This appears to finally be it for The Undertaker — and he deserved a better farewell.
After weeks of hype and anticipation, WWE closed Survivor Series on Monday (AEDT) by celebrating the iconic Undertaker’s 30th anniversary with the company and his retirement.
The ceremony, which seemed unsure of what it wanted to be and confusing at times, protected the character to the end — giving us none of the Mark Calaway we’ve been blitzed with during “The Last Ride” docu-series and the lead-up to Survivor Series.
Instead, we saw Calaway in full Undertaker gear do a full Undertaker entrance, give a very brief Undertaker promo and end with a full Undertaker walkout after saying, “My time has come to let The Undertaker rest in peace.”
Very little of this felt any different than what we’ve seen before.
Undertaker leaving his coat and hat in the ring after losing to Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 33 and kissing his wife, Michelle McCool, on the way out felt like a much more compelling moment than what he and WWE delivered here in about 30 minutes.
Sure, there were poignant moments. Watching Vince McMahon fight back his emotions while paying tribute to Undertaker before introducing him felt special. He called it the “end of an era” and a “career that will never be duplicated.”
“Today we say goodbye,” McMahon said. “They say nothing lasts forever. I think they’re wrong because the legacy of the Undertaker will live on eternally.”
Undertaker going to a knee and saluting a hologram of former manager Paul Bearer, who died in 2013, tugged at the heartstrings. Even Taker had to stop a few times before delivering his farewell lines. Other than that, the whole thing felt confusing, rushed and out of step with the fact that Undertaker has broken character so often recently.
WWE brought back many of Undertaker’s closest friends and members of the backstage Bone Street Krew clique, including Savio Vega, The Godwins, JBL, Rikishi and The Godfather, along with the people he had some of his biggest moments with in Kevin Nash, Ric Flair, Mick Foley, Shawn Michaels, Shane McMahon and Triple H. Kane even showed up in full costume! They all appeared in the ring together (we won’t even get into all the coronavirus best practices not followed) and interacted with each other. Then 15 men just disappeared as WWE played a video tribute to The Undertaker. They never once interacted with him. When the camera came back to the arena, we saw McMahon (who did not get an entrance) in the ring by himself.
There had to be a better way to use these legends. Let them circle the ring as Undertaker enters or have them waiting for him on stage to clap for him and welcome him into retirement. Anything was better than what we got. Undertaker didn’t even knowledge their presence in his remarks. An interaction with someone like “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt would have been ill-advised if this is really it.
It was almost as if WWE wanted to ignore the fact that they and Undertaker allowed us to see the compelling real person behind the character for months. If he hadn’t done that, what happened Sunday night would make complete sense. But he was even photographed for People magazine cooking in his kitchen with his family. Let’s hear from that man — not just the character.
I guess they wanted a moment where the character gets to write himself off TV and keeps The Undertaker larger than life on WWE’s wrestling program. But that’s not how wrestling retirements should work. It’s the time for that person to finally tell the audience how they feel. It should be the performer — not the character — saying goodbye. The last image of The Undertaker could have easily been him riding off on his motorcycle after the “Boneyard” match at WrestleMania 36. That was badass.
There was also no need to rush a “final farewell.” Let Undertaker get that moment in front of real, live fans — which will now have to wait until his eventual WWE Hall of Fame induction. He had to settle for virtual fans in the ThunderDome. Instead, we were left with something that certainly hit the nostalgia in all the right places, but failed to deliver something deeper than that.
None of that takes away from the legacy Undertaker leaves behind. He’s the greatest character in wrestling history and one of the best to ever step between the ropes. Sunday night’s Survivor Series appeared to finally bring him full circle, a close to his career.
He just deserved a better farewell.