Sign in

In Defense Of… The Undertaker

Bringing the truth to the wrestling fan!

A version of this article originally appeared on 411mania.com and was updated for the book IN DEFENSE OF… EXONERATING PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING’S MOST HATED. Learn more at https://www.jpprag.com

Certain people, events, organizations, and storylines in wrestling history have gotten a bum rap. Some writers have presented overtly critical comments and outright lies as fact, and others have followed suit. Well no more! “In Defense of…” has one reason: to bring the truth to the wrestling fan!

Intro

Some dame walked into my office and said…

Way back on June 5, 2005, my main man Brad McLeod (now is that pronounced Mic-lee-odd, or Mic-cloud, because I’ve been doing the latter in my head) said:

Now, for my case. The Undertaker.

Yep, ol’ Booger Red. No one wants to defend him, but I do at every step.

To which he listed out every step, but I’ll get to those during the case.

A couple of months later on August 21, 2005, Nick Gallagher wrote in with similar thoughts:

[A lot] of people {not myself} look at the [U]ndertaker as a meaningless player in the [WWE/F] circle and has been for years. [H]e has squashes and then when he [won’t job] to someone he [doesn’t] deem suitable and everyone gets pissed off[.] [N]ow myself[ — personally[,] if [I] were in his position [I wouldn’t] job to some nobody and hurt my character that helped build me up to the superstar [I] am if [I didn’t] find my opponent worthy. [W]ho put over [M]ankind… it was long before the [R]ock and [S]ock [C]onnection[.] [I]t was the [U]ndertaker… defend the [Undertaker’s] worth to the company[.]

And though Nick may be heavily edited, I only had one thing to say: “I’ll take the case!” Well, actually I said I already took the case thanks to Brad, who wrote in to gently remind me that I had taken the case, but no worries! This was planned all along!

Why this?

With over twenty years in the business and four WWF/E title reigns, how can one doubt the impact and ability of the man known as the Undertaker? People often complain about slow, plodding matches; about a lack of believability; about a lack of workrate; and about a lack of deserving his spot. Yet despite these claims, the Undertaker remains consistently over with the live crowd, a huge merchandise magnet, and a solid foundation at the WWE. Who else has been in the company for fifteen years straight whose last name isn’t McMahon or Fink? How many of us have spent fifteen years at one job… or in our last five jobs combined?!

No, the Undertaker has been a consistent presence on our screen, yet many in the IWC bash everything he does. There does not seem to be a way for him to please the fickle community, yet the WWE does not listen to these critics. What is it the WWE sees in the Undertaker that the IWC seems to forget, and what has the Undertaker done over the years to earn the ire of the IWC? And more importantly, does he deserve it?

A little history, and some early counter-arguments

The first question that comes to mind when we talk about the Undertaker is this:

Who is the Undertaker and where did he come from?

For most of the IWC “elite”, the answer if fairly simple: his name is Mark Calaway, he came into the WWF in 1991, promptly got pushed above everyone, won the title, and stole the main event from more deserving guys for fifteen years.

Pretty cut and dry, and not entirely based in fiction, which makes it believable. But as we have learned many times in these harrowed halls, believability does not make it true. Let’s start from the real beginning.

Before 1984, the man born Mark Calaway was not sure wrestling was the path for him. Much like Kevin Nash and the Big Show, Calaway had aspirations of using his size and speed to become a basketball star. Unlike his brethren, though, it was not injury or rare opportunity that brought the Undertaker into wrestling, it was himself.

In 1984, Calaway had his first wrestling training session, and did not fare well. But that would not stop him at all. He began to train with Don Jardine, who some might know better as the Spoiler, the Super Destroyer, or (my favorite) Baby Face Jardine! What better way to tell your fans you are a baby face than putting it in your name? I digress. Jardine had a career spanning 25 years including headlining MSG against Pedro Morales for the WWWF championship. Here was a man that obviously knew the business and was more than credible as a trainer.

Jardine helped the Undertaker get his body and mind in the proper shape, and then helped him find his way to Fritz Von Erich’s World Class Championship Wrestling in Dallas, TX. Through the mid-80’s, Calaway would wrestle under a number of pseudonyms (including according to Wikipedia the Commando, the Punisher, Texas Red [still trying to figure out if there is a connection from that to Booger Red], the Master of Pain, and Dice Morgan), but never found one that allowed him to fully connect with himself and the fans.

But his presence was undeniable, and he was able to work with what he had. Although not finding high success in WCCW, Calaway would move on to USWA. On April 1, 1989 as the Master of Pain, Calaway defeated Jerry “the King” Lawler for the USWA Unified Heavyweight Title. After losing the title, becoming the Punisher again, and winning the USWA Texas Heavyweight Title, Calaway had finally caught the attention of someone big. After sacrificing, scrimping, and working his way up for five years, the future Undertaker was discovered by Jim Crockett Promotions, a.k.a. NWA/WCW.

Upon arriving in JCP, Calaway became “Mean” Mark Callous and replaced Sid Vicious on the team of the Skyscrapers, teaming with none other than Dan Spivey to continue their feud with the Road Warriors. Interestingly enough, the team was once managed by future SmackDown! general manager Teddy Long. [Kafabe] Wonder why he keeps the Undertaker around? [/Kayfabe]

By the end of 1989, the Skyscrapers had run their course and “Mean” Mark Callous began his single’s career in the almost-WCW. He would go on to defeat future head of WWE talent relations Johnny Ace at Capitol Combat and Brian Pillman at a Clash of the Champions, before finally losing to Lex Luger for the United States Title at the Great American Bash 1990.

But JCP was going through a transition into WCW, and much of the old guard and their opinions of wrestlers were going with them. A new breed of management took over and brought their ideologies with them. Towards the end of 1990, the now WCW opted to not renew Calaway’s contract, and he was out of a job.

Calaway then began negotiations with Vince McMahon, who apparently had been waiting for just the right man to fill a new idea he had: THE UNDERTAKER!

At Survivor Series 1990 the Undertaker premiered on Ted DiBiase’s team at the behest of Brother Love… and then got counted out less than ten minutes into the match. But his team won! The Undertaker was designed to be an impervious monster that had magic powers. You see, the WWE was moving to a more “cartoon” format, trying to capitalize on the ratings success of Saturday morning programing. Who in their right mind could pull off a gimmick with magic powers and being dead?

Apparently Calaway could. The crowd got into the Undertaker despite the fact that he was a heel and had switched to Paul Bearer as his manager. The crowd could not be ignored, and he went on to fight the Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan before finally being one of the few people EVER to pin Hogan at Survivor Series 1991.

So yes, for someone who just saw the Calaway for the first time in 1990, it would seem he rocketed to the top! It was not an instant push, but still very rapid, especially for his time. But following his true career, the Undertaker already had seven years of sacrifice and paying his dues under his belt before he even made it to the WWF. Yes, that is a fairly fast rise to top the top, still, but not unheard of. This is a fact that should not be held against the Undertaker, but used as a testament to his skills. Why should he be punished for learning and growing so quickly? Here is a man who had accomplished a lot, but there was still so much more to do. Not only that, he had done it himself. He went through the system, he fought his way up the ranks, and he got a goofy gimmick over.

The Undertaker was not an overnight sensation, but the culmination of a long, hard haul. He had finally reached the top… if only for a week.

Ball… errr… Belt Hog!

The Undertaker quickly lost the belt back to Hogan at the “This Tuesday in Texas” PPV. What the WWF/E has with alliterating PPVs on Tuesday I will never know. But it became more than apparent that this was a hot shot title switch to increase buyrates. That became even more apparent when the Undertaker would have to wait SIX MORE YEARS for his second title victory against Psycho Sid (yes, the man he replaced in the Skyscrapers. Don’t you love the circles we weave with this guy?) at WrestleMania 13. This title reign would actually last five months before he lost the title to Bret Hart at SummerSlam.

So here it was, thirteen years in the business, seven in the WWE, and two title reigns. It looked like the Undertakers time had finally arrived.

Right?

Wrong.

The Undertaker would have to hold off another two years until Over the Edge 1999 when he defeated Steve Austin for the title with the help of Vince and Shane McMahon. Well, with two McMahons on his side, the Undertaker must have been able to hold on to the title? No, he lost it back to Austin a month later.

Three years later, the Undertaker would win the title again, this time from Hulk Hogan (again) at Judgment Day 2002. This title reign would be double the length of the last one — two whole months — before losing his last championship to the Rock at Vengeance.

Throughout this I hope I have made one point clear. The IWC accuses the Undertaker of being a belt hog, of having the championship too long.

In fifteen years in the WWF/E, he has had four title reigns. Lesner had three title reigns in his three short years, the Rock seven, Angle four, Triple H ten, and Austin six. All of those men have had less time in the WWE than the Undertaker yet all have had more reigns than him.

And it is not just number of reigns, it’s length! Of the Undertaker’s 5451 days in the WWE, he has only spent 254 as champion, or 4.7%. That does not sound like a man hogging the title.

Just to put that in context even more, JBL’s run as champ was 280 days. Cena’s and Batista’s reigns are both at 205 days already at the time of this writing. In their first run, these three champions are already on track to completely outpace the Undertaker’s total time as champion.

Yet he is still considered to be around the title too much. Some claim that he does not spend enough time putting over talent for the title. We will return to this topic later, but when it comes to losing chances at the title, no one does it like the Undertaker.

In the past fifteen years, the Undertaker has lost 54 title matches and number one contender shots. That’s right, 54! How many people even get 54 shots at the title, nonetheless lose them all? And mind you, that is only on television! Quadruple that for his house show losses over the years.

You see, people think that the Undertaker is always around the title because he is a perpetual main eventer. And again, that is not something to be chastised for. The man has worked hard to create the aura that he is always at the top. Yet this has somehow become a negative?

No, facts are facts, and the numbers don’t lie. The Undertaker has been nowhere near the title for most of his career, and has held it all together less than JBL. How can you hog something you never get to hold?

Want a little side story?

In 1998, Austin was the champion and put the title up in triple threat against Kane and the Undertaker. Kane and the Undertaker pinned Austin at the same time, and due to the controversy the title was held up. So at Judgment Day 1998 Kane and the Undertaker squared off with Austin as the special guest referee. Somewhere into the match, Austin decided to stun both men after mass interference, and then counted himself the winner. Backstage, McMahon fired Austin and put the belt in a thirteen-man tournament, which the Rock won over Mankind. That’s right, the Undertaker pinned the champion in a title match and then the title ended up on the Rock. So not only has the Undertaker not been with the title, it has completely walked around him.

Yet they still want him

I’ve researched a lot of less desirable people and events since I’ve started In Defense Of…, but with the Undertaker I have found something I have seen anywhere else:

An online petition.

That’s right, someone actually created a petition in support of the Undertaker. Check it out:

To: World Wrestling Federation

We, the fans, supporters and friends of World Wrestling Federation superstar the Undertaker ask the owners, leaders, and writers of the WWF to salute this great man for all he has given over the years by continuing to give him very high quality angles to work with, headliner competition, and main event status. We ask that you consider all that he has done, and not just think of the bottom line. We, the signers of this petition, believe he has the right to be a dominant force in the WWF for as long as he wishes to be. All we ask is that you allow him that.

Sincerely,

The Undersigned

There were 489 signatures, many expressing their love of the Undertaker. This quite shocked me, as I would expect any petition to be AGAINST using someone in the WWF/E. Yet, here it was, fans so rabid that they wanted the Undertaker to not only be in the main event, but to be pushed to a level beyond where he was.

This is the type of loyalty and love this man inspires. The Undertaker may be a gimmick, but Mark Calaway the man makes it happen.

How come he always gets up?

The first argument we have to tackle is that the Undertaker never jobs to anyone. Really? Well, looking at the Undertaker’s television win/loss record as of August 21, 2005, he had 272 wins, 124 losses, and 33 no decisions/double count-outs, etcetera. So that means that overall he only has a 63% winning record. Want to get better? Of those 272 wins, 51 were against complete jobbers during the early years of RAW. Taking that out of the equation on both ends, that means the Undertaker only has a 58% winning record. Wow, that certainly sounds like someone who jobs a lot to me!

Shawn Michaels has an about 6% higher winning percentage, but he was gone for five years. As of the same date, Michaels had 312 wins, numerically far higher than the Undertaker despite the fact that the Undertaker has been around consistently over the past fifteen years.

But of course you’d want to say: what have you done for me lately? Well, over the past year at the time of this writing, the Undertaker has had 17 televised matches. Yes, very few for an active wrestler, but we’ll return to this point later. Of those 17 matches, his record was 12–3–2, or a 71% winning record. Pretty high, much higher than his overall record, but apparently enough to make some people cringe.

Well, let’s qualify this a bit more. Two of those wins were over jobbers/non-wresters, and five of those wins were over people no longer employed by the WWE. Doesn’t seem like such a huge winning record. One of those wins he wasn’t even supposed to have (over Hassan), so that brings it down even more.

In one-on-one matches with main eventers, the Undertaker has a 2–2 record. Also, just outside of our range the Undertaker had just lost to JBL for the first time. So in Main Event match-ups he is again on the losing side, as we noted in the title section before.

No, the Undertaker is not a winner, and has been putting people over for a while yet. Of course, this is not his only year of building up the main event.

Who are these people?

But you might be saying, “Sure, he loses some, but he never puts people over. Really, who has he made? He just buries people (pun intended).” And I’d say to you, “Boy, your puns are pretty weak.”

First off, who has the Undertaker put over? Well let’s see, in recent memory he has lost decisively to Randy Orton, JBL, and John Cena. As a matter of fact, both JBL and Cena have two consecutive wins over the Undertaker (i.e., they won the rubber matches), as have Brock Lesner and Maven. That’s right, Maven got two wins over the ‘Taker. But let’s go back to Lesner for a minute. Lesner holds an incredible record with the Undertaker, going 5–3–1. So out of their nine matches, the Undertaker only won 33% of the time. And people say the Undertaker is not willing to make the new generation? Not only did he lose to Lesner, but he lost in both a Biker Chain Match and a Hell in the Cell.

Of course, these aren’t the only men that the Undertaker has helped make over the years. His feud with Austin solidified Stone Cold in the main event. He helped bring the Rock into the upper tier circle, both by teaming with him on occasion and then against him when ‘Taker was in the Corporate Ministry.

Still, there is one man that the Undertaker really made, and that man in Mick Foley. Mick Foley had an interesting career, traveling between Japan, WCW, and ECW, making waves wherever he went. But he had never truly broken through the top of the card, not until he ran afoul of the Undertaker.

The two had a series of matches, including the infamous Hell in the Cell where Foley was thrown from the top of the cage through the announce table and slammed through the roof onto a pile of thumbtacks. Despite losing this one encounter, Mankind/Mick Foley cemented his legacy that night. But just because he lost that night, does not mean he did not get the better of the Undertaker. As a matter of fact, his record against the Undertaker is 17–12–6 (including a KO, the only one in the history of the Undertaker). Therefore, the Undertaker only has a 34% win record against Mick Foley. Wait, that means Brock Lesner and Mankind have the same percentage record against the Undertaker. Well, certainly seems like the Undertaker was trying to bring more men into the main event by losing in these scenarios.

True, the Undertaker has not always been successful, and others have lost at his hands. DDP’s loss along with Kronik are two big ones that come to mind. But those dominate wins had more to do with the WWE not wanting to look bad compared to WCW wrestlers. For every DDP, there is a Kane who the Undertaker helped create.

No one is arguing that he made these people, they obviously had a lot to do themselves and with others. But the Undertaker was a huge steppingstone in all of these men’s careers.

Now, though, you are probably thinking of all the other people the Undertaker has beaten up who have not gone higher. You are thinking of Heidenreich, Luther Reigns, and Mark Jindrak. All I have to say to that is this: Chyna.

The Undertaker lost to Chyna in a triple threat match on August 9, 1999. The man let himself be pinned by a woman. Do you think, then, he understands storylines and the business? And if he ever has refused to job to someone (which has never been proven), that it was probably with good reason?

The Undertaker has been solid to the company that made him. The offers were available to jump back to WCW (although there is talk that Bischoff wasn’t that interested without the gimmick), but he wanted to stay. The Undertaker became the personification of an era in the WWF, much like Sting was for WCW. While both men were never the gods of their organizations; they were always there to make everyone else shine brighter.

Stealing the spotlight

And since they were not gods, they did not get to have the big matches. If the Undertaker were such a hog of the spotlight, if he was really using his power to influence all booking decisions in his favor, wouldn’t he have made better decisions? Would he have paired himself up with Nathan Jones to acquaint Jones to the WWE audience? Would he have let the sacrificing Stephanie angle go so far?

As it is, the Undertaker has stated in a number of interviews that he did not like the Satanic version of the “Lord of Darkness” because he “didn’t enjoy it” and that he “did not want religious WWE fans to start thinking he is a satanic person.” Yet he went along with it. It was his job, and he did it, for better or for worse.

Really, if the Undertaker was really flexing his connections, don’t you think he would have ended up main eventing a few more WrestleManias? Despite his impressive record, the Undertaker has only headlined one WrestleMania: WrestleMania 13 when he defeated Psycho Sid for the WWE Championship in front of 18,852 fans.

Just as a little side-note: that WrestleMania took place at the Rosemont Arena in Rosemont, IL. The next time it would be that packed? At Judgment Day 1998, the Undertaker faced Kane in the main event in front of 18,153. The Undertaker is one of those rare men that brings people to an arena because people want to see him live. Sure, there are many superstars we want to watch, but it is the rare few who actually draw people in to pay money just to see them.

Enough foes, how about some friends?

The Undertaker has taken his gimmick and his presence, though, to bring others along with him. Previously, I mentioned Nathan Jones as one of the men who was paired with the Undertaker in order to get him over with the audience, but this isn’t the first time this has happened.

Back in the Ministry (and later Corporate Ministry), the Undertaker brought the Acolytes into existence by teaming Farooq and Bradshaw. Of course, post-ministry these two would become the Acolyte Protection Agency, a.k.a. the APA. Also during this time, the Undertaker had Mideon and Viscera on his side, trying to give them something to do. These two would actually defeat Triple H in a casket match, if that can be believed!

Also, back in the Ministry were a couple of fairly new kids named Edge and Christian, getting their first rub from a main eventer. I wonder what ever happened to those two?

Whether friend of foe, the Undertaker has worked hard to bring people up the card, not hold them down. Some have been more successful than others, but the Undertaker is hardly to blame if some workers cannot get the traction they needed to take that next step.

But he just wrestles when he wants!

Nowadays, the Undertaker is rarely seen. Like I said earlier, at the time of this writing, he worked 17 matches in the past year (on TV, he worked quite a few more house shows). To that, I have to say a hearty: SO WHAT?

First off, the man is almost 41 years old and has spent 15 years in the WWE. There is very little left for him to do on a weekly basis that he has not already done. In order to keep him fresh, he has become a special attraction. He shows up for a good feud here and there and gets the job done.

Also, because of his age and years in the ring, he has a lot of injuries. His knees are in terrible shape from doing so many tombstones (the real reason he did not want to continue to use the piledriver). On top of that, he has had several surgeries on his shoulders and elbows. With time, he is becoming more injury prone and does not want to be put on the shelf forever. He has two young children at home (one just born in May 2005) and does not want to take any more unnecessary risks.

After sacrificing his body for years, why should he do anything that is going to put him in major jeopardy? The bell tolls, the fans scream, and he sells a bunch of t-shirts. Everyone goes home happy. What is the problem with that?

Filler Fun Facts!

Because we have a little time left in this case, we should throw in a few fun facts that make the Undertaker that much more amazing. Here we go…

  • Went to Angelina College in Lufkin, TX on a basketball scholarship (told you he was good at basketball)
  • He was named one of the 100 greatest wrestlers of the 20th century by Inside Wrestling
  • Won PWI Feud of the Year in 1991 with the Ultimate Warrior and Match of the Year in 1998 for his Hell in the Cell match with Mankind.
  • According to PhenomForever.com: From December 1991 to September 1993, Undertaker did not lose a single match. It was the longest undefeated streak of the 1990s.
  • According to Wikipedia: The Undertaker is the only wrestler to have pinned Kevin Nash (6 ft 10 in), Kane (6 ft 11 in), The Big Show (7 ft 2 in) and Giant Gonzales (7 ft 6 in), four of the tallest men in wrestling history.
  • According to PhenomForever.com: The Undertaker fought in the first-ever Casket Match, Boiler Room Brawl, Buried Alive Match, Hell in a Cell Match, Inferno Match, Biker Chain Match and Last Ride Match.
  • According to IMDB: Is the first WWF wrestler to do a Bollywood movie. He played his famous WWF character The Undertaker in Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi (1996) and even spoke Hindi in the film.

Anyone have a review of that movie?

And now from our very own news board on November 11, 2001:

The Undertaker has been in the main event of most WWF B House shows since the split of house show occurred early last month.

Some of the B shows have developmental wrestlers appearing on the undercard, and the Undertaker has been spotted taking the up and coming wrestlers aside after their matches and giving them tips on their work.

All I have to say to that is more proof of the Undertaker trying to help the next generation.

Also, there was a funny news-bite saying the Undertaker’s wins over Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit in 2002 might hurt their careers. Guess not! You see, we extrapolated in the past saying what would become of people because of the Undertaker, but most of these horrible events have not come to pass. Yet, we have allowed the IDEA that fighting with and losing to the Undertaker can kill someone’s career. Most of these events have not come to pass, yet the stigma remains. That is not fair to the facts.

But enough of that little stuff, because there are a few huge topics left.

But can they <strike>dance</strike> wrestle?

Did you know the Undertaker was a high-risk wrestler? Yes, nowadays the most dangerous move he performs is the top rope walk followed by a chop to the shoulder known as Old School, but do you know why it is called Old School? Because it is part of the old repertoire. According to Thomas Chamberlin of the Wrestling Digest in April 2001:

The Undertaker was one of the first big men who could really move. At almost 6'10" and more than 310 pounds, [Calaway] had a unique mix of power and athleticism. When he first broke into the WWF in 1990, few had seen the top-rope moves [Calaway] performed.

What Chamberlin was getting at was that the Undertaker has had a lot of injuries over the years and has changed his arsenal to reflect it. He stopped using the tombstone piledriver regularly not because of the WWE ban, but because his knees were in terrible condition from performing the move.

But in those days, the sky was the limit, and the Undertaker was still a young man. Unlike many men who find themselves thrust into the spotlight, the Undertaker continued to try to grow in all aspects in the ring. According to the Undertaker himself:

I think I learnt the most from Jake Roberts… He had, in my opinion, one of the best wrestling minds, as far as ring psychology and how to present his character to the audience went. I applied some of that to what the Undertaker was going to be about.

Not only that, but the Undertaker is still an evolving wrestler. Let’s just look at his finishing move. Before 1993, he was using the heart punch. Heart punch! He followed that up with the iron claw (comes from that Von Erich training), and THEN went to the Tombstone piledriver that became his signature. But he wouldn’t stop there and added the chokeslam (because he’s tall!) and the Last Ride. Then something interesting happened: The Undertaker started moving into submission moves! First he added a modified dragon sleeper known as the Taker Care of Business (not Takin’) and followed that up with the triangle choke, reverse STO, and fujiwara armbar. These changes are due in part to his body wearing down with time, but also a desire to change and grow with the business and his current incarnation of character.

The Undertaker was not always in charge of his own wrestling evolution. He was often put in the most dangerous of matchups and made to live up to high expectations. This was the man involved in the first Casket Match, the first Buried Alive Match, the first Hell in a Cell, and — the most dangerous of all — the first Inferno match. The Undertaker had this to say on that match:

They told me the ropes would be set alight, and we’d wrestle until one of us caught fire. Real good idea… I can’t even begin to describe how hot it was. There was no air. The flames were burning up all the oxygen.

But the real story wasn’t the match, but the Undertaker himself. Kane, who was actually set on fire, had this to say:

What was so impressive wasn’t the heat or the flames. It was the sight of Taker, at six foot ten and three hundred pounds, flying over the top rope, through the flames, onto me.

The Undertaker: a man who constantly laid it all out in the ring until he had no more to give, yet still tries to entertain to this day.

Usually when I talk about selling, we’re in the numbers section

Despite all of the dangerous risks he’s taken, all of the evolution he’s gone through, and his desire to continue to grow, the IWC elite has one big complaint about the Undertaker: He doesn’t sell!

Guess what?

That’s a good thing!

This has and always will be a major part of his gimmick. The Undertaker is a man who has developed an aura around himself that he is impervious to pain. And anyone who notices that he has a tattoo on his throat would believe it! Think about it from a real-world perspective: you have this huge, muscular guy covered in tattoos and has been wrestling for years. Do you think it is possible he has a higher threshold for pain than most? I like how Brad McCleod put it:

[H]ey, the man was a 6 foot, 10 inch, 325 pound BIKER!!!! You make him hurt. I dare ya. Go find a 7 foot, 325 pound Hell’s Angel and kick him. See how bad ya hurt him. And, when you get out of the hospital, maybe you will see that Taker is just as real as real life.

Being a short, skinny kid from the suburbs, I don’t think that that is such good idea.

More than this, though, is that WHEN the Undertaker sells, it has much more meaning. Chris Benoit sells for everyone. So when [Miscellaneous Mid-carder Getting an Inexplicit Upper Card Push] beats down Benoit and makes him scream, it’s not that big of a deal. Even when he beats him, that win can quickly be forgotten (see: Scott Norton). But not the Undertaker! Taking him off his feet is considered an accomplishment unto itself. When he grimaces and reaches for the rope yelling, when he falls down from a hit and stays down, and when he loses, it is a big deal. Despite the fact that he has a very low win percentage, the Undertaker continues to look strong because he has the mystique of an unbeatable monster. He lives a dual existence, balancing constantly losing with never looking bad.

And that’s what people complain about more. “He never looks bad when he loses!” That’s the point! It is not because the Undertaker is backstage pulling strings saying he will not lose cleanly; it is because he needs to look strong to make others look strong. When Brock Lesner beat the Undertaker in a Hell in the Cell, Brock became cemented as a dominant wrestler at the top of the card. Yet, despite being a pummeled bloody mess, the Undertaker was not the worse for wear.

In a feud with the Undertaker, both can come out looking strong. Just because the Undertaker can walk away from a match or loses from outside interference, it does not make the win over him any less pivotal. As time goes on, the details become less important. Remember, the Undertaker DEFEATED Mick Foley in their classic Hell in a Cell encounter, yet it is considered the match that was the springboard to Mick Foley’s main event status. Losing to the Undertaker makes you famous? Maybe DDP was on to something…

So if this were an Evolution Schematic, would he be on Phase 943,304,424-C?

Of course, the evolution we’ve continually alluded to is not only in the ring, but in the character. It all began with a phone call. From Kristy Quested at Obsessed With Wrestling:

“One day the phone rang,” said [the Undertaker]. “It was Vince, and he says ‘Is this the Undertaker?’ I just thought — what the hell is this???” Vince went on to explain his idea. Having always been a fan of the old Western-style undertaker look, he wanted to create a character based on it. Mark, always fascinated with death and the dark side, felt it was fate, and clicked onto the idea immediately. “The idea was Vince’s,” said Mark, “but as far as styling the character went, he left that pretty much up to me.”

I alluded to this in earlier, but this is where it comes to play. It’s not just the lights, the smoke, the mirrors, or the music that make the Undertaker. Like most successful gimmicks, it really works if the gimmick is an extension of the person. The man behind the Undertaker was into death and the dark side. He believed in and developed the character, not the other way around. Despite the Undertaker being over the top at times, the gimmick was still an extension of the man behind it. Therefore, it was not really a gimmick in the way we think of it, but actually an honest look at a person.

As time moved on, so did the Undertaker. Realizing the need to change and grow, the Undertaker looked to make an impact after returning from injury. He had this to say:

For years, people have wanted to know, what’s the Undertaker really like? What’s he like when he’s at home or on the street, and not on television?… The old school Undertaker is very much a part of what brought me to where I am. And I don’t want to insult the die-hard Taker fans by evolving my character, because the old Undertaker is still a part of me, still a part of who I am… I’ve always been fascinated with death and darkness, and I still am. I may not dress like Satan anymore, but I’m still down with the devil. It took me to where I am, and now it’s time to move forward. But everything the old school Undertaker was, that’s still very much a part of me.

Thus the Biker Taker was born! Of course, the Undertaker had been a motorcycle fan for years. When he defeated Hulk Hogan for the title years beforehand, he went out and bought a Harley Davidson motorcycle with his sudden cash windfall.

The Biker gimmick moved more into the American Bad Ass. Kurt Angle had this to say:

Taker truly is an American Bad Ass. Not just in character, but in real life too.

Despite being radically different from the Undertaker, the American Bad Ass/Biker Undertaker was not that different at all. All versions of the Undertaker were really just extensions of different parts of his personality. So when the Undertaker returned to a more morbid appearance, it was not a step backwards, but just bringing about another side of the man behind the gimmick. The Undertaker had this to say after returning to the dark side:

The key to longevity in this business is keeping what it is that you’re doing fresh. Evolving as a wrestler, and evolving as a character. I think that’s one of the keys to my success — the Undertaker has evolved from when he first came here. I continue to expand people’s minds and expectations of what they’re going to get from the Undertaker. I am the same person, I believe in the same things, I have a lot of the same characteristics, but what people have watched through this past decade is the evolution that has brought us to where we are today.

And where he’ll be one day. But then, there’s the other side of a wrestler. How much did he make?

NOW, let’s talk bling bling

The Undertaker is a man who has made a lot of money for the WWF/E over the years. So much so that he is one of only 19 superstars (out of the about 80 currently employed) who has his own area on WWEShopZone.com. And actually, of those three are for part-timers (Mick Foley, Hulk Hogan, and Stone Cold), one is for a wrestler no longer around (Chris Jericho), and one is for non-existent character (the Hurricane). This week, the Undertaker’s History of the Undertaker DVD is number 8 on the top selling chart. Fifteen years later, and the man is still selling in the Top Ten.

But looking over the years, the Undertaker has been a pivotal player in the main event scene. Although only getting one WrestleMania main event, the Undertaker has been in many more PPV main events. Below is a list of the PPVs that the Undertaker has main evented that he was at least 30% responsible for the overall buyrate:

There were some lean years, especially in the mid-90’s when the WWE was suffering and a noticeable drop in the post-Brand Extension era. But overall, the Undertaker is still averaging a 0.9 PPV buyrate average, well above the “success” range we set WAAAAY back in our first case.

The bottom line: the Undertaker is directly and indirectly responsible for millions upon millions of dollars in revenue. But until the WWE opens their books up to me, we can only conjecture just how much this man has meant.

Where do you go from here?

But why should we talk past tense? Doesn’t the Undertaker still have a future? What is the next step for the Undertaker?

Well, it seems we have already seen the next step. He is now a man working limited dates, but uses those dates to work with young talent. His next scheduled program appears to be to finish up with Randy Orton. No, the WWE does not seem interested in giving him the title any time soon, and the Undertaker is fine with that. He doesn’t need the title, but he doesn’t need to look foolish in his final years. He has given his body, mind, and life over to the business, and deserves a fair way to leave with his legacy intact.

Yet, there is still doubt. I am reminded of Snapple’s review of WrestleMania 20:

Taker is finished. Vince will push Taker, and buyrates will plummet. I can see it all now. Everyone wins, except for the fans… and the wrestlers… and the sponsors… and the, well you get the idea.

Really? Here we are a year and eight months later and the Undertaker continues to ride strong. Things are not as horrible as some would have you believe, and the Undertaker is not a man who is going to destroy the WWE.

Still, do not sell this man short; he’ll come back, for one last ride.

Buried Alive!

The Undertaker has had a long, storied career. He worked his way through the independents and WCW until he found his way into the WWE. He was not pushed to the moon right away, but again had to work for his position. His time as champion was limited and his winning percentages were abysmal. Yet he remained one of the most consistently over, high drawing, and motivated wrestlers on the roster. He worked hard to evolve over the years, both as a wrestler and as a gimmick. The gimmick, though, really was an extension of himself and that helped him connect with the audience. He sold merchandise and PPVs and drew fans to live events and to their TVs. Meanwhile, he continues to journey to the future, putting over young talent and still looking strong, riding out his final years doing what he does best: resting… in… peace…

The defense rests.

After the Trial

Hung Jury

IN THE CASE OF THE IWC VERSUS THE UNDERTAKER, THE UNDERTAKER HAS BEEN ACCUSED OF BEING A WORTHLESS WRESTLER WITH NO TALENT WHO WAS PUSHED DOWN OUR THROATS AT THE EXPENSE OF EVERYONE ELSE AND CONTINUES TO UNFAIRLY PROTECT THAT SPOT BY HOLDING BACK THE SUPERSTARS OF TOMORROW.

With 89.1% of the vote, the Undertaker was found:

NOT GUILTY!

Oh, that was nice! I got a lot of good compliments from people telling me this was the best case they had ever read, that they really enjoyed it, etcetera. But you want to know the funny part? I don’t even like the Undertaker! He’s never interested me at all! But who am I to argue with my own rules? It probably helped that I knew all the arguments against the Taker because I believed so many of them myself. Good to prove myself wrong and see all the Undertaker has done for the sport. I still don’t have to like him, but at least I got the lies out of my own head.

Response

While a solid victory, some people (rightly) questioned a particular bit of my methodology:

Wasn’t the UT a maineventer for ppv’s when feuding with JBL`?

You forgot to list those ppv’s when showing the buyrates he’s garnered as a ppv main eventer.

/RC

And my response:

Well, actually I said it was PPV’s he was at least 30% responsible for the buyrate. There were a number of other PPVs that he was in the main event for that I dismissed as he was not at least 30% responsible for the final buyrate. His programs with JBL were actually not the focus of SmackDown! then, so I don’t give him that full 30% for those PPVs. Maybe about 20%.

But similarly this question came in:

Quick question? How did you determine the “at least 30%” equation for the buy rates of Taker headlined events? Not doubting you or anything, just curious.

Wendell

To which I had to admit:

The “at least 30%” was a little more subjective then most things I do. I took into account the major programs going on, the amount of time the Undertaker took on TV, and the other specialty match-ups on the card. If it looked like the Undertaker was fairly important to the buyrate, then I included them. I admit, it’s a bit flawed.

However, there were some other bits left out of the case:

DDP and Booker T were the only two real stars brought over from WCW and UT and Austin made both look like fools. If Page and Booker were made to look strong by UT, Austin and Vince I believe the WCW invasion could have been a success.

Justin Pelletier

I let Justin know:

You’ll find this interesting. During my research, I found some people who said that the Undertaker sent feelers to WCW after Hall and Nash jumped, and that Bischoff responded that he was worthless without the Undertaker gimmick. In response to this, the Undertaker was particular vicious during the InVasion in wanting to bury WCW. Now, there is absolutely no proof or corroborating evidence to use this, so I couldn’t. It’s just a rumor and seems like a convenient excuse to put heat on the Undertaker that belongs to the bookers.

The original version of this article appeared on 411mania.com and can be found on jpprag.com:

Part 1 — Oct 26, 2005 * Part 2 —Nov 2, 2005 * Part 3 — Nov 9, 2005

IN DEFENSE OF… EXONERATING PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING’S MOST HATED
IN DEFENSE OF… EXONERATING PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING’S MOST HATED

IN DEFENSE OF…

EXONERATING PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING’S MOST HATED

On Sale now at the following locations:

Read the FREE PREVIEW!

Stay up to date with more from J.P. Prag!

Over 15 years as a consultant, solutions architect, and trusted partner for some of the largest organizations in the world. Learn more at https://www.jpprag.com

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store