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31 Days of Wrestling (12/2/17): Roman Reigns vs. The Undertaker


Welcome to the 31 Days of Wrestling, ladies and gentlemen. Once again, we're at that point where we take a look back at the past 11 months of pro wrestling (and as much as possible, the last month as well) and cherry-pick one match for each day of December from a list of bouts that defined the year in our beloved sport. Most matches will be good, while some may not be; what matters is that they helped build the perception and reputation of the kind of wrestling 2017 produced for us.

Today, we look at the moment when the yard torch was officially passed from one gatekeeper to another in WWE.

With all the great matches WWE put out in 2017, it was tough to single out which match had the biggest overall impact on the industry after the fact. Through all the soon-to-be classics we got, one match stood out because of its implications on the business moving forward. That match was the main event of WrestleMania Sun: Roman Reigns vs. The Undertaker.

We don't need any more reminders about Roman Reigns being Vince's guy and about him being the chosen franchise player moving forward. We've been beaten over the head with it so many times that most of us have spent the last three years revolting against this very idea. Maybe that's also why WWE has spent the same amount of time trying to give us reasons to get behind Roman, or at least to build him up to a point where nobody can really deny him his place in the industry today.

And that is why there is no bigger stamp of approval than a win against The Undertaker at WrestleMania. Sure, Brock Lesnar beat Roman to it in 2014. But with all the rumors surrounding the Undertaker supposedly retiring after that match, there could be no greater honor than to be the Deadman's final opponent.


To be fair to WWE, they set this one up as early as this year's Royal Rumble, where Reigns eliminated The Undertaker, effectively kickstarting their feud. Through the next few months—at least when The Undertaker was available to appear on TV—Roman Reigns played the part of the brash and abrasive asshole who wanted to take the Deadman out to pasture. Never mind that both guys seemed to fight over a fictional piece of real estate, there was bad blood among them because Roman wanted to prove that Taker's time was up and that his time was now.

When the match finally happened, you couldn't be blamed for not knowing what to expect. Even though you had The Undertaker in the ring, this was the Phenom on his last legs. We were unsure how much more he'd have left in the tank. In a way, we got our answer when their match was announced as a No Holds Barred match mere minutes before it started. It didn't make that much sense because there were no concrete stakes in the first place, but it's wrestling. And, if it was going to allow Roman and Taker to have the best possible match given the circumstances, then sure. WWE even trotted Good Ol' J.R. out as a guest commentator for this one, just to add even more gravitas to it.


What we got as a result was a match where two guys went to war and beat the living hell out of one another. In a way, it looked like if Roman Reigns really wanted to be The Guy, he had to bludgeon the Deadman to bits for it. Throughout the match—and the weapons and pieces of ringside environment incorporated into it—Roman was put through all of The Undertaker's signature moves: The Last Ride, Hell's Gate, and the Tombstone Piledriver; and he survived every one of them. It got to the point where Taker seemingly ran out of gas and could only collapse after doing his signature sit-up in the ring. That was the opening Reigns needed to deliver a fourth and final Spear to lay the Deadman to rest.

When it was all said and done, we had all the signs pointing to this main event being The Undertaker's last dance in WWE. He broke character following the match—something he does very rarely—and went to kiss his wife, former WWE Superstar Michelle McCool, at ringside. He then left his hat, trench coat, and gloves in the middle of the ring, and acknowledged the WWE Universe one final time on the stage before being lowered. If that wasn't a definitive farewell for one of the WWE's signature characters, then we'd be hard-pressed to find one. It was such a moment that even the production crew showed reverence for it, leaving The Undertaker's gear in the middle of the ring as a show of respect until they had to disassemble the ring after everything else had been taken down.


If this really was The Undertaker's last match—since, you know, anything can happen in wrestling, including retirements that could end at a moment's notice—then this was as fitting a finale for his career as there ever could be. The Deadman has always been known to respect the business above everything else, acting as its true gatekeeper throughout his long, storied career. He was going to go out on his back; and he was definitely going to put a younger talent over. In giving Roman Reigns that match and that result, he handed Reigns the keys to the car and told him to step on the gas and to never look back.

As for Reigns himself, he'd go on to have a 2017 in which he'd continue to establish his legitimacy as the WWE's new franchise player. Five months after his WrestleMania victory, he'd go on to defeat John Cena in a battle of alpha dogs, adding one more reason for him to claim his throne atop the WWE empire. What's interesting through all of this is the fact that Roman Reigns never even held the Universal or WWE Championships in the time since. He didn't have to. The matches with The Undertaker and John Cena were as big of an endorsement as any wrestler is bound to get.

Meanwhile, The Undertaker is set to return on WWE television this January when RAW celebrates its 25th anniversary. It remains to be seen if he'll come back and set up another WrestleMania feud. Whether or not he does, whatever he does following that could very well count as the equivalent of Michael Jordan's two seasons with the Washington Wizards. The Undertaker's match at this year's WrestleMania signalled the true end of an era and a passing of the torch.

Whether or not an actual yard was turned over legally to Roman Reigns is still unknown.

#ThankYouTaker and the ball's in your court, Roman. Let's see how far you run with it.

*****

31 Days of Wrestling is Smark Henry's way of celebrating the matches that helped define wrestling in 2017.

Read our previous entries:

#1: The Okada/Omega Trilogy

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