Six reasons why wrestling will never be the same without The Undertaker
Recently, on April 2nd, Mark Callaway called it quits after 27 years of service to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). For those who do not know, Callaway is the man behind one of the biggest characters in sporting history, The Undertaker.
Like Tiger Woods, Diego Maradona, Lance Armstrong or Muhammad Ali, it did not matter if you were an avid watcher of their respective sport, you just knew them. For those who didn’t and for those who did know him, it was an emotionally surreal moment. Be it video games, the silver screen or the internet, Taker, for the last 30 years, has been a media icon, and regardless of how his final match went, it was like saying goodbye to a very important piece of your childhood.
Taker, or ‘The Phenom’ as he was known, was not just a moniker used to hype his entrances; if there was ever a case of living up to your name, it was this. He has been undefeated on the biggest annual wrestling event, WrestleMania, for 23 years; add to that the countless titles he has won in what some call the most successful career in professional wrestling.
Taker really was a phenomenon. Hence, as a form of tribute, here are six things that make him “The Phenom” and define his legacy:
1. His gimmick
WWE has always used the manipulation of the atmosphere to make the crowd feel a certain way; it is a defining factor for such forms of wrestling. So when Vince McMahon called Callaway to his office and decided that he will play a character that will in every sense of the word be dead, it didn’t make much sense to the latter. Evolving from his no-nonsense, biker from Death Valley persona, Taker would now have to approach the ring at snail speed to what is effectively a form of funeral music, wearing a plain black coat.
In the era of flashy entrances, explosions and loud personas, Taker’s new ring demeanor was essentially a suicide move. But not for ‘mean’ Mark Callaway! He not only accepted the gimmick, he thrived in it. Grown men, who were well aware of the fact that what they were watching was in fact an entertainment sport, would shudder at the sight of utter darkness and the impending toll of the bell, signaling the coming of The Phenom.
His entrance theme of walking down the aisle flanked by torch bearing druids and the utter disbelief of everyone watching sends shivers down my spine to this day. It wasn’t easy, as Callaway had to avoid giving any interviews outside of his life as The Undertaker and hence tried to keep his private life as close to himself as possible. Callaway had become The Undertaker; he took the mantle and made his persona immortal.
2. His belief in the ‘old school’ wrestling ideology
There was global disarray among wrestling fans when Taker was defeated at WrestleMania 30, and even more so when he lost his last ever match to a relatively newbie, Roman Reigns, earlier this month. However, because Callaway has been present since the golden years of wrestling, he is well-versed in the traditions and customs of WWE that brought him into the ring. The old school wrestling ideology dictates that once a wrestler is approaching retirement, he must bow out by giving a career defining win to a younger colleague. The wrestling community was well aware of the fact that Taker would honour this tradition. However, they were irked by his eventual choice of Reigns, over the fans’ choice of John Cena. But being a man of principle meant he wanted to select a younger talent and that happened to be Reigns.
3. His loyalty to the WWE
There is a reason Taker has been McMahon’s greatest gimmick and also his most trusted sub-ordinate. At the height of Monday night wars when a new franchise by the name of World Champion Wrestling (WCW) began raiding WWE for wrestling talent, Taker was also approached by the said franchise, but he shot down the idea and remained loyal to WWE. A number of WCW stalwarts have reiterated the fact that had Taker jumped ship, things would’ve been much different today. I might not even be writing this today had that happened.
Moreover, whenever McMahon had any trouble dealing with any of the egos or attitudes in the WWE locker room, Callaway was the one he turned to. One such example is the infamous incident in which Shawn Michaels was threatening to not cooperate with his designated story arc by not losing to Stone Cold Steve Austin. Vince turned to Callaway who had a little talk with Michaels which resulted in the WWE successfully averting what would have been one of the biggest story arc issues they have ever faced. Such was Taker’s command of the locker room.
4. His understanding of the business
If you look at Taker’s career, one thing that shocks many is how absent he was from any serious championship reigns during the Attitude Era. At a time when stars like Austin, The Rock and Triple H were winning and losing titles every now and then, Taker seemed to be doing his own thing.
Sure, he was facing great feuds but he never challenged for any serious championships. One reason for this is that he realised the importance of timing and its long-term effect on WWE as a business. Around that time, Austin and The Rock were red-hot fan favourites, and Callaway knew that to ensure the survival of WWE as a company, he needed to let the others flourish. His time did come eventually as he enjoyed multiple title reigns after the aforementioned era.
5. His ability to evolve as a wrestler
Going back and watching Taker’s first few matches, his matches in the late 90s, and his matches against Michaels and CM Punk at WrestleMania 25 and 29 respectively, one thing stands out – his in-ring ability. His psychology and story-telling was always exceptional.
There is a reason why he is one of the very few superstars to obtain five stars by the premier wrestling observer, Dave Meltzer. However, to me, the most important aspect of his persona was how well he evolved his wrestling style in different eras. From a slow grappling style to a more fast paced and technical style, he evolved with absolute finesse, especially considering the fact that changing styles is not easy. Watching him wrestle against a much younger Punk, who was in much better shape than him, tells you all you need to know. The evolution in style is awe-inspiring and perhaps that is the reason he was able to wrestle professionally for 27 years and still remain relevant in and out of the ring.
6. His WrestleMania streak
For me, WrestleMania will always be about Taker’s streak. That’s the first thing that comes to my mind whenever I think of the pay-per-view. Even though it’s a bummer that it was broken, but for decades, The Undertaker was always the main event; many a times it was his streak match that was more important than any other match on the card.
When it was there, it was cherished and celebrated, and when it was broken, it evoked emotions of sadness, and all of a sudden, wrestling was real and painful. These are the emotions that a wrestling fan rarely feels now and The Undertaker with his streak was the only one who induced them. Perhaps that is exactly why it shall never happen again. After all those years, the record stood strong at a solid 23 wins and two losses.
The Undertaker is not just a wrestler or a gimmick. He is an institution in the wrestling business. He was the last reminder of the bygone era where character development played a huge role in a wrestler’s career. Where pageantry and over-the-top novelty acts were acceptable. Without The Undertaker, WrestleMania is just another wrestling event. Without his presence, the emotional aspect of the sport goes missing.
In conclusion, I have to accept that in this era, where there exist many talented and skilful wrestlers who come with a lot of promise, none will remind us of what the foundation of WWE actually was – entertainment.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.