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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: The Undertaker: Long Term Story Telling in Wrestling

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April 2nd, 2017.

Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida.

The closing moments of WrestleMania XXXIII.

A man lies motionless in the center of a ring,

and surrounding him is a sea of people.

They're shocked.

They're angry.

But most of all, they're just... heartbroken.

Eventually the man struggles to sit up,

and facing the crowd with tears in his eyes, he climbs to his feet,

before leaving his jacket, gloves, and hat in the ring.

And moving with slow, heavy strides, he makes his way back up the entrance ramp,

as 75,000 people chant in unison three words:

"Thank you, Taker".

For fans of pro-wrestling, this moment was devastating.

It was the end of a story we had been experiencing most of our lives,

and one that had started when many of us were still children.

But if you're not a fan, this scene likely doesn't mean a whole lot to you.

Maybe you've heard mention of The Undertaker,

perhaps a friend has vented to you over The Streak,

but the specifics of why someone could become emotionally invested in such an...

...odd form of storytelling still evades you.

Well friend, you're in luck, because as you may have been able to tell from my previous video,

I have this borderline unhealthy obsession with convincing non-wrestling fans

that wrestling is not only a legitimate form of storytelling,

but also one capable of delivering narratives distinct from any other medium.

And granted, this video is probably a bad idea, considering it took me a month to make,

people think I'm insane whenever I bring up this subject,

and WWE tend to pursue their copyright claims with all the vigor of Brock Lesnar caving Randy Orton's head in.

But hell, we didn't get to where we are by making decisions that made sense.

So to start, I want to briefly talk about time,

or more specifically, the unusual nature of time in wrestling.

See, wrestling is the only form of ongoing fictional narrative that takes place consistently in real time.

In any other form of media, it's the author, director, writer, or editor who dictates the flow of time,

but because wrestling is still operating under the illusion that it is a competitive sport,

the facade of reality means that it can only be portrayed in real time.

So if we watch Kofi Kingston on WWE Smackdown one week,

and then return the following week for the next,

just as seven days have pased for us,

seven days will also have passed for the fictional persona Kofi Kingston,

making him a fictional character that is aging and growing in real time,

meaning that wrestling is a fictional ongoing universe taking place directly in our reality, in our timeline.

I know that might not sound like a big deal in the short term,

but over time, it can be a powerful tool in storytelling.

And I want you to keep that in mind, because the purpose of this video is twofold.

One, to explore the idea of the professional wrestling persona,

and how it develops a relationship with the audience,

and two, how the passage of time affects that persona, as well as that relationship.

And so to do that, what say we take a trip right back to the WWF of 1991?

The early 90s were a fascinating time for professional wrestling.

The flamboyant powerhouses of the late 80s were beginning to lose their luster

and move on to greener pastures,

and so the creative minds of the WWF were desperate to recapture audience attention any way they could,

and this is what led to the era of the gimmick.

If you're not familiar with the term, a "gimmick" is a wrestler's fictional persona.

A wrestler's gimmick is what makes them distinct from every wrestler on the roster.

It's the character they embody, and that embodiment defines everything,

from their wrestling style and moveset in the ring,

to even their entrance music and cadence of speech.

Gimmicks are so important that the right one can make or break a wrestler.

For example, what you're seeing here is the current New Japan star Tetsuya Naito

being rejected by fans in the most devastating way possible:

with silent indifference.

This was the reaction to his "Stardust Genius" gimmick, basically that he was a good boy who liked wrestling.

The gimmick lacked any real teeth, and so was rejected outright by the audience.

And so Naito, after a stay in Mexico, adopted his new "Tranquilo" gimmick,

in which he rejected the fans the same way they had rejected him.

treating everything in New Japan, from the audience, to his opponents, to even the title belts

with a languid disdain,

only for then his popularity to explode,

as a Japanese audience empathized with his disdain for authority and his position as an outsider,

And so they flocked to become one of his "Los Ungobernales" - The Ungovernable,

leading him to have the insane star power he does today.

American gimmicks tend to be a little less subtle than those of Japan,

and especially in the early 90s.

At this point, the popularization of mixed martial arts was still many years away,

and so an audience at large had no real idea what an actual full-contact fight looked like,

nor the kinds of people who participate in them,

which allowed wrestling promoters to try out anything and everything.

Any gimmick with a remote chance of getting over was put on television,

from professional gimmicks such as an evil repo man,

the tax-collecting wrestler, IRS,

to the infamous dentist, Dr. Isaac Yankem.

This man is now the mayor of Knox Country, Tennessee.

What is reality?

Gimmicks would even heavily, uh... "borrow" from pop culture,

such as Robert De Niro's performance as the psychotic Max Cady from Cape Fear

being reimagined as evil wrestler Waylon Mercy.

Just let that one sink in.

My favorite gimmicks of this era, however, for their sheer ludicrousness, was the supernatural gimmicks

Mantaur.

Oz.

This guy, who was bafflingly named "The Yeti".

This was a dumb, glorious period for pro wrestling, and these gimmicks were frequently disastrous,

with many of these characters appearing in just a few matches,

before plummeting into the annals of wrestling obscurity.

But for all that fell, there was one that didn't.

There was one that rose beyond anything anyone could have imagined.

It's bizarre watching The Undertaker's first entrance now.

There's a genuine look of bewilderment to the audience

as this 6-foot-10, 300-pound man walks solemnly to the ring

as morose funeral organs drone in the background.

This was Mark Calaway,

a Texas native who had previously wrestled under the personas of Texas Red and Mean Mark Callous.

And while he'd found modest success with each, this was different.

The Undertaker was different.

There was something so eerily convincing about the dead giant;

something in his movements that whispered maybe, just maybe, this was a creature beyond human.

That was the gimmick of The Undertaker,

and it was that gimmick that drew inspiration from an unlikely place,

in the form of 1978's horror film Halloween,

and the character of Michael Myers.

What made Michael Myers so terrifying as a serial killer was he was human, but also something beyond.

He may have looked like a person, but he was also an unstoppable force of violence,

completely immune to pain and single-minded in his desire to take human life.

And it's those qualities that Bruce Prichard and fellow WWE creatives wanted to imbue in The Undertaker,

and that's exactly what his matches communicated.

Any maneuver in professional wrestling requires both parties to cooperate;

both the person performing the offensive maneuver to actually do it,

and the person taking the move to convey that it actually hurt,

and that conveyance is known as "selling",

and selling that a move was effective was just as vital as the actual move itself.

And here was the difference between the Undertaker and every other performer on the roster.

The Undertaker didn't sell.

There was no visual indication that his opponent's moves were having any kind of real effect on him,

and it made the character feel eerily indestructible,

never more palpable in the moments of his eerie sit-up, a move directly inspired by Michael Myers,

in which the Undertaker would be on the receiving end of a devastating piece of offense,

only to rise back to life.

The sit-up was a trademark of any Undertaker match;

the moment his opponent's momentum was broken,

and they'd remember they were in the ring with the Deadman.

If that sounds silly, it kind of was.

On the surface, there's so many things about The Undertaker that were campy and overly theatrical.

This was, after all, an undead wizard,

who, for whatever reason, had decided to join a professional wrestling organization.

But it was also so much fun.

Seeing other wrestlers interact with The Undertaker was the bizarre highlight of any show.

The nature of the character meant that WWF could be more creative and original

with the storylines featuring him.

And those stories only grew more strange and entertaining

with the addition of the ghoulish Paul Bearer, The Undertaker's manager,

who would carry to the ring a magical urn,

which reportedly was the key to The Undertaker's supernatural power.

And yes, that is ridiculous,

but just listen to how much fun the two would have in their promos:

Bearer - Jaaake the Snaaake Roooberts!

Bearer - The clock on my embalming room wall is ticking dooown!

Bearer - Only three weeks awaaay to Wrestlemania!

Taker - Now the running's over.

Taker - Now... Three weeks.

Taker - You meet the Reaper at WrestleMania.

[funeral bell]

If this is all starting to sound a little close to parody, well, it could have been.

But the thing that kills me about The Undertaker is that it never actually felt that way.

The Undertaker's gimmick should have been a joke.

It should have been a disaster, one that disappeared with all the other novelty gimmicks of the 90s.

But it never did.

And the reason for that was Mark Calaway himself.

For a gimmick to really work, it's vital for the wrestler to embody their fictional persona in everything they do.

And this was the life that Calaway brought to the Deadman,

and what separated him from every other wrestler at the time.

Here was the Undertaker, a character who spoke slowly and quietly,

whose every move felt careful and considered.

He was a 300-pound man who could fly through the air, balance on the top of ropes,

and slow matches down to a crawl,

and yet you couldn't look away.

There was a brutal grace to how Mark Calaway embodied The Undertaker,

and it let you believe he was real.

There's an interview with the wrestler Gregory Helms I really like where he talks about how Calaway

once discussed how a wrestler should always wear his title belt around his waist and make it a part of him,

but that The Undertaker only ever carried titles in his hand,

because The Undertaker's character was unconcerned with earthly things.

And it's such a tiny detail, but it shows you the level of thought Calaway was putting into his character,

which in turn made that character real for the audience.

And so fans believed in The Undertaker,

and those reactions are what propelled the character to the very peak of the WWF,

and on his way, devouring legends like Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka and Jake "The Snake" Roberts,

even scoring a rare pinfall win over Hulk Hogan.

And so, The Undertaker's legacy began.

In the years that followed,

The Undertaker would be part of some of the most memorable and shocking matches in history,

none more so than his brutal encounter with Mankind at 1998's King of the Ring;

the image of Foley plummeting off the roof of the cell etched into wrestling history forever.

Not all Undertaker storylines were good, or even made sense,

but what kept the Deadman relevant was his ability to constantly reinvent himself.

Depending on what part of the Deadman's career you focus on,

he could either be a mournful force of karmic justice

striking down the evil that plagued the world of professional wrestling,

or a satanic leader of a cult who, I shit you not, would sacrifice other wrestlers,

making them part of his Ministry of Darkness.

He even spent three years riding a motorcycle to the ring,

changing his entrance music to Limp Bizkit's "Rollin'",

and somehow he got that over with fans, too.

His ability to adapt and reinvent himself

was part of why The Undertaker enjoyed so much longevity with the WWF,

but there was another reason, too.

Everything we've talked about up until now was about maintaining the illusion of The Undertaker.

But behind that illusion, there was the actual person; Mark Calaway.

and the strange thing about Calaway is that despite having 27+ years in the industry,

It's rare to find anyone in the world of wrestling who has a negative thing to say about him.

And if you're unfamiliar with the backstage controversy and politicking of the business,

that is exceptionally rare.

He's known as someone who would frequently put the business ahead of himself,

often giving advice to younger wrestlers,

and using his own position within the company to try and raise them up.

And if you look at Calaway's championship runs, this tracks.

His title runs were never very long,

often losing championship matches to younger talent in an effort to raise their profile with the audience,

something many of his contemporaries refused to do.

Or, as former WWE wrestler Ken Anderson put it:

This section is not meant as an endorsement of Mark Calaway the human being.

I don't know anything about the man personally, and honestly, I don't really care.

But what I do know is that the world of wrestling can be a cruel and ugly place,

one that brings out the very worst in people,

the history of which is littered with men and women consumed by their own demons.

And I think it's awesome that The Undertaker was never like that.

That he chose to help those around him rather than tearing them down.

And to me, that's just as much a part of his legacy as anything else.

And so you had The Undertaker.

A character loved by fans, and a man respected by his peers.

But over the years, something unusual started to happen.

Different stars would come and go, but The Undertaker never did.

He could disappear for months at a time, but he'd always come back, year after year,

and as the decades went by, he started to feel like this ethereal, eternal part of wrestling.

Even in the years I kind of fell off wrestling,

I'd always tune back into WrestleMania just to see what was happening with the Deadman.

And there was a kind of comfort to that.

No matter what else was going on in your life, whatever changes you were experiencing,

The Undertaker was always there.

I can remember watching Undertaker matches when I was learning to read,

when I graduated college,

and even when I started making YouTube videos.

And the thing was, just as I was growing and getting older, so was he.

He was a fictional persona, but he was also a real person.

I've sat in arenas and watched The Undertaker.

I've shared a physical space with this fictional character,

which in some small way makes me feel like a tiny part of his story.

And after decades, it felt like that was a story that would never end.

And it was that feeling that led to "The Streak".

The Streak began in 1991 at WrestleMania VII,

as The Undertaker scored a decisive victory over Jimmy Snuka.

WrestleMania is the biggest night of the year in wrestling.

Known as the Showcase of the Immortals, it's where every major storyline of the year concludes,

and as the years rolled by, a pattern started to emerge.

The Undertaker had never lost at WrestleMania.

In fact, come WrestleMania XXI, 14 years later, he'd gone 13-0,

making the streak a testament to the enduring long-term relationship he'd built with the fans,

but also something else.

It was a prize to be claimed;

more valuable than any title.

The one who could finally end the streak would himself become a legend.

And so each year, a new challenger stepped forward,

and each year, after a brutal struggle,

they'd be sent hurtling back into the abyss,

in the process making for some of the greatest matches in wrestling history,

such as his WrestleMania XXV showdown with Shawn Michaels,

seen by many as the best match WWE has ever done.

But personally the match for me that really exemplifies The Streak

is his brutal showdown with Triple H at WrestleMania XVIII.

This was the third time that Triple H had attempted to break The Undertaker's streak,

and at this point, both men were in the twilight of their professional wrestling career.

Both had achieved every accolade imaginable, and so all that was left was this war for legacy;

Triple H obsessed with being the one to finally shatter the streak

and cement himself as the greatest of all time,

and The Undertaker fighting to keep that legacy alive.

And what unfolded was nothing less than a war;

the two men destroying each other in a violent, emotional encounter

that is honestly a little difficult to watch.

You can see the welts and scars the match has left on both performers,

both of whom gave everything they had to tell the best story their bodies would allow,

concluding in this beautiful moment when Triple H realizes he cannot and never will beat The Undertaker,

and in one final moment of defiance, like everyone that came before him,

is sent plummeting back into oblivion;

The Undertaker going 20 - 0 at WrestleMania.

After the match, the two men leave arm-in-arm.

The war for their legacy is over.

There is no animosity left between them.

I really hope I don't sound like a crazy person

to the non-wrestling fans who have made it this far into the video,

but I think this was a really powerful story being told.

One of the most terrifying things about achieving success in a public space

is not knowing when your time will come,

not knowing when you'll lose relevance and cease being what you are.

And that to me is the story of The Streak.

Every year The Undertaker is getting older,

while his opponents were only getting younger and more ferocious,

and every year you'd watch this legend cling to the legacy that made him what he was.

And it could be so close, for a moment you'd think it was over.

But it never was.

The Undertaker was still immortal.

He was still the Deadman.

And nothing could ever break that.

Enter Brock Lesnar.

Brock Lesnar made his 2012 return to WWE as one of the most legitimate fighters on the planet,

having defeated Randy Couture for the real-life UFC Heavyweight Championship,

and in the years that would follow, he'd prove a devastating, terrifying competitor,

leaving opponents in macabic pools of blood,

even destroying John Cena in one of the most brutal, one-sided title matches in history.

But now The Beast Incarnate had set his eyes on a different prize.

He'd set his eyes on The Streak.

But surely it wouldn't matter.

The Streak could never be broken.

...Right?

...Right.

The Undertaker gives the match everything he has.

Every possible strategy, every angle, every move.

Nothing works.

Until finally...

Announcer - Brock Lesnar into the cover!

Announcer - Has the leg! The Streak...

[bell rings]

Announcer - ...is over.

It's over.

The Streak lies in ruin.

The Undertaker has lost.

I want you to watch this moment again, but this time, keep your eyes on the reaction of the fans,

and look at the expressions on their faces.

This isn't surprise at an unexpected outcome.

This is something more.

This is heartbreak, and accepting something no one wanted to accept.

That this was the beginning of the end for The Undertaker.

Three years later.

April 2nd, 2017.

Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida.

WrestleMania XXXIII.

The Undertaker faces Roman Reigns, the divisive rising star of WWE, and new face of the company.

The two battle back-and-forth as the Undertaker, now over 50 years old,

struggles to keep up with his younger, more dominant opponent.

And then... something happens.

The Undertaker attempts his trademark sit-up.

But as he does, decades of matches and pain set in,

and he collapses to the mat, exhausted.

It's hard to convey the gravity of this moment.

This is a move The Undertaker had performed hundreds of times over the course of his career;

a trademark reminder that he was the Deadman; that he was something beyond human.

And what killed me about this moment

was it was the first time he had ever felt human.

And in that instance, I knew.

This was it.

This was the last match of the Undertaker.

The Undertaker would return for guest spots in the years that followed,

but for me, this was the moment that was the end of a story I had been experiencing my entire life.

And whether that was the story of the fictional persona The Undertaker,

or the actual person, Mark Calaway,

it didn't matter.

The two were indistinguishable at this point.

Ending a narrative 26 years in the making,

One about the creation of a legacy,

the struggle to keep that legacy alive,

and finally, knowing when your time has come.

And that's a story the experience of which I think I value more than I could ever possibly convey.

If you're not a fan of wrestling, you'll never experience The Undertaker's story the same way I did:

As a constant, ongoing, real-time narrative over decades.

It's already too late for that.

But what I want to convey with this video is that it doesn't matter,

because this is just one story in the world of professional wrestling,

and dozens of others are unfolding right now, right this minute.

The fall of Kazuchika Okada.

The rise of Becky Lynch.

The ongoing saga of the GoldenLovers.

It's stories like these; these real, unreal stories, that are the reason I love professional wrestling,

and the reason I always will.

Friends, thank you for watching my video.

and particularly, if you do not care about wrestling at all,

thank you so much for sticking around to the end of this one.

If you enjoyed this video and want to help me make more like it,

you can support the channel over on Patreon at patreon.com/supereyepatchwolf.

And thank you so, so much to the people there who support me,

and make putting a month into a crazy project like this possible.

A special shout out this week to:

You can also find me on Twitch at twitch.tv/supereyepatchwolf,

hosting the Let's Fight a Boss video game podcast,

or on Twitter, @eyepatchwolf.

Friends, take care of yourselves, and i'll see you next time.

The Description of The Undertaker: Long Term Story Telling in Wrestling