The Undertaker, also known as the Phenom and the Prince Of Darkness, is a beacon in the world of wrestling. Arguably the last true surviving gimmick from a simpler time in WWE (then WWF) in the early 90′s when the colourful cartoonish characters of Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior were on top, the long-enduring deadman portrayed by Mark Calloway has accomplished so much in his Legendary 20-year run that he has ascended beyond mere veteran talent, into an almost mythical status few in the business obtain. His longevity in an ever-changing industry is thanks, at least in-part, due to his ability to evolve The Undertaker character to remain relevant and/or interesting to fans young and old.
He has performed in every specialty match that WWE has to offer, even claiming one as his own: the infamous Hell In A Cell and it’s first appearances in the fabled structure that make the match so iconic. From the brutal first ever HIAC event vs. the “Heart Break Kid” Shawn Michaels at 1997′s Badd Blood to the shocking and dangerous meeting with Mankind in Pittsburgh at the 1998 King Of The Ring event, a match that is undoubtedly burned into the memories of every self-respecting wrestling fan, The Undertaker character proves that, in victory or defeat, his matches and appearances are a spectacle to behold.
Through all of the Undertaker’s accolades and championship title reigns however, nothing comes close in legitimate value to his incredible undefeated streak at the biggest event in the wrestling world, Wrestlemania.
Wrestlemania began life as a proposed one-off pay-per-view event in 1985. A vision created by WWE owner Vince McMahon, it has since gone on to become the company’s flagship pay-per-view production, creating, defining and in some ways, legitimatizing sports entertainment. Undertaker made his debut Wrestlemania appearance at the event’s seventh installment on March 24, 1991 at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena in Los Angeles, California, where he gained a victory over Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka. He has since gone on to defeat such talents as Ric Flair, Jake Roberts, Diesel, Psycho Sid, Edge and so on, even facing several opponents at multiple Wrestlemania events including Kane, Shawn Michaels and Triple H.
“The Streak”, as it has come to be known, is now aknowledged by the WWE to be the most spectacular achievement in the history of the company, and ending the streak has become more valuable on the show than winning either of the WWE’s top titles. Now, at 19-0 and with nagging injuries from a hard life of constant bumps and travel, it is no secret that Mark Calloway’s inevitable retirement is drawing ever nearer. It has been alleged by several close to Mark that his next Wrestlemania will probably be his last, and I’m sure WWE will want to give him a send-off befitting a bona fide living legend and guaranteed future WWE Hall Of Famer.
Mick Foley has had a long and illustrious career. Touted by some as nothing more than a “glorified stuntman,” Foley has captured the hearts of millions with his charm, good humor, his dedication to the business and his craft, and overall general likeability as a family man and all round nice guy. He is certainly best known for willingly putting his body on the line for his work, even risking his life at times, purely for the enjoyment of the WWE fans. Mick himself, in addition to his many championships and death match victories, lays claim to two of his own unique and equally intriguing accomplishments; He was awarded the WWE’s Hardcore Championship upon its conception, a title and entire division created solely on his behalf, and he is the only man alive capable of creating, performing as and even getting over with several different personas or “gimmicks”, sometimes simultaneously.
Wanted dead or alive is Cactus Jack, Mick’s answer to the world of hardcore. Dawning the “Wanted” poster shirt and leopard print boots, Cactus Jack is perhaps the most dangerous and bloodthirsty entity in all of professional wrestling. Taking the riskiest bumps, accepting the most violent matches, wrestling in barbed-wire and throwing himself through fire, onto tacks or even explosives, Cactus was the incarnation of innovative misery. It was during a match against Vader in Munich, Germany that Mick performed as Cactus Jack that he lost a large portion of his ear, later opting out of reattachment and instead performing at another show. The name Cactus Jack quickly became synonymous with anything considered brutal, painful or hardcore.
Dude Love, another of the “Three Faces Of Foley”, proclaimed himself to be “The hippest cat in the land!” A Fun-loving, wise-cracking hipster straight from the sixties, the Dude had a humorous personality, dressed in tye-dye and sunglasses and used expressions commonly associated with hippies and beatnicks. Dude Love, who would later go on to headline pay-per-views in WWE and even share the WWE Tag Team Championship titles with Stone Cold Steve Austin, was actually the first wrestling personality created by Foley as seen in his early home videos, which show a very young Mick jumping from the roof of a house onto a couple of mattresses on the ground below.
The darkest and most broooding of Mick’s creations is Mankind. Abused, neglected, and angry is this extremely complex and volatile soul. As he hides his face behind a brown leather mask, Mankind is the disturbed psychopath of everyone’s nightmares. Antisocial and hate-filled, Mankind is most at home in dark, damp boiler rooms and basements. Often seen ripping out his own hair and screaming for his mommy, he thrives on creating havoc and tormenting his opponents. He attacks with unforgiving angst and aggression, and he never stops coming. Mankind soaks up punishment like a demented sponge, and returns the pain ten-fold. He is wicked from a life of suffering, and he is hungry to inflict punishment on all who cross his path. Going on to ultimately win the WWE Championship later in his career, his most notable matches are those against the Undertaker.
Mankind and the Undertaker have had more iconic matches than any other duo in the history of professional wrestling. Buried Alive matches, casket matches and cage matches are all familiar teritory between these viscious rivals, and while torturous trials between these foes are commonplace, two stand as the most notorious. WWE Summerslam 1996 saw the chaos and destruction of the Boiler Room Brawl. Slowly making their way from the building’s boiler room to the ring, Mankind and the Undertaker fought like rabid animals, leaving a trail of complete annihilation in their wake. Mankind, with the help of Paul Bearer, saw victory after applying his signature finisher, the Mandible Claw.
At the 1998 King Of The Ring event the two would once again meet, but this would be a match that the world would never forget. This was Hell in A Cell, and this match would quickly become the defining match of Mick Foley’s career… much to his chagrin. The Hell In A Cell match was first introduced in 1997, and is a variation of the steel cage match. The concept involves any number of talents competing within a chain-link cage with its own ceiling and with the door chained and locked shut, makng it completely enclosed and unlike the typical cage match, inescapable. This time Undertaker would taste victory, but it was Foley who would be most remembered for the match, after taking two notable falls (one accidental) and sustaining a dislocated shoulder and having one of his teeth pierce his lip underneath his nose, among other injuries.
Back to the present, and Mark Calloway is close to retirement. He may only have one good Wrestlemania match left in him, with Foley being in the same boat, and who better than the man who was the biggest threat to the Undertaker character in history? Who better than the man who has given the Undertaker more memorable career moments than anyone else in pro wrestling? Though these two have had what seems to be the greatest rivalry in sports entertainment, they have never met on the “Grandest Stage Of Them All”. And whether Undertaker hit 20-0 or went 19-1, it would be a fitting end for both men in a business that has destryed their bodies, and made them heroes. It would be great for all Mankind.
This article was first posted on August 15, 2011