I was 6 years old and my TV was coming to life to kill me.
I was convinced of it.
I was an avowed Hulkamaniac and a card member of Warrior-nation. I could not be intimidated by any common thuggery but it was apparent from the moment the Undertaker appeared on the screen he was no common thug.
The Undertaker wore a black flat top hat with an all-black getup accented with an eerie purple tie. His long red head would occasionally cover an emotionless face with dark circles under his eyes. The Phenom never looked up at his opponent until he was about to destroy the poor bastard. Why bother sizing up someone destined for a body bag in 5 minutes?
In the ring, he was impervious to pain. Flailing fists, colossal close lines & not even a chair could bring the Undertaker down.
“How can that happen? A chair knocks out the Hulk?” I incredulously asked the ultimate authority on such matters of badassery, my Uncle Mike.
“He’s the dead man. Conventional weapons cannot harm him.” My Uncle held no compunctions about playing into my fears.
I look to reassurance from my favorite person, my Aunt Nicole. She was mid-20’s, red hair and bubbly as can be. With teenage girlish excitement, she exclaimed, “isn’t he the coolest? He’s my favorite wrestler. He reminds me of your uncle!”
Cool? The guy was so cool he was literally dead.
Favorite wrestler? He’s a bad guy!! That’s not a thing!
Wait a second…he’s cool…he’s her favorite wrestler….and he reminds her of my uncle? The coolest guy I know?
It was then that I marked out for Undertaker and I never stopped.
The Undertaker character debuted November 19th, 1990. The WWE was roughly 2 years away from the creation of their first weekly, primetime national television show. Honestly, they weren’t far removed from the days of bingo halls and crowds of 50 attendees.
The Undertaker character retired on Sunday night, sometime 26+ years later. A real-life era of dominance including multiple heavyweight titles and a litany of, “holy crap!?!?!” moments.
The WWE now consists of different brands, many different shows and even their own network. Wrestlers of years past have made the jump to Hollywood & have graced the cover of many pop culture magazines.
Vince McMahon’s troupe has seen wrestlers of all shapes, sized & gimmicks roll through its curtains in that span but outlasting them all was ‘Taker.
He bested Hulk Hogan for a WWE title, chokeslammed multiple real life giants & threw Mick Foley off a 20-foot cage.
As a big man, Mark Callaway wasn’t just the heavy.
He could wrestle with incredible athleticism, he had played some college basketball before his adventures between the ropes began. If you’ve watched the Undertaker, you’ve undoubtedly seen him walk the tight rope before crashing down to the rope.
His skills as an actual performer where phenomenal too. He was saddled with matches against talents of all level of abilities & sizes including Giant Gonzalez, a man who could barely walk let alone wrestle, yet ‘Taker always made those matches interesting.
He could talk surprisingly well for a guy with a manager named Paul Bearer who did most of the talking for him. His adventures as the biker iteration of ‘Taker taught us that.
Most importantly, he grabbed your attention with his strong persona which had you always wanting more. That slow, steady stride to the ring captivating generations of kids & adults.
While I can’t say that I am a big wrasslin’ fan anymore, I have kept up on it. My nephew Ryan is a big fan and it gives me a way to relate to him.
A few years back, my dad bought the three of us tickets to a WWE RAW. This was something we used to do together when I was younger and we wanted to initiate Ryan into the tribe.
The stars all came out that night. The Rock. John Cena. HHH.
Yet it was the Undertaker’s surprise entrance that blew the crowd away. My dad, Ryan and I all looked in awe at each other as the Dead Man walked through the curtains with pyrotechnics blasting flames in the air which you could feel from 15 feet away.
My dad passed away less than a year after we saw Raw together. We talked about that experience the day before he died. We could still remember the goosebumps ‘Taker gave 3 generations of men in our family. We laughed about how it took us back so many years. We had changed but the Undertaker was still the baddest man alive.
There is a hole in the WWE Universe that may never be filled. Given his dominance over 2+ decades, his ability inside the ring and his capacity to capture the hearts (or souls) of audiences, it’s an easy argument to say the Dead Man should be remembered as the greatest big man we’ll ever see in wrestling.
Thank you ‘Taker. You were wonderful.
The Dead Man has retired but he lives on through the WWE Universe forever.