With Survivor Series 2020 being the site for The Undertaker’s final appearance in a WWE ring, some of our contributors have thoughts on their favorite matches, entrances, and moments of the Deadman’s 30+ year career
The mythical Undertaker’s prolific 30-year career in WWE is nearing its end. With all but a Hall of Fame induction left on his plate to accomplish, The Undertaker will be appearing in a WWE ring for the last time this Sunday at Survivor Series.
‘Taker will be walking off into the sunset 30 years to the day of his WWE debut. The Daily DDT staff offer their thoughts on the Phenom’s best matches and moments, his transformation into the American Badass, having his WrestleMania streak broken, and his legacy as a man and a performer.
What is the Undertaker’s best match ever?
Chris Jeter (Twitter – @cjet91, read Chris’s work here): vs. Shawn Michaels at Bad Blood 1997. When you bring up Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels to younger/newer fans, the matches at WrestleManias 25 and 26 will likely be the first that spring to their minds. It’s understandable, as both were outstanding, but their match at Bad Blood in 1997 (which was contested inside the brand new Hell in a Cell structure) is the best of their many clashes, which should surprise no one given that both were much younger and more agile when that match took place.
Michaels and Taker wisely built the match around the basic premise of Taker wanting to get his hands on Michaels and Michels doing everything he could to avoid him (a futile task inside the Cell) and the two told that story to perfection. That match also marking Kane’s anticipated debut was the icing on an already immaculate cake.
Ernesto Solano (Twitter – @esolanouic, read Ernesto’s work here): vs. Triple H at WrestleMania 27. I could write thousands of words on this match alone. This is quite possibly the greatest hour of television WWE has ever produced. Even if you put aside the grandiose entrances that featured Metallica, a medieval battalion, and Johnny Cash, the match itself told one of the greatest stories ever.
Despite their age at the time, H and ‘Taker put their bodies through absolute hell for this one, and it would be one of the final times they pulled out all the stops on the big stage. There were several false finishes that really suckered the crowd and those watching at home in and ‘Taker appeared to be on the verge of death the more Triple H hit him with a chair or Pedigreed him, the closest he had ever looked to losing his WrestleMania unbeaten streak up until that point. He narrowly escaped defeat but it took everything in him to do so, and it showed in the way he needed to be carted to the back after the match.
What is your favorite Undertaker entrance ever?
Chris: WrestleMania 23. All ‘Taker entrances, at least as the Deadman, are an exercise in patience despite successfully capturing the aura that made him such a force for three decades, but his stroll down the aisle at WrestleMania 23 prior to his World Heavyweight Championship match against Batista — which was an out-of-nowhere classic — stands out above the rest simply for the shadowy silhouette he cast prior to sauntering to the ring.
Kevin: Yeah, I’m going with your pick, Chris, WrestleMania 23. But you have no idea how tempted I was to go with a recent Royal Rumble entrance just to be a troll. I think what makes this question so difficult is that ‘Taker’s entrances are so unique to his character and distinctive that it is hard to narrow it down to just one. In the case of WrestleMania 23, it helps that he and Batista had a banger of a match.
Ernesto: WrestleMania 14. The storyline circumstances surrounding this match made the payoff of this entrance so entrancing. ‘Taker had sworn he would never fight his brother, Kane, but had been finally pushed to his limit over the number of months before meeting to wrestler for the first time. One of my favorite tiny tweaks this entrance got relative to other Undertaker entrances was that the lights went out without the sound of a gong.
There was a chill and an electricity flowing in the crowd while a copious amount of druids with flaming torches walked to cover the area around the walk to the ring. Carl Orff’s “O Fortuna” blasted throughout the arena and crescendoed before a momentary silence was felt. The druids were all aligned, and ‘Taker’s music hit. The aforementioned circumstances created a feeling of “oh shit, you’re in trouble now.”
This single entrance received 4 separate pops from the Boston crowd. One for the lights going out, one for the first gong sound/beginning of Undertaker’s entrance music, another for Undertaker appearing on the stage, and one more for Undertaker cutting the lights back on.
What is your favorite Undertaker moment ever?
Christopher: Finish and Post-match to the Yokozuna casket match at the 1994 Royal Rumble. It’s probably not the most memorable, but I’m always tickled at the idea that Taker was booked so strongly that Yokozuna — who had been booked relatively strongly as WWE Champion for roughly a year — needed just about every heel on the roster to win a match where you didn’t need to pin your opponent to secure the victory. Taker “ascending” to the heavens after the match was also peak Taker hokiness.
Kevin: It has to be the match with Shawn Michaels. He’s the one guy who could have retired Shawn, and while the final moment was more about Shawn defiantly going out and spitting in the face of the Undertaker in one last act of unruliness, ‘Taker played the part so well. Again, I can’t think of anyone else better to have what should have been Michaels’ final match.
Ernesto: Him beating AJ Styles in a Boneyard Match at this year’s ‘Mania is my favorite Undertaker moment. This was a brilliant homage to three decades of the Deadman, and it reinforced my belief that Styles is the funniest wrestler ever. Kind of sappy and obviously conflicting but watching this live with my family amid a global pandemic was a necessary distraction.
What are your thoughts on American Badass ‘Taker?
Christopher: When I was younger, it seemed like a nice change of pace since a lot of the goofiness involved with the character felt out of place in the more grounded Attitude and Ruthless Aggression eras (though, to be fair, WWE started to tone down on that stuff after they split him from Paul Bearer in 1996). But given what we know about Taker’s political leanings now, to put it generously, the idea of a Texan chewing tobacco while riding on his motorcycle (and everything that image implies)….hasn’t aged well.
It also didn’t help that Taker exercised his political stroke to the detriment of the rest of the roster far more than any other period (see: his feud with Diamond Dallas Page). Outside of that, it made a persona that felt larger than life feel much more mortal, which worked in the sense that you could believe he was more capable of losing, but also stripped away everything that made him such a special attraction.
Kevin: Honestly, I don’t know if I want to give a serious response, because the American Badass was absolutely not a serious character. It was a ridiculous caricature, which made it work. I think the fact that one of Limp Bizkit’s most Limp Bizkit-y songs actually fit as his theme speaks volumes.
Ernesto: I very much appreciate them taking a break after a decade of zombie ‘Taker. The belief was it was necessary for the Undertaker character to undergo a change if he wanted to survive, and those four years as the American Badass undoubtedly proved his versatility and gave him a shot to display the closest to his true self.
The American Badass aesthetic was so cool even if it involved things I don’t like much. Motorcycles, elaborate demonstrations of patriotism, Kid Rock, Limp Bizkit, all of that. But when ‘Taker incorporated that into his persona, I had no choice but to embrace all that early 2000’s angst. Also, his wrestling ability became more nuanced because of this character development. He no longer wrestled and sold like he felt nothing, this version of the Undertaker was greatly mortal. American Badass ‘Taker ruled.
How did you react when The Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak was busted?
Christopher: I was stunned because, after all the young budding stars who could’ve benefitted from beating Taker at WrestleMania only to fall short, it seemed like it would be one of those records that would never be broken.
Ultimately, Brock Lesnar was the right guy to end it since he had the star power to carry the burden (as opposed to risking having a young guy end it only for said young guy to cave under the pressure), but the combination of the streak ending and the Taker/Lesnar match underwhelming to a great degree made for a surreal moment.
Kevin: I thought it was a mistake! I mean, you could have fooled me with the whole, “It was a shoot! Brock shot on him!” nonsense that Paul Heyman was spreading around to further the myth of Brock Lesnar. It didn’t feel real when ‘Taker lost, and it wasn’t like this “high” of seeing the streak end or a big moment. It just felt deflating and like, “Oh no…this is it????”
But yeah at the end of the day, I’m with you, Chris. Brock Lesnar was the right guy to end the streak, and he’s proven that since then.
Ernesto: Oh man, I remember the match being so bad (we then learned long after that ‘Taker’s concussion he got during the match was so bad he doesn’t even remember the match) and tuning out. My brother and I were talking about who knows what before Brock set up the third and final F5. We locked in on the pin and when the ref hit three it was beyond strange.
No idea what to make of it as it happened, all I remember was smiling so hard it hurt. I was laughing my ass off at the reactions they caught from fans in the Superdome. I couldn’t believe they actually did it. The silence, the stares; it was all great and one of the craziest moments I’ve ever witnessed. I 100% agree with the notion that only Brock could’ve pulled this off without it impacting his career in a way that might devalue him as a character.
What is the Undertaker’s legacy as a performer?
Christopher: For a lot of people, Taker’s stances outside of the ring will forever mar what was an incredible wrestling career. If you can separate art from the artist, then good for you, but given how he spent a good chunk of his WWE run as the embodiment of a MAGA numbskull, that’s hard for a lot of people to do.
Strictly in the ring, Taker deserves credit for being WWE’s glue for so long, as he lasted through Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Diesel, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, The Rock, and John Cena’s respective runs as the ace of the company. His 2001 (and 1997) showed that slotting him as THE guy wouldn’t work long term, but to last that long as the go-to secondary star is nothing short of amazing. Also, it’s worth noting that of all the silly gimmicks WWE has subjected their fans to, this undead mortician schtick sticking around for nearly 30 years is a testament to Mark Calaway’s talents. Too bad he’s a MAGA goof, though.
Kevin: To me, the Undertaker will always be remembered as a larger-than-life legend who was looked up to by a lot of wrestlers backstage. I’ll always remember anecdotes like Cody Rhodes’ on Inside The Ropes about ‘Taker giving to the next generation.
There are two things related to ‘Taker’s legacy I do worry about, though. Firstly, I don’t think history will remember him fondly due to his personal views, which are deeply disappointing. But secondly, I worry that the Undertaker will end up being the last character who embraced how wrestling doesn’t have to be super serious and can have characters like a dead man walking who shoots lightning at people or rides motorcycles. I just hope that sort of thing can continue with the Fiend, as Bray Wyatt is even more character-driven than ‘Taker.
Ernesto: He’s probably the greatest “special attraction” WWE has ever had. It felt special each time he took his sinister stroll to the ring, even as a full-timer. The fact that Undertaker was a regular on WWE TV for that long and I personally never got tired of him is an accomplishment. He held on a lot longer than he should’ve — which he himself has had insecurities about, openly — but that’s the life of a wrestler.
At his best, I don’t think there was a big man better than him in the ring. He also deserves credit for enduring as much as he did; he helped establish about five different generations of wrestlers even if he beat most of them often. Being in the ring with him is viewed as an acknowledgment of his opponents’ talent and potential, and Undertaker was able to do that for numerous wrestlers for three whole decades. Over the last few years, we’ve witnessed him become a mannequin for clothing with problematic messages on it, and I wish someone would tell him to stop wearing those designed-by-Facebook-algorithm shirts.