I’ve been an Undertaker fan since I was ten years old. I suppose that’s a common story. Many of us saw him for the first time at that age, when he towered over the heads of nearly everyone in the company, accompanied by a mugging Paul Bearer, rolling back his eyes like a zombie in heat.
No one pretends that the Undertaker was an elegant wrestler. He could walk the ropes and pull off the whole zombie thing, but he was creaky and imperfect and imprecise. It took years for him to build up this sort of cool nonchalance, this sort of image that made questioning his skills kind of a moot point. The Undertaker was just The Undertaker: like a pillar or a supporting wall, he was always there if you were a wrestling fan of a certain age, always solidly available. Performance over athleticism was his game. For spectacle he was at the top of his game.
He was an era straddler, staring out as a scary immortal zombie who literally put his opponents in a body bag back when it was entirely marketed to children, to ‘dying’ before a crowd of thousands and ascending to ‘heaven’, only to be brought home by Leslie Nielsen, to becoming a cult leader who performed black weddings and blood sacrifices (“Where to, Stephanie?!”). Somehow he sprouted a brother, and then there was some weird, soapy drama in which Paul Bearer somehow became Kane’s father and Taker burned down the funeral parlor they were all living in.
Somewhere in the middle he became a biker who likes to wear leather, much like the man who portrayed him.
Like many in the wrestling business, it was those latter years that eclipsed him; the memes, the broken streak, the goggle-eyed fans staring at him in confused wonder. There’s nothing, however, that will erase the memories. I’m glad ‘Taker got to go out on his feet, got to walk away even though his body is aching and slowing down quite visibly. We all know there are much uglier ways to go.