Natalya: Undertaker will be missed
The Undertaker wrestles Bret “The Hitman” Hart with Shawn Michaels as the referee. (Courtesy of WWE )
When one of your co-workers is named The Undertaker, you know your job is really cool.
Two weeks ago, I competed at WrestleMania 33 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando in front of more than 75,000 people. I walked down one of the longest ramps in WWE history and competed against five other women for the SmackDown Women’s Championship. As I was walking down the ramp, I looked out into the crowd filled with fans from all 50 states and 62 countries that love WWE as much as I do, and I thought of the others who had walked this path before me. (Trust me, that ramp was so long, many names crossed my mind!)
Later that night, I found out that The Undertaker was competing in what could be his last-ever match in WWE. A part of my childhood screamed out “NO!!” I’m sure others felt this way, too.
There’s a reason that Taker is affectionately called the Phenom. He truly is phenomenal in every way — not just as a performer, but also as a leader, mentor and friend.
The Undertaker’s WWE career started some 27 years ago at Survivor Series. The sports entertainment industry changed that night, although no one knew it then. The record books were rewritten after he debuted on the scene. The Undertaker wasn’t just a WWE Superstar; he was a phenomenon. Also known as the Deadman, he was the leader of leaders in the WWE locker room. When he walked in, he commanded everyone’s respect.
We all sat up a little straighter, minded our manners a little better and paid closer attention to his every word. Every single person in that locker room wanted to be better in the ring because we wanted to make Taker proud. Even after a decade of working with him, that feeling never changed. And it was the biggest compliment in the world to get praise from him.
The Undertaker, at nearly seven feet tall and more than 300 pounds, wasn’t just a presence. He embodied everything good about our industry. He was fearless and talented; he commanded respect and he left it all in the ring. And he did it with class and a fierce loyalty to WWE.
One of my favourite Taker matches was against Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 25. It was an unbelievable match with an incredible story of mythological proportions featuring two titans of this industry. The Undertaker’s character represented the dark side while Shawn Michaels stood for a lighter side, a man who got down on his knees and prayed to the heavens during his ring entrance. Taker was imposing, intimidating and overpowering, while Michaels, the Heartbreak Kid, was fearless, unbreakable and relentless. Together, they told a beautiful story contrasting good and evil while showcasing breathtaking athleticism and chemistry that left the world wanting more.
When you watched The Undertaker compete, you always expected that the imposing, sometimes downright scary, phenom was going to win. But he possessed an extraordinary ability to dominate, while also allowing his opponent to shine bright alongside him. He truly was one of a kind.
Such was the case during his classic feud against Kurt Angle in their 2006 match at No Way Out. I was on the edge of my seat. I didn’t know who was going to win and I got lost in the drama of the story. There was something mysterious and complex about The Undertaker, yet there was also a beauty and simplicity to his performance.
My uncle, WWE Hall of Famer Bret “Hitman” Hart, eloquently paid tribute to The Undertaker on social media following WrestleMania, saying “I want to congratulate my close friend, The Undertaker, on a great career. I salute you for being a great leader, a phenomenal worker and WWE’s greatest war horse. I cherish my memories working together in the ring and I’ll never forget how you had my back so many times over so many years. As a fan, I’ll miss you always. Thank you for everything, you are as iconic as iconic gets.”
It truly is the end of an era.
If indeed we have witnessed his last match, the legend of The Undertaker will never die. The Phenom not only left his mark on WWE but also on every person who ever watched him or encountered him inside a ring.
And we’re all better for the privilege of watching him perform or competing against him.
Thank you, Taker, for everything.
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Natalya Neidhart is a Calgary Sun columnist when not competing for WWE. Her column appears on Fridays.