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The Undertaker didn’t go out on his back

WWE is promoting the Undertaker’s final farewell for this Sunday (Nov. 22) at Survivor Series. It’s understandable if some fans are skeptical about this really being his final farewell, but for the sake of this post I’ll play along with WWE’s marketing.

The Dead Man is one of the most respected wrestlers in the history of WWE. Undertaker has always been described as a traditionalist who is all about doing business the right way, and that’s one of the reasons why he became a locker room leader in WWE. As one example of this, Undertaker was apparently prepared to do violent things to Shawn Michaels, if necessary, to ensure that HBK did the right thing for business in 1998 at WrestleMania 14, when it was time to put over Steve Austin as the new face of WWF.

Undertaker’s reputation for doing business the right way was the main counterpoint often used to argue against those fans who suggested that his undefeated streak at WrestleMania should never be broken. The Undertaker would never agree to that, some argued, because he has the kind of old school mentality where he has to go out on his back. There’s just no way the Undertaker would end his career without going out on his back, because that’s the right way to do business.

Well, if the Undertaker is really done in the ring, then I’d like to point out that he did not go out on his back. In fact, he won his last four matches. That includes two wins over AJ Styles, a tag team win over Drew McIntyre & Shane McMahon, and a victory over Goldberg. Those victories covered all of his matches in 2019 and 2020.

Prior to those four wins, the Phenom did end 2018 with two consecutive defeats. Those losses came against Triple H and Degeneration X, and had no bearing on helping the future of the business. That’s because Triple H and Shawn Michaels are near retirement and in retirement, respectively. And if we’re being technical about it, Kane was the one who took the pin in the tag team match against Degeneration X, because that’s Kane’s role when the Brothers of Destruction are booked to lose.

Now let’s go back even further. Here is the complete list of Undertaker’s losses since the beginning of 2011:

  • 2013: The Shield (6-man tag on Raw where Daniel Bryan took the pin)
  • 2014: Brock Lesnar (WrestleMania 30)
  • 2015: Brock Lesnar (Hell in a Cell)
  • 2017: Royal Rumble match (eliminated by Reigns)
  • 2017: Roman Reigns (WrestleMania 33)
  • 2018: Triple H (Super Show-Down)
  • 2018: Degeneration X (Crown Jewel)

Undertaker seems to believe that his loss to Roman Reigns in 2017 did not accomplish the goal of giving the big rub to Roman, due to poor match quality. If that’s the case, then where in this list is the star in his prime years who Undertaker helped? Brock Lesnar and Triple H are the only other men to pin Undertaker since the start of 2011, but they were already made men in WWE and untouchable in the pecking order. Lesnar is a wrestler who gets a lot of flak for not putting over enough younger stars, but from where I’m sitting, it looks like the Undertaker was a bigger culprit on that front over the last decade.

I’m not pointing this out as an attack on the Undertaker or his approach to doing business. It seems like the idea was for Undertaker to go out on his back and put Roman Reigns over big at WrestleMania 33 in 2017. However, the match didn’t go the way Undertaker wanted it to, and he couldn’t end his career like that. Undertaker could have gone out on his back with that defeat, but he instead chose a different path.

When big stadium shows in Australia, Saudi Arabia, and WrestleMania came calling in 2018, Vince McMahon needed big attractions to draw an audience, and the Undertaker was an obvious legend to call on. The idea from that point on wasn’t for the Undertaker to make any new stars, it was just about being a badass icon and an attraction for pure nostalgia. For example, there was no chance in hell that Rusev was ever going to beat Undertaker at The Greatest Royal Rumble in Saudi Arabia in April 2018. The point of the match wasn’t about setting up the younger star Rusev for something better in the future, it was about catering to Undertaker nostalgia with a casket match and an obvious outcome.

One reason I’m pointing this out is to say that it’s actually okay that the Undertaker didn’t go out on his back. The idea that a wrestler has to go out on his back to do business the right way was always a fallacy. Sometimes, the best story involves the old guy finding a way to win his final battle. I’d say that applies to the final feud of Undertaker’s career, which culminated in a Boneyard match against AJ Styles at WrestleMania 36.

It looks like Undertaker defines doing business the right way as following what the promoter wants him to do, whether in victory, defeat, or on Cameo. In other words, the Undertaker was a company guy through and through. I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide if Undertaker should have done more to sway Vince McMahon’s booking decisions in a different direction at times over the last decade.

Vince McMahon wanted the Undertaker to beat AJ Styles, Goldberg, and Drew McIntyre & Shane McMahon in the final matches of his career. So the Undertaker followed orders and did business the right way. He didn’t go out on his back, though, despite so many people assuming he would.

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