On Election Night, it’s going to be difficult for Smackdown to draw a decent television rating, but luckily, the following week should be an entertaining spectacle. If the world doesn’t end after this Tuesday, we will live to see the 900th episode of Smackdown on Nov. 15, and appropriately, a fearsome entity will rise from the dead once again to walk the earth. No, it’s not Lucifer. But close enough. The Undertaker has been announced to return to next week’s Smackdown, right on cue for the potential apocalypse. And if he reunites the Four Horseman while he’s at it, that would be a nice symbolic bonus.
It’s always a treat to see the Deadman return, as it is just one of the wrestling world’s expected surprises as we get closer to WrestleMania. But this time, his return may be a bit different. As the Demon from Death Valley begins to appear more and more like his gimmick, we wonder how many more matches he truly has left in him. This could be Taker’s final run.
So, what will the Undertaker have in store for his final stretch as the most iconic figure on the active roster in sports entertainment? Just to get in the mood, I watched a couple of his most recognized matches the other night. First, I watched Mankind vs. Undertaker in their classic Hell in a Cell match. Of course, this isn’t the finest technical bout known to man or mark, but it is one of the most talked about moments in wrestling history. It will go down as a match that will not and should never be topped as far as cringe-worthy stunts are concerned. No one can forget the image of Mick Foley hurdling from the sky and through a table by the hands of the Undertaker.
Second, I watched what is considered by many to be the greatest match of all time: Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker at WrestleMania 25. The build up and the execution of this match is unparalleled. While false finishes seem to be abused every week now at the expense of their own suspense, two of the greatest performers to ever step into the ring used them appropriately that night. And those are just two of the Undertaker’s extraordinary catalogue of unforgettable moments, which is what makes him the most respected man in WWE. However, age has seemed to catch up with him, and he’s lost a step or two in his last few contests. So, it will be interesting to see who he chooses to honor as his final few opponents at the tail end of his career.
Since he is on the Smackdown brand, we can only really speculate on who he will feud with on that show. But, since Survivor Series is a cross-brand event, anything is up for grabs for a one night only matchup. It would have to be someone who isn’t already in the big classic survivor series matches, and someone who is worthy of facing the Deadman. This could also be a brand specific match, though, since Raw already has Goldberg vs. Lesnar. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to put over a new superstar on a major pay-per-view.
At first I was thinking it would be pretty cool to see the Undertaker answer Dolph Ziggler’s challenge, and with it, bring some notoriety back to the Intercontinental Title. Taker has always held his place as a living WWE legend with dignity, and has never felt the need to use backstage politics to get what he wants. Ever the selfless company guy, it would still be nice to see Undertaker hold a championship one last time. Either way, he would be putting Dolph over, as he’s done with so many other Superstars in the past, even when he didn’t need to (see: Brock Lesnar). But maybe this would be an even better opportunity for an even fresher face to enter the WWE main roster to a push from the Deadman.
We could see Taker offer his own open challenge at Survivor Series, the event where he first debuted in WWF as Ted Dibiase’s mystery man all those years ago. Just a shot at the legendary Undertaker to anyone in the back trying to make a name for themselves is a privilege. And much like Kevin Owens was handed the baton on his first night when he answered John Cena’s open challenge, we could see another former NXT champion test his mettle against the Undertaker at Survivor Series.
As far as NXT call-ups are concerned, the next one in line would have to be Shinsuke Nakamura. He has held the NXT championship and lost it to Samoa Joe. This is usually a sure sign that the WWE is ready to bring someone to television. There is no better wrestler to face the Undertaker at a major event right now than Nakamura. Especially if the King of Strong Style loses to Joe once again at NXT Takeover: Toronto the night before, there is a high likelihood that we could hear the opening chords of Rising Sun playing at Survivor Series.
It would be appropriate for Shinsuke to face the Undertaker in his debut, as he is on the Deadman’s level as far as being globally respected and considered a legend in his own right back in Japan. And what an intriguing matchup that would be. Two exaggerated characters with limitless charisma paying respect to each other’s careers would be a monumental fantasy match. The only real concern would be that the mainstream WWE audience won’t be familiar with Shinsuke; and that would be true, if it weren’t in Toronto. Canada is the perfect place to debut a guy like Shinsuke against the Phenom since they’re known as some of the most die hard wrestling fans on the planet. Simply look to Hogan vs. Rock at WM 18 if you want to see how special a Toronto crowd can make a dream match.
Outside of what could be a beautiful moment in time in Nakamura/Taker, the Prince of Darkness could be an active member of the Smackdown roster up until Wrestlemania. And aside from possibly rekindling a feud with Bray Wyatt and teaming up with Kane as a tip of the hat to their Brothers of Destruction days, Undertaker has a whole locker room full of fresh talent to put over. Now, although Nakamura is no spring chicken, keep in mind that he’s new to the WWE Universe; and the same logic would apply to AJ Styles.
I don’t think it’s reckless speculation to think that we wouldn’t see the Phenom vs. The Phenomenal One sooner rather than later. The inevitable Taker vs. Sting match (if Sting is able) should be an obvious choice for WrestleMania, but The Royal Rumble might see Styles clash with Undertaker. Considering how many indie legends WWE has acquired over the past two years, The Undertaker is going to have a lot of Superstars who have made a name for themselves elsewhere challenging him before he retires. Needless to say, it’s going to be an eventful run this time around for the The Deadman. And for some of the WWE’s newly signed talent, the promotional power of the Undertaker is going to be a great revelation.