The big red surprise: why Kane has stood the test of time in WWE

When Glenn Jacobs made his memorable debut as Kane and ripped a steel door from its hinges to interrupt the inaugural Hell in a Cell bout between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels on October 5, 1997, one imagines it was highly unlikely that he would have ever in his wildest dreams imagined that he would still be acting out the same demonic character at a main event level for the world’s premier wrestling organisation almost two decades later.

On that day that is still fondly remembered by fans, it certainly would have been very wishful thinking on the grappler’s part. After all, Jacobs’ previous incarnations within WWF rings had hardly been blessed with longevity.

The origins of a monster

After a brief run on the independent circuit and short tenures in Smoky Mountain and USWA, WWF fans were first introduced to Jacobs’ colossal seven-foot frame in June 1995 in one of the strangest debuts in company history. At the time, Jerry Lawler was in the midst of a heated rivalry with long-time nemesis Bret Hart. The pair had battled back and forth in numerous gimmick matches for the past two years and a new element was sorely needed to prolong the feud. Enter Lawler’s private dentist, Dr. Isaac Yankem DDS.

While such a character would elicit groans from today’s savvy audience, the WWF product in 1995 was a far cry from today’s offering, and Yankem fitted in quite comfortably alongside the likes of Man Mountain Rock, The Goon and Aldo Montoya. Unlike his other gimmick-led comrades, however, Yankem was slotted straight into a key programme with the talented Hart, facing the ‘Hitman’ at Summerslam 1995 and again in a steel cage match on Raw in October. While being on the losing end of both contests, it was unquestionably strong exposure for the young, and still green, Jacobs – who Hart described as a “curly-haired, broad-shouldered six-foot-eight rookie” in his autobiography Hitman – and invaluable experience at such an early stage of his wrestling career.

After his run with Hart drew to a close, Yankem continued with the promotion but with limited success, including unremarkable appearances at Survivor Series 1995 and Royal Rumble 1996, before the gimmick was quietly dropped in September in favour of the second persona that Jacobs would occupy for the company. This would be one that that fans were very familiar with already … Diesel.

With the Monday Night Wars in full swing and the WWF on the losing end of the ratings war, the once-dominant promotion attempted to swipe at its competition with the introduction of fake Diesel and Razor Ramon – portrayed by Jacobs and Rick Bognar respectively. Supposedly brought in by irked play-by-play announcer Jim Ross, the duo was WWF’s way of demonstrating that while Kevin Nash and Scott Hall may have spectacularly jumped ship to WCW and formed the hugely popular nWo faction, it still owned the personas that made them both worldwide stars. Unfortunately, in this case it was the talents rather than the personas that had resonated so strongly with audiences and all this ill-advised experiment achieved was making the WWF look weak and second-rate in comparison to its cutting edge rivals. While Jacobs did a reasonable job of impersonating the mannerisms of the former World heavyweight champion, his reign as ‘Big Daddy Cool 2.0′ was short-lived and scrapped less than six months after its arrival.

Clearly, Jacobs had been unlucky with the gimmicks handed to him by the company, but had proven during these two runs that he could adapt to what the promotion threw at him and carry off challenging roles with a degree of competence. These skills would serve him very well for what was to come next.

“Without Paul Bearer, there would be no Kane”

Breaking character in a rare on-screen moment at the 2014 WWE Hall of Fame, Glenn Jacobs emotionally attributed his long career solely to one man – William Moody’s most famous persona, Paul Bearer – during the late manager’s induction. In the world of pro wrestling, where hyperbole runs rife, this was, for once, not an exaggeration in any way.

Paul Bearer first introduced WWF audiences to the Kane character many months before his in-ring debut. Throughout the spring and summer of 1997, Bearer – by this point aligned with Mankind – threatened to reveal “the biggest secret” of The Undertaker, who was in the midst of his first extended run at the top of the card as the WWF world champion. As the months progressed, it emerged that the secret was in fact ‘Taker’s long-lost brother Kane, who had been left physically and mentally scarred by an accidental fire started by The Undertaker many years previously. In the kind of long-burn (pardon the pun) storytelling that is rarely found in today’s climate, the revelations kept on coming until Kane finally made his arrival.

And what a debut it was.

At the culmination of the aforementioned superb Hell in a Cell bout between The Undertaker and HBK, the lights went out, the arena was plunged into thick red light and a masked figure clad from head to toe in menacing black and red garb walked slowly to the ring accompanied by a screeching Bearer. With Jim Ross on commentary excitedly proclaiming, “That’s gotta be Kane … that’s gotta be Kane!” it didn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that the long-lost brother was on his way to the ring for a family reunion.

After ripping off the cage door and entering the cell, the 7-foot competitor looked down on his slightly smaller ‘brother’ who squared him up with disbelief, before the competitor shocked the wrestling world by delivering The Undertaker’s own signature move, a Tombstone piledriver, to his sibling. In that one move, fans’ fears that this would be yet another terrible gimmick portrayed by yet another generic big man were allayed – the swift execution of the move was demonstrative of a performer that knew what he was doing in the squared circle and would be able to match the talented ‘Taker move for move between the ropes. Without question, Jacob’s time had finally arrived in the form of Kane.

The coming months, unsurprisingly, saw Kane and The Undertaker build towards a singles show-down at WrestleMania XIV in a bout that would see Kane stare at the ceiling for his brother with good finally overcoming evil. After being pinned cleanly by The Undertaker on the grandest stage of them all, it seemed likely that the Kane character would in due course go the way of Yankem and fake Diesel before it – but nothing could have been further from the truth, with Kane shocking everyone by defeating white-hot Stone Cold Steve Austin in a ‘First Blood’ match to become WWF world heavyweight champion at the 1998 King of the Ring.

Kane’s reign only lasted for a mere 24 hours and was used to make Austin stronger than ever in the role of the unrelenting underdog, but it confirmed the WWF’s intent that Kane was here to stay and that he was a key player in the new Attitude Era. Over the years that followed, the character would evolve considerably and go through numerous transitions – winning the tag team titles with Mankind; joining Mr. McMahon’s Corporation faction; forming an odd-couple partnership with the much smaller X-Pac; dating Tori; speaking for the first time through the use of an electrolarynx; winning the Intercontinental title; and teaming with The Undertaker to form ‘The Brothers of Destruction.’ Finally, in 2003, the company now known as WWE determined that the Kane character needed a significant rejuvenation made the big decision to publicly unmask the big man.

Behind every mask lurks a monster

Kane’s unmasking at the hands of Triple H and Evolution at the culmination of a World title clash in Madison Square Garden on Raw on June 23, 2003 is one of those moments that will live forever in wrestling history, especially now thanks to the WWE Network. For years, informed fans had known that it was Jacobs behind the mask and as such speculation abounded regarding how WWE would suitably ensure that the grappler’s face was ‘disfigured’ in such a way that backed up earlier storylines. In the end, WWE took the only approach that it could take in order to play the long-game, with the big reveal of Kane’s unmarked face carrying with it the explanation that Kane was emotionally unstable and the scarring had actually been in his head all along. Clever, that.

Now unmasked, the coming months would see Kane once again dominate WWE television as he embarked on a rampage that first took out former partner Rob Van Dam and then Shane McMahon. However, in a prime example of egotistical booking, the much-smaller part-time performer was implausibly booked to get the better of the deranged giant on multiple occasions, swiftly diminishing Kane’s prospects of a credible main event run.

Losing the mask paved the way for yet another transitional period for the character. A WrestleMania XX bout saw The Undertaker reprise his ‘Dead Man’ gimmick and Kane on the losing end once again in a forgettable contest. Following this loss, Kane would fall in love with Lita, leading to a short-lived feud with Matt Hardy and a ‘wedding’ with the extreme diva. In subsequent years, Kane would remain a firm part of WWE’s upper mid-card through partnerships with both The Big Show and The Undertaker as well as a run as ECW Champion following the poorly-managed on-screen reprisal of Philadelphia’s favourite wrestling promotion.

In 2010, Kane made history at the first Money in the Bank pay-per-view by becoming the first man to win the MITB ladder match and cash in his contract on the very same night to defeat World heavyweight champion Rey Mysterio for the big belt. Kane’s first proper run on top saw Jacobs yet again feuding with The Undertaker before losing the gold to Edge at the TLC pay-per-view. 2011 proved to be an unremarkable year for the character that saw Kane placed with The Big Show once more and trading doubles gold for the majority of the year, but in November WWE began to promote the return of the masked monster with a series of vignettes on Raw. Fans got what they hoped for on 12 December, 2011, when the masked Kane – now sporting a metallic mask and wig – interrupted the main event and attacked John Cena to a truly thunderous ovation. Despite years of becoming part of the landscape, this moment proved that there was still tremendous interest and intrigue attached to the character.

Kane would feud with Cena for the early part of 2012 in a dispute that initially saw the monster dominate in scenes reminiscent of his 1998 and 2003 peaks, but it would be fleeting as it quickly became clear to fans that the feud with Kane was little more than a stop-gap for Cena and a way to further bolster his ‘Rise Above Hate’ persona in the lead-up to his much-hyped WrestleMania XXVIII clash with The Rock. The return of the mask did, however, pave the way for something far more surprising – an odd-couple pairing with Daniel Bryan that would propel both men to new heights of popularity.

The hug heard round the world

While the Kane character had been used to comedic effect on several occasions, it was the Team Hell No pairing that finally showed what Jacobs was capable of from an entertainment perspective when matched with the right partner. Initially feuding with Daniel Bryan, Kane was enrolled in an anger management class alongside Bryan that would see the duo in a series of terrific skits alongside Dr. Shelby, culminating in a “Hug it out” match. Kane’s reaction to the stipulation made for one of WWE’s most memorable moments in recent years and following the ‘WWE Universe’ naming the pair via Twitter, the tandem would go on to have one of the longest running tag title reigns in company history, spanning a total of 245 days.

The chemistry between the two played a sizable in Daniel Bryan’s elevation to the upper tier of WWE and the pair soon parted ways soon after the tag title loss, with Bryan chasing after the World championship and Kane becoming embroiled in a feud with the Wyatt Family – a battle that would help to establish newcomer Bray Wyatt as a credible force and that would culminate in a ‘Ring of Fire’ match at Summerslam 2013, providing Kane with a storyline reason to take a short hiatus from the ring in order to film ‘See No Evil 2’ and reinvent himself once again.

The Kane that returned in late October last year was one that fans had only seen glimpses of before, with Kane removing the mask, dropping the demeanour and becoming aligned with Stephanie McMahon and Triple H as WWE’s Director of Operations. It was a persona that allowed Jacobs to demonstrate a previously-unseen calm exterior and vast vocabulary, but an anticipated feud with CM Punk was cut short when the ‘Straight Edge Superstar’ took his ball and, quite literally, went home, leaving both WWE and Kane in somewhat of a quandary.

Following a humiliating four-minute loss to The Shield alongside The New Age Outlaws at WrestleMania XXX, the big red masked monster returned once again to wreak havoc on new World champion Daniel Bryan and wife Brie Bella, setting up a chaotic, weapon-filled clash at Extreme Rules 2014. Sadly the chemistry that had been so evident during their Team Hell No partnership was sorely lacking in Bryan’s first WWE title defence, but before the feud could truly gather steam, Bryan injured his neck, leading to the title being prematurely vacated and the feud temporarily shelved. With the title-dropping injury attributed to a Kane attack, one must assume that when Bryan does make his popular return to the ring it will be to exact revenge on the big red machine.

A man of many personas with one HoF destiny

It is only when pen is put to paper Kane’s colourful 17-year-run with the WWE is mapped out that one can truly appreciate what a run it has been – and more importantly, what a competent, diverse and talented performer Glenn Jacobs truly is.

Few gimmicks have had to endure so many transitions, face and heel turns, image readjustments and attitude changes as Kane’s. In fact, there is only one other in modern memory that has had to do so and unsurprisingly, that honour goes to The Undertaker. While we as fans can only speculate on the conversations that take place behind closed doors, it is likely safe to assume that when Kane’s character was first discussed in creative meetings it would have been considered to have a limited life-span beyond the feud with The Undertaker. That Kane is still going strong and drawing international pay-per-view buys at a main event level at a time when ‘Taker’s in-ring career is all but over is a true testament to both Jacobs’ ability and versatility.

Against all of the odds, the character has survived everything that WWE’s creative team has thrown at it, including the infamous and highly distasteful Katie Vick angle, and continues to resonate with the WWE Universe.

Having recently opened up an insurance agency in Tennessee with his wife, the signs are there that the man behind the mask is now beginning to strongly consider, and prepare for, a future away from the bright lights of WWE.

When Glenn Jacobs does choose to hang up the boots once and for all, a big red hole will appear in the company’s roster that will take some very large shoes to fill. How WWE chooses to ultimately remember Kane is still anyone’s guess, but a Hall of Fame induction has to be the only fitting way to ultimately celebrate a career that has risen up from the ashes time and time again.


The above article was originally published in Issue 10 of Calling Spots, a pro wrestling fanzine that features cutting edge articles, superstar interviews and old school reviews. Visit callingspots.com to learn more.