How did we get here?
WWE has spent the better part of the last 3 decades building the Undertaker to be the unstoppable force of WrestleMania. He has conquered all and done so by putting on some of the most amazing matches in wrestling history against sure fire Hall of Famers all along the way. He has gone through a virtual who’s who of stardom including Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Ric Flair, Kane, Jake “the Snake” Roberts, King Kong Bundy, Kevin Nash, Psycho Sid, Randy Orton, Batista, Edge, and CM Punk. Despite being advanced in his ring career, he has shown up every year around WrestleMania time and found a credible opponent to battle on the “Grandest Stage of Them All” and has always been a focal point of the show often Main Eventing without the need for a championship.
Children have spent years waiting for the newest unique entrance for the “Deadman”. They have clamored to see his slow stroll to the ring. They wait to see him raise his arms to turn the lights on. They cheer every high spot and shed tears when he fell to the likes of Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns. They shared respect and admiration when he ended the career of Shawn Michaels and when he did battle in Hell in a Cell in what was billed as “the end of an era”.
Essentially, despite Shawn Michaels being billed as Mr. WrestleMania, the Undertaker truly was, is, and always will be THE main event. That is until this year.
Coming to Terms With Reality
WWE fans are trying to process everything they have heard in virtually every media outlet and on ever wrestling podcast and web page where there was a tease all year for a match against John Cena in what all of the Wrestling Marks have been waiting for over the last several years. Rumors were running rampant last year as fans were expecting the match to take place at WrestleMania 33. Unfortunately, WWE decided to put the Undertaker in a match with Roman Reigns as a way to force feed the WWE Universe Vince McMahon’s newest flagship talent to essentially no fanfare.
Then we were told that we would get the Cena vs Taker match at WrestleMania 34 despite the Undertaker leaving his trench coat and gloves in the ring at Mania 33 in what has traditionally been a symbol of retirement. Even at the Raw 25th Anniversary Show it was thought that the first appearance of the Undertaker following his loss to Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 33 would be to set up his next Mania opponent. Instead, after months of build to his appearance, he essentially answered no questions about Mania and left fans scratching their heads as to whether they had witnessed his declaration of a return to the ring or a formal retirement.
In January the WWE Universe expected an Undertaker appearance at the Royal Rumble. They expected to see him on the Raw following the Elimination Chamber. Instead, we had no appearance at the Rumble and a John Cena promo where he claims the match is never going to happen. Fans have still been unwilling to accept that the Undertaker is finished so they have held onto hope that he will surprise everyone and accept Cena’s challenge after WWE Fastlane.
It is time to come to terms with reality. The Undertaker is finished. His likeness is not included in any of the promotional materials for WrestleMania 34. He is not booked to appear at any shows leading up to Mania. A report has surfaced indicating that WWE is negotiating with Rey Mysterio to challenge John Cena at WrestleMania which if it turns out is true only solidifies that the Undertaker will not be there. Some have speculated that he is just taking another year off, that next year we will see he and John Cena lock horns for the first time at a WrestleMania. That is a possibility but one that gets less and less likely every day with Father Time catching up to John Cena and more importantly to not just the Undertaker but to the man, Mark Callaway who at 52 years old has recently had hip replacement surgery and who simply isn’t the wrestler he once was.
The Real Problem
WWE is now faced with a very real problem. They have spent so much time and invested so much money in the Undertaker over so many years and along the way have not cultivated anyone who can step in and replace his drawing power that the WrestleMania rumored match card seems to be lacking greatly. There is almost a deflated feel even before matches are announced. When you couple that with the man who defeated the Undertaker, Roman Reigns, who everyone in the known world wants to boo right now, being slotted to challenge and win the WWE Universal Championship then you have a recipe for disaster as the fans are poised to reject the Main Event of the show before it even airs.
WWE is facing severe declines in attendance. Smackdown now has almost 50% of their arenas being empty weekly. Network subscribers who actually pay for the service are slowing and ratings for all of WWE’s programming is showing a decline. This is a huge issue. WWE needed to see further ahead and needed to plan an exit strategy for the Undertaker Era. They did not. They needed to cultivate new talents on his level. They have not. They needed to establish excitement in the talents they choose to push and they absolutely have not. They need to feed their future business to garner higher attendance numbers and ratings and unfortunately, in today’s professional wrestling landscape, with all the independent promotions knocking it out of the park, and the rise of companies like Ring of Honor and New Japan, sadly, they have not. WWE has to turn it around soon or they risk becoming increasingly less relevant.
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