The Last of an Era
by, 03-08-2011 at 04:31 AM (7115 Views)
With the Undertaker's recent return and the subsequent confrontation with Triple H, it brought to the fore an often overlooked fact. Triple H spoke of himself and the Undertaker being the last of an era. While those words are true, their meaning rings a little deeper for the Undertaker, for he is the last of the gimmick wrestlers.
Back in the late 80's and early 90's the wrestling industry was filled with a multitude of colourful characters. Each of them had a unique and identifiable gimmick. The Red Rooster, Doink the Clown, The Million Dollar Man, The Natural Disasters, The Barbarian, The Warlord, The Goon, The Headshrinkers, Duke 'The Dumpster' Droese, the list goes on and on. They were almost comic-book in their presentation and their various characters and idiosyncracies were played upon and marketed.
In November 1990 at the Survivor Series, a gimmick would debut that would endure in one form or another for the next two decades; The Undertaker. In the seven years that followed the character of the Undertaker would fit in well with the other colourful characters, having memorable battles with other 'supernatural' forces within the (then)WWF.
As the 20th century drew to a close, so did the era of the gimmick wrestler. The Attitude Era erupted in full force. What then ruled were cults of personality, edgy content, and some of the most memorable moments in professional wrestling. Not only did the Undertaker character survive this shift in direction, but thrived, becoming darker and far more sinister. If the seeds of the Undertakers legend were sown in the early 90's, then it was during the late 90's when they began to bud. The combination of many epic matches and an eight year tenure ensured the character would endure through this era of Stone Cold, The Rock and D-X.
The Undertaker vanished in 1999. What returned in 2000 was not the Phenom we all know and love, but a biker in sunglasses on a Harley Davidson. It seemed the Undertaker had succumbed to the gimmick purge, sporting an entirely unsupernatural appearance and demenour. Gone was the grand, eerie entrance and the Graveyard Symphony. Gone was the tall, imposing, black-clad figure that dominated the ring. Gone were the chills down the spine. All that was left was a single iconic "Gong" of the bell toll. For the next four years we had an Undertaker, but it was not the Undertaker.
When the bell tolled at Wrestlemania XX it heralded the return of the Deadman. Everything that made the Undertaker the monolith that he is returned with him. The presence, the familliar tingle on the back of the neck and the thunderous cheers from the crowd. For the next eight years we watched the legend grow and that Wrestlemania streak get longer and longer with each successive victory.
The question I'm trying to answer here is why the Undertaker character has endured for so long. It's a combination of many factors. The first is being conceived at a time when such over the top gimmicks were commonplace. The character was first pushed as being an unstoppable force, immune to pain and even toppled the Immortal Hulk Hogan, who at the time was force unto himself. Being portrayed by Mark Calaway, who at 6'8" (being billed at 6'10") and around 300lbs, has the physical presence and in-ring talent to carry the character well. However, I believe the main reason why the Undertaker character has endured for so long is a simple one; Popularity.
The Undertaker is arguably the most recognised professional wrestler in the world. Only Hulk Hogan and the Rock can claim similar worldwide fame. He has been in the spotlight for more than 20 years, each year accruing a new generation of fans. He captivates by virtue of his own legacy, but more importantly by being something so unreal in a world of 'real'. This new moniker, 'The Last Outlaw', doesn't do him justice. He is the last of the great gimmick wrestlers, the last true superhero of professional wrestling.