First Stop – Smackdown: The Undertaker’s Last Ride

This past Tuesday marked the 900th Episode of WWE Smackdown LIVE. It also marked the return of perhaps the greatest performer in WWE history, The Undertaker, and The Deadman from Death Valley sure made his presence felt.

 

 

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In the final segment of the show, WWE Hall of Famer Edge hosted an interview segment with Team Smackdown ahead of their Survivor Series showdown against Team RAW this Sunday. As Edge addressed the Smackdown team – Smackdown LIVE Commissioner Shane McMahon, Bray Wyatt, Randy Orton, Dean Ambrose, and WWE World Champion AJ Styles – and noted the lack of unity amongst the “Blue Brand” teammates, the familiar gong rang. The lights went out. Blue mist surrounded the ringside area and the ring entrance. And then He appeared.

The Last Outlaw. The Deadman. The Phenom.

After his signature measured walk to the ring, his eyes never leaving the men in the ring, The Undertaker stared down the man he beat at Wrestlemania 32 this past April, Shane McMahon, then proceeded to lay down the law with two major announcements.

“Wrestlemania will no longer define me. I’m BACK…taking souls, and digging holes!”

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When WWE split RAW and Smackdown into two distinct programs back in 2002, The Undertaker was the first man drafted to RAW, but was traded to the Smackdown brand within a matter of months. As his career, and his age, have progressed, The Undertaker has become more of a marquee attraction, appearing primarily for a big money match at Wrestlemania and a handful of other dates during the year. However, his affiliation has always been with Smackdown. The Undertaker declared as much as he stared down the fighting for the brand he himself has represented for 14 years: “Survivor Series is where The Undertaker was born, but Smackdown has always been my home.”

It was his second announcement, a warning to Team Smackdown, that reverberated throughout the WWE Universe long after Smackdown had gone off the air.

“If you fail at Survivor Series, you will have reason to fear The Deadman.”

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This promise will not be a hollow one. With his dual announcements, The Undertaker has indicated that his continued presence is one Smackdown will be building on for the foreseeable future. At 51 years of age, it is not expected he will be on Smackdown every week, or even every Smackdown brand pay-per-view. The aura of The Undertaker doesn’t require him to be present physically for his presence to be felt. However, he will be a fixture of the narrative moving forward, especially if Team Smackdown loses at Survivor Series.

After 26 years with the company, multiple World Championships, ground-breaking matches, and an unprecedented 21 consecutive wins at Wrestlemania, there is not a whole lot of ground left for The Undertaker to cover. If there is an accolade to be had he has claimed it. And as I mentioned earlier, he is 51 years old. Even someone as freakishly fit and disciplined as The Undertaker cannot expect their body to endure the punishment of the squared circle forever. If The Undertaker is indeed intending to play a bigger part on Smackdown, it is likely because we are witnessing the last act of his career.

If Team Smackdown loses at Survivor Series, The Undertaker has already promised there will be hell to pay. This could begin with a rematch against Shane McMahon. As the Commissioner of Smackdown LIVE, The Undertaker could state that Shane failed to build a team worthy of the Blue Brand and therefore he is the first person The Undertaker will hold accountable. This could lead to a match at the TLC: Tables, Ladders and Chairs pay-per-view in December. Once The Undertaker beats Shane and is convinced the lesson has been learned, he could move through each member of Team Smackdown and assert the authority that has been his since the early 2000s, maybe even join up with his brother Kane to take on Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton, both of whom The Undertaker has had significant rivalries with. All of this would lead to one of the few uncharted territories left for The Undertaker to travel: a feud with the current WWE World Champion, The Phenomenal AJ Styles.

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The Undertaker chasing the World Title one more time would be a huge nostalgia kick – the last time he held the World Title was in 2010 – but it would be in a feud with someone The Undertaker has never, ever faced, giving it a sense of freshness as well. The outcome of the match would not matter – either he wins the World Title again and shows he can still hang with the New Era stars such as Styles, or he comes just short of winning while still delivering an ass-kicking for the ages and putting over one of the brightest young stars in the WWE. And if this match were to happen at the Royal Rumble in January, at one of the “Big Four” pay per views, it would be that much more memorable.

So what happens next? There are a few stars in the New Era that would pose interesting challenges for the Reaper of Souls, Finn Balor and Kevin Owens chief among them. And there is also the long awaited match against Sting, whose career may or may not have ended due to a neck injury in 2015. These are all options, but will happen is the inevitable.

The Undertaker has been a locker room leader longer than most of the active roster has been in the business. However, as his role has diminished and his appearances have become more scarce, another man has stepped up to become the standard bearer in WWE, and he is also someone that The Undertaker has never had a high profile feud with. This person also just happens to be a current Smackdown LIVE superstar and has a career resume almost as legendary as The Undertakers: The Face that Runs the Place, John Cena.

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It is a marquee match any way you slice it. If The Undertaker enters the match as World Champion, he will be defending the belt against a man who has held the title 15 times and would tie the record for most World Championships currently held by two-time WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair with a win. If he does not obtain the World Title from Styles, the WWE still has a once in a lifetime match with two men who have carried the company into the New Millenium. Should The Undertaker win or lose against John Cena, it would be an epic match to end a career on.

This scenario could be way off. Team Smackdown may survive this Sunday and The Undertaker won’t be seen again until March. Whatever the case may be, it is definite we are watching the final days of one of professional wrestling’s most enduring icons, and we should enjoy it.

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Aaron Spratte
I Talk A LOT

Aaron Spratte

Aaron likes strong characters, snappy dialogue, sad-bastard romantics, and any story that is genuinely scary or unnerving. For these reasons amongst others, he is a huge fan of Doctor Who (no, I’m not an “old” fan but a fan is a fan so suck it!), Spiderman, WWE, and anything occurring within or adjacent to the Whedonverse. He grew up with Freddy, Jason and Michael and considers them the Holy Trinity of Terror for the Modern Era (loves Freddy the most - snappy dialogue and all, y’know?) but has much, MUCH love for the original Triumvirate at Universal and all of the sequels they spawned. Except Son of Dracula.

Todd doesn’t like anything and doesn’t care what you think about it.
SPRATTE IS A SPAZ AND LIKES EVERYTHING BECAUSE EVERYTHING IS AWESOOOOME! Spratte also REALLLLY likes coffee. And Mountain Dew. And he mourns for the generations that will never fully understand the experience of watching Saturday morning cartoons.

Aaron has a degree in Theatre Arts from the University of Northern Colorado and likes to spend his free time writing the occasional sad bastard play. Because, like Whedon and Moffet, your tears give him strength.
Aaron Spratte
I Talk A LOT

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