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Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Bell Has Tolled, and For The Last Time

I don't talk about it much anymore, but when I was younger, I was really into professional wrestling. I was a mark (someone who believed it was real) for a while when I first started watching, but when I became a smark (a fan who knows about the choreography and storytelling) I began to enjoy it even more.

I've drifted away from it as I've grown. I used to be tuned in every Monday night for WWF RAW and WCW Nitro, through the Monday Night Wars and the nWo and all of the drama, but one thing kept me coming back: The Undertaker.

I wasn't there for the debut of The Undertaker, but I clearly remember through the haze of the years seeing on a friend's television a re-run of the Summerslam event where The Undertaker fought a fake Undertaker. I was mesmerized. Being a weird kid from a young age, seeing something so bizarre and otherworldly was inspiring and exciting, and growing from weird kid into goth kid in high school kept me connected to the 'Taker and his storylines.

The other day, after seeing Logan, I jokingly told a friend that I couldn't take Wolverine and The Undertaker retiring within a month of each other. There's some truth to that; The Undertaker retiring has hit me harder than any of the celebrity deaths that were all the rage in the last year. Even though I wasn't a regular viewer, and watching wrestling had dwindled down to finding streams of his rare matches on the internet some weeks after they took place, I still came back to watch The Undertaker fight.

I get that it's not real. He's not really a cult leader, or an undead cowboy, or an old west zombie mortician. I get that wrestling isn't a real fight... but it's still athleticism. It's still people putting their bodies at risk for entertainment, and it's still about putting on a god damn good show, and no one did that better than Mark Calaway.
Even at age 50, the man can still do a 40 inch vertical leap.
Even at a billed height of 6 foot 10, inches he's climbing the top rope and diving over it like a man a full foot shorter would do.
He's throwing punches that makes you cringe when they (at least appear to) connect.
And that's just the physicality! The theatrics are on another level entirely. They've changed over the years, keeping the gimmick of "The Undertaker" fresh, and I haven't always liked them (Big Evil and American Badass I can choose to overlook), but that coat and hat will always be remembered.

This last weekend was his final appearance. I haven't seen the whole match, but I saw the important part: I saw what happened after the match. They played his music, and the lights dimmed. He put his hat and coat back on, faced the crowds cheering him on like a victorious Roman gladiator, and then...

Then he took his coat and hat off. Folded his coat and laid it in the ring. Took his hat off and laid it on his coat. The Undertaker retired.

It was time, too. I'm glad he's walking away at this point. Tall guys like him are prone to injury, and given how hard he's worked, and how much he's put that body through, he's probably falling apart by now.

He's left a huge legacy behind, both in the ring and out, as I've heard stories about how he's helped out people and has been extremely supportive to the people he's worked with, and I'll always be a fan.

Good night, Dead Man. You'll always be remembered.
I've certainly paid my Ministry of Darkness Dues

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