Let’s get this out of the way right off the top. I think this match is a work of art, and am going to do everything in my power to make you see it the same way. It might make you angry or it might make you think, but for the love of god please know that I don’t give a fraction of a fuck about what you think about Roman Reigns. It’s irrelevant, because this match isn’t about him. It’s about history. Roman Reigns is just the period at the end of the sentence.
Also, the rest of our Wrestlemania review will follow later. I just felt it was important to talk about this match while it is still so fresh in our minds. Lets proceed.
To understand what we’re really dealing here with this match, maybe the most important thing is to realize that there has been one continuous throughline linking every Wrestlemania from 24 to 33. I’ll piece this storyline together so that we can appreciate it for what it is. It all starts when Ric Flair has finally reached the end of his illustrious career, and was put into a situation by Vince McMahon where his back was up against the wall. If Flair lost a single match, he would be forced to retire and leave WWE. And with the sport that had dominated and defined his life was in danger of being taken away from him, Flair rallied in a magnificent series of matches, and ran off the longest winning streak he had seen since his glory days. Infuriated by this, McMahon pitted him against an unwilling Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania, an irresistible force that McMahon knew would get the job done.
It was never a question what would happen when Flair and Michaels met at the Citrus Bowl that night. Flair donned a magnificent robe and strutted down to the ring with more life and passion than we had seen from him in years, and proceeded to give Michaels a helluva fight. In the beginning it was all Flair, and he battled, scratched, clawed, pulled out every trick. But the final moments of this match are etched in the memories of those who saw it forever, not because of a grand Flair comeback. But because a brave and undaunted Flair kept coming, not knowing or understanding any other way to be as his body failed him, a tearful Michaels whispered “I love you” into the balmy night and put him down.
That was the end of Flair’s story, but then something interesting happened. After a failed attempt to beat the Undertaker at Wrestlemania the following year, Shawn Michaels developed a kind of manic NEED to face the Undertaker again. All of the accolades directed at him for their amazing match rang hollow to him suddenly, and everything from DX and his best friend Triple H to his own personal life seemed to take a backseat to his fixation. Maybe something about ending Flair’s career brought fully into focus that his own time was drawing near, and his failure against the Undertaker grated him, but for whatever the reason he did everything he could to force a match out of the Undertaker, until finally he put his career on the line to get it. And before the match even took place, he said aloud the words that must have been haunting him all along. “My career is over.”
(Here’s the promo video for their match, which is hands down one of the best things WWE has ever produced.)
The match those two men had at Wrestlemania that year was absolutely electric. For my money, it may be the greatest WWE match of all time, and Shawn threw every ounce of himself into the singular goal of somehow beating the Undertaker, and proving to himself that he was still the same man who could do that. But he couldn’t. And as a brave and undaunted Shawn Michaels found himself crawling to his knees in front of the Undertaker, not knowing or understanding any other way to be as his body failed him, a reluctant Undertaker picked him up, leapt into the air, and ended his career with the mother of all Tombstones.
From there the storyline took a turn. Something about what had happened to his friend just didn’t sit right with Triple H, and he immediately decided to also throw himself at unstoppable juggernaut of the Undertaker the following year. But while that feud was more about revenge for Triple H, every step of the way Shawn begged him to reconsider, begged him to consider what it really meant to put himself in the mental place that Shawn had gotten to himself. And in the follow up to that match, as all three men met again inside a Hell in a Cell, all 3 were forced to confront their mortality. They refereed to themselves as the last of a dying breed, and indeed they were. None of the stars who they had come up with or had those legendary rivalries with remained. It was only these three men, holding on to each other to remember their past glory, and when the Undertaker won, it was he alone who carried that torch.
Then came Brock.
In all honestly, the Undertaker’s career should have ended on the night that a 1 was finally added to the loss column of his Wrestlemania record. The perfect ending to this story is to have the last vestige of the former greatness of WWE be wiped clean from the slate of the world by an overwhelming monster that just wouldn’t stop. But Taker got concussed in that match, and in his rematches with Lesnar he recaptured his mojo and proved that he wasn’t done yet. But as WWE kept the Undertaker going, each year the story began to tell itself in a similar way. Each time, it began to seem like the Undertaker was going to come up short, not quite have enough of his old power to get the job done, and each time he would find a way to come out on top. Each time he would reestablish that he was still the Undertaker, even while he told his opponents that the only way to get rid of him forever would be to definitively defeat him at Wrestlemania. It seemed like it would never happen. Each year he got a little slower, each year he got a little weaker, and each year he took just a little bit longer to get back up off of the ground. But he was the Undertaker, god dammit! In our hearts he was as timeless and enduring as a boulder.
Cut to 2017. And in the midst of a feud between Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman, the Undertaker inserted himself just the way he always had, and demanded a match with the biggest and baddest guy in the company, just like he always had. But something was different. His mind games didn’t seem to effect Roman Reigns the same way they had the other guys. Reigns was fast and strong, and thirsting for a way to prove himself. For a way to assert his dominance further over a brand that championed him.
When the bell rang, it was all Undertaker. After some dismissive tosses outside by Reigns, the Undertaker got in the zone and inflicted a calamity of punches on Roman, hitting him with signature move after signature move, chokeslamming him on the announce table and finally hitting him with the Tombstone. With the trademark tongue out pin, the Undertaker pinned Reigns then, rage spent and flurry complete, only for Roman to kick out at two. And that was the moment the match ended.
The next several minutes saw Roman Reigns inflict horrible punishment on the last living icon of WWE. Something like 10 chairshots, 4 Superman punches and 3 spears all struck a nearly defenseless Undertaker, who just continued to kick out over and over. There was no offense left in the Deadman. He wasn’t even able to muster up his classic sit up, because no selling to intimidate simply wasn’t an option. He was spent to his very core, but simply was incapable of stopping. And as a brave and undaunted Undertaker found himself struggling to his feet, standing resolutely, if unsteadily, in front of the future of WWE, not knowing or understanding any other way to be as his body failed him, a defiant Roman Reigns ran the ropes once, twice, three times to build up momentum and hit the Undertaker with the force of a steam train to end it once and for all.
As a stunned and defeated Undertaker looked out at the crowd in the very same stadium where this all began 9 years prior, he knew it was time. Time to walk off into the darkness like those who came before him. He took off his gloves, his coat, and his hat and laid them peacefully to rest in the center of the ring that had dominated and defined his life. He walked slowly back up the ramp, stripped of the man he once was, and slowly descended down into the stage. The last outlaw of an age dead and gone, on his last ride.
This wasn’t a match. It was a fucking history lesson, and a chance for the Undertaker to complete the masterpiece he had been building for nigh on a decade. It was his last gift to you. A new way to see Roman Reigns, a new way to appreciate this show, and a way to say goodbye to him that we can all understand and be proud of. So when you say it was a shit match and call it boring, you are welcome and entitled to your opinion. You’re just taking a big steamy one on the legacy of the Undertaker. Hope it feels good.
Rest in Peace, Deadguy.
100 out of 100.