That’s the end of my childhood, was the phrase uttered most in the wee hours of the morning as late Sunday April 2nd became early Monday April 3rd. As #ThankYouTaker and #GoodbyeTaker started to trend on twitter at the sight of the Phenom’s signature coat gloves and hat laying abandoned in the middle of the ring. The match itself did what is rare in wrestling rings these days, unless of course the opponent is the legendary Undertaker. It told a story. The aging veteran and the young upstart was the overarching theme for WrestleMania 33. Never was it as stark as it was in those final moments of the match.
Usually stronger, more dominant and resilient, The Undertaker finally felt his own mortality at the hands of Roman Reigns. People’s thoughts on Reigns aside he did the job last night with grace, courage and heart. He relented when he should’ve relented and pressed hard when the match called for it. This was the ending The Undertaker had been looking for. The one that seemingly only this performer could provide.
Many fans must’ve been thinking back to the last WrestleMania in Orlando and Ric Flair asking Shawn Michaels to perform the coup de grace on his career. The same weight that shadowed Michaels’ face rode high in Reigns. We all knew what we were about to see. Yet thinking back to WrestleMania 24 I recall a question that occurred to me there that has never left. Especially when I think of matches involving the Undertaker. After his main event win versus Edge the question was, “How do they do that?” When it happened again at Backlash later that year I repeated the question and haven’t been able to answer it.
The ‘that’ being how do they with movement, timing and build wrap people into a space and mental compliancy that makes them forget that this is staged. How do they get you lost in the moment? I determined years ago that the phrase ‘suspension of disbelief’ was created before The Undertaker graced a ring. Because when he is on with a partner willing to travel with him no one has to remind the viewer to pretend it’s real. In those moments in the breadth and scope it is real. The beauty of wrestling is that when done right it’s like a spell built to captivate and to mystify. In my years of watching I have never seen a spellcaster the quality of The Undertaker. The fantasy is made real.
It was real both times The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels showed us what showmanship artistry and storytelling was in their legendary matches at WrestleMania 25 and WrestleMania 26. Heart nearly exploding I yelled I screamed I lost my breath and needed time to recover. It was real when the American Bad Ass rode around the ring then got into it to show Triple H what bad ass really meant at WrestleMania 17. Real when he tossed countless competitors into coffins, buried them and Tombstoned them nearly through the mat. It was real every time the lights dropped the bell tolled and the door to that Hell in a Cell cage shut forcefully behind him. Hell was on earth and caged against Mankind, Batista, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Randy Orton, CM Punk.
The championships, the transformations, the highlights, the moments. The Elimination Chambers, the Royal Rumbles, the Survivor Series, the WrestleManias, the Streak. The magic of the Phenom. Whether led by the late Paul Bearer, by flame bearing druids or by no one at all. The montage of his ring personas feel like the evolution of a fully realized life.
The first Undertaker sighting is a heralding mark among wrestling fans. It’s like an honored war story when someone tells you about a Taker sighting not in his wrestling boots as much as in them. Fans swap stories about the first Undertaker entrance they experienced. So enrapt has one man kept several generations of people that his legend cannot be undone.
When Ric Flair had his final match it burned and shined. Florid with all the pomp and circumstance that outfitted his career. Shawn went down in the fight which was always his bread and butter. The Undertaker, always marching to his own beat did things as usual a little differently. He left us in a wash of black and purple lightning striking, streaking the sky in a haze of fog and smoke moving as always like a barely realized dream built from fire and ash. He left as he came. A dash of the mystical too real to be denied, too unreal to be anything but magic. What he has attained is true immortality.
So now it’s my turn. When I first saw The Undertaker live it was at WrestleMania 17 and he was firmly in his American Bad Ass phase. My first true Undertaker entrance happened years later. The lights dropped. The audience sat in silence. Then being compelled the rally begins. Feet start stomping in a familiar cadence rattling around me. The vibrations building as others join. The chanting starts soon after. Un-der-ta-ker; Stomp stomp, stomp stomp stomp. The bell tolls. The chanting increases.
The spotlight goes up as the fog starts to roll high at the entrance ramp. The first thing seen is the outline of his hat. The fog parts and he steps through as if materializing out of nothing. I catch my breath and feel this chill across my spine. I stop chanting stop moving as the world vibrates around me. He makes his way to the ring in that slow methodical gait that stuns as it moves. With ears ringing from the chanting, I knew this was all so very real.
Tell us about your favorite Undertaker moments, matches and sightings below in the comments.