Undertaker has stumbled on the WWE WrestleMania stage in recent years but will find his stride against Roman Reigns.
During the heart of his undefeated streak, The Showcase of the Immortals had become an annual showcase of Undertaker's ability to thrive in the spotlight and to produce stirring drama between the ropes. The Deadman's bouts in pay-per-view became as must-watch as the world title bouts—a spectacle onto themselves.
A trio of underwhelming contests followed, however, ending Undertaker's run of WrestleMania classics.
That is set to change. Reigns' big-match ability and youth will make sure of that. The April 2 clash with The Big Dog will be a return to form for Undertaker.
At 51 years old, The Phenom isn't going to revert to his old self. WrestleMania 33 won't see him shed the mileage he's amassed in the ring, but after a disappointing stretch, a hell of a match is on the way.
"With all due respect, The #Undertaker retired you, and I'm the guy that's going to retire him!" -@WWERomanReigns @ShawnMichaels #RAW https://t.co/Qey4ANZOO83/15/2017, 8:00:50 AM
Starting with his 2007 collision with Batista, the future Hall of Famer made WrestleMania his playground, consistently delivering a show-stealer at the event.
Undertaker outdid himself each year as he battled Edge, Triple H and Shawn Michaels. Each match hit a series of moving notes, combining strong storytelling with hard-hitting action. And then it all tailed off in a hurry.
WrestleMania 30 saw him and Brock Lesnar deliver a dud.
Two streaks ended that night. The Phenom suffered his first loss at WrestleMania, and a stretch of top-notch performances came to a halt as well.
The Deadman saw a sharp decline in his match quality after his bout with CM Punk. Dave Meltzer's star ratings in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter reflect that:
|Undertaker WrestleMania Star Ratings (2010-2016)|
|Year||Opponent||WON Rating (out of 5)|
|Wrestling Observer Newsletter via The Internet Wrestling Database|
Injury played a significant role in that downward swing.
At some point during the Lesnar clash, Undertaker suffered a head injury. As WWE.com noted after the match, he "was diagnosed with a severe concussion and was kept overnight for further evaluation."
That can partly explain why the action seemed so off that night and why Lesnar and Undertaker have excelled against each other on nearly every other occasion but delivered a clunker in New Orleans.
The next year, Undertaker took on Bray Wyatt when an injury hampered the match before the opening bell even rang. Dave Scherer of PWInsider.com reported at the time that Wyatt hurt his ankle doing warm-ups and "was taken by cart to the back of the stadium."
Wyatt was off his game as a result, and their WrestleMania 31 match never clicked.
A flood of injuries ahead of WrestleMania 32 led WWE to pit Undertaker against a returning Shane McMahon. Even with the added Hell in a Cell stipulation, the bout was boring at times.
Bryan Rose of Voices of Wrestling wrote: "The match itself was very long and plodding until the end. They just grappled. Not bad, but not interesting either."
There will not be a repeat of that in Orlando, Florida. Reigns vs. Undertaker will blow last year's contest out of the water.
For one, Undertaker won't be facing a non-wrestler in his late 40s. Reigns is a 31-year-old athletic marvel in his prime.
And while many fans are busy booing The Juggernaut to send a message to WWE about his booking, they are missing out on his evolution as a performer. Reigns was limited early on, needing a veteran to carry him. That's no longer true.
Reigns' recent resume is rife with electric matches.
He has excelled against Kevin Owens and Braun Strowman in the past few months. He has thrived on TV against Cesaro and won over a defiant crowd in a Tables, Ladders & Chairs match with Sheamus in 2015. His work against AJ Styles last year was spectacular and undeniable proof that Reigns can produce at a main event level.
The Big Dog is the ideal opponent for Undertaker at this stage in his career, too.
The wear on The Deadman's tires after all these years has left him in need of someone to lead the dance come bell time. Reigns' explosion, speed and athleticism will allow him to nail that role. This will be one of the young bull's biggest tests, a showdown where he can prove he is deserving of WWE's stalwart confidence in him.
Expect him to be driven and to be buoyed by an ongoing shift toward a darker character. A snarling, cocky, merciless Reigns will be a revelation at WrestleMania 33.
And if there are no pre-match injuries or concussions to derail things, Undertaker will elevate Reigns as they make the kind of WrestleMania magic we're used to seeing from The Deadman. In what may be his last duel, an aging gunslinger will wow us again.