The Main Event:
Mark William Callaway, better known to wrestling fans as The Undertaker, has been a staple of the WWE for two decades now, having joined the league after WCW, where he wrestled as 'Mean' Mark Callous, opted not to renew his contract. He was pretty much a sensation right from the get go, and holds the record for undefeated Wrestlemania matches with an 18-0 standing. He's a big guy, a scary guy, a man of few words and fairly mysterious both inside and outside of the ring, but there's no denying he's one of the all time WWE/WWF greats, ranking up there with the likes of Hulk Hogan, Brett Hart, Roddy Piper and Rick Flair. Not only is The Undertaker one of the most intimidating men in the entire WWE, but he's also one of the biggest so his mix of muscle, machismo and intimidation makes him a pretty formidable opponent. That said, let's be realistic - he can, and has, been beaten. The Undertaker debuted as 'Kane The Undertaker' on November19th, 1990 on a WWF Superstars Match but his televised debut occurred a few days later on November 22nd where he appeared as one of Ted DiBiase's henchmen. None of this material is included in the set, unfortunately,.
The WWE is well aware of The Undertaker's popularity and as such have opted to release a three disc collection featuring some of his finest moments under the title The Undertaker's Deadliest Matches. It's a good selection of bouts, from his early days up to the present day and which gives a good, if not quite completely comprehensive, overview of the man's career.
Body Bag Match - Undertaker Versus Ultimate Warrior, Madison Square Garden - July 1, 1991
Coffin Match - Undertaker Versus Kamala, Survivor Series - November 25, 1992
Casket Match - Undertaker Versus Kama, SummerSlam - August 27, 1995
Casket Match - Undertaker Versus King Mabel, In Your House - December 17, 1995
Undertaker Versus Mankind, King of the Ring - June 23, 1996
Boiler Room Brawl - Undertaker Versus Mankind, SummerSlam - August 18, 1996
Buried Alive Match - Undertaker Versus Stone Cold Steve Austin, Rock Bottom - December 13, 1998
Inferno Match - Undertaker Versus Kane, Raw - February 22, 1999
The first disc starts off with a bang, by throwing us right into the thick of things with a Body Bag match in which the then super popular Ultimate Warrior found himself almost certainly doomed to a horrible fate in which The Undertaker would zip him up inside a body bag! Paul Bearer (William Moody) is on hand for this and most of the other early bouts, touting the 'power of the Urn' to anyone who will listen and playing up the ghoulish antics that made these early matches so much macabre fun. It's hard to take him seriously, but he's definitely bound to go down in history as one of the more entertaining managers to ever walk the ring. What this set misses, or intentionally omits, is that The Undertaker was originally managed by Brother Love - none of the Brother Love era matches are anywhere to be found here.
Regardless, we get some excellent matches on Disc One, not just the Ultimate Warrior match but also some fantastic wrestling as The Undertaker goes up against the likes of Mankind, with whom he'd have a fairly longstanding feud, and Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Mankind matches (why hasn't Mankind received a DVD tribute yet?) are some of the best on the set, with Foley going nuts and periodically yanking out his own hair. The stand out of the Mankind bouts has to be the match that takes place inside a boiler room, finishing up with The Undertaker dragging Mankind out of his home and into the ring for a beating. We even get to see The Undertaker during that brief, but odd, phase he went through where he wore a purple half mask in the match against King Mabel.
Undertaker Versus Big Show, Raw - May 3, 1999
WWE Championship Match - Undertaker Versus Big Show, Raw - June 4, 1999
Concrete Crypt Match - Undertaker Versus The Dudley Boys, The Great American Bash - June 27, 2004
Casket Match - Undertaker Versus Heidenreich, Royal Rumble - January 30, 2005
First Ever Handicap Casket Match - Undertaker Versus Randy Orton & Cowboy Bob Orton, No Mercy - October 9, 2005
Hell In A Cell - Undertaker Versus Randy Orton, Armageddon - December 18, 2005
Last Man Standing Match - Undertaker Versus Great Khali, Smackdown - August 18, 2006
The second disc finishes up the nineties era with a match against Kane, who the WWE promoted as The Undertaker's brother. The matches against The Big Show, his former tag team partner from when they pair formed The Unholy Alliance are pretty good, and it does seem like these two hold a grudge against one another, but once this bit ends, we cut to 2004, completely omitting The Brothers Of Destruction storyline where he teamed up with Kane and then heading straight into some of the long running feud that ran between The Undertaker and Randy Orton before the disc finishes up with a solid Last Man Standing match in which he squares off against the massive Great Khali from Smackdown. This second disc is good, and the matches are solid, but there's so much missing from these years that it's really tough to have much of a feel for the storylines that were playing out during this era in The Undertaker's career.
First Blood Match - Undertaker Versus Mr. Kennedy, Survivor Series - November 26, 2006
Last Ride Match - Undertaker Versus Mr. Kennedy, Armageddon - December 17, 2006
Last Man Standing Match For The World Heavyweight Championship - Undertaker Versus Batista, Backlash - April 29, 2007
Undertaker Versus Big Daddy V, Smackdown - January 25, 2008
Hell In A Cell - Undertaker Versus Edge, SummerSlam - August 17, 2008
Steel Cage Match - Undertaker Versus Big Show, Smackdown - December 5, 2008
Again, there's a fairly big jump from the contents on the second disc to the contents on this third disc, so those expecting to be filled in on the storyline and the feuds are going to be disappointed. Regardless, the matches against Mr. Kennedy are pretty good, if not quite top-tier, while the match against Batista is a highpoint in the collection. Both men are quite massive and to see them square off against one another - two strong, silent types - makes for some pretty intense wrestling. The disc, and the set, finish off with some good matches in which The Undertaker takes on Edge and a final bout in which he fights The Big Show one more time, proving that the bad blood that existed between the two is still very much alive.
So obviously if you're to take anything away from the title of this set it's that the WWE was trying to focus on the dark and dangerous side of The Undertaker's career, which is why there are a lot of gimmick matches like the Body Bag match and the Casket Matches and the various cage matches that are scattered throughout the set. This isn't a bad approach to take, but the fact is that with a career that spans two decades, there's bound to be material left out. Depending on what you want out of an Undertaker set, you could wind up being fairly disappointed with what's here but the set does work really well as kind of a cursory overview of what he did and why he matters to the WWE. Some of the more modern matches, such as his recent bout with Rey Mysterio, probably could have been included and it'd have been nice to see any of the Wrestlemania bouts included here, but there's no use crying over spilt milk and some of those are available on other releases anyway. The same can be said about a lot of the Sean Michaels matches - they're excellent, some of the best either wrestler has ever had... and they're not here (a couple, however, are on the recent Sean Michaels: My Journey collection, including their final Wrestlemania match).
What the WWE really needs to do is set out and make a biographical documentary on The Undertaker the same way they did with Sean Michaels, Batista, and The Hart Family over the last year or so. Fans would eat this up and it could possibly finally provide a fairly comprehensive overview of his career, rather than a random collection of semi-thematically linked matches. He's had a fascinating career and it's one that is ripe for examination, even if it is still going strong! The matches are intersected with narrated, in-character introductions from The Undertaker himself that set up each match and give some vague background details on each one, but as amusing as they are they don't really add up to all that much. What matters here, however, is the quality of the matches and thankfully they almost all deliver in spades.
The fullframe presentation, though interlaced, looks pretty decent. Some of the earlier matches are on the soft side and aren't quite as clean and colorful looking as the later day content is but this is generally quite a respectable looking presentation. There are times where the lights over the ring make skin tones look a bit off but this isn't a fault of the transfer or the authoring, it's simply the way the material has always looked. Nothing here really looks worse than when it was broadcast on television, and to some eyes it might even look a little bit better.
The same comments apply to the audio on this release - some of the earlier stuff sounds a bit flat, but most of the newer stuff sounds just fine. Everything comes at you by way of a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track and aside from one or two instances where some of the archival clips have a small amount of audible distortion, there aren't any issues worth complaining about here.
Aside from the in-character narrated introductions to each match, there aren't really any extras on this release at all. Each disc does have menus and match selection, but that doesn't count for much. Inside the packaging is an insert booklet that gives a breakdown of which matches are included on each of the three discs as well as where and when those matches took place, but that's about all there in terms of supplements. Some interviews, commentaries or biographical information would have been very welcome, but the WWE DVDs are generally light in the extras department so it's really not too surprising that there's none of that here.
When the dust settles, The Undertaker's Deadliest Matches isn't a perfect set but it is a damn good one and if you're a fan of the phenom, the fact of the matter is that you need this set in your collection. There's a lot of great material here and the lack of extras is made up for by the decent quality of the presentation and of the matches themselves. Highly recommended for anyone who considers themselves a wrestling fan.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.