The final days of October are slipping away and Halloween is almost upon us, so what better time to swing open the gates of the prop graveyard for a stroll through the fake cobweb-coated career of The Phenom, the legend, The Undertaker.
While he’s never been the very top guy in any company he’s been in, The Undertaker has, year by year, built an enviable career that’s included seven world titles, a 21-match win streak at Wrestlemania and a whole hell of a lot of interesting behind-the-scenes stories. Ring the gong and cue the druids, here’s 13 facts you might not know about The Undertaker…
1) The Undertaker almost made it as a basketball player. The Undertaker may be tall, but he’s never been the most fluid, coordinated guy in the ring, and despite being a quarter Native American he comes off as pretty damn white, so it’s hard to imagine the guy as a professional basketball player, but there was a time it could have been in his future.
Taker as the biggest, and dorkiest, dude on his highschool basketball team.
Early on Taker’s career he split his time between pro wrestling and Texas college basketball and apparently, he was pretty good. Ultimately, Taker must have seen more potential in the world of wrestling or, perhaps more accurately, more potential for partying, which was a chief concern for much of Taker’s early career.
2) It took six tries before Undertaker landed on a winning character. When people are asked to name a guy whose career success largely hinged on their gimmick, The Undertaker is generally the first name to come to mind. Not that Taker isn’t talented, but he wasn’t always the worker he is today and it’s hard to believe he’d have become THE LEGENDARY PHENOM without the Dead Man gimmick.
Aw, look at the baby Taker.
The Undertaker didn’t stumble upon a home-run gimmick right away though. Between 1984 and 1990, Mark Calaway, the man behind The Undertaker, cycled through a steady series of unsuccessful personas. Mark started in Texas’ World Class Championship Wrestling as Texas Red, moved onto an ex-con character called The Master of Pain, then renamed himself The Punisher, because by then it was almost the 90s, so of course he did. In 1990 he jumped to WCW, where he played Mean Mark Callous, a character who was sort of a proto-Undertaker. Also, during his time in WCW he did some wrestling in Japan as Punisher Dice Morgan, which is yet more definitive proof that nobody is better at naming things than the Japanese.
So yeah, if you ever feel like giving up on some poor shmoe or shmoette in NXT, just remember, sometimes it takes six years and five gimmicks of varying degrees of goofiness before something clicks.
3) Paul Bearer was with him for his very first match. Paul Bearer, aka William Moody was an essential part of the Undertaker act throughout most of the 90s, but Moody was actually in Mark Calaway’s corner well before his turn to the dark side.
Father and son.
During the early 80s, Moody played Percy Pringle III in various promotions throughout the southern US and Texas. The Pringle character was somewhat effeminate, egotistical and a cartoonishly awful dresser – in other words, he was a typical 80s manager.
Everyone from The Missing Link to Lex Luger to The Ultimate Warrior during his early Dingo Warriors days were managed by Pringle. Ultimately though, it was a single match from 1984 that would set fate in motion, as Pringle would manage a youngster going by Texas Red in his debut match against Bruiser Brody. Texas Red would lose that match, and Moody/Pringle wouldn’t have much to do with the rookie after that, but when time came to choose a manager for the newly minted Undertaker six years later in the WWF, Calaway would remember the over-the-top entertainer who had managed him in his first ever match.
A beautiful man…and Rick Rude.
4) Paul’s Nickname for Taker is “Wendy”. Paul Bearer has always dutifully kowtowed to Taker on air, but apparently he wasn’t afraid to bust his balls in private. Behind the scenes, Bearer’s nickname for Taker was Wendy, because his naturally red hair and freckles made him look like the Wendy’s mascot you see. So hey, you’re in good company, Heath Slater.
5) Undertaker was once “really good friends” with Jenna Jameson. We all know Undertaker has a thing for the blondes, but apparently he had an, uh, complicated relationship with one of the most infamous blondes of the 90s and early 2000s.
According to Jameson’s autobiography How to Make Love Like a Porn Star, she first met Taker when she was 16, and no, thankfully this isn’t going to the place your mind just jumped to. Taker happened to be a frequent customer at a tattoo joint owned by Jameson’s boyfriend at the time, and the Dead Man was actually freaked out by the teenager’s constant presence, fearing she might narc on some of the non-ink related activities going on in the place. Years later Taker would meet Jameson again while she was dancing (younger Taker was a legendary connoisseur of the art of dance), recognize her from the tattoo parlor, and being a friendly nostalgic sorta guy, strike up a friendship.
Hey, if you’re one of the few guys who can open with “Don’t I remember you from somewhere?” with Jenna and have it not be sleazy, you go for it.
Said friendliness would continue until Taker made things weird by threatening a guy who tried to buy Jameson a drink while he was around. So hey, you never know – if Taker hadn’t blown it, his Instagram pics might be just a little less wholesome today.
6) Taker was a Paul Heyman guy. Paul Heyman may be modern day WWE’s ultimate villain for orchestrating the death of The Undertaker’s illustrious Wrestlemania winning streak at the hands of Brock Lesnar, but it turns out Paul and Taker’s relationship wasn’t always so acrimonious. Yes, like seemingly everyone important guy to come along in the last 20-years or more, The Undertaker was once a Paul Heyman guy.
In fact, Taker was one of the first Heyman guys – a young Heyman would debut in WCW in 1988 and one of his first clients was the “Mean Mark” incarnation of Undertaker. They didn’t stick together for long, but I bet Taker still has a story about Paul owing him money.
7) The Undertaker might not exist if it weren’t for Hulk Hogan crapfest Suburban Commando. Have you ever watched classic Hulk Hogan vehicle Suburban Commando? If you haven’t, you need to get on that – it’s got Hulk as an intergalactic alien warrior! And Christopher Lloyd as, uh, a Christopher Lloyd-esque character. It may be the most agreeably deranged Hulk Hogan movie ever made, and that covers some wide f*cking territory.
Oh, and it also featured a then mostly unknown wrestler taking a shot at acting named Mark Calaway.
Taker, who played alien bounty hunter Hutch in the movie, started doing some beefy dude bro-in’ out with Hogan on the set, and the Hulkster was impressed by both Taker’s size and decent (by wrestling dude standards) acting abilities, so called up Vince McMahon and vouched for his new big pal. Taker hasn’t appeared in a movie since, but I guess any further movies would be a disappointment when his first role scored him a mythical 25-year run with WWE.
8) The Undertaker has never tapped out. Speaking of the streak, it may be over, but Taker still has another impressive stat under his belt – the Dead Man has never tapped out his entire career. The closest he came was in a match with Kurt Angle where he tapped just as Angle’s shoulders were counted down for the three, resulting in a no-contest. If you want to count that as a tap out, go ahead, but then you also have to count a lot of Taker’s wonky Wrestlemania finishes against that streak.
9) The Undertaker was originally named Kane. Yes, The Undertaker was almost given the name of his on-screen “brother”. Taker was first introduced on an episode of WWF Superstars as Kane The Undertaker, but when he had his first match Survivor Series, the announcers screwed up and just called him The Undertaker. Somebody must have thought that sounded better, because the name “Kane” would not be heard again in the WWF until seven years later.
The Big Booger Red Machine.
10) Undertaker tried to form an answer to The Kliq called The Back Stage Krew. During the mid-to-late 90s, WWF was dominated the Kliq, a backstage group made up of Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, Triple H, Scott Hall and Sean Waltman who banded together for fun and career advancement, and hey, with the exception of X-Pac, it’s hard to argue it didn’t work.
Undertaker’s relationship with The Kliq was complicated – he was friends with Nash, but was not at all a fan of the posse’s unofficial leader Shawn Michaels. So, in retaliation, Taker decided to create his own backstage group of super chums, which he dubbed either the Back Stage Krew or the Bone Street Krew depending on who you talk to. Unfortunately, the Back Stage Krew didn’t have the most rigorous membership standards, as the group consisted of Taker, Yokozuna, both Godwinns, Savio Vega, Crush and The Godfather. Yeah. Despite an iffy line-up, the group continues to be commemorated in the large “BSK Pride” tattoo on Taker’s stomach.
Any club that included Mideon is tattoo-worthy in my book
11) The classic Ministry of Darkness version of Taker is his least favorite. A lot of folks would make the case that the Ministry of Darkness era was The Undertaker operating at the height of his powers. His sometimes slightly dorky early years were behind him, and the even dorkier Booger Red years were still beyond the horizon. He was, by that point, a well-honed performer who hadn’t yet started using his legendary status as a crutch. Of course you can argue for different eras, but just know that you’re wrong and I’m right.
Despite being one of his most iconic variations, Undertaker has, on numerous occasions, identified the Ministry of Darkness era as the least favorite of his career. See, by the late 90s Taker had, apparently, given up hanging around with Jenna Jameson and was hitting the church stuff pretty hard, and as such wasn’t thrilled about the Ministry’s Satanic overtones or hanging people on crosses, er, I mean symbols. Taker’s dissatisfaction with the Ministry led directly to the creation of the more down-to-earth (and generally kind of lame) Big Evil persona, so on second thought, maybe I don’t like Ministry of Darkness Undertaker that much after all.
Ministry of Darkness Taker might not be Steph’s favorite either.
12) Taker is the longest continually employed wrestler in WWE history. The Undertaker started in WWF/E in 1990 and never left, meaning he’s been drawing a paycheck for 24 straight years. Now, some employees like Kevin Dunn and Tony Chimel have been employed for longer, but when it comes to actual wrestling talent, not even WWF/E stalwarts like Bruno Sammartino can top The Undertaker.
13) The Undertaker fears cucumbers. Let’s end this thing on a particularly respectful, dignified note, shall we? Apparently the nearly seven-foot, undead, yard curator himself is afraid of a vegetable — cucumbers specifically. I’ll leave the psychoanalysis up to you.
Shoulda filled that thing with pickles, Punk.
The tales of cucumber terror come from Paul Bearer, who’s pretty much the gold standard when it comes to Taker factz, so if this isn’t true, consider it one last great rib by Bearer from beyond the grave. According to Bearer he didn’t even know about Taker’s aversion until he filled his hat with cucumbers for a prank (wrestlers do stupid shit, okay?) and the dead man’s reaction wasn’t so much anger or amusement as “I’m about to terror vomit”. Man, if only we had all known somebody could have challenged Undertaker to a salad-making contest as Wrestlemania and ended the streak ages ago.
So there you have it, 13 facts of a deadman (no theories here). Got any favorite Undertaker stories or facts I didn’t mention? Just want to talk you favorite Taker memories? Have at it.
Want more wrasslin’ Facts? Check out a few about the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, right here.