As ‘smart’ fans, we’ve been duped before. Sometimes these reports turn out to be true, sometimes they do not; I personally was in denial.
There are always huge surprises come Wrestlemania, but two instances stick out in my head over the years as feeling like surreal moments: the night the Streak ended and the close to Sunday’s WM 33 when The Undertaker laid his coat, gloves, and hat in the middle of the ring. I know what I was seeing (both times), but, (both times) it felt unreal to me.
To say The Undertaker is one of the greatest superstars to ever step into a WWE ring would be an understatement. He’s like comfort food for the WWE Universe, despite dropping down to a part-time level in recent years, when he returns, he always gets a hero’s welcome. He has earned our respect, as over the years we have come to know that he will give us a good match, incredible entertainment, and he will tell us a story in that ring, like no one else.
I remember when The Undertaker debuted in the WWE. I was far younger back then and to be honest, I didn’t really like his gimmick. To be fair, he was a heel, so I guess he and Paul Bearer were accomplishing the job they were set off to do: have the audience hate them. But really, the gimmick was over the top, surely it wouldn’t last more than year before the WWE would drastically change it up … boy, was I wrong (I was quite young back then).
As the years would continue, The Deadman would creep me out, piss me off, intrigue me, and win me over as a fan. The evolution of Taker and his staying power still takes me aback as I write this and I reflect on his career. To be able to stay with one company, especially during the Monday Night Wars when many wrestlers were flopping back and forth, is an incredible feat. To remain within one highly gimmicky character for over a quarter of century (except for that brief break when he was American Bada$$, which I personally did like) has Mark Callaway in a small group of wrestlers with over-the-top personas that have had true staying power (the only other wrestler I can think of that has endured years within an outrageous character is Goldust).
Because let’s face it, the idea of wrestler taking on the role of an undertaker and burying his opponents – and being buried himself – yet coming back to life is outrageous – but it worked. It worked, because Mark Calloway believed in himself, his character, his persona. So much so, that we all began to truly believe … so much so, that we would hand down that belief to a new generation who believed in The Undertaker; our children. That’s what might truly amaze me the most about the Undertaker, his staying power. I was a young girl who was fans of The Undertaker, many years later, I’d watch my nephew turn into a fan and talk to me about how much he loved a certain promo or match; then years later would pass and now my two girls would shriek with excitement when watching WWE programming, hearing the bells toll. It almost feels like The Undertaker has been a part of the ‘circle of life’ so to speak for me, as a WWE fan. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.
And he rarely broke kayfabe, in a world of sports entertainment where it has been dead and gone for a while now. We would see other superstars and events like the WWE Hall of Fame or doing interviews and press conferences (out of character), and so on – Mark Calloway was, for the most part either excluded in these events or participating as the Deadman; he was always The Undertaker.
So yes, I cried like Ric Flair on Sunday. I actually started to weep a bit when The Deadman tried to get up during the match with Roman (his signature, straighten up move from being laid flat) and he struggled with it. I knew it was coming, but when he placed his hat, gloves, and coat in the middle of the ring, the tears started flowing. Not because he lost, and not because he’s retiring; perhaps because I know it’s time … and it’s been time for a while now. I cried because it’s the end of an era, a chapter is being closed and as much as I will miss The Undertaker, those bells tolling, the lightening, the goosebumps I get when the arena gets dark or hear his voice over the speakers – it’s time. It’s time to say goodbye to The Phenom, Taker, The Deadman; it’s time for Mark Calloway to enjoy a new chapter in his life and it’s time for us fans to allow Calloway to move on to a new chapter in his life. It’s time to celebrate and reflect on an incredible career, a ground-breaking character, and a sports entertainment streak that is hardly comparable to anything else in pro wrestling.
As I write this, tears well up, but I say goodbye Deadman, thank you for memories, the nightmares, the matches, the commitment to sports entertainment, the stories you told (the way you told them), and so much more.
Goodbye, Undertaker …