In some ways, this match was perfect, not in execution. The Undertaker not being able to do some signature moves and given his inability to complete a reversal of a tombstone was tragic. The only entity that is and always will be undefeated is time. Time will conquer us all. Things we were able to do when we were in our 20s can no longer be done. How fitting that someone known as the Deadman has been able to sustain himself for 27 years. He has reinvented himself multiple times. He’s changed gear, developed more of an attitude, went full satan, got himself a bike, returned to his roots, and had the kind of late career renaissance that no one could have possibly seen coming.
From the moment Jim Ross walked out to a warm welcome, it felt different. Everything. Wrestlemania felt like Wrestlemania again. In these 45 minutes, Jim Ross wasn’t a bitter old man clinging to ways of the past but the magician on commentary we all expected. This wasn’t about existing as a parody or soundboard but one of the all-time greats.
This was the first Wrestlemania Howard Finkel wasn’t an active participant. This is also the last year The Undertaker will ever wrestle at a Wrestlemania. In the end Father Time won. I was five when he debuted. I’m 31 and nearly 32 as he finally stepped foot into the ring for the last time. The first Gulf War had just started. Gorilla Monsoon was the announcer at Survivor Series 1990. From the moment he stepped into the ring, he was completely different. Being a cartoon or highly theatrical has always been a mixed bag in pro wrestling, but Mark Calloway made you believe The Undertaker was real. He never winked at the camera. He never broke character. He never made you believe what he was doing was silly, even when silliness happened around him. Most importantly, he never left WWE.
The Undertaker arrived in the WWF at the tail end of the first boom period for pro wrestling. After the debacle of the New Generation and the beginning of the Attitude Era, how could The Undertaker endure through a more realistic time period. At first, he got even weirder. Then he toned down the supernatural and got a motorcycle. After a few years away, the Deadman came back and he spent the remainder of his career straddling the fence between those two characters. Something even more amazing happened. He had some really fucking good matches.
Batista made a claim before Wrestlemania 23 that he and Taker would have a match that would rival Ricky Steamboat versus Randy Savage some twenty years earlier. In no way did that match top Steamboat and Savage, but it came much closer than I could have ever imagined. He would go on a five year run of having some of the best matches in the company’s history as the streak continued.
Once the streak ended, things were never the same. Even in the Brock Lesnar Wrestlemania 30 match, it was obvious he was done. He just couldn’t do it anymore. Years of injuries, bumps, and toiling on the road had done their damage. The big man was never the same, and this match was not only a farewell, but a chance to see what the ravages of time can do to even the best ever. The story of retirements began at Wrestlemania 24 with Shawn Michaels ending Ric Flair’s career. It continued two years later with Undertaker retiring Shawn Michaels. Now the circle is complete as Roman Reigns ended the Undertaker in the same facility Flair was retired in nine years ago.
Some will criticize Romans as being the man to finally defeat Undertaker. In so many ways, this is the perfect representation of WWE as a whole. Reigns isn’t bad. He’s not great. He’s just a guy, a guy who has been protected by WWE over the years despite never showing anything more than the average midcarder. I don’t hate him, but I can’t say I like him. I cannot imagine the burden Reigns will carry with him for the rest of his career, but he will never be what WWE hopes for. The fans have clearly rejected him time and time again. This match wasn’t even about booing or cheering. Even during the waning moments of this match, the fans responded with more apathy than passion. The Undertaker, the man who has been the soul of WWE for over 20 years, turned over the promotion to someone who may never find his wrestling soul and be able to carry the ball. Reigns made it clear more than ever his last of instincts when it comes to being one of the best. Working in WWE’s system has clear benefits, but the indies and Japan can teach men and women to diversity their moveset and understand the struggle.
When I became a wrestling fan, there are three men who got me into it: The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, and Bret Hart. Getting to see them live at Wrestlemania 26 was something I’ll never forget and may be the reason I ultimately never attend another. Now all of three of those men are gone, and I don’t know what the future holds for this sport. There’s still a lot of talent. There are still great matches. But just like Roman Reigns looked around like a lost puppy at certain points in this match, I look around and have trouble finding wrestling’s soul.
Thank you Undertaker for the memories and for making me believe at 10, at 20, and even at 31 as my stomach turned in knots watching Undertaker leave his hat, coat, and gloves in the ring.
Winner (s)/Rating: Roman Reigns/****