The Anti-Antagonist: Nostalgia Has Gone To Hell

Adam Gorzelsky

The UndertakerNostalgia can do funny things to a person. It can cloud your memory and force you to place past events on an undeserving pedestal. By undeserving, I don’t mean to say that the past event was lacking in excitement or technical efficiency. It just so happens that as time progresses, expectations increase to levels not once thought possible.

From a wrestling standpoint, at least in my eyes, there is no greater example than Hogan/Warrior at Wrestlemania VI. As a kid, this match always set the gold standard for me. I didn’t see it live because, well, I was 5 years old…meaning that I hadn’t quite developed the persuasive skills necessary to convince my parents to drop 50 bucks on a wrestling event…To this day, I think my dad would have been down for it, but if there is one thing more important to a man than watching rasslin’ with his son, it’s knowing which battles should be fought and which battles are best left in the planning stages.

Nonetheless, having connections with family friends who owned a cable cheater box (those were the days) allowed me to experience the epic bout on tape ad nauseum. The passion…The excitement…Watching my hero narrowly miss escaping the three count following a Warrior Splash…Arguing with Earl Hebner each and every time…It must have been Dave…right?

This match had it all and then some. If any match could stand the test of time it HAD to be this one. Yet when I watch it today through the magic of Youtube, I’m left underwhelmed. Maybe I miss the squiggly VHS lines, or maybe I just recognize that this match contained little more than epic rest holds and back rakes. Again, this is not to say that the story-telling and atmosphere were lacking or that the match holds any less of a place in my heart, but the fact remains that the technical aspects of this encounter could not stand up to even a sub-par matchup by today’s standards.

Interestingly enough, though, the effects of nostalgia often can be felt in the reverse sense. There are far too many examples of absolute stars from the past who return with the expectation that the charisma, technical skills, and pure ability to entertain will rival those past memories that deservedly are placed on a pedestal. Whether it’s age, rust, or a general inability to connect with the current audience, nostalgia can set an incredibly high bar for those attempting to live up to a well deserved past “aura.”

Then there are superstars like the Undertaker…Individuals who transcend time, age, eras, and every damn doubter that stood in their way…Proverbial books that define the concept of nostalgia as a feeling that has the ability to captivate from the first page of the story to the last.

For some strange reason, I vividly remember experiencing a dream/nightmare around age 7 involving the Undertaker…Now is not the time to question how I can recall this and why something so trivial has remained emblazoned somewhere in my brain…In any case, this dream featured me running around our front yard trying to escape the Undertaker as he was pursuing me via his trademark slow, deliberate walk. I’d like to say that I got away via pure athleticism, but being awoken by a wet bed was my manner of escape.

Now I don’t make reference to this dream in an effort to provide insight into my adolescent mind…Although I fully expect to recount this dream while lying on a couch someday…I tell this story as a reminder of just how damn impressive the Undertaker was in the early 90’s. The gong…The urn…The body bags…Oh how I loved the body bags. While it certainly can be questioned whether or not a character like that could make it today, there is no debating the powerful mystique surrounding the original deadman.

What’s more impressive, however, is the quality of his in-ring work by any era’s standard. An Undertaker match from 1991 is as watchable today as it was 21 years ago. If you haven’t seen it in a while, do yourself a favor and watch Taker vs. Jake the Snake at Wrestlemania VIII. While you’re there, enjoy the best damn DDT since the invention of the DDT…by…well….Jake Roberts of course.

I could go on forever about the transformation of the Undertaker character to fit within the changing culture of the business. Attitude? I give you the Prince of Darkness. Hardcore? “Good God almighty, they’ve killed him!!” As age became a factor, he altered his move-set and let his experience as a ring general captivate the audience.

Which brings me to the present time. When the words “Hell in a Cell” left Triple H’s mouth, I was left with the same chills that have marked my lifelong fascination with the Undertaker’s career. Hell in a Cell has become nothing more than a stale gimmick match sprinkled within a calendar full of gimmick-based PPVs…But not this one…Not with the men involved and the history on the line. I don’t expect a sick bump from the cell or any other death-defying feats, but this has the potential to be the best Hell in a Cell of all-time.

Why? Because Mark Calaway knows no other way, especially if this is his last rodeo. This may be the end…The next time we see the Undertaker could be at his Hall of Fame induction…Heaven for those fans who have basked in the glow of a career that entertained, shocked, and left millions in awe.

But for now, Heaven can wait…In the meantime, nostalgia is going to Hell.

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