Growing up, wrestling was a big part of my childhood. My grandfather, Eli “Pokey” McCants, worked tirelessly as a construction worker as well as the do-all utility man for my family. There wasn’t a lawn he didn’t cut or a sale at JCPenney he didn’t miss. He was the most selfless person I’ve ever met. He rarely had time to himself, but when he did he watched “wrassling” with a pack of Archway cookies near.
The more I watched wrestling with my Pokey, my love for the sport broadened.
I remember it like it was yesterday. It was 1990, and my Mom was cool enough to order Survivor Series for my cousins and me. This was the first Pay-Per-View I ever watched. The atmosphere was different, and the excitement wasn’t comparable to WWF’s Saturday Night’s Main Event. Coincidentally, it was the debut of “The Demon of Death Valley,” a.k.a. The Undertaker.
“The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase introduced The Undertaker as the mystery partner in a tag team contest involving The Million Dollar Team versus The Dream Team. His ring entrance wasn’t like anything wrestling had seen. His stoic demeanor was akin to Frankenstein, and his black garb signified death. Beholding The Undertaker in his debut scared the sh*t out of me, and I’m certain the feeling was felt by everyone else in the XL Center.
As you might expect, he looked different from the legend that we celebrate today. At the time, his body wasn’t marked up like the subway in Harlem, nor was he managed by the late Paul Bearer. The oft-forgotten Brother Love was his manager. Even though his look would evolve over time, you could sense he was destined for greatness.
Being one of youngest of my cousins at the time, I wanted to follow whatever they did—good or bad. Normally I blended in well as the young buck of the group. Typically, I was as cool as the other side of the pillow, but on this night, that was not the case. I didn’t care what anyone thought of me as I shuttered with fright. I was afraid; his ring presence was that captivating (and scary). While the fear still resonated years later, it took some time for me to appreciate perhaps one of the greatest wrestlers of all time.
Prior to that, I was scared to cheer for him. Even after I became a fan, a piece of me was still afraid of the dead man. On the late nights after Monday Night RAW completing my laundry chores were the last on my to-do-list. As I walked down the basement stairs channeling my inner Kevin McCallister, my imagination played ‘Taker’s theme music. As I tossed the clothes and detergent into the machine, I darted up the stairs as if I was evading ‘Taker’s big boot.
I’m not going to lie and say that I watch wrestling like I use to. I usually keep an eye on it from afar until WrestleMania comes around. On Sunday night, I sat in front of the television with a few Archway cookies in honor of my late grandfather, and it brought back childhood memories.
It was a hell of an event – to say the least. I still don’t understand why the entrance ramp was so damn long, but all in all, it was a joy to watch. The New Day paid homage to Final Fantasy, Rob Gronkowski made a cameo, John Cena proposed to Nikki Bella, and Shane McMahon and AJ Styles had a wild matchup. Yet, what brought me here was that the divisive Roman Reigns defeated The Undertaker in his final match.
Quite simply, ‘Taker’s run in the WWE was one of the greatest eras in sports entertainment.
Gone will be the sound of funeral-like theme song, and the lights will no longer be darkened. And of course, there will be no choke slams or Tombstones.
All things considered I am thankful to say that I saw one of the greats that had an impact on many. Thank you, Undertaker, for being part of my childhood. Although you scared me sh*tless, I am grateful to have lived through your legendary voyage through fear and euphoria.
It’s unfortunate that your wrestling days are over, but it’s even worse that my childhood is too.
Columbus, Ohio born. Ron is a first-ballot healthy hairline hall of famer. He spent the summer of ‘08 eating calamari pasta because of OJ Da Juiceman. He also loves to write about sports while listening to Sada Baby. Follow him on Twitter @Ron_Hamp