When it came to light that legendary WWE manager Paul Bearer passed away at the age of 58 last week, wrestling fans everywhere mourned his loss and anticipated how the WWE would handle it. The company paid tribute to him on Monday night and couldn't have possibly done a better job.
Raw started off with a video package dedicated to Bearer, but it was only the first of many throughout the night. After most commercial breaks the WWE played a clip of some of his signature moments, including becoming the manager of The Undertaker and introducing Kane to the wrestling world. It was a fantastic touch on the WWE's part.
After the opening tribute, The Undertaker fittingly came to the ring with Bearer's urn. Taker placed the urn on a stand and knelt down in front of it in a heartwarming show of respect. Before The Phenom could finish his moment, though, CM Punk's music hit. The Undertaker's WrestleMania XXIX opponent claimed that he wasn't trying to be disrespectful, but that is how it came across to many.
While every fan seemed to love the videos that were played in memory of Bearer, there are some who were apparently offended by Punk interrupting The Undertaker. I suppose I can understand why there are people out there who believe Punk coming out in the middle of the tribute was distasteful, but WWE covered itself just fine after that.
During the commercial break Kane came out in a fit of rage and attempted to chokeslam Punk off the stage. Punk was able to escape, but Vickie Guerrero set up a no disqualification match between the two of them for later in the night. The WWE continued to air Bearer videos throughout the night, so it's clear that the company had every intention of celebrating his life and career.
Kane brought the urn with him and placed it on a stand at ringside prior to his match with Punk. It was a back-and-forth affair, which Punk was ready to end with a GTS, but The Undertaker's bell tolled from out of nowhere. A distracted Punk was then chokeslammed by The Big Red Monster. Kane scored the pinfall victory and avenged Punk's disrespect of his kayfabe father's memory.
The night was far from over, though, as Punk exited the ring, grabbed the urn and proceeded to attack Kane with it. The Undertaker attempted to make the save, but Punk escaped and brought the urn with him. As Raw came to a close, Punk knelt on the ramp with the urn in his hand as he mocked The Undertaker. The Deadman responded with his signature throat-slashing motion to mark the official start of their feud.
Again, perhaps some fans were put off by Punk taking the urn as it is a representation of Bearer's life and wrestling career, but I believe the WWE did an incredible job. One of the main complaints prior to this WrestleMania program was that Punk and Taker had no heat, and thus the feud made little sense. Stealing the urn is a huge deal, though, and suddenly The Undertaker has a reason to hate Punk.
I'm sure there are people out there who believe that a real death should never be incorporated into a wrestling storyline. I respect that notion because I know that Bearer's death hit a lot of fans very hard. As somebody who had the incredible honor of interviewing him a couple months ago on an episode of Ring Rust Radio, I can honestly say that Bearer was one of the most gentlemanly and interesting men in the wrestling business.
With that said, professional wrestling meant everything to Bearer. He started off as a photographer in the southern territories before becoming a wrestler and eventually a manager. His dedication to his craft was unmatched by anyone else as he truly put his heart and soul into everything he did. In fact, if there was one thing that Bearer cherished and respected possibly even more than his own life, it was the business of professional wrestling.
I can't speak for Bearer as I wasn't a close personal friend, but the impression I got from him is that he was willing to do anything to help the WWE and the business in general. Unfortunately he isn't alive today to give his thoughts on the way things were handled on Raw, but I have a strong feeling that he would have been perfectly fine with that.
After all, Bearer participated in angles that concluded in his supposed death by way of being buried in cement, pushed off a balcony and locked in a cooler. He was also an actual mortician by trade, so he had to deal with death on a daily basis. With that in mind, he had to have a different perspective on life and death than most of us. Death was such a part of his real job and his wrestling character that it likely became second nature to him.
Former wrestler and current WWE producer Michael Hayes probably said it best when reflecting on the life of his close friend in a recent interview with WWE.com.
He was just a great guy and we need to cherish and celebrate his life, that’s what he would want. He wouldn’t want people mourning because he’d tell you there was nothing to mourn about.
Based on the video packages that were played throughout the night and the kind words that so many had to say about Bearer's life and career, Monday's episode of Raw was definitely more of a celebration than anything. The WWE has admittedly had some trouble handling deaths tastefully in the past, such as Randy Orton telling Rey Mysterio that Eddie Guerrero was "in hell," but the company has clearly come a long way since then.
Not only was Bearer respected and celebrated by the WWE and its fans, but his memory was able to advance a storyline and make Punk vs. Taker seem extremely personal. Knowing how much Bearer loved wrestling, I have to believe that he would view what happened on Raw as the perfect combination.
Also, listen to Paul Bearer's interview with Ring Rust Radio here.