The 2017 WWE Royal Rumble has to be a catalyst for Undertaker, not a coronation.
The Deadman emerged on Monday's WWE Raw to enter his name in the Rumble match. His addition instantly boosts the star power of the bout and opens up a number of narrative avenues for WWE to take.
Undertaker is bound to face off with a fellow big man. The Battle Royal should be the genesis of a dream rivalry. But the future Hall of Famer doesn't need to be the last man standing to maximize his presence at the Jan. 29 event.
In New Orleans on Monday night, Undertaker interrupted Raw's head honchos, Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley, to announce he will officially be among the 30 men in the Royal Rumble match this year.
The bout is now stacked. Undertaker joined a field that had already included Brock Lesnar, Goldberg, Chris Jericho, Baron Corbin and The New Day.
His name alone will add intrigue to the contest. But how will WWE use Undertaker at the pay-per-view? How can The Phenom's part in the Rumble be the foundation for his journey to WrestleMania?
The one certainty is that he will not be the match's Iron Man.
Undertaker is 51 years old. His list of surgeries may be at novella length at this point. He is not pulling a Rey Mysterio and lasting one hour in the Rumble.
The safe bet is that he enters the 30-man match late—likely somewhere between 27th and 30th.
That would not only prevent Undertaker from having to be one of the bout's workhorses and risk injury ahead of WrestleMania, but it also would build anticipation. WWE will have a megastar in its back pocket as the match rolls on.
Arriving toward the end of the bout would also position him as one of the favorites.
That gives WWE a chance to tease an Undertaker victory, but the company should instead opt for a surprise elimination. Getting within inches of victory before falling should enrage The Deadman, which would provide a solid start to his WrestleMania rivalry.
A Monster Showdown
Undertaker will stare Braun Strowman in the face at some point.
WWE loves to craft visuals of two titans glaring at each other in the center of the ring, especially at the Royal Rumble. And WWE already teased that possibility.
As Wrestling Inc pointed out, cameras cut to Strowman watching Undertaker's Rumble announcement from backstage:
Some will believe that's a precursor for a Strowman-Undertaker clash at WrestleMania, but WWE doesn't need to go that far with it.
A staredown with The Phenom alone will boost the emerging star. And should Strowman get in some good shots on Undertaker, flooring him for a moment, the impact of their meeting will resonate.
Remember That This Is the New Era
The Royal Rumble has seen a number of repeat winners in recent years—Batista, John Cena, Triple H. It's been a celebration of the established rather than a launch pad for future stars.
That can't continue in 2017; an Undertaker victory would be a mistake.
But it sure may happen. Per OddsShark, Undertaker is the current favorite to win at even odds. Plus, if WWE plans to pit him against AJ Styles or Cena for the WWE Championship, a Rumble victory is an obvious path to either contest.
Undertaker doesn't need the win, though. The accomplishment will get lost amid all the feats on his resume.
Denny Burkholder of CBSSports.com reminded us just how long The Deadman has been around:
It's time to elevate someone new. Undertaker can find an alternative route to the WrestleMania marquee. Seth Rollins or Finn Balor being the last man standing on Jan. 29 is the better move.
That win will be career-changing for one of them and a statement about where WWE is headed. An Undertaker win represents indulging in nostalgia over constructing new stars.
Setting Up a Dream Match
A number of appealing potential options are on the table for Undertaker at WrestleMania, but none have the sizzle of The Deadman vs. Cena. That's the direction WWE should go, and it should begin the march to that matchup at the Rumble.
Crave Online writer Joshua Caudill predicted a Cena vs. Undertaker WrestleMania main event:
But it doesn't need to involve the WWE title. The match would be a massive one with or without the gold. The company is better off using the championship to bolster another bout.
At Royal Rumble, Cena and Undertaker must face off. It's the collision that fans have been expecting and dreaming about.
In the ideal scenario, neither man is able to overcome the other. They struggle in the corner at a stalemate.
Moments later, while Cena is busy with another foe, Undertaker hits him with a low blow and eliminates him. Going against his usual honorable approach, Cena later pulls The Phenom out of the ring from the outside. The two men brawl into the stands—Godzilla and Mothra slugging it out in the heart of the city.
It would be easy then to start telling a story of two prideful icons embracing their darkness in the pursuit of glory.
That would give Royal Rumble a tremendous moment to get folks talking. And WrestleMania 33 would have a megafight ready to go. WWE can't ask for more than that.