One of the joys of my life these last six years — and rightly put into context, a life-saver — has been professional wrestling; specifically, attending WWE’s biggest event of the year, WrestleMania, on an annual basis.
My first WrestleMania was in Detroit, Michigan for WrestleMania 23 in 2007, as a 17-year-old, with my dad. I thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Little did I know, I’d be returning to the show of shows a few years later for WrestleMania 29 in 2013. After a two-year hiatus, I returned for WrestleMania 32 in Dallas, Texas; WrestleMania 33 in Orlando, Florida; WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans, Louisiana; and WrestleMania 35 in New York City/New Jersey.
Heck of a streak, huh? Unfortunately, the pandemic and life events (I probably wouldn’t have gone, even if there was no COVID-19, buuut I was saying that every year prior, too) ended my streak, hardly the worst outcome of the pandemic. I also didn’t go to WrestleMania 37 when things were more “normal” and “open.”
I had not planned on returning to Dallas, Texas for the upcoming WrestleMania 38 two-night event, billed as “stupendous.” That’s the other thing: The advent of the pandemic caused WWE to figure out how to make the show of shows still feel big, so they made WrestleMania 36 and WrestleMania 37 two-night events, and WrestleMania 38 is following in those footsteps, this time with a full-on crowd expected for both nights.
In my head, I’m thinking, I don’t need to go to Dallas, Texas again, and honestly, now that I have my own house, I enjoy the comfort of sitting on the recliner and watching the show, with easy access to more (far cheaper!) beers and the bathroom. Yes, I’m old. But also, because I’m living on my own now and don’t have the fortune of my parents’ safety net, I also can’t be stupid with my finances and make a trip to Dallas, Texas, or even a last-minute decision to go to WrestleMania (as I’ve done in years prior).
Traveling is expensive! Compounding that is I’m already making a weekend trip next month, our annual family trip in July, and a smaller trip with family in September. And having already prepped for two of those, traveling is expensive! It’s not something easily done on the spur of the moment for someone like me who isn’t made of money.
The reason I kept going to WrestleMania year-after-year, other than it being a way to meet up with friends and have a good time exploring a new city, was because I was vehement about being in-person for The Undertaker’s final match.
You see, The Undertaker and I have something of a symbiotic relationship, at least in my head: He debuted for the WWE as this, well, “undertaker” gimmick, in November 1990 at the Survivor Series pay-per-view. I was born two months prior in September 1990.
The first professional wrestler I ever saw on the television, on account of my two older brothers being fans and watching it, was The Undertaker.
Ever since then, I’ve been hooked on “The Deadman.” He’s my guy. There’s been others who have come along that I’ve enjoyed, and much like The Undertaker, I’ve adapted to the newer generations and enjoy wrestlers who came after him and current wrestlers, but my all-time favorite? Undertaker.
When I think about the fact that he debuted around my birth and was a big part of my enjoyment and entertainment for 30 dang years is an incredible feat to his staying power (and mine as a fan, given how some fans stop watching or “grow out of it”).
So, when it seemed likely that any match at WrestleMania after he lost his vaunted 21-0 streak in 2014 (up until WrestleMania 30, he’d never lost at WrestleMania in what was called, “The Streak”; it was inconceivable really, that he could ever lose and The Streak itself became a featured attraction at WrestleMania) could be his last, It spurred me to be in attendance for his next (last!) match. Because, what’s there to continue for? The Streak was dead. But of course, Undertaker was and is more than The Streak and I think for him, he was chasing a “last ride” befitting of him (he was concussed in the match where he lost The Streak, so it wasn’t much of a match).
And I was chasing that last ride, too. I went to WrestleMania 32 for his match against Shane McMahon. His match the following year against Roman Reigns when it really did seem like it was over and he set his gear down in the ring to close the show, something that still gives me goosebumps reflecting upon it. Fans around me were literally bawling. I was bawling on the inside, okay? But at least I was there!
Then he came back for WrestleMania 34, so of course, I headed back out to the show of shows.
He wasn’t actually scheduled to have a match at WrestleMania 35, the first time since WrestleMania 16, or 19 years prior, which is wild to think about. But I ended up going because something from the new generation made it imperative: the first ever WrestleMania women’s main event featuring “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey, Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch. I couldn’t miss that.
I stopped chasing the Deadman and started chasing the future. I suppose Undertaker and I were both learning to let go.
But as luck would have it, that dang Deadman returned for WrestleMania 36 to finally have his “last ride” with AJ Styles in a cinematic match (filmed outside of an arena beforehand) befitting the pandemic era.
How ironic is that? I chased that guy across three WrestleManias, from Dallas to Orlando to New Orleans, only for his last match to be in front of no fans. As bittersweet as that was, it was a great match and certainly worthy of his “last ride.”
Then, as we approached the 30-year anniversary of his debut at Survivor Series in 2020, The Undertaker officially retired, again in front of no fans. It was a beautiful moment, but again, it felt bittersweet because he didn’t have the proper adulation of the fans to soak it all in.
Welp. The Deadman rides again.
WWE announced today that The Undertaker will be inducted into its Hall of Fame during WrestleMania weekend this year, which is apropos since The Undertaker is from Texas.
Dangit. Now I gotta figure out how I’m going to be there in-person for his Hall of Fame induction because he’s finally going to get his moment in the sun with the fans, like me, who have loved him for most of our lives.
And I said at the top of this post that this chase to be present for The Undertaker’s last match at WrestleMania also was responsible, I think, for saving my life. Because it was. The way I would trick my depressed and suicidal brain to live just a little bit longer was because I had to make it to WrestleMania. After WrestleMania, I could kill myself, but I need to see WrestleMania one more time.
Rinse and repeat for years. It wasn’t the healthiest thing, given that I wasn’t actually addressing my severe depression and suicidal ideation, but it kept me alive, all the same.
Now, as I consider going back to the graveyard to see The Undertaker one more time, taking his rightful place in the Hall of Fame, I know that I’m no longer that person with one foot in the grave and one foot trailing his shadow. I’m healthy now, and (potentially; I gotta hedge!) going for a good reason.
Thank you, Deadman, for everything.