The Dead Man. The Phenom. The American Bad Ass. Whatever you want to call him, every wrestling fan knows this iconic man who has stood the test of time and has engaged in some of the most memorable matches and feuds this sport has ever known over the span of his near 27 year professional career.
Born Mark William Calaway on March 24, 1965, this Houston, Texas native engaged in football and basketball during his high school years. Having earned a basketball scholarship, Calaway continued his studies at Angelina College and eventually at Wesleyan University in Texas. He played basketball for the Rams in 1985 – 1986 before embarking into the squared circle.
His pro wrestling debut occurred in WCCW (World Class Championship Wrestling) under the name of “Texas Red”, the first of many different gimmick names throughout his remarkable career.
After nothing major happened after 4 years, Calaway left WCCW and emerged in the Untied States Wrestling Association (USWA) under the management of veteran grappler “Dirty” Dutch Mantel (later to be Zeb Coulter in the WWE). Under Mantel’s tutelage, Calaway was now called the “Master of Pain” as was promoted as being a rough and mean ex-convict. The Master challenged current heavyweight champion Jerry “The King” Lawler and defeated him to earn his first wrestling championship belt. He would lose the title back to Lawler three weeks later in his first defeat as The Master.
Calaway then changed routes to Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling (WCW) as a heel called “Mean Mark Callous”. He had a gothic type of persona and was placed in a tag team known as the Skyscrapers with fellow giant “Dangerous” Dan Spivey to replace Spivey’s usual partner Sid Vicious (Psycho Sid). The Skyscrapers had a feud with the Road Warriors (aka Legion of Doom or LOD). LOD defeated the Skyscrapers in a street fight and that marked the end of the duo.
Callous then acquired the managerial services of Paul E. Dangerously (Paul Heyman) and had some wins over “Flyin’” Brian Pillman and Johnny Ace (future WWE bigwig John Laurinaitis) but ultimately lost to Lex Luger who was the NWA United States Champion. It was during this pivotal match that he was being scouted by the WWF and in an attempt to impress, he fought Luger with a dislocated hip.
Callous ultimately signed with the WWF after an uneventful short stint in Japan and back again in the USWA where he lost to Lawler again.
Calaway made his WWF debut in 1990 ironically enough named “Kane the Undertaker” before his brother Kane gimmick was even evolved. He was presented as being a living zombie newly resurrected with dark eye make-up, flat black hat, striped necktie and long trenchcoat. As he was a “dead man walking”, he could feel no pain and thus would no sell his opponent’s signature moves.
His first major appearance was at the Survivor Series event as part of the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase’s team. At the time, he was managed by Brother Love (Bruce Pritchard). Although ‘Taker was eliminated during the match, DiBiase’s team was still victorious.
Thereafter he was referred to simply as “The Undertaker” and switched management to Paul Bearer (Percy Pringle). Bearer was over-the-top ghoulish funeral director clutching a brass urn which apparently kept the cremated remains of Undertaker’s family and gave him special powers.
With Bearer at his side, The Undertaker was involved mostly in short squash matches against jobbers whom he would place in a bodybag and drag them to the showers after the bout.
Undertaker’s WrestleMania debut was at ‘Mania VII where he literally decimated the legendary Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka who was in the twilight of his career. This of course, would lay the foundation for Taker’s remarkable WrestleMania undefeated streak.
He feuded with the Ultimate Warrior and locked him in a casket on the episode of the Funeral Parlor, a Piper’s Pit style talk show segment hosted by Bearer. Warrior would defeat the Undertaker in the first ever “casket match” in 1991.
Once the feud with Warrior had died, Undertaker fought and defeated Hulk Hogan to become the WWF Heavyweight Champion at the Survivor Series Pay-Per-View event. Six days later, Undertaker fought Hogan again and lost the belt back to Hogan but it was eventually vacated by then-President Jack Tunney.
‘Taker had an alliance with Jake ”The Snake” Roberts who was feuding with “Macho Man” Randy Savage at the time. During one bout, Roberts tried to hit Savage’s valet/wife/manager Miss Elizabeth with a steel chair but Undertaker stopped Roberts, turning him face for the first time. Roberts and ‘Taker later exchanged words on an episode of the Funeral Parlor with Roberts ultimately attacking ‘Taker and Bearer on set. Undertaker would score his second WrestleMania victory over Roberts at ‘Mania VIII.
The WWF had launched its new flagship show Raw in 1993 and the popular Undertaker was in the main event of the very first taping, defeating jobber Damien Demeneto.
He then feuded with Harvey Wippleman-managed big men such as Kamala, Giant Gonzalez (El Gigante) and Yokozuna. Undertaker would defeat Gonzalez by disqualification at WrestleMania IX, but lose to Yokozuna in a casket match at the Royal Rumble Pay-Per-View event.
Calaway then took a prolonged absence from in-ring competition to tend to lingering injuries. In his absence, a silly gimmick was created whereby the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase would bring in an Undertaker look alike, claiming it really was ‘Taker. The fake Undertaker was actually Brian Lee, later known as Chainz.
Soon enough the real Undertaker returned as face and feuded with the imposter, ultimately defeating him at the SummerSlam Pay-Per-View event. For the remainder of that year, Undertaker feuded with DiBiase and his posse including another easy WrestleMania victory over King Kong Bundy.
In 1995, Undertaker suffered a real injury to his orbital bone requiring surgery and taking him off television for another recovery period. He returned later in 1995 with a grey mask covering his repaired orbital bone.
The masked Undertaker challenged then WWF Heavyweight Champion Bret “Hitman” Hart who did remove his mask, and Undertaker lost the bout courtesy of some interference from Kevin “Diesel” Nash.
In his autobiography “My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling”, author Hart remarks on how his matches with the Undertaker never resulted in any bodily pain or injury owing to Undertaker’s professionalism, finesse and respect for his colleague’s safety.
Undertaker would exact his revenge against Diesel during a steel cage match that pitted Diesel against Hart. Undertaker emerged from underneath the ring apron in the cage and literally dragged Diesel down a hole in the canvas, allowing Hart to win the bout. He would go on to defeat Diesel for yet another WrestleMania victory.
The Undertaker next was involved in along and brutal feud with newcomer Mick “Mankind” Foley. Mankind would interfere against ‘Taker in his matches and the two ended up facing one another in hardcore style matches including a “Boiler Room Brawl”.
During the brawl, Paul Bearer slugged the Undertaker with his urn and turned heel once again to start managing Mankind. Undertaker and Mankind faced one another in a “Buried Alive” match whereby Mankind was chokeslammed directly into a coffin. Undertaker was later attacked by a new Paul Bearer protégé “The Executioner” played by the late Freebird, Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy. The Executioner along with the assistance of other heels placed Undertaker in a coffin to seal his fate for good.
Undertaker of course would return and continued to feud with Mankind, The Executioner and new Bearer member Vader as the new “Attitude Era” rushed in. Undertaker now took on a more gothic image rather than zombie one, appearing to be a cult leader referring to himself as the “Lord of Darkness”.
Undertaker was successful at wining his second WWF Heavyweight Championship run after another WrestleMania victory over Sycho Sid.
A key storyline was then developed whereby Paul Bearer stated that ‘Taker had killed his entire family in a fire including his brother Kane. It was later revealed that Kane was, in fact, ‘Taker’s half brother and was very much alive and seeking revenge.
At the time, Undertaker was in a feud with “HBK” Shawn Michaels and the two confronted each other in the inaugural “Hell in a Cell” match. Kane ended up showing up during the match for the first time, ripped the door off the cage and attacked ‘Taker.
As the feud with Michaels continued, the two engaged in a casket match whereby Kane trapped ‘Taker in the casket, padlocked and set it on fire, giving Michaels the victory. When the casket was opened, just like a David Copperfield illusion, Undertaker’s remains were nowhere to be seen.
Undertaker then reappeared a few months later and beat Kane for yet another WrestleMania victory. The two continued to feud until ‘Taker finally beat the Big Red Machine in the first ever “Inferno” match by setting Kane’s arm on fire.
History was made when Undertaker faced Mankind in a Hell in a Cell encounter at the “King of the Ring” Pay-Per-View event. First, ‘Taker threw Foley off the top of the enclosed cage into a table at ringside. Foley then made his way to the top the cage again whereby ‘Taker chokeslammed him and the ring roof gave way. Foley plummeted downward to collapse the ring apron and emerge with a dislocated tooth shoved halfway up his nose and his tongue sticking through two flaps of a severed lip. It has to be seen to be believed. (Author’s note: The match is thankfully preserved on Foley’s “Greatest Hits and Misses” DVD release).
On a later Pay-Per-View event, ‘Taker and partner “Stone Cold” Steve Austin defeated Mankind and Kane to win the WWF Tag Team Championship. They would drop the titles back to Mankind and Kane two weeks later.
Events transpired which ultimately led to a fatal three way between Austin (the WWF Heavyweight Champion), Kane and ‘Taker for the belt. Kane and ‘Taker simultaneously pinned Austin and thus the title was vacated. The two brothers then fought for the gold with Austin as referee, but there was no victor as Austin counted out both of them.
The next night on Raw, ‘Taker turned heel by reuniting with Bearer and launched the new gimmick, the Ministry of Darkness.
After a botched attempt to defeat Austin, Taker went on an angle hereby he would perform “sacrifices” like a Druid with a hood and eyes rolling into the back of his head; a throwback to Kevin Sullivan. His “Ministry” consisted of members Viscera, Mideon (Dennis Knight, later of the Godwinns), future porn director Gangrel, a debuting Edge and Christian, and the Acolytes (John “JBL” Bradshaw and Ron “Farooq” Simmons).
‘Taker declared war on the Corporation which was largely the McMahons and defeated Big Boss Man (the late Ray Taylor) in another Hell in a Cell encounter as well as Ken Shamrock who were acting as enforcers for the Commission.
A plot was then devised whereby ‘Taker would kidnap a young Stephanie McMahon whom he was going to marry in a cultish ritual when she was saved by Austin, of all people.
Undertaker would secure his third run as WWF Heavyweight Champion by defeating Austin with Shane McMahon as referee at the “Over the Edge” Pay-Per-View event. ‘Taker would drop the belt back to Austin at the King of the Ring event.
The Undertaker then teamed with the Big Show as the “Unholy Alliance”. The team proved successful, winning the WWE Tag Team Championship twice, once from Kane and X-Pac and again from Mankind and Dwayne ‘The Rock” Johnson. Owing to a groin tear, Undertaker continued to appear on television but did not participate in any in-ring encounters.
When the new millennium approached, so did a new Undertaker. Gone was the Dead Man of yore, only to be replaced by a big, tattooed bad –ass Hell’s Angel biker who came to the ring in a motorcycle wearing a bandana. He would often thump his fist to his chest, emphasizing his enduing love and devotion to his fanbase.
The new and improved Biker ‘Taker waged war on the new McMahon–Helmsley dynasty. He re-teamed with brother Kane, but the Big Red Machine betrayed his brother by chokeslamming him twice on Raw. The feuded ended when they faced one another at SummerSlam 2000 and ‘Taker (the face) unmasked Kane the heel.
Undertaker then focused his efforts on WWF Champion Kurt Angle, but was unsuccessful at gaining the gold. He then reunited with Kane as the “Brothers of Destruction”. The Brothers were successful, winning the WWF Tag Team Championship from Edge and Christian, but ultimately lost to the unlikely alliance of Austin and Triple H. In the interim, ‘Taker successfully pinned Triple H for another WrestleMania undefeated streak.
Next came the botched “Invasion” angle when WWE took over WCW. Undertaker fought with Diamond Dallas Page (DDP) over Page’s stalker obsession with the ‘Taker’s wife, Sara. The kayfabe brothers ‘Taker and Kane successfully defeated Chris Kanyon and DDP to win the WWF Tag Team Championship yet again. They would drop the titles to Bubba Ray and Devon Dudley less than one month later.
As 2002 turned around, the Biker ‘Taker turned heel and cut his hair short and started calling himself “Big Evil”. He had some relatively unremarkable feuds with “Tough Enough” winner Maven and even against The Rock. Undertaker also faced an aging Ric “Nature Boy” Flair and defeated him in a No Disqualification match at WrestleMania X8.
At this point it became “in vogue” for wrestlers to face an aging Hulk Hogan which ‘Taker did and won the WWF Undisputed Championship from the Hulkster. He would later drop the title to The Rock at the Vengeance Pay-Per –View event.
He then got involved in a short feud with Brock Lesnar, ultimately losing to Lesnar in a Hell In a Cell match-up and later in a Biker Chain match which he also lost.
After some brief but memorable matches against Vince McMahon and the Big Show, Undertaker disappeared from the wrestling scene for period.
The following year, 2004, ‘Taker re-appeared once again as his old zombie self complete with Paul Bearer by his side. He feuded with Paul Heyman and the Dudley Boyz, with ‘Taker on the winning end of things.
Undertaker then started to feud with Heidenreich after Heidenreich had interfered in some of ‘Taker’s matches to try winning the WWE Heavyweight Championship from JBL.
He then received challenges from young upstart Randy Orton who claimed he could defeat Undertaker’s undefeated WrestleMania streak. Needless to say, Undertaker buried Orton to make his streak 13-0 at WrestleMania XXI.
Undertaker was involved in a controversial angle when Muslim Muhammad Hassan prayed on the ring ramp and then send in masked henchmen to attack Undertaker with clubs and piano wire after ‘Taker defeated Davari three days before the London bombings took place. Undertaker later defeated Hassan in a brutal match at the Great American Bash Pay-Per-View event.
Undertaker later resumed his feud with Randy Orton culminating in a handicap casket match whereby the arrogant Orton and daddy Cowboy Bob “Ace “ Orton put ‘Taker in a coffin and set it on fire. Just like old school ‘Taker, no body was found to be in the casket. ‘Taker would later appear intact at the Survivor Series Pay-Per-View event and ultimately defeat Orton in a Hell in the Cell match at the Armageddon Pay-Per-View event.
Come 2006, Undertaker would suffer a great loss to Kurt Angle in a 30-minute Iron man match and would also start a feud with Mark Henry. Henry would lose to the Undertaker in yet another WrestleMania victory, marking 14-0 for the Dead Man.
He was next slated to face the Great Khali in a Punjabi Prison Match, but Khali was replaced by the Big Show (ECW Champion at the time) whom ‘Taker defeated. Undertaker later did face Khali and defeated him on an episode of SmackDown!
2007 was good year for the Undertaker. He won the Royal Rumble for the first time and later defeated Dave Batista to become the WWE World Heavyweight Champion at.. you guessed it..WrestleMania, making his record 15-0.
Undertaker would ultimately drop the title to Edge after Edge cashed in his Money-in-the-Bank contract following an attack on the Undertaker by Mark Henry.
He then feuded with Henry and Batista again and eventually made his way back to WrestleMania and won the Heavyweight Title again from Edge, making his undefeated streak 16-0. Vickie Guerrero, the acting general manager, stripped Undertaker of the belt (owing to the use of his “Hell’s Gate” finishing move, a submission hold whereby the front of the victim’s neck is forced into Undertaker’s leg which is placed in a figure 4 position) and he and Edge fought again with the Undertaker losing.
He then resumed a feud with the Big Show with Undertaker winning a “Last Man Standing” contest and in a later casket match to end their feud.
Next followed another rivalry with HBK over ‘Taker’s undefeated streak leading up to one of the best WrestleMania matches of all time, second only to Savage-Steamboat at WrestleMania III. ‘Taker won the encounter at WrestleMania XXV, making his undefeated streak 17-0.
After a period of time off, Undertaker returned to WWE programming and started a rivalry with then Heavyweight Champion CM Punk. Their feud culminated in a Hell in a Cell match with Undertaker winning another run as Heavyweight Champion. He would later dropped the strap to Chris Jericho. This occurred at the Elimination Chamber Pay-Per-View event when a pyrotechnics mishap occurred, causing ‘Taker to sustain first and second degree burns on his body, yet continue on with the match.
Undertaker made history yet again when he faced HBK in a hotly anticipated Streak vs. Career match at Wrestle Mania XXVI. The rules were that Michaels had to defeat ‘Taker’s winning streak or retire and if ‘Taker lost, he would retire. Michaels was defeated and humbly retired.
Taker was seriously injured after a bout against Rey Mysterio Jr. injuring his orbital bone again, a broken nose and a concussion. While out of action for a period to recoup, he retuned with a vengeance and fought Mysterio while Kane was revealed as being the real culprit behind the attack.
Kane and ‘Taker feuded (again) in a series of matches with Undertaker losing owing to interference from the Nexus as well as a returning Paul Bearer.
At WrestleMania XXVII, Undertaker continued his undefeated streak by winning a submission victory over Triple H. he then underwent a ten-month hiatus from active competition, only to re-appear and face Triple H again at WrestleMania XXVIII. Here, he would cement his streak as 20 -0 by defeating Helmsley in a hell in the Cell match with HBK Michaels as special guest referee.
When Paul Bearer passed away in 2013, CM Punk belittled Undertaker’s respect for his old manager by stealing ’Taker and Bearer’s ceremonial urn. ‘Taker fought Punk at WrestleMania 29 and taught him a lesson, making his winning streak 21-0.
He feuded briefly against the Shield and its member Dean Ambrose after which a huge turning point transpired – a challenge from a returning Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania XXX. For the first time in history, Undertaker lost a pinfall victory to Lesnar, ending his ‘Mania winning streak which some say never would have occurred.
In 2015 after a brief earl feud with Bray Wyatt, ‘Taker resumed his bad blood with Lesnar and the two engaged in some viscous encounters with ‘Taker ultimately losing again to Lesnar in a Hell in the Cell match-up.
One the feud with Lesnar was a done deal, Undertaker reunited with Kane to face the Wyatt family with the Brothers of Destruction emerging victorious.
WrestleMania XXXII rolled around and Undertaker picked up his winning steak again by defeating Shane McMahon in a Hell in a Cell encounter.
Undertaker dud not do too much in 2016, appearing her and there for promotional reasons and lost in the Royal Rumble event. He then faced Roman Reigns at WrestleMania XXXIII to a losing effort and thus signaled his formal retirement from the squared circle.
As this profile can attest, the Undertaker is one of a kind – a consummate professional that has re-invented himself time and time again. He always had the fan’s best interests at heart and did his ultimate best in every angle, every match. He will surely be missed as one of the greats this profession has ever known and likely will ever know.
Special thanks to Dr. Stephen Balsky for contributing the above wrestler profile.
Dr. Stephen Balsky is a chiropractor currently in practice in his native Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He has been a wrestling fan since age 13 and is very passionate about the product, especially the “old-school” 80’s – 90’s era. He completed his Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree in 2015 and currently is also working part-time as a professor in both business and healthcare.