On October 5, 2021, Netflix will be releasing an interactive film called “Escape The Undertaker,” which features the fun-loving fan favorites The New Day (Big E, Kofi Kingston, and Xavier Woods) dealing with “supernatural challenges” as they spend time in The Undertaker‘s haunted mansion (via TVLine). Just a few years ago, you wouldn’t have imagined The Undertaker joining The New Day in a series of wacky (albeit spooky) adventures — he was, after all, fiercely protective of his supernatural gimmick until the tail-end of his career, when he suddenly became active on social media and started talking about his three-decade-long WWE career from the point of view of Mark Calaway, as opposed to any version of his Undertaker character. And that includes his October 1998-August 1999 run as the leader of what many interpreted to be a satanic cult determined to seize control of the WWE.
One of the wildest feuds of WWE’s Attitude Era involved The Undertaker’s new group, the Ministry of Darkness, going up against company boss Vince McMahon‘s stable, the Corporation. It was mostly a rivalry between two heel factions, one that may be confusing to modern fans even without the multiple twists we’ll be discussing below. But this feud arguably stands out the most because this was, for better or for worse, the Deadman at his darkest and most menacing. Here’s a rundown of the Ministry of Darkness’ key moments, regardless of whether they were dark, edgy, cringe-worthy, controversial, or all of the above.
Who else was in the Ministry of Darkness?
The Ministry of Darkness’ initial supporting cast was made up of big mid-carders who weren’t doing much at the time they joined forces with The Undertaker. According to WhatCulture, the first two recruits were generic Texan cowboy Bradshaw and former Nation of Domination leader Faarooq. Together, they became known as the Acolytes, and their role was to serve as Undertaker’s trusted bodyguards. Toward the end of 1998, the Acolytes kidnapped Dennis Knight, who reemerged weeks later as the fully brainwashed Mideon; this, to be fair, was an improvement over his old pig farmer persona, the unsubtly-named Phineas I. Godwinn. Next, the 450-pound former King of the Ring winner Mabel was similarly abducted and renamed Viscera.
The Undertaker and longtime manager Paul Bearer weren’t done recruiting henchmen to the Ministry. Not satisfied with adding big, burly guys to their ranks, the Deadman and his kayfabe father targeted a trio of smaller wrestlers with a dark gimmick of their own. On the February 1, 1999, episode of “Monday Night Raw,” the vampire-themed Brood (Gangrel, Edge, and Christian) were hazed into joining the Ministry, though they broke ranks from the larger faction soon after. Perhaps WWE’s creative team realized that two of those guys, real-life best friends Edge and Christian, could achieve much bigger things if given a chance to ditch their gothic gimmick, showcase their real personalities, and turn them up to eleven.
The Ministry gets even darker
With the Ministry of Darkness’ classic lineup complete, WWE’s creative team started doubling down on the storyline’s darker aspects, which already included a segment where “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was crucified on live TV (via WhatCulture). The Ministry played mind games by targeting Vince’s family, burning his daughter Stephanie’s supposed childhood teddy bear after an Inferno Match on the February 22, 1999, “Monday Night Raw.” This action brought the elder McMahon to tears, something fans wouldn’t even have imagined seeing from a swaggering alpha male like Vince.
On March 28, The Undertaker defeated Corporation member The Big Boss Man in a Hell in a Cell match at WrestleMania XV. Sounds innocuous, until the part where Undertaker hung Boss Man from the rafters as a sacrifice of sorts for the Ministry of Darkness. Sure, Boss Man was wearing a body harness under his ring gear, but the fact that WWE booked an angle where one wrestler ostensibly murdered another left a bad taste in many fans’ mouths, as shown on this Reddit thread.
At this point in the storyline, Vince McMahon was already considered a babyface after more than a year as a villainous authority figure. To further cement Vince’s good-guy status, the Ministry kidnapped Stephanie at the Backlash pay-per-view on April 25 and announced the next night on “Monday Night Raw” that they would only let her go if Vince gave him full control of WWE. “Mr. McMahon” agreed, but instead of showing up at the set meeting place, Undertaker appeared on “Raw” television with the rest of the Ministry, with Stephanie strapped to a structure modeled after the Ministry’s symbol for her “unholy wedding” to the Deadman. As recalled by Cageside Seats, ‘Taker had just said “I do” when “Stone Cold” Steve Austin stormed the ring and cleaned house on the Ministry, putting an end to the ceremony.
Going 'corporate' with a merger
On April 29, 1999, “SmackDown” aired its very first episode, and on that show, the Ministry of Darkness became much more powerful by merging with their erstwhile rivals, The Corporation. This move was orchestrated by new Corporation leader Shane McMahon, who had just recently kicked his dad Vince and The Rock out of the stable. The Corporation was quite a large group, but as far as key members go, Shane’s future brother-in-law, Triple H, was its top star following The Rock’s exit, far removed from his goofy, raunchy persona with D-Generation X and even farther removed from his original “Connecticut Blueblood” gimmick.
It was classic “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” logic at play here, as the two stables, once at odds with each other, decided to join forces to fight three common foes — “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock, and Vince McMahon. As noted by Wrestling Recaps, the newly formed super-faction was featured extensively in the second half of the “SmackDown” pilot, with the main event pitting Triple H and The Undertaker against the uneasy alliance of Austin and The Rock. The match ended with a free-for-all brawl between both teams and their respective allies, but it marked a key advancement in a storyline that already involved a yet-unseen figure who was calling the shots for The Undertaker.
The Greater Power was Vince McMahon all along
For much of his time leading the Ministry of Darkness/Corporate Ministry, The Undertaker would make the claim that he answered to a “Greater Power,” one so mighty that he held the key to Vince McMahon’s heart and soul, via Last Word on Sports. When the Ministry went “corporate” in April 1999, fans were hearing more than ever about this Greater Power and the control they had over the group.
Just who was this mysterious figure? It couldn’t be Satan, because that would have been too obvious. Paul Bearer? Not likely, because the Deadman’s manager had always been part of the stable. Or maybe it was someone with a similarly dark gimmick like Don Callis (aka The Jackyl) or Jake “The Snake” Roberts, as rumors suggested at the time, per WhatCulture.
As it turned out, the Greater Power was none other than Vince McMahon, who, on the June 7, 1999, episode of “Raw,” growled the now-famous words that are still quoted and memed by wrestling fans to this day: “It was me, Austin! It was me all along, Austin!” That’s right — the usually evil boss of WWE was, in fact, the evil boss of the Corporate Ministry, and the company’s main feud had essentially shifted from ‘Taker vs. McMahon back to the Attitude Era status quo of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin vs. McMahon. As such, many fans felt that the reveal was an anticlimactic copout on WWE’s part.
The Corporate Ministry disbands
Although the Steve Austin vs. Vince McMahon feud was officially back on with the Greater Power reveal, The Undertaker was still very much involved in things, and the rivalry would culminate at the Fully Loaded pay-per-view on July 25, 1999. The main event was a First Blood match for the WWE Championship, with Austin defending against ‘Taker and an extra stipulation added on — if Austin loses, he can no longer receive a title shot, and if McMahon loses, he can no longer appear on WWE television (via Bleacher Report). Austin ended up winning, and with that, McMahon was banned from TV … until, of course, he wasn’t. So much for the Greater Power.
On the “Monday Night Raw” after Fully Loaded, The Undertaker formed a new tag team, the Unholy Alliance, with legendary heel-face flip-flopper Big Show. Per WhatCulture, the team would later become a full-fledged stable when former Ministry grunts Mideon and Viscera would join up, but it was clear that this was not the same dominant faction known as the Ministry of Darkness/Corporate Ministry. (Shane McMahon officially disbanded the Corporate Ministry on the August 2 “Raw.”)
In September, The Undertaker went on an extended hiatus to recover from nagging injuries. Eight months later, he returned as the “American Badass” version of his character. It was an interesting 360-degree turn from quasi-satanic cult leader to tough guy biker, though as they say, that’s a different story for another time.
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