By: Tony Tightlips
When I was a kid, the first wrestling tapes I ever brought home from the old video store in the mall were WrestleManias. I remember clear as day being excited to watch the first WrestleMania, WrestleMania V, and WrestleMania XIV. Of course, the match that stuck out to me the most on all those tapes was Undertaker vs. Kane – a true behemoth of a match with a spectacular story and quite a bit of build up. It had everything – betrayal, bloodlines, and just that right touch of the supernatural. It was the first match that showed me the scope of what wrestling could be.
Granted, I was somewhat familiar with the Undertaker – even my father, who hadn’t watched wrestling since the days of Bob Backlund and Billy Graham, knew who the Undertaker was. Inviting my old college professor to my first wrestling match in 2007, he felt the need to lecture me on how I needed to command more of a presence like the Undertaker. Much like Hulk Hogan and Macho Man before him, and Stone Cold and the Rock after him, the Undertaker reaches an audience who might not exactly follow every single Monday Night Raw or Smackdown – the casual fan that McMahon and Co. are always desperately trying to appeal to.
Taker has carried the WWE banner strong, through the ups and downs of good matches and subpar feuds, earning his spot as the locker room general he’s known as. That being said, his WrestleMania mystique was undeniably crushed when Brock Lesnar ended the streak at the big event’s three-zero. Still, despite the shock, I don’t think the magic of the Taker was lost on all of us – like the new Star Wars movies, we were just in a generation that was having trouble letting go of its old ideals and beliefs. The Undertaker losing forced us to admit that maybe our heroes carried the same flaws we did and weren’t as invulnerable as we wanted them to be. He showed us, at the next two Manias, that there was still some fighting spirit left in the Deadman.
When Taker once again did his duty and lost his match against Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 33, it was then that I truly felt the magic had left the Undertaker’s streak. Maybe, over the years, I had become less willing to see that Taker had indeed lost a step or two, or that I didn’t get as excited when his funeral march hit or lightning lit up the stage. Some would argue that Reigns didn’t, and still doesn’t, command the star power to be the man to end the Undertaker’s career. Some might even say there was no confirmation this was going to be the Undertaker’s last match.
Yet, every time the Undertaker got up in that match, he dragged himself up. Every offensive maneuver looked to require effort beyond Taker’s highest ability – and I’m guessing most of this could be attributed to the story Taker and Reigns were trying to tell. I remember sitting there, wondering how much more can he give us before realizing that this was all he had left. The Undertaker was not showing weakness just because he was playing his part in this match – he was bearing his soul to us; showing what decades of destruction had done to his body and his mind.
I don’t dislike John Cena. I take every bit of backstage story I’ve heard about him with a giant grain of salt – everyone wants a spot like Cena and Undertaker have, and most will stop at nothing to get it. But John, like the Rock before him, has shown a considerable amount of talent at things outside of wrestling – movies and TV appearances might be exactly where he’s headed. At forty years old with a wedding on the way, we might be seeing John Cena’s own part-time/swan song. He’s earned it, just like Taker has.
Cena doesn’t need Taker at WrestleMania. There are people who want to see it, who believe this is the match that Taker should be going out on. But the thing is – what do these two have left to prove to us? They have both paid their dues, worked their asses off and helped to further build the company into the global giant it has become. Not to mention, the roster is ripe with talent who could use the John Cena rub – Finn Balor, Kevin Owens, Braun Strowman – men who would benefit greatly from having their names next to John Cena at Mania.
Are we really missing that big match feel from Mania that we used to have? I don’t think so; I can’t think of the last time I’ve wanted to see a match more than I am dying for Styles vs Nakamura; hell, even some of the undercard, like the IC Title Match, has me pumped. Taker has given us his all – we’ve had his best and his worst. There’s no need for him to go the way of Terry Funk or Ric Flair – guys who should have stayed retired, but kept climbing their way back to match after embarrassing match. For the love of Vince McMahon, Undertaker – please don’t accept John Cena’s challenge. You’ve given us everything we have asked you for – now take some time out for yourself.