In professional wrestling, there are certain figures that almost define what it means to be a fan. They have this extra little something that is hard to identify and difficult to describe. You can find scouts and experts in professional football speak about quarterbacks in a similar way saying that they have a certain “intangible.” I think that’s transferable to WWE as well because for every Joe Montana there is a Ric Flair, for every Tom Brady there is a Shawn Michaels and so on. The most respected names in this industry have the intangibles that are few and hard to come by.
In that category of special talent, the Undertaker certainly makes an appearance. The Undertaker without question has a certain intangible that is hard to come by. I’ve heard many past legends say that giving the “Undertaker” gimmick to someone else in that time period, they probably would’ve failed miserably. And they’re probably right.
Not only does the Deadman have an intangible that isn’t commonly seen, for decades now, he has been designated as wrestling’s moral compass, not only in the ring, but backstage and in the locker room. There are countless “wrestler’s court” stories where the Undertaker was seen as the judge, jury and in some cases, the executioner. Colleagues viewed the Undertaker as the moral standard by which the locker room and the business would run on.
To be fully transparent, I want to make it clear that I have an incredibly high opinion of the Undertaker, as he is someone who is one of my all time personal favorites and he’s partially responsible for why I love wrestling so much to this very day. But at the same time, I feel like there is something about the Undertaker that no one else is willing to point out.
For the past several years, the Deadman has made his appearances once or twice a year, pops a rating for Vince and pieces together his damaged body for another match at WrestleMania. And for many, that’s enough. They enjoy seeing the Undertaker come back and have “one more match,” make his entrance at WrestleMania or cut a cryptic promo at an old school RAW.
But is it all worth it? Are we going to turn a blind eye to the Undertaker for his constant comebacks after seemingly “hanging it up?” If this were Hulk Hogan, would we be so willing to accept him back, or Ric Flar? Mick Foley perhaps? Is there really a difference between the Undertaker getting back in the ring and someone like Shawn Michaels at this point? The reason I’m comparing all these names is that it seems we’ve given the Undertaker a pass. Because of who he is and what he means to the business, we aren’t as harsh on him as we were to push Hogan to the side, or Flair or any other big name that was on their way out of the business because their bodies couldn’t hold up anymore.
Let’s be real here, everyone. The Undertaker at WrestleMania 33 looked like complete garbage. He looked old, out of shape and worst of all, in pain. Not only in physical pain, but mentally trying to push through and perform for the fans in Orlando and the millions watching at home. Although the efforts from the Deadman are appreciated, I’d prefer those efforts be put to rest. The question I’ve had since WrestleMania 30 is why does he keep coming back? Why won’t he just retire and call it quits?
The reason is selfishness.
To flat out call the Undertaker selfish is, I’m sure for many of you, going too far. But why? That’s exactly what it is. Year after year, Mark Calaway makes his way back to WWE only to let us down. His promos just aren’t the same, nor is the presence he once carried. His matches have gotten worse each year and his body has slowly diminished to where it looks like a scene from the movie, “The Wrestler.”
It’s never easy to walk away from the business, by all accounts. Performer after performer has detailed in the past that stepping away from the fans and the energy that you get from walking out on stage and getting inside that squared circle is incredibly painful. To hear the fans roar for you is addictive, like a drug. These guys eat it up and want more. Now, when I call the Undertaker selfish, I mean that in the most respectful way possible. I understand that the Undertaker or Mark Calaway maybe doesn’t want to hang it up yet for that very reason. Or maybe it’s the money. Getting a seven figure paycheck for one night a year must be hard to just walk away from.
Additionally, I’m sure it must be hard to walk away from someone like Vince McMahon, who has enabled the Undertaker to come back every year. Many want to cast blame on Vince for asking him to come back every year, like the Undertaker is somehow a slave to Vince. The Undertaker can say no if he wants too, but he doesn’t. That’s his choice and no one is making it for him.
But you know what’s worse than one out of touch person? Two. Not to say that the Undertaker and Vince don’t know what they’re doing, because they do. They know Taker will still sell tickets and get a pop, but the question is can they deliver on the promise to the person buying the ticket anymore? The answer to that question for me is no. The Undertaker can no longer deliver what WWE is selling, which in their eyes is quality. No, they don’t always deliver on that promise regardless, but the people they put in those positions have the ability to do just that; the Deadman doesn’t.
If we take a second to step back, I wonder what Mark Calaway would think about someone else doing what he’s done over the last 5-6 years. Not being able to let go of the glory days and taking advantage of fans that still want the old Undertaker, but instead, getting a low-rent Indy version. I always viewed the Undertaker as someone who would know when it was time to go. Who would be able to hear when father time is knocking at his door. I guess I was wrong. Very wrong.
Granted, I will probably mark out just like everyone else when he confronts John Cena this week on RAW, but when the bells rings and it’s time to perform, we’ll see what we’ve seen every year since WrestleMania 30: a watered down version of an Undertaker match. And I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have no Undertaker, than a poor-man’s version. And even though we’ll all be excited and thrilled to see him, it’s deceiving and we all know it, but don’t want to admit it.
My reasoning for writing this article isn’t to make his fans upset or “get clicks.” It’s to point out that we are unfairly giving the Undertaker a pass that no one deserves. No performer or wrestler is bigger than the business itself. Father time is undefeated and when it’s time to go, then it’s time to go. Although the match at WrestleMania 33 versus Roman Reigns wasn’t the best match I’ve seen from the Undertaker, it was the best way to end his career at this point in time: leaving his gloves, hat and legacy in the ring where it belongs and saying goodbye to his loyal fans.
Thanks for reading, everyone!