The legend of The Undertaker
When you talk of the greatest superstars to have ever graced the squared circle of the World Wrestling Entertainment, names such as Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Stone Cold and Hulk Hogan are thrown up. All the aforementioned wrestlers were the ‘Faces’ of their respective era, and their mere aura left an indelible mark on the history of the organization. Shawn Michaels was probably the greatest of the bunch, despite being the considered lacking in ‘drawing power’ when compared to the others.
But as great as the Heart Break Kid is, many consider another man to be the greatest of all time. A man who wasn’t a ‘Face’ of any era, a man who has portrayed a ridiculously unrealistic character, a man who has become the quintessential element of wrestling’s biggest spectacle, a man whose aura has resonated soundly throughout the wrestling world for over two decades, a man who’s arguably the greatest living legend in the WWE today, and mere adjectives seem to be unable to describe the legend of the man. If I didn’t make it any more obvious, I am talking about The Undertaker.
The Undertaker was a WCW ‘reject’, and joined the then-WWF in 1990. Debuting his famous Deadman persona at the 1990 Survivor Series, the Phenom was a different entity and being (literally) from the very beginning. The man seemed destined for greatness, as he made a huge impact on his debut as the mystery member of Ted Dibiase’s team. The gimmick of The Undertaker, was literally an ‘undertaker’ and instantly caught the attention of the wrestling world. Add it to the fact that The Undertaker played his part to absolute perfection, and you have quite simply the most unique wrestler in the WWE’s history.
Everybody has their favourite Undertaker moment. A match, a beat-down, a mere confrontation, whatever it maybe, most of us have grown up idolising the Undertaker and attempting to ape every single aspect of his move set, despite the WWE’s warnings. My personal favourite moment was his return at WrestleMania 20, when he had Vince McMahon and Kane sweating profusely the entire night at Madison Square Garden over his return from the ‘dead’. Led out by a parade of druids and the ghostly ‘Father of Darkness’, The Undertaker proceeded to defeat a visibly shaken Kane and extend his unbeaten WrestleMania record.
Until the late 1980s, many people believed that wrestling was real. Characters such as George ‘The Animal’ Steele and the Wild Samoans had to live large parts of their lives in kayfabe to maintain the lie. The Undertaker is one of the last remaining links to that world. Part of the greatness of The Undertaker lies in his unrealistic nature. Every second of his walk, and every trick of his playbook in unreal and the fans gobble up every second of it.
When the ominous gong sounds of the arena erupt and crowd holds its breath in anticipation, you know that you’re in for a treat. The slow, methodical and calculated walk to the squared circle heightens the tension in the arena and increases the fear in the mind of the opponent. It’s all a part of a beautiful display of wrestling psychology, an aspect which The Undertaker mastered to unrivalled perfection. The terror he struck in the mind of his opponents won half the battle for him, and no one was ever spared by the Demon of Death Valley.
His myriad of victims include the likes of the great HBK, Triple H, Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Kane, Mankind etc. and he never failed to disappoint in majority of his rivalries. The Undertaker is surprisingly agile for a man of his stature, and is extremely underrated as an in-ring performer. His matches against HBK, Mankind, and Batista to name a few, are testament to this fact. His wide arsenal of moves never fails to vow the audience, and continued to refresh certain aspects well into his 40s, such as the addition of the Hell’s Gate manoeuvre. He doesn’t even hesitate to go the top rope to perform his famous arm twist, Old School. Here is a 40+ man perilously standing on the rope without the support of even the turnbuckles, all in the name of entertaining fans.
The Undertaker has also kick-started the career of several new performers such as Randy Orton, Mankind and most famously his half-brother, the demonic Kane. A wrestler’s career feels unfinished if that particular wrestler has never crossed paths with the ultimate legend himself. Even the Great Khali made a name for himself at the beginning of his career by pinning The Undertaker!
Another great feature of ‘Taker’s career has been his constant character evolution. Initially he was portrayed as a sadistic demon risen from the depths of Hell, going to the extent to of locking The Ultimate Warrior in a casket. Over time he became a ‘face’, but retained similar aspects, and drew his mystical powers from the ‘Urn’ which was in constant possession of Paul Bearer. It was believed that the Urn had the power to control The Undertaker. In the Attitude Era, The Undertaker took his satanic character to the absolute limit, portraying himself as the ‘Lord of Darkness’ and become truly evil. After that, he would become the ‘American Bad A**’, a biker character, which was a complete contrast from his earlier supernatural gimmick, before eventually becoming the Deadman again in 2004.
The mic skill of the ‘Last Outlaw’ is also phenomenal, and the mere sound of his voice has sent chill down the spines of the most experienced wrestlers such as Edge, John Cena, Stone Cold, and Triple H. When the gong goes off, and the arena’s lights go off, The Undertaker has a frightening tendency to appear out of nowhere to scare the daylight out of his prey, much to the delight of the live audience.
Of course, The Undertaker’s lasting legacy and his greatest claim to fame is his spectacular undefeated streak at WrestleMania. The Phenom is 20-0 at the ‘Showcase of the Immortals’, having vanquished mighty foes such as Triple H, Batista, HBK, Kane and Edge to name a few. The Undertaker has become the very essence of WrestleMania itself, and the event would feel hollow without the Deadman’s presence. Legends have been born and made at WrestleMania, but The Undertaker’s importance in the event’s astronomical growth is perhaps unrivalled. Shawn Michaels might be ‘Mr. WrestleMania’, but we all know what WrestleMania is really about. Even last year’s historical main event of The Rock vs John Cena couldn’t steal the spotlight from The Undertaker’s matchup with Triple H.
The Undertaker carried the SmackDown! brand for most of the last decade, and when he was on show, the blue brand was truly equal to the red brand. The Undertaker’s presence is unlike any other performers, and one of my greatest regrets will be the fact that I may never get to see The Undertaker live, in flesh and blood. ‘Taker’s infectious aura has inspired a whole generation of wrestlers, and will inspire countless aspiring professional wrestlers for a long time to come.
Retiring Shawn Michaels was easily the hardest part of ‘Taker’s career, and in his words, it ‘humanised’ him, something that Kane alluded to as well. The Undertaker has been a hero to millions, and is all but nearing retirement. His upcoming WrestleMania match against CM Punk could be his final match, and it is fitting that he only goes out at WrestleMania. There will never be another Undertaker, and his streak his unlikely to ever be matched again, given it’s sheer longevity.
Nobody is looking forward to the day that when The Undertaker will finally ‘Rest In Peace’, but let us all take a moment and bask in his greatness.