Pulse Wrestling’s Top 100 Wrestlers of the Modern Era: #12 – The Undertaker

I would make a wager that there is no North American wrestler active today who commands or receives the respect that The Undertaker does; not only the fans but the boys as well. When Jim Ross calls him the “Conscience of WWE,” he means it. It’s been said that no one in front of or behind the camera has more pull than the Dead Man outside of the McMahon family.

12. THE UNDERTAKER

Real NameMark Calaway
AliasesKane the Undertaker; The Punisher; Mean Mark Callous; Texas Red; The Commando; Punisher Dice Morgan; Master of Pain
HometownAustin, Texas
Debuted1984
Titles HeldUSWA Unified World; WCWA Texas Heavyweight; WCW Tag Team (with Kane); WWF/WWE Championship (4x); WWF Hardcore; WWF Tag Team (6x – 1 with Stone Cold Steve Austin, 2 with the Big Show, 1 with the Rock, 2 with Kane); WWE World Heavyweight (2x)
Other AccomplishmentsWinner of 2007 Royal Rumble; Sixteen year undefeated streak at Wrestlemania; Winner of PWI Feud of the Year award in 1991 (vs. Ultimate Warrior); Winner of PWI Match of the Year award in 1998 (vs. Mankind – Hell in a Cell); Ranked #2 in the PWI 500 in 2002; Winner of Wrestling Observer Newsletter Best Gimmick Award from 1990-1994; Winner of Wrestling Observer Newsletter Best Heel award in 1994; Winner of Wrestling Observer Newsletter Feud of the Year award in 2007 (vs. Batista); Winner of Wrestling Observer Newsletter Most Overrated award in 2001; Winner of Wrestling Observer Newsletter Readers’ Least Favorite Wrestler award in 2001; Winner of Worst Worked Match award in 2001 (with Kane vs. Kronik); Inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame in 2004

In that regard he stands in a class all alone. All of his peers have their share of detractors. Hogan has been called untalented and egomaniacal. Flair has been painted as a “belt mark” and a backstabber. Michaels and Hart are labeled whiners and crybabies. Triple H is accused of marrying into his success. Goldberg and Warrior were thought to be only in it for the money. Austin is ridiculed for taking his ball and going home when things didn’t go his way. The Rock is chastised for not “giving back to the industry.” Yet the Undertaker has seen them all come and go. He’s stood tall through all the changes over the better part of the past two decades, and has lived to tell a magnificent story.

His career started like so many of his contemporaries in the 1980s. He earned his stripes working through the regional territories of the day, primarily in Texas and Tennessee, under a variety of gimmicks like Texas Red, The Punisher and The Master of Pain. He eventually hit the “big time” at the very end of the decade when he joined WCW under the guise of “Mean” Mark Callous and replaced an injured Sid Vicious as one of The Skyscrapers until Danny Spivey left the company. He then paired up with Paul E. Dangerously as the token mid-card heavyweight “jobber to the stars,” not unlike what we see out of someone like Mark Henry or Snitsky today. His most notable match was a loss to United States Champion Lex Luger at Great American Bash ’90, while his only notable victories came over smaller men like Flyn’ Brian and Johnny Ace. (As a side note, look back at a match between Mark Callous and Johnny Ace with Paul E. Dangerously on the outside, and just try to comprehend the heights all three of those men have risen to in the industry. It’s something no one could have predicted.)

Unfortunately his pale skin and shock of red hair didn’t exactly give him the look of a main event superstar, and WCW didn’t really know what to do with him. They released him in September 1990, but he wouldn’t remain unemployed long.

When “Million $ Man” Ted DiBiase began touting a mystery partner for his “Million $ Team” at Survivor Series ’90 no one really knew what to expect. It was an era where the Internet was nonexistent and word didn’t really spread all that fast in regards to wrestling news. A young mark (much like me) couldn’t see beyond the logical choices of Dustin Rhodes, Virgil or Randy Savage. Needless to say no could have expected what we got with The Undertaker. In his initial match he captivated the audience in a way so few ever have. His look, style and mannerisms immediately made him stand out from the rest of the roster. Despite what seemed like a hokey, one-note, supernatural, dead guy gimmick, he caught on with fans and management alike, and he hasn’t looked back since. It is mind boggling to think that his upper-mid card to main event push started immediately upon his debut and really hasn’t subsided once in over seventeen years.

Without getting into a blow-by-blow recap of the man’s storied career, it’s easy to see that his stats are truly remarkable.

His now unrivaled WrestleMania unbeaten record started humbly by defeating “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka in a throwaway match on the undercard of WrestleMania VII. That streak has now extended to 16-0, with victories over all four principal members of Evolution, three World Championship victories and two legit show-closing main events.

His reputation as the “giant killer” or “beast slayer” has found him in truly abysmal matches with far less talented super heavyweight lugs like Kamala, Giant Gonzalez, King Kong Bundy, Yokozuna, King Mabel, Sid, Heidenreich, Mark Henry, The Great Khali, and others that have been blocked from memory. Yet somehow he’s come out of every one of those rivalries with his integrity and credibility in tact.

He has also endured some of the most ridiculous and over-the-top stunts ever pulled by WWE, including the infamous ten-on-one Casket match beat down from Royal Rumble ’94, the fake Undertaker bit from later that year, tying Steve Austin to his “symbol” in 1999 and of course burying his own “father” Paul Bearer in cement in 2004. And that is without getting into the entire twisted logic of that whole Paul Bearer-Kane-Undertaker family story.

What makes him so special is the versatility that he has shown with the character. The Undertaker gimmick could have easily turned into a cheese ball, Wrestlecrap-worthy waste if not for the work put into keeping it relevant in WWE’s constantly changing climate. The character has transformed from an Old West style mortician, into the purple “Phantom of the Opera” mask phase of ’95, to gothic Undertaker in ’96, and then into the Lord of Darkness as the leader of the Ministry. In 2000 he went through a complete overhaul when he became the motorcycle driving American Bad Ass. He finally came back full circle when he returned to his roots as the Texas dead man in 2004. This latest stage, which has been around since WrestleMania XX, has allowed him to incorporated little bits of all of his previous characterizations into a completely evolved character that allows him to still go “old school” while incorporated new MMA based offense into his arsenal.

Yet through all of the character changes, all of the bad angles and all of the super heavyweight brawls, the man has remained at the top of the industry. He has been in main events since 1991 and even to this day is considered one of the company’s remaining true remaining draws. He has worked with, and beat, every big thing that has come through the doors of WWE. Everyone from Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Kevin Nash, Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, Ric Flair, Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle, Vince McMahon himself and his greatest rivals Kane and Mankind have fallen at the feet of Undertaker.

His character has been responsible for some of the more memorable gimmick matches in the company’s history, ranging from the Buried Alive match and the Last Ride match to the more famous casket match and Hell in a Cell. He’s been a six-time World Champion, picked up seven Tag championships and even got the old Hardcore Championship one time yet has never been defined by the Championships he has won or lost. He’s won the Royal Rumble, the Elimination Chamber, and really has nothing else to prove in that department.

It’s really remarkable to think that Undertaker has already been around for close to two decades. The ability to constant re-invent himself as well as his new part time schedule constantly keeps him fresh in the fans’ eyes. His longevity within the company is unparalleled, and other than a violent crime against society I don’t picture a world where Undertaker and WWE aren’t linked in some way. When Ric Flair received his hero’s farewell back in April, people wondered if there would ever be a career celebration like that again. And in my mind you can count on one hand the number of others who are deserving of such accolades. Undertaker is one of those who is certainly deserving of it, but don’t expect him to be standing there blubbering in the middle of ring, expect him to go like he came in: quiet and with a purpose.

The entire Top 100 Wrestlers feature can be found here.

Tags: , ,