If you are a WWE fan, you would know when you or the unfortunate soul waiting in the ring heard a gong, that would mean that things were about to get real. The arena lights would go dark.
The crowd would get up on their feet and cheer. And for the poor opponent waiting in the ring? His face would get pale, his hands would get clammy, and his feet would get cold. Eerie music would play along with thunder crackling. And out from the titantron, would come The Undertaker, ready to lay waste on that poor soul.
The Undertaker, real name Mark Callaway, had officially retired at this year’s WWE Survivor Series. The Undertaker debut at the event in 1990. The WWE paid tribute to the Undertaker’s farewell from the company. It was a ride off to the sunset of a long-time soldier who has served the company for 30 years.
Ever since his debut at Survivor Series 1990, the Undertaker has been a dominant force in the WWE. When the Undertaker was in the ring, he would strike fear in the face of his opponents.
Sometimes , he would be accompanied to the ring by his manager, and storyline father Paul Bearer. Other times, he would have his storyline younger brother, the Big Red Machine Kane at his side. In his earlier matches, he was impervious to pain much to the horror of opponents and fans. And if an opponent managed to knock The Undertaker down on his back, the wrestler would sit back up.
Even scarier, the Undertaker would finish his opponents with the tombstone piledriver. Sometimes, he would place his opponents in a body bag or a casket.
In the WWE Universe, many opponents from the likes of Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mankind, Shawn Michaels, and many others would be lying to you if they told you that they were not intimidated by the Deadman.
Another thing that made The Undertaker an omnipotent presence in the WWE was his impressive WrestleMania win streak which was at 21-0. The streak ended bwhen Brock Lesnar defeated Undertaker at WrestleMania 30 shocking many WWE fans.
Over the years, the Undertaker went through many incarnations. Despite whatever incarnation he was, the Undertaker would go by the nicknames like the “Deadman”, the “Phenom”, the “Best Pure Striker in the WWE,” and the “Cornerstone of the WWE.”
When he debuted, the Undertaker was originally a western mortician character complete with a fedora and trench coat. The character evolved over time after getting buried alive. Some of the buried alive matches would almost be a way for The Undertaker to transition his character to a new persona. The many incarnations of the Undertaker included the Deadman, Lord of Darkness, the Ministry of Darkness Undertaker, the American Bad Ass/Big Evil and the back to the Deadman.
My favorite incarnation was the American Bad Ass/Big Evil persona, or Biker Taker (as many fans call him). This was the Undertaker I grew up with when I started watching wrestling. This Undertaker was a biker who rode his motor cycle to the ring while “Rolllin’” by Limp Bizkit was playing in the arena.
He was a human version of the Undertaker since he was not impervious to pain, as his previous incarnations were. But, he was still one to not mess with either. As the American Bad Ass, Undertaker was a trash talker who could back his words up with his fists. I was a fan of his “less talking more ass-kicking” mantra. And I cannot forget his catchphrase at the time: “Try me, I’ll make you famous.”
I also have several favorite moments from the American Bad Ass era. One favorite moment was when Undertaker chokeslamed the Rikishi, Solafu Fatu, from the top of the Hell in the Cell during a six-man Hell in the Cell match at WWE Armageddon 2000.
My mouth just dropped when I saw Undertaker do that. I wondered if Rikishi was okay and thankfully, he was okay. That moment brought depth to the match since it was a reminder that the Undertaker is synonymous with the Hell in the Cell match. His first Hell in the Cell Match was against Shawn Michaels in1997 at Badd Blood: In Your House.
Another favorite American Bad Ass moment was during his feud with Ric Flair. It was around 2002 and the Undertaker was a villain. The Deadman’s feud with the 16-time World Heavyweight Champion was ignited after he attacked Flair’s son and bloodied him.
The match culminated at WrestleMania 18 with Undertaker winning his tenth straight WrestleMania victory. The match was brutal and bloodied with Undertaker and Flair trading blows. During the bout, Flair’s friend Arn Anderson got involved in the match by giving Undertaker his trademark AA spinebuster.
And how can I forget his team up with his brother Kane when the WCW (World Championship Wrestling)/ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling) Alliance invaded the WWE? The Brothers of Destruction laid waste against the WCW/ECW Alliance and they won their tag team titles. Undertaker was more of the brawler type whereas Kane, was the silent ass kicker who had his older brother’s back.
Originally during their storyline youth, the two brothers had animosity towards each other. In the storyline past, Undertaker accidentally burned his house and Kane was caught in the fire. When they fought, all hell broke loose but when they teamed up, it was a match made in hell. Just ask the WCW wrestlers.
And my ultimate favorite American bad-ass Undertaker moment was his entrance at WrestleMania 19 in Seattle a year later. He rode his motorcycle toward the ring at the 47,943 seat Safeco Field (Now called T-Mobile Park) with the American Flag while Limp Bizkit did a live performance of “Rollin.”
I found it amazing that a wrestler who used to come out wearing a dark fedora and trench coat came out in a motorcycle in from of more than 40,000 people and get them on their feet to cheer for him.
The American bad-ass era would come to an end when WWE Owner Vince McMahon, with the help of Kane, defeated the Undertaker at a Buried Alive Match at Survivor Series 2003.
The Undertaker would not return until WrestleMania 20 in his original Deadman incarnation to beat Kane out of revenge. I was bummed since he was not the Undertaker I was familiar with. But ultimately, the Deadman gimmick did grow on me because of the mystique of the character and how much of a powerhouse he was.
As I got older, I learned that Undertaker was highly respected backstage. Many stories from wrestlers commented on how professional and honest he was, even to the egomaniacal Vince McMahon.
In an ESPN interview, Undertaker talked about how he had to play both peacemaker and enforcer during the controversial Montreal Screwjob in Survivor Series 1997.
The event involved Canadian wrestler Bret Hart losing the WWE Championship to Shawn Michaels despite the former not tapping out when the latter placed in him the Sharpshooter, Hart’s own submission finisher.
The dilemma was that Vince did not want Bret retaining the title since he was leaving for WWE’s rival, WCW. After the match, tensions were brewing among McMahon, Michaels, and Hart in the locker room. Undertaker was in the eye of that storm.
“Of course, all the boys are in an uproar and what I kind of did was, like, ‘alright, this is bad enough as it is,’” said Undertaker. “’A lot of you guys that it doesn’t affect, it doesn’t matter, needs to stay the hell out of here,’ right? So, there were a lot of people I didn’t let in the dressing room.”
Undertaker then commented that night was when he started to take charge of the locker room. Another example of the Undertaker legendary backstage presence was his role as judge in Wrestler’s Court. Whenever a wrestler or an WWE personality was in hot water they were sentenced to Wrestler’s Court. In Wrestler’s Court, a performer would have to defend himself while other wrestlers or performers looked on as jurors.
“Wrestler’s Court was a light hearted way to get the message across that you are screwing up and your coworkers know that you are screwing up,” said Undertaker.
And in order to lighten the sentence,wrestlers would have to present something or make a promise. Undertaker would sentence a performer to buy a case of beer, pay for a one’s hotel room, or pay for one’s rent-a-car.
This year would be the last year fans would see the Undertaker character. When I saw the Boneyard Match he had against AJ Styles at WrestleMania 36, I felt 13-years old again. The Undertaker returned as a unique version of the American Bad Ass but with Deadman Lord of Darkness vibes.
The match took place in a cemetery. Styles mocked Undertaker’s personal life and career to ignite the match. The Phenom entered the cemetery in his motorcycle with “Now We’re Dead” by Metallica as his theme song. Ultimately, Undertaker won by burying Styles and riding off into the night.
Like Eddie Guerrero, the Undertaker was a part of my childhood. Undertaker was different and he embraced that. It was what made him unique. He was not flamboyant or charismatic . He was the Undertaker. And he reminded me that it is okay to be different.
If there was anything the Undertaker taught me, it was whenever I was down, I needed to get back up. I had face moments where life knocked me down like an opponent knocking the Deadman down. But, as adversity would think that it had the upper hand I would sit back up and stare at it. Just like Undertaker would.
After Survivor Series 2020, the Undertaker character may be resting in peace but in his legend will always live on. I will never forget the awe inspiring matches and moments I have seen the Undertaker take part in.
Thank you, Undertaker.