One of the greatest wrestlers in history finally hung up his hat last week in the main event of WrestleMania. As the Deadman rides off into the sunset, we share our favourite memories of the man from Death Valley.
It’s rare anyone gets genuine chills down their spine anymore. That combination of tension and excitement that tells you something very special is happening is far less common than it used to be. Unless, of course, you’re a Taker fan, because that is his stock in trade.
I came back to wrestling just after WrestleMania 29, and precious few of the performers I remembered were still working in the Fed. Kane was a parody of himself. That white rapper guy seemed to have done alright. But Taker, while well into his ‘one feud a year’ phase, was still the Deadman.
When I caught up with the CM Punk match, I couldn’t believe what I saw. He was still moving well for a guy of nearly 50 but dude, that entrance.
I got those chills down my spine again and remembered everything I had ever loved about The Undertaker.
That was probably his last great match. Although there was a spike in quality with his matches against Brock Lesnar in 2015, the past few years have seen the aging gunslinger struggle to accept his limitations. That this was the story of his match last week was both heartbreaking and a fitting end to his career.
He’s the best combination of performer and character this industry has had. He’s the judge in Wrestler’s Court. He’s the backstage enforcer who threatened a drugged-up Shawn Michaels to make sure he took the pin. He is my favourite professional wrestler of all time and watching him fade has been difficult at best. So thanks for the memories, Taker. Thanks for all those chills.
Taker and the fake eyebrows.
I’m at work so I’m going to try to recount this from memory. I caught the latter stages of the Attitude Era, from very late 1999 through to the other side of the WCW/ECW invasion angle, but I find it hard to remember which PPVs I watched and which ones I just saw re-capped on Raw or Smackdown. Did I actually see Austin’s heel turn at Wrestlemania X-Seven, or am I basking in vicarious nostalgia like so many Mancunian musicians “at” the Sex Pistols Free Trade Hall gig? Anyway, one show I definitely, 100% remember watching is the Judgement Day PPV that saw Triple H and The Rock meeting in an Iron Man match in the main event. And the one moment that sticks in my mind from that match is the Undertaker’s run-in at the end – not the hour-long festival of overbooking that preceded it, just that moment where the original Big Dog rode in on his Big Hog and *oops* earned Triple H a disqualification fall that ended up winning him the match.
Taker was, I’m pretty sure, the first wrestler to bridge the gap between my period of fandom at age 3 – when, I’m reliably informed, I had a pretty mean repertoire of entrance routine impressions which I’d bust out at family gatherings – and this latest dalliance. I’d missed Ministry of Darkness Taker in his entirety – as far as I was concerned the man had been out of action since 1993. The Attitude Era was a lot less reliant on nostalgia pops than the current product, which is why this more-or-less long-awaited return stands out so boldly in my memory. And I couldn’t so much as name a dirt sheet back then, so the many weeks vignettes that foreshadowed Taker’s interference ended up really adding up to more than the sum of their parts.
Taker was still around when I entered my third, and current, phase of wrestling appreciation in 2010. I went through a phase of fantasy booking him to beat all these chump-change johnny-come-latelies like Batista, not realising he’d spent the past eight years doing precisely that. And the run-in at Judgement Day was my go-to point of nostalgia for Taker’s character, the video I’d seek out on YouTube when interrupting academic work to watch wrestling still felt thrillingly low-brow and illicit. The crowd pop, the resulting mass brawl, the sense that a prodigal son had returned home – it might not be remembered as one of the legendary moments in Taker’s career, but it certainly has the look and feel of one. Last Sunday, surrounded by friends and once again fully comfortable in my wrestling fandom, I watched the Deadman retire. Outwardly I was talking about the politics of Roman Reigns’ victory, but inwardly – like everyone else, I think – I was thinking about the tracks that connect us as adults to our childhood obsessions, and those awkward stations in between.
– Luke Healey
Quite simply, I’ll remember him for the best entrance music ever.
I’m that kid who had a Booger Red t-shirt. In my defence (and lord knows I need to provide one considering what I’ve just confessed), I started watching wrestling at the age of ten at the start of 2001, when Taker was well into his “this is my yard, boy” phase and the mere fact of owning a motorbike was enough to get someone over with me. I also thought Limp Bizkit were cool because they said rude words and I had not yet developed my abiding love of Igor Stravinsky, so there’s that. And the Brothers of Destruction were ineffably awesome. But what made The Undertaker cool to me wasn’t just not appreciating how incredibly lame Big Evil was or being smart enough to the business to be enraged by his booking, but the knowledge that this wasn’t even his most powerful form. Sometimes commentary used to mention strange occult things like Buried Alive and Casket and Inferno matches; not very often, but enough to give you the impression that there was more to this character than biker chains and chew. And a couple of years later, I discovered through Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain – a game I played to death – what Taker used to look like.
He had the highest stats out of anybody on the game, which only served further to highlight his power, but in my callow youth I assumed that the change to Bikertaker was permanent.
And then Taker lost a Buried Alive match to Vince McMahon after interference by Kane, and he was gone. I knew in my heart of hearts he’d be back (this was wrestling, after all), but when spooky imagery of graveyards and bolts of lightning began to manifest, I realised I would soon be seeing the longed-for but out of reach original version of my hero return. Eventually it was confirmed he’d be taking on Kane at Wrestlemania 20. While there were doubtless many fans thinking, “yay, Taker’s back and he’s going to be good again,” imagine how I felt, having never experienced the true Phenom.
So as my friend Dan and I sat on my living room sofa after school on a Friday evening, having successfully spent all week avoiding spoilers because social media hadn’t been invented, and watching a VHS tape recorded from Sky Sports (those were the days!), nothing mattered more to us than seeing Taker return in his purest form. Not Lesnar vs. Goldberg (which is just as well), not Benoit winning the title, not even our boy Eddie Guerrero beating the odds again. When Paul Bearer came out with his trademark “OHHHH YEEEEEEESSSSSS”, the druids lined the ramp with their torches and the Funeral March struck up, all memories of Fred Durst and red bandanas fled from my mind. The match, where Taker got his revenge and basically squashed his brother, was almost beside the point. What mattered was that even though this was my first experience of classic Undertaker, it felt like the hundredth, such was the eerie and compelling presence in front of me. Thankfully, that’s the way it stayed, and how apt it should be that long after his body had broken down and the Streak was taken from him, his aura was the last thing to go.
Undertaker is by far the best gimmick in the history of Pro Wrestling. No one has lasted longer on the mainstream American scene doing the same style of gimmick (give or take a few motorcycle years) and no one has made an event quite as important as he made the Streak matches at Wrestlemania.
I had the pleasure of seeing Undertaker live 3 times. 2 were on the Glasgow legs of the UK tours (UT/Kane/Batista vs Mr. Kennedy/MVP/King Booker and UT/Matt Hardy/Batista vs Edge/Mark Henry/MVP). But the first and most memorable time was when I was 14 and on holiday in America in the Boston area. There happened to be a Smackdown taping about 100 miles away in Worcester, Massachusetts and I begged my father to take me. He relented and I got to experience one of the highlights of the trip.
So my father and I attended the July 14, 2005 SD tapings and saw loads of stars. Eddie Guerrero was on fire as the prick heel tormenting Rey Mysterio with a “SEEECRET”. Batista started off his SD career with a DQ win over Orlando Jordan thanks to JBL and we were even given a technical masterclass as for the main event of Velocity, Chris Benoit faced William Regal.
Stars as they all were, nothing compared to the Undertaker. His rival at the time was the controversial Muhammad Hassan, and unfortunately the London bombings the week prior coinciding with Hassan using masked terrorists to attack the Undertaker got a lot of heat with the television stations. They officially banned Hassan appearing on the show. (This didn’t stop him filming a dark promo for the live crowd) In his stead they sent an “attorney” out there to read a statement only to end up receiving a Chokeslam and Tombstone from the Deadman.
Recognise our young legal professional?
Why it is our very own Psycho Killer – Tommaso Ciampa!
The lights went out during his heat grabbing legal-speak speech, and the magic began. Smoke filled the arena floor, a creepy chill went over my spine, and when the man in black strode out with his long coat and big hat the audience lost their minds. It was an incredible pop, like nothing I had heard before. He creeped down the aisle way and brought up the house lights with the raise of his hand. Thunder clapped when he took his hat off. He didn’t need to speak. His message was with action. 2 moves and the “lawyer” was knocked out. He simply left the ring and raised his fist to another thunderstrike before disappearing behind the curtain.
It Was Awesome.
No one in wrestling has quite that presence. No one could pull it off like him. For all the memories.