The greatest story ever told in professional wrestling history, as far as I’m concerned (and by that, I mean WWE since I don’t have enough knowledge of wrestling outside of WWE to make such a bold claim), is the story of Kane’s arrival to the WWE as The Undertaker’s brother in 1997.
There have been a lot of great stories told in WWE’s history. The greatest in a lot of people’s estimation is the Mega Powers exploding storyline between Macho Man and Hulk Hogan in 1989 over Miss Elizabeth. Other great ones include:
- Bret Hart and Owen Hart leading into WrestleMania 10 and then Summerslam 1994, with the latter as the jealous, vengeful brother.
- HBK’s comeback story, where we thought DX with HHH was reforming, but HHH turned on him, out to prove he was always better than HBK culminating in an iconic Summerslam 2002 match, with that dastardly, memorable ending with the sledgehammer.
- Batista turning on HHH and Ric Flair and breaking from Evolution on his way to a World Title at WrestleMania 21 in 2005.
- Daniel Bryan’s rise to the World Title against the Authority (HHH and Stephanie McMahon) in 2014, culminating in the triumph of the Yes Movement at WrestleMania XXX. The crowds have never been hotter for a wrestler in the last 15 years.
- The rise of The Man, Becky Lynch, from bad-ass bloody face in 2018 to the first women’s main event of WrestleMania 35 in 2019. So cool.
- Kofimania, with Kofi of The New Day battling against McMahon and Daniel Bryan (in a twist of the Yes Movement story), to win the World Title at WrestleMania 35 in 2019.
At this point, some may be thinking “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Mr. McMahon is the greatest story ever told in WWE. I don’t think it fits the definition, though. In my head, the story must have a beginning, middle and an end. The end, of course, being that the story is building up to and being capped off in a wrestling match. It is wrestling, after all. The Austin/McMahon feud was never designed in that way. I would argue it’s exactly that: a feud, more than story, and on that level, it is the greatest feud ever.
All of what I’ve mentioned and then some are great, great stories. Some of my all-time favorites, too. But the absolute best, for which I still routinely visit, is the introduction of Kane as the brother of The Undertaker leading to their first encounter.
The abbreviated version of the story is that by May-ish 1997, Paul Bearer, Undertaker’s longtime manager, was on the outs with the Undertaker, having turned on him a year prior to align himself with Mankind. But by mid-1997, he began teasing the story of Kane, indicating that Undertaker had deep, dark secret he was concealing from the world. Bearer was trying to use the secret as blackmail to control Undertaker again.
By June 30, 1997, we learn that the secret, in Bearer’s telling, was The Undertaker, who grew up in a funeral home, had set fire to the funeral home in 1967, killing his parents and his younger brother Kane. [We later learn that, Bearer, who worked as an apprentice at the funeral home, had an affair with the mother, and in fact, Kane is Bearer’s son, so they’re half-brothers.]
But, in fact, Kane was still alive, but badly scarred, hence he wore a mask over his face. And of course, he was out for revenge against his older brother. Later that evening on the show, Undertaker explained that, yes, his family did die in the funeral home, but it wasn’t Undertaker who did it. Kane was a pyromaniac, and did it. Still, Undertaker felt responsible and guilty since he was the older brother.
In the course of this, we’re getting new layers to Undertaker. At this point, he’d never shown this kind of emotion or talked this much, expressing his grief over his dead family. He almost explains it as a Batman origin story, too. He grew up in death and was marked by death, so to understand it all, he became death, i.e., the Deadman. Gah, I love it!
On Oct. 5, 1997, at the first ever Hell in a Cell (a cage surrounding the entire ring with a ceiling) between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels at Badd Blood: In Your House, Kane made his debut. The entire structure of the cage and its conceit (to keep others from interfering) was designed to have Kane come out and rip the door off its hinges to get in. It’s the greatest WWE debut in history:
First off, Kane looks like a monster. That’s half the battle right there. The look is phenomenal, something right out of a horror film. And Undertaker sells it so well. He’s a powerful character, too, so it wouldn’t make sense for him to whimper or cower in fear. Instead, he shows utter bewilderment and shock that Kane is actually alive. That Bearer was telling the truth.
From there, we begin building to WrestleMania 14, with Undertaker reluctant to take on his brother. He doesn’t want to fight him. In the meantime, Kane is going to go through the entire roster destroying everyone until Undertaker fights him.
By the Royal Rumble in January 1998, in another match involving Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, this time a casket match, it seemed like Kane was coming out to help Undertaker fight off DX. Turns out, he was plotting to burn Undertaker alive like he’d been burned alive:
Through the course of this build-up, it’s like two horror icons facing off against each other, with both showing off supernatural powers, such as controlling fire and lightning. I mean, this is the stuff kid fantasies are made of! Something straight out of a horror movie and/or comic book. Heck yeah. And Kane just seemed so powerful, even more powerful than Undertaker, and it was like, how is Undertaker going to be able to defeat this monster? Which is exactly what you want from a pro wrestling match. When the outcome seems hard to predict.
At WrestleMania 14 in March 1998, more than 10 months of build up culminated in the Undertaker and Kane finally facing off. Kane dominated the Undertaker in a way we’d never quite seen before, and it took three tombstones to bring Kane down. Nobody had ever kicked out of a tombstone prior to that point, much less two (and he almost kicked out of the third one). Undertaker was then left lying in the ring after further assault. Unthinkable.
This 10-month story established an entirely new character in Kane, who would go on to have a 23 year career in the WWE, and it added further layers and longevity to the Undertaker character. It’s hard to imagine either character without the other at this point. There was so much you could do with it, and after that culmination, they did. They started telling this awesome story about Kane and Undertaker forming as a team to take down “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in another great story, Highway to Hell, leading to Summerslam 1998. So, it all came back around for nearly 18 months worth of storytelling.
It’s my favorite story in WWE history because I love the Undertaker character and I love the Kane character, and seeing these two supernatural and unstoppable forces collide was incredible. The actual in-ring stuff is great, but it’s the story around it and leading up to it that grabs me and most wrestling fans. There’s never been a story quite like this before or since in WWE history.
Within this story, in my opinion, as I said, you have the greatest debut in WWE history, and then the greatest hoss fight or big man match, in Kane and Undertaker at WrestleMania 14. It’s all masterfully done.
Critics of the story think it’s too cartoonish or outlandish or convoluted whatever else. I think it’s awesome and I will die on that hill.
What do you think is the greatest story ever told in WWE? What do you think of this story?