Was The Undertaker Really That Good?
With his 30th anniversary quickly approaching, this week we delve back in like we haven't missed a beat and ask: Was the Undertaker really that good?
You may have noticed that this is the first "Were They Really That Good?” in three weeks. I want to say that the series is continuing and hasn’t ended. I recently contracted Covid-19 and have been working on getting well. I apologize for the lack of content but it’s back to regular scheduling from now!
The one good thing that has come from having the dreaded ‘rona is that it’s brought us closer to Survivor Series and that means one thing: The 30th anniversary of The Undertaker. The Deadman has done everything there is to do in the world of professional wrestling. He is a 4-time WWE champion, 3-time World Heavyweight Champion, 6-time Tag Team Champion, a former Hardcore champion, a Royal Rumble winner, 12 Slammy Awards and the holder of the beloved streak, and that’s just listing his WWE accomplishments. He has been in some of the most iconic WWE matches of all time and some of the worst. He's had five-star classics and botch ridden car crashes, which should never have happened. So, let's get back to it and once again ask our favourite question; Was the Undertaker Really That Good?
Born Mark William Calaway and hailing from Houston, Texas, he played both football and basketball for his high school and began studying at Angelina College on a basketball scholarship and went on to major in sport management. His professional wrestling career began in late 1986 when he began training under former NWA National Heavyweight Champion Buzz Sawyer. Taker has said on occasion that he wasn’t a fan of Sawyer and he disliked him due to his limited input in his training, citing that he lacked commitment and provided limited education.
He made his in-ring debut for World Class Championship Wrestling, working under a mask as Texas Red in June 1986, after not even a year of training, in a losing effort to the late Bruiser Brody. This is testament to the Deadman’s in-ring ability and aptitude for the sport, he was athletically gifted in ways a man of his size had no right to be. When Jerry Jarrett bought WCCW and merged it with Continental Wrestling Association, the future Phenom would go through several gimmick changes of which none stuck, until he was put under the wing of Dutch Mantel on 2nd February 1989.
He was rebranded “The Master of Pain”, a hardened criminal who served 5 years in prison, much of which was in solitary confinement, for killing two men in a fight. You take one look at Big Evil and you know he would beat the piss out of not only your dad, but your entire ancestral lineage with a single punch. He looked the part, acted the part and he was believable in the role of convicted murderer. He got his first title shot just two months after debuting the gimmick. On 1st April 1989, Calaway won his first major wrestling championship from Jerry Lawler, the USWA Unified Heavyweight Championship. He held the title for just under a month when Lawler became the first man to pin him. He also won the WCWA Texas Heavyweight Championship.
He would then be signed by WCW going by the name “Mean Mark” Callous and working heel. The name was given to him by the legendary Terry Funk. He was quickly drafted into the Skyscrapers, tagging with “Dangerous Dan” Spivey to replace an injured Sid Vicious, beating down the Road Warriors after their match at Clash of The Champions X. Just days before their street fight match with the Road Warriors, Spivey left for New York, signing with WWF. The match went ahead with Calaway tagging with “The Masked Skyscraper” who was actually Mike Enos (you may know him as Blake Beverly of the WWF tag team The Beverly Brothers) in a losing effort before the team was disbanded. After the Skyscrapers, he went on to feud with Lex Luger over the NWA United States Championship, a feud in which Luger came out on top. According to Bruce Pritchard, Paul Heyman had already put feelers out to Vince and the WWF and Calaway wrestled a match with a dislocated hip knowing that the Dubs were watching. Vince initially expressed little interest in signing him, but Bruce Pritchard convinced Vinnie Mac to talk with him when WCW came to New Jersey, and talk they did. Calaway tied up his indie appearances and off he went to the promised land, this would be the last move of his career.
Debuting at Survivor Series 1990 as the career defining Undertaker accompanied by Brother Love, who didn't really fit with the Undertaker character, and later Paul Barer which is when things really clicked. He was silent and stoic, slow and methodical and then BANG! Out of nowhere he would put his foot on the accelerator and that unnatural athleticism came into play and he would bounce around the ring and walk the ropes like a cruiserweight. It had never been seen before and fans were in awe. He genuinely scared kids and even some adults in the earlier days of the character with his grave digging vignettes and his promos building coffins in his workshop.
We all know the direction that the Phenom went and that was upwards, all the way to the top. As previously stated, he was involved in probably the most iconic WWF/E matches of all time: The Mankind Hell in a Cell match at King of the Ring 98, back-to-back classics with Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 25 and 26, the WrestleMania 28 classic with Triple H in the cell, the Streak and of course the controversial ending of the streak at WrestleMania 30 with Brock Lesnar, albeit not a great match, but iconic nonetheless.
On the flip side, he’s also been part of some absolute botch fests in the latter days of his career. His clash with Goldberg at Super Showdown and the car crash with DX at Crown Jewel. Even in his earlier days he had some stinkers such as his match against Giant Gonzalez at WrestleMania 9, and who can forget that God awful hanging of Big Boss Man in their Hell in a Cell encounter.
His ring work is second to none, he’s careful with his opponents and puts his own body at risk before theirs. He was smooth and fluid in his movements and could turn it up to 11 at any point whether it be 5 minutes or 50 minutes into the match. His slow methodical pace switching to high impact explosiveness is what made him special, it’s also a testament to how well he understood the character that he was portraying. That unnerving athleticism for a man of his size was a joy to watch. Nine times out of ten, Taker could get a good match out of anyone, and stepping into the ring with him was a sure-fire way to elevate your position on the card if you impressed him, just look at Jeff Hardy in 2002. He was the locker room leader and would settle disputes, but what made him truly a locker room leader was that he had time for everyone and would give back to the younger up and coming stars by passing on his knowledge of the business, his expertise in ring psychology and his wealth of experience.
He was also someone who embodied his character and was able to evolve it to stay relevant for coming up to 30 years. He was very rarely seen wearing anything but black in public, he was in full Undertaker gear for any appearances he made for TV and was in full character for interviews. This is something very rarely seen these days, but Taker lived his gimmick, he’s old school and for the better and not in a Jim Cornette “territories days” way. My personal favourite rendition of the Undertaker was biker Taker with Rollin’ as his entrance music. This iteration of the Deadman wasn’t without its downfalls though. Taker was usually silent unless talking nonsense about darkness and evil, when it came to cutting a standard promo it became very repetitive with him, it was “My yard”, “I’ll make you famous”, “I will go Medieval on your ass” and that was every biker promo he ever did in a nut shell.
Talking is the Phenom’s weak point, and in my opinion his promos feel forced and don’t flow as well as some of his peers. Granted he wasn’t as bad as, say Batista or Bret Hart, and he certainly wasn’t as bad as The Ultimate Warrior or X-Pac, but he did produce some god-awful promos, take a look at his Un-American's promo before his match with Test at SummerSlam, it is literally just nonsensical, patiotic bollocks, and the worst culprit was what I like to call “The Undertaker and Big Show’s Big Bike Big Man Adventure.” When you look at the other wrestlers around during his career, wrestlers like Shawn Michaels, The Rock, Steve Austin, John Cena, CM Punk and Chris Jericho he wasn’t at their level. Similar to Bret Hart, Takers work did all the talking he needed.
Now, the verdict. Was the Undertaker really that good? There is no other answer than f*ck yes, he was. He may not be the best talker but he could, and more often than not did, do a promo that got the reaction he was looking for, and not a single person in this world can dispute his body of work and his in-ring ability. Taker is a once in a lifetime performer and no one will reach the heights that he has reached, not even the golden boy John Cena made it to the heights that Taker did. Now after his appearance on Sunday, let's hope the WWE stop sullying his legacy and let him “Rest in peace”. From all of us here at Real Rasslin, congtatulations on 30 years!
And that’s just my two cents.
Thanks for reading, let me know what your thoughts on the Undertaker are in the comments and I’ll catch you in the next “Were they really that good?”
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