Monday, April 7, 2014

WrestleMania: Mourning the demise of the Undertaker

Posted By on Mon, Apr 7, 2014 at 7:34 PM

click to enlarge The set for Wrestlemania XXX in the Superdome — site of the Undertaker's demise. - WWE
  • WWE
  • The set for Wrestlemania XXX in the Superdome — site of the Undertaker's demise.

It was sickening and unthinkable. I was going to open this by saying those of us in the Superdome Sunday night for WrestleMania XXX witnessed history, but everybody witnesses history of some sort every day. What we witnessed at WrestleMania when Brock Lesnar beat the Undertaker— can't believe I'm typing that result— was the end of history, the destruction of history.

The Undertaker had 21 straight victories at WrestleMania. At Wrestlemania XXX his record went to 21 - 1 and the world came crashing down. Of course, lots of other things happened at 'Mania too, most of them worth cheering about. It was a superb live show and it's nice Daniel Bryan is now the champ, but of the several dozen WrestleMania-related text messages I've sent and received since last night, none have been about Bryan, or Cena, or Cesaro, or even about Brock Lesnar. They've been about Undertaker. What happened to 'Taker in the Superdome overshadows everything else, just as the prestige of Undertaker's perfect WrestleMania winning streak overshadowed that of any title belt.

Up until the third hour of WrestleMania I'd figured my writeup would dwell on a weird adventure I had in the Superdome's off-limits back hallways while improbably dressed, which seemed the sort of thing a general audience might find funny. That was the plan, right up until — again, can't believe I'm writing these words — Undertaker was defeated at WrestleMania.

His loss was so devastating that most of the friends I was sitting with couldn't believe it. Many felt sure it was a referee error, a botched call or the result of a miscommunication. Even as we were driving back home, some the most cynical, smarty-pants pro wrestling fans I know were arguing that 'Taker losing was somehow an unplanned accident. While I think Undertaker losing was the match’s intended result, it’s such an appalling thing to have happen, let alone to witness live, that one can't help but seek excuses; it's difficult to imagine anyone deliberately choosing for it to occur.

The air went out of the Dome when 'Taker lost. Usually when something I don't approve of happens in wrestling I get loud, but when "21 - 1" flashed on the Titantron above the ring, signalling that the Streak was dead, I subsided into a silent daze. I just slumped back and for the next little while watched whatever was happening on the little off-track-betting-style screen that hung from the bottom of the balcony above our seats, taking in the last third of 'Mania in the absent, unhappy way one watches TV at a Greyhound station. I couldn't get excited or make myself care. It disgusted me that other wrestlers were still wrestling after what had just gone down. The awesome AJ Lee retained her championship, but I couldn't give a shit about it.

I didn't feel capable of standing without assistance. Granted, I was full of sedatives, but the pills weren't the culprit; I've won fistfights while gilled on oxycodone. My spirit was broken.

The final three-way championship match, which Bryan won, did get me up and chanting "Yes," but even before the first explosion of celebratory confetti had fluttered to the floor, I was back to trying to wrap my head around the Undertaker's loss.

We all discover sooner or later that our heroes are mere fallible mortals. The teacher who'd seemed wise as Socrates tells us something we know isn't true; the politician we believed would change the system turns out to be part of the system. But the Undertaker wasn't mortal, I didn't think. Watching the massive mesomorphic Lesnar beat the Undertaker around the ring was extremely unpleasant, but I never for a minute doubted 'Taker would win in the end.

Undertaker losing at 'Mania was like watching the sky change from blue to bright green; it was a mind-blowing violation of the laws of the universe. If I had to compare it to something in my own life, I'd compare it to the day, decades ago, when my Father left my Mother and me. As a child, I'd taken for granted that my parents would always be together, that water would always be wet, that fire would always be hot— these were immutable elements of reality, not things it occurred to me to even hold an opinion about. In that same way, as a lifelong pro wrestling fan, I took it for granted that Undertaker would win at 'Mania, as he always did: it was a ritual reaffirmation. Imagine taking your kids to an Easter passion play, and in the final act, the stone remaining in place in front of the cave. That's how messed-up it felt to see 'Taker take a three-count at 'Mania.

These other so-called wrestlers: who are they? Who are these idiotic, unimportant imposters? Their callow unlined faces, their corny gimmicks— who are these flibbertigibbets to play at pro wrestling? The Undertaker wasn't a pro wrestler; he was pro wrestling. He was everything important about it, an icon spanning eras, outliving trends. Other wrestlers rose and fell, but the Undertaker and his WrestleMania winning streak were forever... or so we all thought.

The Undertaker was what I'd looked forward to most at WrestleMania XXX; he rarely appears outside ‘Mania, and I'd been waiting more or less my whole life to see him in action. Having borne unwilling witness to his defeat, I'm still a pro wrestling fan, but I'm a profoundly sad one. I know it's stupid to be this upset about someone losing a pro wrestling match, but most of the things you care about are stupid too. We're stupid people living stupid lives, and in a constant, disorienting churn of change we try and anchor ourselves to something that seems less ephemeral, something we feel at some level we can rely on. The Undertaker losing at 'Mania isn't just the outcome of a staged sports-entertainment event: it's a savage and agonizing lesson in despair.

Twenty-four hours later, I'm emphatically not over it. I may never be.

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