How WrestleMania 36 Just Killed The Undertaker's Deadman Gimmick

Why the Boneyard Match really WAS a farewell...

WWE Boneyard Match Undertaker

In case you missed it, there were some pretty big hints during the unprecedented, bizarre and brilliant Boneyard match at WrestleMania 36 that the Undertaker is no more. You probably didn't miss the symbolism of him riding away or the importance of him not actually wrestling as the Deadman in his latest match. You couldn't have, because it was aimed squarely at the end of your nose with haymaker ferocity.

Hell, there's a point in there that he literally gets on his bike and rides away from his own symbol. Farewells don't come any more specific than that. If that was too subtle for you, there was also the manner of the fight - the blood and bumps reminiscent of an exit match for BOTH men, though that won't be the case, of course - and 'Taker's choice of theme as "Now That We're Dead" by Metallica.

He's not just paying tribute to his Deadman gimmick, he's burying it with sentiment.


Now, we've all been stung before, of course, because 'Taker leaving his hat in the ring on his previous retirement should have been the final full-stop, but that left too much of a poor taste and it wasn't the farewell Mark Calaway deserved. This very much was.

But there's actually more to the theory that this is the end than just the match that probably signals it. It's about what came before it and what came just after it and for the former, we have to turn - as always - to the very important arena of Instagram.


This may seem a somewhat trifling point, but the Undertaker Instagram account is something of a litmus paper in all of this. It was only set up in May 2018 and has - for 99.9% of its output - been a kayfabe account. It existed solely to promote matches and nostalgia and VERY rarely, there'd be a post showing Calaway and Michelle McCool-Calaway standing together, or a few in homage to the Forces, but those posts feel like they're part of the WWE contract these days.

There was even one painfully awkward food supplement post that is still regrettable to behold... But the point is, there was very much no Mark Calaway there. Not really. The few "backstage" shots were staged, the few "real life" shots were carefully crafted not to give away anything. There would be no revelations on this particular social feed.


And there's a good reason for that guardedness. The Undertaker, more than any other gimmick with anything like the same longevity, has been protected by Vince McMahon's statue of secrecy. Partly because of the supernatural element of the gimmick, success was always linked very closely to the mythology of the character. After all, revealing what the guy you're supposed to think is an undead "Phenom" has for breakfast is devastating to the magic.

So Vince kept The Undertaker behind locked doors as much as possible. Even after the supposed Death Of Kayfabe, the shackles remained on Taker and even as WWE no longer had Mounties, big bad cops, army guys and the like, they still had a Deadman. That slither of old school magic was, of course, why gimmicks like Broken Matt Hardy and The Fiend are still possible, but for a long time there, The Undertaker was a one man island in a see of "realism."

His dead brother Kane even put a suit on, for goodness sake.

So when The Undertaker came to Instagram, with the entire roster turning more and more to social media and leveraging their brands, he did so with the mythology intact. It remained intact for the most part until just March 15th, 2020 when a post appeared showing Calaway with Myrtle Beach Safari's Doc Antle (now a somewhat notorious cast-member of Netflix's Tiger King) and some of his animals.

Regardless of the accusations levelled at Antle, Tiger conservation is a cause close to Calaway's heart - as the subsequent video of him and his wife in a swimming pool with a tiger further proved - and while Calaway did slip into the Undertaker shtick at the end of that package, this was a notable departure.

Back in the olden, golden days of the gimmick, there's no way Vince McMahon would have allowed that. After all, the Deadman calling for humanity to be kinder to the planet doesn't really sit right with the gimmick. Relaxing that "rule" seems to suggest a softer approach to the character.

And then WrestleMania 36 happened and the American Badass Mortician or whatever we're to call him turned up, beat AJ Styles' ass and buried him - again, not fully casting off his supernatural gimmick but not fully embracing it either - before riding off into the proverbial sunset. Put together, those two things suggest an ending in themselves, but then comes the real kicker: the upcoming documentary on the Network.

Undertaker: The Last Ride will air soon, with a first-look airing after Night Two of Mania 36 and according to the official release notes will "give the WWE Universe a rare inside look at Mark Calaway, the man behind The Undertaker, as he prepares for what could be the end of his legendary career." Now, there's a small element of vagueness in there - the "could" is as loaded as the promise of an inside look - but the very fact that this documentary even exists is telling.

Again, Vince McMahon has been very protective of his investment in The Undertaker and the allure of the gimmick's mythology. For that to have been sacrificed in the interest of petting cute tiger cubs says something of McMahon's influence. Without his say, that wouldn't have happened, surely. And coupled with the revelation of the documentary - which expressly mentions Calaway in the synopsis, remember - you have to think this is genuinely the end for the Deadman.

There is no way you can look at the man behind The Undertaker without destroying what it means to be the Undertaker. It's like showing the secrets of a magic trick - there's a fundamental transactional change that leaves the end result completely different. He's called The Phenom because he's supposed to be inexplicable. He appears in the ring out of nowhere, seemingly teleported; he defies the laws of mortality; he "kills" other wrestlers and personalities; and when he rolls his eyes back, he's not just doing an aesthetic thing, he's BEING possessed.

To show plain old Mark Calaway agonising over his decision to retire or planning how to pull off all of these strange and magical acts can only come at the very end of the magic show.

Whether it means Calaway retires entirely is probably more up for debate. There may be some call for more of the Biker Taker gimmick, but seeing him wrestle now isn't the same as it was a few years back. It's laboured and more than a little concerning. Some may say he'll stick around with a softer gimmick entirely - perhaps parlaying his activism into it like Daniel Bryan - but there's no way that's likely. It's too hard a hand-brake turn, even if Calaway could probably pull it off.

And maybe some will think there's an option for Calaway to transition into a Jake Roberts-like role behind a younger talent. It's possible, but I wouldn't hold your breath. The reality is that Vince can simply pay Taker not to do anything at all - or more pertinently not to work for anyone else - while he focuses more on his real life activism and whatever else gets his heart beating a little faster these days.

But whatever comes next, you sort of have to think that that's that for The Undertaker in real terms.


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