After decades of The Undertaker keeping everything close to the vest when it comes to his character and the behind-the-scenes aspects of pro wrestling, he showed over the past couple of months that he's ready to open up about his experiences. In concert with the release of the documentary series "The Last Ride on the WWE Network" series, The Undertaker has been conducting interviews and discussing some of the biggest moments of his career.
In-ring opponents and friends including Shawn Michaels and Shane McMahon have also weighed in on those moments and the impact The Undertaker has had on their lives. But for the most part, the stories have been focused on recent history, largely because the documentary focuses on footage recorded over the past few years as The Undertaker has lowered his guard.
Fans still have a lot of questions about early moments in The Undertaker's career, though, and on the most recent edition of ESPN's Cheap Heat podcast, Peter Rosenberg asked The Undertaker about a topic that has long been a point of extreme curiosity: his first WWE championship victory, against Hulk Hogan, and why he almost immediately dropped the title back to Hogan in the days that followed.
To set the scene, one year after debuting in the WWE, The Undertaker was set to face Hogan for the WWE title at Survivor Series 1991, and with his career on the fast track, The Undertaker was set to win the belt. Before the match, Hogan approached The Undertaker and expressed some concern about a neck injury and the danger of taking The Undertaker's Tombstone piledriver finishing move, which appears to drive the opponent's head into the mat.
After assuring Hogan that he would take the utmost precaution, The Undertaker prepared for the moment that would make him champion, which would happen with an assist from the legendary Ric Flair.
"We go into the finish, Flair comes down, slides the chair down, I pick [Hogan] up, and when I tell you I had the brother secure, he was secure," recalls The Undertaker. "Boom, I give him the Tombstone. Soon as my knees hit, I hear, 'Ow, you got me brother.'
"I was 24, 25 years old, and I just crushed Hulk Hogan -- that's what's going through my head. They gave me this opportunity, they gave me the chance to run with the ball and I just hurt the golden goose. I'm just devastated. Mortified."
Once everyone made it backstage after the show, however, doubts started to creep in. Other wrestlers who had been watching the match backstage made it clear that Hogan's head was nowhere close to the mat and that there was little proof of any mistake on The Undertaker's part. The Undertaker said that Hogan later claimed the injury happened because The Undertaker was holding him too tightly, rather than damage caused by a direct impact.
"It was clear as day, to me, that Mark had protected Hulk, but Hulk claimed that his neck was hurting and that he was stunned for a second," says McMahon, who discussed the nature of older wrestlers being motivated to try to protect their spot at the top of the pecking order. "I'll leave it there, whether there was any embellishment from Taker's opponent at that time. Hogan was the icon. Taker was just coming up. It wouldn't have been the first time with those older-school guys vs. the rookie."
Hogan would go on to win the title back under similarly disputed circumstances at the This Tuesday in Texas pay-per-view less than a week later, but because of Flair's interference in that match, too, the title was vacated. The Undertaker wouldn't hold the WWE championship again for more than five years, but remained loyal to Vince McMahon and the company. He was one of the stars who never cashed in and signed with rival WCW in the late 1990s as they came to power.
The Undertaker shares his memories of the 'Montreal Screwjob'
The Undertaker goes in depth on the infamous Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels match at Survivor Series, forever known as the "Montreal Screwjob." Subscribe to ESPN's official pro wrestling podcast, Cheap Heat here https://apple.co/2XOpowy
He did, however, have a front-row seat to the most infamous moments of the "Monday Night Wars" era of professional wrestling -- the "Montreal Screwjob," during which Vince McMahon flipped the script on the soon-to-depart Bret Hart and changed the end of a match without informing the then-WWE champion that Michaels was going to win the belt.
After the events of that night in November 1997, which were well documented in "Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows," The Undertaker was in the locker room to witness the postmatch interaction between all of the involved parties, as Vince McMahon walked into the room with Bruce Prichard, Pat Patterson, Gerald Brisco, and his son, Shane, to speak to Bret, who was joined by a handful of other wrestlers.
"Everybody sits down -- Vince on one side, Bret's on the other side, and I took Shawn to the far end of the dressing room and I sat next to Shawn. I knew at some point that he was going to chime in and that wasn't going to help anything," says The Undertaker.
"They're kind of going back and forth, Vince is trying to explain his position, Bret's giving his thoughts, about what he thought about Vince and what he did. He said, 'I'm going to go in here and I'm going to shower, I'm going to get dressed. If you're still here, I'm going to knock you out. ... To this day, I cannot figure out how that punch got through so many people."