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The Undertaker: From Silly Cartoon to Wrestling’s Greatest Character

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At times we, as wrestling fans, like to reminisce on what caused us to become so fanatical over something as simple as wrestling. That one moment, that one match and that one personality that catches our full attention and becomes mesmerising to us. And a split second soon turns into a year, a decade or for some of you more dedicated folks a lifetime.

For me it was the Undertaker. 10 years ago, flipping through the channels on a summer holiday only to stop when I saw a man walking slowly to the ring in blue lighting and amidst thick fog  as I saw the Undertaker prepare to wrestle JBL in a number 1 contenders match only to lose because of Randy Orton interference…good times. The Undertaker has served as a big reason as to why I got into wrestling and I can say I have never been sick of him.

And yet despite a quarter of a century of the Deadman’s prominence and working under the top stars of several eras from Hulk Hogan to John Cena he still remains a fixture, a constant source of entertainment which becomes increasingly impressive when you consider that the Undertaker’s original incarnation would not fit into this more reality driven wrestling world that we are enduring to this day.

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The Undertaker is a product of a more character centric cartoon era of the WWE and the whole concept of a wrestling zombie impervious to pain does sound like a goofier version of what King Kong Bundy and Earthquake were in retrospect (And you know what they were? Monsters of the Month).

The character of the Undertaker, on paper, is one that would appear to have a short lifespan compounded by seeing the emergence and subsequent disappearance of other character heavy wrestlers like Doink the Clown and the Boogeyman. Thus enters ‘The Gimmick Wrestler’

Gimmick wrestlers are a category of wrestler with a tall task in order: One for which their entire wrestling and ability to present good matches becomes dependent on their talent on portraying a character. Wrestling and Characters go hand in hand and, while the debate on which is more important and what draws will continue to this day and beyond, a gimmick wrestler is a character first and their moves and wrestling will be influenced by that character.

The Boogeyman wrestled by his main traits i.e. the Worm Eating, the gyrations and the fear tactics and his matches were set up to demonstrate all of those in the span of an entrance and a match. Gimmick wrestlers do tend to suffer from lack of direction because of this as they often portrayed as a short act never to be viewed for a serious push on the part of bookers.

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However, the Undertaker, despite starting life as the Zombie you cannot hurt, managed to avert that even after he seemingly served his purpose as a Monster of the Month for Hulk Hogan. The Undertaker ended up working and having the lifespan that the character has had by adding to it: Changing his appearance, reinventing the key traits of himself while keeping the fundamental ideas consistent with what has already been established, never being in a constant position by challenging for the title every single month. You could also say that two of the Undertaker character’s greatest contributions to wrestling where with two other characters closely tied to him but had enough to make them stand out from him: Paul Bearer and Kane.

And with his schedule of recent years, and decades of investment from his fan base, despite people now yearning for someone new to gravitate towards they still become happy to see the Phenom return…and his matches being good of course.

Gimmick Wrestlers live and die by the person portraying them: Granted, in some instances the gimmick can just be passed on to another and they can play them to be exactly what a promotion is seeking from it more effectively than their predecessor (see also Sin Cara a rather weird example). And as much as a cliché as it has become, the most praise that can be given for turning the Undertaker character into a legitimate legend and money generating juggernaut is the man himself, Mark Calaway.

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Often is the case we see someone portraying a character and see them put every effort to making it memorable and iconic in the realm of media. Marlon Brando is Don Corleone, Bryan Cranston is Walter White and Mark Calaway is the Undertaker. You could give any other wrestler a character and they could do really well with it…BUT something has to be said for someone playing a cartoon character for 25 years and they are STILL over.

Mark Calaway, in combination with a great supporting cast and booking, took a silly character and went further than anyone could have imagined and because of that, as opposed to thinking about what you would think about with other gimmick wrestlers i.e. their characters, we think about Undertaker’s greatest matches, moments and storylines: What you think about with the greatest of all time.

Due to this, I do believe that an argument can be made that the Undertaker is the greatest gimmick in wrestling history. Not to beat a dead horse, but something has to be said for a character that has gone on for so long, through many different phases and eras, putting on quality material to this day and is welcomed back with open arms whenever he appears. When an internet debate can be sparked over whether you like the Lord of Darkness, the Ministry, Big Evil, the Last Outlaw the most you know a character has done something right.

[Zak Fellows prefers 2002 heel Taker himself, what about you?]

For the record… I would rather see Cena/Taker at Mania more than Sting/Taker.


About Zak Fellows

I started watching wrestling in 2005, mesmerised by a certain slow walking phenom. 10 years later and still going strong: Not only as a fan among a very eclectic community but also as a senior writer for this very website. Combining knowledge, opinion, a disdain for the typical wrestling fan on the internet and a sarcastic wit, if you agree with me than hooray and whoopee. If you don't...then don't be a little drama queen about it because god forbid people think differently.