The Undertaker

Examining Undertaker’s Legacy as the Measuring Stick for Every WWE Superstar

If we are to believe what we have been hearing for the past few days, The Undertaker has officially wrestled his last match in the WWE.

It was a bittersweet moment as his career ended with a loss to Roman Reigns, who is quite possibly the most polarizing figure in the history of the WWE.

Sunday night was never going to be Undertaker’s best performance, but the send-off he received from the WWE Universe overshadowed any flaws in the match.

After almost 30 years at the top of the food chain in the WWE, Mark Calaway has earned the right to step away to spend time with his family and allow his body to heal.

The Undertaker was one of the last true gimmicks in professional wrestling, and it was Calaway’s dedication to maintaining his mystique outside the ring which made it so special.

We will occasionally see pictures with fans pop up on social media or a quick interview at an event he is attending, but for the most part, The Undertaker has lived his life without breaking kayfabe.

Even his talk-show appearances over the years featured him staying in character, which is not something we can say about Bray Wyatt, Matt Hardy or anyone from the current generation who plays someone far removed from their real personality.

It all started at Survivor Series 1990 when he was introduced as the final member of Ted DiBiase’s team. He immediately captured everyone’s attention with his immense size, intimidating look and imperviousness to pain.

He remained undefeated by pinfall and submission for the next year, burying anyone WWE put in front of him in his metaphorical yard. Almost exactly one year after his debut, The Undertaker would defeat Hulk Hogan for his first of seven World Championships at Survivor Series 1991.

His ascension to the title is still one of the fastest in the company’s history to this day. Vince McMahon clearly knew he had something special on his hands with ‘Taker, and he wasted no time putting The Deadman in the main event.

You have to wonder how things would have turned out had he stayed with WCW as Mean Mark Callous and never signed with the WWE at all.

At a time when McMahon was relying on more cartoonish characters, The Undertaker fit right in with all the other weirdos and outcasts, but things began to change in the mid-90s.

Following Hogan’s departure in 1993, management tried to focus on rebuilding the roster with more realistic gimmicks. People were no longer playing a role but were merely exaggerating their own personality.

However, The Undertaker maintained his persona and even managed to thrive as the company tried to go in a different direction.

As more and more Superstars were trying to be hip like Shawn Michaels or serious like Bret Hart, ‘Taker leaned further into the darkness behind his character.

He was no longer just a mortician. He had become a supernatural force capable of commanding space and time by seemingly appearing anywhere at will and disappearing again without a trace.

Even The Undertaker’s entrance became a spectacle all on its own. From the moment his music played until he raised his hands to bring up the lights in the arena, fans were glued to their televisions watching in amazement.

While the gimmick behind the man was special, it was Calaway who was responsible for his performances inside the ring, and he never left fans wanting.

His style was stiff so every strike looked as real as possible. He knew his and his opponent’s limits and worked with every competitor to push each other past them.

Many wrestlers were legitimized by having great matches with The Undertaker, even if they ended up losing in the end. Just being able to provide him with serious competition became its own accomplishment.

Jeff Hardy lost a Ladder match against ‘Taker for the Undisputed Championship, but earning the respect of The Deadman by the end of the bout was a bigger accomplishment.

The first five years of his career saw The Undertaker play both hero and villain to perfection against the biggest names in the company.

Over the three decades he has been ruling over his yard, ‘Taker has transformed himself to not only keep himself relevant but to evolve into something more.

Whether he was playing a mortician, the leader of The Ministry of Darkness, a biker with attitude or the aging gunslinger looking for someone good enough to knock him off his horse, he made you believe in his story.

His WrestleMania undefeated streak became more important than any title over time, and despite some people thinking it should never have been broken in the first place, it will still go down as one of the most impressive records in wrestling.

His legacy will forever be tied to the biggest pay-per-view of the year, but it will not be defined by it. He is also linked to several specific stipulations.

The Hardy Boyz have their ladders and The Dudley Boyz have their tables, but The Undertaker has ruled over Casket, Hearse, Hell in a Cell, Buried Alive and Elimination Chamber matches for years.

Whether he was performing at WrestleMania or a house show, he always put everything he had into his matches, and it forced everyone else to come up to his level.

The Undertaker’s importance doesn’t stop at his own career. Were it not for him, several other people’s lives would be quite different than they are today.

Glenn Jacobs would never have become Kane, the late Paul Bearer would still be known as Percy Pringle and Mankind may have never caught on with fans had The Deadman never existed.

His feuds with the likes of HBK, Triple H, Kane and Lesnar spanned years and featured some of the most memorable matches in WWE history.

A good wrestler makes himself look good, a great wrestler makes everyone around him look good, but a legend elevates an entire company, and The Undertaker is a legend.

Interesting Undertaker Statistics
WrestleMania record 23-2
Hell in a Cell appearances 14
Elimination Chamber appearances 6
Casket match appearances 16
World Championships 7
Slammy Awards 12

With the exception of cruiserweights and women, you can’t have a conversation about the greatest anything in wrestling history without his name coming up at least once.

‘Taker’s legacy reaches so far even non-wrestling fans know who he is and admire his body of work. Few Superstars have been able to break through the pop culture barrier, but he was one of them.

After he signaled the end by leaving his gloves, jacket and hat in the ring, almost every single WWE Superstar took to social media to express their love for The Deadman.

He inspired countless wrestlers to get into the business and became a benchmark for every person who set foot in the ring. If you didn’t want to be as good as The Undertaker, you had no business lacing up a pair of boots.

Watching him walk up the ramp at the end of the show was reminiscent of the final scene of Shane where Joey is yelling for Shane to come back only to see the cowboy ride off into the sunset to seek solace after a long battle.

During an interview with Anthony Sulla-Heffinger of Yahoo Sports, Randy Orton said:

Whether it was twenty years ago or today, when he comes to the ring and the gong hits and the music plays, the energy in the arena, it’s not like that for anyone else. I don’t care if it’s John Cena, Shawn Michaels or whoever, it’s a different kind of energy and he’s got more respect from the fans than I think any character or superstar has ever had in our business.

With any other performer, The Undertaker gimmick would have had a shelf life of about four years. It was through hard work, incredible skill and determination that Calaway managed to make it last as long as it did.

Nobody had ever seen anything like him before he showed up in 1991, and we will likely never see another like him again. He was the last of a dying breed, but his impact on the business will be felt for as long as pro wrestling exists.

Thank you, Undertaker, for all the years of sacrificing your body for the sake of our entertainment.

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