WrestleMania 33 featured the unlikely main event of Roman Reigns vs. The Undertaker. No doubt, these two were big stars coming into the match, and of course WWE had featured this match prominently in the build to the biggest show of the year. Just the same, with not one, but two world championships in the mix, and one of those world title matches featuring two of the biggest part time stars in the company, Brock Lesnar and Goldberg, Reigns challenging The Deadman didn’t seem likely to close out to show. Furthermore, there was the matter of match quality. WWE has, on occasion booked a main event match based on perceived match quality, such as The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels closing WrestleMania XXVI. Based on the match the two had staged one year earlier, there was every reason to believe those two would put on show-stealing performance that no match could follow. The Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns, though? While the match could be good, The Undertaker came into it well past his prime, and Roman Reigns has been hit or miss as big match performer.
By the time WrestleMania 33 went off the air, it was clear why WWE had picked this main event. The logic of it headlining over a world title match felt strange when the match started, and the match itself was a far cry from the best on the card. Just the same, this main event was far less about the match than the moment. After 25 WrestleMania matches, The Undertaker endured just his second loss and followed it up by unofficially signaling his retirement, when he left his signature costuming—his glove, coat, and hat—behind him in the ring.
In the aftermath of ‘Mania, The Deadman’s retirement became the most talked about element of the show. In looking back on his last match there are plenty of details it was easy to miss in the heat of the moment. This article tracks fifteen pieces of this match you might have missed.
15 Jim Ross Is The Undertaker’s Personal Play By Play Man
Jim Ross was the iconic voice of WWE’s Attitude Era. He’s had a tumultuous relationship with WWE, however, with Vince McMahon purportedly reticent about his southern drawl and the way JR looked after a bout of Bell’s Palsy. Ross stopped working as a full-time announcer in 2009 and only made occasional appearances on live broadcasts afterward. Most recently, he had called the WrestleMania XXVIII Hell in a Cell Match, billed as “The End of an Era.” The combatants for that? None other than Triple H and The Undertaker, who reportedly specifically requested and used their political clout to actually get the services of Jim Ross on play by play for the match.
When the story broke that Ross would call the main event of WrestleMania 33, the general thought was he would be calling Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg. In retrospect, it seems clear that The Undertaker wanted the guy who had called so many of his greatest moments to be at the announce table for his last rodeo. On his podcast, Ross indicated that he didn’t know he was calling The Phenom’s last match until the moment was upon him. He cited that, like usual, he asked not to know the finish so that he could call it live in organic fashion. In the aftermath, Ross called getting tapped for that match an honor.
14 Michelle McCool Was At Ringside
Thank you to our WWE family & fans for all the love for so many years! Wouldn't be able to put into words just how powerful last nights ending was....legends never die! #thankyoutaker #lovemyhusband #blessed #WrestleMania ?
The Undertaker was a 30 year veteran of the wrestling business, and so it might not be such a surprise that he maintained old school mentalities. First and foremost, he was one of the last major stars to more often than not maintain kayfabe and protect his character well away from the ring.
During the Attitude Era, when his character was recast as a biker, The Deadman had his then-real wife Sara appear on air as part of the InVasion angle. Since that time, he’s kept his personal life and family out of storylines and appeared as nothing but his serious, supernatural character on WWE programming.
Careful observers will notice that after The Undertaker removed his garb, and before he walked to the ramp, he stopped at ringside. While there, he stole a kiss with his wife Michelle McCool who had been seated front and center for her husband’s last match. WWE didn’t make mention of it, but the kiss was a nice, subtle indicator that The Undertaker really was done, and we were watching Mark Calaway exit the stadium.
13 The Entrances Took Longer Than The Universal Championship Match
The Undertaker has long been known for his dramatic and slow entrances to the wrestling ring. As he’s gotten older, and as the entrance ramp has grown in size for WrestleManias at stadiums, the presentation has only increased in length of time.
At WrestleMania 33, The Undertaker’s entrance, taken on its own took about four and a half minutes (most certainly shaving off some time for The Deadman only walking half the length of the ramp after rising from a trap door). Add onto that Roman Reigns’ relatively standard entrance down the long ramp, and the combined entrances easily exceeded the four minutes and 45 seconds Brock Lesnar and Goldberg spent in the ring. Ordinarily, it would be absurd to think of entrances lasting longer than a world title match, but this was the longest match Goldberg had worked in his 2016-2017 run. Moreover, critics seem to agree that this was a best case scenario—delivering some semblance of a real match without ever boring fans or risking Goldberg getting hurt or blown up for going too long.
12 Roman Reigns Became Just The Fourth Man To Main Event Three Straight WrestleManias
Like many kids who grew up in the 1980s, there was a time when Hulk Hogan and WrestleMania were synonymous to me. Not only was he WWE’s top star for those early years, but he was also featured in seven out of eight of the first WrestleMania main events (arguably eight out of nine, if you count his impromptu match with Yokozuna at the end of WrestleMania IX). His longest ‘Mania main event streak was four (or five).
Very few have had numbers to approach Hogan’s. In fact, only three other stars have had both the star power and longevity to main event three consecutive WrestleManias since Hogan. One was The Rock who headlined twice with Steve Austin and once in a Fatal Four Way opposite Triple H, Mick Foley, and The Big Show from WrestleManias XV through X-Seven. Then there was John Cena who main evented with The Miz and then The Rock twice from WrestleManias XXVII through XXIX.
At WrestleMania 33, Reigns matched this mark after challenging Brock Lesnar (and Seth Rollins) to close out WrestleMania 31, and main eventing WrestleMania 32 with Triple H. While achieving this milestone was probably, at best, an afterthought in WWE’s planning, it nonetheless reinforces how seriously WWE management takes Reigns as they push him as the new face of the company.
11 The Undertaker Was The First Wrestler To Have His Music Close WrestleMania After Losing The Main Event
There may be no single bigger signifier that someone’s arrived at the tip-top of the wrestling world than having his music play to close out a WrestleMania. Twenty times, this accomplishment has coincided with someone winning a world championship, and eight other times it’s represented a reigning champion successfully defending or winning the top title at the biggest show of the year. The Undertaker had been the recipient of this honor three times before. It happened first at WrestleMania 13, a true legend building moment when he both won a world title and won the main event for the first times at a WrestleMania. From there, it happened when he successfully defended his title against Edge at WrestleMania XXIV, and again when he ended Shawn Michaels' career at WrestleMania XXVI.
At WrestleMania 33, The Deadman broke new ground when he lost the match but still earned the accolade, becoming the first ever WrestleMania main event loser to get the ring to himself for one last salute to the crowd before riding off into the sunset. Shawn Michaels came closest to matching this feat when the focus was on him walking out of WrestleMania XXVI a retired man, but there was a less celebratory mood as Michaels walked away in silence. Perhaps it’s a difference of HBK’s “Sexy Boy” theme not having the right gravitas for the moment. Or maybe it’s just a testament to how respected The Deadman is that he got to leave in such a fashion.
10 There Were Several Parallels To WrestleMania XXIV
This year saw the return of WrestleMania to Orlando, where it had previously occurred for WrestleMania XXIV in 2008. Little did fans know that WWE was returning to more than a venue—the main event match between Roman Reigns and The Undertaker offered several parallels to what had gone down nine years earlier.
Most obviously, this was another WrestleMania main evented by The Undertaker. That might not seem like a big deal but given he’s only main evented The Showcase of the Immortals four times, and this wasn’t a title match, it was noteworthy. Additionally, after Reigns had been firmly in control for most of the match, The Deadman applied his Hell’s Gate submission maneuver—notably the same move he’d used to beat Edge in that last WrestleMania match in Orlando.
Finally, though, there were more subtle parallels between this one and the Shawn Michaels-Ric Flair match from WrestleMania 24, The Nature Boy’s WWE retirement match. Yes, it was a true legend’s finale, but on top of that, there was Reigns playing the reluctant executioner not unlike HBK, urging his opponent to stay down, and visibly not taking any pleasure in delivering the finishing blow.
9 The Undertaker Was The Oldest WrestleMania Main Eventer Ever
At 52 years of age, at WrestleMania 33, The Undertaker became the first man to perform in a WrestleMania main event when he was over the age of 50, making him the oldest WrestleMania main eventer of all time. That’s a mark that’s all the more impressive when you consider he’s the only wrestler to compete in four different decades of ‘Mania—within the first ten, the teens, the 20s, and the 30s.
Even more impressive than that? At WrestleMania 33, The Undertaker actually beat his own record, because at 45 he was already the oldest WrestleMania main eventer from seven years earlier (nudging out Shawn Michaels who was just four months younger for their WrestleMania XXVI main event). Other oldest main eventers include Sgt. Slaughter, Andre the Giant, The Rock, and Hulk Hogan who had all reached their early 40s by their last WrestleMania main events. At this point, The Rock looks like the only one who could realistically break The Deadman’s record in the next decade.
8 Roman Reigns Became The First Man To Beat Both Brothers Of Destruction At WrestleMania
Roman Reigns became only the second man, after Brock Lesnar, to defeat The Undertaker at WrestleMania. In doing so, he also became the first ever wrestler who could ever claim to beating both Brothers of Destruction at the biggest show of the year, given that Reigns, as part of The Shield, beat Kane and The New Age Outlaws at WrestleMania XXX.
To add some additional prestige, it’s worth noting that, while his record was nowhere near his kayfabe’s brother’s, Kane has nonetheless been formidable in his 17 WrestleMania appearances, including wins over Triple H and Randy Orton, twice successfully defending tag team championships, and once winning the ECW Championship on the show. With victories of The Undertaker and Kane, plus The Big Show, Triple H, and The New Age Outlaws, Reigns’s WrestleMania victims are starting to shape up as a who’s who from the Attitude Era.
7 The Undertaker Was Paid More For This Match Than Most WWE Superstars Make In A Year
While no official numbers have been released by WWE, a variety of websites suggest that The Undertaker’s annual salary from WWE lands somewhere between one and two million dollars. While per match pay outs are harder to calculate for most wrestlers, given that The Undertaker only worked this match and The Royal Rumble as an in ring performer in 2017, he looks to have, even by conservative estimates, made a half million dollars for his WrestleMania match. That’s more than the overwhelming majority of WWE Superstars make per year, at least before merchandise and bonuses. Only highly tenured veterans and tip-top stars make similar or greater amounts for the year.
The funny thing? I don’t know that any WWE Superstar would argue the point. For as much as The Deadman might have a lighter schedule now, he earned that right via decades on the road, and he was inarguably still one of WrestleMania 33’s biggest draws.
6 This Was The Undertaker’s Second WrestleMania Main Event Retirement Match
It has become a bit of tradition for WrestleMania to feature retirement matches. Back at WrestleMania III, Roddy Piper claimed to be retiring after his match with Adrian Adonis, and WrestleMania VII featured a match between Randy Savage and The Ultimate Warrior with the stipulation that the loser must retire. While neither of those retirements stuck, WrestleMania was also the site of unannounced retirement matches for Steve Austin and Edge, telegraphed, if not explicitly advertised retirement bouts for Ric Flair and Brie Bella.
Only three retirement matches have closed out WrestleMania, though. The first happened at WrestleMania VIII when Hulk Hogan looked to hang up the boots (he’d be back the following year, and wrestle again at WrestleManias X8 and XIX). The latter two instances were more legit and both involved The Undertaker.
At WrestleMania XXVI, The Undertaker defeated Shawn Michaels in a match with the condition that Michaels had to retire if he lost—Michaels has, to date, made good on that promise. This match was something of a sequel, as The Deadman’s retirement was not advertised, but a number of fans had their suspicions. In retrospect, it seems clear The Undertaker’s retirement is a big reason for him getting this main event spot this year.
5 Roman Reigns Has Now Spent More Time In The Ring At WrestleMania Than Any Other Member Of The Shield
Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose had more wrestling experience than Roman Reigns via the independent scene. It seemed Reigns was the true rookie of the unit, teamed up with more accomplished performers who might help him look good and prep him for his eventual singles run.
As of now, for the trio’s collective four and a half years on the main roster, it’s Reigns who has spent the most time in a WrestleMania ring. After working two six man tags as a unit, WrestleMania 31 saw the three men strike out on their own. Ambrose opened the show as part of a 13-minute, seven-man ladder match. Reigns and Rollins had about equal minutes—Reigns in the main event with Brock Lesnar, while Rollins worked with Randy Orton earlier in the night, then joined the closing minutes of the main event to pull even at about 16 minutes of ring time. The following year, Rollins would be out for injury and Reigns would have twice as much time in the ring with Triple H than Dean Ambrose had with Brock Lesnar (27 minutes to 13). Reigns got 23 minutes to Ambrose’s 11 at WrestleMania 33. While Rollins had the most time of all at 25 minutes, it still wasn’t enough to make up for the deficit from missing the previous year.
While opinions vary as to the quality of Reigns’s ring work, no doubt WWE has entrusted him with an impressive quantity of time in the ring at ‘Mania.
4 It Was Only The Third Face Vs. Face WrestleMania Main Event Without A Title At Stake
WWE steers away from face versus face confrontation. Good guy versus bad guy stories are more straightforward, and help keep fans on the same page. Just the same, WWE has featured face-face matches here and there, and even on the biggest stage possible. Usually, there’s a title at stake to compel to faces to come to blows, as was the case for Hulk Hogan vs. The Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VI, Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XII, or Steve Austin vs. The Rock at WrestleMania X-Seven.
But then there have been that even smaller handful of times when WWE booked face vs. face WrestleMania main events with no title on the line at all. It was the case for WrestleMania XXVI, in which The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels were pitted against one another as a matter of pride—The Undertaker defending his Streak against the collateral of HBK’s career. It happened again for WrestleMania XXVIII, when the sheer star power of John Cena going against The Rock for the first time made it a natural choice to close the show.
The Undertaker vs. Reigns was only the third match conducted under those terms. Going in, it seemed like an odd choice for having neither history nor stakes of Undertaker-Michaels, nor the marquee value of Rock-Cena. In the end, it may have featured the biggest moment of all in The Phenom’s retirement, not to mention adding a monster win to Reigns’s resume as the new face of the company.
3 The Undertaker’s Win Percentage At WrestleMania Remains Better Than Anyone With Five Or More WrestleMania Matches
The Undertaker’s 21 year undefeated streak at WrestleMania was a remarkable accomplishment that seemed to transcend the pro wrestling genre for, by all indications, happening without WWE really trying over its early years. It was shocking when The Phenom lost to Brock Lesnar, but given how special Lesnar is and has been booked, and given it was just one loss, The Deadman remained an awesome figure and a statistical anomaly at ‘Mania.
A second loss may seem to cause a more serious problem for The Undertaker’s legacy, but given the length of his career, it’s actually still a relatively small ding for his win-loss record at The Showcase of the Immortals. He’s won 92% of his WrestleMania matches. While a small handful of guys did finish their WWE careers undefeated at WrestleMania, none of those cases are guys who performed at WrestleMania or more. Rob Van Dam is closest for having gone 4-0, and there was a time when Edge looked poised to rival The Undertaker—6-0 going into WrestleMania 23, but he’d come up on the short end of the stick for the next four ‘Manias straight hamper his ‘Mania legacy. For true veterans of the biggest show of the year, no one’s winning percentage compares to The Undertaker.
2 Roman Reigns And The Undertaker Botched A Tombstone Spot, But Corrected To a Superman Punch
One of the mostly poorly received moments of The Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns match was a spot late in the encounter when it looked as though Reigns was going to reverse a Tombstone. Reigns did escape The Phenom’s attempt at his finisher but couldn’t get The Undertaker’s body up for a Tombstone of his own, and seemed to fumble a second attempt immediately afterward.
While the live crowd was hard on Reigns, it’s a little harsh to come down on the guy. Sure, the spot would have been better had it worked as it looked like the guys had planned, but as it stood, the two quickly corrected for it, with Reigns pushing The Undertaker away and then nailing him with a Superman punch. While it was not a Tombstone, it was nonetheless a signature, credible piece of offense to similarly achieve a near fall and keep the match moving, and it demonstrated the ability of the two performers to adapt on the fly.
1 The Undertaker Holds The Record For Most Consecutive WM Appearances At 17
The Undertaker finished his career with 25 WrestleMania matches which, in and of itself is more than any performer has had to date. While that record could feasibly be broken someday, the record that may be even more difficult to exceed is that he performed at the last 17 WrestleManias straight, not missing a single one since WrestleMania 17.
This streak of appearances a testament WWE’s commitment to the guy to not only book him every year, but to work a part-time schedule to facilitate doing so. It also speaks to the longevity of the character, and the performer’s willingness to commit to physically demanding performances year after year after year. It’s all the more remarkable to think of his range of opponents, working with guys we might view as his contemporaries like Shawn Michaels and Triple H, to younger talents like Randy Orton, Batista, and CM Punk, all the way to a totally new generation of star in Roman Reigns.
The guy most likely to challenge this streak? None other Randy Orton who has yet to miss a single ‘Mania since his debut at the show at WrestleMania XX, after which he challenged The Undertaker at WrestleMania 21. That makes 14 years straight and counting for The Viper. Given Orton won the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 33, he seems to still have no shortage of clout with the company, and certainly seems to have some years left in his tank.