Gong. No sound will ever mean more to a WWE audience. Not the glass smashing and not the squeal of guitar at the start of ‘Cult of Personality’. Because no matter how successful The Rock or Stone Cold or CM Punk are, they are not The Undertaker and never will be.
It was twenty-six years ago that The Deadman debuted at Survivor Series and six years earlier when Mark Calaway made his first appearance as Texas Red. It’s safe to say no-one predicted what was to come next.
For since that debut not one man has shaped WWE history the way he has. Stars have been bigger, and many have burnt brighter, but none have lasted as long as Big Evil. Even that ill-fated spell as a biker wasn’t enough to ruin a remarkable career.
I won’t bother to sit and list his credentials. You all know them. From The Streak to the multiple titles. What defines ‘Taker, though, is his dedication to a role. Here is a man who despite being part of a business which has mostly thrown kayfabe out the window has never once followed suit. Type Undertaker shoot interview into YouTube and what will you get? Nothing.
Which means there is a fascinating story hidden somewhere beneath those terrifying eyes; what has Mark Calaway been thinking? We hear hints, tales of his anger at individual decisions and his mentoring of younger talents but we never hear them from the horse’s mouth. Yet, he’s been there for all of it, from Montreal to CM Punk.
It’s not always been perfect either. Much like the company around him The Undertaker’s career has had its ups and downs. When talking about The Streak we remember fantastic matches with Shawn Michaels and Triple H but for every one of those, there is a Giant Gonzalez. A Big Bossman. You could even argue that his matches with Lesnar and Wyatt have already started to take the shine from the legend.
Which is why The Undertaker declaring that he has returned at SmackDown 900 fills me with both joy and dread. Until now the legacy of The Phenom has been enough. The underwhelming feud with Brock Lesnar wasn’t sufficient to diminish that star. But what will regular appearances on SmackDown do?
What if we slip into a world where we are forced to sit and watch the legend struggle through matches with younger and fitter stars. In my heart, ‘Taker vs. AJ Styles is an incredible feud. The Champ who runs the Camp versus the man who genuinely has run things for years.
However, who know whether Big Evil can hold up his end of the bargain. Styles could make anyone look good, but Undertaker deserves more than that. I don’t want to watch someone work around him the way that Shawn Michaels once did so marvellously for Ric Flair.
On the other hand, there is always that chance. That chance that this is a fit and healthy Undertaker who can recapture that magic for one last run. He can come in and raise the entire SmackDown brand before going out in a blaze of glory, oh, how wonderful that would be.
Of course, nothing can truly take away Mark Calaway’s legacy. He’s been too good for too long for that to happen. But wrestling fans are fickle. They will turn on people at the drop of a hat. I can’t stand the idea of that happening to ‘Taker. I pray this run is everything I dare to dream it can be. I worry it will be the death keel of an extraordinary career.