Thank you, Undertaker: WWE's "The Deadman" to finally "rest in peace"
November 22, 1990. Survivor Series pay-per-view (PPV). The Undertaker makes his debut for "Team DiBiase" as part of the Survivor Series match.
November 22, 2020. The "Phenom" will say his last goodbye.
After a successful career spanning over three decades, WWE's The Undertaker will finally bid adieu to the squared circle at the 2020 Survivor Series PPV.
The Undertaker is almost synonymous with professional wrestling for some. After all, you'd have a hard time finding someone who hasn't heard of The Undertaker, even outside of fans of wrestling.
In retrospect, it's hard to believe that such a character made it beyond that first show 30 years ago. Seeing as how often wrestling is ridiculed for its scripted nature, the introduction of a supernatural character, literally dubbed as "The Deadman" should've been a huge failure. Mostly at a time when people were starting to question the legitimacy of wrestling.
However, Mark Calaway -- the man behind the gimmick -- made it work. His dedication to his craft and character truly set him apart from anyone in the industry. In all these years, he never broke character in public, maintaining the cold and hardened persona of The Undertaker whenever he was out in the public eye.
That kind of dedication is truly why he will go down in history as one of the greatest, if not THE greatest of all time. The reverence that fans have for The Deadman is truly a sign of how Calaway's efforts have not gone to waste, and that he has indeed created an iconic character that will never die.
It wasn't all just character work either. The Undertaker also had his fair share of memorable matches and storylines. While he wasn't the most technical of wrestlers, The Phenom's chops in the ring were incredible.
His two matches with "The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania are probably, for me at least, contenders for the greatest match in the history of wrestling. The build-up combined, the subtle nuances of each character and the match themselves came together to make for moments that fans will never forget.
The "Hell in a Cell" match with Mankind (Mick Foley) is another one. It's gut-wrenching and painful to watch. But the fact that even in the most adverse of situations, Calaway continues to maintain his character is almost stunning. (Please don't watch this match if you're squeamish.)
Some of the most memorable WWE storylines also involved Calaway. Who can forget the arrival of Kane? Like many, I found myself scared of Kane. Not because of his in-ring gear or his entrance themes. But because of the look of absolute fear on The Undertaker's face as Kane entered the ring. Calaway truly put his all into ensuring his performance elevated not only his own character but that of his opponents.
More than anything, however, it's Calaway's respect for the business that really makes him a beloved figure in the industry and the WWE locker room. Unlike most wrestlers, he didn't grumble and complain when he wasn't in the main card or the limelight. He always did what he was told because he put the company above everything else. Calaway was also constantly trying to ensure that younger talent got an opportunity to be elevated. Remember the American Badass' handshake with a young John Cena?
On an episode of Inside the Ropes, Cody Rhodes talks about his first-ever Royal Rumble match, in the revered Madison Square Garden of all places. He mentions how during the match he had this moment with The Undertaker, who took a few bumps for him. Being this "young nobody" who was making his first-ever Rumble appearance, it's clear to see how much of an impact this had on Rhodes.
With retirement just hours away, Calaway has finally come into the public space as himself. It feels like the breaking of some weird wall that was the last pillar of kayfabe. But it's truly refreshing to see the humble man behind the icon at last.
In his interview on Hot Ones with Sean Evans, Calaway (almost) tearily tells the fans what these last 30 years meant to him. He knows the impact the character had on the lives of so many of his fans, but he says how their love and support helped him push through some of the most difficult times of his life and the fact that they believed in The Deadman really meant the world to him.
November 22, 2020 -- today -- will host the final chapter in The Deadman's story. A goodbye to wrestling's most iconic character. And while the arena will not have the physical presence of an audience, I know that all of us at home will be chanting "Thank you, Taker!" one last time.