The Undertaker in the wrestling world is probably one of the most iconic figures in the industry; and also quite possibly a house hold name around the world. The Undertaker was introduced to us by World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE); back then World Wrestling Federation (WWF); 25 years ago for the first time on TV at Survivor Series(1990) on Ted Dibiase’s Million Dollar team. Eliminating both Koko B Ware and Dusty Rhodes before getting counted out. Although his team won this new character made quite an impact. And who knew at the time that the character would go through a few transformations through the years but always somehow stick to his roots and with Vince and the WWE.
But before all this he had a brief stint in World Championship Wrestling (WCW) ** 1989 to 1990
Between 1984 and 1989 the Undertaker worked for WCCW, CWA (which later became the USWA). But somewhere between all this when a young Mark Calaway had less than a handful of matches under his belt and still in training for one of his big debuts, they needed a big texan on a tour to South Africa. South Africa was sort of a hidden territory in the 80’s and early 90’s. If you ask any of the British wrestlers who traveled there like Fit Finlay or William Reagal I'm sure they have some awesome and some horror stories to tell you. The likes of Andre the Giant and Hogan they all ended up there very early in their careers. Wrestling in South Africa was at its peak back then with the Super Heavyweight Champion named Jan Wilkens a world class act that nobody had ever heard of anywhere else in the world.
I once asked Mark about his experience down in South Africa with less than a handful of matches and his face just lit up. Saying that it might actually have been his very first match in front of a live audience. It was in the WestRidge Tennis stadium in Durban South Africa where evidentially 15 years later where I myself had my very first match. And till this day WWE still runs shows in this same building when they tour South Africa. The funny thing is the building hasn't changed one bit since then! Every time I bring it up to Mark or Fit or Reagal who have worked there multiple times they just laugh at the fact that the building is exactly the way it was over 25 years ago and even back then it was kind of a dump. But it has so much history. I can remember going to watch matches there and obviously when I made my wrestling debut at 16 years of age in this building it was rather special. As per South African tradition everyones first match in this era when they broke into the business was against my father. The Pink Panther. And mine was no different. Years later when I got to tour with the WWE and we ran that building the night we ran in that building would've been my fathers birthday. So it was extra special to me. And I found it very endearing that Mark found the same happiness in this story as I did all his stories from his time in SA and also in this building. To his day the building still hasn't changed a bit!
To me sharing stories over the years like these with others, especially a legend like the Undertaker is priceless. His willingness to help and talk about the past and also further the business into the future is like no other wrestler/performer/entertainer on this planet. And lets not forget the streak. We all know what it is and it will for sure never be duplicated in our life times. Probably never if you ask the experts who claim to know a little more about this crazy business that we all love so much. Nobody deserves it more than Taker. He had put all his blood sweat and tears and hard work and dedication into this and have always and still give a 100% every time he sets foot in the ring. You can say what you want but the man is a living legend, an icon, a mystery in a way but just an all round nice guy who has a passion for this business especially the WWE. How can one not appreciate that and all his done for this industry.
Who knows what the future holds for the phenom, the deadman. His legacy is already immortalized yet he gives us hope and more than we can ever ask of him each year that goes by. I am so looking forward to see what they have planned for Wrestle Mania this year. Its set to be in Arlington Texas which is the home state of Taker. Will we see the retirement match? Or will we have yet another swerve in the fantastic career of the deadman? Who knows but I’m excited to see whats next…..
In closing, Whenever the Undertaker was around at NXT or FCW students of the game would surround him and pick his brain and could sometimes sit there for hours listening to his stories and advice. You'd think with all the knowledge his built up overt the years he’d actually be a great trainer of some sort or ambassador for our sport. One of the questions that a student asked him at one of these sessions really stood out to me. He was asked if he’d ever write a book. Which he laughed and replied “Not while my mother is till alive”. I found that very fascinating from a human being who has undoubtedly lived a life that every fan, peer and person who knows about his accomplishments wants to read about. I guess only time will tell…….
This article was originally written for Total Wrestling Magazine (December issue)