In Gimmick Some Lovin', we take a look at one iteration of a gimmick match each week. Some are iconic for their success, others for the extent to which they flopped, and some just...happened.
We defined a "gimmick match" as, in any way, adding a rule to or removing a rule from a match, changing the physical environment of a match, changing the conditions which define a "win", or in any way moving past the simple requirement of two men/women/teams whose contest must end via a single pinfall, submission, countout, or disqualification.
This week's entry is the Buried Alive match which served as the main event of October 20, 1996, In Your House PPV.
Every Good Gimmick Needs a Good Feud
It's interesting, in considering doing a feature on gimmick matches, just how many of those gimmick matches end up involving one Mark Callaway, who, for the better part of 30 years, has been known to the wrestling world as The Undertaker.
Booger Red's WWF/E tenure includes at least five different types of gimmick matches which originated either to fit his supernatural character or to fit the brutality of the feud in which he found himself (more on that later).
One, the casket match, remained primarily the Dead Man's domain; while another, Hell in a Cell, has found much broader use in the world of pretend fighting.
Two speciality matches blossomed out of Taker's 1996 feud with Mick Foley's Mankind persona, primarily because the on-screen hatred between the two could not be settled by traditional means. The first, SummerSlam 1996's Boiler Room Brawl, was tailored to Foley's fascinating first WWF face and turned out to be difficult to watch, but very much ahead of its time.
The match saw the pair batter each other with all the plunder they could find in the bowels of Cleveland's Gund Arena (which, for being relatively new at the time, managed to have a very cluttered, ancient boiler room area), battling each other (along with tetanus, hepatitis, and/or any number of bacterial infections) on the way to the ring.
The conclusion of this match saw Taker's trusted confidante, Paul Bearer, turn on "The Deadman" in a moment that is probably better in your memory than it is on video (spoiler alert: the actual turn takes far longer than it needs to; the finish features several long minutes of overacted deliberation before Bearer finally bashes his now-former charge with the urn).
As explained on WWF programming heading into the match, the only way for a competitor to win was to take his opponent to an open grave, place him inside, and, as the title of the match suggests, begin shovelling dirt onto his opponent.
However, as you'll see with the finish and its aftermath, it was never established what amount of dirt would be necessary to constitute a "win".
Full disclosure here: I was very ready to hate this match. When I decided to have this be the first match in the series, I remembered enough of the post-match shenanigans to have a pre-formed opinion of the match itself. I thought it would be drawn-out, boring, and a little too reliant on the gimmick to be entertaining.
Was I dead wrong (pun fully intended)!
This might be my favourite match of the Undertaker-Mankind feud. It was a great bridge match between the Old School/New Generation era (with spots like Mankind being handed a mysterious "foreign object" to aid his punches) and a newer era of less cartoonish, more serious wrestling (with Mankind using said foreign object to bloodlessly stab the Undertaker repeatedly in the head, alongside some chair shots that looked BRUTAL to a 2017 viewer who hasn't seen a chair to an unprotected head on WWE TV in years).
There were some real standout spots, like Taker hitting a Kane-style flying clothesline from the top rope over the corner of the ringside barricade to Mankind in the aisle; or, after a brief crowd brawl, Taker flying over the barricade again from the arena floor to the elevated ringside area to nail Foley with another clothesline.
Foley's propensity for impressive-to-watch but probably career-shortening bumps added a lot, too, with a hip toss off the gravesite to the arena floor, a chokeslam into the grave, and a spot where The Undertaker reverses a Foley piledriver attempt on the floor into something that resembled Bob Holly's Alabamaslam, but then saw Undertaker simply fall backward and squash Mankind into the ring steps and arena floor.
That's not to say there wasn't a bit of contrived silliness (this is professional wrestling, after all).
At one point, a suplex attempt next to the grave is countered with a small package that sent both men tumbling down the makeshift hill (in a match with no pinfalls), and, strangely, each man had a habit of dragging his foe back to the ring after big spots near the grave (from a live event perspective, this makes sense, but in the context of the match, it seems ridiculous).
For the finish, Taker chokeslammed Mankind into the grave, started shovelling, and got to some acceptable level of coverage (if it were snow, people in Atlanta might cancel school, but everywhere else in the world it'd be a mere dusting). The bell rings to officially award The Deadman with the win.
Taker is Taker, though, and keeps shovelling that dirt on, so a slew of referees try to stop him, albeit one at a time. This, however, is HIS YARD (well, it would be in six or seven years), so he throws punches (and, at times, referees themselves) to get them all away and I am all in for all of this.
The Post-Match Burial
But, wait! A hooded figure attacks! It's definitely not Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy in a Wal Mart Halloween costume, no! It's The Executioner! He hits The Undertaker with a definitely-not-fake axe and sends him into the gravesite while Mankind clambers out. If you can't tell, this is where it gets silly.
Mankind, Bearer, and The Executioner start to bury The Deadman (Foley throwing dirt on like a dog is a nice touch), but it's slow going, so we do the Royal Rumble 1994 finish where every heel who is still in costume and who hasn't already left for Fort Wayne comes out (Goldust, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Crush, and Justin "Hawk" Bradshaw) to help with the burial [insert Triple H joke here].
This portion is long. SO long. So much longer than the Bearer turn at SummerSlam. It takes forever for the heels to get out there, then even longer for them to finish filling the grave (later iterations of this match, as I understand it, fixed this problem with construction equipment).
After what seems like forever, peals of thunder start, which scare off everyone but Mankind, Paul Bearer, and The Executioner. Once those three depart, lightning hits the grave and a maybe animatronic (but definitely emerging from the wrong spot based on where the Undertaker was during the burial) emerges for the Carrie ending and... just waves around for a while like a sea snake.
For the match itself? I'm way in. The grave was used well and the action was very different from anything else we were seeing in 1996, even from these two. In fact, I think this might be (at least in terms of bell-to-bell action) my favourite Undertaker vs. Mankind match (and you can call it heresy, but I'm not a big fan of their Hell in a Cell match).
But then there's the ending. It takes so long to close this one out, and I think some foresight as to how long it would take to actually fill a grave would have been useful.
The match? 8/10
The post-match? 3/10
Some people invest a lot in Meltzer ratings. I don't; I respect his standing in the business and I respect his opinion, but I don't want to base my own opinions on what he thinks. I will, however, look up his rating after writing up my own thoughts in case anyone's curious.
Dave gives this one ***3/4 stars, which is pretty close to my 8/10.