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Undertaker vs. Goldberg was a fitting end to a show that shouldn’t have happened

Two superheroes of the ’90s didn’t just look human, they looked worrisome.

WWE’s Super ShowDown shouldn’t have happened for several reasons, the murderous regime it took place under chief among them. But plenty has already been written about WWE’s morally dubious partnership with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (even by yours truly). This Friday’s show hammered home that if WWE is insistent on continuing to perform in the KSA, it has to at the very least keep their aging legends out of harm’s way.

The Undertaker vs. Goldberg are two of the biggest names from professional wrestling’s biggest era, the 1990s. A showdown between the two in say, 1998 would have been a mind-blowing spectacle. But in 2019, it comes off as not much more than a transparent cash grab, and one that couldn’t possibly deliver on the hype WWE hoped you’d have for it.

Super ShowDown wasn’t just sad for longtime fans of these performers, though it was — like seeing for the first time that Darth Vader was just a decrepit old man underneath the suit and machinery, the mystique is gone. It was also straight up dangerous; neither man may ever be the same after that match. Goldberg apologized for the match afterward on Twitter, saying he “knocked [himself] out and thought [he] could finish.”

Goldberg has a penchant for going 100 miles an hour in pretty much every situation, including this one: rumor is he concussed himself before even making it to the ring by bashing his head against his locker room door. This kind of intensity worked out pretty damn well back in 2016/2017 when he first returned to the world of wrestling to take on Brock Lesnar, a younger, stronger competitor who could help lead the match and harness Goldberg’s raw energy. But The Undertaker is a 54 year old man whose last truly exciting match was six years ago. And it became evident on Friday that not only can he no longer produce a compelling story in the ring — he probably shouldn’t even be trusted to keep his opponent safe in the ring at this stage.

It brings me no joy to say this. I have been watching The Undertaker since his debut in 1990, and for most of the time since he’s been a true larger-than-life superhero for millions of people. But at this point, it just feels like WWE is milking his broken down body for all its worth before it completely gives out. And give out they did Friday afternoon, as Undertaker dropped Goldberg directly on his head during a Tombstone, and Goldberg inadvertently returned the favor with a botched Jackhammer moments later. A botched Tombstone attempt gave way to one of the saddest chokeslams in history, bringing this hard-to-watch matchup to a merciful end.

Undertaker, like Goldberg, also expressed frustration over the match on social media — or at least whoever manages his Instagram account did. (It still just feels wrong that Undertaker has a regular ole’ Instagram account, but I digress.) @undertaker “liked” a comment on WWE’s Instagram page, pleading with the company to stop using him:

Of course, it is difficult to be sympathetic to The Undertaker. The man knows his body’s limitations, and if he was truly concerned with preserving his legacy or even just his ability to live the rest of his life in relative comfort, he could easily turn down these matches and ride off into the sunset. But this Saudi money is so hard to turn down that even Shawn Michaels, whose retirement from wrestling was for years a shining example of a “real” retirement done right, pranced his bald self out there for one more go after eight years away. ‘Taker pretty much only works at WrestleMania and these Saudi “WrestleMania equivalents,” so it seems as if he just can’t turn down the money. And that would be fine — Undertaker owns one of the most lucrative personas in wrestling history, and he has every right to cash in on it. But he appears frustrated, and more importantly, plain unsafe for both himself and his opponents.

In a sense, The Undertaker vs. Goldberg was a perfect microcosm of these Saudi Arabia shows: you understand why they’re happening, but that doesn’t make them any easier to watch. The ends don’t justify the means to anyone except those employed by WWE and members of the Saudi regime. WWE as a company has never been a paragon of virtue, but there still has to be a line they won’t cross somewhere. Sadly, thus far through three Saudi shows, we haven’t found it.

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