Wrestlemania has come and gone, and I believe it was a good one. But I want to focus on the one man who became the NEW WWE World Heavyweight Champion, The Undertaker. I want to share with you my favorite memories of this legend in wrestling.
I have been writing about wrestling since early 1997 – I think. Close enough. At any rate, I had my favorite back than, and that was Stone Cold Steve Austin. I saw him on a late-night talk show and wanted to see what this wrestling business was all about. I quickly thought that this was a pretty cool thing to watch, and the stage was set.
I don’t know if any of you remember, but twice, maybe more, TV Guide had a series of four collectable covers of wrestlers that they were offering. It is the first time that I am referring to. I do not recall who three of those wrestlers were, but I do remember Undertaker’s cover. And not in a good way, I might add. As I recollect, I thought this was the ugliest character I had ever seen. I couldn’t figure out why he was so popular. He was just a really big guy with a weird ‘Deadman’ gimmick. Who cares, anyway?
Well, I might have the answer to just when I began to care, if even a little bit at that time. I was a big Mick Foley/Mankind fan at the time of the 1998 Hell in a Cell match at King of the Ring. I, along with almost everyone else, was almost hypnotized with the insanity and brutality of this match. As the match progressed, I didn’t care who won, just that each man would be able to eventually walk out as unscathed as possible.
Of course ‘Taker won that match, and I was devastated that Mankind not only lost, but was so busted up to boot. I had taped that pay-per-view and watched it a few more times. To my surprise, I started to watch what The Deadman was doing. Hmm, maybe he deserved another look. I was surprised to read that he had worked the entire match with a previously broken foot, and was impressed with that. (Hell in a Cell matches must mean that he has to wrestle broken – at No Mercy in 2002 he had a broken hand.) I knew that at this time he was already a fixture within the company, and decided that there just might be a reason for that.
That attitude did not last long however. He was still not a favorite of mine, and I would not go out of my way to pay a lot of attention to him. Yes, he seemed to have respect within the WWF/E, but there were many others whom I liked better. Then, suddenly, he changed his persona, and with that, he had me.
Some did not like his transformation into the American Bad Ass in 2000, but I did. Now, for whatever reason, I began to watch his matches. I’d wait for his entrance, and when those shows came around when he did not make an appearance, I was disappointed.
And all the while, Undertaker, American Bad Ass, take your pick, was marching along, winning match after match at Wrestlemania. His win streak was growing, and I was so excited to see him in Los Angeles for Wrestlemania XVI in 2000, and watch him win what I hoped would be number nine. But an injury forced him to sit out ‘Mania that year. I was to be ‘Taker-deprived. Well, not exactly. I did get his autograph, take a picture, and speak a few words with ‘my man’, and was ridiculously excited about that.
I loved watching he and Kane wrestle as the Brothers of Destruction. I really got into the two of them. I loved it when they won the Tag Titles from Edge and Christian, and was quite pissed off when they lost them to Austin and Triple H.
In 2001 the ABA took his look one step further and cut his famous long hair short. Now there were a lot of fans who didn’t like this, but that was still OK with me. The hair and beard had gone from black to red, but regardless of his outward appearance, he was still The Undertaker, The Phenom.
In 2002 I traveled to Toronto for Wrestlemania X8. It was a great trip, made even better when I got to see UT win his tenth consecutive Wrestlemania match. Interesting to note that when he is an active wrestler he makes very few appearances, but when he was still laid up in 2000 he did autograph signings.
When UT moved from Raw to SmackDown! in 2002 I thought that was fine. He would have some new blood to face. The fact that he had to work with The Big Show and A-Train did not excite me much, but at least he was still involved in a major way. Then, much to my chagrin, he disappeared. All wrestlers need to heal up from time to time, and ‘Taker was no exception. Good for him, bad for me. I was having Undertaker withdrawals.
He came back in 2003, I think for the Royal Rumble, but it might have been before that. Anyway, I was happy. That was short-lived, however, when he left again toward the end of the year. I kept waiting for his return. And waiting. Then we were teased when that bell would toll, or the building would go dark, then blue. When would he be back? This was torture, sheer torture.
Wrestlemania XX brought back the vintage Undertaker. Gone was the American Bad Ass. The Deadman had returned! He might not have been exactly as he was before, but he was still The Deadman. And it was only then that I realized how much better that character was, and why so many fans did not like his biker persona. It might have been a lot like he is every day, but The Phenom ruled the square circle.
Of course, ‘Taker won his ‘Mania match, beating his ‘brother’ Kane. And, jumping ahead a year, he triumphed over Randy Orton in Wrestlemania 21 in 2005 before disappearing again. But he took up his feud with Orton when he came back, and had some super matches with Randy. I loved the Casket Match when he disappeared, only to rise out of a burning casket at a later time.
At Wrestlemania 22 ‘Taker had to face Mark Henry. I was unhappy. Let’s face it, Henry does not have much athletic ability, he’s just big. Really big. To make this work at all, UT would have to carry the match, another Casket Match. Stuff Henry into a casket? A tall order, but The Deadman pulled it off. Probably not the best match of his career – OK, no probably about it – but it kept the win streak alive and well at 14-0.
Things did not get better for Undertaker as far as opponents are concerned. He had to go from Henry to The Great Khali. Maybe the powers that be felt that UT could make anyone look good, so why not the new man? Uh uh, didn’t work, and I just kept hoping that he wouldn’t get hurt in the process of trying to teach Khali to wrestle.
The 2007 Royal Rumble saw ‘Taker standing alone in the ring, besting 29 other men and giving him the opportunity to chose which belt he would wrestle for. His eyes stared down Batista, and the battle began. With that began the rumors as well; Batista would end Undertaker’s win streak, that’s a certainty. Well, maybe not; Batista is in the doghouse a bit, so now he won’t win. It went on and on.
This is as good a place as any to mention his entrance. Slow and methodical, he appears to control the choreography completely. Add the all the pyro and lighting and you have the best entrance in the business.
When the match started, I had a guess as to who would win, but what if I was wrong? A friend sent me his predictions and he thought that ‘Taker would win the match through a disqualification, thus keeping his streak alive but not wearing the belt. That sounded like a plausible idea to me. I truthfully did not think that the WWE would let Undertaker carry the championship. How glad I was to be wrong – let the fireworks begin! A nice, clean victory and a new WWE World Heavyweight Champion – his first, I might add!
Since his return last year, Undertaker has looked to be in the best shape of his career. This man who, at my first look was an anomaly to me, I now find incredibly sexy. (Hey, you guys do it with the Divas!) At 42 years of age, one only has to watch his match from this past weekend to see that he still has it, and then some. My hat is off to him.
I know that retirement must be in the near future. His job is so physically demanding, as well as the traveling challenges, he can’t wrestle forever. And when that day does come I, along with all of the other ‘Taker marks out there, will be sad. Because, after all, there can only be one Phenom, and we know him as The Undertaker.
Be safe and God Bless,
Viva La Raza,