The Original

The dead man.  The phenom.  The Undertaker.

When the lights go out it’s time to step up your game.  Period.

For many years, the shroud of mystery surrounding the pro wrestler known as The Undertaker was, in many ways, just as important to the sport (yes, I’m calling it a sport) as was the idea that nothing is sacred in pro wrestling.  Or, the idea that the fourth wall should repeatedly be broken.

Even today with a new WWE produced documentary (which as of this writing I have not watched) it’s still difficult to separate the man from the myth.  It’s a true testament to just how seriously certain wrestlers take their craft.

Number four: The Undertaker

From the moment he arrived at Survivor Series 1990 ‘Taker made an immediate impact on an entire generation of fans.  Crowds would be seen cowering from the sight of this enormous, ghastly looking individual making a deliberate walk down the aisle to the squared circle to ear piercing, church organ music and eventually crushing his opponents.

What made him stay in the minds of fans everywhere is that they’d simply not seen anyone quite like him before.  He totally dominated everyone who stood in his path and made life a nightmare for everyone else.

Every incarnation, from the cartoon look during the ‘In Your House’ era, the druids, the ministry, the biker, and back to a much more modern but still dark as hell look, he’s essentially remained the same.  The myth that the fans, announcers, and championship titles couldn’t get enough of is number four on my list of the greatest pro wrestlers of all time.  Yes, The Undertaker.

Mic Skills:

Rest in peace.  Famous last words usually uttered during promos of ‘Taker fashioning a casket for his next opponent.  From my memory, it seems Paul Bearer did most of the talking in the early years of the character.  I’d guess that it wasn’t because Undertaker couldn’t do it, he just had a much more disliked ring manager to do it for him. 

With that stated, when he did talk it was no frills and you felt the seriousness in his voice.  A fine balance between knowing deep down that it’s all an act but not really knowing if this guy was for real.  He’d gotten better on the mic over the years but ‘Taker was never the one to get into a verbal joust with an opponent.  He didn’t have to.  He was enormous.  And dark.  And whenever he was involved in a storyline, you understood that it was game on for everyone.  Most of all the fans.  Supposing that mic skills are the one knock on the Undertaker, take a look back at some of his biggest feuds.  The character didn’t need to talk.  He just handled business.  Period.

In Ring Ability:

If you take into consideration every aspect of what in ring ability truly means you’ll see the Undertaker elevated everyone around him and brought them to new heights.  His personal style of wrestling was fantastic as well.  As Jim Ross used to say ‘Taker had cat like agility, quickness for a guy his size, and he knew when to slow the pace of a match to build suspense.

And think of his move set.  Not a lot of characters have moves that fit so well with the imagery.  A stand-up, inverted pile driver?  Let’s call that the Tombstone pile driver.  A simple choke slam?  Albeit devastating, every wrestler uses it.  But let’s call it the Choke Slam from Hell.  An arm lock?  Yeah, that’s called Hell’s Gates.  He isn’t called a phenom for no reason.  He’s outright athletic.  And again, it all worked because of his dedication to the character.

The other thing is, he could work with anyone.  Light heavyweights, heavyweights, super heavyweights.  It takes enormous adjustment to muscle memory and the like to work a match with anyone.  ‘Taker began in a different era but evolved his skill set to do what he had to.  It’s astonishing, really.

Character:

Ric Flair once said that the Undertaker is the greatest character in the history of pro wrestling.  And that’s coming from the man himself.  Maybe it’s true?  Maybe it’s respect?  Fear?  Who knows for sure but it’s probably a combination of all those things.  To this day wrestlers talk of the chills they would get when standing in the ring awaiting their next opponent, only to hear ‘Takers music start.  It’s reminiscent of Mike Tyson in his early days, bulldozing another fighter in sixty seconds because they were frozen in fear at just the sight of him.  And the legend.  It’s even more amazing when you take into consideration that it’s all fake.

The respect he’s garnered over the years is a metric for just how in touch he is with the darker side of the sport.  He was doing this long before his battles with Mankind and Kane.  He’s a precursor to Bray Wyatt and Finn Balors’ Demon characters.  You had to have a guy that could go against the Hogans’ and Cenas’.  And he was the guy to do it.  Casket matches, buried alive matches, inferno matches, and a host of other specialties, including choke slamming a guy through the ring floor were all Undertaker specific.  Who else could’ve used an urn as a prop and make it work?

The natural progression from deadman to American B.A. in the Attitude era is just another notch in ‘Takers belt.  Initially fans weren’t happy with the change but ‘Taker made the turn work because the dead man character he’d spent years building wasn’t far off from the real life biker guy you wouldn’t dare cross in a back alley somewhere.  And, much like Stone Cold being so bad he was cool, the Undertaker eventually returned as the deadman and the fans loved it.

Wrestling is known for it’s colorful characters.  There are hundreds of iterations of this or that but the Undertaker is the original.  He’s the first and only true deadman in the sport.  And he’s a purist and a loyalist.  Never having had an incident, breaking character, or being seen outside the realm of his craft, he’s a true sportsman of professional wrestling.  ‘Taker is the originator and quite possibly the best character ever devised that represents what it means to be a bad guy in the business.

Storylines:

Where to begin?  The crisis split of two identical Undertakers?  Fighting his own blood in Kane?  The ministry angle and abducting the bosses daughter?  Or simply decimating every opponent who came his way at the grandest stage of them all?  Check all of the above.

How do you turn wrestling’s dead man, an inherently bad dude, into a good guy?  Put him against Kane.  Have ‘Taker, as long as he could, stick to his guns in saying he would never fight his own blood.  Even with the storyline revelation that ‘Taker had burned Kane alive and left him for dead, Kane was so bent on destroying ‘Taker that fans started to cheer him.  It was genius and some really, really dark stuff.

The week to week stories became so outrageous and sacrilegious that he was burning effigies of wrestlers, coming back from the dead, and hanging people from makeshift ‘Taker symbols above the crowd.  Including Stephanie McMahon, who at the time, wasn’t a full time participant in WWE operations.  It was beyond anything anyone has ever seen on network television and certainly pushed the proverbial envelope.

It also didn’t matter who challenged him come WrestleMania time.  He won.  ‘Taker made every wrestler a viable foe leading up to the biggest match but at the end of the day, he won.  The company backed him up but at the same time didn’t force him upon the fans (Triple H, anyone?).  ‘Taker had better storylines than anyone at the time, including The Rock, Stone Cold, and Triple H.  Fans knew it too.  End of story.

Longevity:

Longevity is one thing.  Legacy is another, in this instance.  The streak at WrestleMania is undeniable.

His influence on everyone is also that.  ‘Takers professionalism is what keeps him respected and is what has kept him going for so long.  He was there in the early days of Hulk-a-mania and through to the Attitude era and survived the PG era, as well.  Who else can say that?  He’s always been a company guy and did what was best for the business at large.  For any of the darker images in the sport, well, they wouldn’t be there without the efforts of The Undertaker.  He’s a living legend among the sport and its’ fans and things will never be the same without him there.

Number four all-time, my opinion.  ‘Taker takes it.

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