This piece was originally written during our ‘Undertaker Weekend’ in June 2020. We are republishing this ahead of Undertaker’s ‘Final Farewell’ at Survivor Series.
I loved Biker Taker. There, I’ve said it.
To be fair, I’ve never stopped saying it and it’s often met with disdain from other fans.
I will hold my hands up and admit I was 11 when Undertaker rode back into our lives at Judgement Day 2000, perhaps the peak of a boy’s infatuation with long leather coats, obnoxiously loud motorbikes and wearing sunglasses indoors at night.
We all have a period of wrestling blinkered by rose tinted glasses and we all have a wrestler that was our hero, that in retrospect, maybe doesn’t live up to those standards today. That wrestler is Ultimate Warrior. Biker Taker is not that wrestler.
Twenty years later, I still stand by my evaluation that the Badass was good and not only that, I believe his run between 00-03 still influences the product and the character positively to this day.
To be clear, some fans differentiate between “The American Badass” and “Big Evil”. The latter was born from his heel turn but carried on beyond it. For the purposes of this article, I will be counting them both as “Biker Taker”.
Admittedly, The original rendition of Biker Taker could be perceived as trashy. I think some saw it as more of a regression than an evolution of the character, with Mark Calaway just deciding it was “casual Friday” at work, for the foreseeable future.
To compound dislike further, he was out of shape upon his return from injury and his ringwork wasn’t stellar so I forgive you if you found it lacklustre.
However, few can deny his debut at the end of the Rock vs Triple H Iron Man match was thrilling.
The eerie confusion created by the childish spectres on the TitanTron as he raced down to the ring on his motorbike. He looked 10 feet tall as he sent Shane McMahon and X-Pac into orbit, bringing them down for thunderous chokeslams. Not even that manky denim waistcoat could take the shine off.
Many critics of this era in Calaway’s career also cite his spiteful squashing of DDP, who was introduced to the company as a low-life stalker, ignoring his illustrious run in WCW as the original “Peoples’ Champion” and foil of the NWO.
Although I enjoyed watching “the Brothers of Destruction” go on a warpath and claim both the WCW and WWF tag team straps, I can’t really defend this booking. It was shortsighted, lazy and reeked of the sectarian nonsense that has come to define the Invasion era.
In amongst this early run though, you’ll find some great matches, including his teaming with Kane against the notorious “Two Man Power Trip” and I suppose, maybe, if you can ignore a Rikishi rolled in sawdust like a Samoan hamster, the six-man Hell in a Cell at Armageddon 2000. It did produce the iconic “I’ll make you famous” catchphrase, as Taker spoke of all the legends he’d infamously destroyed in the cell.
For me, it wasn’t until his heel run in 2001 that he came into his own and it was during this period the Biker started to elevate new talent.
Looking back, Taker never won the IC belt but can count himself amongst the honour roll of Hardcore champions. Although it was Rob Van Dam who went on to salvage this title from the trash can, it was arguably Taker’s match with RVD that propelled him to stardom amongst fans ignorant of ECW.
Another match stipulation we never dreamed of seeing the Deadman in was a ladder match. On July 1st 2002, he not only ascended the ladder to retain his title, but his opponent Jeff Hardy also ascended in a figurative manner as UT made him look fantastic even in defeat.
What easily could have been a squash match between a legend and a midcarder known only for big spots and tag team wrestling was instead an underappreciated thrill ride on free TV. There’s no doubt in my mind this planted the seed for Jeff Hardy’s eventual championship run years later.
The Biker Taker no longer had to masquerade as the macabre, which allowed him to cut much more imaginative promos. Don’t get me wrong, I love classic Taker as much as the rest but there’s only so many times I can hear him talk about graves and darkness without slipping into my own dark place. I reckon he started speaking in tongues during his Ministry of Darkness run just to avoid the cliched monologues.
He brought a level of realism to his character now – a guy who was a real life badass but had never truly been allowed to show it – whilst still retaining elements of his devilish former self, perfectly encapsulated by his line “Although I don’t dress like Satan anymore, I’m still down with the devil”.
It was gothic, it was scary but it wasn’t fantasy and it fit better with the realism of the product at the time. It was “Deadman Inc”; a real-life performer, using his menacing persona to prosper in the business.
Nothing was more real to me as a kid, than when Taker made a visit to Ric Flair’s oldest son David, at a wrestling school and beat the holy hell out of him in the shower block.
He then proceeded to cut a promo to camera, urging Flair to reconsider wrestling him at that year’s Wrestlemania. Cradling the bloody remains of David whilst he said straight down the lens “you know what he means to me, not a goddamn thing”.
I’m not suggesting supernatural Undertaker couldn’t be intimidating or cut a promo that wet pants across America but there was something about this version that made you feel he’d done this before, in a dive bar, in the locker room, perhaps at a local swimming pool.
He was no longer Freddy Krueger, he was Mike Tyson, a monster of a man who didn’t disappear when you changed the channel.
Not only did his mic work gain another dimension, his in-ring work changed too. Although the slow-paced, lumbering matches of the Hogan era were behind him, he still felt forced to no-sell offense during the “Attitude Era”, especially against smaller opponents.
This new mortician of the mat sold like a champ for the RVDs and Hardys, turning the bouts from one-sided to back-and-forth exchanges. Yes, this Undertaker could dominate but he also showed weakness, making his matches instantly more engaging.
His broken arm played a pivotal role in his rivalry with Brock Lesnar, specifically in their eventual Hell in a Cell collision, where Brock spent most of the match targeting the arm and turning Taker into a genuine underdog (Underdogger? I’ll get my coat).
Taker had always been quick “for a big man”, demonstrated by his flying lariat and swan dive over the top rope but this Taker worked at an explosive pace. He started wearing MMA gloves, at a time when mixed martial arts was still thought of as “human cock fighting” and it was reflected in his striking offense.
He even adopted a submission move for the first time in his career, the dragon sleeper (‘TCB’ or ‘Takin’ Care of Business’), and would frequently choke out enhancement talent with it.
Although Taker has had superior matches since the Biker era, he took this MMA inspired style with him when he returned to the Deadman persona, replacing TCB with Hells Gate, and keeping the gloves, whilst still utilising boxing combinations.
Seventeen years passed, the streak ended, the wrestling reaper grew older, slower and sadly, the invincible, immortal ‘Phenom’ was just like everyone else. So when it came to Wrestlemania against AJ Styles, I felt it was foolish to get too excited.
Then, in a cloud of smoke, with a driving heavy metal soundtrack a la Judgement Day 2000, Biker Taker returned on his mechanical stead, shedding his cosplay and entering the Boneyard, once again, as a real man looking for redemption.
Of course, this was aided by the fantastic work of AJ and the benefits of the cinematic format but we had come to love and respect the man behind the gimmick and it was fitting that we would see something closer to Mark Calaway, in what may well have been his final outing.
Unlike most wrestling commentators, I won’t wield hyperbole like a scythe and somehow suggest Biker Taker was the greatest version of the character. However, Biker Taker was and still is a monumental phase in his evolution.
He had great matches, cut promos with sinister realism and developed a dynamic in-ring style that went on to impact later feuds with HBK, Triple H & Brock Lesnar.
Although not the first or the last to do so, he used popular music of the time in his entrances (I promise you, Limp Bizkit WERE popular) and he rode a motorbike to the ring, which I don’t need to justify.
I urge you, go back and watch some of his matches and the promos leading up to them and tell me that the Badass wasn’t good.