From the moment he debuted at the 1990 Survivor Series, The Undertaker has been a pro wrestling icon unlike any other. Top to bottom, the man really named Mark William Calaway was the consummate sports entertainer, and that goes for both his in-ring ability and unmatched dedication to the gimmick that made him an international superstar. At WrestleMania 33, the career of The Undertaker looked like it came to an end when he was defeated by Roman Reigns. After the loss, The Phenom left his gear in the ring, kissed his wife at ringside, and slowly left the arena in a solemn affair.
No matter how hard WWE tries to replace him, there will never be another wrestler quite like The Dead Man. He was a four-time WWE Champion, three-time World Heavyweight Champion, six-time WWE Tag Team Champion, and won the 2007 Royal Rumble, and those major accomplishments are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to discussing his long-term impact on the WWE Universe. Despite all this, there are plenty of reasons why The Undertaker’s retirement could be as much of a positive as it is a negative.
Truth be told, some fans have been begging The Undertaker to retire for some time now, and could probably even argue it came too little too late to make it feel as important as others are treating it. The entire WWE Universe will miss The Undertaker in one way or another, and yet the loss WWE is suffering seems progressively smaller the more one thinks about it. Keep reading to contemplate 8 pros and 7 cons to The Undertaker retiring from WWE.
15. Good: The Writing Has Been On The Wall
Let’s face it — The Undertaker may have wrestled his final match in the wee small hours of April 3rd, but he hasn’t had a full-time job in almost a decade. The Phenom lost his last World Heavyweight Championship way back in February of 2010, and gradually diminished his onscreen presence from there. Starting in 2011, he would only wrestle between one and at most seven matches per year, with no more than a handful of non-wrestling appearances along the way. While his few matches still entertained fans, he typically needed an entire year to recover from them, a pattern that became increasingly dangerous and painful as he got older. There’s winding down gracefully and there’s forcing yourself to compete longer than you should, and The Undertaker has been in the second category for quite a while now. From WrestleMania XVII onward, fans always speculated if The Undertaker’s latest appearance would be his last. There should be no surprises that the day finally came six years later.
14. Bad: It Could Have Lasted Forever
Unless there’s some health issue the public doesn’t know about yet, there’s no particular reason The Undertaker needed to retire. Sure, he’s needed exponentially longer to recover from his matches, and most critics think they aren’t as great as they used to be, but this is sports entertainment, where Vince McMahon and his announcers write narratives the entertainers don’t always live up to. Perhaps it’s a cynical way to look at it, but quite frankly, The Undertaker could wrestle the worst match of the night and still be the most talked about athlete on any given WrestleMania. If his age and health are really getting to be a concern, his matches could’ve gotten progressively shorter instead of pushing them to remain long and strenuous. Of course, it’s all his choice, and if the man simply doesn’t feel like putting his body on the line anymore, fans will have to simply accept it. Not everyone can be like Ric Flair or Terry Funk, and in fact, it might even be irresponsible for others to try.
13. Good: More Room For New Stars To Take Over
One of the biggest negatives to The Undertaker’s career lasting as long as it did was that each WrestleMania, some upper-midcard or main-event level talents were thrust down the card or off the show entirely so the Dead Man could take their spot. In all fairness, The Undertaker has hardly been alone in this practice, as WWE has gradually made nostalgia the most important aspect of WrestleMania, and it’s more Vince McMahon’s fault than any of the part-timers. Plus, most of the full-time wrestlers recognize having Undertaker on the show meant more eyes were watching, in general, so it was a win-win whenever he had the time to make an appearance. On the other hand, the fact that The Undertaker won’t be one of the part-timers guaranteed to steal a top spot next year gives younger superstars a chance to shine. Without the Phenom leading the trend, WWE may stop leaning so heavily on the past altogether, opening up space for not just one but several new talents to take his place.
12. Bad: WWE Will Try To Make New Monsters
A huge part of the reason why The Undertaker is so one-of-a-kind is that very few performers can pull off truly bizarre gimmicks like his. Goodness knows Vince McMahon has tried time and time again, with examples from before Undertaker like the Missing Link, contemporary failures like Papa Shango, and more recent attempts like The Boogeyman that kind of worked but had no longevity. None of these superstars came anywhere near The Dead Man’s legacy, and it’s not because a zombie biker is more believable than a voodoo priest in and of itself. With gimmicks like these, it’s entirely up to the performer to make it work, and most wrestlers just can’t make it work. WWE has already tried to replace Undertaker once again, using WrestleMania’s WWE Championship bout to give Bray Wyatt ridiculous magic powers, and the negative response to this match is only a small clue of how badly the Undertaker’s exit could affect McMahon’s creative process.
11. Good: Kane Will Have To Retire Soon, Too
Next to The Undertaker, the biggest, baddest, and most dominant monster WWE has ever seen is the man appropriately billed as the Phenom’s half-brother, Kane. Hitting the scene seven years after The Undertaker debuted, Kane has been involved in almost as many memorable matches, moments, and angles as his pretend sibling. On the downside, Kane doesn’t have quite the same in-ring ability the Undertaker possessed, his gimmick occasionally tended to be even more ridiculous than the Phenom, and fans have been downright begging him to retire for several years now. While there are definitely still a few Kane fans out there who will be sad to see him leave, the consensus is that Kane needs to get out of the ring for good, and now that the man who brought him into the company is gone, the Big Red Machine shouldn’t be too far behind. As of this writing, Kane is taking some time off for injuries, and despite all this negativity, he probably should make a brief comeback to say goodbye once he’s recovered. It doesn’t need to be long, though, and should probably end with an off-screen reunion with his brother.
10. Bad: WrestleMania Lost Its Biggest Draw
Plenty of wrestlers competed in the main event on the night they retired, and The Undertaker is hardly the first who got to say goodbye at the Grandest Stage of Them All. However, he is only the second person to retire in the main event of WrestleMania, after only Shawn Michaels, who the Dead Man himself coincidentally retired at the 26th annual version of the event. It speaks volumes about what The Undertaker means to WWE — that he could appear once a year and still be so important he’s the main draw of the biggest wrestling show of the year — and it also elaborates what a huge loss the company is facing with his departure. His match against Roman Reigns was actually the Phenom’s fourth headliner at the Showcase of Immortals, and there were more than a few years when wrestlers trying to conquer his Streak were more engaging than any championship bout. In 2018, WrestleMania is poised to be without The Undertaker for the first time since 2000 (or, excepting his one absence, all the way back to 1991), a void that will be impossible to ignore.
9. Good: His Star Power Has Been Dwindling Since The Streak Ended
All right, so there’s no denying The Undertaker was a perennial huge draw for WrestleMania at least up to WrestleMania XXX. During that landmark event, Brock Lesnar became the first man to defeat the Phenom at the Grandest Stage of Them All, ending his world famous undefeated streak at 21. Conventional wisdom would have called that the end, but The Dead Man stuck around another three years wrestling matches that made less and less sense, entertaining fewer and fewer fans. First was his bout with Bray Wyatt, a slow-paced crawl that did neither man any favors. Next was a Hell In a Cell spectacle against Shane McMahon, which mostly left fans asking why the competitors would put themselves through such pain for absolutely no reason. And then there was Reigns, who delivered a match that would be entirely forgotten if not for the fact it was Undertaker’s last. Sure, WWE could have milked The Undertaker’s remaining name value for as long as he lived, but fans eventually would have stopped caring entirely had they not pulled the plug when they did.
8. Bad: New Generations Of Fans Will Never Understand
Certain wrestling fans born when The Undertaker made his debut probably already have kids who agree that the Dead Man is one of the coolest wrestlers in history. There’s no exact number that defines a “generation,” and yet it should go without saying The Undertaker’s legacy has survived through a couple, possibly even dozens, when considering wrestling’s version of the term. He arrived near the tail end of Hulkamania, was a leader of the New Generation, helped define the Attitude Era, was an embodiment of Ruthless Aggression, and played a big role in marketing the WWE Network. Anyone who watched wrestling in the past three decades knows the Phenom’s name, but what’s to say how the future will remember him? Unfortunately, we have to predict that as time goes by, it will be progressively harder for new fans to understand what made The Undertaker so unique. Unless you were there to live through it, tales about a dude who shot lightning out of his hands and raised the ring with magic powers might sound, let’s say, silly.
7. Good: There’s Nothing Left For Him To Do
At this point in the list, it should be evident that The Undertaker has done just about everything there is to do in the wrestling industry. He’s won all the major championships in WWE multiple times, to the extent anything other than the WWE or Universal Championship would seem like a step down, and he hardly needed either of those belts to ensure his legacy would live on. Were The Undertaker to stick around for another year or longer, there would literally be nothing for him to do except repeat his past accomplishments on a smaller scale. To repeat some other pros we’ve already mentioned, on top of wasting his own time, Undertaker would be stealing spots from rising stars when he did this, which hurts the entire company to zero benefit. Outside of the occasional appearance to pop a crowd, The Undertaker simply has no reason to keep wrestling from a kayfabe perspective, which makes it easy for WWE to write him out from here on.
6. Bad: The Locker Room Needs A New Leader
While The Undertaker might not have much value as a performer, getting in the ring and putting on a good show is merely one aspect of what makes a WWE superstar. Having wrestled for the company longer than almost anyone else, Undertaker likewise knew the ins and odds of the WWE Universe better than just about all of his coworkers and earned a reputation as a “locker room leader” because of it. If a new rookie needed help adapting, The Undertaker was there to tell them what they were doing wrong. When an offending superstar bothered the others and got taken to “Wrestler’s Court,” Undertaker was the judge to divvy out sentences and punishments. Put simply, if there were problems backstage, Undertaker fixed them, through either leading by example or using force, when necessary. Because his exit from WWE has been gradual, there have no doubt already been a few names stepping up and taking his place, like John Cena and Triple H. Of course, these guys are moving on to bigger things as well, and across the board, WWE is lacking in full-time veterans, The Undertaker serving the latest and greatest example of this fact.
5. Good: Roman Reigns Will Be A Star Forever
In stark contrast to The Undertaker’s unrivaled respect, Roman Reigns is one of the most universally despised and hated superstars in WWE history, and it has nothing to do with kayfabe. Fans simply don’t like the way Roman is booked either because they think WWE is completely shoving him down their throats, or put simpler, because Reigns just isn’t good enough to deserve this kind of treatment. The fact of the matter is whether you like Roman Reigns or hate him, from this moment onward, he will always be the man who defeated and retired The Undertaker at WrestleMania. It won’t matter if Reigns is a face who gets booed, a heel who gets cheered, or a tweener who people simply don’t care about; he can put conquering the Dead Man on his resume, and he’ll always be a star because of it. In the modern era, where WWE is habitually reticent to create true main event talent, it’s definitely admirable that Undertaker would so plainly give away his spot in this manner, stepping away to forever cement a new star. But then again…
4. Bad: Roman Reigns Will Be A Star Forever
No, you aren’t seeing double, and we aren’t repeating ourselves — Roman Reigns being a made man in WWE once and for all is both a good thing and a bad thing all at once. Not to get too repetitive here, but Roman Reigns is one of the most unpopular superstars in WWE today, and there’s nothing the company has been able to do to change that. The more Roman gets pushed, the wider the divide in the audience will become, with those who hate him potentially even tuning out of WWE forever solely because of what happened in Orlando. WWE could have made absolutely anybody a star by giving them the big, final win against The Dead Man, and they picked The Guy so plain and divisive he bragged about it in his catchphrase. Alternatively, WWE could have given a win like this to Bray Wyatt two years ago, let alone any other superstar in the company not named Roman goddamn Reigns
3. Good: 27 Years Is A Full Career
As with any sport, there’s no mandatory retirement age for a professional wrestler; nor is there a time frame considered the “average length” of a WWE superstar’s career. Rare athletes like Blitzkrieg decide to give up on the business in under a year, while others like Terry Funk stick around for as long as their bodies physically allow. That said, 27 years as a top star is pretty damn respectable, not to mention the six years or so Mark Calaway spent prior to finding his money gimmick, meaning his career lasted over three decades altogether. Especially given some of the violent, hardcore gimmick matches The Undertaker has been involved with, including his trademark Casket Matches and of course the Hell in a Cell, it’s frankly amazing he was able to survive for this long. The man is 52 years old, which while a few years short of retirement age for any other profession, is actually incredibly impressive for a pro wrestler of his caliber.
2. Bad: It’s More Than The End Of An Era
Five years removed from the event, we’re still not entirely sure what WWE was talking about billing The Undertaker and Triple H’s Hell In a Cell match at WrestleMania XXVIII as “the end of an era.” Both the Dead Man and The Game stuck around for some time after that match, and the mere presence of Shawn Michaels didn’t add to the historical significance whatsoever. This time around, though, it truly feels like the end of a long and storied legacy, in turn causing fans to remember the many great wrestlers Undertaker battled in his career. Very few wrestlers can say they wrestled Jimmy Snuka, Ric Flair, and Roman Reigns, let alone any contemporaries of all three men, and Undertaker took on all of them at WrestleMania. Despite all the times Vince McMahon decided his company was undergoing some major change in style, The Undertaker always survived as a major player, bridging the gap between each passing era. Should he really be gone, everyone he defeated will likewise become a distant memory, truly leaving behind generations of sports entertainment.
1. Good: Heroes Get Remembered, But Legends Never Die
Believe it or not, a wrestler doesn’t necessarily need to reach The Undertaker’s level to become someone’s hero. To a child watching sports entertainment for the first time, the first good guy to do something cool could easily fill that role, and the McMahon family will never run out of writers who know how to create a hero. However, legends are something entirely else, as not only are they immortal, but they also tend to grow even stronger after the physical part of the story ends. Those of us who were alive to experience The Undertaker will never forget him, and if anything, the feelings behind the memories will feel more vivid and personal as time goes on. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and permanent absence can turn vague remembrances into irreplaceable moments. In short, as sad as everyone is to see The Undertaker go, his fans are soon going to be equally overjoyed when they look back on his career and reflect on his accomplishments.