Why the Undertaker is important to Sports-Entertainment
by, 03-28-2013 at 04:55 AM (4256 Views)
With WrestleMania so close, less than 2 weeks as I type this, I can't help but wonder the outcome of the match between the Undertaker and CM Punk. As a fan who has watched every WrestleMania to date, I have bad feeling about the outcome. I know what would happen in a perfect world, but there is no such thing. With the passing of Paul Bearer recently and the winning streak of Miami Heat coming to an end, is someone trying to tell us something? Were these recent occurrences a foreshadowing of what will happen on the Grandest Stage of Them All?
Well, I hope not. I remember 1990. My parents weren't buying all of the Pay-Per-Views yet, so I missed the Survivor Series that year. But I vividly remember watching when some of the results were talked about on Prime Time Wrestling within the same week. And I remember "The Million Dollar Man" Ted Dibiase announcing his mystery partner for one of the traditional Survivor Series elimination matches. I recall that I was in awe, as were the commentators that night, of the man that walked the aisle with Brother Love. I was even more surprised that he eliminated not only Koko B Ware from the opposite team, but also the Team Captain Dusty Rhodes. The man eventually was counted out after following Dusty and continuing the beat down on the Dream all the way up the aisle.
The man was the Undertaker. Nearly 7 feet tall and over 300 pounds, it took a lot from the other team that night just to knock 'Taker off of his feet. As shocked as I was to see a man of that size period, I was even more shocked when he walked across the top rope to deliver a forearm smash to an unlucky opponent. The same night the Undertaker first used a move that would take him to the top eventually, the Tombstone. One year later, my parents did order the Survivor Series in 1991, back when the show was the "Thanksgiving Eve Tradition" and aired live on a Wednesday night. That night, The Undertaker shocked the entire WWE and beat Hulk Hogan for the WWE Championship. To be fair to Hulk, Ric Flair provided outside interference in the form of a steel chair. In my humble opinion however, Undertaker more or less "killed" Hulkamania, as Hogan would never be as popular from that moment on as he was in the 1980s. As a matter of fact it was only a few years later that Hogan became a heel in WCW. Sure, Hogan regained the belt six days later in the infamous "Tuesday in Texas", but would be stripped of it shortly thereafter by Jack Tunney. The Undertaker would not hold another title until he defeated Sid at WrestleMania XIII.
After he lost the title in 1991, the Undertaker proved that he didn't need it to become one of the most recognizable professional wrestlers of all time. The Undertaker would save Elizabeth when Jake "The Snake" Roberts tried to hit her with a steel chair when she came through the curtain following a match in which she accompanied "Macho Man" Randy Savage. A war of words ensued on the "Funeral Parlor" shortly thereafter in which Roberts asked the Undertaker whose side he was on. Undertaker responded with the chilling line, "Not Yours". A match was set up for the two at WrestleMania VIII in the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis and Jake left the WWE following the huge loss to the Undertaker. Since he had started, Undertaker became well-known because of specialty matches, including Body Bag matches and the Casket Match. Now I would be typing all night if I went year by year explaining the Deadman's career, so I won't do that. But the Undertaker was the first, with HBK, to compete in a Hell in a Cell match in 1997, a match some still consider the best Cell match of all time. The Undertaker made Mankind "famous" when he tossed Mrs. Foley's baby boy off of the top and through the Cell in 1998, and became forever linked to the match because of it. The Undertaker had matches like the Buried Alive match and the Inferno match. I believe at any other time if someone else had pioneered those matches, they would have never turned into matches that people still pay to this day to see.
Why is the Undertaker important to Sports-Entertainment? Many reasons. He has made those specialty matches that a lot of fans would have thought were silly at one point in time into matches that are often the main attraction on a show, with the Hell in a Cell getting it's own PPV for example. The Undertaker's character, his gimmick, is so dynamic that people tuned in to see these matches because of him. I have heard a lot of fans and insiders say that he may have the best gimmick in wrestling history and I can't argue that point.
Another reason the Undertaker is so important to Sports-Entertainment is his loyalty. A lot of guys have come and gone over the years in the WWE, but 'Taker has been a cornerstone of the company for a long time and was one of a few who didn't jump ship to WCW during the Monday Night Wars. Can anyone imagine the Undertaker being a member of the NWO? Or the Dungeon of Doom? I can't and neither could he. He remained loyal to the company that made him and helped the WWE eventually win the war. And since the war ended, WWE has used him as a solid fixture of the WWE on both Raw and Smackdown. He has been called at times the leader of the locker room and one of the most respected guys in the company and the business. He has helped countless talents make their mark on the WWE, with Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton being just a couple of examples. His respect for the WWE and the business is evident. Although he does not attend shows like the Hall of Fame (I haven't seen him there yet) he has made surprise appearances on occasion just to show respect. His tribute to Ric Flair off camera in 2008 being an example of that.
Evolution. And no I'm not talking about the faction. I'm talking about the Undertaker's amazing ability to adapt as the years pass so he is still seen as a major star in the WWE while changing some of the things that people are used to to become a better performer. His entrance has been called one of the best in the business, if not THE best. He has gone from using the Tombstone primarily to incorporating such moves as the chokeslam and Hell's Gate into his moves list. As well as the Last Ride. He has changed his appearance throughout the years, again adapting to the times to stay in the spotlight. The American Bad-Ass gimmick was far from his original gimmick, but worked because 'Taker is a bad-ass and likes driving motorcycles. He eventually returned to the Deadman gimmick, but even then he was different, he was a more exciting and more profound character. He has gone from not saying so much to having lengthy promo segments. He has had different hairstyles over the years. Started out as a redhead, going to black and later shaving his head. He has evolved from just walking the top rope to flying over the top rope to anyone standing on the outside of the ring. How many big men do you know that can clear that height, every single time? He has been an inspiration and an agent of change throughout his career. And can have street fights with tough Superstars or can have wrestling matches with wrestlers.
Perhaps his biggest contribution to the wrestling business is the impact he has had on the biggest show every year, WrestleMania. Sure, Shawn Michaels is called "Mr. WrestleMania" for good reason, but the Undertaker is every bit as important to it as HBK. Watching him walk to the ring for the first time in 1990, I never imagined that over 20 years later, over two decades later, he would be 20-0 at WrestleMania. I am a mark for his streak. That's how important he is to me as a fan. Since 2001 at WrestleMania XVII, I have had the butterflies in my stomach every time he has a match at WrestleMania, and every year it gets worse and worse. Because I don't want him to lose. I know it's predetermined and all that, but they never come right out and tell everyone who's going to win, so I have been on the edge of my seat for a long time. I yell at the TV, I bite my fingernails, I become restless the night before. His matches have become as important, if not more important, than World Championship matches at the event. As a fan, he has become a very important part of WrestleMania to me, and last year I was hoping he would go out on top at 20-0, having the best match of the night at WrestleMania 28.
I believe the streak will be broken eventually. It has become similar to Andre being undefeated for such a long time before losing to Hogan at WM III. The WWE is setting up for the next big star to end the streak, and hoping that the momentum will carry them to another exciting era in the WWE. Much like what happened when Hogan slammed and defeated Andre. The Undertaker also may be the last truly great gimmick in wrestling. Aside from his undefeated record, the Undertaker has had some memorable classic matches at WrestleMania, most notably against HBK at WM 25. He is looked at as one of the measuring sticks of how great someone can be, and there will never be another like him. I know for a fact that when he is done, I will continue watching WWE. But it will never be the same. He is one of the last remnants of the WWE I remember watching as a kid. He was just as instrumental in changing the business as Degeneration X or "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. He is important because in a way, he is symbolic of immortality, even though he is flesh and bone. He is no doubt a future Hall of Famer. I have been to shows in the last few years where adults are jumping up and down when he comes out, being an important figure in all of our childhoods. He is important because even as a fan I can tell that he represents everything that is great about Sports-Entertainment and the WWE. Like I said, in a perfect world he would remain undefeated forever. But his importance truly lies in being the guy who has set up the most incredible streak in history just to make the industry's next mega-star and to ensure that there is a business when he is done.