Hey everybody.. This is my first column here on pwmania. I hope you enjoy it.
I’m from the UK, and have been a fan of pro wrestling since I was about 7 years old. That was over 20 years ago. The first major show I can remember watching was Summerslam 1992, but I was watching the weekly shows for quite a while before that. My earliest pro wrestling-related memories are of guys like Ric Flair, Money Inc, Crush, Kamala, Shawn Michaels, Earthquake & Typhoon, and The Undertaker.
I felt that this column would be the best way to introduce myself to you all, and I’ll be posting more of my work as often as I can. I’m going to a WWE Smackdown live show next Wednesday. I’ll be trying to take notes of what happens and write up a review.
With that out of the way…
Why is The Undertaker the best ever? Read on…
In a business where characters are designed backstage and honed in front of the audience, and winners and losers are predetermined, it’s really difficult to pick out which performers are overrated, and which ones are true greats. How would you define overrated?
There’s very little to base it on, when characters, styles, moves, and catchphrases are largely dictated by somebody else.
The word ‘Legend’ is thrown around a lot – and there are many great legends in the history of sports entertainment.
Mark Calaway arrived on the WWE scene as The Undertaker in November 1990. The character that was designed by Vince McMahon was given to Calaway, with the confidence that Calaway would be the best man for this job. McMahon allowed Calaway to mould the character in ways that he would feel most natural to him.
The instant impact of The Undertaker was felt, like few others before or since. Within a year he defeated the quintessential good guy in wrestling – Hulk Hogan, and took the WWF Title. He may have lost it back to Hulk a week later, but one thing was clear – The Undertaker’s legacy was well underway.
Throughout the years, the character evolved in ways no other character had before – the lighting treatment and the music were all so novel – nothing like The Undertaker had ever been seen before.
He gained victories over the strangest opponents in unique and new matches, captivating the fans along the way with his style and his mannerisms. He would enter feuds with every bizarre creature that arrived in WWE and always come out on top in the end, and where Taker was involved, you can bet it was exciting to watch.
For such a large man, Calaway’s athleticism was also unique – the moves he would pull off would stun audiences worldwide. Flying through the air like a light heavyweight, The Undertaker, at nearly 7 feet tall and over 300 pounds, was astounding everyone with his aerial tactics. As time has gone on, The Undertaker has adapted his in ring style many times, adopting different submission holds for periods of time to keep things fresh, and changing his appearance and offensive style every now and then to keep things from going stale.
While The Phenom was impressing audiences in the ring, he was building up quite a reputation backstage. He became a leader of the WWE locker room, and when other big stars left the company in the 90s to earn more money at WCW, he stayed with McMahon and the WWE, and became even more respected after that. As some of these stars returned for more stints with WWE after WCW folded – the guys that came back saw The Undertaker, still there, not just one of the boys anymore – he was THE MAN. New stars turned to him for advice, while established stars like Shawn Michaels had him to answer to, if they didn’t feel like going out and doing the job that night. At WrestleMania 14 in 1998, Michaels was reluctant to go out for his match with Steve Austin and drop the belt to ‘Stone Cold’- it was largely thanks to The Undertaker’s ‘persuasive powers’ that the fans in Boston (and watching on TV all over the world) got their main event that night.
The undefeated WrestleMania streak. No athlete, no performer, no sports team – nobody ANYWHERE has amassed such a streak as this. To date, The Undertaker has won 20 WrestleMania matches and never lost at that event, often referred to as the WWE’s Superbowl. Going back to the outcomes being predetermined in sports entertainment – they are, but the winners of the big events are the ones that deserve to be in the spotlight, the ones that earn it. The undefeated streak at WrestleMania was not planned from the start. At his first WrestleMania in 1991, the WWE could never have even known that Mark Calaway would even still be working for them in 2012 – it’s unfathomable, especially in this business. So, it can’t have been until 7 or 8 WrestleMania victories in when people backstage started to take note that they may be onto something – and still, from year to year, they don’t know what’s going to happen, which makes the streak even more impressive because it means that it’s an ongoing show of respect to The Undertaker. The undefeated streak is a show of respect and love for The Deadman and what he has earned and what no other sports entertainer has ever had. All the championships have been held by many great stars, but ONLY The Phenom can boast perhaps the most impressive feat of the all, and that is the streak.
Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, Ric Flair, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Harley Race, and The Rock would all be able to say that at one time or another, they have achieved more than The Undertaker in one area or another – more titles, more fame, more merchandise sales, better wrestling styles, and more entertaining matches. But what matters the most?
What matters the most is the fans. The love that extends from the fans to the stars. There are many wrestlers who could be added to the list above in a bid to be named the greatest of all time. But the difference between a fan of any one of those wrestlers and a fan of The Undertaker is the sheer love and reverence that is held for The Deadman.
Take Ric Flair’s WWE retirement show on Raw after WrestleMania 24. All the wrestlers came out to say their goodbyes to one of the greatest. After they’ve all entered the ring and applauded the Nature Boy, The Undertaker’s music hits, HE is the ONLY wrestler that does a full entrance and gives Ric the final send-off. Not Triple H, Ric Flair’s long time friend. Not Shawn Michaels, the man that retired Ric the night before. No. The Undertaker. Look on youtube. The sheer number of Undertaker tributes and theme remixes is staggering. No other wrestler has nearly as many.
These are clear signs that The Undertaker is more respected and more beloved by a larger number of fans that any other wrestler in history.
There was never a time when fans turned on him, either. Look at Hogan, for example. One minute, they love him for being the immortal icon, the next minute they hate him for putting on rubbish matches or turning TNA into a joke.
He never went off for any extended periods to make movies or TV shows. The loyalty and pride that runs through Mark Calaway and The Undertaker cascades down to his fans and his colleagues. It has done so for so many years now that he can do no wrong, and he has no peers. While there have been better wrestlers, bigger wrestlers, men who have held more titles and garnered more accomplishments outside of the wrestling ring – there is only one man who stands on top of the mountain as the greatest all-round sports entertainer in terms of fan support, respect, longevity, and sheer dominance on camera and off – and that is The Undertaker. The man who never left, never let us down, and the man who holds the most impressive winning streak in the history of anything.
The irony is that while in the storylines The Phenom strikes fear into all of his opponents, I as a fan genuinely fear the day that The Undertaker is gone for good. I never had that fear with any other superstar.
Maybe part of it really is the gimmick, and that The Phenom is supposed to last forever.
Maybe it’s because the man has been my hero since I was 7 years old and now I’m pushing 30.
Maybe it’s because he was, at times, the only superstar that kept me tuning into WWE TV.
Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because I know that his departure will be the most emotional, the most devastating departure of them all, because he is simply the absolute best. Not just the best we’ve ever seen – but the best we will ever see.
The once in a lifetime superstar, the only truly unique sports entertainer of them all, the one that cannot be imitated – The Undertaker.