With the revelation that The Undertaker may have retired from WWE following the final part of his 'Last Ride' documentary series, now seems like a good time to sit back and reflect on the incredible career he has had over the past three decades.
Mark Calaway has sacrificed so much for Vince McMahon and WWE for so long, preserving his aura and staying consistent as the one star who was always there. And for that longevity alone, The Undertaker may be the greatest WWE Superstar in history.
Obviously, like any career that spans close to 30 years, The Undertaker made many changes to his character. His ability to switch things up was excellent, developing a sense of the need to change. This constant evolution definitely helped 'Taker remain pretty solid as a performer for three decades since his WWE debut.
The Undertaker has donned many hats, figuratively and literally, throughout his WWE career and we can break them down into ten different eras of The Undertaker. Some went on for years, while some were pretty short. But all of them contributed to The Undertaker's unforgettable legacy.
Here is every gimmick The Undertaker has had in WWE ranked, from worst to best.
#10 Post-Streak Undertaker
While The Undertaker was essentially the same character for the past 16 years, aside from the most recent program with AJ Styles, his position in WWE had changed over time. And once his undefeated WrestleMania streak was broken, 'Taker was sadly left without much purpose.
He has had some great matches as the wearied war veteran, but 'Taker just does not feel the same anymore. For every banger he had against Brock Lesnar, we saw Bray Wyatt suffer another crushing defeat. Undertaker's physical condition slowly diminished over time.
The Deadman's intended retirement match against Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 33 was so bad in his eyes, that he felt the need to come back. He wrestled a few more matches in Saudi Arabia, some of them threatening to tarnish his gargantuan legacy.
The Undertaker was losing his shine especially with it being the modern era. However, one final character change helped him write a happier ending to his story.
#9 Debut Undertaker
The Undertaker made his WWE debut at Survivor Series 1990, with Brother Love in his corner. He was a towering figure, one that legitimately frightened all the children watching. However, aside from being what brought The Undertaker to the dance, there isn't really much to write home about his very first gimmick.
'Taker was essentially a zombie mortician who could not feel pain, meaning his matches were generally one-dimensional. It was pretty limiting for the then-fairly green Undertaker. Aside from the nostalgia, this was not exactly the finest few years for him.
While there was some success in the form of a World Title victory over Hulk Hogan one year after his debut and his unique look were welcome in the colorful world of WWF back then, The Undertaker would not have persisted with this character for much longer than he did.
Pairing 'Taker with Paul Bearer was a masterstroke though, laying the foundation for the evolution of this undead zombie. This was a serviceable starting point for The Undertaker. Nothing more, nothing less.
#8 The American Badass
The height of the Attitude Era somewhat forced The Undertaker to adopt a more realistic character. So after spending over half a year out due to injury, it was out with death and in with motorcycles for 'Taker. He was a normal human for the first time in WWE.
American Badass Undertaker would come out on a Harley-Davidson to Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit while altering his moveset by replacing the Tombstone with the Last Ride. The bandana-wearing beast became a mere mortal with no special powers.
It helped The Undertaker avoid being stale as the satanic lord of darkness, infusing him with more personality. 'Taker remained fresh thanks to the American Badass character, but this era did not represent some of his best in-ring work.
This remains a divisive part of The Undertaker's career and while he had some memorable moments as the American Badass, a slight tweak in his character would bring out something better in him. Anyway, this was a much-needed change for The Undertaker.
#7 The Unholy Trinity
We have only seen the final iteration of The Undertaker a handful of times, but it was enough to land an alright spot on this list. The Unholy Trinity is basically the amalgamation of elements from The Deadman, the American Badass, and Mark Calaway the man. And it made for a very intriguing character.
WWE was somewhat forced into making the change, as AJ Styles had pulled back the curtain and revealed The Undertaker as a real-life man, making their WrestleMania match extremely personal. Styles even brought up his wife, Michelle McCool, further stripping away from the undead nature of 'Taker's persona.
The Undertaker added much more realistic elements to his character, preparing us for the 'Last Ride' documentary which showed him in a completely different light to what we have seen of him throughout his career. And the result was a success, as depicted in the Boneyard Match between 'Taker and Styles.
The cinematic brawl was fantastic, earning rave reviews from pretty much every WWE fan. All three versions of The Undertaker merged perfectly to give us one hell of a gun-slinger, having one final battle. It was a bold fresh look for a performer having his last match. And we commend The Undertaker for that. This may have been a little higher if we saw some more of the Unholy Trinity in WWE.
#6 The Original Deadman
The Undertaker's first extended period of absence in WWE came in 1994 when the entire heel roster helped Yokozuna put him in a casket at the Royal Rumble. He ascended to the heavens, only to return seven months later after healing from a back injury. And thus, the Deadman was born.
'Taker returned as an immortal, with his first major task being to vanquish the imposter Undertaker, played by Brian Lee. He also had an aesthetic upgrade, donning purple gloves instead of grey ones. This gimmick enhanced The Undertaker's aura and expanded his range within the WWE.
While a bit over the top, Undertaker's commitment to the character helped it grow and grow. He was one of the beacons of hope in a dark period for WWE, as they saw out some of the worst years business-wise they have ever seen.
'Taker began mixing it up with better in-ring workers, kicking off his exceptional feud with Mick Foley while still in his original Deadman form. The two shared some classic moments, including the first-ever Buried Alive Match, which saw The Undertaker get buried alive and stick his hand from the grave. This was the gateway for The Undertaker to switch it up again.
#5 The Lord of Darkness
After getting buried alive, The Undertaker returned as a darker version of himself. He went Gothic and embraced his magical side. His druid outfit looked great, serving as a pretty drastic change at the time. Undertaker became more and more fearsome as the Lord of Darkness.
While the Deadman transition helped 'Taker expand his range in WWE, this iteration of him helped him blossom as a top-level performer. Some of The Undertaker's most memorable moments came during this phase of his career, which lasted until the Attitude Era.
We saw the birth of Hell in a Cell, as Undertaker had two legendary matches inside the satanic structure against Shawn Michaels and Mankind respectively. Both of them are memorable for their own reasons.
It was also during this era when The Undertaker's half-brother, Kane, made his WWE debut. Their storyline was special, even if the matches may not have been. Undertaker truly blossomed as the Lord of Darkness, having some great matches and winning some titles along the way as well.
#4 Big Evil
This was a vast improvement over the American Badass character for The Undertaker, and all it took was a simple heel turn. 'Taker had been an 11-year veteran at this point, demanding respect from the fans that he felt he did not get. It was refreshing to see Undertaker play a heel in this fashion.
He had turned into a salty veteran who would bully anybody on the roster. Some of the things he did as 'Big Evil' include increasingly uncomfortable beatdowns of Maven at the 2002 Royal Rumble and David Flair in the lead-up to WrestleMania 18.
Undertaker turned face when he showed Jeff Hardy respect following a brilliant WWE Title Ladder match against the relative youngster. He went on to have excellent title bouts against The Rock and Kurt Angle in a triple threat, as well as inside Hell in a Cell against Brock Lesnar, putting him over clean.
The Undertaker remained the brawling old veteran, taking on all comers. He faced off against other up-and-comers such as John Cena until the gong came calling again. 'Taker would be buried alive once again, before returning to his dark roots. However, Big Evil remains one of Undertaker's most underrated personas ever.
#3 Holder of The Streak
As mentioned earlier, The Undertaker has played The Deadman ever since the character returned in 2004. However, his position in WWE changed over the years. By 2009 and 2010, 'Taker began working a much lighter schedule in WWE. He slowly became a part-timer.
And just like that, The Undertaker would only wrestle once a year. It became a pattern, with The Deadman returning to WWE in February to begin the build for his WrestleMania match. And with his undefeated streak reaching 20, the matches felt more important. This formula was tried and tested, producing some excellent bouts.
Undertaker went on an impressive streak of WrestleMania classics just before going part-time, building on it with matches against Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and CM Punk. The Undertaker's match at WrestleMania was just as important as the main event, if not more so. This brought the best out of The Deadman, with the intrigue of The Streak possibly being broken keeping this run going.
However, all good things must come to an end. Sometimes, all it takes is a violent mercenary. Brock Lesnar eventually broke the Streak, making it 21-1. It was a very emotional moment, knowing that nothing would ever be the same again. The aura was lost on that fateful night at the Superdome.
#2 The Ministry of Darkness
The Attitude Era was an abstract time for WWE, with a lot of crazy things going down. One of them was The Undertaker forming an evil cult and brainwashing various Superstars, eventually kidnapping 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin and even Stephanie McMahon.
'Taker even tried to wed the Chairman's daughter in an incredibly disturbing and uncomfortable ceremony. That is what made this version of The Undertaker so good. He legitimately frightened everybody who was watching at the time, with the boldness of the act.
The Ministry of Darkness waged war with other factions like DX and the Nation of Domination, as The Undertaker truly flapped his creative wings. This was him at his satanic worst, the best heel he could possibly be. He was larger than life as the leader of the Ministry, even more so than normal.
The Higher Power debacle may have been a mess, but for the year that The Undertaker spent as an evil cult leader, he did some of the most interesting stuff he ever would in WWE.
#1 The Phenom
So now, we come to the best version of The Undertaker. His return to the dark side. His entrance at WrestleMania 20 against Kane remains one of the most memorable in his illustrious career. It was iconic, coupled with all the things we love about The Deadman - darkness, druids, and most importantly, Paul Bearer.
The Demon of Death Valley was back in all of his magical glory, dawning a new era for himself. And while Undertaker was saddled with some lackluster opponents like Heidenreich and The Great Khali, he did get the chance to work with some of the very best in the business as the Deadman as well.
His matches against smaller Superstars were extremely compelling. Names like Randy Orton and Kurt Angle brought the best out of The Undertaker during the prime of the Ruthless Aggression Era, before he began going after championship gold once again.
Undertaker won three World Heavyweight Championships, having some more belters against Batista and Edge for the title. He also started having annual WrestleMania classics here, just before winding down on his full-time career. This was The Undertaker as his fully-formed self, the biggest icon in the industry, and the most feared man on the roster.
The Phenom was in the best shape of his career in the second half of the 2000s, with the perfect balance of in-ring excellence and sublime character work. He was just a wonderful worker during this period, capping it off and heading into part-time status with a pair of all-time classics against Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania. This was the very best of The Undertaker.