Wrestlemania 33 is in the books and will go down as historic, as it was truly the end of an era in sports entertainment. The Undertaker, the pale-faced zombie that emerged at the Survivor Series nearly 27 years ago, retired after one of the most storied careers of the entire sport. Along with arguably the greatest character of all time, his ability to be one of the most agile big men ever seen created a presentation that will never be duplicated. As if that didn’t speak enough to his greatness, The Undertaker behind the scenes was just as iconic. Often called “The Godfather” of the company, The Undertaker provided an example through his thirty year career of how a sports entertainer SHOULD conduct themselves. You NEVER heard of an Undertaker contract dispute or the “dead man” refusing to put someone over. That’s a very different tone than what some other main event stars used in their careers, right brother?
Quite simply, The Undertaker ALWAYS did what was right for the business and unselfishly put the business ahead of his own personal gains, which is almost unheard of in this genre. Furthermore, the Texas native dedicated his life and sacrificed his body for the sport. The total sum of everything The Undertaker has contributed to the WWE probably can’t be accurately summarized. But, the bottom line is, The Undertaker was what is considered good about the industry. Someone that did business the right way, provided an example of how to be a professional, and unquestionably gave everything he had to give the fans their money’s worth. Stories of this are numerous, such as the one told by JBL, as The Undertaker worked an entire European tour with broken ribs by wearing a compression jacket in 1997. Another more infamous example is when Mabel accidentally broke “the phenomenon’s” orbital bone with a botched leg drop and instead of taking a few months off, a specially constructed face guard was incorporated into his character so he could continue wrestling while it healed.
Despite the amazing theatrics of the persona that nobody except Undertaker could make work, Mark Calaway is mortal, and just like any other athlete, there was a time when his body finally began to wear down. At 52, Calloway worked an extremely limited schedule the past several years, partially because he had done literally everything there is to do from a character prospect so it made sense to keep his appearances a “special event,” but mostly because his body couldn’t sustain a full-time schedule any longer. Keep in mind, while The cold-bloodied Undertaker walked into the WWE via the sound of the gong in 1990, Mark Calaway had six years of wrestling to his name prior to that so the sum total of Mark Calaway’s career is over thirty years of wear and tear on his frame.
As I said, “The Reaper” of the WWE is probably the greatest character of all time, and Calaway made it work. If anyone else had the gimmick, the audience probably would’ve rolled their eyes at it, but it was so well done that it reached iconic status. The metamorphosis over the years, including a nearly four year switch to a biker gimmick, kept things fresh. There were different gloves, slight variations of the music, etc. that gave the character the longevity that it had.
At the other end of the spectrum is Roman Reigns, the former undrafted football player that signed a WWE development deal less than seven years ago as a part of the legendary Samoan family. Since that time, the member of the Anoa’i family tree was stamped to be “the guy” when he was built from the ground up in the WWE training system. A little more than two years after he first stepped into a ring, Roman debuted alongside independent standouts Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins as The Shield.
Since the conclusion of The Shield, management continuously pushed the narrative that “Big Dawg” Roman is the top star, ultimately to replace the aging John Cena, who carried the company on his back as a workhorse for the past decade. As repetitive as this sounds, Reigns is NOT the next John Cena, and there’s only one Cena. IF Roman will ever be as successful as WWE brass continues to push, it will be when he finds a successful formula to be Roman Reigns, not trying to be a duplicate of John Cena. While Cena had some hostile reactions during his prime, you could legitimately say it was 50/50 in terms of crowd support, but that’s not the case for Roman, who garnered a 70/30 ratio at best. Again, this will be repetitive, but WWE can’t force the audience to support the guy that they want to attend the sponsor conferences. The audience always has and always will make that decision for themselves.
Since Roman defeated The Undertaker at Wrestlemania 33, it’s obvious that they are using the retirement as yet another launching pad for him, but it will be as ineffective, if not more so than the previous attempts. During the closing moments of the match, Reigns portrayed the “conflicted baby face” as if he didn’t want to inflict anymore damage to his legendary opponent, similar to when Shawn Michaels retired Ric Flair in 2008. The difference is, the audience knows that Roman was anointed this spot and was given the keys to the castle, so why would the crowd feel sympathy toward him? Why be sympathetic toward the performer that didn’t have to earn his stripes to get to the main event of WM? Sure, Roman works extremely hard and it’s not his fault that WWE brass makes the situation even more difficult for him, but his status as a main eventer was determined long before the audience had a chance to cast a vote.
That is precisely why this WM win will only increase the hostility toward Roman Reigns, his status is essentially the opposite of The Undertaker. Mark Calaway sacrificed his body and earned the respect of everyone through years of dedication to the industry. Roman Reigns was anointed his status because his last name is Anoa’i. Again, you can’t blame the real-life Roman for this, he’s doing what he’s told, and it’s truly disappointing that his efforts are virtually ignored because of how WWE brass presents him. The bottom line is, Reigns hasn’t “earned” his status among the fans, and they resent him for it. The reason there’s so much discussion for a Reigns heel turn is not because the crowd is looking forward to “cool bad guy” Roman, but rather a full-fledged protagonist to cheer against him. I truly believe that Roman would get even more heat as a total heel because the majority of the audience doesn’t want to see him as champion. Speaking of which, isn’t it ironic that despite not being in the title picture, Roman Reigns was the main event of WM yet again? It’s obvious that it was The Undertaker’s decision to lose his last match, and 99% of the time that’s the right call, but just because that’s usually the right decision for a retirement match, that doesn’t mean the audience wanted to see it so this scenario might be the exception to the tradition.
To compile this whole situation, the seeds where planted on Raw for Reigns/Lesnar, probably leading to a fourth title win for Reigns. Just as The Undertaker’s last match was used to push Reigns, the momentum from the Golberg/Brock feud will be used for the same purpose. Also from that segment, the way that Braun backed away from Lesnar was completely counter productive to his momentum so far on Raw.
So, why won’t the WWE truly change their direction?
It’s a harsh reality, but they don’t have to. WWE brass can basically do whatever they want and force the personas they want toward the audience, because unless it effects revenue, why not? WWE is pro wrestling in the United States and while three hours of Raw every week does have an effect on the ratings, the company is worth several hundred million dollars so they continue to profit. As long as fans are still buying tickets and network subscriptions, why wouldn’t the WWE enhance their corporate image? There’s no true alternative so if the general public wants to watch wrestling then they will watch WWE. No, I’m not suggesting some type of silly social media boycott that lasts for about 3 days until everyone subscribes to the network again, but rather to point out that Vince McMahon owns professional wrestling and if he wants to push Roman Reigns then the fans will watch him. Sure, they will continue to boo him out of the building, but again, unless people stop buying tickets, does it really matter? If people paid to get into the building, does Vince really care if they boo? They money is made and the promotion profits from several revenue streams so from a business prospective, it’s a success.
Quite frankly, “super man Reigns” makes me shake my head, but those within the wrestling bubble need to realize that until there’s some type of financial consequence, and there won’t be, there’s no reason for Vince not to push Roman. There’s no national competition to push WWE brass to change their plans so it’s doubtful that the organization decides to take another path. Regardless of Finn Balor, Seth Rollins, etc. on the roster, “Big Dawg” Roman is the guy and no amount of booing will change it.
The Undertaker was part of the foundation of the WWE, especially during some of the roughest years in the history of the organization and he’s unquestionably one of the greatest of the all time. In some ways, The Undertaker is on a level on his own because of everything he contributed to the industry. The Undertaker earned his status through decades of sacrifice. Roman Reigns didn’t because he didn’t have to. Reigns was anointed and the company still profits so that’s the reality of the current pro wresting market.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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