The streak-breaking match at Wrestlemania 30 was no classic, 5-star match, worthy of its historical importance. It was a largely plodding affair, and the Undertaker looked rickety and unhealthy the entire time. It was later reported that he had sustained a concussion early in the match, and he was in no shape to continue. And after a beaten Taker limped backstage, he collapsed. Vince rode with him in an ambulance to the hospital, where he stayed the night under observation.
And since then, there’s a been a back-and-forth on social media regarding his condition. “Does he look healthy?” “Does he look sick?” “How much weight has he lost?” “Did he stop dyeing his hair?” This talk only intensified after the WWE confirmed that he would wrestle Bray Wyatt at Wrestlemania 31. Fans scoured his wife’s Instagram to see how he looked. There were even fans who took candid pictures of him and posted them online, where fans dissected his physique. “Is he too skinny?” “Is he too fat?”
How sick and morbid is this? The dialogue around The Undertaker has changed for the worst. Fans have gone from wondering if he can put on another classic to wondering if he can make it to the ring. Instead of celebrating his ability to sell an injury in a match, fans are hoping that he isn’t injured for real. And instead of looking forward to his signature moves, we cheer that he can still manage to do them. This is not fandom. This is a deathwatch. The Undertaker can no longer get over with the crowd when everyone is speculating whether the man behind the character, Mark Calaway, is well enough to compete.
This past SummerSlam was a prime example of diminishing returns. The Undertaker was limping during the match. He was wheezing during the high impact spots. Brock was clearly protecting him—he hit every suplex at an extremely low angle. And when fans commented on Taker’s performance, they always compared it to his recent, more sickly matches, rather than the classic matches from his late prime; the bar for quality has lowered.
And after the match, on his way up the ramp, Taker collapsed again, falling to his knees before rising and walking to the back.
Social media lit up. Was this all part of the show? Was he just selling his fake injuries? Perhaps, even though it did occur off-air. That we even ask these questions, however, demonstrates that the Undertaker should not be out there taking German suplexes to the back of his concussed head. He’s not actually a zombie, ladies and gentlemen—he’s an injured, graying 50-year-old man. We should be cheering his prowess, but instead, we’re praying that he’ll make it through the night in one piece.
the stadium can go dark. Lightning can strike. And when lights come back on, the ring can be empty. Fin.
Wrestlemania 32 would be a perfect curtain call for the Undertaker. It’s in his home state of Texas, and the WWE can induct him into the Hall of Fame the prior night. At the PPV, he can do a full-scale, spectacular entrance, and pose in the ring with his tongue out. If they want him to do his signature moves, they can send Triple H or Paul Heyman out to get squashed. The Undertaker can Tombstone them each 10 times, if the crowd demands it. And then, the stadium can go dark. Lightning can strike. And when lights come back on, the ring can be empty. Fin.
But no more matches for the Undertaker. None. Not at the Survivor Series, not at the Royal Rumble, and certainly not at Wrestlemania. Not Against Brock, not against Sting, and not against Cena. God knows that after Dusty Rhodes and Roddy Piper’s deaths, the professional wrestling world doesn’t need another tragedy. When that fine line between what is scripted and unscripted, between what hurts and what “hurts” breaks down, it starts being “real.” And when we as fans legitimately fear for the life of the performer behind the character, it crosses a line. It’s no longer fun. Enough is enough.
Kevin Wong has written for Complex Media since 2013. You can follow him on twitter at @kevinjameswong.