The Undertaker returns to Madison Square Garden for Tuesday’s SmackDown Live, but it hasn’t been long since he was on fans’ television screens. Just three days ago, he appeared on ESPN’s College GameDay.
A WWE star for the past three decades, The Undertaker entered the show to an introduction and entrance befitting of a superstar. A Texas resident, the 54-year-old Mark Calaway is a passionate Longhorns fan and made perfect sense for a celebrity guest.
The Undertaker spent some time on set with hosts Rece Davis, Kirk Hirbstreit, and David Pollack before the Texas Longhorns were defeated, 45–38, by LSU on Saturday night.
GameDay is constantly looking to reach a different audience beyond their core football fans, and bringing in someone like The Undertaker helped accomplish that goal. The show has a very good relationship with the WWE, as all parties were thrilled a year ago by last September’s appearance by Roman Reigns.
Paul “Triple H” Levesque, WWE’s Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events, and Creative, believes that The Undertaker’s appearance on GameDay represented an opportunity for the company to reintroduce itself to millions of viewers on ESPN.
“There are certain people that transcend their industry and become cultural icons, and The Undertaker transcends the WWE,” said Levesque. “This was Vince’s vision at WrestleMania I: the integration of pop culture. So this was an opportunity for us to reach out to new fans, to reach out to lax fans, to reach out to everybody and create that buzz about what we do.”
Due diligence is always performed about who will be in town for big games and during the research process for a game featuring two top ten nationally ranked teams in Texas, the GameDay crew learned that The Undertaker was going to be present for the game.
Drew Gallagher, the coordinating producer for GameDay, was the core person to make it happen, and the show’s director, Rodney Perez, is a big WWE fan. The smoke-filled entrance was coordinated by Perez.
GameDay rehearsed the open on Friday, which isn’t abnormal as the show rehearses lots of its special segments. ’Taker was not present for the Friday rehearsal.
’Taker does not do many interviews, so having him speak out of character added an entirely different element to the show.
“The ‘Attitude Era’ changed the way people spoke and trash-talked one another,” said Levesque. “We’d see NFL players do the DX crotch chop when they’d score a touchdown, or raise their eyebrow and laying the smack down, Austin’s ‘Oh hell yeah!’, so much of that crossed over, like Cena’s ‘You Can’t See Me,’ too. That extends well beyond our business, and for our talent, that’s when you truly know you’re getting to the place you want to be in this industry.
“WWE has crossover appeal. Whether you’re a fan or not, people all over the globe know who The Undertaker is. So whether it’s Undertaker on College GameDay or Becky Lynch on SportsCenter, talent appearing on Fallon or throwing first pitches at baseball games, our talent are integrated into every walk of life. That’s an opportunity to platform WWE to people and being relevant on a day-to-day basis in pop culture.”