The Undertaker should ride off into the sunset once and for all - Why Deadman Inc. needs to suffer a hostile takeover
When I was a teenager, the local county fair had a “Legends of Wrestling” event, drawing me out to that stench-filled pit of humanity, sadness, and funnel cakes. The chance to go to any kind of professional wrestling in southeast Ohio Appalachia is rare, so I sprang into action and went with my sister and her boyfriend.
Upon getting there, I was delighted to see that I recognized some of the names on the card, including The Bushwackers, Demolition, and Greg Valentine. I never expected to see people I knew, let alone a team like The Bushwackers, who were one of my favorite teams as a child.
That delight turned sour upon seeing the team from down under, far from their glory days. In fact, they looked so physically terrible that their glory days had lapped them multiple times and already pulled into the garage for the night. The most offense either wrestler could muster was a few headbutts and sad punches as two younger guys bounced all around the ring to make the fan favorites look somewhat decent.
There was a literal moment of thinking in my head “Oh. Oh….. Oh.” as the reality of life and professional wrestling reared its ugly head. These guys had no right to be in a wrestling ring and in an instant my memories of the two were betrayed and ruined, forever. I’ll always associate Luke and Butch with those shells of their former selves that I saw on the fair grounds that night in front of forty people. That image is now attached for all time.
I have to imagine the same thing happened to more than a few people at the 2017 Royal Rumble upon seeing The Undertaker’s struggle to exist in the ring and stand upright for more than four minutes.
Mark Calaway’s best days as The Deadman are far behind him, and as injuries and poor performances continue to add up, I can only hope that the final days of The Phenom are coming to a close.
The Undertaker will turn 52 next month, and while that age seems like the norm for performing part-timers (including Goldberg and Ric Flair), there are far more miles on the Dead Man’s treads than almost any other performer.
Taker has had multiple surgeries in the past five years, including hip replacement, rotator cuff surgery, and scope procedures to clean up ligament damage. The most damaging injury, however, is a massive back injury suffered in the late 90’s, on par with the one Shawn Michaels suffered.
These injuries are showing on Taker, as the man who stood in the ring at this year’s Royal Rumble could barely move and threw punches with all the velocity of someone with severely limited mobility and dexterity. Backstage reports per Dave Meltzer and The Wrestling Observer state that Taker’s short time in the ring left him damaged and suggesting that more surgery may be in his future.
I am convinced that permanent damage has already occurred to the legacy of The Undertaker, with his match against Shane McMahon at last year’s WrestleMania being the sad display of a guy who used to give off an aura of menace and spectacle now looking like someone’s tired grandfather that wandered into the ring. There’s only so many times WWE can pull him out of the mothballs and try their chances at making Undertaker a still-believable component of the WWE narrative, and this past time may have been one time too many.
There’s an argument to be made that if people are still shelling out good money to see Undertaker, or that if he’s able to put on a great match then whose business is it that Undertaker continues to get in the ring? Stop me if you’ve heard this argument from me before, but this largely has to do with WWE’s responsibility to Undertaker’s physical well-being, as well as the health of his legacy.
Each sub-par match that Undertaker has to slog through is yet another dent in the armor that is Undertaker’s storied career. He’s unable to have matches against anyone that isn’t able to physically overwhelm him and do all the work like Brock Lesnar, or someone such as Shane McMahon can kill themselves to make the match work.
Even that is too much to ask at this point, as his WrestleMania match against McMahon was one of the worst matches I saw last year, more spectacle for the inevitable moment where Shane would jump off of the cage than anything else.
WWE missed their window to have Deadman Inc. close shop in a dignified, intelligent way long ago, and now fans are the ones who have to suffer through seeing perhaps the best and most important professional wrestler in history as he circles the drain of audience pity ruined memories.
Simply put: The man who is going to square off against Roman Reigns at this year’s WrestleMania is not The Undertaker. I don’t know who this guy is, but he isn’t the menacing, fear-inducing spectre of my youth and he certainly isn’t the tough as nails yard-ruler from my college years. I don’t know who this guy is. One thing I am certain of though is that he shouldn’t be a professional wrestler any longer.