HeadLocker — Jay Shannon
OWW Wrestler of the Week: The Undertaker
Our resident philosopher, Jay Shannon, profiles the Phenom. Undertaker had possibly his greatest Wrestlemania match on Sunday, against Shawn Michaels. After more twists than a dozen roller coasters, Undertaker took out Mr. Wrestlemania. Undertaker cemented his legacy with his close fought win.
When it comes to Wrestlemania, there are a few names that come to mind: Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Steve Austin and Triple H. The one name that eclipses them all is The Undertaker. The Dead Man moved to 17-0 with his win over Shawn Michaels. The match will almost certainly rank as the 2009 Match of the Year. While both men deserve a Wrestler of the Week award for the amazing match, I’m giving it to the winner and most dominant man in Wrestlemania history…The Undertaker!
Training and identity adjustments
Mark Calaway was a huge man who was born near Houston, Texas. Mark began his wrestling career in Dallas. Calaway was trained by Don Jardine, the original Spoiler. The rope-walk attack that Undertaker utilizes as Old School is a tribute to the man who trained him. Calaway also received additional training from both Chris Adams and Skandor Akbar. Most of Calaway’s early career saw him battle under a mask. He was the classic heel that battled Adams, Bruiser Brody and the Von Erichs.
Calaway moved from World Class to the USWA. There he took on the persona of Master of Pain. He would defeat Jerry Lawler for the USWA World title. When World Class and the USWA merged, Calaway returned to Texas as The Punisher. He would win gold there, as well. Since the USWA had an excellent relationship with Japan, Calaway was sent there to battle as The Punisher, later known as “Punisher” Dice Morgan. His exploits in Japan had representatives contacting WCW to suggest Calaway be considered for their roster..
World Callous Wrestling
When Sid Vicious was sidelined with a punctured lung, WCW needed a replacement for his in the tag team known as The Skyscrapers. Calaway was brought in and renamed “Mean” Mark Callous. The second incarnation of the Skyscrapers had a brief run, including a nasty feud with The Road Warriors. Dan Spivey, the other member of the team, suddenly departed WCW and left Callous at loose ends.
Callous was shifted over to the managerial services of Paul E. Dangerously (Paul Heyman). Callous had a small feud with Brian Pillman. Vince McMahon was in the middle of headhunting talent for the expanding WWF. Road agents for the WWF noticed Callous and suggested bringing him on-board. In late 1990, Calaway underwent one final major identity change.
Raising Cain in the WWF
When Mark Calaway was brought into the WWF, his character was that of an Undertaker. His original persona was Cain the Undertaker. The name Cain was taken from biblical references. Cain was the violent son of Adam that slew his brother. While Calaway’s character would lose the Cain part of his character name, the name Cain/Kane would come back to haunt the Dead Man several years down the road.
The Undertaker debuted at the 1990 Survivor Series as part of Ted DiBiase’s team. ‘Taker took out Koko B. Ware and Dusty Rhodes during the match. ‘Taker would be eliminated by count-out. Undertaker was originally led to the ring by Brother Love, but within a few weeks, Undertaker would have a new manager. Percy Pringle III, who had worked with Calaway in World Class, was scouted to become Undertaker’s new manager. A strange bit of trivia is that Pringle aka William Moody was a licensed Mortician in Alabama. When Pringle entered the WWF, Creative decided to use the pun name of Paul Bearer (Pall Bearer is one of the men who carry the casket as a funeral).
The domination begins
Undertaker began to decimate lower-level stars on the weekly WWF programming. As was par for the course, at that time, a rising star would be placed in a squash match to promote his or her superior talent. Undertaker’s first real challenge came at Wrestlemania VII, where he faced the legend, “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka. Undertaker completely destroyed the Fijian. That would be the first of 16 Wrestlemanias that Undertaker would walk away from as a winner.
After his success at Wrestlemania, The Undertaker moved on to feud with The Ultimate Warrior and Randy Savage. By the fall of 1991, Undertaker set his sights on the WWF World Title, held by Hulk Hogan. He faced Hogan for the World title at Survivor Series, in what was billed as The Gravest Challenge of Them All. Due to outside interference by Ric Flair, Undertaker was able to Tombstone Hogan on a steel chair to win the title. That first title reign would only last six days. WWF President Jack Tunney ordered an immediate re-match at Tuesday in Texas. Hogan used dust/ashes from ‘Taker’s urn to blind the champ and then pin him. The title would later be held up.
The face turn
Following his feud with Hogan, Undertaker found himself in the middle of a bitter rivalry between Jake “The Snake” Roberts and the Savages (Randy and Elizabeth). Undertaker was initially an ally to Roberts, but came to the aid of Elizabeth. Roberts was waiting behind the exit curtain with a steel chair to wallop the first person to walk through. When Elizabeth took the lead, Undertaker rushed up and grabbed the chair to prevent Roberts from striking her. This led to a serious feud between ‘Taker and Roberts that culminated at Wrestlemania VIII, where Undertaker took two DDT’s and survived. Undertaker Tombstoned Roberts on the outside of the ring and then rolled him back in the ring to take the win.
After dominating Roberts, Undertaker went on to battle various stars under the guidance of Harvey Wippleman. At Survivor Series 1992, Undertaker defeated Kamala in the very first Coffin Match. Undertaker then had to endure a feud with the worst wrestler in history, Giant Gonzales. Wrestlemania IX saw Undertaker take his only win at a Wrestlemania by way of a DQ win. The other 15 wins came by pinfall. It is the only blemish on his record. During the feud with Gonzales, Undertaker injured his back. He worked through the pain for several months. Eventually, he needed to take some time off. In a feud with Yokozuna, Undertaker was beaten down by a mob of Yokozuna’s supporters and locked in a coffin. Undertaker disappeared for several months. His return would be one of the most bizarre wrestling angles of all time.
Ted DiBiase had ended his wrestling career and switched to a manager position. He created the Million Dollar Corporation which he stocked with numerous heels. At Wrestlemania X, Ted DiBiase revealed that he had become the manager of The Undertaker. The truth was that Brian Lee had been brought in to portray the Dead Man. This led to an odd match at Survivor Series where Undertaker faced…himself. On the He Buries Them Alive DVD, Ted DiBiase commented that he was part of the match and he still had trouble figuring out what was going on. Undertaker (the Calaway version) dominated the match and took out the UnderFaker (as fans would dub the Lee version) with three Tombstone Piledrivers.
Undertaker would continue to battle the forces of DiBiase over the next few months. At Wrestlemania XI, Undertaker destroyed King Kong Bundy. After feuding with Kama (Godfather), Undertaker suffered a freak in-ring accident that caused a cracked orbital (eye) bone. The injury required surgery, so Undertaker disappeared, yet again.
When Undertaker came back from his injury, he ended up attacked by Mankind (Mick Foley). Their feud saw Paul Bearer turn on his long-time charge. Bearer would bring several brutal stars, including Mankind, Vader and The Executioner (Terry Gordy) to try and eliminate the Dead Man. They all failed to destroy ‘Taker. Bearer had one final ace up his sleeve.
Bearer began to hint about ‘Taker’s Biggest Secret. Bearer threatened to expose this deep, dark secret to the world. Eventually, Bearer brought forth Undertaker’s Brother, Kane. The name was a rehash of the name that Undertaker had used when he first started. Kane was a masked brute that, according to the storyline, was burned and disfigured by a fire that killed ‘Taker and Kane’s parents. Bearer tried to get ‘Taker to battle his brother. ‘Taker initially refused, but eventually the two had some of the most brutal feuds in the WWF’s history. It would later be revealed that Kane and ‘Taker were actually half-brothers, sharing the same mother. Kane’s father was Paul Bearer, who had been an assistant to ‘Taker’s father at the funeral home. That storyline was one of the raciest storylines that WWF had put forth, at that time.
The Undertaker began to move towards management after the feud with his brother. Undertaker created a stable of men that included Bradshaw (JBL) and Farooq (Ron Simmons). Bradshaw and Farooq were dubbed the Acolytes. They kidnapped Mabel and brainwashed him into the brutal Viscera. The former Phineas I. Godwinn was also brought into the fold as the twisted Mideon. Paul Bearer was also along for the ride. Eventually, Undertaker would recruit Gangrel, Edge and Christian to round out the stable.
The group utilized under-handed tactics to make life Hell for the faces. Undertaker began to talk about A Higher Power being behind The Ministry. Eventually, a cloaked figure was brought to the ring by the Undertaker. This figure was the so-called Higher Power. When the person removed his hood, it turned out to be Vince McMahon. The Ministry was unified with The Corporation to create a super-stable known as The Corporate Ministry. This group would continue until a groin injury side-lined Undertaker for several months. When Undertaker returned, he had morphed into his next incarnation.
When Undertaker returned to action in 2000, he was a leather-clad motorcyclist who used a new finisher, The Last Ride (an elevated Powerbomb). The crowds were slow to warm up to the new version of an old favorite. The American Bad Ass, as he would later be known, had three years of nasty feuds with just about everyone in sight.
Undertaker underwent a major face turn as he battled the various members of the McMahon-Helmsley Faction (a re-structuring of the Corporate Ministry). He would also both feud and team with his brother, Kane, to re-form the Brothers of Destruction. He won both the World and Tag titles during his biker era.
One of the most disturbing feuds during this era was with “Diamond” Dallas Page. Page had come to the WWF following the acquisition of WCW by WWE. Page began to stalk ‘Taker’s wife, Sara. The two had several brutal matches over Sara. Page’s comments about ‘Taker’s wife were disgusting and pushed the envelope to new lows. ;Taker dominated the feud.
‘Taker would switch back and forth between face and heel during the three year span. He would feud with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock, The Big Show and dozens more. The end of the UnderBiker era would come at the hands of Vince McMahon. At Survivor Series 2003, Undertaker was buried by Vince McMahon and Kane during a Buried Alive match between McMahon and Undertaker. ‘Taker would return to battle his brother at Wrestlemania XX. Undertaker would have more than one surprise for his little brother.
The Patchwork Undertaker
In the weeks leading up to Wrestlemania XX, Undertaker promos ran constantly. Rumors ran rampant about the return of the original version of the Undertaker. At Wrestlemania XX, Kane screamed from the ring as the entrance gong of the Undertaker sounded. The next sound heard was the falsetto voice of Paul Bearer. Undertaker has re-enlisted his old manager to aid him in his second Wrestlemania battle against his brother.
The version of Undertaker that emerged from the smoke and fire was a combination of both the original Undertaker and the Underbiker. The crowd was less than thrilled by the twisted version that dominated Kane. Undertaker would continue to use Bearer’s services for a few months. A health crisis for Paul Bearer would lead to another odd twist in the Undertaker’s long and strange career.
During a feud with Paul Heyman and the Dudley Boyz, Paul Bearer was kidnapped. By controlling Bearer, Heyman and his crew were able to manipulate Undertaker. It came to a head at The Great American Bash> Bearer was placed in a coffin with a cement mixer looming over it. Undertaker had to face both Dudley Boyz in a handicap match. If ‘Taker lost, Bearer would be covered with the cement. ‘Taker managed to win the match but then swerved the crowd by pulling the handle and covering his manager with the cement. It was announced, by ‘Taker, that Bearer had become a liability. To avoid a huge negative reaction to “killing” Bearer, it would be revealed, later on, that Bearer was only injured by the action.
Undertaker would move forward to challenge for the World title on several occasions. He would feud with every top star, face and heel alike. He would continue his winning streak at Wrestlemania beating numerous stars. The one thing that Undertaker had never done was to win the Royal Rumble. In 2007, Undertaker would remedy that situation.
30 and 15 and 1
At the 2007 Royal Rumble, Undertaker drew the final spot in the huge battle royal. Up until that time, no one in the number 30 spot had ever won the Rumble. The match came down to Undertaker v Shawn Michaels. Shawn went for Sweet Chin Music but Undertaker moved. Shawn got caught in the ropes. This allowed Undertaker to flip Shawn off the ropes and to the floor. Undertaker had made history and moved on to Wrestlemania.
At Wrestlemania 23, Undertaker faced his toughest challenge, ever. He had to battle Batista for the World title. The two men swapped several near falls. Undertaker would eventually take the match. While Undertaker had held the WWF/E title on several occasions, it was the first time that he had held the World Title. An injury would force Undertaker to drop the title to Edge. During a rematch with Batista, Mark Henry rushed the ring and crushed the weakened Undertaker. Edge waited until Henry left and then cashed in his Money in the Bank contract. He hit a pair of Spears to finish off a bloody and weak Undertaker. After the match, Undertaker disappeared for several months.
The Last Ride?
After returning from the arm injury, Undertaker began several feuds. He dominated Mark Henry, the man who had cost him his World Title. He also continued his feud with Batista. Their matches were some of the best ever. The two would also unite to make life difficult for World Champion, Edge.
At Wrestlemania 24, Undertaker put his win streak on the line against Edge’s World Title. Undertaker would beat the odds to take the title from the Rated R Superstar. Undertaker began using a new finisher, the Gogoplata Choke. With the injury to his arm, Undertaker needed something new to use in place of his Tombstone or Last Ride finishers.
The Gogoplata Finisher would cost him his second World Title. Vickie Guerrero, General Manager of Smackdown, stripped Undertaker of the title because of the illegality of the move. Undertaker worked a series with Edge that culminated at One Night Stand. The stipulation of the match was that if Undertaker lost the TLC match, he would be banned from the WWE. Every critic expected Undertaker to dominate the match, but he was thrown off a ladder and threw several tables. Edge won the match, and Undertaker faced banishment from his beloved WWE.
Return to the ring wars
Edge moved past Undertaker and was scheduled to marry Vickie Guerrero. One small hiccup in the plan came when Edge was discovered cheating on his soon-to-be spouse with wedding planner/wrestler, Alicia Fox. Out of anger, Vickie brought back The Undertaker to exact revenge on the wayward fiance. The two squared off in a Hell in a Cell match at Summerslam. The two had a brutal battle that included destroying one wall of the cage. In the end, Undertaker Chokeslammed Edge off a ladder and through the ring. Fire erupted from under the ring to signal that Edge had been sent to Hell.
Following Undertaker’s elimination of Edge, he set his sights on Vickie. Taker wanted revenge for her for banning him from the WWE. Vickie enlisted The Big Show to step in and proxy for her in the feud. While Big Show did manage to get a few upset wins against Taker, it was the Dead Man who took the final, deciding victory. Taker sent Show into a casket at Survivor Series. Taker then participated in the Royal Rumble where he was eliminated, along with Big Show, by eventual winner, Randy Orton.
After the Royal Rumble, several superstars lined up to try and end Undertaker’s unbeaten streak at Wrestlemania. JBL, Shawn Michaels and Vladimir Kozlov all made bids to fight the Phenom. Shawn first took out JBL and then Kozlov to earn the spot against Taker. For the weeks leading up to Wrestlemania Shawn and Taker ran numerous mind games on the other. Shawn caught Taker with Sweet Chin Music, several times. Taker looked to face his toughest challenge, ever.
The Mania Clash
After weeks of mind games, Undertaker arrived in his home town of Houston, Texas. Shawn entered first, bathed in white light. He was lowered to the ramp on a white-laced elevator. Undertaker rose from the bowels of the arena, ala Kurt Angle. The crowd was on it’s feet for the entire match.
Shawn used Sweet Chin Music, the Crippler Crossface, a Figure Four and the Savage Elbow to try and take out Taker. Taker nearly ended the match when he missed Shawn on a Suicide Dive. Taker also unleashed every move in his arsenal. He used the Hell’s Gate, Last Ride, Snake Eyes, Old School and a pair of Tombstone Piledrivers.The match went back and forth with both men kicking out of the other’s various finishers. The end finally came when Shawn went for a Moonsault off the top rope. Taker caught Shawn and drove him into the mat with the second Tombstone. Both men were over the top in this super-match. If the match doesn’t win the Match of the Year, I’ll eat my hat (NY Yankees baseball cap).
The Undertaker is reaching the end of his career. As a man in his mid-40s, Taker’s body can’t take much more punishment. Undertaker will likely move to a behind-the-scenes position with the company within the next year or two. Undertaker is a solid lock to go into the WWE Hall of Fame. Most people felt that he would go this year. Since next year’s Wrestlemania will be held in the Arizona desert (near Death Valley?), it’s a sure deal that he will go in, next year.
The Undertaker has done something that very few wrestlers have been able to do. He has reinvented himself, several times over. He began as the creepy character wearing the trenchcoat, black hat and purple mortician gloves. He then became the American Bad Ass, more of an UnderBiker. He then switched to a Composite Undertaker, a mix of both characters. No matter which Undertaker walks through the curtain, the fans are in for a Hell of a show. The Tombstone DVD from the WWE is perhaps my favorite of all the video releases. The word Phenom is tossed around, a lot, in wrestling. In my humble opinion, there is only one true Phenom in pro wrestling. He is the man that I am beyond honored to bestow this week’s OWW Wrestler of the Week award to. This award goes to fellow Texan and the greatest wrestler to ever step foot in a Wrestlemania ring, The Undertaker.
(Rest in) Peace.
— Jay Shannon