The tale of two estranged siblings, the story of The Big Red Machine and The Deadman is one of the most beloved stories in professional wrestling history.
Sibling rivalry may be one thing, but the tenuous relationship between the “Big Red Machine” Kane and the phenom known as The Undertaker is something else entirely. Staples of both the cartoonish New Generation and adult-oriented “Attitude” eras, Mark Calaway and Glenn Jacobs had been journeymen on the independent circuit before they went on to portray two of the most enduring characters in wrestling history. Driven by the supernatural, these men brought a touch of the underworld to the then-World Wrestling Federation and have refused to loosen their vicelike grip on the audience’s imagination ever since.
Initially working under the moniker of “Mean” Mark Callous in World Championship Wrestling, the would-be “Deadman” was brought to the market after significant support from WWE producer and occasional onscreen personality Bruce Prichard. Built around the concept of an old-timey embalmer from frontier times, he was designed to be the complete antithesis of Pritchard’s “Brother Love” persona. Inspired by the biblical story of the “first man to commit murder,” the character debuted in an unrecorded WWF Superstars” match on November 19, 1990, under the name “Kane The Undertaker.” Three days on, he’d make his televised debut at the third annual Survivor Series.
Lumbering to the ring as the eerie strains of Chopin’s death march filled the arena, the sight of the 6ft 10 behemoth striding out to the ring left an indelible mark on fans around the world. Crowned WWF champion only one year after he debuted, Taker—now managed by the ghostly visage of Paul Bearer—would feud with everyone from Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart to less cherished talents such as Giant Gonzalez and Lex Luger.
Come 1997, Taker was one of the WWE’s marquee stars. The problem was, he was fast running out of credible opponents. Embroiled in a feud with “The Hearbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels, the WWE’s creative team utilized the conclusion of their match at Badd Blood 1997 as the perfect avenue to introduce a relic from the Deadman’s largely undisclosed past. Estranged from his former mentor Paul Bearer, the manager took it upon himself to dredge up a—classically farfetched-- story that Undertaker had likely hoped to keep under wraps.
“We’re talking about a little funeral home, sitting up on a hill, beautiful oak trees. A family-owned funeral home. The family lived upstairs, the father was the mortician, the mother, a receptionist. But there were two little kids there. One was a little red-headed punk. The other was a sweet little kid called Kane. I was the mortician’s apprentice… Someone burned down the funeral home. Inside was this lovely family that took care of me. I look over in the bushes and who do I see? The Undertaker. You burnt the funeral home to the ground!”
Assaulted by Taker before he could elaborate any further, Bearer would eventually manage to splutter out three words that would alter the course of the WWE forevermore: “Kane is alive.”
THE BIG RED MACHINE
Utilized as a tool to make Undertaker “subservient” to him once more, Bearer promised to do what the Deadman thought impossible and reveal his disfigured little brother to the world. Dreamt up by former WWE creative team member and notorious curmudgeon Jim Cornette, the industry veteran was integral to the creation of the character and took inspiration from one of the most infamous big-screen slashers in history. “My original thought of Kane was Michael Myers In Halloween, my favorite horror movie," revealed Cornette. "I thought that the vignettes would be seeing through the eyeholes with the muffled breathing and you’d see pictures of the Undertaker all over the walls. Of course, they superhero’d him all out.”
Previously saddled with a litany of terrible gimmicks including fake “Diesel,” The Christmas Monster and Jerry Lawler’s demonic dentist Isaac Yankem, the long-suffering Glenn Jacobs finally caught a break when he was given the role of Kane. Clad in a foreboding red-and-black bodysuit and a mask, the long-lost brother emerged during the dying embers of his match with Michaels, ripped the door off the Hell In A Cell that enclosed them, and laid him out with a brutal tombstone piledriver.
From then on, the two were set on a collision course as Kane continued to haunt his elder sibling’s every move. But no matter what he did, Taker refused to engage in a battle with his monstrous brood. “In one moment’s time, the brother that I had lost forever, or so it seemed, stood before me," he said. "When I looked into his eyes, I didn’t see the love of a long-lost brother, but the hatred of a man whose mind has been poisoned… It doesn’t matter, for I will never fight my own flesh and blood.”
After months of provocations— including an incident where the “badly burned” Kane choke slammed him into a casket and set it ablaze-- the stage was finally set for them to settle the score of a lifetime at Wrestlemania 14. After 16 hotly-contested minutes, Taker managed to put his brother away- but it would be far from their last encounter. One month on at In Your House: Unforgiven, the two would meet in an Inferno Match. The first of its kind, the ring was engulfed in a wall of flames and the only way to win was to set your opponent alight. Yet again, Taker would escape with the win, but Kane would finally notch up a victory against his older brother on a June 1998 edition of Raw Is War. A victory that gained him a number 1# contenders spot for the WWE Championship in the process.
After Taker helped Kane capture the title from Stone Cold Steve Austin at King Of The Ring 1998, the two would form an uneasy alliance and eventually capture the championship in tandem at Breakdown: In Your House. The catalyst for a decider at Judgement Day, the roles would be reversed after Taker betrayed Kane in order to align himself with the malevolent Paul Bearer and finally admitted to starting the fire that claimed their parent’s lives.
BURIED ALIVE (INTERLUDE)
From there, the two would only cross paths intermittently as they segued into different storylines; they wouldn’t share screen time on a regular basis until The Undertaker was reborn under the polarising “American Badass” guise. Racing to the ring on a motorbike to the sound of Kid Rock, this gimmick may have been less than stellar, but at least it gave birth to the “Brothers Of Destruction.” Now aligned under a common banner, Kane and Taker would defeat Edge & Christian to capture their first tag team gold, later gaining the WCW equivalent during the much-maligned Invasion storyline.
The pair went their separate ways once more until Survivor Series 2003. Driven to insanity by the loss of the safety blanket that was his mask, Kane—whose burns were more psychological than physical—looked to spell Taker’s demise once and for all during a buried alive match with the villainous Mr. McMahon. On the November 23rd edition of Smackdown! Kane delivered a eulogy for his brother, claiming that the man that he once called his brother had been “dead for a long time” and branded him “nothing but a fraud.” After that, Taker was nowhere to seen until Wrestlemania XX. Dubbed “the night where it all begins… again”, it marked the reincarnation of The Deadman of old, complete with druids and his old manager Paul Bearer.
Upon besting Kane once more, the two would remain on somewhat amicable terms for much of the next few years and even racked up another tag-team title reign before things became fractious one final time in 2010. Six years after Taker had drowned him in a massive vat of cement—yes, seriously-- Paul Bearer returned to Kane’s side and coaxed him through a rigorous series of matches with the Deadman. In their last televised bout against one another, Kane would fell his parent’s murderer in a buried alive match at Bragging Rights, finally putting their long and winding saga to rest as Taker’s time in the spotlight began to elapse.
Now that both men are semi-retired—with Glenn Jacobs currently serving as Mayor of Knox County, Tennessee-- the pair make sporadic appearances as a united front such as to mark the real-life passing of Paul Bearer. They were last seen squaring off against Triple H and Shawn Michaels of the beloved D-Generation X at WWE Crown Jewel in November 2018. As the sun sets on their legendary, hall-of-fame worthy careers, Kane and Undertaker’s momentous rivalry will go down as one of the finest examples of long-term storytelling in the entire canon of professional wrestling history.