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As the Phenom, the Dead Man and a clearly Big Evil, The Undertaker has been the stuff of legends from his very beginnings. It’s not even something many people have questioned or considered. The Undertaker is absolutely brilliant and it’s as simple as that. The closest anyone will get is smarks dissecting his in-ring limitations, while openly accepting his undeniable quality. I would find it utterly impossible to understand any argument that paints him as less than iconic. A true deity in the world of sports entertainment, his long and decorated career is absolutely one of the most important things in the industry. Even his widely-criticised “American Badass” gimmick could be shrugged off as a well-earned indulgence.
How has The Undertaker managed to command such respect and adoration from his very creative birth? What gives his reverence an undying longevity? Since the WWE is known for its love of monster heels, gigantic pushes and squash matches ad infinitum, we’re all well aware that it’s a predictable approach which often doesn’t work. With this in mind, you must conclude that there are, in fact, clear and salient reasons why The Undertaker has been able to break the shackles of this often disappointing formula. Indeed, the idea of a supernatural being who draws power from an urn is one that might not seem particularly compelling to the crowds of his debut. There must have been something that made him so instantly over, and the believable holder of the greatest streak in WrestleMania history.
In actuality, the answers to these questions are somewhat easy. When you start thinking about it, at least for me, the first thing that jumps to mind is the man behind the magnificence – Mark William Calaway himself. What a wonderful job he has done of remaining devoted to the character, and keeping a wide distance and smokescreen around his own personal life. That’s something definitely helping with his appeal in the long-run, but not something that would have been obvious from his conception. Instead, it was the pure ability and look of Calaway – a highly adept in-ring talent and passionate professional. By imbuing his imposing moves with a very real weight, he was able to prove unequivocally that the squashes he performed were deserved. It was even better that he had the perfect body for the job – huge, hulking but with strong athletic capabilities.
The actual gimmick of The Undertaker has often been called Vince McMahon’s shining creation. There are many valid arguments for that but, on paper and in its initial push, it might not have made much sense initially. I think most can agree it could easily have gone south, and not been performed at the same level. Since we’ve established that Calaway always had what it took naturally, crowds were already more likely to get behind what is actually quite outlandish. This is where we see that there is a little more than the skill of Calaway driving The Undertaker to the highest echelons. The other thought that comes to mind is how well it was done and how the company offered it the same devotion as the player of the part. Paul Bearer was an inspired choice, once they jettisoned Brother Love, and they ran so hard with a silly idea that it became endearing mythology quickly.
Over time, he showed incredible stopping power. Always able to put on a great match, a decade from his debut would present someone eerily worthy of the accolades afforded him. The mythology grew and evolved, bringing us such delights as masked Kane and a couple of five-star Hell-in-a-Cell masterpieces. With every step the legend only seemed more cemented, more undeniable and delicious. The Undertaker represented an entire zeitgeist in his industry, and he did so better than anyone before or anybody to come since. By the time that he decided to ditch the Dead Man and ride a motorcycle to the ring like a DOA washout, we were all just happy that Calaway was still running the ropes. It was perhaps even a necessary break, allowing us new breathless astonishment when the Phenom would finally return to the haunting tones of an organ and reverberating bell chimes; far better than Limp fucking Bizkit.
I think Calaway, the man, is what really makes our wrestling God so enduring. His peers won’t drop a bad word about him, telling tales instead of his command of the locker room, undying dedication to quality and his place as a mentor to those beneath him. With that said, it’s clear that his influence goes deeper than just what we’ve seen on TV or PPVs. We should be eternally grateful that he found his strongest calling in life and lived up to potential within. As an almost universal force for good in my much-loved world of wrestling, even his streak ending at the hands of Brock Lesnar couldn’t diminish an ever-long allure. That only proves that his myth is here to stay. If his legend can get past that, which it has, there must be nothing able to dismantle him. The Dead Man may not be walking for much longer, but he’ll be forever alive in our hearts and minds regardless.