In Ring Work: ***1/2 Mic Work: ***1/2 Character Work: ******
The greatest gimmick of all time. He will be missed.
When Edge and Christian first split up, I always had a feeling that those two would someday main event Wrestlemania. Unfortunately, I ended up being horribly wrong about the latter. But thankfully, I was at least able to witness the former do it. But my worry was always about who the opponent was going to be.
To this day, I'm still surprised that it was the Undertaker, because Edge simply didn't belong in the same league as that man, and this is coming from one of Edge's biggest fans.
The Undertaker is a legend. Any definition you want to give of a legend is what the Undertaker defines. He's given us so many legendary moments through out his career that I was planning on naming them all and gave up because there's simply too many. But that's okay with me, because his body of work should do just fine. He's got a lot of great matches under his belt, as well as a lot of very good promos.
But what really sets him apart is his character work, which has given him 6 stars from me for his work in. And with that, he joins The Rock and Shawn Michaels as the three individuals in my analysis threads to earn six stars in a category, and in this case, that makes him, in my opinion, the greatest of all time when it comes to character work.
*round of applause*
And I'm sure some of you are wondering why I gave him that rating, so lets dive right into the analysis on one of the greatest legends in the history of this business, The Undertaker.
Those of you who have followed the Undertaker's career know that he's played two gimmicks in his WWF/E career. First he was the Deadman, who then became the American Badass, and then returned to his former character. Both were great in their own ways, but it's the Deadman gimmick that is so legendary. But I'll start with the Biker gimmick.
One of the unique things about the biker character is the changes that weren't made when he went to that gimmick. He still kept the Undertaker name, still did some of the same moves, they even had Taker's voice say "deadman walking" at the beginning of his entrance before his music hit. You would think they would do an entire do-over but instead it's almost as if they kept some of those for a reason, as if no matter what the man looks like, you're still dealing with the devil. And that actually kind of works. The way he walked, the way he looked, the way he acted, this was a guy you truly didn't want to fuck with. Even when he was a heel, he was still very intimidating and someone you didn't want to pick a fight with. If the message they were trying to send was "rub this guy the wrong way and you'll find yourself buried six feet under in a coffin", then they certainly succeeded in that regard.
Still, considering the gimmick he had before, the transition to this gimmick is still very impressive. The Undertaker was able to fit into it extremely well and even had some possibly unintentional advantages to it. For example, Taker had a lot of tattoos on his arm before he switched to the gimmick. And they were fitting for the deadman character. But as lady luck would have it, those tattoos also greatly benefited the biker gimmick. All of a sudden, those tattoos went from making him look like a demon to a legitimate biker. Top it off with the vest, the new pants, the sunglasses, the bandanna, and of course the bike, and you've got yourself something here. And the people ate this gimmick up, which is surprising considering the previous gimmick, which I'll get to in a moment. So all in all, the Biker gimmick was great and was a change that I felt was necessary at the time. I guess the Undertaker plays that biker lifestyle outside WWE, so in a way he was playing himself, and that really showed on screen. And he fit in really well with the role.
With that said, I was never a fan of the character. It had nothing to do with him. As I said before, he fit in extremely well with the gimmick and he was able to pull it off as both a face and a heel. But the problem was what he previously was, and it was something I always had to compare it to. And it didn't quite measure up, because this was the greatest character of all time. I'm talking of course about this:
The Deadman Character
I'm just going to start this out by saying the whole idea of this character was very silly. You've got a walking zombie of some sorts who isn't capable of dying, can seemingly shoot lighting when ever he wants and can set shit on fire by looking at it (he did that once, right?).
But in the end, no one gave a shit, and rightfully so.
No one fit a character so flawlessly. No one had all the little things that made something work so incredibly well like this man did. The hair, the clothes, his height, his face, hell even the fucking goatee he always had. The slow walk he always did in his entrances. The sit up he would do in his matches as if he was rising out of a grave. And the eyes...
Absolutely incredible stuff.
I think the best version of the Undertaker was in 2007. At that point, his hair was just at the right length, he was at the right age, he just looked downright incredible. And that was one of the things about it. He looked amazing. It's strange how early on in his career, his gimmick was so original and easy to love, but they were still able to update it later in his career and make it even more iconic. With guys like the Rock, I didn't like the way he looked when he came back. I guess that's kind of an unfair comparison since he was in Hollywood for the longest time since then, but I still always preferred the Attitude Era look better. Even in 2003 I still had the same feeling. Nothing was going to beat the Attitude Era Rock and nothing ever would. But with the Undertaker, I felt like he got better as time went on. It started to take a downward turn when he started to REALLY get up there in age and wasn't wrestling full-time anymore. And I hated the way he looked with shorter hair. But long haired Undertaker was always fantastic.
And the crowd always loved him. The pops he got were always loud. He always got cheered over anyone he went up against. Even against Shawn Michaels, he still got the louder pops. People just loved the character. What helped it the most to me was that he was never a full on face. He was always a tweener and was always willing to fuck up anyone who stepped in his way. He was always willing to lend a hand to his brother Kane, and he was willing to help out those who were willing to help him, but he was never afraid to disrespect authority, even the face ones, and he always told the refs to fuck off, something that you would commonly see a heel do. And as a heel earlier in his career, the deadman gimmick was great as well. Like I said before, it may have been very silly and in a lot of ways unrealistic, but it didn't matter, because he fit the role so incredibly well and the crowd always loved it. And it made him a joy to watch.
So to sum it up, in my Chris Jericho review I gave a lot of praise to his 2008 character change and heel turn, calling it legendary and one of the most incredible things ever accomplished in the history of Pro Wrestling. The reason was that Jericho had played the Y2J character for so long and went a completely different direction with a brand new character that he pulled off perfectly. In some ways, Taker did that too, going from the Deadman to the Biker, but the difference is that the Biker gimmick simply doesn't compare. The Deadman is an iconic character that no one will ever be able to top. And that is why I give the Undertaker six stars in this category. He thrived in any role given to him, and was able to pull it off perfectly. And the over the top, unrealistic things he not only made work, but he turned it into something GOAT worthy. The booking he got through out his career helped tremendously, especially the undefeated streak at Wrestlemania, but this was simply something only he could have made work. And seeing Bray Wyatt, while he has done very well, struggle to keep his current gimmick from becoming stale and redundant, only says a lot more about how incredible of a job the Undertaker did in his role.
The Undertaker was actually at a disadvantage when it came to mic work. He had to talk at a consistently slow pace and had to talk in the same tone. As a result, he had to disregard a lot of the basic rules of mic work in Pro Wrestling. But at the same time, he had to honor the most important one: honor your character when doing it. And he always did that and then some. The pacing and tone, as well as the delivery and just the movements he made and the words he spoke, it all made sense with his character. It all felt natural. At least, as a face he did. As a heel was where he struggled (I'm talking 90s Taker of course). I always felt he was forcing the issue at times and came across as someone just going "look at me, I'm evil, hate me". I guess that's kind of what you're supposed to do, but again, it was bothersome and made it hard to take seriously at times. His Biker gimmick allowed him to do promos in the more traditional sense and in a way it swapped the good and bad for him. As a heel, he was actually a great promo cutter. But then as a face, he was a little bland. I feel like he always talked in one constant motion as a face, being the guy who was putting himself in charge of the situation or was ready to bark out orders to anyone who was willing to listen. And don't get me wrong, it's kind of what you expected him to do, but at the same time he just didn't really do much outside of that.
So as I said, as a heel in the biker gimmick is where he was at his best. And here's some promos to demonstrate how good he could be in that role:
But then of course, even in his best he had his faulty moments. Sometimes he could let things just drag on and wouldn't know when to stop.
So in some aspects, the Undertaker was still a good mic worker. But when he was able to cut promos in the regular aspect at the pacing he wanted, he was hit or miss. He most certainly didn't stand out among all the other great mic workers he was around at the time, and that never helps. But still, he was able to hold his own. But in his deadman gimmick, he allowed himself to stand out more and you always found yourself listening to him no matter what, because you were always interested in what he had to say. And it's the Undertaker, why wouldn't you?
In Ring Work
Disclaimer: I'm not going to analyse Taker's work after Wrestlemania 28 to the point of his retirement. At that point, age caught up to him and he had numerous injury issues. You're probably wondering why I'm not mentioning the match with CM Punk at Wrestlemania 29, and the reason why is that I'm not a big fan of their Wrestlemania match. I actually thought it was a pretty poor match. But that's a conversation for another time. Either way, don't expect me to bring up his work in that time period, because it makes no sense for me to and it simply isn't fair to him.
There's a common conception of the Undertaker that I've noticed on these boards. In his early days, the Undertaker was a pretty poor in ring worker, and improved as time went on. And in some ways, yes, he definitely improved. But in same aspects I think he actually got worse.
The one thing I always thought he did very well was the execution of his moves. I felt that he always put his heart out in every move that he did kind of like what AJ Styles does now. You feel passion and intensity when ever he did something. His strikes were always a joy to watch too. I always thought he was a good seller as well. His main problems I noticed where that he struggled with the pacing of his matches, and never really understood how to be a proper heel in the ring. It's kind of hard to be one considering what he's gimmicks were, but he never really found a way around it. He just always stuck with what he was most comfortable with. He also sometimes looked lost in the ring, as if he didn't know what to do next and had to be guided by his opponent into the next phase of the match. And overall his storytelling was inconsistent. But even then he had some damn good matches in his early days. His Hell in a Cell match with Shawn Michaels is considered one of the greatest matches of all time (although it's pretty obvious that it was a big carry job, although Taker does deserve a good amount of credit for playing his role so well). He had a great match with Kane at Wrestlemania 14. And he had quite a few other good matches as well.
As his career went on, I felt that his storytelling improved greatly and he was able to do a much better job with the pacing of his matches. And the execution was still there too. But for some strange reason, I felt that he got worse at selling. It seemed like he would just forget to sell damage to certain parts of his body through the course of his matches. And that of course can always be a major problem.
Either way, he definitely had a lot more great matches under his belt at that point in his career. And I'm sure there's some we can think of off the top of our heads and we're probably going to come up with similar results in the end. But the thing is, he's had a lot of poor matches too, and I think it all comes down to consistency. Sometimes the Undertaker was on in the ring, but other times I just don't think he was. Sometimes things just didn't click for him and that can happen with Pro Wrestlers. Sometimes you can just have off nights. Even Shawn Michaels had those.
Overall, I consider the Undertaker to be a good in ring worker who has had a lot of great matches in his time, some of which are considered all time greats. If you had good chemistry with him, you were likely going to bust out a damn good match. But if you didn't, then you had a different story. There were just aspects of his in ring work that were good and bad, and unfortunately it created an unbalanced effect with his matches. But in the matches where he seemed to be on, he was a joy to watch. And for me as a fan of the guy, that's the area I always want to remember. I want and have to acknowledge the bad, but either way, there's no taking away all the great moments he has created in the ring for us.
Well...I said he wasn't perfect right?
A lot of people consider the Undertaker character to be the greatest gimmick of all time. And in this case, I certainly agree. It was such a good character that it made people actually dislike a gimmick that I felt he was very good in but just didn't measure up to the one he was best at. Overall, I wouldn't consider the Undertaker the most talented Pro Wrestler, but he was certainly a very good one. He was a very mobile big man in ring performer and was a pretty good mic worker as well with all things considered. He was by no means perfect in those departments and the weaknesses were pretty easy to spot. But it's hard not to respect his work in those categories.
The Undertaker is just another on the list of legends who have recently retired from the WWE. He's definitely stuck around a lot longer than a lot of people, myself included, think he should have, and it's a shame because in that time frame we didn't see very good work out of him. I'm glad it didn't stop people from remembering the good things he's done in this company and Pro Wrestling in general. He stood out among the large crowd of individuals who helped the WWE reach the point that it's at now, and considering how talented those folk were, that says a lot. The Undertaker might not be one of the most talented, but he's certainly one of the most iconic. And he will be missed.
Thank you Undertaker.
Vince McMahon hated the American Bad Ass gimmick: I actually believed this for a very long time and I think I actually told people about this at one point on this site, but I don't think that was actually the case. Based on what I've read and heard about the subject, I think Vince just didn't want people to remember the gimmick because of the Deadman character, which is definitely understandable given the circumstances. I don't think he believes the gimmick was bad in any way, just that when thinking about it and then seeing him play the Deadman character, the whole idea of it can be kind of silly. But, then again, the Deadman gimmick is silly too. But still understandable.