By Will Pruett
For as long as I have watched wrestling, there has been one constant; The Undertaker. Before I was a fan of wrestling, just catching glimpses as my brother watched, The Undertaker was always present. He was an ominous and foreboding character, even in his earliest days carrying with him a special charisma rarely seen in professional wrestling. He has been the perfect combination of wrestler and character, blazing a trail no one could ever follow. The Undertaker’s wrestling career ended at WrestleMania 33 and professional wrestling will never be the same.
I couldn’t imagine being an adult and experiencing Undertaker for the first time. It must seem absurd. The man is essentially a wrestling zombie who becomes impervious to pain at various points in his matches. He’s also a MMA fighter. He’s also a biker. Undertaker has inhabited so many identities over a long period of time that, without living through his history, he must be hard to fathom.
My first deep emotional investment in the career of Undertaker came in 1998. I remember recording wrestling shows and watching with my brother. On the Raw when Undertaker returned, rising out of a casket to confront Kane and accept a match at WrestleMania XIV, I remember watching and getting so excited. I left my brother a note on that VHS tape about how great it was. Undertaker has been a part of my personal experience of professional wrestling since that day.
When Undertaker and Shawn Michaels fought at WrestleMania for a second time in 2010, I had to be there. My wife, the amazing human that she is, agreed to go to Phoenix with me. I found myself in the crowd of WrestleMania XXVI pleading for The Streak to end, not wanting to see Shawn Michaels career fade away. My pleading was in vain as Undertaker delivered a massive Tombstone and ended the match. I’ll never forget this moment as a fan. I’ll never forget screaming for it not to happen in Phoenix.
I could tell more stories about my appreciation for the career of The Undertaker. I could write thousands of words about it (actually, I have). Instead, I want to talk about WrestleMania 33 and how Undertaker ended.
Roman Reigns vs. The Undertaker was not a good match. After pulling out so many classics far past the age when he should have been capable of it, Undertaker came up short in his last attempt. The story of the match was supposed to mirror that of Ric Flair vs. Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXIV and Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXVI. On those nights, Flair and Michaels pulled out everything and came up short. At WrestleMania 33, Undertaker’s physical limitations kept him from being able to physically accomplish what he needed it.
Undertaker not being able to lift Reigns up for The Last Ride (The Last Last Ride?), lock in Hell’s Gate in a non-awkward way, and roll through a Tombstone reversal was, in a way, fitting for the match. Undertaker was looking for a man to put him down. It was time. While Michaels and Flair went out proving they could still do everything they could dream up, at least for one night, Undertaker went out when he had nothing left.
Roman Reigns was the antagonist in this match and the man picked by Undertaker to finally put him down. Reigns played the reluctant and merciful wrestler well, finally being pushed to the point Undertaker needed him to get to. After Undertaker referenced Reigns not having testicles (Why did testicles have to come up in this match? It wasn’t an awful moment, but Undertaker could have said 1,000 better things than “You don’t have the balls”), Roman finally summoned up all two (I assume) of his and delivered the deathblow to the dead man.
The aftermath of the match was compelling, far more compelling than the match. While Undertaker failed to capture the WrestleMania magic he has come to define between the bells, he captured it as he left. He put his entrance gear back on and stood in the ring as his music played and the lights faded to purple. He took off his gloves, his jacket, and his hat and placed them in the center of the ring. Were it not for the lighting, I assume we would have seen a tear or two on the face of a man I once believed was undead.
Undertaker retired in the closing minutes of a show he has come to define over the last decade. No performer has meant more to WrestleMania than The Undertaker. His matches in the last ten years with Batista, Edge, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and CM Punk have been true highlights. His feud with Shane McMahon truly saved WrestleMania 32 from being a complete fiasco. The end of The Streak at WrestleMania 30 provided us with a true WrestleMania shock. The Undertaker is the defining performer of WrestleMania and ending his career on the show he defined was a wonderful touch.
Will I look back on Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns with some sort of fondness? I doubt it. I don’t know how often I’d want to go back and watch the whole match. In a way, it’s too depressing to do so. However, I know I’ll never forget the end of The Undertaker.
For the first 32 years of WrestleMania, women have participated in a maximum of two matches on the show. This only happened twice. Often, there was only one match with female participants (20 times). At ten of the 32 past WrestleMania events, there was not a single match with a female participant. WrestleMania 33 featured a record breaking three matches with women participating in them and almost a full hour of the show dedicated to them.
While nothing on this year’s WrestleMania matched the grand gesture of equality WWE extended last year, there is a ton of cause for celebration. Both Raw and Smackdown’s Women’s Championships were defended on this show and both were a part of some special moments. Bayley successfully defended the Raw Women’s Championship in a four way elimination match and successfully brought a tear to my eye. Naomi regained the Smackdown Women’s Championship in a great hometown moment, complete with one of the most spectacular entrances on the show.
Beyond the two championship matches, we also saw Nikki Bella and Maryse involved in a story with John Cena and The Miz, a match that may have had the best build up of any match on this card.
This is not a small thing. WWE has had to be dragged into the 21st century in treating women equally. They’ve had to be forced by fan pressure. Even this past week, WWE didn’t plan to have all three of these matches on the main card until fans spoke up and their desire for equality was registered. WWE has embraced their “Women’s Revolution” as a money-making vehicle, but they haven’t fully embraced it as a philosophy to book the company by.
There still hasn’t been a one-on-one singles match for women at WrestleMania in the last decade. Women have still not had one match at WrestleMania that went over 17 minutes. A Women’s Division match still has not main evented WrestleMania. The time to do this is now. WWE has the most talented Women’s roster they’ve ever had. This roster will only get deeper with the upcoming Women’s Tournament. Now is the moment when WWE should look down the road to WrestleMania 34 and decide two women will close that show. It’s time to build up those wrestlers. It’s time to decide how to get there and tell the story the right way.
The last year has seen WWE take some major steps forward, but WrestleMania showed how far there is to go. The two Women’s Championship matches had ten participants between them. This is ridiculous. Of ten matches on the main card of WrestleMania, three involved Women. WWE can do better than that. Of the 15 pay-per-view events since WrestleMania 32, women have only main evented one.
It’s time to push WWE to do more with the immensely talented women they have.
As WrestleMania has become increasingly dependent on the return of stars from the past to produce moments and major matches, it has also gotten longer. This year, we reached a point of absurdity with the main card last a full five hours and 11 minutes. This is longer than the Super Bowl. This is longer than Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. This is longer than a wrestling show should ever be.
I understand (to an extent) WWE’s dilemma. They feel they need guys like Brock Lesnar, Triple H, Goldberg, Undertaker, and Shane McMahon to make WrestleMania feel like WrestleMania. They also have to fit in the more regular part-time wrestlers like John Cena and Chris Jericho. This creates a situation where the show has to be extremely long just to give each person a spot on it.
Where does this finally end? With Undertaker retiring, we are losing one of the all time great WrestleMania part time performers. Will he be replaced or will this slot become the domain of full time wrestlers again?
Sheer length hurts the overall enjoyment of WrestleMania. Most years, when I’m not attending the show, I throw a party at my home and invite over friends who, because they’re decent people, indulge me even though they aren’t into wrestling. This year I didn’t do so. It’s not that I didn’t want company, but five hours is far too long. I didn’t want anyone to feel obligated to sit with me through the plodding Triple H match, the Flo Rida concert, or the long Undertaker goodbye.
Something has to be done about the length of WrestleMania in the years to come. It’s absurd to argue that WrestleMania is geared towards casual fans when the show is literally five hours long. No one sits down to casually watch anything that is five hours long.
And now for some random thoughts:
– Overall, this was a very good show. It lost some momentum towards the end, but as far as WrestleManias go, this was a B+ (or an A- if I’m feeling generous).
– The production of this year’s show was amazing. Everything from the set to the lighting to the video packages looked professional and beautiful. WWE does a pretty neat thing with WrestleMania every year and this may have been the best they’ve ever done.
– My only issue with the production: The absurdly long ramp leading to the ring. I would have been clutching my side and writhing in pain halfway down that thing. John Cena was even winded after running down it. Never again should a ramp be that long without a motorized mini-ring ala WrestleMania III to carry wrestlers.
– It was great to hear Jim Ross on commentary for the main event. I got a little misty watching that one.
– If you’ve read to this point and read my work often, you’re somehow questioning how I haven’t fawned all over Shane McMahon yet. Well, HOW GOOD WAS THAT MATCH?!?! Oh my goodness did Shane McMahon and AJ Styles absolutely kill it! It was basically perfect. Styles made Shane look as good as he could and daredevil Shane was in full force with the Coast-to-Coast, Table Elbow, and the SHOOTING SHANE PRESS!!!
– I loved AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon and love that this was Styles’ WrestleMania match this year. Let it be known that McMahon had a better match with Styles than Chris Jericho.
– Can we take a moment to talk about Triple H riding to the ring on the three-wheeled motorcycle a grandpa purchases when grandma won’t let him ride anyone? Triple H didn’t look bad ass during his entrance, he looked like an upset grandpa slowly scooting down the ramp on a tricycle with a police escort. This might have been my favorite Triple H entrance ever for sheer absurdity.
– The return of Matt Hardy and Jeff Hardy to win a Ladder Match for the Raw Tag Team Championship was perfect. This was a major WrestleMania moment and had to feel like a major life moment for the hard working Hardys. Matt and Jeff reinvented themselves and forced themselves to stay relevant. When they left WWE, they were both in bad shape, but over the years they’ve grown and changed. Their story is truly inspiring and I’m glad to see them in this spot today.
– Speaking of WrestleMania moments, Charlotte’s giant flip on the outside was spectacular.
– Watching John Cena propose to Nikki Bella at WrestleMania was basically everything. I was ugly crying by the end of it. The little crack in John Cena’s voice as he got down on one knee was instantly likeable and charming. I’m all about this moment and will likely watch it ten times this week.
– The WWE Championship match between Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt was the worst match on the show. The confusing use of projection technology kept it from developing any real rhythm. Orton winning was a foregone conclusion. Nothing about this match was fun. I want images that make me squeamish kept out of wrestling forever as well.
– The Universal Championship match between Goldberg and Brock Lesnar was short and exciting for what it was. I’ve heard it argued as the best match on the show, but I’m assuming those people didn’t see Shane vs. AJ or the Ladder Match.
– It’s interesting to me that the two least impactful or important matches on the show were the WWE and Universal Championship matches. WWE had more interesting stories everywhere on the card aside from those for Lesnar, Orton, Wyatt, and Goldberg. I hope this isn’t a trend we see continuing into the next year, but I fear it will be.
– Ambrose and Corbin put on a performance they should be ashamed of. That was not good.
– Neville and Aries had a very good pre-show encounter and I’m happy to see the story continue in its current form. It’s not time for Neville to no longer be king.
– Mojo Rawley winning The ‘Dre was fine by me. How will getting involved in this match change Rob Gronkowski’s fantasy ADP for the next year?
– Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho had the challenge of following the best match of the night and they did really well with it. If one performer deserved a single match spotlight at WrestleMania, it was Kevin Owens. I’m quite happy for him.
– Nia Jax was able to look like a monster before being eliminated, but the story of the Raw Women’s Championship match confused me after this. Sasha Banks going out when she did was surprising and the finish with Bayley dropping the Randy Savage elbow on Charlotte didn’t feel like an ending. I’m happy to see Bayley get a big moment, but this women’s division needs to expand so these four can spend some time with other opponents.
– Triple H vs. Seth Rollins was about seven minutes longer than it needed to be, but in the end it got the job done. Hopefully Rollins can move forward as his own character and not be tied to Triple H and Stephanie eternally now.
Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at email@example.com.
The new edition of the Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell features Ricky Starks on his NWA run, doing enhancement work for WWE, leaving NOLA due to Hurricane Katrina, the January 24 NWA Hard Times PPV on FITE.TV, his relationship with Nick Aldis, and much more...