When he returned on RAW this past Monday, I couldn't help but notice that something seemed off about the Undertaker. Never mind that the fans had not seen him in nearly 10 months, even the reaction was somewhat off.
Teasing a possible Wrestlemania match with Triple H, he looked much thinner than he has been in many years. He still had the imposing look of the character he once portrayed, but something was missing.
Even the way that Triple H handled the situation was somewhat surprising. When the gong used to sound and he made his way to the ring, opposing wrestlers used to run away, or freeze in fear.
Triple H patted him on the shoulder and smirked.
The crowd was hot for his return, of course, but there was a time when he would set a place on fire. People flew out of their seats for his entrance. While the fans seemed excited by his return, the response was more tepid than anyone probably expected.
Don't misunderstand me here, I have been a big supporter of the Undertaker for many years. I think his accomplishments speak for themselves, and he has contributed more to the business than most could ever hope or claim to.
But after decades of abuse in the ring, could it be time for the Deadman to hang up his wrestling boots?
I know that almost anyone would say no to that question. But there is good reason for asking it. He has been out of action a lot more in the past several years than he has been a ring performer. At age 46, his best years are clearly behind him.
We're talking about a man who completely changed the way we look at big men in wrestling. Huge wrestlers were always a draw, but at nearly seven feet tall, and with the ability to move like a man half his size, the Undertaker did things that we all marvelled at. His "old-school" walk of the top rope would be impressive even for a cruiserweight, let alone a man of his size.
Now, there seems to be a labored look to anything he does, whether it's performing his normal array of maneuvers, or even doing his signature throat-cut gesture. It all looks forced at this point.
And don't we all think the same thing every time we see Hogan at this point?
Sure, we get pumped when we hear the first few notes of Real American, or whatever theme music he now uses in TNA. But the second that Hogan hobbles through the entryway, we sort of feel sorry for him.
Decades upon decades of physical abuse have rendered Hogan barely able to walk, let alone wrestle. Which is why we tend to see him simply throwing punches, swinging chairs, or engaging in tag-team matches where the demands on his body are few and far between.
Seemingly, the only relevance the WWE sees in the Undertaker at this point is in the draw for Wrestlemania-related dollars.
Pushing him out of the curtain once a year to main-event the biggest wrestling pay-per view of the year may seem like a great idea, and it is in terms of a fiscal sense. But it takes on a side-showy feel. Almost like the company is saying "We know this might have run its course, but here you go anyway."
I'm all for tradition, but in 15 years, does anyone want to see a 60-year-old Undertaker coming to the ring once a year to take on a man half his age? And probably beat him?
Don't answer that, because we all probably do. Just like we all want to see Hogan do whatever it is that he's doing now.
And whether it's the anticipation of seeing the big leg-drop or a Tombstone, or seeing what could potentially be their last match, we all have a soft spot for our favorite wrestlers, whether it's still their time or not.