August 22, 2004
Sheldon Kane III

Boiler Room Brawl
Undertaker vs. Mankind
Gund Arena, Cleveland, Ohio
August 18, 1996

Since the day he arrived in the World Wrestling Federation in 1990, the Undertaker has proven to be one of the most dominant forces the organization had ever witnessed. No matter how big the name, or how great the challenge is, Undertaker has stood tall and defiant in the face of anyone who has ttempted to put a stop to his legacy. From Hulk Hogan to The Rock, from Bret Hart to Stone Cold Steve Austin, from Yokozuna to his own "half-brother" Kane, he has taken on them all and lived to tell the tale another day. Sometimes newer WWE fans wonder today if there was ever a time when the Dead Man seemed to have met his match.

The answer to that question would be a resounding "yes".

In March 1996, a deranged newcomer made his arrival in the World Wrestling Federation, with a mutilated ear, missing teeth, and a grotesque appearance the likes of which Federation fans were not accustomed to seeing in those days. To the wrestling world at large, he was Cactus Jack, a hardcore warrior who was recognized by diehard fans as the "King of the Death Match". To World Wrestling Federation fans, he was to be known as Mankind, a twisted soul who made boiler rooms a home for himself and his pet rat "George". The man behind the mask was an individual who had long dreamed of becoming a professional wrestler while growing up in Long Island, New York, named Mick Foley. Foley had long dreamed of making it as a top Federation superstar, and for 10 years traveled around the world carving a reputation for himself as a competitor who was willing to put his own body on the line in order to please the fans who had paid to see him compete. The last time Foley had seen the inside of a Federation ring was in 1986, when he competed as preliminary wrestler "Jack" Foley. A decade later, after hundreds of ring wars spreading across the independents, WCW, ECW, and Japan, Mick had finally made it into the World Wrestling Federation as a top-name talent, albeit one whose face was covered by a brown leather mask.

And he was about to become the Undertaker's greatest challenge ever.

On April 1, 1996, the night after WrestleMania XII, the Undertaker had just defeated Justin "Hawk" Bradshaw, known today as the current WWE Champion John Bradshaw Layfield (JBL). As the undead master of the supernatural reveled in yet another triumph, he found himself attacked out of nowhere by the unorthodox Mankind, who had appeared earlier in the broadcast defeating Bob "Spark Plugg" Holly (Hardcore Holly). Mankind furiously assaulted the Undertaker, and to put an exclaimation point on his attack, dropped an elbow on the Undertaker from the ring apron to the aisle, where Undertaker lay. In the weeks that followed, Mankind became a painful thorn in the side of the Dead Man, attacking him in any way he could; from under the ring, tearing through the mat, even popping out of a casket. After weeks of being ambushed, the Undertaker had finally had all he could take. He demanded a match against Mankind at the June 23, 1996 King of the Ring pay per view telecast. Undertaker seemed to have the match won, but due to mistimed interference by his manager Paul Bearer, Mankind was able to steal a win with the Mandible Claw, an unique submission hold which saw Mankind jam two taped fingers underneath the tongue of an opponent.

The Undertaker and Mankind continued to feud with one another throughout the summer of 1996. Their feud would ultimately lead them to one of the most unusual matches ever held in WWE history. The match would take place at SummerSlam, on August 18, 1996, at the Gund Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Mankind wanted to face the Undertaker in a type of match which Mankind considered to be tailor made for him; a Boiler Room Brawl. How did this match work? Both men started the match inside the boiler room deep with the catacombs of the Gund Arena. They would battle it out until one man could escape, find his way into the arena, and luck be with him, make it to the ring to retrieve the sacred urn held inside the ring by Paul Bearer, from which the Undertaker drew his strength. The first man to do so would be declared the winner. Bear in mind, this match took place before the days of the TitanTron; four large televisions were placed around the ring for fans at ringside to watch the match as it unfolded inside the boiler room, while others watched the proceedings on a video wall near the entrance, much smaller than the TitanTron.

For Undertaker and Mankind, this would be a battle for their very survival, one which would hopefully draw an ultimate conclusion to their vendetta. For fans, a war of almost surreal proporions was about to take place; no one, however, could have foreseen the shocking conclusion to this match.

Paul Bearer made his way down the aisle, urn in hand, and stationed himself inside the ring ready to hand the urn to the first man to take possession of it. Meanwhile, deep within the arena, referee Jack Doan stood alongside the Undertaker, and opened the door for the Dead Man to begin the battle. Undertaker headed down the corridor, and reached a door which read, "Boiler Room: Danger!" Slowly, Undertaker opened the door, and began searching for Mankind. Undertaker looked up a ladder, behind pipes, anywhere he could in order to track down his twisted nemesis. Undertaker's search went on for several minutes, until finally, Mankind appeared from behind a wall, brandishing a large pipe. From behind, Mankind pummeled Undertaker with the pipe across his back, then over his head. As Undertaker slumped to the floor in a daze, Mankind choked him unmercifully. Very much in his own element, Mankind went to work on his opponent, hitting Undertaker with a two-by-four across the top of his head, and then into his throat. Mankind stomped Undertaker repeatedly, then moved in for the Mandible Claw. Undertaker managed to stop Mankind from applying the hold. Undertaker reached out and grabbed a trash can lid, which he used to smack Mankind over the head four times over. Undertaker then rose to his feet, while Mankind grabbed another pipe. Seeing the boiler room dweller with the weapon, Undertaker kicked Mankind, grabbed the pipe, and nailed Mankind with it. Undertaker then picked up Mankind and rammed him into a nearby generator. A throat thrust and a headbutt dropped Mankind to the hard floor, which Undertaker followed up with a trash can lid over the head. As Mankind screeched wildly, Undertaker moved in to lift Mankind. The deranged one managed to slip from Undertaker's grip, and drop him throat first over a wooden barrier. Mankind accented his lead with a punch and kick to the head of the Undertaker. Mankind then dug his fingers deep into the Undertaker's eye sockets, and twice rammed his head into a boiler.

At this point in the match, the telecast seemed to have technical difficulties, the first of several times this happened. The picture cleared up, and showed Mankind ramming Undertaker into a wall with two long steel rods against it. With the Dead Man down, Mankind grabbed a trash can, and walloped Undertaker in the head with it, and then threw the can onto his prone body. Mankind screeched the words "Get up!", and again hit Undertaker with a hard blow. Mankind then picked up Undertaker and rammed him into a wall. Mankind then picked up the trash can, and came charging at Undertaker, who rose up and repeatedly warded off the can with several pipe shots, which eventually drops Mankind. Undertaker then attempted to hit Mankind with the pipe, but missed his target. Somehow the Undertaker lost his footing, and Mankind took advantage, releasing hot steam from a furnace into Undertaker's face. As the Dead Man writhed in pain--a rare sight for fans to see of the Undertaker--Mankind went to work, unleashing a flurry of shots to his head and chest. Mankind then rammed UT's head into a steel table, grabbed a trash can, and hid behind a cluster of pipes. Undertaker made it to his feet and lurched forth, and just when he least suspected it, Mankind charged out of the darkness wielding the trash can. Lifting his boot into the air, Undertaker managed to stop the onslaught, driving the can into Mankind's face. Undertaker then clotheslined Mankind with the trash can still in front of him, dropping him to the floor. Undertaker then returned the favor, blasting Mankind over the head with the trash can, and hitting him in the shoulder with a pipe. Undertaker brought Mankind to his feet, and drove a hard knee into his midsection. Undertaker then picked up a wooden placard and sends Mankind back to the floor by leveling him with it. As Undertaker moved in on him, Mankind picked up large blue piping, and hit Undertaker in the gut with it, and twice between his legs. Undertaker fell to the ground, and tried to regain his footing, but a bevy of pipes and steel rods fell onto him. Mankind then picked Undertaker up and slammed his head against a metal door, followed by a kick and a trademark running knee to the face. With Undertaker down and hurting, Mankind let out a screech of joy, and moved in on his foe, punching away at him. Mankind then dragged Undertaker away from the door and rammed his head into another wooden barrier. Mankind, seizing an opportunity, starts to climb a ladder attached to the wall, and dropped an elbow from above onto Undertaker's chest. Mankind then got up to his feet, and kicked away at Undertaker's shoulder. Mankind attempted to pull UT to his feet, but he slipped and fell to the floor, though he still managed to get a hard forearm shot in onto Undertaker's head. Mankind then got up, grabbed a large piece of wood, and smacked it over Undertaker's back. The boiler room dweller dragged Undertaker across the floor, then hit him with an elbow to the head, and two kicks in the midsection. Mankind continued to drag the Dead Man across the floor, but Undertaker managed to drop him with a hard shot.

Undertaker grabbed hold of Mankind, but again, there was interference with the picture, which drew a loud chorus of boos from the fans watching inside the arena. The picture restored itself just long enough to show Undertaker and Mankind trade blows, then lost signal again. Again, the picture cleared up for a brief second to show Mankind slamming Undertaker, but again, the picture seemed lost. Finally, the signal was restored for good, and the feed continued. Mankind grabbed a large ladder, while he had Undertaker down on the floor. As Mankind climbed up the ladder, Undertaker rose up, grabbed the ladder, and shook it. Mankind fell off the ladder onto a bunch of pipes, and a cardboard box below. Now, both men were down. Undertaker made it to his feet first and threw Mankind back first against a wall. Undertaker then made an attempt to go for the exit. Mankind grabbed his rival and slammed a chain against his leg, which temporarily brought him down. Mankind then made his way up the staircase toward the exit, but Undertaker grabbed him and leveled him with a hard punch. Stomping the twisted masked man along the way, Undertaker made his way up the stairs toward the exit. Mankind got up again, grabbed Undertaker, and rammed him head first into the exit door. Mankind then picked up what appeared to be a brick, but Undertaker stopped him with a fire extinguisher blast. Undertaker then opened the door, but Mankind grabbed him and dragged him back in again, hitting his head against the stairs. Mankind then successfully made it out the door. Undertaker tried to get out himself, but Mankind tried to force the door to shut. Undertaker managed to grab Mankind's throat, but Mankind slammed the door into his head several times. Seemingly having the match well at hand, Mankind shut the door with Undertaker still inside the boiler room, and started to crawl down the hallway toward the entrance. Referee Jack Doan opened the door, allowing Mankind to escape. As a precaution, Mankind then tried to barricade the door shut by propping several large items in front of the door, to prevent Undertaker from coming out. Meanwhile, Undertaker finally got out of the boiler room, and made his way down the hall and toward the entrance. Several times, Undertaker tried to open the door, but was unable to thanks to Mankind. Finally, Undertaker moved back and charged at the door shoulder-first, and successfully got the door open, sending Mankind and his makeshift barrier crashing to the floor. As wrestlers such as Hillbilly Jim (!), the Godwinns, Aldo Montoya, the Body Donnas and Mark Henry looked on, Undertaker and Mankind were in hot pursuit of one another. Further up the hall, as Goldust, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Justin Hawk Bradshaw, and Bob Backlund looked on, Undertaker shoved Mankind over a trash barrel. Mankind attempted to grab a table, but was unable to complete his task. Mankind did manage to utlilize a small steel rolling shelf, hitting Undertaker with it. With Undertaker down, Mankind wormed out another door, and found a large container with scalding hot coffee inside of it. Undertaker entered the door, and was met by a splash of hot java all over his body. Mankind then crawled down the runway, and finally made it into the arena.

Undertaker soon followed, and upon finding Mankind, leveled him hard with a clothesline. Undertaker then picked up a two-by-four, and broke it over Mankind's back. Undertaker dragged Mankind up the entrance aisle, assaulting him repeatedly with punches to the face and knees to the gut on the way toward the ring. Undertaker again floored Mankind with a blow, and this time Mankind fell into one of the televisions at ringside, causing it to fall off its platform and hit the floor. One more punch later, Undertaker tried to get into the ring and grab the urn, as Paul Bearer watched inside the ring. Mankind then took hold of Undertaker and twice rammed his head into the ring apron, then into the steel ring steps. The boiler room dweller pulled back the padding covering the hard arena floor around the ring, and positioned Undertaker for a devastating piledriver, which Mankind successfully administered. Watching this, Paul Bearer nervously paced inside the ring, seeing his longtime charge in trouble. Mankind then tried to get into the ring and get the urn, but Undertaker grabbed his ankle. A fight ensued on the ring apron, which Undertaker won by richocheting Mankind off the apron and to the exposed arena floor. It seemed to all that Undertaker was about to grab the urn and claim victory over his crazed antagonist. Undertaker dropped to his knees before Paul Bearer and reached out for the urn with both hands. To the shock and surprise of all at the Gund Arena and the fans watching on pay per view, instead of handing Undertaker the urn, Paul Bearer turned his back on him. As a confused Undertaker watched, Mankind went on the attack, applying the Mandible Claw on Undertaker. As Mankind jammed his fingers under UT's tongue, Paul Bearer was seen in the corner, laughing to himself as the Undertaker, the man he had shared many triumphs with over the years, was trapped in Mankind's dangerous hold. Mankind then released the claw, and made his way toward the urn. As Paul Bearer started to shine up the urn for Mankind, Undertaker rose up, only to get ensnared in the Mandible Claw again. With the crowd issuing a cascade of boos, Mankind held Undertaker's arms back for Paul Bearer to smack Undertaker across the face, and boot him repeatedly. Despite being assaulted by Paul Bearer and Mankind, the Dead Man still tried crawling toward Paul Bearer's urn to achieve victory. Almost as if he was spitting in the face of their longtime partnership, Paul Bearer lifted the urn over his head, and slammed it hard over the head of the Undertaker, knocking him out cold. Paul Bearer then handed Mankind the urn for the win at 27:07.

Mankind and Paul Bearer embraced, and the two left together to the disapproval of the fans. Paul Bearer looked at the camera and told the viewing audience, "I'm Paul Bearer, and you're not!" The two then disappeared to the dressing room with the urn in their possession. Just when it all seemed to be over, the familiar bell of the Undertaker sounded, and the arena went dark. As chants were heard over the PA system, a group of druids emerged, and proceeded to carry Undertaker in a crucifix-like position into the shadows. Mankind seemed to have won the war against the Undertaker once and for all....or did he?

Undertaker and Mankind would continue to do battle against one another over the years, well into 1999. Along the way, the two would engage in many memorable battles, including a "Buried Alive" match at In Your House: Buried Alive on October 20, 1996, a match for the WWE Championship at In Your House: Revenge of the 'Taker on April 20, 1997 (which saw Undertaker throw fire into Paul Bearer's face), and of course their most famous match of all, Hell In A Cell at King of the Ring, on June 28, 1998. Their final battles were fought over the World Tag Team Championship in 1999, as Undertaker teamed with the Big Show to take on Mankind and The Rock, the Rock 'n' Sock Connection, in a series of battles.

Was there ever a clear cut winner in this long standing feud? That's a point of debate which will be contested by fans for years to come. There is one fact which is hard to dispute: no matter how many more types of adversaries the Undertaker has had over the years since, none of them have been able to give him the challenge that Mankind gave him. Not only is his record against the Undertaker is superior to all others, but he was the first man to expose a human side to the Dead Man. When he took Paul Bearer from him, he showed the world that underneath the cold, undead exterior, the Undertaker was indeed, quite human.

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