“For 30 years, The Undertaker dug holes and took soles, and now it is time for The Undertaker to REST…IN…PEACE!”
Those were the words delivered by The Undertaker to the WWE Universe to close the night at the 2020 Survivor Series Pay-Per-View, 30 years after “The Deadman” made his debut at the same event.
Over his 30-year career, The Undertaker, whose real name is Mark Calaway, indeed terrorized not only his opponents but the fans in the stands. His freaky athleticism at 6’10”, 300 pounds, has never been duplicated in the ring. Taker knew how to work with certain guys in the ring. He could work a match at a snail’s pace or at the pace of a rabbit depending on who he was working with. He could work as a lord of darkness or as an ass-kicker riding a motorcycle.
As time went on and as Taker got older, not only did he evolve, but the fans evolved as well, and his character went from one that installed fear into the fans to one that showed respect. By the end of his legendary run, Taker was by far the most respected superstar in the locker room.
Taker did things his way. He knew how a wrestling match was supposed to be told. For him, it wasn’t about the high-flying spots. It was about telling a story, and boy, did he tell a lot of stories in the ring!
You name a wrestler and he’s probably been in the ring with The Undertaker, and The Undertaker probably did his best to put the wrestler “over.” Kane, Triple H, Bautista, Edge, Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley, Ric Flair, Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton, JBL, Kurt Angle, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Diesel, Big Show, Mark Henry, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, John Cena. The who’s who of World Wrestling Entertainment has gone toe-to-toe with either the “American Badass” or “The Deadman.”
The Undertaker has been involved in some of the most classic rivalries and stories in the history of sports entertainment, but no moment may not be as classic as Undertaker vs. Mick Foley, who was playing the “Mankind” character at the time, at King of the Ring 1998.
Undertaker was known for the Hell in a Cell match before that incident. At Badd Blood: In Your House in 1997, Taker and Michaels competed in the first-ever Hell in a Cell match. As Taker was closing in on victory, Taker’s former manager, the late, great Paul Bearer, appeared with a seven-foot monster, who we would later learn would be Kane. The monster ripped off the cell door and stood toe-to-toe with his “brother” in another classic WWE moment. The two would battle at two Wrestlemanias (Undertaker winning both) and had all-time great moments throughout their careers. Whether they would be trying to destroy one another, or they were teaming with each other as the “Brothers of Destruction” every time Undertaker and Kane were in the same ring together, magic went down.
Speaking of Wrestlemania, Undertaker is arguably best known for his unprecedented Wrestlemania streak. Beginning at Wrestlemania VII in 1991 when he defeated WWE Hall of Famer Jimmy Snuka, Taker would go on to win 21 straight Wrestlemania matches to begin his Wrestlemania career, a feat which will never be topped again and is now known as “The Streak.” In 2014 at Wrestlemania XXX, Lesnar would defeat Undertaker after 3 F-5’s, resulting in one of the most surreal moments in WWE history. During the match, Undertaker had been concussed, and many experts see this match as the downfall of Undertaker’s career.
After losing The Streak, over the next few years, Undertaker would be involved in a couple of Wrestlemania rivalries with Bray Wyatt and Shane McMahon, but it didn’t feel the same because The Streak was gone.
Then came Wrestlemania 33.
Roman Reigns, WWE’s fastest-rising star at the time, defeated Undertaker in the main event of the show in a no-holds barred match. Undertaker looked like a beaten-down old man in the match. He didn’t move well at all in the ring, and the match was a train wreck. Undertaker planned for the match to be his last, hence the ending of the show with him taking off his gear and laying it nice and neat in the middle of the ring, but as Taker would say in his WWE Network documentary, “The Last Ride,” he didn’t want to go out on such a bad performance.
“I was so disappointed for Roman,” Undertaker said. “It was my opportunity to give him something that will push him to a higher level, and I didn’t deliver on that. I can’t make excuses. Yes, I was banged up, but I was there. In my mind, I had a responsibility. If my name is on the page, then you gotta go. I knew in January that I was physically not going to be at my best, but it was too late at that point.”
Disappointed in the outcome of the match, the aforementioned WWE Network documentary “The Last Ride” was born. It filmed Taker in a way he had never been filmed before. For the first time in his storied career, Undertaker allowed us to go behind the scenes with him. He allowed cameras into his home, he allowed cameras to follow him on his journey as he searched for one last great match he could go out on.
Over the next two years, Undertaker would get hip replacement surgery and wrestle John Cena at Wrestlemania 34 in a three-minute match before wrestling long-term rivals Triple H and Michaels alongside Kane to end the year. At Wrestlemania 35, Taker sat out the show, and he said in the documentary being backstage that night made him realize he wasn’t done yet.
“It was a rough night, sitting there, watching the show going on, thinking in my head that I should be out there,” Undertaker said. “It let me know, I think, that there’s still a lot of passion there.”
Taker decided to wrestle WWE Hall of Famer Goldberg at WWE Super ShowDown in Saudi Arabia in 2019. The two long-time beasts of the wrestling business had never gone toe-to-toe before. It was a disaster.
Within the first 30 seconds of the match, Goldberg went for his patented Spear on Undertaker in the corner, and Taker moved out of the way. Goldberg ran so fast he hit his head right on the steel post, concussing himself. Later in the match, Goldberg went for his finisher, “The Jackhammer,” on the Deadman, and as he lifted the 300-pound Callaway up, he dropped him right on his neck, nearly causing a catastrophic injury. The train wreck of a match caused the Undertaker to consider retirement.
“I’m just like, man, maybe it’s time,” Undertaker said. “Maybe you are out of gas. You got a wife and kids. Am I risking permanent injury? All of that stuff comes flooding into your head after stuff like that happens, and I need to really take a real honest look at this and assess where I’m at. Is it me? Have I lost that big a step? Are you the reason this stuff is happening? You’ve got all of this stuff going on in your head, you’ve got this pain in your back, and you can hardly move. It was tough for a while.”
It wasn’t until WWE Hall of Famer Kurt Angle called Undertaker and suggested a match with A.J. Styles that Undertaker saw what he was looking for.
“The first thing I said to him after that match was, ‘What about wrestling AJ (Styles)?’” Angle said. “It’l be the best match you’ve had in years.”
While watching Styles defend the WWE Championship against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn at the 2018 Royal Rumble, Undertaker said about Styles, “That guy reminds me a lot of Shawn (Michaels). I would love to work with him.”
Both Styles and Michaels have similar body frames and wrestling styles, and Undertaker’s match with Michaels at Wrestlemania 25 is considered the best match of all time by many, and their Wrestlemania 26 match was also a barnburner, so what could go wrong with Styles?
How about a pandemic?!
Taker and Styles were all set to square off at Wrestlemania 36 in Tampa, Florida, at Raymond James Stadium, the home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in front of 70,000 people, until the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. The match was changed to a Boneyard Match, a cinematic match filmed at a graveyard, which had never been done in WWE history. The only way to win the match was to bury your opponent in their grave, similar to a Buried Alive Match, a match Undertaker had competed in in the past.
The match got heaping praise from wrestling fans around the world. Many thought the match could extend Undertaker’s career. He didn’t have to take too many bumps, and he could tell great stories with his opponent, but Taker, as he explained during the final scenes of “The Last Ride,” said the Boneyard Match was his last ride.
“I believe I’m at a place now, post-Boneyard, which was a hellacious battle against one of the best in the business,” Undertaker said. “Here you are, climbing on your motorcycle and taking off. There was a lot of thought and a lot of emotion, one of those being, ‘are you happy enough with that?’ It was a powerful moment. You don’t necessarily always get those. If there was ever a perfect ending to a career, that right there was it.”
“If Vince (McMahon) was in a pinch, would I come back? I guess time would only tell there. In case of emergency, break glass, you pull out the Undertaker. I would consider it. At this point in my career, I have no desire to get back in the ring.”
Growing up, Undertaker feuded with my favorite wrestler, the “Rated-R Superstar” Edge, for over a year over the World Heavyweight Championship, so I didn’t appreciate Undertaker until it was too late. You never know what you have until it’s gone, and Undertaker’s presence will certainly be missed over the WWE landscape.
A seven-time World Champion, Mark Callaway left everything he had throughout his 30 years as a professional wrestler, and now it is time for us, the fans, to give thanks to arguably the greatest wrestler in the history of the sport.
Thank You, Taker.
Brandon Lewis is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected]
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Hi, I’m Lauren Sasala, a senior journalism student from Toledo. I’m also the editor in chief of The Kent Stater and KentWired this semester. My staff and I are committed to bringing you the most important news about Kent State and the Kent community. We are full-time students and hard-working journalists. While we get support from the student media fee and earned revenue such as advertising, both of those continue to decline. Your generous gift of any amount will help enhance our student experience as we grow into working professionals. Please go here to donate.