There is no question that WWE fans everywhere were taken by surprise on Saturday night when it was revealed that The Undertaker had returned at a live event in Waco, Texas. It initially came across as a head-scratching decision, but it was ultimately a very logical and intelligent tactic on the WWE's part.
As much as we like to be surprised as fans, the WWE is in the business of drawing television ratings and making money. With WWE Champion The Rock not scheduled to appear on Raw this week, the WWE needs something to catch the attention of the fans. Brock Lesnar does that to some degree, but there is no question that The Undertaker is an even bigger draw at this juncture.
Taker hasn't been seen on WWE programming since the 1,000th episode of Raw. And aside from that, he hasn't been seen since WrestleMania XXVIII. Fans realize that he doesn't have many years left as an active competitor, so they'll flock whenever he shows up. Because he wrestled in Waco and Raw is in Dallas, it stands to reason that he'll play a part on the show.
Having him appear at a house show first was a unique tactic on the WWE's part, but it wasn't that much different from what the WWE did the past two years. It was somewhat surprising when Taker interrupted Triple H's firing of John Laurinaitis last year, but vignettes had aired for several weeks ahead of time, so it was known that The Phenom would be coming back at some point.
The same thing happened the previous year, and those vignettes even included a return date, so the element of surprise didn't come into play at all.
The fact that Taker came back at a live event eliminates the spontaneity from a potential return on Raw. However, now that fans are aware of the possibility that he'll show up on Raw, they are more likely to tune in than they otherwise would have been.
From a business perspective, the WWE absolutely made the right decision in publicizing Taker ahead of this week's edition of Raw. There was a legion fans, including myself, who expected The Undertaker to return this week regardless, but there were even more who were convinced that he would sit out WrestleMania.
Now that everyone knows he's back in the picture, there is plenty of buzz regarding Taker's status, and it has obviously increased interest.
The departure from return promos makes me wonder if the WWE and The Undertaker only came to terms recently. Perhaps there wasn't even enough notice to produce vignettes ahead of time. That could potentially explain the reasoning behind the random house show appearance.
It may not be as flashy, but it will have the same effect in terms of generating and excitement and causing fans of all kinds to tune in.
Since the WWE has so many part-time guys currently in the fold, it has had to balance everything to ensure that there is enough star power on a weekly basis.
With neither The Rock nor Chris Jericho available this week, Vince McMahon knew that he needed something big to counteract that. And as it's even rarer to see Taker than The Rock, Jericho or pretty much any part-timer these days, the WWE put itself in an advantageous position.
If the WWE had kept things quiet on the Taker front, then I'm sure the usual fans would have watched Raw in hopes that he would return. Those fans are going to tune in regardless, though. The borderline fans who are watching for the sake of nostalgia wouldn't have followed suit. With no Rock, no Jericho and no mention of The Undertaker, there wouldn't have been much incentive for them to check in.
Suddenly, the WWE has everyone locked in for three hours, as Taker's official return will probably be saved for the end of the show following John Cena vs. CM Punk. Even so, fans will be compelled to watch throughout, as they won't want to miss The Undertaker.
There are a lot of things that the WWE deserves criticism for, but when it comes to building toward something and drawing an audience, there may be no better organization in the entire world.
Perhaps this entire situation is robbing us of a memorable moment, but I'm just happy to know that The Undertaker is back. There is no doubt that I would have preferred a surprise from a fan perspective, but as someone who also recognizes that the WWE is a business, I can't blame the company for handling Taker the way it has thus far.
Some may call it anticlimactic. However, the live crowd is going to go nuts when The Undertaker appears, and I'm sure that the vast majority of the fans at home will be on the edge of their seats as well. When it comes down to it, fans just want to see The Undertaker compete at WrestleMania, and it really doesn't matter how he gets there.
Although I'm sure that there is a contingent of fans out there that will continue to complain about this for selfish reasons, everyone needs to take a step back and assess the situation.
Everyone will ultimately be a winner here: The fans will get to see The Undertaker back in a WWE ring, while the WWE will reap the benefits of essentially announcing it ahead of time rather than making it a total surprise.