If you didn’t follow WWF as a child, you might never be able to appreciate the greatness of the man who went by the name of The Undertaker – Mark Calaway.
Those who do not follow wrestling mock those who do with the one line that they think is both original and creative – ‘Arey, sab fixed hai yaar’. Like we don’t know. Like they work for Discovery Channel and are paid to enlighten third world people who still believe that the world is flat, that God exists, and that WWE matches are fixed.
Of course we know that the stories are written, enacted, played out. It doesn’t take a genius to arrive at the conclusion. However, ask a lifelong fan of WWF, and they’ll insist it’s more than just the results. WWF as a franchise has survived and thrived due to a team of excellent writers who gave the performers excellent storylines, characters, gimmicks and stellar finishing moves. There have been a number of good looking, well built wrestlers, but the ones that fans appreciate are the ones with the greatest character.
Whether it was the anti-establishment tirade of Stone Cold Steve Austin, or the myth surrounding The Undertaker, the high-flying moves of Shawn Michaels, or the absurd wild fighting style of the Ultimate Warrior, the WWF was not about sport. It was about a story that was played out over years. Like a really, really long test match whose results are pre-decided as it happens over the years.
Which is why as a WWF fan, I hate it when people bring up the authenticity factor in a discussion, with the smug all-knowing attitude of Plato. Fuck you, guys! Hogwarts and Middle-earth aren’t real either, but we’ve all lived in them temporarity, haven’t we?
WWF in our childhood was a wild, whacky form of entertainment that did not exist anywhere else in the world. Before they turned themselves into WWE and went PG 13 on us, the World Wrestling Federation was a colourful bunch of characters who appeared on our TV screens and brought to us sex, violence and action every week. It was like Game of Thrones that could be watched at home with friends.
Wrestlers come in a variety of shapes, sizes and characters. There are naturally gifted wrestlers like Brock Lesnar and Ultimate Warrior, who created legions of fans with their natural skills and ability. Then there are those that aren’t truly gifted, but offered the viewers thrilling moves, magnetic personas and an attitude that personified the Attitude Era.
The Undertaker belonged to a unique world of his own. At six feet ten inches, he was huge and intimidating. But there was more to The Undertaker than just his size. For more than twenty five years, the man lived out a number of characters and storylines, staying true to every one of them. When his ghostly cemetery music came on, you knew there was an exciting match on your hands. When he stepped out of his coffin, you knew it was going to get ugly. When the lights dimmed and the first strains of the church gongs sounded in the arena, fans, friends and aficionados high-fived each other and cheered in glee.
Through his long bejewelled career, The Undertaker has played a number of characters. From the brother who couldn’t get along with Kane. To the biker who had no fucks to give to the franchise, Vince McMahon, or the universe in general, to the wizened champion who intimidated his opponents with his sheer entrance. The Undertaker was truly the face of wrestling for the longest time.
While those around him took to drugs, killed themselves and their partners, or faded away due to their bodies and minds giving up on them, The Undertaker was a workhorse who turned up match after match, tournament after tournament, year after year, decade after decade. Whether he was the ‘push’ or the ‘heel’, The Undertaker gave it his everything.
He also holds the unique distinction of having the most myths associated with his name. That he had 21 lies, and there were abut 17 left! That he was from hell and was going to take Kane back with him one day. Of how he killed people and threw their ashes in an urn.
The Undertaker symbolised the dark, magical world that we imagined the WWE to be. A world where morals, discipline and good intentions took you nowhere. A world where the rogues, the tyrants, the ones who challenge their masters, are the ones who come out trumps. They are the ones that the fans cheer for the loudest. It isn’t all that different from the real world, now that I zoom out and look at the larger picture.
As Undertaker walked away from Wrestlemania, WWE’s prime annual event, the effect showed. The tall, imposing man was now stooping. His gait seemed bent and slow, his jowls sagging, his eyes tired.
And that is when The Undertaker did something he had never done earlier – he hugged a fan. After two and a half decades of shattering limbs, arms and bones, The Undertaker broke the fourth wall. He stopped for a moment and let a fan hug him.
If you’re not a WWE fan, you’ll probably never understand what The Undertaker brought to wrestling. If you’re not a fan of WWE, you probably wouldn’t acknowledge that he was one of the greatest sports entertainers of all time.
But that’s the thing. The Dead Man couldn’t care less!
Featured image courtesy: WWE.com