Hell to pay
At the 1998 Royal Rumble, The Phenom lost more than his opportunity to take Shawn Michaels' WWE Championship. During their now-infamous Casket Match, in his moment of certain triumph, he was viciously beaten, Chokeslammed and locked into an oversized coffin. Wooden splinters bounced off the arena floor as an ax mercilessly fragmented the casket's outer shell. Finally, a five-gallon gasoline tank and a lit match turned the coffin into a blazing tinderbox.
Undertaker was gone, and the hand responsible for his apparent demise was not that of Shawn Michaels', but of his own brother, the masked monster called Kane.
WWE fans everywhere were in shocked disbelief. They realized that since Kane's Badd Blood debut in October 1997, he had been a thorn in Undertaker's side, costing The Deadman the gold at WWE's first-ever Hell in a Cell Match. They understood why The Phenom refused to strike the "flesh and blood" he had assumed perished with their parents in a childhood fire 20 years before. Yet in the weeks before the Rumble, everyone believed Kane had returned to the family fold, especially when he aided Undertaker against an in-ring D-Generation X assault.
Tragically, it was all a ruse. The damned, disfigured soul—aided by former Undertaker handler Paul Bearer—had only wanted to see fire dance around his brother's pine-boxed casket.
Less than 24 hours after the Rumble inferno, with Kane by his side, Bearer callously declared that after six months of planning, "The Undertaker is gone, and never to return!" WWE fans couldn't, wouldn't, believe the creepy crypt-keeper's malicious words; they only needed a small glimmer of hope. A week later, Raw's TitanTron offered it in the form of exclusive post-Royal Rumble footage, during which WWE officials opened the charred, chopped casket, only to discover there was no Undertaker within.
The Phenom's whereabouts would remain a mystery over the ensuing weeks, during which Kane laid down a path of destruction consisting of WWE Superstars, including the 450-pound Vader at February's No Way Out. Meanwhile, Bearer—as if he was trying to convince himself as much as Kane and the fans—would constantly reiterate that Undertaker was gone forever, even initiating a ten-bell salute on Raw in the beginning of March, in observance of the departed WWE Superstar. Suddenly, the arena lights went out, and a familiar death knell sounded for what seemed like an eternity, until a casket appeared on the Raw stage. From nowhere, a bolt of lightning struck the coffin. When the smoke finally cleared, The Deadman rose.
Fully recovered from his injuries, Undertaker informed Kane and a horrified Bearer that he would personally welcome his brother into Hell by confronting him at WrestleMania XIV. The masked monster summoned flames around the stage to banish The Phenom, but to no avail. Simply stepping past the fire surrounding him, The Deadman snarled, "I will walk straight through the fires of Hell to face you, Kane!"
Claiming to be the demon who would lead Kane into eternal damnation, Undertaker's mind games would continue as WrestleMania grew closer. One week he'd appear in front of his brother, then disappear at will; another week, he angrily declared from atop Raw's TitanTron, "I will strike thee with anger and furious vengeance!" Conjuring a bolt of lightning, Undertaker directed it toward the Raw stage below, where it instantly incinerated a casket containing a Kane mannequin. "The only thing that you can do now is…rest…in…peeaaace!"
In the final days before WrestleMania, Undertaker visited his parents' grave site one last time to make a request. "Please forgive me for the sin of which I am about to commit," he said, "but it's something that must be done. In the end, I only hope that together, as one, we can rest in peace...a family once again. And if such is not the case, I alone am willing to serve my penance. I am willing to burn in my own damnation. I am willing to look my destiny in the eye, and go where the Reaper leads me."
From ringside that night, a nervous Paul Bearer ordered Kane to summon his own supernatural abilities—lightning to strike the arena lighting fixtures, a fireball near the announcers table, and even set a WWE crew member on fire. Blaming The Phenom for Kane's suffering over the past 20 years, as well as the fire that killed their parents, the crypt-keeper promised that at WrestleMania XIV, Undertaker would step into an inferno from which he could not survive.
The match itself did indeed prove to be an unholy war between these brothers of destruction; The Deadman would claim the victory after three Tombstone Piledrivers to the base of Kane's skull. However, their differences were far from settled. After many epic battles (including a rematch—and another Undertaker win—at WrestleMania XX), the two have learned to co-exist and occasionally ally with each other in WWE. But in 1998, WWE.com's No. 3 Most Rugged Road to WrestleMania was truly a hellacious family reunion.