‘Sup, Lords of Pain? Well here we are, the day after WrestleMania and I am sporting a serious tortilla chip hangover. It really was a rather bizarre night of entertainment from the ‘E. There will be more about what I thought of some of the matches as I go along here but at the end of the day, in my eyes, the streak stole the show for the fifth Mania on the bounce. The NY-NJ crowd absolutely lapped up CM Punk’s attempt to end the streak but seemed to care about little else all night (apart from a ridiculous reaction for Team Hell No). But just what is it that has made the Deadman’s match the marquee attraction at the Granddaddy of them all? Well to look at the present, we have to first look to the past.
21-0 (CPR Productions)
Apr 8, 2013 - 1:51:53 PM
Here is the Undertaker celebrating going 16-0 at WrestleMania 24. Now I know this match has its fans (including Doc Chad) who will put it up there with the best, but at this point I hated the streak. It was about seven months after this match that I signed up for LOP forums and decided to try my hand at writing columns. My third attempt at this was completed in December 2008 and was a look back at the streak. I graded all 16 matches (using a ridiculously complex system). A couple fell into the “Excellent” category (Trips and Batista), others landed in the “Very Good” category (Kane I, Edge, Orton and Sid) but the rest were pretty much somewhere between “Awful” and “Meh”, including what I consider the worst match in Mania history against the Giant Gonzalez. My conclusion was... well... let’s take a trip back four and a half years and show you exactly what a very green columnist thought...
16 & NO! – WHERE’S MY WRESTLEMANIA MOMENT?
So there you have it. 16 victories and most of them were average and those that weren’t, well, for every Batista there was a Gonzalez, for every Triple H there was a Bossman. Now surprisingly that is not my main problem with Undertaker’s run. My main problem is that for me, he has never had a Wrestlemania moment or a match that really gets your goosebumps going.
Here are things that I define as being Wrestlemania moments:
1. A truly “holy-shit” worthy spot or move.
2. A match so good it moves the bar that much higher.
3. A moment of pure emotion by the Superstar either in or out of character.
4. A moment that sends the live audience into a frenzy.
Undertaker’s career is littered with these moments. This is the guy who ended Hulk-a-mania… twice, the guy that has risen from the dead, the guy that has brought us at least 3 types of gimmick matches, the guy that has thrown the world and his wife off the cell. This is the guy who gets an amazing pop every time he comes back from a rest, who can forget his return at Judgement Day 2000? The problem is that none of these have happened at Wrestlemania.
I think only the matches against Batista and Triple H came close to making that Wrestlemania moment. The matches were both tremendous but neither were ground breaking. The spot where Trips was chokeslammed from the technical area did garner a “holy shit” chant but to be honest it wasn’t very far, and is not something that gets replayed often. The Undertaker gimmick really prevented any major emotional moment. There were plenty of big pops for the Deadman in 16 outings but so far nothing that has approached Rock-Hogan levels.
The list of superstars with that Wrestlemania moment on their CV reads like a who’s who of wrestling. Hogan, Warrior, Savage, Piper, Hart, Flair, Austin, Rock, Foley, Triple H and not forgetting Guerrero and Benoit all have a Wreslemania moment that will be looked back on every year. Edge has 64 at the last count. Hopefully some of these guys will be able to look back one day on these moments with their grandchildren and rightfully be very proud.
From “The Classic Paper Review - Vol III - 16-0” dated 8 December 2008
To but it simply, the streak bored the hell out of me at this stage. It had been put onto this pedestal in the previous few editions but had never lived up to the hype it had received. I mean the WWE have never been shy about ramming down our throats what they want us to believe is good. Fandango being the latest case in point. They have given the gimmick what it needs to gain some fans and to a certain extent it has worked. Judging by his match with Jericho, he still has a long way to go in the ring but Y2J put Fandango on the map last night and he is going to have plenty of time to try and make it work. But I am getting off my point here. The fact is that the WWE built the streak as a huge deal before much had happened in it to make it so. My column that day was actually leading somewhere. It was essentially a vehicle to sell the need to book The Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels. “Mr WrestleMania” was needed to give the streak some real meaning. Sometimes I look back at my early columns and cringe but I was spot on with this one. The Deadman and HBK created magic at Mania 25 and finally gave Taker that huge match and huge moment. When it was clear they were going to do the same again the next year however, I was less than enthused.
Back-to-back Mania matches have been a rarity throughout the history of the event. HBK-Taker II had its problems living up to the original but that is something we often see in a lot of mediums. For a sequel to be considered, it’s highly likely the original had to be great but at the same time if the original was great then the sequel would have a tough time living up to the hype. Of course, you can always cheat and try and get some cheap pops. This is exactly the direction that Shawn and Taker took us in during the Mania 26 main event, as did John Cena and The Rock last night. Of course I am referring to that cheap trick from the Attitude Era of excessive use of finishers and false finishes. It can be extremely exciting and you expect some big two counts in Mania main events but it irks me when they’re used at the expense of psychology, storytelling and... well... wrestling. It is the crowd however that really make or break these moments. You won’t find too many people who will rate either of these two high profile rematches above the originals but the crowd made one and broke the other. The fans and the finish were the two places where Michaels-Taker II topped the first match in my eyes and when you factor in Shawn’s retirement, it finds itself just as epic at the end of the day. In contrast, I thought a lot of the work between Rocky and Cena last night was far smoother than it was last year but the crowd’s refusal to give a **** for long periods buried it and it was the type of match that is always going to get most of its epicness from the fans.
I loved the build up to the next edition of the streak. I know a lot of people had no interest in seeing Triple H take the streak on again but with a decade having passed since their last encounter at the Granddaddy of them all, I thought it had legs. The match polarised opinion. I was squarely in the camp that saw it as one of the most phenomenal pieces of storytelling in Mania history. Even a lot of those who saw it as slow and plodding would rate it as the best of a bad event. It was a brutal affair and unlike any other streak match before it. You see Hunter was absolutely dominant. He had Taker exactly where he wanted him for the majority of the match but he got caught in Hell’s Gate and that was that. In that way there were many similarities to Hunter’s match with Brock Lesnar last night. Brock dominated but the man who had more on the line managed to dig out the victory. Once again, the crowd reaction was a huge difference maker. The fans in attendance at Mania 27 absolutely ate up The Game’s encounter with the Deadman whereas last night it’s as if they were dead men. I have to put it down to the build up because I thought Brock and Hunter (as well as Shawn and Heyman) delivered a very strong performance. The pulled stiff shots from early on but the fans barely flinched until the very end, where the 3 count bizarrely got a very big pop. In reality it wasn’t too far behind the match of the night in terms of quality but probably too close to it in terms of card placement.
I will always look at The Undertaker’s matches at Manias 25-28 as a quadrilogy. Each one builds on the previous and as such I don’t see them as four individuals or two sets of two, but rather one set of four. Some people lost their shit at Hunter getting a third shot at the streak. Even I wasn’t overly in support of it but three things made me change my mind - Taker chasing the match because he couldn’t leave the previous year on his own, Shawn Michaels as the ref and, more than anything else, the cell stipulation. The Deadman and The Game in Hell in a Cell had been a dream match of mine for some years beforehand and although Mick Foley had always been my preferred choice of official, HBK just made too much sense when it came to the end of an era. The match delivered that night and really closed out the history of Shawn, Taker and Hunter in an almost perfect fashion. Four years had finally turned the streak on its head. For four consecutive years it had stolen the show. It had transformed The Deadman’s CV from looking bog standard outside of the “Wins” column to possibly the most epic feat in the history of pro-wrestling. He was 20-0 and in just four of those years had created a highlight reel to die for.
But where do you go after that series of matches. The IWC, as they had done for the previous three years, called for John Cena. I had never really seen the appeal in that and thought it was high time Jericho had a high profile feud with Taker. It soon became apparent however that CM Punk would be the man who would be tasked to “follow that”. Nobody really wanted it. The Punk fans wanted him in the main event, whether it was against Rock, Cena or both. Everyone remembered their rumoured history of Taker not approving of Punk’s lack of respect as champ and their lacklustre series in 2009. From the start though, I thought if they could get on the same page, they could pull off something great. Things really didn’t start out well though. Nobody was sure of Taker’s status for Mania and Punk was in the WWE title mix until after Elimination Chamber. Then we had that horrible “I want to fight Taker” story and fatal four way match. Then Paul Bearer died. His final legacy will be that his death made this match. Punk and Taker have enough storytelling chops to have probably made something half decent in the couple of weeks they had but their decision to push boundaries with Bearer’s death really built the match up. You could tell something special was on the way during the entrances. Living Color played Punk to the ring in a memorable live music entrance to rival Limp Bizkit and Motorhead, whereas Taker came down with some awesome Walking Dead zombie action. And boy did they deliver in the ring.
But what has changed? What puts this Punk match in a different league to very strong encounters against the likes of Edge and Batista? Primarily I believe it’s the storytelling. I think that is an attribute where Punk tops a lot of the men who fell to the streak in previous years. Shawn and Hunter both told a great story with the Deadman and Punk certainly lived up to that last night. But that can’t be all of it. Back when the streak was a fragile 1-0, Taker found himself up against arguably the greatest storyteller in wrestling history. The match with Jake Roberts however just did not deliver. The build up was rushed to that one but so was this year’s. A decade later there was some great build up to a match with another master storyteller. But the match with Ric Flair didn’t live up to that build. Sure, Naitch was past his prime physical peak but Taker has been for the last five years too, as were Shawn and Trips when they faced him. You could also argue that Taker has aged like a fine wine. The quality of the early streak matches to the later ones would definitely support that but in all honesty that doesn’t particularly mirror his career outside of Mania. He has had plenty of horrible matches in later life and some great ones in his early career.
In the end I think it comes down to a combination of things. The streak has reached such levels since the End of an Era series that it is almost bigger than Mania itself, and for good reason. The fact that it continues will ultimately make anybody who hangs with The Deadman on the biggest stage of all look like a million bucks. Secondly, the Undertaker character has just reached ridiculous levels of awesomeness. He really has become the Phenom he has been painted as throughout his career. It’s a character the likes of which we are never likely to see again. Strong characters lend themselves very easily to strong storylines. As the Taker character has grown stronger, and the legacy of the streak has grown stronger, so have the matches. A match with The Deadman at Mania is now a guaranteed main event, no matter who he is facing. I don’t think this was the case pre-25 but now the streak is well and truly selling the show year in, year out. The final factor of course is the opponent. I think higher than in-ring skill and storytelling ability is understanding of the beast that the streak is. Punk got it and played to that strength. Trips and Shawn understood it as well. Will the next guy get it and bring the MOTN steak within the streak to 6-0? Of course there is a long way to go and we will hear about the usual suspects of Cena, Rock and Brock. The IWC will probably want Daniel Bryan to be ready by Mania 30 (and that would likely not disappoint) and I still dream of seeing Vince McMahon take the final shot at the streak, but if Taker can continue to deliver one of these on a yearly basis, there is no way he should be hitting the wrestling funeral home any time soon. I think that if The Undertaker delivers once again at WrestleMania XXX that Shawn’s claim to the Mr Mania title will probably be gone (as will my arguments that Randy Savage deserves the title). The Deadman will have officially made the event 100% his bitch in terms of records, performance and those hard to rank intangibles. Of course, that is if Fandango doesn’t make it 21-1.
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