It speaks to the paradoxical nature of professional wrestling that the opportunity to face Undertaker at Wrestlemania is so coveted. In conventional terms such an endeavour – where victory doesn?t even qualify as a forlorn hope – would be entirely undesirable. Nevertheless, the match with ?Taker represents a guaranteed upper card position with considerable promotion attached. Add to that a match length that actually affords both ?Taker and his opponent time to express themselves and the appeal becomes clear. The man who faces ?Taker will enjoy considerable attention, a decent purse and likely play his part in a great match at the biggest show of the year. That the result of the actual contest is a foregone conclusion is of virtually no consequence.
It only serves to underline the incredible mat prowess of Shawn Michaels that he alone has come closest to confounding the ?Undertaker + ?Mania = defeat? equation. Their stunning collision at Wrestlemania 25 remains a reference quality example of in-ring storytelling. The psychology, accuracy and the manner in which the advantage was traded created the belief that Shawn could genuinely do the impossible. He didn?t of course, but the match was a masterpiece; easily eclipsing everything else on the card by a very wide margin. It’s almost a pity ?Taker and Shawn don?t wrestle each other every year?
The pre-game buzz for Wrestlemania traditionally begins at Survivor Series. The annual November event is the last of the so-called ?big four shows? and as such, enjoys an added impetus. When WWE initiated the ?American Badass? Undertaker’s gradual transmogrification into ?The Deadman?, it began at Survivor Series 2003. As ?Taker stood triumphantly over his prone opponent in a Buried Alive match, he was attacked by his storyline brother Kane. Taking him out and subsequently ?burying him?, Kane supposedly killed the biker ?Taker and set the stage for the memorable return of the original Undertaker at Wrestlemania XX. Ironically, ?Taker’s opponent that night was none other than a man many think will once again face the Phenom at next year’s ?Mania: Vince McMahon.
Thanks to the rigours of age, the so-called ?Genetic Jackhammer? doesn?t enter the ring as often as he used to. Save for a quite pitiful bout of fisticuffs (in conjunction with Shane) against Legacy and Randy Orton last year, Vince has been absent from the ring since his feud with the first-second coming of D-Generation X wrapped in 2007. However, Vince’s boundless ego inevitably spikes come Wrestlemania, and a return to the ring is by no means a remote possibility. Many have interpreted the shenanigans involving Teddy Long and the various Montreal references to mean a possible feud and match between Vince and his greatest creation at Wrestlemania XXVI. Some rather cryptic comments from Vince on promo (On the ?Taker/Long business: ?I like to get things started about now to culminate at Wrestlemania?) have only increased speculation.
When Vinny Mac is involved, it’s best to rule out nothing. What long-term purpose a match between Vince and ?Taker serves is open to conjecture. The match itself would doubtless be a bloody slugfest with weapons and stunts galore. If the ?Taker has a particularly good night it may also be a surprisingly entertaining enterprise. One rumour that has persisted regarding this combination is the possible involvement of Bret Hart. The continued allusions in the media to possible negotiations, coupled with Bret’s refusal to deny having had such discussions, have fueled this notion. If Bret does end up returning in an on-screen capacity, a high profile refereeing gig (oh, the irony) involving Vince would have a certain symmetry. It would also serve to quadruple the potential interest in an Undertaker/Vince match. It could be argued though that the involvement of Bret Hart in any televised capacity would provide an equivalent boost to proceedings, regardless of who’s involved.
Vince isn’t the only candidate of course. Certain parties have been actively advancing the case of Chris Jericho. Such a scenario would be appealing on the grounds of originality, as ‘Taker and Jericho have seldom interacted with each other in any way, shape or form since Jericho’s original arrival in WWE. Jericho’s misanthropic heel persona would certainly mesh well with ‘Taker’s demonic babyface legacy.
Furthermore, Jericho would doubtless leave his habitual clumsiness at home when facing Undertaker. The Phenom would not tolerate such unprofessional conduct at the best of times; let alone at Wrestlemania. Alas for those in favour, Jericho’s association with the Big Show will continue to run and will probably segue into a feud when completed. This will take precedence over a one-off supershow encounter.
Doubts persist over Jericho’s credibility as a drawing card. WWE will take no risks where Wrestlemania is concerned. With UFC smashing PPV records left and right, WWE need a strong ‘Mania buyrate this year. If you discount Jericho and Vince, there are thus only two other credible prospects. The first man, Triple H, will probably choose to fulfill a lifelong dream and face Shawn Michaels in what might be the latter man’s career denouement. Even if Shawn changes his mind about retiring next year, he will still be involved with Triple H at Wrestlemania, one way or another. Therefore, only one man is left to fill the breach: John Cena.
Given Undertaker’s decision to tombstone piledrive Cena at the MSG Raw this past week, many already consider this to be a lock. Undertaker and Cena have formally met in the ring before, but not for some time. They faced each other in a choice encounter back in 2003 at Vengeance. As both men occupy top line berths, they have interacted on occasions since, albeit intermittently. A lot of water has flowed since Cena was cleanly pinned by ‘Taker in July 2003. The match would have a broader and more obvious appeal than either Jericho/’Taker or (sans Bret Hart) ‘Taker/Vince. However, the root of the appeal may brutally expose the Cena conundrum – again – in the process.
No matter how aggressively Undertaker is presented, the core WWE fans will not cheer Cena at the expense ‘Taker at Wrestlemania. WWE will not, under any circumstances, countenance too explicit an association with a heel John Cena (even temporarily) lest the fans get a taste for it. A typically epic “face versus face” scenario seems the only option. Even if this avenue is pursued, WWE and Cena should brace themselves for an extremely vitriolic response. The enduring popularity of Mark Calaway’s persona is such that fans would be outraged if Cena were to defeat Undertaker at Wrestlemania. If the mechanical, clumsy and insipid Cena triumphs cleanly, coming of the back of a world class contest carried by Undertaker, the conditions could become riotous. Consider this though: If WWE wanted to turn Cena heel (they don’t) could there be a more profound heat-generating exercise than ending Undertaker’s wrestlemania winning streak? It would make the NWO at it’s height look like Paul Roma joining the Four Horsemen.
Truth be told, nothing is set in stone as yet, although Cena/Undertaker seems the surest candidate at this point for Wrestlemania 26. It would be a bravura occasion for sure, but also rife with potential difficulties. The match would suit the occasion but, in the process, highlight once again the issue of John Cena and just what WWE can do to present this most polarizing of individuals in a positive light. Undoubtedly, the league is short on options and a Cena/’Taker match doesn’t want for marquee value. As is usually the case with Undertaker and Wrestlemania, developments will be utterly intense and most interesting to behold.
Daniel R. Browne.