“The Undertaker needs to retire. WreslteMania 33 should have been his last match.” It wasn’t an uncommon sentiment, and in the interest of full disclosure, I said it, too. That match with Roman was and largely remains highly underrated by most. It wasn’t a technical masterpiece, but it told a gripping story of an ageing veteran who was not yet ready to give up his position to younger talent, and was ultimately put down. Gear left in the ring, Mark Calaway breaking character and kissing his wife... it would have been a fitting end. But the company didn’t let it stand, and the closure many of us found with Roman Reigns was chiselled away. By the time of ‘Taker’s disastrous match with Goldberg at Super Showdown, it was hard not to be afraid that the Undertaker was becoming a parody of the wrestler he’d said he’d never wanted to be. Many people found themselves regretfully hoping that he would never fight again, but the idea of that being his last match did not sit well for a lot of people. Apparently, it didn’t sit well with him, either. When Shane McMahon started saying that it was now “his yard” because Roman couldn’t defend it against he and Drew McIntyre, The Undertaker returned to defend Roman, and challenge that claim. A tag team match for Extreme Rules was set, and everyone wondered how the two former rivals would work together. ‘Taker had said that Roman had not asked for his help, so how would he receive it? They had only shared the ring once since WrestleMania 33, and it was a match at MSG that most people didn’t see. Shame, because that was the night ‘Taker shook Roman’s hand, and may have led to his decision, here.
I have to be honest: I’ve only been watching wrestling since 2016. Every now and then the deficit rears it’s head. The Undertaker is a prime example of this, and I know I’m not seeing the same things others are. Most people have a history, a collective memory of who and what The Undertaker should be. Even without seeing the majority of those matches, I knew it was a shocking dissonance from days gone by, and part of me dreaded the match. It worked in theory, as long as Roman did all the heavy lifting. But with a Philadelphia crowd, who knew how it would be received? The story had to be good, and so many people were sick of seeing Shane. Would the match be rejected out of hand?
Turns out, I needn’t have worried. They made good use of Roman’s physicality, but the Deadman did not disappoint; he showcased moves that I’d only ever heard about. My Twitter timeline lit up with excited, happy people. The live thread I run on reddit was much the same. Low expectations alone couldn’t generate this kind of excitement. Meanwhile, Roman put in his fair share of the work. One Samoan Drop to McIntyre was more of a Samoan Throw, as he picked him up near effortlessly—no inconsiderable feat! But the most amazing moment of the night had to be when ‘Taker stood facing the camera, and in the background, McIntyre appeared, menacing. As he prepared to go into the Claymore, SPEAR! from out of nowhere—Roman took him out. When Shane went after Roman in retribution, he caught him and tossed him to the Undertaker, who got the pin.
In some ways, the most epic moment of the night came afterwards. Not the hand-raise that some expected, but a quiet moment, eye to eye. “It’s your yard,” The Undertaker said. We may not have seen the last of the Deadman; if he chooses to go out on this match, I don’t think anyone could be disappointed, even if he didn’t put younger talent over in the traditional sense. If he chooses to stay, well, he’s earned that right. Either way, I think we may be seeing the beginning of a new era, one that might never have been reached without the team-up of the Graveyard Dogs.