Did The Undertaker Officially Retire?
BarnBurner Sports Writer
Monday, June 22, 2020
If you watched the finale of WWE Network's ‘Undertaker: The Last Ride’ on Sunday, you saw what could be The Undertaker’s official retirement from being an in-ring competitor in WWE, which ends a legendary 30+ year career.
Following the Boneyard Match with AJ Styles at this year’s WrestleMania, Undertaker was happy with the final product and being able to go out with his “Unholy Trinity” persona that combined his characters – The Deadman and American Bad Ass – with himself, Mark Calaway, for the match as it allowed him to tell a much better story, especially with Styles blurring the lines of both pro wrestling and reality in his promos leading up WrestleMania.
The Boneyard Match served as the main event for the first-of-two nights of this year’s WrestleMania and received plenty of praise from both fans and those in the industry, which provided Undertaker with a sense of closure for his illustrious career. Towards the conclusion of the episode, Undertaker felt content with the way he rode off on his motorcycle to close WrestleMania and seemed at peace with calling it a career as opposed to wrestling another match:
“I mean I would have to consider that. Never say never, but at this point in my life and in my career, I have no desire to get back in the ring. This time the cowboy really rides away.”
This is not the first time The Deadman had teased the idea of retiring from WWE. In fact, there were rumours and speculation that Undertaker had been thinking of retiring back in 2003, which he addressed at the time in a rare interview with James Cybulski of The Score. During the interview, Undertaker, then-38 years old, mentioned that he worried about not being remembered the same way if he were to stay in the business too long:
“My biggest worry in life as far as wrestling is concerned, is that I’m in the ring and some father who watched me for years, takes his son and he goes ‘you know son, this is The Undertaker here – wow, I wish you could have seen him when.’ That means it’s time for me to hang it up.”
Undertaker then added that he would hate to have other wrestlers feel the need to protect him and carry him through a match:
“Hopefully the guys that I work with, they would tell me ‘you know what Take? You might need to think about something you know?’ Because I would hate to know that anybody ever laid back to protect me because that’s not what I’m about. As long as I can go out and I can hang with our top guys, I got no reason to leave.”
Undertaker had been performing as his Big Evil persona at the time and would return as The Deadman the following year, when he wrestled Kane at WrestleMania XX. What is most surprising to think about is that Undetaker had these thoughts running through his mind back in 2003 and would go on to reinvent himself once again, have arguably some of the greatest matches in WWE history, and add another 17-years to his career.
Throughout the docuseries, Undertaker had been chasing a final match that lived up to his standards and one that he felt would be the grand finale and definitive end to his legendary career. Past legends like Stone Cold Steve Austin, Ric Flair, and Shawn Michaels have all had that one final match and proper sendoff, but Undertaker had yet to feel that he achieved that.
It looked as though Undertaker was ready to retire following his match with Roman Reigns in the main event WrestleMania 33, however rather than walking away from the ring, he recuperated from his injuries and dedicated himself to getting in better shape in order to have a final match that will be remembered in a positive light instead of reflecting on the rough shape in what was believed to be his final match.
That drive may have allowed him to compete in a few more matches, but there was an up-and-down trend with his performances. Undertaker looked good in his short match with John Cena at WrestleMania 34, but had matches in Saudi Arabia; teamed with Kane against Triple H and Shawn Michaels and wrestled Goldberg in a dream match, that left him disappointed.
Undertaker redeemed himself at Extreme Rules, when he teamed with Roman Reigns to take on Shane McMahon and Drew McIntyre. As seen in the docuseries, Undertaker notified WWE Chairman Vince McMahon that he felt that he was done, which caught him by surprise because of the reception the match had received but ended the conversation by saying “I will follow your lead” if that was the way he wanted to end his career.
In the finale, Undertaker, who for years had been the most protected character, decided to showcase himself a little more and give fans the chance to get to know how he is in real life as Mark Calaway. This led to Undertaker being a guest on Stone Cold Steve Austin’s ‘Broken Skull Sessions’, where he reminisced about his 30+ year career and addressed why he continued getting back in the ring even though he had a lasting legacy and did not have anything to prove anymore.
The episode caught the attention of AJ Styles, who decided to call Undertaker and pitch the idea of working together at WrestleMania. Regardless of if Undertaker would agree or not, Styles wanted to offer his services in hopes of giving him the best match possible. To Undertaker’s surprise, his wife, Michelle McCool, was the one who actually encouraged him to wrestle again for the sole reason that it was against Styles, who is respected and held in a high regard from his peers and past legends like Steve Austin and Edge, who even stated that Styles would be his choice if he were to select somebody to wrestle his final match against.
Undertaker’s match quality with smaller wrestlers like Shawn Michaels, Rey Mysterio, and Kurt Angle were used as examples of why he should strongly consider taking Styles up on his offer to wrestle at WrestleMania. After thinking about it, Undertaker agreed and then the rest was history; there had been a more personal element used for the buildup and the match itself took place in an offsite location.
While reflecting on the match and preparation it took for him to get back in the ring, Undertaker seemed at peace with the Boneyard Match being the last match in his legendary career. Undertaker brought up the tragic passing of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant as a reason why he wanted to spend more time with his family and be around in the moment more.
WWE did an excellent job in showcasing The Undertaker’s career and providing fans a better understanding on his importance to the company as well as being a leader for the talent backstage. Vince McMahon could not even mention how important Undertaker was to WWE without getting emotional. During 90s when almost all of WWE stars left for higher salaries and creative control in WCW, Undertaker was one of the few stars that stayed the course and helped turn things around for WWE in their Monday night ratings war with WCW Nitro.
Much like ESPN’s ‘The Last Dance’, which gave fans a behind-the-scenes look into the day-to-day life of Michael Jordan and the ups-and-downs of the Chicago Bulls dynasty, WWE’s ‘Undertaker: The Last Ride’ gave fans a glimpse into the personal life of one of the most popular and protected characters in pro wrestling history, while also showcasing the ups-and-downs of an aging performer looking to capture the imagination of fans around the world one more time in order to end his in-ring career on a high-note.
It will be interesting to see if this is the end of Undertaker’s career or if he plans to step in the ring one more time against AJ Styles, so his final match can be with fans in attendance.
Photo Credit: WWE (wwe.com)
Video Credit: WWE (YouTube)