The Undertaker’s Return As The Deadman In The Ruthless Aggression Era Was Actually Bad
To the delight of fans, Undertaker became The Deadman again in the Ruthless Aggression Era. But at first, his return sucked due to poor booking.
WWE ended the American Badass character of The Undertaker to bring back the deadman gimmick in 2004. Undertaker stepping away from that version of himself for a few years led to a lot of excitement from the audience. A return match against Kane at WrestleMania 20 featured the audience getting the moment they wanted, but everything else in the next few months missed the mark.
Undertaker was placed into some disappointing angles and matches that makes us wonder if that idea was actually a success. The latter half of the 2000s did see Undertaker having legendary moments with the dead man character, but the immediate future of the change provided pessimism. Undertaker’s return to his original gimmick in the Ruthless Aggression Era was an underrated short-term failure in the WWE landscape.
Paul Bearer’s Pairing With The Deadman Didn’t Work in 2004
The return of The Undertaker at WrestleMania 20 did work vs Kane since fans were anticipating the moment following months of teasing. Paul Bearer surprisingly returned with Undertaker to reunite the old pair of a legendary wrestler and manager combination. The first storyline for Undertaker once he was a full-time member of the Smackdown brand again however, was a disaster.
Paul Heyman used his relationship with the Dudley Boyz to have them target The Undertaker. The “weakness” of Bearer as Undertaker’s manager was used when the Dudley Boyz abducted Bearer at the bidding of Heyman. WWE ran the angle that Heyman wanted to have the power of controlling Undertaker and it led to one of the strangest matches in wrestling history.
Undertaker faced both Bubba Ray and D-Von in a handicap match with the Concrete Crypt stipulation. Bearer was locked in a crypt that was going to be filled to seemingly kill him if Undertaker lost the match. Despite winning, Undertaker still pulled the trigger to suffocate Bearer with concrete to prove he didn’t have a weakness. It made zero sense for a legendary face to kill a beloved manager to show mental toughness.
Failed JBL Feud
The WWE Championship reign of JBL was quite polarizing in 2004. Many fans enjoyed a new star getting elevated out of nowhere while others felt it was ridiculous to have a lifelong mid-carder dominate the world title picture. JBL moved into a singles feud with The Undertaker throughout the summer of 2004 after he defeated Eddie Guerrero to win the WWE Championship and retained on an episode of Smackdown in a steel cage.
Undertaker had gone a couple of years without holding a world title, so it did make sense to place him in this program. However, it ended up hurting him since the goal was to continue the cheap heat-inducing title reign that was JBL’s time as WWE Champion. The big match between the two at SummerSlam 2004 was a massive disappointment since it ended in DQ. Fans typically hate when a match has a non-finish, but it’s even worse on the second biggest show of the year.
WWE did book them in a rematch at No Mercy 2004 in a Last Ride match. The goal of the match was for the winner to place the loser in a hearse and drive them out of the arena. WWE never ran this match again since it was a failure. Undertaker took a loss due to the lackluster Heidenreich interfering to start their upcoming feud.
Undertaker Had To Get Heidenreich Over
WWE has a long history of using The Undertaker to try to get mediocre or below-average wrestlers over. Names like The Great Khali, Giant Gonzalez and Heidenreich here were all meant to become bigger stars after working a feud with the legend. Most instances would see Undertaker unable to make it work as the talents just couldn’t work up to his level.
Heidenreich followed that pattern despite feuding with Undertaker for a few months. WWE initially had Heidenreich stalk Michael Cole in an angle that essentially ruined him before he could get going. Undertaker did win the first match against Heidenreich, but the new angry heel cost him another WWE Championship match against JBL in a fatal four-way.
The feud between Undertaker and Heidenreich extended to three months with a casket match set for Royal Rumble 2005. Fans lost all interest by that time, and it was just an excuse to have Undertaker win another casket match. Most of 2004 and the start of 2005 featured horrible booking that hurt the return of Undertaker after having fans so excited for his comeback as The Phenom. A program with Randy Orton in 2005 did thankfully turn things around to make it work in the long run.