While I could type at a severely in-depth length about the respective highs and lows of Wrestlemania 33, the big take-away (and what's sure to be the talk of the town for easily the next month in the wrestling world) is how at this year's major pay-per-view event, The Undertaker, a veritable living legend, an icon of the sports entertainment industry, a monolithic fixture of which there is no equal, and one of my all-time favorite wrestlers ever just symbolically announced his retirement less than a mere twenty four hours of me writing this very post.
|A legend stands tall one final time.|
It was far from a great bout on any level for sure (seeing how there were at least two botched spots that derailed a good deal of the fight's momentum) but as that final three count was made, and the cameras lingered, I think we all knew deep down in our guts that something else was about to happen. Something we didn't really want to see...
Undertaker stood up, dawned his iconic black hat/coat attire, and stood solemnly in the ring for a solid three minutes as the audience cheered over his 'Graveyard Symphony' theme music. As he began his slow exit from the squared circle, all seemed to go as normal, like Undertaker would carry his loss like a man, and come back ready for combat another day.
|The Undertaker leaves it all behind.|
We all watched in a nearly stunned silence as Undertaker was quietly performing the classic (as well as traditional) ritual of a in-ring retirement.
They say that when your career is coming to a close, you go out putting another person over, and that you leave your gimmick in the ring. Taker did the job by putting Reigns over in the match, and as is per tradition, left the character of The Undertaker in the ring where he belongs. In that last moment as he stepped through the ropes, he wasn't the phenom, the embodiment of Wrestlmania, or even THE UNDERTAKER anymore.
He was simply just Mark William Calaway now, and as Mr. Calaway took that crowning look from the grandest of all stages, it was clear that perhaps the greatest of superstars in all of professional wrestling's history was officially done. The emotions painted on his face said all there was that could ever need to be said without saying a single damn word. As he walked with a tired and haggard gait, he kissed his wife (former wrestler) Michelle McCool, who was sitting in the front row, while gently patting their young daughter Kala Faith Calaway's head.
The somewhat comically elongated ramp-way that we spent most of the night making in fun of, seemed that much more lengthened as the former seven-time world champion made his concluding walk amidst the ceaselessly cheering 75,000 fans. The copious chants of "Thank you Taker!" "Please don't go!" and "One more match!" echoed throughout the sold-out arena. With a protracted glance over his shoulder, one could tell that this alone could be up there as one of hardest things this man has ever done, but it didn't stop him from raising his fist.
Not as a sign of a personal victory, but as a sign of a legacy. This was a salute to us, the passionate fans who made him one of the truly greatest names to ever grace a card over the course of his amazing twenty five plus year career. This was a salute to an industry that has enriched so many people's lives, and it's something we all built together with him. This ultimate gesture was just as much ours as it was his.
|This was a shared legacy. One that will never be repeated.|
Do please pardon my long winded recounting of events there, as I feel I needed to write it down, so as to make it real in my own mind.
The Undertaker (as I mentioned earlier) is my all-time favorite pro-wrestler, and it's with a heavy heart I bid farewell to someone who (I never had the honor of meeting in person, or seeing live) has been so immensely influential in my life. I don't type these words lightly either. I truly do mean it when I say that The Undertaker is right up there for me with the likes of Ghostbusters, Ninja Turtles, Star Wars, and a select handful of other things that defined not only my childhood, but would affect my own personal development as a human being.
When I first started watching wrestling, I was just five years old. As my brother and I saw The Undertaker's debut at the 1990 Survivor Series, where he was introduced by Ted Dibiase, I recall how I immediately gravitated to Undertaker for (to be blunt) shallow reasons. At first I didn't really understand who Undertaker was. There was no concept in my head with regards to faces and heels, good guys and bad guys. All my young mind could fathom was that he looked somewhat like my dad (mostly because of the intimidating size and long dark hair) so I just liked him for that reason alone. The Undertaker reminded me of my father, and that was enough to get me cheering for him.
|The many faces of one man.|
What can I say? He was like witnessing a dark-hero type comic book character come to life before my very eyes! What's not to love?
I can still vividly recollect some of my favorite Undertaker moments from the past quarter century as if they were still yesterday. The sensation of a chill running up my spine, along with my hands trembling when he made his triumphant return to face Kane at Wrestlemania for the first time (all the way back in '98) remains as one of the best promos I've ever had the privilege of watching on a live Monday Night Raw. I couldn't sleep the night that one happened, or all the following Monday nights leading up to that Mania.
That original feud with Kane (along with pro-wrestling as a whole) is what taught me the fundamentals on how to write characters.
Even when the gimmick jumped over to a far more realistic tinge with the "American Badass" and "Big Evil" monikers I remained a fan through and through. Despite the dreadful Limp Bizkit entrance music, the somewhat lame motorcycle riding, and the talk of "big dogs" and "yards" and shouts to "old-school" and such. It was nice, if not refreshing to see Taker become more akin to his real-life self.
I'll openly concede that despite my love for the more campy, comic style silliness of old-school wrestling, the more realistic edge to the gimmick did add a certain degree of authenticity to his actions, but at heart I knew eventually not only I, but everyone else wanted to see him do a return to being the proper reaper of men.
High time to get back to diggin' holes and takin' souls.
I have no shame in admitting that there are inarguable visual ques and aspects I've taken directly from the Dead Man himself. I wear a long black trench coat with a black wide-rimmed fedora, purely because it makes me feel somewhat like The Undertaker whenever I adorn them. Hell, I even make it a point to grow my hair long with a goatee, just so I could emulate him and my father as much as I can.
It's a regular part of my fashion that I joyously indulge presently, and will continue to do so until I no longer can.
My love doesn't stop there either, as I honestly do have characters that I've created in my past (as well as current) fiction who were deliberately pulled from my adoration of this lone character. The very first fanfiction work I ever attempted to write was an Undertaker comic book that would chronicle his feud with his kayfabe brother Kane. It was in a much more supernatural setting, but one that would stay true to the emotional essence of the phenomenal story line that was being told in the ring every Monday night on Raw.
I still have all those original notes and sketches for the idea to this very day...
Amusingly enough, practically less than a year later Chaos comics would legitimately kick out an actual Undertaker comic book, and it was (oddly enough) not too far off from what my immature mind had concocted. This comic was easily one of the coolest, yet dumbest bits of 90's era comic schlock I ever did read, and I absolutely loved it. Taker was the ruler of a Stygian Hell Prison, he had awesome lightning powers, fought demons disguised as wrestlers, and even had his rivalry with Kane recreated (along with Mankind for good measure) so that they could have superpowered brawls. I did so many extra chores around the house during those days, just so that I could get the allowance necessary to buy the special edition of Wizard Magazine that had the issue zero to that series attached, not mention the rest of the issues.
All because of my undying fandom for The Undertaker.
It can never truly be understated how much of a cornerstone Undertaker has been not only in my life, but that of my friends, and family too. We're all Taker fans at the core, and just over the course of dealing with the wake of this announcement, my best friend/roommate Matt and I were driven to near tears reflecting on our love for this man and his performances.
Having the likes of Jim Ross (a damn good legend in his own right) return to commentate on Taker's last match hit us both right in the feels. There was no better man than J.R. to convincingly pull off the job, and getting to hear one last "By Gawd!" from the BBQ man was enough to get us waxing nostalgic. Never mind that simply us stepping back (while taking a few shot of liquor in honor of Taker's career) and reflecting for a moment, had us really contemplating on the long term affects Undertaker's career has had. From his influence resulting in tons of cross-pollinated gimmicks, to so many other legends he's helped make by his own hand, it's downright awe inspiring at the least.
As surviving 90's kids this truly is the end of an era, but proof positive that we lived through one of the best periods in wrestling ever.
I can almost hear the future generations of fans asking about The Undertaker. Who was he? How did his goofy gimmick ever work? I'm sure to them he'll almost seem like a fairy tail when we recount the stories, like something we made up to lord over them about "The good 'ol days of when we were young" or some such, but deep down I think we all know what The Undertaker ultimately is. He IS wrestling. He's the spirit of wrestling made flesh, and only once in a lifetime can someone bear witness to the majesty of something that intensely pure.
There will never be another Undertaker in this lifetime, or any lifetime for that matter.
In this closing statement I want to take one last opportunity to simply say Thank You Taker directly to the man myself. I don't think I'll ever truly be able to articulate all the sentiments I wish to share, or could ever impart. It's just too surreal right now, but if it's all the same...
Thank you Undertaker/Mr. Calaway for all the long nights you spent on the road, for well over two decades of your life. Thank you for pushing through the near countless injuries, only to come back and put on a spectacular show for us all to see and remember. Thank you for inspiring an entire generation of new wrestlers, as well as an entire generation of fans. Thank you for being exactly what wrestling needed when it needed you. Thank you for all the moments of blood, sweat, and tears that will last with us for a lifetime. Thank you above all else for being there for me, that one lonely kid, who had that dark, yet noble hero I could always look up to, and aspire to be like one day.