For almost two and a half decades The Undertaker has been one of professional wrestling’s most popular and unique characters. Of course, you don’t care about that. But you probably care about death. Or magic tricks. How about the unfortunate rise of destructive religious cults in America over the past two decades? I bet that concerns you greatly.
In a way, The Undertaker represents all of these things in the wild world of pro wrestling. As silly as you think pro wrestling is, actual pro wrestling fans probably think it’s way sillier – and The Undertaker is a major reason why. As ridiculous and flamboyant as pro wrestling can be, The Undertaker is above and beyond the most absurd of them all. Even if you’re the meanest, most obnoxious jerk in the world, I feel like you need to know just what World Wrestling Entertainment has convinced millions of fans to believe in since 1990 with this character.
In an effort to entertain and not convert, the following is a brief history behind what might be the single most ridiculously-written character in the history of American television.
PHASE ONE – Old Western Cowboy Zombie Dude
In November 1990, pro wrestling’s top televangelist Brother Love unveiled a nearly seven foot tall undead mortician named The Undertaker as his first protege. Proving ninety percent of Spencer Gifts hideous novelty t-shirt back-stock correct, the red-headed Undertaker seemed to not have a soul. Even crazier, he seemed to not have nerve endings, as most opponents’ offense did not register. During his debut match at the Survivor Series pay-per-view event, he nearly defeated a team of four other Superstars single-handedly (including a grown man who thought he was a bird).
But just as it seemed like Brother Love would finance his reanimated pupil’s journey to the top of the World Wrestling Federation with dirty telethon money, he sold The Undertaker’s contract to Paul Bearer after President George Bush wrote a strongly-worded letter to WWF owner Vince McMahon, asking for pro wrestling’s pun game to become stronger. Bearer’s strengths as a manager included being an excellent financial adviser, a great wrestling strategist, and knowing a lot about urns.
Beginning his career as a villain, The Undertaker eventually saw thelight after failing to bring down popular American religion Hulkamania. He turned on sometimes-partner Jake “The Snake” Roberts after a disagreement over the institution of marriage (Undertaker didn’t think that wrestlers should be allowed to hit other wrestlers’ wives with chairs and give cobras as wedding gifts, Roberts disagreed) and became a beloved hero. Soon after, The Undertaker took up woodworking, designing the props for his signature type of battle – a casket match (which only ends when you slam your opponent inside of, well – a casket).
The Undertaker died by his own sword, literally. At the 1994 Royal Rumble pay-per-view supercard, he was murdered by a slew of eclectic evil Superstars, led by a 600-pound Samoan sumo wrestler named Yokozuna (no truth to the rumor that his cousin was an American politician named President) and slammed into a special double-wide, double-deep casket (Yokozuna was really, really obese, you see) to let the audience know that he was dead. The Undertaker’s soul then rose from his body, triggered a bitchin’ laser-light show, and appeared on the JumboTron to deliver a brief message of encouragement to the audience. His body would rise from the dead that summer to conquer an imposter before getting his revenge on Yokozuna by shoving his hefty carcass into another handmade fatty casket with the help of meme megastar Chuck Norris in November 1994.
A carpenter who died for our sins before resurrecting himself from the dead? At least it was an original story.
While America spent the mid-90’s infatuated with dirty, flannel-clad rock ‘n’ roll musicians, The Undertaker spent his time fighting the artistic representation of his boss’ moral enemies. Whether it be a mixed-martial-artist representing a rival pay-per-view product, the Internal Revenue Service, Sasquatch, or more obese people, The Undertaker spent years of his life fighting the moral enemies of the aforementioned Vince McMahon because what better way to convince the world that your viewpoint is the correct one than to make your theoretical opposites appear to be mediocre at phony combat sports?
All throughout this time, The Undertaker was undefeated at pro wrestling’s biggest yearly event, WrestleMania.
PHASE TWO – Satan
In 1996, The Undertaker entered a violent rivalry with current spoken word artist Mankind, which resulted in Paul Bearer turning on The Undertaker because we’re all bad friends, really. Like we all do when going through big life changes, The Undertaker chose to experiment with his fashion choices. For a time, he would switch to a leather costume, hovering to the ring with wings. While never admitted on the record, experts believe the change was inspired by when 90’s pop musician Jesse Katsopolis (Jesse & The Rippers, Hot Daddy & The Monkey Puppets) experimented with a stage persona called “Vulture” at a small club show in his hometown, San Francisco.
Things would really change for The Undertaker when Paul Bearer introduced his giant half-brother Kane to wrestling fans in October 1997. Kane was especially dangerous since he absorbed the power to control fire after The Undertaker burned their house down as a child, murdering their mom and their dad/stepdad (and leaving Kane with such deep psychological scars that he felt the need to wear a leather mask to protect them). Paul Bearer took the time to spend years leading The Undertaker to a successful career in professional athletics instead of taking five minutes of his life to report this heinous crime to the authorities. Why? Like all soccer dads, Bearer was looking out for his son. Yes, Kane was the product of an affair between Paul Bearer and the now-deceased mother of The Undertaker.
The feud between these half-brothers was so intense that their second match took place inside of a ring that had a ring of fire around it. Real fire. Kane was set on fire in a pro wrestling match because it was the only logical way to settle this rivalry. Someone suggested this, it was approved, and hundreds of thousands of people paid to see this on pay-per-view.
This sibling rivalry drove The Undertaker to not just start a church, but in what was maybe a first at the time, he elected himself both minister and deity. The subtly-named Ministry of Darkness recruited its followers through violent sacrifice and phone message, not discriminating (except if you were a woman). Blonde vampires, former college football stars, and a pig farmer named Phineas were a few of the strapping lads who worshiped under The Undertaker’s altar. During one match, The Undertaker went as far as hanging a Georgia police officer with a noose above the First Union Center in Philadelphia. The police tried to get involved in stopping these type of shenanigans, but whenever they would try to handcuff The Undertaker, he would set off pyrotechnics with his mind and they would run away since it’s not like they couldn’t just shoot the guy. Arguably the biggest task of this era for The Undertaker was when he waged spiritual war against one of America’s leading podcast heroes, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin after Austin would not give him a ten-percent-off code for Onnit’s popular Alpha Brain mental supplement.
Eventually, much like most flash-in-the-pan start-up groups of its time, The Ministry of Darkness was bought out by a large corporation (in this case, a faction of bad guy pro wrestlers led by Vince McMahon, literally called “The Corporation”) and grew way too big, way too fast, before closing shop in the summer of 1999.
Still to this point, The Undertaker had not lost a single bout he had wrestled at WrestleMania.
PHASE THREE – Biker In His Mid-Life Crisis
After his attempt at opening a church for those who believed in him as a dark other-worldly force failed, The Undertaker took nine months off from work. He spent his time off like most affluent middle-aged white men do while on vacation – he rediscovered himself while chilling on his sweet motorcycle. Having afternoons free with nothing to do, The Undertaker took a break from listening to Mercyful Fate and became an avid viewer of Total Request Live on MTV, figuring out why the kids were so into Korn and Kid Rock. To this day, many employees who worked at 1515 Broadway in Times Square will credit a gravely-voiced “Mark from Texas” as the driving force behind Limp Bizkit’s “Faith” hitting number-one on the TRL Top Ten for so many days.
In May 2000, The Undertaker returned to the ring as a denim-clad clearly-alive human being who just liked beating people up and wearing fingerless gloves. No one ever asked why. He would reunite with Kane to form a dominant championship-winning tag team, built on the type of bond that you can only build after forgiving your sibling for murdering your mother and destroying your childhood home by arson.
A year later, mysterious tapes were sent to the World Wrestling Federation, where you could hear a distorted voice narrating over private footage of The Undertaker’s wife, Sara. Instead of using their multimillion dollar production studio to clear up the vocal track and get the police involved, the WWF decided to air this private footage on their television broadcasts. Eventually, the person stalking The Undertaker’s wife revealed himself to be successful yoga instructor and celebrity drug rehabilitation councelor Diamond Dallas Page. Despite being the then-husband of the woman whose boob fell out during the speed dating scene in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Page was totally into the idea of filming another dude’s wife and heavily breathing into a microphone – until The Undertaker beat him up a lot and he stopped.
The Undertaker would flip flop between hero and wrong-doer multiple times, including once turning on the fans because beloved play-by-play television announcer Jim Ross refused to kiss Vince McMahon’s bare butt. At one point, he wanted to be referred to as “Booger Red” . Unfortunately, America wasn’t quite ready for such a hardcore cocaine reference on their prime time television. Eventually, he settled into a protagonist role as a beacon of light against the wicked of the now-called WWE.
That is, until he lost a dreaded “Biker Chain” match to former NCAA amateur wrestling champion and legitimate bare-handed animal hunter Brock Lesnar. The inability to climb a 15-foot-high pole and grab a really big chain before Lesnar sent The Undertaker into an emotional downward spiral that came to a crashing halt when Vince McMahon reminded Kane that it really wasn’t cool how his half-brother killed his mom. McMahon convinced Kane to help bury The Undertaker alive in an indoor grave site during a match between The Undertaker and McMahon in November 2003.
Despite now being murdered for the second time during his career, The Undertaker still had not lost a match at WrestleMania.
PHASE FOUR – Elderly Flamboyant Warlock
The Undertaker was resurrected in March 2004, proving that conspiracy theorists are correct in assuming that doctors have found a way to reverse death but will only use it for the rich and famous. Much like America, he had completely gotten over nu-metal and replaced it with a passion for showy Las Vegas magicians like Siegfried & Roy. It became usual to see him shoot lightning bolts, physically vanish from tight spaces, or use young commentators as ventriloquist dummies to intimidate his opponents before clashing in the ring.
The Undertaker would briefly reunite with Paul Bearer before murdering him inside of a giant glass tomb that he would fill with concrete at the Great American Bash pay-per-view show in June 2004. Technically, The Undertaker had defeated legendary half-brother tag team The Dudley Boyz (legendary for their fanaticism of deceased actor Dudley Moore) in a match where Paul Bearer would only be murdered if The Undertaker lost, but he decided to kill Bearer anyway, citing him as “a liability”. It was never addressed why WWE matchmakers were allowed to put someone’s life on the line in a match. (Bearer would later rise from the dead to be the comedic foil in a 2010 continuation of the Kane/Undertaker rivalry, then died for realsies in March 2013. They haven’t written a way out of that one yet.)
The Undertaker would also become the world’s utmost practitioner of mixed martial arts, being so good at it that Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White was all like, “Nuh-uh, girlfriend,” when asked if he would ever bring in The Undertaker to fight his champions. He would settle for supplementing his Matilda-like magical powers with Brazillian jiu-jitsu holds that would throw off opponents with the speed in which he would apply them (slow).
With his obsession with that sport came an obsession with being the World Heavyweight Champion. In the past, he was cool just being the guy who beat up freaks and chubby guys. But now, he slimmed down, got a tan, and had really good wrestling matches with the industry’s top stars after intimidating them with his top-level laser-light shows. Some would comment that it was really odd how he didn’t start doing his best work in the ring until years after his physical peak. Others thought picking up a guyliner habit in his mid-40’s was much, much weirder.
Having won the World Heavyweight Championship approximately a billion times between 1997 and 2011, The Undertaker decided to just stop showing up to work more than once a year. He would wrestle at WrestleMania, fulfilling his obligation to not lose every year at WWE’s biggest event. It was on his terms however, as he spent almost five years grappling with other old dudes over who had the weirdest hairline in some of the most dramatic matches in WWE’s recent history.
Throughout all of this, he never lost at WrestleMania. That is, until he lost at WrestleMania.
PHASE 5 – Really Old
In 2014, The Undertaker wrestled Brock Lesnar, now a former UFC Champion, once again after a brief retirement from the make-believe stuff. The Undertaker’s unprecedented WrestleMania winning streak had hit an unprecedented 21-0. While Lesnar would seem like the biggest threat to this streak yet with his giant muscles and monstrous aura, most fans believed that Lesnar had no chance to win since, according to the rules of pro wrestling, if you are not a full-time performer you cannot win lots of big matches (Lesnar legitimately has a contract that only allows WWE to use him for a few pay-per-view bouts per year).
As the match progressed, the thousands of fans filling New Orleans’ Superdome realized one thing really quick: this match was boring. The two Superstars just stood around and threw what resembled punches at each other, only slower. WrestleMania parties throughout the country turned into festivals of awkward small talk, as the match just kept going and going with very little action. The action in the ring was as ugly as The Undertaker’s thin grandpa mohawk. Most fans had written off the match as an unfortunate stinker. Then, it happened…
Brock Lesnar pinned The Undertaker at WrestleMania.
The Undertaker’s famous streak of WrestleMania victories was over after twenty-five years. This was like pro wrestling’s 9/11, only it’s not just the conspiracy bloggers who figured out that this was an inside job. Silence overtook the Superdome, as various audience members made ridiculous faces in an effort to be the best internet memes they could be. The world as wrestling knew it had changed forever.
The Undertaker slowly stood up and walked back to the locker room. He had no fancy music or lights. He didn’t do a fun card trick or make someone’s dad sweat red ooze. He just walked away silently, as every wrestling fan in the entire world collectively figured out that the ridiculousness was over. No more fat person slaying. No more murdering. No more magic tricks. The Undertaker was done being.
The Undertaker encompassed everything that pro wrestling is. He is completely absurd and utterly droll. In a world full of ludicrous characters, The Undertaker was top of the pops. But for wrestling fans, he was the preposterous we deserved. If WrestleMania 30 was his final performance, he had one heck of a ride (though we could have done without all the fog machine smoke through the years).
For those of you who don’t like wrestling – if you’ve learned nothing else from this article remember that every time you ask a wrestling fan if they realize that it’s fake,The Undertaker was murdered twice on national television and calling the police was never brought up as a feasible option.