By Akash Ghosal
There aren’t a lot of wrestlers in the industry who can proudly hone the accomplishment of having one gimmick throughout their career. Most wrestlers have had undergone modifications of their gimmick or simply changed it to win the fans over, be it as a heel or a babyface.
What separates The Undertaker from the rest is the fact that he has swooped wrestling fans off their feet for three decades as the ‘Deadman’. Yes, he did wear the ‘American Badass’ for some years in the early 2000s, but it was more of another side of the same ‘Deadman’ coin.
Debuting in the WWF (the then WWE) Survivor Series, 1990 as ‘Cain the Undertaker’, the gimmick had left most fans across the world scared and in awe, something that he carried around for 30 years. Described as one of the most hardworking individuals in the wrestling business by many of his contemporaries, Undertaker (real name Mark Calaway) was the yardstick of measurement of talent and performance during his time.
The Undertaker character was almost a household name in every home, with even non-wrestling fans being aware of him, which showcases the immense quality of the persona, so when he announced his retirement via a Tweet, fans around the world swept social media with their tributes and memories of the legendary figure. One of the stalwarts of WWE, Undertaker has been a fan favourite, always perfecting the mixture of mystery and fear he brought into the character.
One of the major accomplishments of The Undertaker was his Wrestlemania streak, which was finally broken by Brock Lesnar in Wrestlemania XXX. This was probably the first sign of retirement of the legend, who had already been wrestling once a year due to his health issues, to keep the streak alive. With the streak broken, it was clear that he did not have a lot left in his tank and it was time to put someone else over.
The WWE ring was always ‘The Devil’s Playground’ and the fast uprising Roman Reigns had started calling the ring his ‘yard’, which led to the two to engage in a feud in Wrestlemania 33. The match was supposed to mark Undertaker’s retirement and to put Roman Reigns over with a victory against the former, sealing the fact that the ring is his ‘yard’.
Undertaker had marked his retirement by keeping his symbolic gloves, overcoat and hat in the middle of the ring, before walking off, even breaking character for the first time ever to kiss his wife. It was, however, Undertaker’s zeal to give the fans a perfect ending that made him return for Wrestlemania 34 and then have one last match at Wrestlemania 36 against AJ Styles.
Post Wrestlemania 36 in 2020, many of the wrestling followers did foresee the retirement to be soon enough when the first episode of ‘The Last Ride’ aired on the WWE Network and the words “For the first time ever, Mark Calaway allowed his career to be documented” appeared on the screen.
The 5 episode documentary showed the legend totally off character talking about his journey and life outside the ring. For someone who had never broken his character for WWE, the documentary gave away a lot of moments suggesting his retirement.
His appearance on Stone Cold’s podcast, The Broken Skull as the laid back man he is off the wrestling world, was something that nobody had expected to happen during his wrestling career.
The man with the biggest and the scariest persona in the ring having a laugh and a drink with the character that never gave a second thought to the management had the undertone of a possible big news incoming.
Going back to his words, Undertaker had mentioned about retirement a lot of times as “riding off into the sunset” and probably the ‘American Badass’ did drive off into the sunset post his victory against AJ Styles in a Boneyard match in Wrestlemania 36, thus giving his other gimmick that perfect goodbye he had failed to, according to him, to give to the ‘Deadman’.
By Akash Ghosal
WWE Backlash was a better than usual pay-per-view in the “no fans” era riding solely on the backs of Orton and Edge, as the only match with an effectively shocking ending.
With television ratings rapidly dropping for both WWE Raw and SmackDown due to the absence of the audience as a result of the pandemic, WWE Backlash, with its build-up and matches on the card looked like a solid pay-per-view on paper in a long time. Having most of the company’s available top talent involved, the hype created did turn a lot of heads towards the much-awaited event.
- United States Championship – Apollo Crews (c) v/s Andrade (Kickoff Show):
The wrestlers put forth a decent show to kick-start the pay-per-view with their impressive moves and near falls before Crews hit Andrade with the sit out spinning powerbomb to seal the win. Like most kick-off matches, this too lacked the time span it needed to build the heat up.
- Women’s Tag Team Championship — Bayley & Sasha Banks (c) v/s The IIconics v/s Nikki Cross & Alexa Bliss:
WWE fails yet again to put on a good show with the IIconics involved, especially with Billy Kay and her cluttered performance. Bliss looked to be at the top of her game being inches close to the win, only to be pinned Banks. With Graves and Cole mentioning how Banks hasn’t won a SmackDown Women’s Championship ever, the storyline may lead to an awaited turn of Bailey on Sasha, once they lose the titles.
- Sheamus v/s Jeff Hardy:
Jeff Hardy has had his dark past with alcoholism, which was used to create an intense storyline with Sheamus framing Hardy as a drunk driver who crashed into Elias, leading to the feud, built up with a contract signing the past week on Raw. A flurry of offences by both the wrestlers, with the “Performance Centre recruits” cheering for Hardy, the match saw the classic heel being put over to seal the feud.
- Raw Women’s Championship – Asuka (c) v/s Nia Jax :
Arguably one of the most disappointing matches of the night, the “monolithic” Nia Jax botched her moves and provided a lot of sloppy moments that Asuka tried to sell, ending abruptly in a double count out. The brawl continued outside the ring with Asuka levelling Nia with a running hip attack from the apron, teasing a probable ‘No Disqualification Match’ at Extreme Rules.
- Universal Championship – Braun Strowman (c) v/s The Miz & John Morrison:
It was announced earlier in the show that the one scoring the pinfall over Strowman would be the sole champion (no co-champions), thus giving away the ending to most of the fans. The frequent tags and flurry of offences on the champion shifted most of the momentum towards Miz and Morrison. Cutting down the big man to the size, Miz hit the Skull Crushing Finale assisted by Morrison, who went for the cover, but an “instinctive” interruption by his tag team partner ended their momentum, allowing Braun to set up his pinfall victory.
- WWE Championship – Drew McIntyre (c) v/s Bobby Lashley:
The only heavyweight match in the card, Lashley looked his finest as a heel in recent times under MVP’s management, locking McIntyre in a full nelson even before the match started to gain the upper hand. The match saw a plethora of power moves and submission holds from both the superstars, until Lashley hit the champion with a spear to score a near fall. WWE creative ended this match in the most cliched manner as Lana walked up to the ring to accuse the referee of cheating, allowing McIntyre to regroup and hit Lashley with a Glasgow Kiss and a Claymore to retain the title.
- The Street Profits v/s The Viking Raiders:
The WWE Universe expected the two most unique and talented tag teams to lock horns inside the ring, but was cut short by a cinematic display of them brawling all over the performance centre. It seemed nothing but a comic relief where they even teamed up to defeat ninjas, yes you heard it right, led by Akira Tozawa, making the match a distant dream for the fans.
- The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever – Edge v/s Randy Orton:
The most awaited match in a long time, enhanced with newer camera angles and “amplified audio,” created a stadium-like noise in the WWE performance centre. The subtle touches of adding the recorded introductions by Late Howard Finkel and the old school blue shirt with bow-tie-clad referee Charles Robinson, were appreciable as they gave out the vintage Madison Square Garden vibe. The two veterans structured the old school slow build-up with perfectly timed power moves and locks, to keep the intensity soaring. Tributes to the Hall of Famers with their signature moves and countless near falls kept fans at the edges of their seats. Both the superstars sold each other’s moves to perfection, while providing near falls to RKOs and Spears to add to the charisma of the match. The controversial end of the match came with Orton hitting a sneaky low-blow to Edge and following up with the move that seemed only a teaser for the fans forever, the Punt!
By Aniket Panja
Although at a disadvantage and severely low on options, the organisers of the US Open and Roland Garros are putting in the work to bring tennis back to the fans
As the world slowly comes to grips with the coronavirus, the sporting fraternity too is raising its head after a long absence. League football has started in Germany and Spain and the Formula One organisers are working on a plan to hold a curtailed season.
In that regard it should not come as a surprise that the United States Tennis Association has decided to go ahead with the US Open. The tournament scheduled to be played from August 31 to September 13 still requires support from the Trump administration, the state of New York and other stake holders. But the organisers have decided to play it behind closed doors for the time being.
The situation may change drastically and there are a lot of things to iron out first. For one, the French Open (Roland Garros) refuses to succumb to the pandemic with a September 21 start on the organizer’s minds. Now, if the top seed players do decide to play both tournaments there are a lot of complications involved.
Current World No. 2 and defending champion at Roland Garros and the US Open, Rafael Nadal will need to work on the logistics of defending both these Grand Slam titles. As per recent updates players travelling to the United States do not need to quarantine themselves but travelling back to Europe may present a different challenge.
Players could be asked to isolate themselves before being able to take to the court. Moreover, there is the added pressure of trying to quickly adjust from the hard courts to the grueling clay in Paris. While Nadal may rightly have earned the title ‘King of Clay’ owing to his stellar record on the surface, he would still need matches under his belt. The 34 year old would have to endure a lot of stress on his body, that too in a short span of time, to be competitive at both tournaments.
The matches are not the only hiccup. The long miles of travel are sure to take a toll as well. Also, if the restrictions are anything like at the US Open, many players may opt to back out. There is a plan to keep players’ movements to a bare minimum and lodge them in a hotel outside Manhattan. The added stipulation of allowing just one support staff with the payers would see the players have to make a difficult choice of choosing between their coach and physiotherapist.
There are some tough questions to be answered and not a ball has been hit yet. Besides, there is no guarantee that big stars would be willing to turn up. While Roger Federer has been sidelined until 2021 with a second surgery on his knee, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic has expressed doubts whether he would want to play at all this year.
Some like Maric Cilic have asked the prize money to be increased while others have demanded that ranking points on offer should be reduced or even done away with. The latter demand has been rejected by the officials already because given the $52 million media rights, the US Open cannot be relegated to an exhibition tournament.
In the women’s field, defending French Open Ladies champion Ashleigh Barty has already hinted that she may not play. Lending her support is Romanian Simona Halep who has doubts about whether it would be safe to travel. Karolína Plíšková on the other hand, wants things to resume as quickly as possible because according to her, the virus is not going away anytime soon. She has also made the additional demand of allowing the number of support staff to be increased to at least two.
In fact, such is the frenzy to organise the tournament that the French Open organisers has had to scrap the mixed doubles format. The number of participating players has also been reduced to 96 and with the new roof at court Phillippe Chatrier ready; there are plans to hold back to back matches.
However, will the players risk playing in such adverse conditions? The pandemic might be the primary cause of worry but apart from that, stress and injuries pose a consequential menace. Top stars have to cope with their fair share of injuries and one would think they may not be willing to take the risk; or they could pick and choose which events to play.
Despite this barrage of aforementioned obstacles, the biggest loss would be the fans. It is painfully difficult to imagine Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic hitting a crisp winner up the line and what ensues is pin drop silence. While football is an eleven man sport, on a tennis court the tension is much more personal. The fans add to the drama, tension and excitement which make the humdingers all the more memorable.
While the tournaments may go ahead, can the void left by fans on a tennis court really be filled? Something to think about as they are busy preparing the draw perhaps.