On WWE Raw on 2.13.2012, the end of an age began, the age that transcended five eras of the WWE. We all saw the Undertaker cutting his hair, or shall I say, his wig. It was an indication of the rise of Mark Calaway and the end of the Deadman as we know him.
The twilight years of Deadman’s career and the advent of the Reality Era have created some really interesting questions about the very existence of the Undertaker’s character. The end of the 'Taker's career was something we all wondered about. Whether the streak would be broken or not is an evergreen debate. Whether the cerebral assassin, Triple H, will be the one was another question.
The answers to some of the aforementioned questions are becoming clear now. This article is an endeavor to analyse those answers. This article is an attempt to see where does the Undertaker stand today and how WWE has cleverly dealt with such a monumental story.
So without any further ado, let’s roll.
For past 22 years and the five eras of the WWE, there have only been two constants, which are the Undertaker and the change.
Right from the day of Hulk Hogan to his incarnation à la John Cena, the Phenom has been integral to the WWE programming. Today, he is the only active wrestler in the company who wrestled on the first episode of Raw.
After the retirement of HBK, the legion of WWE legends has come to a halt, and the Undertaker remains the last member of that revered pantheon. He remains the symbol of all bygone eras of the WWE. And it will not be an exaggeration to say that today, he embodies the WWE for millions of fans.
Triple H acknowledged this fact on Raw last night. In what could be one of the greatest promos of his career, Triple H acknowledged the nostalgia value of the Undertaker.
Another hallmark of the Undertaker is that he is also the last specimen of dying clan i.e. legendary gimmicks. The Deadman is probably the greatest and longest surviving gimmick in the history of pro wrestling. Despite the days of “American Badass,” its purity and legacy have remained intact.
To put it simply, The Undertaker is one of the last epitome of classic Kayfabe, and this is where things get interesting.
In the wake of reality era, WWE has diluted Kayfabe to a great extent. They are lot more open and realistic these days. Terms like “heel” or “face” are no more treated as classified. The gimmicks have officially lost their outlandish touch. While Kane has been resurrected with a mask, his days without it are fresh and acknowledged.
The Undertaker, however, remained an exception. His character is perhaps the most protected character in WWE history. Everything about him screams Kayfabe. His character and its origins both defy the norms of reality era. It is not simply possible to conceive the Twitter handle of “HeelZiggler” and the Undertaker in one T.V. frame.
The bottom line is that the Deadman and Reality Era could not possibly blend in. However, considering that the Undertaker’s last match is still due, it was something the WWE could not avoid. Along with his coexistence with reality era, his last match is the second point, where WWE must have felt a massive dilemma.
For a long time, fans across the globe wondered as to how exactly the Undertaker would bid his adieu and how would he be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Given the fact that The Undertaker is perhaps the greatest legend in WWE history, having his swansong on any other platform than WrestleMania would have been a ludicrous proposition. And the streak, with its all emotional aura, almost closed the door for a retirement similar to that of Shawn Michaels' and Ric Flair's.
Secondly, when the day comes, fans would love to share some last moments with the Undertaker in the ring. Vince himself might wish to give him the fanfare similar to Edge and Flair. The mystique around the Deadman, however, nullified such possibilities. Immortality was both the bane and the boon of the Undertaker, the gimmick.
There was only one answer to both above discussed problems of WWE, and that was…
It sounds a little corny, but I cannot help it. The Undertaker, the character, had to be humanized to be in sync with the reality era and to be afforded with the luxuries of farewell.
One might think that returning as American Badass would have been a simple way. There is, however, one problem that the ABA character is no more culturally relevant. At such a vantage point in ‘Taker’s career, it would rather have a negative effect.
However, there is one commonality.
Not many people would remember, but the transition of the Undertaker from the Deadman to the ABA happened over a long period. In his role as “the lord of darkness," the Undertaker evolved every day to become more humane.
Something similar happened this time as well.
It all began on WrestleMania 26. During the last moments, Undertaker hugged HBK to show his respect. That one moment brought Undertaker into the realms of humanity.
The subsequent feud with Kane was also based on a single point—that Undertaker had become humane. He was no more the favorite demon of the devil. Due to various reasons, he lost all his encounters with Kane. In a way, it helped WWE’s cause.
The end of his WrestleMania match with Triple H was the last step. For the first time in his career, he had to be carted out of the arena. The immortal Undertaker had become mortal, a mere human with all humane limitations.
In his moral defeat last year, WWE planted the seeds for the swansong of the Undertaker. He can claim to have returned to erase images of the last year. He might win his last match in order to affirm his legacy and leave with a victory to rest in peace. Intentionally or unintentionally, WWE found out a way to have him undefeated till the end.
Fans often question the ability of WWE to create and build a longstanding story. The entire saga of the Undertaker, right from the beginning to the very end, is perhaps the apex testimony to the genius of Vince McMahon. We can argue that such genius only wakes up, when it deals with something close to him. But nonetheless, the credit must be given where it’s due.
Until yesterday, personally, I was not in favour of the third encounter between the Undertaker and Triple H. However, now I am tilting towards it. Before I move on, I just wanted to say that Triple H cut one heck of a promo last night. In three minutes, he summed up an era and its symbolic significance.
However, what happened after it is a curious development, i.e. the official end of the Deadman.
Last night, we saw the Undertaker cutting his hair. I believe that his motive was simple. The Undertaker, by shredding the Deadman, ensured that the “brand Undertaker” ceases to exist. The nostalgia and the brand are all associated with Deadman, not Mark Calaway. Once the Deadman ceases to exist, Triple H has no reason to argue the intricacies of “business."
This monumental development, however, has another far reaching and bigger implication.
The end of the Deadman means complete rise of the Reality Era. With the demise of the Deadman, classic kayfabe has lost its luster to a tremendous degree.
Like I said in the first sentence of this article, it’s an end of one monumental age and beginning of a new era. WWE is on the threshold of its tryst with the future. Soon enough, it will change forever.
The road ahead is highly unpredictable, but one thing is certain: It will be unforgettable.
Time has a cruel tendency of moving on swiftly, and some showmen like the Undertaker just expedite it. The journey that lasted for 22 years has almost reached its conclusion. Many of us are very close to lose a piece of our childhood, and it is something difficult to sink in. Whether this will be the last match of Mark Calaway is something uncertain, but we have certainly seen the last of the Deadman as we have come to know him for two decades.
His third encounter with the Game is mere formality now. Whether people want it or not is immaterial at this juncture. It is clearly something Calaway wants.
I believe a point has come where we all should just sit back and enjoy the road ahead, and remember, it is a very short one...