It’s hard for me to believe the Undertaker has been in the WWE for 30 years. His career spans much longer than that as he was wrestling in other companies prior to moving to the WWE and donning the iconic duster and hat combination.
To put it all in perspective, the man who’s real name is Mark Calaway, has been performing in the squared circle much longer than I’ve been on this earth! Even with such a long career and it does seem fitting that, at this year’s Summerslam, the show wherein the Deadman made his debut in a WWE/WWF ring, he finally, finally officially said his ultimate farewell to in-ring competition… maybe. I mean, this is the Undertaker we’re talking about! He’s been thought to have retired so many times before! You never know if he’ll make another comeback at Wrestlemania or another point in time in the future!
However, let’s just say this was the Undertaker’s actual last ride. He’s had a long and storied career and, like most wrestling fans, he made a lasting impression on me, starting when I was just a little girl. Oddly enough, my introduction to the Deadman wasn’t all that great because I didn’t lay my eyes on him during the first few years he was in the WWE/WWF.
My earliest memory of seeing the Undertaker in the ring actually wasn’t during a wrestling match. Rather, he was driving a limousine. This was during the surreal storyline wherein the Undertaker was the leader of a group called the Ministry of Darkness and his ultimate plan was to kidnap the daughter of Vince McMahon, Stephanie McMahon. I probably have seen the Undertaker in the ring or doing a promo prior to this but my 3-year old brain only kept this treasure of a scene.
My memory of the Ministry of Darkness is terribly fuzzy but I do have vague recollections of the Undertaker trying to crucify Stone Cold Steve Austin and Stephanie McMahon at various points. I do have a strong memory of when Vince McMahon was the “higher power” behind the Ministry of Darkness. That’s only because my older brother, who I watched wrestling with, hated this swerve because “it doesn’t make sense in the least!” His words, not mine. Looking back at it with adult eyes, I do have to agree with him. After that, everything does seem like a blur.
The next vivid memory I have of the Undertaker saw him ditch the Deadman gimmick and emerge as the American Badass. This, for me, was the strangest point of the Undertaker’s career. Yes, even weirder than his old “undead wizard” gimmick because he changed from that into a chopper-riding biker for no apparent reason! A lot of the mystique of the character just vanished. He wasn’t this demonic monster from the depths of the earth anymore. He was just… a biker. Now, it took me a lot of time to fully accept the American Badass version as, despite a fairly poor first impression with the Ministry of Darkness, he was just a normal dude. A big, hulking dude but just a dude.
In retrospect, I do understand the change but mostly from the point of Mark Calaway. He probably felt it was time for a change. A very radical change. Being stuck doing the same scthick can become boring and I did notice this version of the Undertaker was more invigorated. He added moves to his already formidable arsenal like Snakes Eyes and the Last Ride powerbomb. This was also the version of the Undertaker who became a bit more punchy and would deal “devastating” body blows.
This new biker Undertaker was allowed to be more energetic in the ring, which did make for more exciting matches or, at the very least, a refreshing change of pace from the usual slow and methodical ones he had before. Still, I do prefer the more mythical version of the Deadman.
The next iteration of the Undertaker was a mix of both the Deadman and the American Badass versions, with a more heavy leaning to his Deadman roots. This is the Undertaker I feel most wrestling fans identify with. Mostly because this is the most recent version but also because, well, this came off as the best version of the character as he managed to combine the best of both worlds. You got the spooky and fantastical stuff from the Deadman while still getting the hard-hitter and more human side from the American Badass.
This just so happened to be the version of the Undertaker which when his Wrestlemania Streak became part of his identity. The Streak was something special and, strangely enough, wasn’t planned out by anyone in the WWE. It was very organic and I’m not really sure who noticed it first but, when fans started making a big deal about the Undertaker being undefeated at Wrestlemania, I just got sucked in. All of a sudden, each Undertaker match at Wrestlemania meant there was something on the line. It may not be for a title but there was a sense of prestige to get a chance to beat the Undertaker on the biggest show of wrestling!
What made it feel even bigger was this led to numerous big name stars gunning for the Undertaker. This led to some wonderful matches wit the Deadman taking on the likes of Randy Orton, Edge, Batista, Triple H and, of course, the ones with Shawn Michaels. The second bout with The Showstopper was probably one of the best matches I’ve seen at Wrestlemania or otherwise.
While everyone will remember Undertaker’s Streak, fans will also remember when the Streak was broken by Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemaina 30. My brain does comprehend the reasoning for getting Brock Lesnar to finally beat the Undertaker’s Wrestlemania winning Streak. This made The Beast seem more like a monster than he already was. However, it was a bad choice, in my opinion.
It got the desired effect but, at the same time, it made Brock Lesnar come off as too unstoppable and the WWE never could fully overcome that aura, leading to The Beast getting an needlessly lengthy run as the WWE Universal Champion. It also permanently damaged one of the most exciting things about Wrestlemania: It was now no fun to watch an Undertaker match as there were no more stakes involved.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if the Undertaker retired then and there but he kept on going, which also kind of damaged his legendary reputation. He was still able to pull out a really good match or two afterwards. By that time, however, even if the Undertaker looked unstoppable, Mark Calaway’s body was already giving out on him. He was starting to look more like a dead man than the Deadman at times.
This does lead me to what happened in Summerslam this past week. The Undertaker seemingly has retired for good. In fact, you can see Mark Calaway, the man behind the Undertaker, loosening up and going to interviews more like himself rather than the enigmatic character he portrays in the ring. He actually looks like he’s in a better place now. He seems more relaxed and it’s great to see what he’s really like out of character.
It’s still hard for me to wrap my head around the idea we’ll not see the Undertaker actually perform in the WWE again. I can still see him come back in the ring once in a while but I won’t expect him to do any more hard hitting moves anymore. Maybe he’ll come in once in a while, do a chokeslam or two before heading up the ramp again just for nostalgia sake. He’s had a great career and I can’t wait for him to be inducted into the ranks of the Hall of Fame.
Have any good memories of the Undertaker now that he’s supposedly retired? Let me know in the comments section below!