In the lead up to this year's Royal Rumble, we'll be counting down the 20 greatest moments in the history of WWE's most famous match. This list was determined by a panel that included Geno Mrosko, Bill Hanstock and me. We tried to keep it diverse, with a mix of comedy, emotion, story, and wrestling.
If you've been on Cageside Seats for very long, you probably know this already. But if you're new to the best dang pro wrestling community on the interwebs, allow me to introduce myself.
My name is Sean, and
Heel Biker Taker is my favorite Taker
And this is a big reason why.
But let's set the stage.
In 1999, the Ministry of Darkness version of Undertaker (basically, what everyone fantasy books Bray Wyatt as today) left WWE rather than dance to the beat of Mr. McMahon's drum. In reality, he walked away to rehab a groin injury and ended up missing eight months when he tore a pectoral muscle. Upon his return, he was a motorcycle-riding heel...an American Bad-Ass, if you will...who had dispensed with all the supernatural trappings for which he'd been famous.
A lot of people hate this version of the character, and their primary piece of evidence for why he's deserving of their disdain entrance themes like Limp Bizkit's "Rollin'". As a counter-argument, I offer everything else about the gimmick.
The story that lead to today's Rumble moment was good example of the kind of spots we got all the time with heel biker Taker. Entering at number eight, the Dead Man quickly cleared the ring of the four dudes he found there: Rikishi, Goldust, Al Snow and Billy (of "and Chuck" infamy). Alone in his yard, the countdown clock signaled the return of Matt Hardy, accompanied by Lita.
Team Xtreme was in shambles in late 2001, with Jeff and Matt feuding and Lita stuck as a guest referee in their showdowns for a while before siding with the Charismatic Enigma. The whole crew was written out with injuries, however - injuries sustained at the hands of Undertaker.
Both Matt & Lita tried to get revenge in the Rumble, but Taker goozles them both pretty quickly. Hardy manages to survive until his brother enters at number ten. The Hardyz both hit their finishers on UT, but get greedy and try the spot where Jeff springboards off his partner's back to splash their opponent in the corner. Undertaker catches him and dumps him, then sends Matt on a Last Ride before eliminating him.
Maven, the male winner of the very first season of Tough Enough, is up next. Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler are making jokes about whether he'll last as long as Bushwacker Luke, and Taker can't help but grin and shake his head. He greets the rookie with a big boot and is preparing to send him out when the Hardyz reappear.
The Boyz don't get much of anything done, being sent packing again in seconds after landing some punches, but they pissed off the Dead Man enough that he stops to yell, "GET YOUR ASSES OUT OF MY RING!" to them. Which is the opening Maven needs to hit him with a drop kick in his back, sending Big Evil crashing over the top rope and out of the Rumble to a huge pop from the Atlanta crowd.
(Another reason why I love this era of Undertaker. He was doing whatever he could to work with younger guys. It rarely lasted long, and I chalk that up to Mark Calloway being the best employee Vince McMahon ever had and Vince not wanting to "waste" him in mid-card feuds. It's possible, or even probable, there were fans then complaining about Taker "burying" Team Xtreme, or Maven, but as the ladder match with Jeff a year later would prove, this was a case where these guys looked like stars because the Dead Man was paying attention to them.)
Back to the moment at hand...heel biker Taker does not take being eliminated by a greenhorn lightly, especially one who hopped on the ropes to celebrate it while he was still breathing. With a blank expression of fury on his face, he methodically climbs the steps back to the ring, stalking the now pleading 'reality' contest winner and commences to beat him senseless.
(One more thing: the unstoppable force of nature aspect of the character didn't leave when Taker revved up a hog. It was present, and even more terrifying for not being a complete cartoon. He's still a mythical figure during this time, just more Leonard Smalls than Tall Man.)
From there, it's a whole lot of kicking Maven's ass. A chair shot square to the dome that's very 2002 sets up some ground-and-pound where the youngster can blade his forehead. Before Taker can escort his victim out of the ring area, Scotty 2 Hotty's music hits. This annoys the Phenom, who takes a break from the beating he's laying on one jabroni to go and knock the idiot dancing his way to the ring into next week.
Seriously, y'all. TAKER TAKES A BREAK FROM KICKING MAVEN'S ASS TO GO KNOCK OUT SCOTTY 2 HOTTY.
Then it's back to the task at hand, which is marching Maven up to the concourse level of Philips Arena. The fans in this Attitude Era-ish crowd are a rowdy bunch; at one point, Taker shoves one of them as hard he does his main target. When they reach their destination, Maven gets thown into the side of a condiment cart, and then sent into a popcorn machine. As a bloody and presumably salty newcomer lays on the concrete floor, Undertaker eats a handful of popcorn.
Keep in mind that while this is going, the Rumble continues. Christian, Diamond Dallas Page and Chuck (of "Billy and" infamy) enter. DDP's entire inaugural run in the match occurs while the cameras are mostly focused on Taker's vengeance.
Again, a brief list of things heel biker Taker does AFTER being eliminated from the 2002 Royal Rumble match:
1) Chair shot Maven to the head
2) Assault a camera man (possibly for recording him hiding the blade used to give the Tough winner the crimson mask)
3) Make sure Scotty 2 Hotty is unconscious and unable to "dance"
4) Shove a fan to the ground
5) Enjoy some freshly popped popcorn
If loving this character is wrong, I don't want to be right.
This would lead into a mini-feud between the two men, with Maven winning the Hardcore championship from Taker while he spun off into a program with The Rock (because Rocky made fun of him for getting eliminated by a rookie).
They'd book a fun callback spot in the 2003 Rumble, as well. Maven tried to catch lightning twice after Taker returned from injury as the 30th entrant. Let's just say that didn't go so well for him, either. The Tough Enough winner floated around for a few more years, turned heel and feuded with Eugene, etc, but this was probably the highlight of his WWE career.
But, hey, technically, he was never eliminated from the '02 Rumble. He could have done Curtis Axel's gimmick more than a decade earlier! [Editor's note: As several folks pointed out, Undertaker makes a point of eliminating Maven after the Scotty 2 Hotty punch, because - even as an evil scumbag - he's nothing if not the consummate professional]
At least he wasn't this guy...