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Ask 411 Wrestling: Why Is The Undertaker So Highly Respected?

October 30, 2023 | Posted by Ryan Byers
The Undertaker, Biography: WWE Legends Image Credit: WWE

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.
If you have one of those queries searing a hole in your brain, feel free to send it along to me at [email protected]. Don’t be shy about shooting those over – the more, the merrier.

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Kyle is rollin’ rollin’ rollin’:

Love to get your unbiased take on this. Why are people so high on the Undertaker? He gets respect and plaudits from everyone. I always thought he was a big guy who did well but like Andre the Giant, you hear stories of him “bullying”, walking round like he owned the place, and him just being a dick. I know he was in the company for 30 years but you could also say that’s because there was nowhere else him to go. Like Andre, can a huge aspect be the size and demeanor of the guy rather than his skills and personality of the guy? Not hating, but wanted to know why he gets the insane levels of respect.

Some of it is the longevity, no doubt.

However, that’s not the only aspect of things. Loyalty to the the company and leadership in the locker room are a huge part of it as well. I strongly disagree with the notion that there was “nowhere else to go” as stated in the question. It is true that, after 2001, the WWF had no significant competition. That being said, for the first ten years of the Undertaker’s run in the Fed, he very easily could have jumped ship to WCW, and it would have been a major blow to Vince McMahon and co. had he done so during the early days of Nitro. In fact, he probably would have meant more than either Kevin Nash or Scott Hall, as he was a bigger star than those men at the time.

Then, there’s the leadership aspect. Frankly, I’ve never heard anybody describe the Undertaker as a bully or a dick. Yes, there are tales of wrestlers’ court which he doled out punishments for infractions of locker room rules, but we’re talking about a different era in which wrestling had not yet become a corporate environment with clear written policies and actual human resources professionals monitoring how performers work with one another. Instead, wrestling locker rooms were full of crazy people, fist fights, and drug use, and they were largely self-policing. Though the methods might seem a bit archaic now, the reality is that Taker and others like him did maintain some level of order behind the scenes.

The other thing that you’ve overlooked is this: The guy was an amazing in-ring performer. Granted, early on in his run with the Undertaker character, he had some pretty rough matches, but that’s largely because he was heavily playing up the gimmick and as a result moving slowly and focusing on choking his opponents. However, from about 1997 on, Taker was an excellent opponent for all manner of different wrestlers and put on some absolute classics between the ropes.

So, let’s not rewrite history and pretend that the Undertaker didn’t contribute anything positive to wrestling or that he was some sort of locker room cancer. He did what was needed of him, and, by most accounts, he did it damn well.

Michael is boppin’ along:

We know WWF/WWE has had a lot of amazing original theme songs for their wrestlers. But who do you think had the most underrated/unappreciated theme? I’m going with Earthquake. Pretty simple, just a drum with earthquake noises, but so effective and fit the character perfect. What is your pick?

I have spent entirely too much time in my life dancing to Dude Love’s faux Bee Gees theme song, which I assume is forgotten largely because it seems like WWE and Mick Foley have wanted to forget about the character as a whole.

Shuan may be a mole:

Who’s leaking stories about CM Punk?

Nobody, anymore.

Rossi knows that falling in love is so hard on the knees:

Why do many wrestlers wear different knee pads? Many fit the gear and its color scheme but are still different. Or there are different motives on them? Even on all-black gear and knee pads there is something on one pad that differentiates it from the other. I honestly cannot think of a logical reason.

The answer is that knee pads aren’t just there for aesthetic reasons. They are functional and give wrestlers’ knees support and protection from impact as they wrestle. Sometimes, wrestlers wear different pads on each knee because one of their two knees has different needs, i.e., it is more banged up or the wrestler falls on it more regularly when executing their offense. Thus, one knee requires more padding or support, and wrestlers adjust their equipment accordingly.

J-Link is counter-programming:

With the brief mention recently that Raw could move from Monday nights during their next TV deal, it got me thinking: Why was RAW put on Mondays in the first place back in 1993? Monday Night Football was already established, and major holidays fall on Mondays. NCAA championship games. Did NBC not care? Did WWE have a preference? Did they just take the best offer? Any insight would be appreciated.

First off, NBC didn’t have anything to do with Monday Night Raw in 1993. Raw obviously debuted on the USA Network, but USA was not owned by NBC Universal at that time as it currently is. Instead, in ’93, Paramount owned USA.

Raw was put on Monday nights because, prior to the show’s debut, Monday had already been established as wrestling night on the USA Network. WWF Prime Time Wrestling was airing in what would eventually be Raw’s timeslot for eight years before the Uncut, Uncensored, and Uncooked wrestling program premiered.

Things just got dark. Thanks, Jonfw2:

Not to get too macabre here, but what wrestler who died young still had the most to give in his (or her) career? Who would have gone onto the biggest things?

Maybe this is just top of my mind because of the movie that will be coming out shortly, but I am having a hard time saying anything other than David Von Erich. He was just 25 years old and was in a position where he could have credibly won the NWA World Heavyweight Championship when that title was as strong as it had ever been. In fact, some people believe that his title reign had already been approved at the time of his death.

Granted, he could have just been a Tommy Rich whose star flamed out fairly quickly after winning the NWA Title as a babyface, but this question is all about potential, and he certainly had the potential to do quite a bit more.

Bryan is all natural:

In the late 90s when the WWE had BOTH Chyna and Nicole Bass why is it they never had a feud, or at least a match? I realize it wouldn’t be a 5 * classic or anything but wouldn’t the novelty of it at least get a slight bump in views? Plus it sounds like something Russo would do anyway. It was always a curiosity of mine to see it, even though I knew it would be a disaster “work rate” wise.

The first reason is that there was barely any time for it to happen. Bass made her television debut with the WWF at Wrestlemania XV on March 28, 1999, and her release from the company was reported on in the July 26, 1999 Wrestling Observer Newsletter, so she didn’t even make it four months in the company. That’s hardly enough time to establish Bass before sending her into a program against Chyna.

However, even if they had the time, the match still may not have happened. According to the same issue of the Observer cited to above, WWF management wasn’t hot on the notion of doing a Chyna/Bass match because they didn’t want Chyna selling for other women as they felt that it would have killed her gimmick of being the one woman who was tough enough to go toe-to-toe with male wrestlers.

Paris is the giant killer:

Do you think the WWE Universe would buy a Rey Misterio heel turn (Dominik finally pushes him too far, he increases the LWO roster with some meaner guys like Damien Priest and such and they start going after everyone after putting his own child in hospital)?

No. There are certain wrestlers who have been round for long enough and have become beloved enough that fans just don’t want to boo them. We won’t truly know unless it’s tried, but I feel like Rey Rey is at that level.

That being said, fans do seem to see themselves as part of the show and react how they believe they’re supposed to more than they did 30 or 40 years ago when crowds did as they felt. Thus, you might be able to get crowds to go along with a Misterio heel turn, but I don’t know that it’s anything they would ever passionately get into.

For more hot questions like this, you can call Tyler from Winnipeg‘s hotline for $1.99 for the first minute and 99 cents for each additional minute:

Bobby Heenan or Mean Gene Okerlund: Which was the better signing for WCW?

I love me some Bobby the Brain, but I have to give Okerlund credit as being the more important signing. If you go back and watch old videos of Mean Gene conducting interviews – particularly interviews of less talented or less experienced promo guys – he actually added quite a bit to the product. He obviously knew where storylines were going and how to pull certain points out of wrestlers who weren’t adept at making them or just flat out making the points himself when need be.

Okerlund was actively making the product better and assisting the wrestlers in selling their matches, night in and night out. The Brain, meanwhile, was entertaining but wasn’t necessarily doing anything that would help programs draw in the way his counterpart was.

It’s finally me and you and you and me – just us and your friend Steve:

Over the years, many American wrestlers — Johnny Ace, Scott Norton and Juice Robinson, to name just a few — have famously had more success in Japan than in their native country, even though they may also have had varying degrees of success back home. But what about the reverse? What Japanese wrestlers have had more success in American promotions than in Japan? Ultimo Dragon (who had even more success in Mexico) comes to mind. Are there any others you’d say were bigger in America than in Japan, even if they were also stars in Japan?

There’s one big, obvious, current example that springs immediately to mind:


When Asuka made her pro wrestling debut in 2004 – first under her real name of Kanako Arai, switching to Kana a few months later – women’s wrestling in Japan was not doing that well. At the height of joshi, major shows could draw in excess of 10,000 fans, but, in the mid-2000s, a major card was usually bringing in just around 1,000 and most of the early shows that Asuka wrestled on were held in front of just a few hundred people. Some of those shows had television coverage, but it was mostly on obscure satellite TV channels as opposed to mainstream networks anybody other than hardcore fans were watching. Believe it or not, things actually got worse from there.

Now, as part of the WWE roster, she’s got a couple million people watching her wrestle every week, and she has been on some of the highest grossing cards in the history of the sport. That’s a pretty substantial change from rolling around in front of a half dozen Japanese businessmen who were at the Ice Ribbon dojo for questionable purposes.

You could make similar comments about the other Japanese women who have recently been in WWE, such as Iyo Sky (known as Io Shirai in Japan) and Kairi Sane, though they’ve had some better exposure in their home country than Asuka did because they were both in Japan long enough to wrestle for Stardom, which is still not a large wrestling promotion by any stretch of the imagination but is doing better than a lot of the groups Asuka had to slum it on when she was getting her feet underneath her. Sky and Sane still received much better exposure in WWE, though.

Switching to the men’s side of the sport, I would say Tajiri qualifies as an answer to this question. Tajiri was an indy guy when he started wrestling in Japan in the mid-1990s, and he got picked up by ECW not because of his Japanese work but rather because of a run that he had in Mexico for CMLL. ECW got Tajiri on national television in the United States because he was there during the time the company was on TNN. Of course, it also lead to him having a multi-year run in WWE, where he obviously wasn’t a main eventer but always seemed to have a fanbase and was more over than his push, probably owing in large part to his unique charisma.

When Tajiri went back to Japan, he worked in larger promotions than what he had before he left, such as New Japan and HUSTLE, largely cashing in on his WWE name. However, he was never a featured player in NJPW and just came in for brief runs, mostly being based out of indy groups SMASH and Wrestling New Classic at this time. When those groups folded, he became part of the Great Muta’s Wrestle-1 promotion and then All Japan Pro Wrestling when Wrestle-1 closed its doors. Though AJPW was once great, it has reduced in size significantly, and it’s probably just its history that keeps people from thinking about it as an indy.

Given all that, I think it’s fair to say that Tajiri was bigger in the U.S. than he’s ever been in Japan, based on size of promotion if nothing else.

I think a case can also be made for Masa Saito being a bigger star in the U.S. than in Japan, though it’s a closer call.

Saito started wrestling in the JWA in the mid-1960s but by the end of the decade had been sent to the United States to gain more experience, which is a time honored tradition in puro promotions. This was during the territorial era, and he had runs in the promotions based out of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Florida. Though he would go back to the JWA for a time, he eventually decided that he was going to be based primarily out of the United States. This was definitely true in the 1970s, with most of his work being in California and the Pacific Northwest, on both the U.S. and Canadian sides of the border. During this time, he would go to his home country and work an occasional tour for New Japan, due to the JWA having ceased operations. In the late 70s, it was back to Florida, and he worked his way up the east coast in the early 1980s, wrestling in the Georgia territory and ultimately the WWF.

While there, Saito became a WWF Tag Team Champion, teaming with Mr. Fuji – who had been a partner of his in other territories earlier on – to defeat Rick Martel and Tony Garea on October 13, 1981. That run lasted a full year, with Fuji and Saito losing the belts to Jay and Jules Strongbow on October 26, 1982. In December of the same year, Saito had his final WWF match, teaming with Fuji again in a losing effort to regain the Tag Titles from the Strongbows in a Texas Death Match. After that, Saito was off to the AWA, where he was a mainstay from 1983 through 1987 and even won the company’s World Heavyweight Title for a minute in 1990.

In the late 1980s, Saito did return to New Japan Pro Wrestling on a more-or-less full-time basis, wrapping up as a regular there in 1996 and having his retirement match in 1999. Though he spent many years late in his career back in his home country, he was almost exclusively a low to midcard tag team wrestler and never captured an NJPW championship during this part of his carer.

As a result, I’d be willing to say that Saito was bigger in the U.S. than he was back home.

We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected]. You can also leave questions in the comments below, but please note that I do not monitor the comments as closely as I do the email account, so emailing is the better way to get things answered.

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Ask 411 Wrestling, RAW, WWE, Ryan Byers