Father Time waits for no man. Or Phenom, for that matter.
Sunday night at Extreme Rules, The Undertaker returns to WWE pay-per-view, teaming with Roman Reigns to battle Shane McMahon and Drew McIntyre in what is little more than a desperate grab for WWE Network subscriptions and television ratings. Beyond the transparency, though, is a Superstar whose reputation as one of the greatest icons to ever lace a pair of boots takes a substantial hit every time he sets foot inside the squared circle.
At Super ShowDown in Jeddah this past June, The Dead Man was one-half of an embarrassing main event that not only exposed his age and limitations but, also, the industry as a whole. It was easily the worst match on a major stage in many years and further proof that it is time for Undertaker to preserve his legacy, ride off into the sunset and not come back under any circumstances.
It is ironic that he teams with Reigns Sunday night because it was The Big Dog who appeared to have sent him packing back in 2017 at WrestleMania 33.
On that night, Undertaker wrestled another ugly match full of botches and miscommunications before Reigns put him down with the spear and became only the second man to defeat The Dead Man on that grand stage. When it was all over, the greatest of Vince McMahon’s creations laid down his gear, made the long walk up the aisle and disappeared into the stage, seemingly never to be seen again.
And we were all ok with that.
More so than ever before, the audience recognized that the performer before them was not the same Undertaker who blew the roof off Reliant Stadium in Houston with Shawn Michaels in 2009. He was not the same Deadman who wowed in matches against Triple H, John Cena, Batista, Edge, Chris Jericho and Rey Mysterio. He was a step slower, no longer able to keep up with the star of this new generation, no matter how much he tried or how driven he was to. Stepping away rather than sticking around for one year or one match too long was the right move.
But he did not. He came back, he overexposed himself and in the process, began chipping away at a legacy he worked a quarter of a century to build. He keeps exposing his own weaknesses, reminding fans that he is too old to keep up and ruining the goodwill he had built with them over the years. He is that old slugger who has not quite figured out he is not a major league hitter any more but is willing to go to home plate and whiff on every fast ball until he is more caricature than legend.
Yes, his appearances still create excitement in the same way that an old episode of Rocko’s Modern Life on Nickelodeon might for a generation of youths who grew up watching. The lighting, the music, the fake thunder and lightning…all still inspire goosebumps.
At this point, though, it is more bells and whistles designed to distract the viewer from the fact that the greatest phenomenon to ever step through the ropes of a McMahon-owned ring simply cannot go anymore.
WWE will still sell pay-per-views on the name of The Deadman, convincing those same fans who grew up watching Rocko and Heffer’s weekly antics to go all-in on the latest appearance by their childhood hero. Good for them. If you can make the money, make it. That money, though, comes at the expense of a character’s whose aura takes a hit every time he mistimes a spot or fails to lift an opponent correctly for a Tombstone.
And Sunday, when it again becomes obvious that WWE needs to stop coercing Undertaker out of his semi retirement while he still has a shred of the mystique that once made him such a spectacular attraction, both company and performer will have no one to blame but themselves.
As hard as it is to say goodbye, as inconvenient as it is to focus on taking the talent at its disposal and create stars out of them, it is time WWE management allows The Undertaker to rest…in…peace.
For the sake of everyone that has ever loved that character but, more significantly, for the man who busted his body and taxed his mind for three decades to evolve and mold that persona into one of the most iconic in sports entertainment history.