If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you’ve been watching the Undertaker for a very long time. The man was an institution of WWE and Wrestlemania in general, dating all the way back to 1990. Absolutely no one or nothing comes close to that kind of longevity in modern wrestling but Undertaker managed to pull it off, wrestling full time for the better part of twenty years.
I know a lot of people want to talk about whether Undertaker should have left a long time ago or how old and banged up he looked in his match with Reigns. That’s not what we’re going to look at today though because there’s more than enough time to discuss the bad parts of Undertaker’s career. Instead, we’re going to take a positive look at Undertaker’s career and see why things really were so great for so long.
Like so many other wrestlers, the first thing people want to talk about is the character. Sure he was able to take some truly ridiculous ideas and make them work (old school undertaker, zombie, something close to the devil and MMA Cowboy of Death), but I want to give his in-ring abilities some attention for a change.
Maybe it was due to the infrequency of his matches but did anyone else know how to turn it on like Undertaker did at Wrestlemania? Starting around the time of Wrestlemania XXI, Undertaker was a nearly unstoppable juggernaut at the biggest show of the year, with great matches against Randy Orton, Batista (the match that moved Batista to a higher level), Edge, Shawn Michaels, HHH and CM Punk.
What is the most remarkable about that stretch of Undertaker’s career is that long stretch (which is more than most people do in their entire career) was almost entirely free of Undertaker’s signature gimmicks. He was really just the Undertaker as a person instead of some big character. There was no supernatural stuff or bizarre moments. Instead it was all about Undertaker being the old grizzled (yet human) veteran who played mind games and won matches by fighting through them.
The other key to this era is how much Undertaker changed. Earlier in his career he was the guy who lumbered around and didn’t do much besides power moves and the yet to be named Old School. Around the time when he changed back to the Dead Man, it was all about the strikes and submission holds, making him a more MMA style fighter, which really did extend his career far longer than anyone would have expected.
Speaking of how long it was, let’s go back to the more famous time of his career, which means the more supernatural period. While a lot of it looks silly looking back, it should be noted just how good he really was at the role. Undertaker is the best example in history of a wrestler being the perfect choice for a character. Just imagine anyone trying to play the same role and make it work. I really can’t picture anyone else getting close, which is a testament to just how good Undertaker is as both a performer and a professional wrestler in general.
Let’s look at some more of the specifics of Undertaker’s career, starting with his look. For my money, you can take your Vader, your Brock Lesnar, your Kane and anyone else: a ticked off Undertaker is the most intimidating wrestler in history. When he does that sit up and stares at someone look, you know it’s time for the pain to begin. Undertaker just knows how to turn on the intensity and he can do it like no one else has ever been able to do.
Then there’s the whole Kane feud. I know it doesn’t look great on paper but sweet goodness this was must see TV back in the day. You knew the eventual match was going to be a blast and it was so much fun to see what they were going to be doing week to week. Waiting until Wrestlemania XIV for the first match was the completely right call (no matter what Vince Russo would have you believe) with Undertaker’s entrance alone being worth the watch. While the later stuff became stupid, the original run was nothing short of amazing TV.
Sticking with Kane, Undertaker was also part of one of the most dominant teams ever in the Brothers of Destruction. I know it wasn’t the biggest part of his career but it was the ultimate trump card if Undertaker ever needed a little more help. They won three Tag Team Titles (three out of Undertaker’s seven, which isn’t something people often remember about his career) and main evented “Backlash 2001” in a match with all three titles on the line in one match.
As for his best matches, we’ll skip the obvious Michaels section, which includes the legendary first Cell match, “Wrestlemania XXV” (possibly the best match ever) and ending Michaels’ career at “Wrestlemania XXVI” (again, those two had more classic matches than most people have over their entire careers) and move on to everyone else.
Of course there’s the incredible series with Mick Foley. I’d assume you would want to start with the Cell match where Foley almost died but there are SO many other great matches between these two. If you’ve never checked it out, I’d highly recommend their match at “In Your House XIV: Revenge of the Taker”. It’s seventeen and a half minutes of two violent guys beating the heck out of each other with Undertaker getting as intense as you’ll see him for a long time.
Then there’s the rivalry with Bret Hart, who was the one man that Undertaker could never beat. Save for a house show early in his WWF run (and I don’t think that really counts), Undertaker never beat Bret via pinfall or submission. Given how many times they fought over the years, you would think Undertaker would have gotten the better of him at least once. The interesting thing is that during Undertaker’s debut at “Survivor Series 1990”, Roddy Piper said if anyone could figure the Undertaker out, Hart was the man who could do it. If you’ve never seen it, check out their half hour long match at “One Night Only” from 1997.
And finally, of course, there’s the Streak. I mean…..what in the world else can be said about the Streak? Over the course of the Streak, Undertaker won three World Titles, defeated all four members of Evolution (three times over Triple H, defeated Mr. Wrestlemania twice and won two matches inside the Cell. I know I said this earlier but that’s a great career for a lot of people and Undertaker did it at one show.
Above all else, the Streak lasted 23 years. Just think about that for a minute. “Monday Night Raw” celebrated its twenty-fourth birthday earlier this year. For a few years, the Streak was longer than the longest reigning weekly episodic TV show (that meets 183 different pieces of criteria) of all time. You can add up Steve Austin and the Rock’s full time careers and they’re not as long as the Streak. Undertaker won 23 matches at Wrestlemania. That’s more than HHH and John Cena (second and third most wins ever) combined.
I could go on and on about how great Undertaker is but I think you get the point. He truly was one of a kind and will never, ever, be approached and certainly never topped. Undertaker is a seven time World Champion, won a Royal Rumble, beat Hulk Hogan for the World Title twice and never jumped to WCW. He’s successful, a great in-ring performer, a giant slayer and loyal. Who else can say something like that?
Undertaker truly is one of a kind. Whether you loved him or hated him, it’s hard to imagine that you didn’t respect him for everything he’s done. There will never be anyone like him in wrestling again and that’s what makes him special. He’s an incredible performer and one of the few truly unique wrestlers of all time. Thank you Undertaker. We’ll never forget you.
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