A look at Undertaker vs. JBL
The collision of two transformed careers
By Michael Dworkis
The inevitable confrontation between the Undertaker and JBL will undoubtedly be another memorable SummerSlam main event. This match, however, won't be the first time that these two will occupy the same ring. Their initial meeting was on April 1, 1996, on an edition of Monday Night RAW. The Undertaker defeated JBL, who back then was known as Justin "Hawk" Bradshaw, a rough 'n' tough Texan with a mean streak.
In the past, SummerSlam has been the scene of major changes in the career of the Deadman. Regardless of the outcome of the match itself, the imprint of the event would be etched in history. Let's flash back to some of Undertaker's most intriguing matches to take place at the summer spectacular.
The year was 1994, and the Undertaker's opponent is... the Undertaker. That's not a typo. Don't remember this? Don't have a clue to what I'm talking about? Here's the 411. Royal Rumble 1994. The Undertaker challenged Yokozuna for the WWE Championship in a Casket Match. During the match, Yokozuna tried numerous times to put 'Taker into the Casket, but to no avail. Then out of nowhere, Jim Cornette (one of Yokozuna's seconds along with Mr. Fuji) sent out a signal. Before long, every Yokozuna ally came running out of the locker room and to give the Undertaker a beat down like never before. Yokozuna won the match. But the war was clearly not over. Thunder and lightning hit, and the Undertaker's face appeared on the Titantron video screen. After warning all about his vengeful return, he floated up to the ceiling, disappearing.
For months, rumored Undertaker sightings were reported. However, on an edition of Shawn Michaels' Heartbreak Hotel, the Million Dollar Man (who brought 'Taker to WWE in 1990) showed that everyone has a price, bringing back the Undertaker. However, as the summer neared, Paul Bearer returned as well, claiming that Dibiase's Undertaker was a fake! At SummerSlam, Dibiase brought his Undertaker to the ring. Minutes passed, and the crowd went silent. Just then, the familiar gong sounded, and Paul Bearer kept to his word, and the one, true Undertaker returned and sent Dibiase's Undertaker back to whichever dark realm he was dug up from. Bearer's Undertaker finally proved that there can only be one Undertaker.
Now we go two years later to SummerSlam '96. For months leading up to the event, Undertaker was tormented by the deranged Mankind. Finally, an challenge was issued to the Deadman, which he readily accepted. The match -- a Boiler Room Brawl, where the first Superstar to grab the urn from Paul Bearer would be declared the winner. After a long brawl, beating each other with pipes, chairs and various other objects that could be found in a boiler room, the Undertaker had the victory in hand. He opened the door to the outside, and kneeled to accept the urn from Bearer. However, instead of receiving the urn, the Undertaker received a blast to the head by Bearer. Undertaker was left beaten and betrayed as Mankind embraced his new mentor.
Fast forward to 2001. The time of the Invasion. WCW and WWE were engaged a brutal war for supremacy. WCW Championships were won by WWE Superstars and vice versa. Undertaker and Kane set aside their differences for a good part of 2001, and together known as the Brothers of Destruction, dominated the tag team division of both WWE and WCW. At SummerSlam 2001, the brothers were going in as WCW Tag Team Champions and the challengers were WCW insurgents and WWE World Tag Team Champions Diamond Dallas Page and Chris Kanyon. After a brutal beating, Kane and the Undertaker's hands were raised in victory, holding a WWE and a WCW tag belt in each hand.
Take John "Bradshaw" Layfield. From crazy Texan to Acolyte to APA member to JBL. Entering WWE in 1996 as Justin "Hawk" Bradshaw, he bullied everyone who got into the ring with him, often embarrassingly tying up his fallen opponents after each win. Soon he was recruited by the Undertaker to serve as an Acolyte, or enforcers of the Undertaker's Ministry. It wasn't long after that Bradshaw and tag team partner Faarooq broke away from the faction to form the APA -- Acolyte Protection Agency, renting their services to the highest bidder. Bradshaw beat down anyone who provoked him, or spilled his beer. As the years went on, however, Bradshaw wanted more. He won singles titles such as the European and Hardcore Championships. He and Faarooq even won the World Tag Team Championships as well. But John Layfield was starting to realize he has more potential. He started bringing up his financial background, even earning spots on MSNBC and CNBC as a guest financial analyst. He went as far as to constantly remind fans that he penned a successful book on the topic of financial advice. When Faarooq was fired by Paul Heyman, Heyman told Layfield that it was time for his to break out on his own again.
Weeks later, JBL was born. Layfield finally could be the man he wanted to be. He didn't have to hold back anymore, he could show everyone who he really is, a brash, smart, rich Texan gone city boy.
In September's SmackDown! magazine, Brian Solomon writes: "Very quickly, JBL has gone from the intimidator to the intimidated. He had his fun making light of Guerrero's heritage, throwing his weight around and issuing bold proclamations... All these years, JBL wanted to play with the big boys. He wanted to be at the top of the card. Now he's playing with the biggest boy of them all."
The statement says it all. The Undertaker is not Eddie Guerrero. He is not El Gran Luchadore, Spike Dudley, John Cena or anyone else. The Undertaker is unlike anyone in WWE. This will be the Undertaker's 12th appearance at SummerSlam. He has won seven out of his past 11 matches, leaving many to wonder if JBL is out of his league. When the Undertaker declared that he would be facing JBL at SummerSlam, JBL's smarmy grin turned to a jaw-dropped horror. Solomon writes: "Unlike JBL, Undertaker has reached the pinnacle in the past -- and not just once, but on four separate occasions... He's been inspiring mortal terror in competitors and fans alike for 14 years now. Yet, that is not the same man currently on the title hunt. The Undertaker of 2004 makes that Undertaker look like Mr. Rogers."
Although this is all true, there is another record that should not be ignored. Two of the Undertaker's losses cost him the WWE Championship. In '97, he lost the title to Bret Hart, and in '98 was defeated by then-champion Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Undertaker's only championship win at a SummerSlam was winning the World Tag Team championships at the previously described 2001 SummerSlam.
After eight years in WWE, JBL defeated Eddie just a month and a half ago for the prestigious honor of holding the championship. However, in a weird way, one could say that JBL is like a rookie again. He's in a completely new ballpark. This isn't tag team, or any traditional one-on-one match. Being hunted is new to JBL. On the other hand, this 'rookie' has enough veteran skill to make the main event at SummerSlam one of the most entertaining matches ever. JBL, who has held the European, Hardcore and three World Tag Team Championships could make history himself, by turning back the legendary Undertaker. Could he do it? Absolutely. JBL likes to gloat that he always makes an impact. Come SummerSlam, an impact will be made all right, on JBL, on the Undertaker, on the fans, and on sports entertainment as we know it.