Think about it for a minute. We’re in the year 2015. Hot topics of conversation center on cars that can drive themselves, space tourism and head sets that can put us in virtual worlds. And still, one of the major headlines of the Wrestlemania season is how will the Undertaker make his return.
I remember Taker’s return at Wrestlemania 20 in 2004. He had readjusted his gimmick to the Attitude Era realist theme as a tough-ass biker, but Vince McMahon and company thought it was time to bring back the “Deadman” side of the character we all knew and loved. And so the Undertaker was buried alive at Survivor Series in 2003, only to be brought back the following year as his former self.
The return was about as grand as you can get, filled with druids, fire and Paul Bearer, who had been off WWE programming for a few years at the time. Wisely, WWE waited for his first appearance back to be at the Wrestlemania event itself, building up anticipation – and the buy rate.
Flash-forward 11 years later and, if we’re to believe the latest reports, the company will be holding back Taker’s first showing since his legendary streak ended until Wrestlemania 31. I’ll admit, it does seem to be a smart idea. If he shows up prior to the big show to confront his opponent this year, Bray Wyatt, it will cause more questions than conclusions. After all, the streak did end. Wouldn’t he want to address that before taking on Bray? His absence sidesteps the awkwardness.
More importantly, though, think back to my first statement: it’s 2015, and yet we’re still enthused with the Undertaker. This character has been a part of the company for nearly 25 years, an unprecedented run that has entertained and engaged millions of fans. It’s simply insane to contemplate.
Over the past year since the streak ended, I’ve wondered: why exactly do we care so much about this iconic member of the WWE roster? After all, over the years there have been more popular figures, from Hulk Hogan to the Rock to John Cena. If you were to ask me who was my favorite wrestler growing up, I would say “Stone Cold Steve Austin” in a heartbeat.
But here I am, still wondering about Undertaker. Out of a show that will feature many highlights, including Sting’s in-ring wrestling debut with the company and Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns, perhaps the biggest story of the season is the Undertaker. What will he look like? Can he still go? How will the streak’s end be addressed?
It’s hard to list exactly all the reasons why the Undertaker still matters, but I think the most poignant is how I once heard a husband describe his marriage with his wife. “Oh yeah, I dated quite a few girls before I got to her,” he said. “I was with other women who I thought could be my soul mate, who I loved a great deal. And I still have those feelings when I think about them. The reason why I married my wife is not just because she embodied many of the things I look for in others, but she’s stayed around. She tolerated me when no one else would. She was there.”
Ditto to the Undertaker. Over the course of many years as a WWE fan, I’ve had many characters I’ve felt passionately about during different times. Figures like Stone Cold Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels and others were ones I loved to root for greatly, much more so than Undertaker during their respective eras.
For one reason or another – be it injury, ego or Hollywood – these performers went away for a time. Oh sure, we always love to see them come back. We know they can leave, though, so we feel more attached to the nostalgia of the character and our time watching them then than we do their present self.
And then there’s the Undertaker, who is in many ways our WWE spouse. We may have loved other performers more, but we’ve also loved him, and unlike the others, he never went away. Through the Monday Night Wars, through all the bad storylines, through the tragedies in and out of the ring, Taker has been a part of the DNA of the company.
The Undertaker stuck around, and now, after all of these years, we’re finally starting to see and appreciate that. In a recent interview, Vince McMahon was asked who his favorite WWE superstar was. His response?
“That would be Undertaker because of his loyalty, his longevity, and his extraordinary commitment to his character. We have lots of fun creating fun. [Superstars] try to crack each other up from time to time, and we all have tried to get Undertaker to break character, and we can’t do it. He is such a professional and an extraordinary human being behind the character. He’s committed to his craft and has worked through his injuries.”