Wrestlemania 36 – Matt Hardy left WWE earlier this year to pursue his career in AEW. But even though he’s no longer with the company, his influence still lingers. Case in point: Wrestlemania 36‘s “Boneyard Match” between AJ Styles and the Undertaker. Rather than closing the first night of Wrestlemania with the title match between Braun Strowman and Goldberg–the safer, more conventional choice–WWE threw caution to the wind and allowed a heavily produced, cinematic segment to close their show–and you can read our review of it here.
The producers threw everything at the wall. The Undertaker, now in his biker gimmick from the early ’00s, pulled up to a spooky graveyard, filled with smoke, dramatic mood lighting, and pyrotechnics. Styles and Undertaker brawled everywhere. They beat each other with shovels and concrete blocks. Undertaker threw people off the roof of a house. The segment even had a jump scare spot, where Undertaker appeared behind AJ Styles, lit menacingly by a spotlight.
The match ended gloriously. The Undertaker used a mini-tractor to push dirt over AJ Styles’ grave. He unveiled the headstone, which read, “AJ Styles, 1977-2020.” And then he got back on his chopper and drove off into the night.
It was absurd, but it worked. And in a way, WWE has been preparing us, over a period of years, to accept this sort of ridiculousness. The Undertaker is an old guard wrestler from a more innocent time: where wrestlers had gimmicks rather than playing exaggerated versions of themselves. Papa Shango. Adam Bomb.
And even though all the other supernatural gimmicks have passed into history, the Undertaker has stuck around, grandfathered into the modern era through a combination of nostalgia, dark glamour, and Mark Calaway’s raw talent. Over three decades, we’ve been conditioned to accept that this man can levitate, materialize, shoot lightning, and come back from the dead. Nothing in the Boneyard Match challenged what we had been previously told about this character.
In fact, the Boneyard Match worked in Undertaker’s favor because the edits and camera angles hid what many wrestling fans are reluctant to admit: that the Undertaker has lost more than a few steps over the past several years. But thanks to movie magic, he looked just as spry and lively as he did 15 years ago.
This was the Undertaker that all of us want to remember. Immortal, timeless, and dangerous. And WWE was able to give us that, one more time, thanks to this unconventional, welcome approach.
WWE has one more produced segment up its sleeve for night two of Wrestlemania on Sunday, April 5. John Cena will take on Bray Wyatt in a Firefly Fun House Match. Come back to GameSpot that night for live coverage of the show, along with a review.