While The Undertaker later become synonymous with WWE, he first came to national prominence in WCW thanks to Jim Cornette.
After appearing as The Master of Pain in the CWA, the would-be star caught the attention of Jim Cornette. At the time Cornette was on WCW’s booking committee and trying to find a replacement for Sid Vicious in the Skyscrapers tag team after the big man got injured.
Speaking exclusively to Inside The Ropes’ own Kenny McIntosh for issue 5 of Inside The Ropes magazine, Jim Cornette recalled contacting Dutch Mantel to try and secure the services of his seven-foot giant.
“I brought him into [WCW]. What happened was, [Ric] Flair put me on the booking committee, and we had The Skyscrapers, [Dan] Spivey and Sid [Vicious]. And it was Sid that got hurt that time, ’cause they were always getting hurt. And we needed a Skyscraper. Calaway made his WCW debut as Mark Callous, Sid’s replacement in The Skyscrapers, at the January 3, 1990 television taping in Atlanta, Georgia. He had previously wrestled in Texas and Tennessee. Mark was Master Of Pain in Memphis. I watched all the tapes [from other organisations]. Dutch Mantell, who I’ve known since the late 1970s, may have been booking at the time . . . He was definitely in Memphis. So, I called Dutch and said, ‘Hey, we need a Skyscraper. You’ve got that seven-foot guy [Master Of Pain]. Is he any good?’ Dutch said: ‘Well, he’s green, but he’s a good kid.’ I said: ‘Can we have him?’ He said: ‘Yeah.’
Dutch is the one who called me one day when I was in Smoky Mountain and he said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this guy down here in Puerto Rico. He’s from Missouri. He wants to come home: he’s got the island fever. He’s gotta get out of here. He’s green, but he’s a good kid. His name is Glenn Jacobs.’”
Reflecting on his impressions of Calaway in 1990, Cornette admitted that he probably wasn’t ready for national television despite his obvious physical gifts. The legendary manager went on to explain how uncertainty behind the scenes meant the future World Champion’s stay in WCW was a short one.
“Mark was green then, but you could tell that he had a lot going for him. We brought him in for that spot. He was not ready, honestly, to be on national television; he might even say that about that specific time [in his career]. But it was a chance to get his foot in the door. But then [WCW went] from Flair and us to a [booking] committee for two months and then to Ole [Anderson]: so there were three booking changes in a five-month period and he was getting lost in the shuffle.
That was when he got the call from up North. And it didn’t take him long to make that decision. [Calaway] was, like, ‘I’m floating around here and nobody’s in charge for more than three months. And here’s the WWF, and it wants to bring me in and put me in a top spot.’”
In October, Calaway signed with WWE and debuted as The Undertaker a month later. Cornette said that he was unaware of Calaway moving to WWE as he’d left the booking committee at that point, but knew he was destined for big things.
No, honestly. By that time, I was off the [WCW] booking committee. Once Flair quit, I quit about three weeks later. So, I wasn’t in the office by that point. I don’t know if they got any advance word from some stooge on what kind of gimmick they were giving him. I would never have seen it before but, now, it’s become so iconic that gimmick, I can’t unsee Mark as The Undertaker. You knew he was going to do something, ’cause he was big and athletic, but I wouldn’t have seen that [character coming] until it was put together.”
Despite knowing that Undertaker would go on to big things, Cornette revealed that he wasn’t so convinced by The Undertaker character. Adding that without the character evolving it’s unlikely that it would have been successful.
“Well, honestly, this was not one I was completely enamoured of.
I like Mark, but go back and watch the first year of The Undertaker. That, if it had not been modified and evolved, as they say, might not have flown, ’cause it was still a little cartoon[ish]. Also, remember, the first couple of years of The Undertaker, his pay-per-view opponents were abysmal because Vince always wanted to do the battle of the giants thing. And, to me, the only giant that ’Taker really worked great with was Yoko[zuna] because he was so athletic.
By the time I got up there in ’93 and he had toned the outfit down a little bit and made more of the gimmick his own and he had that entrance, I was, like, ‘This is f—king cool.’ You’d get goose bumps standing in the ring for that entrance.”
After arriving in WWE, The Undertaker went on to have one of the most legendary runs in the history of the company. The Deadman remained at the forefront of WWE for the best part of three decades evolving through the years.
Undertaker called time on his Hall of Fame worthy career at Survivor Series 2020, with a special send off back where it all began.
Away from the ring it has recently been announced that Taker will be teaming up with The New Day to star in a new interactive movie coming to Netflix for Halloween.