Undertaker Early History
Throughout it’s storied history. Many in the pro wrestling business have spoken about the importance of creating big moments to leave a legacy within the annuals of sports entertainment folklore.
In the World Wrestling Entertainment, the largest wrestling company in the world. This idea on the significance of big moments is particularly key to the company’s presentation.
Throughout the last 50 years, countless stars have entered the ever-evolving world of the WWE. In that time, many men have caught the attention of the fans with their ability to create these larger than life moments.
Fewer men have turned that attention into a career and through years of hard-work and exceptional levels of talent, became legends.
Fewer still have achieved what the man who is the topic of this video, has achieved.
Over a career spanning 5 decades, The Undertaker managed to capture the hearts of audiences around the world, in a way which no other performer in the entire history of pro wrestling has ever matched.
Today, I want to explore the early history of Mark Calaway and the ignition of a spark within him, transforming him into an industry defining phenom.
I want to dig deeper into the exact components which The Undertaker brought together in a way which revolutionised the way in which the entire sport is presented in the current day. From his electrifying entrance, his ever-changing personas, and his iconic move set.
I want to explore the man outside of the ring, behind the curtain and at home to better understand just what it takes to live such an unusual and extraordinary life, from his family, his friends and his enemies within the pro wrestling business.
Finally, I will aim to bring all this together and create a complete picture of the Deadman, the Phenom, The American Bad Ass, Mark Calaway – The Undertaker.
In the world of sports and entertainment, we so often see that those who are considered to be world class, the top of their league – have shown huge potential and a great affinity for their chosen activity from an incredibly young age.
Whether it be Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his famous musical compositions, created from the age of 3. Pablo Picasso’s innate ability to draw before we uttered his first words. Serena Williams became a pro tennis player at just 13 and hasn’t slowed down since.
Born Mark William Calaway in Houston, Texas on March 24th 1965, The Undertaker’s beginnings saw him excel in sports due to his love for the training and competition and also, in no small part due to his enormous stature, he loomed over children of the same age and dominated on both the American football field and the basketball court whilst he attended Waltrip High School through his teens.
The youngest child, to four older brothers, Mark Calaway not only had a natural large frame, but had from a young age constantly engaged in play-fighting and competitive hobbies with his siblings.
This certainly fed into his ability to use his size and power and helped toughen the young man, preparing him for his future career.
When Mark Calaway graduated in 1983, he immediately gained a scholarship for basketball at Angelina College in Lufkin, Texas, where he continued to excel in his physical achievements and gained the attention of the scouts at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth where he studied sport management alongside his on court activities.
It was in 1985 when Mark Calaway was selected to play for the Texas Wesleyan Rams basketball team, playing with them throughout the 85-86 season, but not managing to dominate on the court as he once had.
Partly due to the natural way in which now his competition had been refined, most of them were now as tall as him if not taller, Mark even considered moving to play ball in Europe at one stage, but those plans seemingly fell through.
But in another part of Mark’s brain, something which he admits held him back during his time at university – was the desire to compete in a new industry, to try something completely different, to step out of his comfort zone and become someone different.
Just like most young people, at that age, we are all in a constant state of flux. From our ever changing hormones, leading to more erratic emotional changes, deciding on our hopes and expectations for the future and beginning on a path that maybe the start of a life long career.
As we look back, it is easy to say that Mark Calaway made the perfect decision is turning away from basketball and lacing up his wrestling boots.
But at that time, the future was still unknown for the man that would become, The Undertaker.
It is fair to say that in 1986 as Mark Calaway was beginning to search for someone to train him in the art of pro wrestling – that the industry was enamoured with larger than life action, larger than life personalities and most importantly, larger than life physiques.
At this time, Mark Calaway was lucky enough in that regard, to have grown to be 6 foot 8 with a well built body. His past in basketball meant he was considerably quicker than most his size and certainly more agile.
When he walked into the gym of Buzz Sawyer in late 1986, Mark Calaway was disappointed to be met by a sense of disinterest and what he would later refer to as ‘a lack of commitment’.
Never the less he put in the effort to get into even better physical shape and absorbed the ‘limited education’ provided to him by Buzz Sawyer.
On June 26th 1987, Calaway, still a complete wrestling novice - adorned a thick luchador mask and entered into his first match under the name Texas Red for World Class Championship Wrestling.
His opponent, in what would have been one of the most intimidating moments in the young man’s life, in front of a packed out crowd at the Dallas Sportatorium, was the terrifying industry legend Bruiser Brody. Texas Red lost the match, but found a partner, the man who accompanied The Undertaker to the ring was known then as Percival Pringle III, but who would later go on to be at the side of the undertaker throughout most of his career, the man known as Paul Bearer.
It was during his time at WCCW that Mark Calaway met and befriended Don Jardine, known in ring as The Spoiler.
Jardine had perfected a move whereby he grabbed an opponent into a wrist lock, then climbed up onto the top rope, and whilst using the opponents arm for balance, would walk across the ropes into the centre of the ring and jump down with a club to the back or fist to the shoulder.
He taught the move to Calaway who made it look even more impressive with chis height, towering over the ring, it fit perfectly with his great balance and composure.
The Undertaker has used this move in most of his matches throughout his entire career and yes in a sense of realism it is a little bit of a stretch. But in pro wrestling, it has become an iconic part of the Undertaker’s old school move set.
The Master Of Pain
By 1988, Calaway had moved to the Continental Wrestling Association and began to make more influential connections within the company.
The most important of which – Dutch Mantel, would be Calaway’s manager in his first match for the CWA.
Coming to the ring as ‘The Master Of Pain’, we heard tales of this man’s past before he became a wrestler. The Master Of Pain, had supposedly earned his moniker after leaving the United States Penitentiary, serving 5 years in solitary confinement for killing two men in a fist fight.
This aura surrounding the new arrival only grew when following The Master Of Pain’s second match, he refused to leave the ring and instead put out a challenge to the then holder of the USWA Unified World Heavyweight Championship, Jerry Lawler.
To be so bold. So confident in your abilities. As a relative newcomer to the wrestling industry.
Shows how Mark Calaway has, from an incredibly early stage in his career, been allowed to step beyond the usual boundaries of someone with his lack of experience.
Jerry Lawler couldn’t be seen to be afraid of this unknown entity, and thus made his way to the ring – where he offered to prove his worth in a match, to begin immediately.
Looking back, with the size difference between the two and the success that Calaway would have over the following 3 decades, it’s not really a surprise that The Master Of Pain took control of Lawler and dominated him throughout the pairs first brief encounter.
One which was cut short when Dutch Mantel stepped in and stopped the onslaught.
By April 1st, The Master Of Pain had declared himself number one contender and displayed his power over the current champion, enough to earn himself a legitimate title shot.
In a career whereby the Undertaker has continually defied the odds and gone against the pre-existing script of how pro wrestling was presented, this was something of a genesis moment.
In his first title match in his career, The Master Of Pain beat Jerry Lawler and won his first championship belt. It may not have been the longest run in his career, Calaway would drop the belt just three weeks later back to Jerry Lawler, but regardless, this victory gave Calaway the taste for success and would set the tone for the rest of his career.
After losing his championship match, Calaway was rebranded and presented as ‘The Punisher’ with little back story and a different look, but the same dominating demeanour we’ve grown accustomed to from The Undertaker over the years.
On October 5th 1989 Eric Embry was forced to forfeit the WCWA Texas Heavyweight Championship and it was handed to ‘The Punisher’ without contest, However he would never lose the belt before late 1989 when he would make the first big move of his career.
World Championship Wrestling
Mark Calaway’s stock continued to rise as he joined World Championship Wrestling at the end of 1989, where under the advice of Terry Funk created the character Mean Mark Callous.
Mean Mark came to the ring in WCW wearing mostly black, with a more dark edge to his persona. Jim Ross explains to us on commentary that Mean Mark Callous had a keen interest in snakes and regularly listened to such demonic music as Black Sabbath.
Which, by todays standards neither indicate that someone is a villain, nor that they are in anyway affiliated with the darker side of the occult. But, back then, you can see why this type of characterisation existed.
When Sid Viscious was injured, his tag-team The Skyscrapers were left one man giant short. On January 3rd 1990, Mean Mark Callous was paired with Dan Spivey to form a new version of The Skyscrapers as the two men took on Randy Harris and Agent Steel in Mark’s debut for WCW.
At The Clash Of Champions X event the Skyscrapers attacked the tag champions after their match. The infamous Road Warriors responded by demanding a Chicago Street Fight match at the upcoming Wrestle War pay-per-view.
Just days before the event, Dan Spivey left WCW and Mean Mark with little warning. Leaving The Skyscrapers yet again a man short.
This time an unnamed masked wrestler joint Mean Mark in the ring and the pair promptly got defeated by The Road Warriors, leaving no option but for the Skyscrapers to officially disband not long after.
As Mark Calaway yet again reassess his position within the company he took strides towards further success in his singles career.
And, yet again, Calaway proved to be a man who many saw a lot of potential in. It was at this time that he met Paul E. Dangerously aka Paul Heyman and thus begins a story of two men whose careers intersect and intertwine for over 3 decades.
Paul E. Dangerously soon became a mentor of sorts to Mean Mark Callous as a character and Mark Calaway as a man.
Callous’ singles run was off to a better start than before with wins against Johnny Ace at Capital Combat and Brian Pillman at Clash Of Champions XI.
Callous was starting to become much more comfortable infront of the crowds and cameras as his confidence grew.
At this time, Calaway travelled to Japan in order to better improve his in-ring ability and grappling technique.
Although incredibly brief, for the few matches he wrestled during this time, Calaway went under yet another in-ring name, ‘Punisher’ Dice Morgan.
One man who did not see the potential in Calaway was WCW legend, Ole Anderson who during a contract negation, told Calaway that “nobody would ever want to pay to see you wrestle”.
Understandably, Mark Calaway has spoken out since, about how this effected his stability within the company and pushed his to seek a future elsewhere.
At The Great American Bash in 1990, Calaway’s opportunity came. The word had gotten to him before the event that none other than Vince McMahon, the head of WCW’s biggest rivals the World Wrestling Federation, was considering signing him and would be scouting him on television during the match that night.
Bruce Prichard, "feelers had already been sent out to the WWF by Heyman. McMahon initially did not express interest, but Prichard encouraged him to speak with Calaway when WCW traveled to New Jersey.”
Calaway knew when he laced up his boots that day that he had to do everything he could to impress and went out to have a hard-fought NWA US Championship match against Lex Luger.
In a horrible turn of events, Calaway dislocated his hip and must have been in blinding pain.
None the less, showing that in the wrestling industry you have to be a little mad to succeed – wrestled to the finish of the match with his hip completely out of it’s joint – something which is said to have impressed Vince McMahon.
After the match the deal was agreed in principle and Mark Calaway handed in his notice to leave WCW on August 27th.
He wrestled his last match in WCW losing to Dave Johnson on September 7th, before briefly returning to USWA for a Unified World Heavyweight Championship tournament but was knocked out by his old nemesis in the company Jerry Lawler.
At this point, Calaway had travelled around the country, to Japan and back. He had gained a better understanding of the inner workings of the industry from those who came before him.
He had made great friendships which would last until this very day. And most importantly, he had refined his performance skills in a way which would create the foundations for one of the most outstanding and important careers in all of sports entertainment.