by Nicholas Pendergast
The Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fl was packed with over 75,000 people on April 2nd, when The Undertaker wrestled what will probably be his very last match against the WWE’s controversial anti-hero, Roman Reigns, at Wrestlemania 33’s main event.
The match wasn’t as long or flashy as many of the bouts that The Undertaker has performed in over his illustrious career. At 52-years-old, the man they call The Phenom doesn’t walk the top rope quite like he used to or dive over the ropes with such an impressive display of dexterity that you may forget he’s nearly seven feet tall.
Tortured by age as much as injuries, The Undertaker moved sluggishly for almost twenty minutes, while the rising hotshot alumni of WWE’s extremely successful SHIELD stable struggled in the first fifteen minutes to offset Undertaker’s offense.
The tables turned — literally — when The Undertaker took a sick bump through an announcer’s booth. From that point forward, Roman Reigns escalated his offense to a point where The Undertaker could not even sit up straight.
Taker’s final moments in the match weren’t a far cry from his actual health. The Phenom’s excruciating hip condition requires a full replacement, but surgery was put on delay just to make this Wrestlemania. It’s been speculated that the match may have been planned to run longer, but Undertaker’s body was giving out, so he called for Reigns to finish it early.
In an industry known for being a worked performance, one might wonder how to gauge a star’s success on legitimate merits, but The Undertaker left little to wonder about for anyone. The man behind The Undertaker, Mark Calaway, begun wrestling in 1984, however, he did not find success until making his WWE debut (then WWF) in 1990.
Vince McMahon booked him as an undead graveyard keeper, and the character took off in important feuds with stars like Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, and Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts. Throughout the early ’90s, The Undertaker was an experimental character who revolutionized the style of ‘big man wrestling’ by adding a diverse range of acrobatic stunts to his arsenal.
Because of how powerful and popular his character resonated with the crowd, Vince McMahon booked The Undertaker to win 21 straight Wrestlemania matches, becoming the longest in Wrestlemania history.
There were many campy wrestling gimmicks coming and going through that time in the industry, and some expected The Undertaker’s character to become dated through the mid-90s, however, The Undertaker remained relevant by constantly tweaking his character to fit the zeitgeist. He ditched the mortician’s gloves and tie to don a more ritualistic gimmick, and began alluding to his creatures of the night as a source of dark power. Surreal and graphic scenes like this one depicted a powerful and lasting impression on a culture that was taking shock factors to the extreme.
Many insiders claim that Mark Calaway’s time was up in 1997 due to a series of brutal injuries, but he pressed on and managed to become an integral part of the WWF Attitude Era. This period skyrocketing him into the stratosphere with unforgettable matches against Mankind, Kane, Shawn Michaels, and Stone Cold Steve Austin. His brutal feud with Mankind culminated into one of the most grueling matches in history, the second ever Hell In A Cell match at King of The Ring in 1998.
In the 20 years since The Undertaker ruled as the Phenom of the Attitude Era, he captivated crowds with excellent matches and several title reigns throughout the ’00s. His Wrestlemania matches against Shawn Michaels are regarded as two of the best of all time, and when the time came to call the final curtain on the ’90s era of wrestling, Vince McMahon booked Undertaker to defeat Triple H at Wrestlemania 28.
The last seven years have drastically changed The Undertaker, though. Age and injuries were finally catching up to him, and an era hot with new talent and rising stars left The Undertaker without any of his popular or formidable foes. He began wrestling part time with limited appearances, and his few feuds were not on par with the stuff of history. Brock Lesnar ended The Undertaker’s Wrestlemania streak in 2014, an extremely controversial booking decision that shocked many WWE fans, and one that seriously impaired the iconic Deadman’s invulnerable allure.
Undertaker’s match with Roman Reigns was hot-shotted into the booking for Wrestlemania 33, some insiders say as an alternative to a match with John Cena, who chose instead to propose to his girlfriend Nikki Bella at the annual wrestling extravaganza. A lukewarm feud between Reigns and Undertaker began after Reigns eliminated Undertaker at the 2017 Royal Rumble. After eliminating The Undertaker, Reigns shouted “this is my yard now,” which set up a storyline where the two challenged each other in a turf war over the ring.
At Wrestlemania 33, that feud ended with several spears (Reign’s finishing maneuver, a football style tackle) and chair shots that kept the Deadman on his back for the conclusion of their match. Although Roman Reigns won the battle, the epic finale belonged to the most respected man in the wrestling world. The Undertaker’s theme hit and 75,000 people in the packed Orlando stadium braced for the bell to toll at last on Mark Calaway’s prestigious and unforgettable career.
Mark Calaway removed each mythical layer of his outfit slowly and methodically. The pulse of the entire WWE Universe went into shock. The Undertaker was laid to rest. His gear was left in the ring as Mark Calway stepped out of the house that he helped build for 27 years, and walked gracefully over to his wife and daughter in their ringside seats. He gave his wife a kiss, signaling the transition of his life as a family man, and walked back up the ramp stopping only to look back one last time. Speeches are saved for the living. The Deadman walked quietly into the night, as 75,000 people chanted “thank you, Taker!”
The hat, coat, and gloves of The Undertaker remained in the ring for well over 14 hours while crew tore down the entire Wrestlemania set around what Mark Calaway left behind.