This past Tuesday's historic 900th episode of SmackDown Live featured an Intercontinental Championship match (and title change) and a special appearance by WWE Hall-of-Famer, Edge, but most of the credit for the increased ratings belongs to the return of the Undertaker. The show drew 2.725 million viewers, up from the previous week's number of 1.921 million, though to be fair, that was the night of the Presidential Election. The last standard week drew 2.187 million viewers
It had been seven months since the Undertaker was in a WWE ring, with his last appearance coming at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas for his Hell in a Cell match with Shane McMahon at WrestleMania. Shane just so happened to be in the ring this past Tuesday night as the Undertaker addressed the SmackDown team for Survivor Series.
There were several people within WWE that were of the belief that the Undertaker might never wrestle for the company again after this past April. He was telling people that that was his last match and apparently wasn't thrilled with the creative decisions made during his build-up with Shane.
Vince McMahon was forced to mend fences with The Phenom, although the details of their conversations during the past seven months remain a secret. We do know that the two sides were able to come to an understanding, leading to the Undertaker's return to the blue brand this week. What we might not have expected was the message the Deadman delivered to close out the 900th episode of SmackDown.
The Undertaker claimed that he was "back," but the ambiguity of that statement left his status open for interpretation. He claimed that he no longer wants WrestleMania to define his career, leading many to believe that he will be wrestling more than once over the next four to five months.
Beginning in September, there were several pictures circulating the internet, showing the Undertaker posing with fans with crutches in plain sight. It turned out that the legend had recent hip surgery, and Cageside Seats is reporting that the surgery was done so the Undertaker could handle one last run in professional wrestling. Though he claimed that he is back, he will never work a full-time schedule again, although he is booked to appear on a somewhat regular basis.
Despite stating that WrestleMania would no longer define him, the expectation remains that he will compete at next April's WrestleMania 33, in what many WWE officials believe will be his retirement match.
It appears that the Undertaker has as many as three big-time feuds remaining in his WWE career. On Tuesday, he warned the SmackDown Survivor Series team members that if they were to lose to Team RAW, the superstar responsible would have to answer to him. It's expected that the blue team will indeed lose the match this Sunday with Randy Orton either costing them the match or being the final member pinned.
Now, Orton is scheduled to take next week off to be with his family as his wife gets set to give birth. He will, however, return to SmackDown the following week for the November 29 taping where they may decide to kickstart a program between the two. If Orton takes a longer hiatus, they might skip that angle and fast forward to a proposed feud with AJ Styles.
As noted, the Undertaker has a maximum of three opponents left, including what is expected to be his final encounter at WrestleMania. Orton and Styles remain in the plans for the short-term, while John Cena has been pinpointed as the marquee challenger on the grandest stage of them all.
Styles, of course, is the WWE World Champion, so that might throw a wrinkle at things. It remains to be seen whether the company will have the Undertaker challenge for the title one final time, and if he's ultimately successful, whether he'll then play a part in Cena's quest for a record-tying 16th championship reign. Could Cena possibly tie the record while burying the Undertaker for good in the same match?
[Featured Image by WWE]