The Undertaker finally made his return to WWE programming last night (Mar. 4) on Monday Night Raw - Old School edition, hobbling out and setting the stage on fire while mugging for the camera, which conveniently framed the WrestleMania 29 sign hanging in the background.
Then he returned to the locker room and crawled back into his coffin like a good little ghoul.
Fortunately, his pine box was retrofitted with a home theater system, allowing him to pop back out when prompted by CM Punk, who was crafty enough to survive a fatal four-way match and earn a future fight against "The Deadman." So, what did he do for his Buffalo encore?
Fire, smoke, organs... you know the deal by now. It was like watching The Wizard of Oz on mute.
I find it unintentionally hilarious that we have a major pay-per-view match booked for the biggest show of the year and one half of the equation didn't have to utter a single word. It was perfectly acceptable for him to simply peek his head out from behind the curtain -- just to prove to the marks it was really him and not The Underfaker.
How does he get away with it?
The streak. The Undertaker is currently 20-0 in WrestleMania matches, which is an astounding statistic. Shit, just to be around long enough to get booked at "The Granddaddy of Them All" on 20 separate occasions is a feat unto itself, win or lose.
But now, something unexpected has happened.
The streak has become more important than the man. If The Undertaker appearing at WrestleMania 29 was really about him competing, then creative would not be allowed to get away with such a paint-by-numbers approach. I'm not saying it didn't work, because it did, but somewhere along the way, we may have forgotten what this is all about.
It's about The Undertaker being a bad motherfucker.
I would go so far as to say that as his challenger, CM Punk is interchangeable with any top star on the roster -- outside of Triple H and Shawn Michaels -- for the simple reason they've already faced him twice in recent years. Punk is an opponent of convenience because, well, creative has nothing for him at the moment.
Not because he's isn't over, but because he's in-between programs, which is a euphemism for "The Rock is back and we want him as the headliner, not you."
The good news is, fighting The Undertaker is a lateral move. Outside of the main event, there isn't a bigger match on the card. Sure, he has to do most of the heavy lifting, since the brother of destruction is going to be 48 years old by the time they lock horns at the MetLife Stadium on April 7 in New Jersey.
That's not exactly ancient, but keep in mind, wrestling years are like dog years when you consider how much abuse a guy like The Undertaker has endured over the years. Hell, he almost didn't make it to the "Garden State" due to lingering issues -- despite having not wrestled since last year's 'Mania.
The end, I'm afraid, is near.
If I had to guess, I would think that whoever breaks the streak will be forced to rematch 'Taker so he can retire with a win. Or, perhaps the streak remains intact and the artist once known to the Indy scene as "Mean" Mark Calaway rides off into the sunset with one heck of a career accomplishment.
Realistically, how much longer can he keep this up? Two, maybe three years?
He's unquestionably one of the all-time greats, and a lock for the WWE hall of fame, but let's be honest with ourselves as we inch closer to WrestleMania. This is no longer about watching a wrestling match, it's about whether or not the streak will end. That's why our hearts stopped last year when he was hit with this double-finish.
The streak is still alive, but The Undertaker has been dead for awhile now. Perhaps it's time we finally let him rest in peace.