Dead Man Walking – The Mark Calaway Story

Mark William Calaway, better known as The Undertaker, was born on March 24th, 1965, in Houston, Texas. He is the son of Frank Compton Calaway (died July 22, 2003) and Betty Catherine Truby. He also has four older brothers: David, Michael, Paul, and Timothy. He played basketball in high school, until he graduated in 1983. Then he went on to Texas Wesleyan University, where he continued to further his hoop dreams during the 1985–1986 season.

His wrestling career began in 1984 for World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) under the ring name Texas Red. He wrestled and lost his first match against Bruiser Brody. In 1984, after four years, Calaway left the WCCW for the Continental Wrestling Association, where he wrestled under several gimmicks (the CWA would later become the United States Wrestling Association after Jerry Jarrett bought WCCW and merged the two organizations).

On February 12th, 1989, Mark Calaway made his in-ring debut for CWA as The Master of Pain, a character that was fresh out of the Atlanta State Penitentiary after serving five years for killing two men in a fight. He spent most of it in solitary, by the way. I assume that’s because some of the other inmates were poppin’ off at the mouth, and he made them pay for it.

The next week, he won his second match in as dominant a fashion as he won the first (which you can see in the above video). Afterwards, he refused to get out of the ring, and instead, he called out the USWA Unified World Heavyweight Champion, Jerry Lawler, and challenged him to an impromptu match.

Lawler accepted, and was promptly dominated by the much bigger Master of Pain. Things were looking dire, until The Master’s manager, Dutch Mantell (now known as Zeb Colter), stepped in and called his monster off, claiming they had done what they wanted.

From there, Jerry Lawler agreed to a title match against The Man Who Would Be Undertaker, and it cost him. On April 1st, 1989, they faced off, and The Master of Pain got the W, winning the USWA Unified Heavyweight Championship.

He held it for over three weeks, until the rematch, where Lawler won it back, becoming the first man to pin the (future) Phenom. Later that year, Calaway moved on to World Championship Wrestling, where he started to receive national exposure. He first worked as a villain that went by the mightily intimidating moniker of Mean Mark Callous, a ring name devised by Terry Funk.

Mean Mark was a morbid man. He wore black, and according to good ol’ Jim Ross, he had a fondness for snakes, and the music of Ozzy Osbourne. Ridiculous. No wonder he couldn’t succeed in WCW. I’m not saying I could take him, but realistically, why should someone like Sting have been afraid of that guy? By JR’s description, he sounds like a troubled youth.


Thankfully, Mean Mark was quickly drafted onto The Skyscrapers tag team to fill in for the injured Sid Vicious. He made his debut on January 3rd, 1990, in a match later televised against Agent Steel & Randy Harris. I don’t know who either of those guys are, but they sound like jabronis of the highest order. The new Skyscrapers were able to build a rep at Clash of the Champions X, when they beat The Road Warriors down after their match.

Unfortunately, Calaway’s partner, Dan Spivey, left the company before WrestleWar 1990, where the team was set to take on The Road Warriors in a Chicago Street Fight. A new, masked Skyscraper stepped in, and helped lose the match for the team. Things continued along this underwhelming path for Mean Mark, while he was in WCW. He did wrestle a bit for New Japan Pro Wrestling during that time, under the name Punisher Dice Morgan. So, that’s pretty cool.

After he left the company, he went back to USWA for a tournament to determine the new USWA Unified World Heavyweight Champion. He defeated Bill Dundee in the first round, and lost to Jerry Lawler in the next.

Then, in October of 1990, Mark Calaway signed with Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation, and became THE UNDERTAKER!

The above video details his official debut. His unofficial debut, however, was as Kane The Undertaker at a taping of WWF Superstars on November 19th, 1990. His original incarnation saw The Dead Man clad in a trench coat, gray-striped tie, and gray-ringed, black stetson hat with gray gloves and boot spats. He made his WrestleMania debut months later, in a very quick match that saw him destroy Jimmy Snuka.

Fast forward a bit. Survivor Series 1991. He was only around a year, and at that PPV, he took out Hulkamania. Not only did he beat Hulk Hogan in a match, he won the WWF Championship, as well. A victory that made him the youngest WWF Champion in history, until Yokozuna broke his record at WrestleMania IX.

It’s pretty cool that Taker came in and got a win over a guy that didn’t exactly give them up easily. Hell, Hogan won his title back, six days later at Tuesday In Texas. Figures, am I right?

In 1992, Undertaker had his first face turn. He was allied with Jake “The Snake” Roberts, at the time. While locked in his rivalry with Randy Savage, Roberts went to attack Miss Elizabeth with a chair. Unfortunately, The Phenom didn’t take too kindly to that idea, and stopped him. This began their rivalry, which led to Taker’s second ‘Mania match at the 8th Showcase of the Immortals, opposite Jake.

As you well know, The Dead Man picked up the W.

The Phenom reigns (Courtesy of
The Phenom reigns (Courtesy of

That’s 2-0 at WrestleMania. Through 1993, Taker feuded with Giant Gonzalez, so we’re going to skip past it.

By it, of course, I mean the entire year. Click HERE for a recent article from Nerdopotamus on the year that Undertaker had in 1994.

One of the highlights was a phenomenalcasket match against Yokozuna at Royal Ruble 1994 (Courtesy of
One of the highlights was a phenomenal casket match against Yokozuna at Royal Rumble 1994 (Courtesy of

Taker continued to dominate for years from here. Late in 1995, he injured his orbital bone, requiring an absence, so that he could get a necessary surgery. He came back at Survivor Series, wearing the Phantom of the Opera mask. I don’t know why, but I always loved that thing. It looked great on Undertaker.

No matter what happened, Mark Calaway made it work. That’s what he’s done his whole career. That’s why he’s had such longevity. The craziest thing, to me, is that he apparently hated The Ministry of Darkness era. For those wondering, that’s the period of time where Taker became the WWE’s closest equivalent to Satan himself. It’s my favorite portion of his career.

He was so fucking scary. You’d never be able to tell that he didn’t like what he was performing.

I recently found this segment again, and it brought back so many memories.

Am I the only one who shit themselves while watching this? I can’t be.

I refuse to believe that.

Anyway, it’s time to bring this home. I went back and forth on what to name this. I wasn’t sure if I wanted it to say Mark Calaway, or The Undertaker. I decided on his real name, because there are currently a million places where you can find out about The Undertaker. There aren’t many where you can stumble on an old match of his, opposite Jerry Lawler. I don’t know about you guys, but that blows my mind.

If you ever doubt The King’s legitimacy, all you need to do is hit google. He worked with all of them.

He was also definitely hyped AF on that segment. If you didn’t click play on the above video, you need to do it right now.

In fact, I can’t top that. So, how do I finish an article about The Undertaker? Even I will admit that I got a bit lost. Truth be told, I wanted to try and write an all encompassing career retrospective, and then I realized I’d have to sift through 25 years of stuff that is widely available. All you have to do is google, “The Undertaker,” and you’ll find anything you’re looking for.

You might not have found, though. It is a phenomenal website. One of the stories on it is entitled, “THE UNDERTAKER – YOUR JD DRINKING, ACID DROPPING, STRIP CLUB LOVING, LOCKER ROOM LEADING DEADMAN.” Trust me, it’ll make you love Taker even more.

In case you don’t believe me, here is but a sampling:

JAKE ROBERTS on The Undertaker

“I was there when he first got in there in the WWE.

He comes to me, and says, ‘Hey I hear you know where all the good strip joints are at…’

And I’m like, ‘In the world? Yes. I know them all.’

And he’s like, ‘Well, I’ll travel with you!’

I said, ‘Oh boy, why don’t you go back to playin’ basketball because you’re not gonna be able to hang with me…I’ll kill ya…’

And a few weeks later, he was in pretty bad shape with alcohol poisoning. (Laughs)

Yeah, but it was a ‘chemical’ world, so I was cheating, man. He didn’t know it. I wasn’t gonna tell him!

He rolled with me for quite a while. We’re great friends and I’d like to think that I helped him more. I think if you asked him he’d tell you that he learned a lot from me. I love the guy.”

Whatculture adds to the story:

“Jake the Snake Roberts describes his first ever meeting with Mark Calaway as one that centred around strip clubs and alcohol consumption.

“I love your work but I hear you know the greatest strip clubs in the world and I want to ride with you,” Taker apparently said to Jake.

The grizzled and heavy drinking Snake didn’t believe Taker would last a week travelling with him, but took him under his wing anyway. Just a week later and Taker was having his stomach pumped in the afternoon and wrestling on the evening as if nothing had ever happened. According to Jake it was as if Calaway didn’t even need to wear the Undertaker make-up any more given how whited out his face was from drinking.

In some ways this was pretty normal behaviour for a wrestler in the industry back then. Large amounts of alcoholism was just a way to bond with ‘the boys’ and strippers were the cool thing to do back then on the road.”

Amazing, am I right?

UPDATE 7/30/2016

It’s been some time since this was originally published. The rumor going around is that Undertaker told Vince McMahon he was finished after his match against Shane McMahon at WrestleMania 32. If that’s true, I think it’s a great way for him to go out. There’s something to the idea of Undertaker as an old west gunslinger. JBL pushed that hard during his recent feud with Brock Lesnar, no doubt thanks to Vince in his ear. The best end a gunslinger can hope for his career is an easy one.

He’s upright and he got the W. Now he can just walk away.

If he were to come back, however, I hope it’s for a match with John Cena at WrestleMania. That’s it. That is the only feud left for him. We were supposed to get it this year, but injury got in the way. Instead, we got to see Shane jump off the Hell in a Cell like a crazy person.


Joseph Finnegan