A brief look back at career highlights
So I finally got round to watching what has been revealed as The Undertaker’s retirement match, against Roman Reigns at Wrestlemania 33. It was kinda sad, but I can understand why it had to happen.
But first, gonna go backwards to 1990.
I can still vividly recall sitting to watch Survivor Series ’90 (not only the first S’Series I had ever seen, but only the second big event I’d seen at that point, after Summerslam ’90 earlier that year). My dad would tape them overnight on a VHS tape for us to watch the following day, being too young at that point to sit up to watch. In the build-up, there had been a mystery surrounding the identity of ‘The Million Dollar Man’ Ted Debiase’s surprise 4th partner in his team, the other two being Rhythm ‘n’ Blues. The night came, and Debiase announces his identity, and what followed was the unveiling of the tallest, scariest looking wrestler I’d seen at that point – The Undertaker, hailing from Death Valley, accompanied by Brother Love. Love would of course eventually hand over management duties to one Paul Bearer, before being retired by The Ultimate Warrior a few months later. The Undertaker would go on to get himself counted-out whilst attacking Koko B.Ware, whom he had just eliminated.
One year later, ‘taker would go on to face and defeat Hulk Hogan at Survivor Series ’91, for his first Championship reign, though he would lose it back again just days later, in a decision that would eventually end up with the title being vacated and awarded to the winner of ’92’s Royal Rumble, Ric Flair. Sadly, this wouldn’t be his only short title reign over the years, or indeed the only time he’d be cheated of a decent win – for one example, jump forward to Royal Rumble’94, some might recall the coffin match he had with Yokozuna, which saw him defeated when seemingly most of WWF’s heel roster came out to assist.
There’s far too much in The Undertaker’s history to go into here, but many qualities, events and storylines would see him remain a firm fixture and eventually one of the most popular WWF/WWE wrestlers of all time. These include (just from memory by the way):
– His top rope-walking ability – impressive for anyone, let alone a man his size.
– 92’s face-turn, resulting in a match against former ally Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts at Wrestlemana VIII.
– His ‘disappearance’ in ’94 after the aforementioned coffin match, which resulted in (again) Ted Debiase bringing out a doppelganger ‘Undertaker’ (Brian Lee from SMW Wrestling, his real-life cousin), before the real Undertaker would come back to defeat the fake one at Summerslam ’94.
– The period during which Paul Bearer was also missing, notable for it being a time when The Undertaker’s wrestling style would actually change; even his critics would notice how capable, agile and fluid a wrestler he could be when tested.
– The longest Wrestlemania winning streak of all time – many wrestlers who fought him at Wrestlemania were never seen in the federation again.
There were other moments which, for me at least, weren’t quite as enjoyable. The ‘Corporate Ministry’ thing just became silly (even though it did eventually birth the APA tag team of Ron Simmons and Justin Bradshaw), and his more humanised ‘American Badass’ image a while after this (with his Limp Bizkit/Kid Rock theme music) didn’t appeal to me as much.
Fast forward to 2014, and the match against Brock Lesnar. It has to be said though that The Undertaker was past his peak at this point, as much as I hate to say it – perhaps if the match had occurred in 2004, it would have been a different story, but the decision to break the streak ultimately laid with higher management. My annoyance with that match was perhaps overshadowed by that with Paul Heyman’s impression of a broken record for the next several months afterwards (“MY CLIEEENT….” yeah, we get it). Still, it was good to see ‘taker’s career continue afterwards, with a win over Bray Wyatt at Wrestlemania 31, and a strong match against Shane McMahon at Wrestlemania 32 last year.
Jump again to 2017, and whilst I admit this is only speculation on my part, I can understand why he chose to end on a loss, rather than have one last win. One could argue that, had he won, he’d be constantly be dogged by ‘one more match’ demands and rumours – these would get annoying after a while. So, with that in mind, with a recorded loss instead, this perhaps would be a better way of saying to everyone (fans, industry, etc) “Look I’m done now, I simply cannot continue.” I personally, as a long-time fan, would rather see him continue to live comfortably and in better health, rather than see him risk it all to appease demand. Mark is 52 years old now, and has nothing left to prove.
There will never be another Undertaker. No one with the ability to build that atmosphere, with that mystique, no one who’ll make the crowd feel quite the same as he walks across the top rope with such ease.
Thank you, Mark Calloway, and may The Undertaker finally, rest in peace.