The Undertaker is a WWE legend, but for a four-year stretch of his career, the famed wrestler morphed from a zombie character into a biker – here’s why. While “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan, and John Cena may have been bigger stars, The Undertaker has them all beat when it comes to time spent at or near the top of WWE. Undertaker, real name Mark Callaway, debuted for WWE at Survivor Series in November 1990, and he remained part of the company for nearly 30 years, finally having his retirement match at WrestleMania XXXVI in 2020.
While Callaway was very athletic for a man of his size – nearly 7-feet tall and usually hovering around 300 pounds – it was his embrace of the Undertaker character that truly cemented his success in WWE. On its face, a wrestling zombie really shouldn’t have worked, but Callaway gave it his all, rarely appearing out of character in any capacity, while doing his best to move in the ring like he was undead. Despite that, Undertaker was so cool that he spent most of his career being cheered by WWE fans.
The reign of the “Deadman” in WWE took a surprising turn in May 2000 though, as after a lengthy layoff due to injury, The Undertaker returned as the “American Badass,” a biker character that bizarrely appeared on America’s Most Wanted at one point. The change in character was never explained onscreen, and audiences were kind of just expected to go with it. In reality, Callaway thought his character needed evolving after 10 years in the zombie role, and he also desired the ability to play an Undertaker character closer to his real-life persona, one not boxed in by his zombie-like identity.
Mark Callaway believed that reinventing the Undertaker character could revitalize and extend his career in WWE, and, to be fair, his run as the “American Badass” biker was by no means terrible. It was interesting to see a new side to The Undertaker, one that liked to smack talk before beating down his opponents, and that was presented as more physically vulnerable. Unfortunately, biker Undertaker never fully clicked with WWE fans like the “Deadman” did, and by his match with onscreen brother Kane at WrestleMania XX in 2004, the decision was made to bring back the zombie version of The Undertaker from his exile in the dark side.
Callaway’s Undertaker would remain a zombie for the remainder of his WWE career, but, perhaps smartly, aspects of the biker persona remained, leading to a “Deadman” who’s more true to real-life Callaway. While Callaway himself believes that the “American Badass” character had more life in it, it’s likely most fans would agree that the “Deadman” came back at the right time. In a cool touch, Undertaker partially returned to his biker persona for his final match against AJ Styles, a cinematic Boneyard Match that saw Undertaker ride up on a motorcycle with Metallica playing in the background. Now, Undertaker is set to deservedly be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.