peace…”
Then there are a bunch of zapping noises as the full-body image of Undertaker turns negative and the Titantron version of the casket explodes. The negative image scrolls upwards and when it reaches the top of the Titantron, a guy dressed as the Undertaker ascends into the heavens. Good thing they have the Royal Rumble match on next because how else do you follow THAT?
This is an excuse for Undertaker to take a much-needed vacation. Yokozuna’s still champ and holds it until losing to Bret Hart at Wrestlemania 10. From there, he never really reaches that level ever again and starts a slope down the card. At King of the Ring, he and Crush try to take the tag titles from the Headshrinkers, but thanks to Lex Luger’s interference, Crush eats the pin. Really, Yokozuna is in a holding pattern as they have no idea what to do with him. Bret’s too busy feuding with his brother Owen and the attempt at an Earthquake/Yokozuna feud goes nowhere due to Earthquake abruptly leaving the company.
After a while, we get an update from Paul Bearer. He’s been trying to locate the Undertaker’s spirit, but the trail has gone cold. “The Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase publicly announces that he has found the Undertaker and will return him to the WWF. This is great continuity, as Dibiase is the man who introduced the Undertaker in the WWF back at Survivor Series 1990. During an interview segment, Dibiase brings out what appears to be the Undertaker, only back to being a heel. In reality, it’s Brian Lee, who wrestles for a couple months as the Undertaker here, usually referred to as fans as “the Underfaker”. Rather than follow the urn, he’s commanded by Dibiase’s money, waving it in his face to lead him around. During all of this, Paul Bearer insists that this is NOT the real Undertaker.
For Summerslam, the main event is announced as Undertaker vs. Undertaker. How this is possible is a question everyone asks. I think the real question is why Jack Tunney, WWF’s on-air president character at the time, would book this match. I can only imagine his performance review.
“Now, Mr. Tunney, at Summerslam, you decided to book and promote the Undertaker vs. the Undertaker.”
“As the main event.”
“A man fighting himself. You decided that this would be more important than the company’s champion defending the title in a steel cage.”
“What made you decide this was a good idea?”
“Ah, yes, well, you see, a portly Gomez Addams came into my office and said that that Undertaker wasn’t the real one and that he had the real Undertaker. They wanted a match and I thought, hell, let’s get Dominos Pizza involved and we have ourselves a main event for our second biggest show of the year.”
“And what proof did you have that a second Undertaker exists?”
“Gomez told me. He kept saying, ‘Oh yes!’ so I figured he knew what he was talking about.”
“And why, exactly, was Dominos Pizza promoting this?”
“I figured that you have the real Undertaker and a fake Undertaker. Dominos is fake pizza, so there you go.”
“Finally, you say something that makes sense.”
Having the Undertaker fight his evil clone is pretty bonkers, but it needs an extra push to go right over the cliff of insanity. That’s when on an episode of WWF Mania, Todd Pettengill and Jerry Lawler (dressed as Sherlock Holmes because why not) find out that in order to get to the bottom of how Undertaker vs. Undertaker is possible, the powers that be have hired Leslie Nielson. Yes, Naked Gun star Leslie Nielsen. Frank Drebin is on the case.
In the lead-up to the PPV, we get three segments. One is an introductory one where he’s disguising himself as the Undertaker to see where that gets him. One is a classic Naked Gun-style bit where he hangs out a pool and a takes part in a bunch of dry double-meaning gags. Like mentioning how he was trying to “catch some rays” while accidentally knocking Ray Rougeau into the pool. The other vignette is the most memorable one to me.
Sadly, I can’t find this one on YouTube, but it’s about Nielsen in his office, looking over files when he hears a knock at the door. He asks who it is and we hear Undertaker groan, “Pizzaaa…” As Nielsen looks around for some file, we notice the silhouette of the Undertaker carrying a pizza. Once Nielsen finds what he’s looking for, the pizza is already on his desk and the delivery man is gone. Nielson notices a slight chill until realizing what just happened.
Undertaker delivering for Dominos, everybody.
At Summerslam, Nielsen gets together with Naked Gun co-star George Kennedy and while the hype segments leading up to the show were funny, the segments at the PPV are pretty terrible and lazy. They never really figure out anything and the wordplay is increasingly lame. Also lame is Undertaker vs. Underfaker. To be fair, Lee does a great job copying the style, but it’s just two invincible guys plodding around the ring for way too long. There were plans to make this a longer rivalry, but it’s such a dud that they drop it. Undertaker wins after delivering three Tombstones.
Good for him on that, though. Kind of sucks for the guy that around this time, they keep sticking him in feuds with opponents who he can’t do his main moves (chokeslam and Tombstone) to, such as Yokozuna, Giant Gonzalez and King Kong Bundy.
Anyway, the Undertaker’s back in the saddle and it’s only natural that he wants his revenge. For Survivor Series, the big rematch is signed: Undertaker vs. Yokozuna in another Casket Match. But wait, what’s to stop history from repeating itself? Undertaker has no friends, but Yokozuna can just have his buddies help him out all over again. WWF has that covered. Protecting the ring from interference is none other than the internet’s favorite Karate Kommando, Chuck Norris!
Chuck is featured in a taped promo where he talks up how ten men beat down Undertaker last time, but this time, he’ll be there to make sure justice is served. He… sort of does his job? Kind of? He spends the entire match standing outside the ring, looking towards the entrance. Eventually, King Kong Bundy steps out and stares him down. Then Bam Bam Bigelow backs Bundy up. As this showdown is going on, Undertaker – who has Yokozuna pretty much beat – is distracted by it. Irwin R. Schyster sneaks in from other side of the ring and successfully attacks Undertaker. This part is pretty funny to me because you have to remember that this whole feud started in a match where Undertaker no-sold Yokozuna’s Banzai Drop, which was a pretty big deal. Here, IRS puts him in a sleeper hold and knocks him out for a good two minutes. A sleeper hold.
Yokozuna slowly gets up and tries to close the lid. It doesn’t take.
Undertaker starts kicking his ass again and by this point, Norris has done absolutely nothing but fail to see IRS sneaking around. Luckily, we have Jeff Jarrett (something I never thought I would ever say) to set things right by selling a Norris sidekick like death.
Undertaker takes apart Yokozuna with the few trademark moves he’s able to do on a 500+ pounds man and boots him into the casket, finishing him off. The lid is closed and the PPV is over.
Just like the last PPV, the invincible Undertaker main evented while the less-cartoony champion was relegated to the undercard. I guess that modern-day John Cena/CM Punk outrage wasn’t so unique after all.
It made sense that Bundy, Bigelow and IRS interfered in that match, as they are all members of Dibiase’s Million Dollar Corporation and it fits that he’d be bitter about that whole Underfaker situation. Undertaker spends the next year feuding with the Corporation, culminating in Summerslam 1995, where he defeats Kama the Supreme Fighting Machine. In the meantime, he’s set to face King Kong Bundy at Wrestlemania 11.
To hype up that PPV, which is very, very celebrity-based (including that main event of Lawrence Taylor vs. Bam Bam Bigelow), they do a commercial that acts as a final ending to the Undertaker vs. Yokozuna saga. Nicholas Tuturro, star of NYPD Blue, interrogates Paul Bearer over the three-month disappearance of Yokozuna since Survivor Series. Mr. Fuji is there to laugh at Bearer, who doesn’t do well to defend his innocence by failing to disguise himself with a wig and dress.
It’s okay, though. Undertaker’s got his back.
Somehow, Undertaker uses his powers to change Tuturro’s mind because he no longer sees Bearer as a suspect and is instead dead set on beating up this anti-American piece of trash Fuji.
That brings this string of nonsense to a close. Funny thing is that underneath all the goofy celebrity stuff and surrealist moments, there’s a decent and nearly logical wrestling angle in there. Aspects of it would arise again over the years, such as Undertaker being killed repeatedly as well as a brief Kane vs. Fake Kane feud.
Yokozuna would go on to return at Wrestlemania 11 and get the shot in the arm his career needed by teaming up with Owen Hart to become tag champs. In terms of kayfabe, he’d get the last laugh, as his last in-ring interaction with Undertaker involved he and King Mabel repeatedly legdropping the Dead Man, legitimately destroying his orbital bone. That would lead to Undertaker’s silly Phantom of the Opera mask, but that’s a story for another day.
Wait, what am I talking about? No it isn’t! He just wore the mask for a while until he didn’t!