The Undertaker – My Retrospective

It’s been just over a week now, and I’ve spent the vast majority of the 8 days since this moment, this brief blip on the greater scheme of a full life of moments but one of those unforgettable ones, which I can only really describe as a turning point in everything I’ve ever really known to be constant in professional wrestling/sports entertainment, attempting to find a way to explain each of the tears that gleefully rolled down my face as Wrestlemania came to a close.  While there has been no official announcement from the man or the machine, for all intents and purposes, it seems the entire world believes that the Dead Man has heard his last bell toll.

The Undertaker, or Mark Calaway, has been plying his trade since 1984, wrestling as Texas Red for WCCW, a smaller promotion that went belly up not too long after Mean Mark Callous found a new home with Turner’s WCW in 1989.

Let’s put that into reference so that you truly understand where I’m coming from with this piece.  I was born on January 2, 1985.  Mark Calaway’s wrestling career is only marginally older than I am as a living, human person.  That’s just insane.

The earliest incarnation of The Undertaker, once we got past his brief stint as a WWE Superstars enhancement talent known as Kane The Undertaker (weird, right?  And you thought they just abandoned story more often than not), was introduced at the 1990 Survivor Series to round out Ted Dibiase’s team.  So as Taker made his on screen debut, I was gearing up for my first Thanksgiving break from school as a kindergartener.  Now, let’s be realistic.  I wasn’t watching wrestling at age 5, not really anyway.  Grandparents may have had it on here and there, maybe my uncle, but it wasn’t any consistent viewing on my part, and probably rightfully so.  What’s that Ron Funches joke about Jake the Snake carrying a python, but it didn’t work on The Undertaker because he’s got no blood?  That stuff would have probably terrified me as a child.  Children don’t have the same suspension of disbelief, and I would have constantly feared that someone was seriously hurt or that the snake was actually killing people, or even that Undertaker was really a zombie.

But let’s fast forward, as Undertaker was the WWF Champion for pretty much the three years that followed.  He fought them all.  Snuka, Ultimate Warrior, Hogan, Savage.  In 1994, he finally dropped the belt to Yokozuna in a casket match before taking a hiatus.  When he returned, he would do so in that incarnation that I remember the most and would follow him throughout his career (aside from the brief stint as The American Bad-Ass Biker Taker), that’s when he would become The Dead Man.

I know, the tie was pretty ridiculous, but this was wrestling, and up until Sunday, this was the singular constant of professional wrestling for as long as I’ve been watching.  Yes, I am an eternal Hulkamaniac, but The Undertaker was/is/forever will be professional wrestling as far as I am concerned.  An unrivaled icon who’s mere name will forever be synonymous with the sport itself.

This is a retrospective, but I wanted to go a little differently than most of these articles have been of late, as I’ve been quite fortunate in recent years to have had the opportunity to attend nearly all of the Undertaker’s final two years in the ring, with the exception of the 2015 Summerslam match against Lesnar and his brief time in the Royal Rumble match.  That’s what I’ll reflect on, what I’m calling the Retirement Tour.  If you want to go back through his career on the whole, WWE was kind enough to fast track a new package for The Network (only $9.99 with your first 30 days free).  So, enjoy.

Hell in a Cell 2015 – The Undertaker vs Brock Lesnar inside Hell in a Cell

This was my introduction to the “thank you Taker” chant, and he earned it that night.  He went to war with Brock Lesnar, in what is probably the best match I’ve seen Lesnar have since I started watching the product again (so this was basically my introduction to Brock the wrestler).  This was also my first PPV ever, coming just four months after my first live event at Monday Night Raw on July 13th.  Crazy, right?

Survivor Series 2015 – Brothers of Destruction vs The Wyatt Family

Yes, this was essentially a four on two handicapped match, and yes, at the 25th anniversary of The Undertaker’s debut, the Brothers of Destruction brought the hurt.  This was, of course, during that lengthy stretch where The Wyatts never lost on television and then always lost at PPVs.  This was also my first PPV ever, coming just five months after my first live even at Monday Night Raw on July 13th.  Crazy, right?

Wrestlemania 32 – Shane McMahon vs The Undertaker inside Hell in a Cell

I’ll be honest with you, having been at all three of these matches, I almost expected Mean Mark to ride off into the Texas sunset following Wrestlemania 32.  This was not a long match, but they made the best of it.  Shane took his big bumps, Taker got his Wrestlemania win, albeit with no streak left to save.  It would have been the perfect night in front of the biggest Wrestlemania crowd ever to hang it up.  But he had one more in him….

Wrestlemania 33 – The Undertaker vs Roman Reigns in the Battle for the Yard

I cried.  There weren’t many dry eyes at Camping World Stadium, even while they were booing Roman Reigns they were already starting to well up.  They knew what they had just witnessed.  They knew they weren’t booing Roman for the overpush, the streak was already gone because Lesnar refused to lose.  They knew they had just watched their hero hand off the baton, and it didn’t matter who he handed it to, because those shoes are a size 100, and no one will ever be able to stand in them, much less fill them.  As he took off the gloves and duster, it hurt a little worse, as the hat came off one last time, it was like a gut punch, and as the bell rang out in a nearly silent stadium and his hand threw up to the air one last time, it wasn’t sadness anymore.  It was one of the most joy filled moments I’ve ever experienced it.  All at once, it became abundantly clear that he wasn’t just leaving his gear in the ring, that was where he’d left 33 years of his life, and it was all for us.  We were no longer able to be sad, we weren’t even able to seethe about another Roman Reigns loss, we were simply grateful in a way that we know he fully understood, and we wished him the best in the years to come.

As the English Playwright Robert Bolt famously said, “Death comes for us all.  Even for Kings he comes.”

So one final time, no t-shirts, no gimmicks.  Thank you, Taker.