Last Sunday marked the end of an era for the WWE. The Undertaker took the ring for the last time in the main event of Wrestlemania. After losing to Roman Reigns, Taker left his trademark gloves, coat, and hat in the middle of the ring. This act served as confirmation for what many believed going into the night, the Undertaker was bidding farewell to his life as an in-ring performer. After the match, the Undertaker stayed in the ring to soak in the moment, which brought many of the fans in Orlando (and those watching on TV) to tears. The ten minute curtain call was easily the best moment of Wrestlemania, as we looked one last time at the man many consider to be one of the top three wrestling characters of all time.
The match preceding the curtain call, however, has been widely criticized by many wrestling fans and critics. Twitter was alight with bemoaning of Taker losing, the quality of the match, and the whole Roman Reigns thing. To be honest, the match itself had some difficult moments to watch. The nearly-failed Last Ride, the botched reverse Tombstone, the awkward application of Hell’s Gate. These moments were unfortunate for sure. The match also was way too long. There was no reason this match needed to last 20+ minutes, yet it did. One thing that was lost in the knee jerk reaction of the match was that despite the awkwardness and length, the match told the perfect story.
Yes, you read that right, I thought the storyline of the match was perfect. Look at the build up to the match. This match was about whose “yard” the WWE was. I agree, the metaphor of the “yard” is unfortunate, but this match was designed to end the Undertaker’s career. Not in a “loser leaves town” or “retirement” match gimmick, but a true swan song for one of the best to ever step in the squared circle. The Undertaker clearly struggled along at points in this match, but that was what we were being sold in the story. Reigns had to be, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the better man in this match to sell this angle.
The Undertaker dominated the beginning of the match, but as it wore on Reigns clearly took over. Look at the bumps Taker took in this match: running into the ring post, getting speared through an announcer table, taking 1000 spears, chair shots, going over the top rope and landing on his feet (this counts as a bump for a guy with the medical history of the Undertaker). We (fans) wanted to see Taker dominate Reigns like Kendrick Lamar dominating fools in his new song Humble (NSFW). That would not have served any purpose though. What does the WWE gain from Undertaker winning? Sure the feels would’ve been there, but wrestling fans are notorious for holding out hope that our favorites have one more match in them. Does anyone really believe that the Undertaker has one more match in him after that? I think that was the point.
That brings us to the Roman Reigns thing. I’m not going to make a case for Reigns to be (or not to be) whatever the WWE is trying to turn him into. If there is one thing I’ve learned from listening to Bruce Prichard’s “Something to Wrestle With” podcast, it’s that you have to work with the guys you’ve got available. All of the other big names were involved in storylines and matches for Wrestlemania, storylines that play out beyond this one night in April. Ric Flair, Stone Cold, and Shawn Michaels all had the benefit of going out against guys who were there peers in terms of greatness (HBK, Rock, and Undertaker, respectively). There is nobody on the current roster who is on Undertaker’s level. Randy Orton and John Cena are the closest, but Orton has been in a storyline with Bray Wyatt and honestly Cena gets booed almost as much as Reigns does. Triple H may have been an option, but there’s no logical angle there. The situation was what it was, and Reigns drew the short straw here. Those who argue for a heel turn may eventually get that, but to turn heel Sunday night Reigns would have risked overshadowing Taker himself.
Ultimately, Undertaker’s last match at Wrestlemania wasn’t about the match at all. This was an opportunity for him to come out one more time on the stage where he transformed himself into the Phenom. When we think back on the Undertaker’s career we won’t think about this match. We’ll think about Wrestlemania 14 when he faced off with Kane. We’ll think of the 1998 King of the Ring when he threw Mankind off the cell. We’ll think of Casket matches, Buried Alive matches, the Streak, and all those ridiculously classic matches with Shawn Michaels. I’ll personally think of 2002 Unforgiven, the only pay-per-view I’ve ever attended. On that night I watched the Undertaker rip my 16 year old heart out when he beat Hulk Hogan for the WWE Championship. As he laid his gear in the center of the ring Sunday night, he left his heart there for the fans in the arena, for the fans watching, and for me. #ThankYouUndertaker