With the influx of new talent coming into the WWE corresponding with the slow build to the retirements, one by one the fans are looking at the younger talent to step into the shoes of each retiree. The discussions have gone on and on: John Cena is the next Hulk Hogan. Mr. Kennedy is the next Stone Cold. MVP is the next Rock. John Morrison is the next Shawn Michaels. Evan Bourne is the next Rey Mysterio.
For the most part, the IWC has agreed upon those names as filling in the blanks. But there’s someone in the business that holds a very special standing as one of the cornerstones of the company, but people seem to be forgetting about. If you’re talking about the structure of the WWE, without a doubt one of the four table legs keeping things together is not on this list as having a replacement.
So I ask you: Who will be the next Undertaker?
The Undertaker's position in the company is both simple and complicated simultaneously. At first glance, he appears to be an attraction for the weird; a sort of fantasy element to draw in the freaks of the crowd rather than appeal to the wrestling purists. He’s a human sideshow – the wrestling equivalent of the Lobster Boy at the carnival. Still, the gimmick has been a success.
You may look at the likes of Shockmaster or Mantaur as ridiculous (and they were) but people accept the Undertaker. Rather than rolling their eyes, they glue them to the screen. Who will fill in that missing gap to become the bizarre one that is simply entertaining enough to warrant a little suspension of disbelief?
We all know that behind that visage, there’s a very talented man who is one of the best wrestlers ever. Over the years, Undertaker has even carved out a niche that revolves specifically around him. For a few months, it is less obvious, but it becomes clear as day around February.
Have we not grown accustomed to having a match set aside for Shawn Michaels and a match set aside for the Undertaker each year at WrestleMania? This past time, they literally combined the two and centered the feud around that very fact. Undertaker’s streak is a guaranteed for the pay-per-view just as much as the world titles are guaranteed. Who will fill in that missing gap where people want to see him perform equally as much as they want a championship feud?
Most of the time, Undertaker is considered the benchmark and the measuring stick when it comes to monster characters as well. You have one of two options when you enter the WWE as a monster heel. You can debut and beat everyone until you reach the Undertaker, who more than likely will defeat you (because he’s the Undertaker), or you can debut impressively by beating the Undertaker. The reason the second works is because the first option has been chosen so many times that if you’re a monster heel that can actually take down the dead man, you have instant credibility, since virtually no others could do it.
All these years later, all these feuds have passed, and the Undertaker is the one still here, and they’ve been able to run this same storyline an incalculable amount of times. Who will fill in that missing gap to become the big man babyface you don’t want to mess with for over 10 years?
Behind the scenes, Mark Calaway has made a name for himself as a locker room leader. I can’t attest to any of it myself as I have no experience viewing it, but from what we’ve been told over the years, he is one of the few that cares about the camaraderie. He sticks up for those that are being picked on. He was a judge for the Wrestler’s Court. He fairly punishes those with bad behavior much like a parent does to a misbehaving child. In a business where your job can be hindered by cliques and peer pressure, a mediator is necessary. Who will fill in that missing gap to become the eyes and ears of brotherhood and equality backstage?
In the next few years, we’re going to see this chasm becoming wider and wider in the WWE. Do we have the next Undertaker on our roster right now? Is he working his ass off in FCW just to get a shot at the big leagues? Or is there the much scarier possibility in that there can be no “next Undertaker” because the Phenom is just too good and has become irreplaceable?