This entry is going to be tough. It’s impossible to summarize the career of The Undertaker in only a few paragraphs. He’s one of the most decorated, recognizable and popular wrestlers of the last three decades and I, a young journalism graduate, am unable to do him justice with only my words. Instead, I’ll give a briefing on his many personas throughout his career in WWE, as well as my own personal anecdotes about growing up with "The Deadman" on my TV screen.
Photo credit: CBS Sports
The Undertaker made his debut on November 22, 1990 as the surprise member of Ted Dibiase’s Survivor Series team. Funeral music played as the 7-foot tall phenom slowly made his way up the ramp in a black top hat, black robe and black tie. Within only a minute of the match starting, he had eliminated Koko B. Ware with a devastating reverse piledriver which Gorilla Monsoon referred to as a “tombstone.” The gimmick was made.
We would learn over the next year that The Undertaker was not only a monster impervious to all kinds of pain, but an undead entity that could teleport, as well as control lightning and flames. During this time, he would begin his legendary Wrestlemania winning streak by defeating Jimmy Snuka at Wrestlemania VII in short order.
The Undertaker’s supernatural backstory would come even further into fruition as his manager Paul Bearer, later revealed to be his father, carried around a golden urn that contained The Deadman’s spirit. The urn was not just his power totem, but also his kryptonite, depending on the scenario. Many gimmick matches would be held which would play into The Undertaker’s character, such as body bag matches, casket matches and buried alive matches.
There’s a massive story arc from 1996-1997 involving The Undertaker’s little brother, Kane, that I’m going to skip over for brevity, but I will revisit this chapter later on in the month (hint hint).
An inferno match and some hell in a cell matches led to the next stage in The Undertaker’s career. Paul Bearer and The Undertaker would unleash the "Ministry of Darkness" onto the WWF. This was the darkest era of The Undertaker. He and his Satanic gang and demonic cult would inspire terror in the hearts of other wrestlers and the company itself. As well as sending druids to hang and crucify Steve Austin, he would attempt to embalm Austin alive, kidnap the boss’s daughter and have his own brother committed to a psychiatric hospital. Many would cite the "Ministry" phase of The Undertaker to be one of the highlights of the attitude era.
After some questionable storylines that involved The Undertaker collaborating with Vince McMahon and then starting a tag team with the Big Show, The Undertaker went on hiatus due to injury and, in turn, the "Ministry" gimmick was cut to introduce a newer, more contemporary Undertaker.
At Judgement Day 2000, The Undertaker revealed his “American Badass” character. He rode into the ring on a motorcycle and was accompanied by the angelic sounds of Limp Bizkit. Though not the “scary” Undertaker fans were accustomed to, The Undertaker of this era was just as popular. Think of the pop-culture landscape in the year 2000. What was cool? Nu metal and motorcycles! It was just… badass!
I understand that the American Badass character is generally looked at as being a product of its time and people like to forget about it, but this is The Undertaker I loved most when I was a kid. Seeing the Brothers of Destruction and watching that "Last Ride" powerbomb is what made me fall in love with wrestling. The Undertaker was a real life superhero to me. Even if he was the villain, I thought that this tattooed, bandana-wearing, metal-listening giant was the coolest person in the entire world. I probably watched The Undertaker vs. Ric Flair at Wrestlemania X8 about 20 times between ages five to seven.
In 2004, The Undertaker would return to his Deadman gimmick and over the next 15 years have some of his most memorable feuds. The ruthless aggression and PG eras gave us some of the best Undertaker matches in his entire career against the likes of Edge, Batista, Shawn Michaels, Randy Orton and Brock Lesnar. The Wrestlemania winning streak would continue for another decade and the legacy of The Undertaker would forever be etched in history. Today, fans recognize The Undertaker as one of, if not the most, important character in all of the WWE. The classic matches, the unique gimmicks and the incredible storylines all make Mark Calloway perhaps the most respected professional wrestler of all time. You don’t need to be a superfan to recognize this either, as everyone has at least heard the name, “The Undertaker.”
When I started watching wrestling in 2003, The Undertaker was a constant. When I started visiting wrestling forums in 2007, The Undertaker was a constant. When I was on the anti-Cena train 2013, The Undertaker was a constant. Now in 2021, as a hardcore fan of all things professional wrestling, The Undertaker is a constant. My fandom doesn’t exist without The Deadman. I was kept interested in the product for so many years because of the Wrestlemania streak, because of his relationship with his brother and because of his mystique. Good guy or bad guy, he was always my favourite and whenever I’m asked the question, “who is your all-time favourite wrestler?” the answer is always The Undertaker. Sure, that may be kind of a normie answer to such a loaded question, but my love for this amazing medium doesn’t exist without that goosebump-inducing “GONG” before The Undertaker makes his way to the ring.