Mark Calaway has walked into WrestleMania 27 times as The Undertaker. He has won 25 of those matches, including 21 in a row, before Brock Lesnar broke “The Streak” in 2014 and Roman Reigns added a second loss in 2017.
The Undertaker’s streak became the stuff of legend — the centerpiece of a career that has carried on over four decades. The Streak crystallized why Calaway has long represented the beating heart of the WWE locker room, and it made facing The Undertaker at WrestleMania a badge of honor.
“It was a bucket list situation to say I shared the ring with him,” Reigns said. “You’re dealing with The Undertaker; you’re dealing with so much more than one match. It’s the legacy and the influence. The trademark of him, like how his name echoes through the hallways backstage. We have traditions named in his honor. Like the ‘Taker Shot.’ We all gather up after every tour at the hotel or in catering. We give a toast to whoever led the tour, like the veteran in the main event. It’s always been known that after the main of the last show, you get everybody together and get these shots together, because we have to do the ‘Taker Shot.'”
ESPN spoke with 10 opponents of the Undertaker — and one referee — about what it was like to hear the “gong” of his entrance theme song, to take a Tombstone piledriver in front of 80,000 fans, and to help write another chapter in a wrestling legend: Jake “The Snake” Roberts (WrestleMania VIII, 1992); Kane (Glenn Jacobs) (WrestleMania 14, 1998, and WrestleMania 20, 2004); Ric Flair (WrestleMania 18, 2002); Matt Bloom, aka A-Train (WrestleMania 19, 2003, with The Big Show in a handicap match); Randy Orton (WrestleMania 21, 2005); Edge (WrestleMania 24, 2008); referee Jimmy Korderas (WrestleMania 24); Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania 25 and 26, 2009 and 2010), Triple H (WrestleMania 27 and 28, 2011 and 2012), Shane McMahon (WrestleMania 32, 2016) and Reigns (WrestleMania 33, 2017).
What was it like when you found out you were facing The Undertaker at WrestleMania?
Roman Reigns: I remember the conversation with Vince. I saw Taker like a week prior, and he almost gave it away, but he did good in covering it up. He could tell I didn’t know yet. When Vince explained it to me, I was just in awe. It’s something that everybody who gets into the business wants, to get into the ring with The Undertaker. And I remember the first thing I thought was that I wanted to put him over. I wanted to lose. Immediately, that was my instinct. Out of respect. I knew he was in pain, but I didn’t know he was going in [for hip surgery] soon after that or else I would have crafted that story a little differently. So I knew it was on me to try to help carry it. The movement of the match. Orbit around him. But I thought it would have been a better story if I was on my back at the end. Obviously, it didn’t go that way.
What was it like to experience The Undertaker’s entrance at WrestleMania?
Reigns: Every single step that he takes to the ring, he’s thought about it. Every movement. Every inch of his entrance.
What was the aftermath of your WrestleMania match against The Undertaker?
Reigns: When I went through gorilla [position] and he was still in the ring, I was just tucked off from the ramp into this little tiny holding area where people do last-minute [preparations] before a match. I just sat in one of these little chairs and I cried. It was such an emotional overload, for bad reasons and for good reasons too. As a perfectionist, I think Mark can agree that we had such an awesome story. If it had all went perfectly … aw man, it would have been so fire. But the opportunity to main-event a WrestleMania with Taker, I was so grateful. But the perfectionist in me could not let it go. It ate me up. It still bothers me a little bit. I remember my cousins [The Usos] and I skipped out on the after-party, and I didn’t get back to the hotel until like 2 a.m. because we drank all night and talked. I probably shed a few more tears that night too. I had so many hopes and aspirations to take advantage of that man’s time and do right by him, and I just felt like I failed that situation. And it just lit a fire under my ass. I don’t think I had a bad match since.