The Undertaker Turns 52: Remembering His ‘WrestleMania’ Legacy And Greatest Matches [Opinion]

Mark William Calaway, or The Undertaker as wrestling fans all know him, is celebrating his 52nd birthday today. And if you’ve followed his career for a while, you’ll know that he’s been a mainstay of WWE programming for more than two-and-a-half decades, having debuted at the 1990 Survivor Series. And while it would be nice on this day to look back on The Undertaker’s WrestleMania legacy and think about his best matches of all time, it’s also important to address the proverbial elephant in the room — as WWE has recently been teasing, it might not be long before the man alternately nicknamed as “The Deadman” and “The Phenom” calls it a wrestling career.

Letting the legacy of “The Streak” live on

It’s been almost three years since it happened — at WrestleMania XXX, Brock Lesnar became the “one in 21-and-1,” defeating The Undertaker and ending his 21-match winning streak at WWE’s “show of shows.” It was a shocker to fans all over the world, not the least to the fan you see in the photo above, who became an internet celebrity of sorts due to his expression saying it better than anyone of us could have — the Streak might not have been meant to be broken.

Obviously, there’s nothing we can do about the legendary streak being broken, but I’d say it would be a travesty if anyone, regardless of their place on WWE’s card, breaks The Undertaker’s WrestleMania record of 21 straight wins at the event as long as we’re alive. That’s something no one should try to take away from him, especially in a sport like wrestling, where the results are predetermined. Basketball has Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game, and baseball used to have Babe Ruth and Roger Maris’ single-season home run records and Hank Aaron’s career home run record. Let the WWE, or pro wrestling in general, have The Undertaker’s winning streak at WrestleMania.

What matches should rank among The Undertaker’s best?

Now this is a topic where your mileage will greatly vary, and as far as this writer is concerned, two matches immediately come to mind, starting with Undertaker’s 1998 Hell in a Cell match against Mankind (a.k.a. Mick Foley). Due to WWE’s desire to make its wrestling product safer, we’re hardly likely to see anything so brutal in the immediate foreseeable future. But even if this match may have had too much brawling for this particular fan of technical wrestling, that’s really nitpicking if you consider the great storytelling and the crazy bumps taken during this match. Chief among these include the moment where The Undertaker threw Mankind from the top of the Hell in a Cell cage, crashing 16 feet down on the Spanish announce table.

But since we’re celebrating The Undertaker’s birthday and looking forward to WrestleMania in little more than a week from now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my other personal favorite – the Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker Career vs. Streak match at WrestleMania XXVI. Even if we all knew what was going to happen – ‘Taker goes over as Michaels had long been rumored to be due to retire – that didn’t stop both men from giving it their all and, once again, telling the perfect story with their bodies and their in-ring moves.

Although Sportskeeda ranked it third in its list of best Undertaker matches at WrestleMania, the publication was very effusive in describing how ‘Taker and HBK “put the younger (wrestlers) to shame” with their barn-burning match.

“Counters met counters as both wrestlers fought to their end. But nothing registers in mind as much as The Showstopper defiantly slapping The Undertaker even when he was drained so much that he couldn’t stand straight. That one moment transcended the bout from a mere classic to a stuff of legends.”

Aside from those two, you’ve also got to take into account some of The Undertaker’s other WrestleMania matches, such as his well-received matches against Batista (23) and Edge (XXIV). You’ve also got the first-ever Hell in a Cell match in 1997, where he had also fought Shawn Michaels. As documented in this Reddit post, that match stood out because of its rare five-star rating from veteran wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer.

The elephant in the room: How should Undertaker retire?

Although the WWE Universe would certainly like to recognize The Undertaker’s birthday, the fact that he’s another year older means he might be another step closer to retirement. And that brings us to another point: If The Undertaker’s WrestleMania 33 match against Roman Reigns will mark his pro wrestling swan song, how should he go out?

As Forbes related, The Undertaker hasn’t been in the best physical condition as of late, and is believed to be retiring soon. That’s led many to believe that WWE will have Roman Reigns beat The Undertaker at WrestleMania 33, though the negative fan reactions Reigns keeps getting tells us that might not be a very popular creative decision. Still, this decision has often been referred to as a “passing of the torch” moment from a certified legend to a man WWE wants as its next face of the company.

As I’ve criticized WWE’s over-pushing of Reigns in the past, I am loathe to admit it, but the best way for Undertaker to end his career just might be a touching show of respect between both competitors, much like what we saw after ‘Taker retired Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXVI, followed by a retirement speech on the next day’s episode of Monday Night RAW.

So with all that said, we’d like to wish The Undertaker a happy birthday and hope WWE makes the right creative decisions for the Roman Reigns vs. Undertaker match at WrestleMania 33. The least “The Deadman” deserves, after all, is to somehow end his career on a positive note, should he indeed be retiring within the coming weeks.

[Featured Image by WWE]