You should never go back. This is a statement, a philosophy or even a warning, depending on the messenger. In my experience, it’s sound advice as pertains to many walks of life, professional wrestling included. It is for this reason that my interest in a reunion between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker at Wrestlemania is tempered by fear and uncertainty.
Melodrama notwithstanding, it is always difficult to exceed greatness. The singles contest between Shawn and ?Taker at Wrestlemania XXV was not only the best of show, it was the finest wrestling match of the year ? anywhere ? and a bona fide ?best match EVER? contender. For those with a developed appreciation of the art behind the action, ?Taker/Shawn was a masterpiece of psychology, pacing, drama and intense physicality. As an expression of pro-wrestling, it was nigh on perfect.
How do you follow perfection? Not easily, that’s for certain. Over their long and celebrated careers, Shawn and ?Taker have always clicked in the ring and though it was unquestionably their finest match, the two men had contested several great matches prior to their ?Mania waltz. I?m therefore unafraid that their Wrestlemania rematch will disgrace their previous endeavours. However, I?m mildly unnerved by the stakes and the potential ramifications of ?Taker/Shawn II.
The same immediate issue will be at play ? ?Taker’s winning streak ? but the plot has been thickened by the addition of one of the more troublesome of wrestling stipulations. In order to secure the match, Shawn has volunteered his career as capital. The idea of a forced retirement speaks to the very heart of the competitive spirit, yet in wrestling it is too often an excuse to grant a worker a holiday and the promise of an ear-shattering pop and lucrative payday upon their inevitable return. It is common knowledge that Shawn will be taking a sabbatical after Wrestlemania 26. Does this serve to telegraph the result? Not precisely, as ?Taker also plans to disappear into the night once Mania has passed for another year.
The ?Streak vs. Career? stipulation is designed to keep people guessing and it will doubtless succeed. This leads me back to my initial reaction upon learning of the plan to stage ?Taker/Shawn II. Whilst the obvious question of surpassing last year’s effort remains, I couldn?t help donning my thinker’s cap and looking at this laterally. Beyond the immediate possibility of a great match occurring at Wrestlemania, it is difficult to foresee a clear long-term advantage being gained by either of the combatants or WWE. That is a sure-fire sign of indulgent booking.
The Undertaker would gain nothing from a loss at ?Mania. The unsurpassed legacy of Mark Calaway’s alter ego has been tied, as much as any other accomplishment, to his unbeaten ?Mania record. Should he ultimately lose that record, the prestige of the Undertaker character would be legitimately damaged. This is by no means a terminal occurrence, but should the decision to end the streak be taken, the manner of the loss is an essential consideration. WWE needs to be sure of the impact the loss would have on ?Taker and how to portray that going forward.
Precisely how ?Taker would be defeated is hugely important. I?ve always felt the illegitimate loss of the record would be a superb launching pad for an aggressive heel turn on the part of a major babyface, such as John Cena. Seeing how this is decidedly unlikely, we must assume that Shawn would triumph without outside interference or chicanery. Where is the sense in voiding a legitimate moneymaking commodity (the streak) for the further veneration of a legendary veteran in his mid-forties, who isn?t sticking around whatever the outcome? Giving the streak to Shawn Michaels is an absurd waste of a once-in-a-lifetime rub.
The storyline of Shawn’s smouldering need to prove himself, by seizing the ?Holy Grail? of WWE, is compelling and engaging. It is also an exercise that must end in failure. My concern for Shawn Michaels stems from my failing to see how a second high profile loss to the ?Taker, clean, and at ?Mania, serves to benefit Shawn Michaels. It goes without saying that it wouldn?t cause irreparable harm, but it doesn?t exactly chime with the accepted logic of a grandstand feud either. My faith in this conviction is what informs my fear that WWE might actually be foolish enough to expend the streak on what is, ultimately, a vanity exercise.
To my way of thinking, there are two logical possibilities. Shawn could lose cleanly to ?Taker and be forced into ?retirement?. WWE can then build towards a revenge or redemption feud (perhaps involving a vengeful babyface Triple H), with Shawn eventually un-retiring and choosing his path, which may (or may not) lead towards Shawn’s real retirement a couple of years hence. This is one idea.
Another direction that could be pursued is of great interest to me, as I feel it makes perfect sense for all parties involved, and serves the creative direction of WWE. The story would be simple: Shawn is on the verge of winning and claiming his vaunted immortality when Triple H, consumed by loathing and jealously, attacks Shawn without ?Taker’s knowledge and costs him the match. Helmsley could then savagely lay waste to Shawn, having cost him his career, before being run-off by the aggrieved Undertaker. Shawn would then ride off into the sunset (temporarily) as the newly reborn heel Triple H condemns Shawn and his quest and forges a new path back in familiar – and worthier – territory, awaiting the return of Shawn later on in the year.
Having been screwed, Shawn’s eventual return wouldn?t feel quite so cheap and arbitrary. HHH/Shawn may not be a new idea, but it would be a step-up creatively from endless D-Generation X reruns, and would doubtless provide decent box office and return Triple H to his natural (and more productive) setting as a killer heel. Creatively speaking, Hunter is much more useful on the dark side and ideally placed to feud with old and new opponents from a fresh perspective. Once Shawn is reinstated, his obsession with ?Taker would be necessarily benched and the best kind of wrestling saga ? good, old-fashioned revenge ? would await him and Triple H. It all sounds so simple; at least on paper anyway.
I am excited by just what ?Taker and Shawn are prepared to attempt in the name of entertainment and one-upmanship. I am also apprehensive. I?d be tempted to jest about setting one or both men on fire, if that wasn?t suddenly all too literal a notion as far as the very fortunate Undertaker is concerned. Seriously though, ?Taker/Shawn II is a classic wrestling conundrum that I (and most of you) will happily pay to see resolved. It?ll be a spectacle of awe-inspiring splendour that will doubtless have us all on the edge of our seats. I just hope WWE, Undertaker and Shawn Michaels marry what will undoubtedly be an extraordinary match to a finish that benefits all. Never go back? I guess we?re all about to turn around, grab a seat and find out?
Daniel R. Browne.