The house lights dim, and the bell tolls. The grim countenance of The Undertaker cuts through the darkness; he is a near seven-foot, three hundred-pound menace, engendering a feeling that the end is near.
Completing a neat circle, The Undertaker was brought in by “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase at Survivor Series 1990. Before long, he was paired with a manager by the name of Paul Bearer, who could walk his protégé to the ring with the lure of a golden urn. So began his chillingly dominant tenure, in which Undertaker would reach out with those big gloves and make short work of his opponent, plant them with the ‘Tombstone Piledriver’ finisher and then seal their lifeless carcass in a body bag, not without ample cuts to the crowd showing adults and children looking somewhere between bemused and genuinely horrified. Macabre indeed.
The Undertaker looked genuinely unstoppable. A gifted athlete, he had an incredible command of power and agility, often taking to flight and even walking the top ring rope. It seemed to take a year before anybody could even knock him off his feet – Hulk Hogan would manage it at the 1991 Survivor Series, but still Hulkamania fell to ‘The Deadman’, in the process making ‘Taker the youngest ever WWF Champion. In a WWF career that was almost exclusively main-eventing, he would go on to have a number of runs at the very top and partook in several ‘groundbreaking’ match types which sound as fittingly grim as they truly were; Casket, Buried Alive, and Hell in A Cell matches were broken in with The Undertaker. Likewise, he has fought off some tough new competition – carrying the likes of seven-feet-seven Giant Gonzalez, duelling with his ‘brother’ Kane, and even facing off at SummerSlam 1994 against The Undertaker. Yes, it was Undertaker vs. Undertaker. We can only presume The Undertaker won.
There was a bit of a rough patch in the late nineties, when The Undertaker’s character mutated into that of satanic cult leader, ruling ‘The Ministry of Darkness’ and attempting kidnaps and sacrifices for no obvious reason. After that, he vanished due to injury, returning in 2000 as a revitalised biker dude, which again started without much inspiration. However, when he turned villain in this guise, his work was top-notch – he was just a bad ass. Deadman Taker returned before long, though, and has never looked back, continuing to make appearances today. Apparently it’s still not truly WrestleMania with a marquee Undertaker match – indeed, from 1991 to 2013, The Undertaker was undefeated on every outing at a WrestleMania – and indeed, I was absolutely astonished to hear that they broke ‘The Streak’ by having Brock Lesnar defeat him.
Over more than twenty-five illustrious years, The Undertaker has been a constant – a powerful and sometimes poignant hark back to eras and superstars past, while remaining relevant and sharp. This is a feeling will doubtless heighten until he makes his last trip to the ring. Quite rightly, he is one of the most respected of all time – like many of the best, he took a curious gimmick and spun it into something really special. Furthermore, he’s one of the most approachable workers; I’ve never heard anybody say a bad thing about Mark Callaway’s attitude or ego – a rare thing that is indeed in this crazy setting, and testament to his enduring appearances and universal reverence. Long live The Deadman!