I feel like I’m going to get murdered for saying this, but the way they retired the Undertaker may have actually been perfect.
The thing is that this didn’t feel like a retirement match. It didn’t feel big, it didn’t feel special, and going in it felt like another excuse to put Roman over in the main event of Wrestlemania again (He’s main evented every ‘Mania of his solo career at this point) than about an industry legend going for one last ride. The buildup for this could have been anything from the Undertaker wanting to put the next generation to the test to seeing if he could still hang with the best of them. You could have done some good heel work with Roman calling ‘Taker old and mocking him for trying to hang on to glory days that had clearly passed. And I get that there was some brief mention of “putting the Undertaker down” but going in this just felt like another Undertaker at Mania match.
Then they told the story in the ring and it was uncomfortable, it was sad, it was everything it needed to be. The Undertaker opened up with all the hellish fury he was known for, knocking Roman around the ring until eventually his body just couldn’t keep it up anymore. People aren’t going to want to hear this but that match, the way things actually happened in the ring, was perfect. I’m not talking about the ring work. Roman is gifted but needs a lot of polish before he’s going to impress anyone with his ring skill and the Undertaker is just so old that there was no way this match was going to marvel anyone, but the storytelling was great. Watching the Undertaker’s strength fade, watching him try and in some cases fail to lock in moves and ultimately culminating with him trying to do his trademark sit up only for his body to give and for him to fall over.
And you know what? It needed to be Roman. Why? Because Roman Reigns was the one guy who is both at the top of the card (whether he belongs there or not) and who the audience would not be ok with retiring the Undertaker. If the WWE is about the show and the drama and it’s a performance, if it’s on some level “art” then it needs to be creating the right emotions and the emotion you were supposed to feel was sadness and, on some level, dread.
Think about it. If it had been Kane, who many people thought would do the deed because of his characters kayfabe connection to ‘Taker then you would have gotten to process what was happening. You would have known it was coming and it would’ve felt like it had been done for spectacle. You would have known the outcome and it wouldn’t have been as heavy. If they had used more of a fan favorite like, say, AJ Styles then it would have come just as out of nowhere and you would have ended up saying “Well, at least it was AJ that got the rub.” In either case you would have been waiting for the match to reach its inevitable conclusion so you could say “Thank you ‘Taker.”
But it was Roman Reigns and we were all saying “No, not like this, not tonight.” Even those of us who could tell that the Undertaker needed to retire and knew that he was going to go out on his back didn’t want it to end that way. Instead of waiting for the conclusion we were hoping that the Undertaker would pull out one last victory and maybe retire next year to someone that we considered worthy. It kept the idea that Undertaker just might pull this one out real because the fans really didn’t want it to be Roman. That’s why it couldn’t be anyone else.
And no, he shouldn’t have turned heel. This wasn’t supposed to be “the one where Roman turns heel,” because he can do that at any point, it was ‘Taker’s retirement and nothing else needed to get in the way. Roman winning clean was really the only way to do it. And let’s be clear, there’s no way anyone in the back thought this would be good for Roman. Sure it gives him a notch on his belt (One of two men to beat the Undertaker at Wrestlemania) and all that, but even I was like “So this is it for Roman, right? The crowd will never get behind him now.” This wasn’t a push, it was a sacrifice.
And I get it, it’s cool to hate Roman. He gets pushed too hard too often. I even kind of agree. If he’s going to be constantly in the main event he needs to polish himself up and he needs to spend some time in the mid-card letting the audience decide that they like him, but none of that is relevant to his match last night. Last night he came out and he took all of the hate in the world giving the Undertaker an emotionally powerful send off.