This Sunday, the two biggest attractions WWE has to offer will collide in the main event of SummerSlam. It’s a monumental match—and one with years of history behind it.
WWE television is quick to reference WrestleMania 30 as the genesis of this bout, but this feud has been raging for more than a decade. The Phenom has been at war with The Beast for a very long time indeed.
At this point, the pair can safely count themselves among one another’s greatest opponents. Few men have taken the fight to The Undertaker as Brock Lesnar has, and the same could be said with the roles reversed.
Sunday could be the conclusion of this mythic rivalry. Before we see the end, here’s a recap of the journey that delivered both men to the main event of SummerSlam 2015.
Nov. 22, 1990: Undertaker Makes His Debut
At the fourth edition of the Survivor Series in 1990, fans were intrigued to see who the Million Dollar Man’s mystery teammate would turn out to be. Few could have expected as impactful a presence as The Undertaker.
Undertaker would eliminate both Koko B. Ware and Dusty Rhodes in his debut performance, being eliminated from the four-on-four bout via count-out when he left the match to attack the American Dream.
In the year that followed, the Phenom would feud with the likes of Randy Savage, Jimmy Snuka and the Ultimate Warrior. By Survivor Series 1991, he had earned himself a shot at Hulk Hogan’s WWF Championship.
The Undertaker would cap off his debut year in the company by winning the world title, a feat seldom accomplished by wrestlers in that era, and still a rarity to this day. In just 12 months, the myth of The Undertaker had been written—but there would be much more to add to it in the years that followed.
May 21, 2000: The American Badass Is Born
The Undertaker would continue to develop his deathly persona throughout the 1990s, but as the decade came to a close it was clear that the wrestling business was changing.
The Attitude Era called for a different kind of in-ring personality, and the broad strokes of The Phenom seemed rather dated compared to stars like The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. After a few weeks of hinting towards a more realistic character at the end of 1999, The Undertaker disappeared from TV.
Judgement Day 2000 saw Triple H take on The Rock in an Iron Man match that served as the main event of the pay-per-view. After The Game’s cronies tried to interfere on his behalf, a familiar gong sounded through the arena—but this wasn’t The Undertaker of old.
Now outfitted with a bandanna, trench coat and riding a motorcycle, the paranormal aspect of the character had been thrown out in favour of a biker aesthetic. The Undertaker was now more interested in making opponents “famous” than having them “rest in peace”—a timely shift that helped the character endure.
Nov. 26, 2001: Enter Big Evil
By the time The Undertaker had helped fight off the WCW/ECW invasion of 2001, The Deadman was ready to go out on his own.
Undertaker had never been one to suffer fools gladly, but it was on a November episode of Monday Night Raw that saw him demonstrate the lengths he was willing to take that philosophy to.
Fans expected to see him come to Jim Ross’ aid as the beloved commentator was being forced to kiss Vince McMahon’s backside. Instead, he punched good old JR right in the mouth, much to the dismay of the crowd.
This was the birth of Big Evil, the veteran with a chip on his shoulder. Undertaker would target up-and-coming talent like the wildly popular Rob Van Dam and inaugural Tough Enough winner Maven.
It’s worth noting that this period also marked an uptick in the references to The Deadman’s growing undefeated streak at WrestleMania. The Undertaker was building a legacy—but, at this point, it was being constructed on a foundation of spite and violence.
March 18, 2002: The Next Big Thing
On the Raw following WrestleMania X8, Brock Lesnar made his debut on WWE television in memorable fashion.
Hopping the barrier during a hardcore match, Lesnar laid waste to Al Snow, Maven and Spike Dudley—with the inimitable Paul Heyman barking orders from ringside all the while.
Lesnar had announced his presence to the entire WWE universe and would continue to dominate in the weeks that followed. Shortly afterwards, he would turn his attention towards The Hardy Boyz, beating Jeff via knockout in his pay-per-view debut at Backlash and dispatching Matt the night afterwards on Raw.
May 3, 2002: The First Encounter
Beast and Phenom would come together for the first time just weeks after Lesnar made his WWE debut—however, the circumstances were quite unusual.
On a tour of the U.K., the pair would team up to face the equally unusual team of Triple H and Matt Hardy. Since this match wasn’t televised, little is known about it—but it has to be seen as a key chapter in the relationship between the two men.
Following this, the pair would reunite to take on Ric Flair and Rob Van Dam on an episode of Raw two months later.
This first meeting raises plenty of questions, especially given the way both men would cross paths later in 2002. Was this the moment that Undertaker began to see Lesnar as a threat? Or did Lesnar start looking at Undertaker as the scalp he needed to reach the top?
June 23, 2002: King of the Ring
In 2002, Brock Lesnar was crowned King of the Ring—a reign so impactful that the title wouldn’t be handed out again for four years.
Lesnar beat Bubba Ray Dudley, Booker T and Test on his way to the finals. He would meet his stiffest competition there, in the form of the white-hot Rob Van Dam. However, even the aerial assault of RVD couldn’t match the sheer will of The Beast.
Winning the tournament gave Lesnar a shot at the richest prize in pro wrestling, the Undisputed Championship. Brock would meet The Rock at SummerSlam—but, beforehand, he’d leave Hulk Hogan battered and bloodied in the ring after a memorable encounter.
Aug. 25, 2002: Undisputed
At Lesnar’s first SummerSlam, he would break the record for the shortest ascent to the world title by defeating The Rock for the Undisputed Championship just 126 days after his debut.
However, that wasn’t the only statistic to come from the win. Lesnar also wrote his name in the history books as the youngest competitor to win the world title. Interestingly, The Rock had previously broke this record—as had The Undertaker.
With the belt around his waist, Lesnar had accomplished more than most wrestlers do over the course of their career in just a few months. The Beast was at the top of the mountain—but his greatest test was waiting in the wings.
Oct. 20, 2002: Show No Mercy
Undertaker and Lesnar would battle for the WWE Championship at Unforgiven 2002, but that bout was really just the prologue to their match at No Mercy the following month.
There, The Beast would face The Phenom inside Hell in a Cell. While today the structure has lost some of the bite that it once had, the match is one of the most brutal encounters that you’re likely to see in a wrestling ring.
This is the moment that Lesnar earned the respect of many. He went through nothing less than a war with Undertaker—and, in doing so, demonstrated that the technical ability from his amateur wrestling days could be augmented with the theatrics of sports entertainment.
Lesnar had picked up several major wins beforehand, but this was the match that made The Beast. The Undertaker had long been threatening to make his opponents “famous,” but he never did a better job than inside a cell in Arkansas in October 2002.
Jan. 19, 2003: The Road to WrestleMania
By the beginning of 2003, Lesnar had lost his championship and his representative, Heyman.
Things weren’t so bleak for The Beast, though, as he pulled the desirable No. 29 position in the Royal Rumble after beating the Big Show in a qualifying match earlier in the night.
The night seemed to belong to Lesnar, until The Undertaker’s music hit and introduced The Deadman as the last competitor to enter the match. Both men racked up several eliminations apiece, until they were the only two wrestlers left in contention.
However, it would be Lesnar who last eliminated The Phenom and booked his ticket to WrestleMania. The Beast would go on to defeat Kurt Angle in the main event and win the world title, capping off a truly standout rookie year in WWE.
March 14, 2004: Brock Checks out
At WrestleMania XX, Lesnar faced Goldberg in a match that’s gone down as one of the biggest fiascos in the history of the event.
Both men were set to leave the company following the show, and their performance was clear evidence as such. Fans hated it, and the only way to salvage the bout was a flurry of Stone Cold Stunners delivered by Steve Austin to all involved.
Lesnar had plans of playing in the NFL, which ultimately would not come to pass. However, he would find much more success in the world of MMA. After wrestling in Japan in the latter part of 2005, The Beast would soon turn his attention towards the Octagon.
Oct. 23, 2010: It’s Kind of a Personal Thing
At UFC 121, Brock Lesnar lost his UFC Heavyweight Championship to Cain Velasquez. Waiting for him in the crowd after his match was none other than the Undertaker.
While being interviewed by Ariel Helwani, The Phenom saw Lesnar passing on his way back to the locker rooms. Rather than offering commiserations to the former champ, Undertaker laid down a challenge. Lesnar made no attempt to respond.
When pushed on his relationship with Lesnar by Helwani, Undertaker remained cagey, stating that it was a “personal” thing between the two. Even now, it’s difficult to say in what capacity The Deadman attended—as a fan of UFC, or as a professional wrestler.
What is for sure is that fans had their interest in another encounter between the two leviathans sparked. Back then, it seemed unlikely to take place—but, as we all know, we would only have to wait a few years.
April 2, 2012: The Beast Is Back
A decade almost to the day after he made his WWE debut, Brock Lesnar made a triumphant return to Monday Night Raw on the night after WrestleMania 28.
Deafening chants of “We want Lesnar” rang through the building as John Cena stood in the ring delivering a speech about his actions the night before. When the familiar sound of distorted guitars ushered in Lesnar’s theme music, the crowd came to life.
Lesnar would deliver an F5 to Cena, reigniting the feud the two had engaged in years earlier. Cena would beat Lesnar at Extreme Rules, but The Beast demonstrated that he hadn’t missed a step in the ring.
In the months that followed, Lesnar would engage in a vicious feud with Triple H. However, there was another WWE legend that The Beast had unfinished business with.
April 6, 2014: The Streak Is Dead
When Lesnar returned to WWE, it seemed quite obvious that we would see him face The Undertaker at WrestleMania—but few would have predicted that The Beast would end the Streak.
There was a time when it seemed that the Undertaker’s perfect record at WrestleMania would never be sullied with a loss. However, that was before the Beast Incarnate had his say.
Few moments in pro wrestling history can compare to the occasion of “The Streak” being broken. It was a truly shocking outcome—and further proof that Lesnar is unlike any competitor that went before him.
With The Streak in tatters, it seemed that Lesnar had put a legend out to pasture. However, every time The Phenom seems to be dead and buried, there always seems to be another twist in the tale.
July 19, 2015: A New Battleground
At this year’s edition of the Battleground pay-per-view, Lesnar looked set to reclaim his WWE World Heavyweight Championship from Seth Rollins.
The Architect, having pulled off something of a heist at WrestleMania, had been dodging the challenge of the former champion. With the match booked for Battleground, it seemed that he had run out of excuses.
When the match began, things looked bleak for Rollins. He was being given a beating that echoed Lesnar’s matches against the likes of Undertaker and John Cena. However, when the lights went down, the composition of the match changed dramatically.
The Undertaker made his return—a rare appearance outside of the annual build to WrestleMania. The Phenom cost Lesnar the match, and did so with an odious kick to the groin followed by more typical offence.
The Phenom looked more like his old self than he had in years. The next night on Raw, he would cite Lesnar and Heyman’s gloating as the reason for his return, rather than the loss itself. Whichever might be the case, it was soon clear that The Deadman was out for blood.
Aug. 23, 2015: SummerSlam
The score between Lesnar and The Undertaker will be settled at SummerSlam, this Sunday.
History certainly seems to be on the side of The Beast, who has never been defeated in a singles match on pay-per-view by The Deadman.
With that being said, we’ve seen a new side to Undertaker over the past few weeks. He’s perhaps not afraid to take shortcuts to get the result he’s looking for—and that’s something that Big Evil has benefited greatly from in the past.
This blockbuster SummerSlam main event looks set to chart the course for the future of both men’s careers. Can Undertaker gain a measure of revenge for the biggest defeat of his career? Or can Lesnar prove that his WrestleMania win was more than a mere fluke?
This Sunday looks to be the culmination of a feud years in the making. We’ll likely never see this pairing headline a pay-per-view again, so expect to see all the stops pulled out for a truly titanic main event.
Only one question remains—which man has what it takes to put the other away, once and for all?