The sound of a gong brings fans to their feet instantly, a testament to the Undertaker’s recognition as one of wrestling’s all-time greats. The sound of the gong means “The Dead Man” is on his way to the ring and someone is going to rest in peace. Through the years, as the Undertaker’s entrance grew more elaborate, so has his legend. Seemingly unstoppable, the Undertaker wrestled twenty-one times at WrestleMania before the WWE decided to have him lose. Loved by the fans and respected by his peers, the Undertaker is deserving of the name “The Phenom.”
Texas native Mark Calaway began wrestling in 1984, working under a mask (reportedly to conceal his identity from his basketball coach who hated wrestling) for World Class Championship. Calaway worked in the USWA as “The Master of Pain” then returned to Texas as the Punisher before garnering national attention in World Championship Wrestling as one-half of the Skyscrapers with Dan Spivey.
Calaway caught Vince McMahon’s eye and was brought into the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) as Kane the Undertaker, a monster heel hired by “Million Dollar Man” for his surprise partner at Survivor Series. The Undertaker destroyed his opponents, quickly establishing a pattern that would continue for the next twenty-seven years.
The Undertaker gimmick was the perfect fit for Calaway. With his pale face, foreboding presence, and menacing stare, he looked like your worst nightmare come to life. The WWF fed Calaway babyface after babyface for him to destroy, so it was no shock when the Undertaker defeated Hulk Hogan for the WWF Championship a year later at Survivor Series. Indulging his appetite for destruction, the Undertaker won over the fans, even as he destroyed some of their favorite wrestlers. A face turn was inevitable and the Undertaker became one of the WWF’s shining stars when Superstars of the 80’s such as Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage abandoned ship.
Through the years, the Undertaker expanded his repertoire of moves from the basic move-set he used in his early WWF run. Even though he was entrenched in the main event with little chance of slipping, he kept his act fresh and incorporated new moves into his matches. Although the Undertaker relied on manager Paul Bearer (who was an important part of his success) early on for his promos, the Undertaker developed into an excellent talker, adopting a less is more style that conveyed menace with just a few words.
In an industry abounding with larger than life figures, the Undertaker has stood the test of time, tweaking his character to remain fresh, keeping existing fans and drawing in new ones. Whether he’s the Dead Man, the Lord of Darkness, the American Badass, or Big Evil, ‘Taker has entertained and mesmerized fans with his performances. This and his willingness to put over new stars are a testament to his character. Unlike the pharaohs of old who needed giant tombs to cement their legacy, the Undertaker’s accomplishments in the ring are all that is needed for his name to live on throughout future generations.
Assael, Shaun and Mike Mooneyham. Sex, Lies, and Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment. Three Rivers Press, 2004.
Dixon, James. Titan Sinking: The Decline of the WWF in 1995. Lulu.com, 2014.
Rickard, Michael. Wrestling’s Greatest Moments. ECW Press, 2008.
WWE: Greatest Stars of the 90’s. Directed by Kevin Dunn, performances by Lou Albano, Terry Allen, and Arn Anderson, World Wrestling Entertainment, 2009.
Tombstone: The History of the Undertaker. Directed by Kevin Dunn, performances by Mark Calaway, Paul Levesque, and Brian Adams, World Wrestling Entertainment, 2005.
Photo Credit – WWE