For Queen and Country #12
April 26, 2008
By: Daniel Browne of WrestleView.com
Greetings. The amusing "announcement" of The Undertaker's impending retirement, perpetrated by longtime WWE ring announcer Tony Chimel on the most recent tour of the United Kingdom, got me to thinking. No one with even the vaguest grasp of how WWE disseminates information was fooled by the "Rest in Peace" revelation. Although there's every chance the now 47 year old 'Taker will call time on his magnificent career in 2010, a two-bit sales pitch aimed primarily at overzealous children is neither the time nor the place for confirmation of such a momentous occurence.
Truth be told, it was the very notion of 'Taker's departure that prompted me to think. I have been quite fortunate in that I've seen many luminaries of the business in the flesh during my time as a wrestling fan. From Kurt Angle to "The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels, Eddie Guerrero to "Nature Boy" Ric Flair, I've personally witnessed the exploits of many of the industry's finest performers. However, one particular individual has consistently evaded my gaze, and all conjecture aside I fear time is running out for me to experience the awe-inspiring arrival of the Undertaker.
As with all things, opinion is divided when addressing issues of preference. For some, the reaction of the crowd is what makes an entrance. If you marry a pulsating ring anthem to an energetic throng of humanity and toss in a fired up performer, you usually enjoy the benefit of memory. Steve Austin and Hulk Hogan are sublime examples of presence and charisma elevating the roar of their arrival beyond the scope of what is, in truth, the mundane act of an athlete's journey into the arena. The glass breaking of the hand being cupped; you remember and you crave. I believe in this notion, but I yearn for a little theatricality nonetheless.
The magic of the Undertaker's entrance is two fold. The "gongs" and the dimming of the lights attract attention and distinguish the forthcoming event from the usual fare. The additional pyrotechnics and smoky aura coupled with the melodrama of costume and performance establish the visual appeal, and play into the second asset: Familiarity. The fans identify all this with the specific character and, through the vivid nature of it's construction, remember. It is everything a wrestling entrance should be, and quite frankly enjoys a sense of anticipation befitting an actual match. Through the good times (Attitude, circa 1998) and the bad (Russo, circa 1999) I have never seen the first gong and the dimming of the lights fail to draw a reaction from a crowd.
I have, for the longest time, longed to experience the feeling of 'Taker's entrance. Sadly for me, I've thus far missed the opportunity, most notably in late 2002 when 'Taker was excused the transatlantic voyage on the grounds of his then-wife Sara's pregancy. Then-Smackdown General Manager Stephanie McMahon had the unpleasant assignment of informing the crowd that a man whom a lot of them had paid to see would not be there. I believe the storyline reason involved The Big Show, whom 'taker would feud with upon his return at the Royal Rumble in 2003. Thanks to websites like WrestleView, I was already aware of 'Taker's likely absence. It couldn't be helped, unfortunately. This is as close as I've come thus far to seeing him in living colour.
I hope to set the record straight before the end is called. As a young and emerging fan of the business, the uniqueness and undeniable emotion of the Undertaker character captured my imagination like no other. I loved the stoicism and dignity of this man clad in black, vanquishing the weaknesses of all men, heel and babyface alike. I was fascinated by the concept of the Undertaker being some sort of arbiter of righteousness; a moral compass that walked the line between the darkness and the light. The character was portrayed as being in a constant struggle between good and evil, never truly sure which side would ultimately triumph. The fans loved him because he was both a constant and a law unto himself.
The 1999 revamp of the character as a chanting Satanist with a penchant for unsubtle acts of barbarism, such as mock sacrifices, black weddings and pseudo-crucifixions, destroyed the mystique of the Undertaker. Where's once there was ambiguity and a calming stature, now there was pantomine drivel. The blurring of fact and fiction that so informed the character (Jim Ross' "Conscious of the WWF" Montreal reference) was replaced by a cheap and nasty pre-occupation with stunts and attention-seeking. This Vince Russo penned hack-speak came closer than anything to destroying the fan's bond with the 'Taker, necessitating the regression of the deadman into a plain, albeit badass, man.
The biker years had their moments, including a very memorable eight-month heel run from 2001 to 2002 and a quite stellar in-ring showing throughout 2003, but it was always leading to a return to the darkness. After the return of the Phenom at Wrestlemania 20, The Undertaker has cemented his legend and will leave us, whenever that may be, as arguably the most consistent performer the business has ever seen. Not bad for a man who was once told he would never draw a dime as people wouldn't pay to see him wrestle. I'd equate that little piece of foresight to the various book publishers who passed over a certain J.K. Rowling and some character named "Harry". Last I heard, she regularly dines with Heads of State, and has wealth measured in the billions...
The Undertaker stirs in me the innocent appreciation our increasingly cynical world conspires to strip us of at the earliest possible convenience. Everything I love about wrestling finds summation in the journey and standing of Mark Calaway's creation, and I hope I have the opportunity to witness the Creatures of the Night just once before history claims them. Makes me smile just thinking about it. Oh well. Till next time, boys and girls.
Daniel R. Browne.