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Put a lid on it! The dangerous history of Casket Matches
WWE has hosted some dicey types of bouts in its history. Careers have been shortened by inside Hell in a Cell, grapplers have been set ablaze in Inferno Matches and action has been taken to the streets when Falls Count Anywhere. But no face-off ends with quite as much finality as the Casket Match.
A competitor awakes. His head throbs. His spine tingles. He opens one eyelid. Then another. Pure darkness. He reaches his hand up. His palm slams against a hard, flat surface. On his left, the same thing. On his right, the same again. Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. Claustrophobia begins to set in. “Where am I?” he panics. He’s just had the unfortunate distinction of coming up on the losing end of a Casket Match.
The 20-year history of the diabolical Casket Match dates back to The Undertaker’s beginnings in WWE. After The Deadman debuted at 1990’s Survivor Series ( WATCH), he ran roughshod all over the WWE roster. One by one, opponents would fall to the devastating Tombstone Piledriver. And in the early days, Undertaker would slide his victims into a terrifying body bag. It didn’t earn any more wins, but it did make an emphatic statement.
In a noteworthy early career moment, the towering rookie attacked Ultimate Warrior and locked him inside a casket on an edition of Paul Bearer’s “The Funeral Parlor” ( WATCH), a segment shown on “WWE Superstars.” Their rivalry was settled at Madison Square Garden in a Body Bag Match with the objective being to seal the other competitor inside the macabre container. ( WATCH) It was a precursor to Casket Matches, which would debut less than a year and a half later, and would become a WWE mainstay for the next 16 years.
The nail in the coffin
Although referred to at the time as a “Coffin Match,” the first official Casket Match occurred at 1992’s Survivor Series with The Undertaker battling Kamala. ( WATCH) The rules stated the path to victory necessitated both a pinfall and shutting the lid of the coffin with a competitor inside. A cast of characters paraded ringside, with the ghoulish Paul Bearer taking care of the urn while both Kim Chee and Harvey Wippleman flanked Kamala.
Despite The Ugandan Giant’s extra protection, Kamala was unable to avoid the Tombstone and was rolled into the coffin following a pinfall. In an ominous moment, The Undertaker proceeded to hammer a series of nails into the coffin’s perimeter to put a definitive end to their rivalry. After this bout, the notorious Casket Match’s no-pinfall rule went into effect. The only way to win would be to trap a competitor inside the casket and close the lid.
A sign from above
The second Casket Match has become one of the most memorable in history. If any one Superstar has shown dominance quite like The Undertaker, it was Yokozuna in the early 1990s. The Japanese super heavyweight made his intense fear of caskets known, and The Phenom looked to exploit that weakness when challenging for Yoko’s WWE Championship at Royal Rumble 1994. ( WATCH)
In what some might have considered a stunning upset, the champion retained the title, but not without some help from an enormous crew of Yokozuna’s allies, including Diesel, The Headshrinkers, Bam Bam Bigelow, Adam Bomb, Crush and others. As green smoke billowed from the urn, The Undertaker was trapped inside the casket.
The baddies then rolled The Deadman up the entranceway and the same smoke began pouring from the edges of casket. Suddenly, as the lights in Providence Civic Center went to darkness, an image of The Undertaker laying inside the casket appeared on the TitanTron. He stared forward and stated, “Soon all mankind will witness the rebirth of The Undertaker. I will not rest in peace.” The Deadman’s body then rose from within the display and straight up to the rafters of the arena. It was an astonishing sight to behold for any young sports-entertainment fan.
The Phenom returned later that year and gained retribution by defeating Yokozuna in a return Casket Match at Survivor Series. This time, Chuck Norris enforced the bout at ringside to make sure no one interfered. King Kong Bundy and Bam Bam Bigelow attempted to insert themselves into the matchup, but were blocked by the “Walker, Texas Ranger” star. Irwin R. Schyster and Jeff Jarrett also appeared on Yokozuna’s behalf, but Norris knocked out Jarrett with a devastating superkick, allowing The Undertaker to pick up the victory. ( WATCH)
After defeating both Kama ( WATCH) and King Mabel ( WATCH) in Casket Matches during 1995, The Undertaker’s success came to a screeching halt. When Mankind arrived in WWE, he immediately targeted The Deadman and his interference caused Undertaker to lose Casket Matches to both Goldust ( WATCH) and Vader. ( WATCH) But the third consecutive loss is considered by some to be the most famous Casket Match of all time.
In the main event of Royal Rumble 1998, The Undertaker challenged Shawn Michaels for the WWE Championship only three months after the first Hell in a Cell Match. The encounter was so brutal, The Showstopper suffered a serious back injury that eventually caused him to miss four years of action. And once again, The Phenom fell victim to a barrage from the locker room. The New Age Outlaws, Los Boricuas and HBK’s D-Generation X cohort Triple H all attacked The Undertaker. But the most impactful appearance had yet to occur.
As The Phenom struggled to defend himself in the ring, The Deadman’s brother Kane emerged and cleared the ring of the invading forces. But as quickly as The Big Red Monster had saved the day, he betrayed on his own family and Chokeslammed The Undertaker onto the casket. DX locked The Phenom inside of the coffin with a padlock, and Kane set it ablaze after pouring lighter fluid all over the large wooden box. When WWE officials were finally able to open the casket, it was empty. And yet, The Undertaker’s voice was heard once again remarking he “will never rest in peace.” ( WATCH)
Attitude brings changes
Throughout 1998, The Brothers of Destruction battled in a series of vicious encounters, including the Casket Match’s Raw debut in October where the casket itself was battered and destroyed as much as the two competitors. ( WATCH) The second Casket Match on Raw featured The Undertaker battling The Rock during The Deadman’s infamous days in The Corporate Ministry. With help from other members of the faction, The Undertaker was victorious and Triple H then mutilated the casket with a sledgehammer while The People’s Champion remained inside. ( WATCH)
The next Casket Match in September 1999 was a bout of firsts. Most notably, it was the first Casket Match not to feature The Undertaker. Triple H battled the team of Mideon & Viscera in the first (and so far only) Handicap Casket Match on SmackDown, giving the bout its blue brand debut. The two demonic grapplers were too much for The Game to handle and Triple H was unsuccessful. ( WATCH) Three years later on Raw, The Cerebral Assassin came up short against Kane in another Casket Match when Shawn Michaels lept out of the casket, returning after two months away. ( WATCH)
A fiery family affair
The Undertaker returned as the Casket Match’s steward in epic fashion in 2005. After defeating Heidenreich at the Royal Rumble ( WATCH), The Phenom engaged in one of his most heated rivalries against Randy Orton. After trading victories at WrestleMania ( WATCH) and SummerSlam ( WATCH), The Undertaker battled The Viper and his father “Cowboy” Bob Orton in a Handicap Match at No Mercy. The thrilling encounter seesawed back and forth, but ultimately saw the Ortons emerge victorious. The father and son then frantically scrambled to lock the casket, cover it with gasoline and set it on fire. When the burned casket was finally opened, The Deadman had vanished. ( WATCH)
A Survivor Series return
The following year, the Casket Match made its WrestleMania debut when Mark Henry became just another gravestone in The Phenom’s cemetery of Streak victims. ( WATCH) Showcased on The Grandest Stage of Them All for the first time, the Casket Match reached its peak in 2006. Perhaps that contributed to the bout’s decline. The Casket Match returned on three occasions, all in 2008. In March, The World’s Strongest Man faced off with The Undertaker in a WrestleMania rematch on Raw, which saw the same result. ( WATCH) On Halloween, The Deadman dominated Chavo Guerrero in a Casket Match in preparation for doing the same to Big Show at Survivor Series — the same event where the Casket Match had debuted 16 years prior. ( WATCH)
At WWE’s fall classic, the Casket Match made its most recent appearance in unique fashion. After The World’s Largest Athlete destroyed the casket at ringside, an explosion of fire burst from the entranceway and The Deadman’s druids entered with a new casket. With the coffin propped up vertically on the stage, The Undertaker swung Big Show inside, sending the casket crashing to the floor. The lid shut and the final Casket Match to date came to an end. ( WATCH)
As WWE has evolved through different eras, Attitude and otherwise, the Casket Match’s sheer brutality has remained a constant, much like The Undertaker himself. Caskets have aided The Phenom in ending rivalries, beginning new ones and finding unique ways to inflict punishment upon his opponents. Although the WWE Universe hasn’t seen one in four years, as long as The Undertaker is in WWE, Casket Matches will remain an inevitable presence in the world of sports-entertainment. As history has proven, Casket Matches are a certainty, as much as death itself.