In December 2000, WWE broadcast the Armageddon pay per view. The show was, at best, mediocre until the main event, when a star-studded cast delivered an unforgettable Hell in a Cell match.
For over 30 minutes, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock, Kurt Angle, The Undertaker, Triple H and Rikishi took turns dazzling the crowd at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center in Birmingham.
The standout moment took place two-thirds of the way through the match, when The Undertaker—no stranger to hurling an opponent off the top of a cage–choke-slammed Rikishi off the top of the cell onto the pine-filled bed of a truck. The chaos of the match is interrupted by that spot, and the camera quickly pans to both Austin and The Rock. Both mega stars, their faces covered in blood, pause to look at the well-being of Rikishi, as well as marvel at a scene created by The Undertaker.
“Taker’s the guy we’d look to in a match when we needed to solve problems or make something happen,” said Paul “Triple H” Levesque. “That match at Armageddon, there were multiple times when we stopped and watched what he was doing. And you had Austin and The Rock, two guys that were on top of the world in this business, and they were both still deferential in the ring to Taker. That was a sign of respect.”
Two constants since Mark Calaway created The Undertaker is the awe and respect he has generated from his peers, and the ability to captivate a crowd. That will be on display Sunday night at the Survivor Series, a show that is celebrating 30 years of The Undertaker.
Now a WWE executive, Levesque has known Calaway for the past 25 years. The two have shared multiple moments together in the ring, ranging from a house show in Western Asia, a battle over the Intercontinental Championship in New York’s Penn Station, all the way to three bouts at WrestleMania—no holds barred matches at WrestleMania 17 and WrestleMania 27, as well as a Hell in a Cell cage match at WrestleMania 28.
There is also a more personal element to their relationship. While Levesque’s affinity for the members of “The Kliq” is well-documented, he also shares a deep bond with Calaway, including asking him to serve as a groomsman at his wedding.
“When I was dating Steph, and people were just starting to find out, Taker was one of the people I saw for counsel,” said Levesque. “A lot of people were very critical of it, but he was a steady, trusted voice. That’s really what he’s always been for me.”
Fittingly, when Levesque asked Calaway to be part of his wedding, it happened during a conversation that took place while getting ready for a match.
“That’s where we always were, so it made the most sense to me to ask there,” said Levesque. “I pulled him aside and said, ‘We have a wedding coming up, and I’d be honored if you’d be one of my groomsmen.’ The only people I thought of asking were the people I thought of [as] brothers to me, and the majority of those people are from this business.
“This is my life, and he’s like a brother to Steph, too. The Undertaker is larger than life, and you can feel that presence in the ring. But there is also the human being, and I’ll always treasure our friendship.”
Levesque has been present for the vast majority of The Undertaker’s run, witnessing the soaring heights and massive popularity. He has also been privy to Calaway’s body breaking down, which has led to the now 55-year-old Undertaker having some matches over the five years that have stood out for all the wrong reasons. Levesque explained how the sight of Calaway questioning himself is particularly jarring, especially considering what he has given to the industry.
“How can he be inside his head?” asked Levesque. “He’s The Undertaker. The same thing used to happen with Flair, and I used to say all the time to him, ‘You’re the only guy here that doesn’t know you’re Ric Flair.’ Whenever I saw that with Taker, I had only one piece of advice for him—and it was, ‘Remember who the f--- you are.’”
Still captivating an audience courtesy of the same fundamental tenets of the character from 30 years ago, The Undertaker will step through the curtain at Sunday night's Survivor Series and reconnect generations of wrestling fans with a style forever unique to wrestling.
“I always think of that Maya Angelou quote about how people always remember how you make them feel,” said Levesque. “That’s The Undertaker.”
A requisite for a pro wrestling retirement is at least one more return. As The Undertaker prepares for his “Final Farewell” at Sunday night's Survivor Series, recognizing his 30-year run in WWE, it is fair to ask if we will ever see The Undertaker wrestle again in WWE. Levesque believes Calaway has earned the right to make any decision he feels best suits the interests of The Undertaker.
“Someone asked me the other day, ‘Do I think he should retire?’” said Levesque. “I’ve also been asked, ‘If he stays retired, shouldn’t he stay retired? Will he come back in two years? Won’t that be a mistake?’ When it comes to all that, I can only give my opinion.
“He represents everything amazing about our business. There is a uniqueness to it; he’s different from any other character. That’s why I think Mark Calaway should be able to do whatever the f--- he wants. He’s earned that right.”