The best stories or characters in professional wrestling have often been those that are taken from real life. Stone Cold’s rivalry with Mr. McMahon was the working man versus his boss, a real relatable story. CM Punk venting his frustrations with the WWE on Monday Night Raw was perhaps the most real storyline ever told in the fictional world of the WWE. Sunday Night at Wrestlemania 33, we were given another dose of the real world meeting WWE’s fictional one. The Undertaker, the man who battled through every injury and every obstacle to come back again and again to maintain his high standards of excellence, finally succumbed to his injuries and stepped into a WWE ring for the last time.
For years, The Undertaker would quietly disappear and return for Wrestlemania, where he would then go on to have one of, if not the best match on the card. It was incredible to think a man who has endured as much as The Undertaker has, and a man who was passing half a century could still perform at such a high level. However, what we didn’t see was perhaps the most important part, while Mark Callaway (The Undertaker’s real name) was not performing as The Undertaker; he was battling father time.
Mark Callaway would battle every injury, every operation, and perhaps most importantly his age, every year so he could appear as The Undertaker and give the paying audience The Undertaker they love and remember. Mark Callaway was even reportedly postponing a hip surgery he needed, to be able to perform for the WWE fans. However, all good things must come to an end and at Wrestlemania 33; the reality that Mark Callaway was battling every day finally met the fictional world in which The Undertaker had been performing in for the past 27 years.
In the main event of Wrestlemania 33, it was The Undertaker battling the young lion, Roman Reigns. The match was a brawl with both men trading right hands, slamming each other through tables and hitting one another with chairs. But, it would be wrong of me not to point out one performer was a step behind, and while everyone loves to lie to themselves and say it was Roman Reigns, it was not, it was The Undertaker.
It was clear to see, The ‘Deadman’ could no longer perform to the standard we the fans and The Undertaker himself, had come to expect. Instead of trying to lie to the fans and himself, The Undertaker and Roman Reigns told the real story to the fans watching. It was the story of the old gunslinger giving everything he had, knowing that he could no longer do what he was once able to do. Superman punch, after Superman punch, spear, after spear and The Undertaker refused to stay down, The Undertaker was still holding onto the ring he so famously called “his yard”.
While Roman Reigns entered the match full of confidence and swagger, he was also riddled with guilt as he was tasked with putting the final nail in the coffin of arguably the most beloved and respected WWE superstar. It was the first time in WWE history that Mark Callaway and The Undertaker became one, as father time had finally caught up. The Undertaker finally released his grip on “his yard” and passed the proverbial ‘torch’ as they say in wrestling, to the future of the WWE, Roman Reigns.
The Undertaker understands the cycle of the wrestling business and he understood it was the right thing to do by having Roman Reigns defeat him at Wrestlemania. The match, The Undertaker and Roman Reigns contested was by no means the best and any other time that would have been a disastrous situation, however, there is an exception to every rule and this was the exception.
The quality of this match was not important, it was all about the emotion, and it was all about the story of The Undertaker giving his all one last time, knowing he cannot win. Think, Logan (2017), Wolverine gave his all in one last battle while knowing he would not survive. The Undertaker’s story was very similar, and after he was defeated, The Undertaker left his battle attire in the middle of the ring (his gloves, jacket, and hat) and in doing so, Mark Callaway left The Undertaker in the middle of the ring and walked back knowing his 27 year journey had come to an end.
No one could bear the sight and the thought of The Undertaker retiring, and because of that, instead of embracing a historic moment, fans chose to point fingers and speak negatively. “The match was not worthy of being The Undertaker’s final match” fans would say and the most popular one “Roman Reigns didn’t deserve to beat The Undertaker”. Whether fans choose to accept it or not, Roman Reigns is the future of the WWE. Roman is an incredibly talented performer who has consistently produced a high level of in-ring performances and makes the fans emotionally invest, something a number of performers fail to do at times. Perfect example being Seth Rollins, prior to the main event, Seth and Triple H had a hard-fought match, where both men gave everything they had (Seth also reportedly battled through a 103-degree fever). Fans claim to love Seth Rollins, and yet for a large portion of this match, they sat on their hands, whereas, Roman Reigns made the fans scream and chant, one way or another.
Much like the song in the promo package of The Undertaker and Roman Reigns says, Roman Reigns will forever have blood on his name for ending The Undertaker’s career. This is, however, another part of The Undertaker’s legacy – Undertaker has helped build the house that is World Wrestling Entertainment. The Undertaker was with the WWE from the heyday of ‘Hulkamania’ to the WWE’s struggles in the mid-nineties and then the WWE’s most successful time known as the ‘attitude era’. The Undertaker has been with the WWE through thick and thin, and his legacy is unmatched – it is impossible to describe the legacy The Undertaker has left behind, but Jim Ross’s description of The Undertaker in the WWE’s Greatest Superstars of 90’s DVD (2011) may be the best way to describe The Undertaker and his legacy: “I don’t know if anybody that I’ve ever encountered in my life, that better represents what I believe this business should be about than The Undertaker. You’re looking at character, integrity, work ethic, mental and physical toughness, dedication. All those things are what make up this human being. The WWE, before I got here in 93 and long after I’m gone, will likely never have anyone with as much influence and respect as The Undertaker”.