It’s Wrestlemania weekend, and for those that don’t know, it’s the biggest Professional Wrestling (aka. ‘Sports Entertainment’) event on the yearly calendar. It’s one of these big events that even people who’ve never watched a wrestling match in their life can name, in the same way people in the UK know what the Superbowl is despite viewership among the general public being extremely low.
One part of Wrestlemania that’s been going on for years is the match featuring The Undertaker. Undertaker, aka. ‘Taker aka. the Deadman aka. the Phenom etc. etc.) is again one of the few aspects of wrestling that non-wrestling public have had a decent chance of hearing about. Probably somewhere in the top 5 most-likely-to-be-known-about things about wrestling, somewhere behind Hulk Hogan, “BONESAW IS READY“, Wrestlemania, “it’s all fake!”, and steroids. He’s had a few makeovers during the years. Classic Undertaker looks like this:
With spooky manager Paul Bearer. I didn’t get the pun when I was a kid.
He went through a biker phase:
Can clearly see the ex-wife’s name tattoo’d on his neck there. How unfortunate.
He had a cult thing going on for a while too:
You could say he was brooding at the time.
But anyway, the thing is, at Wrestlemania, he has this unbelievable winning streak. For 21 matches since 1991 (a few ‘Manias were skipped, so it’s more than 21 years) Undertaker gradually became a cornerstone of the event. No matter what the current storylines were in the show, Undertaker was always a top draw. Well, we all just agree to overlook some of them, like the Giant Gonzales chloroform incident and the hanging of Big Boss Man, they weren’t exactly highlights.
At least the PG-13 Era saves us from more of this. I hope.
Anyways, fast forward to a couple of years ago. Undertaker lost his streak in one of the most shocking moments in the history of the business, and people still talk about if it was a good idea, who should have beaten him, if he ever should have been beaten at all and so on. For the record, I think he should have been beaten at some point, but not by the human incarnation of the concept of ‘muscles’ that is Brock Lesnar. He already seemed strong enough as it was, and part of the role of a wrestler nearing retirement is to provide a boost in credibility to new talent by putting them over. Brock didn’t need it, and since the streak was broken the honour can’t go to any other talented guys.
Warning: I’m going to drop in a bunch of wrestling lingo and names and references to storylines, and stopping to explain them all would not be a good idea. You can usually figure out it by the context though.
And now here we are. 2016. The Undertaker is 51, and it shows. Now don’t get me wrong, I like Taker. I’ve always thought he manages to pull off his gimmick more convincingly than it has any right to be. Buuut if you’ve seen him in the last couple of years, after the grandeur of the entrance is over and the action starts, the feeling starts to creep over you: you’re watching an old man get injured.
I am pretty sure this is the look of concussion.
Old is relative, but 51 is old to be actively wrestling and taking big bumps at the biggest stage of them all. We’re meant to be rooting for this legendary force from the underworld with mysterious powers, but sometimes it’s hard to shake the idea that a guy with replaced hips, knees, and a boatload of concussions maybe shouldn’t be in there. Largely because everyone likes him, we don’t want to have to worry that he’s getting seriously hurt. Also because we want to see a good match, while that doesn’t necessarily need guys in top condition, it does help.
Before this year’s match was announced, no one could figure out who he was going to fight. He’s not full time doing shows, so it was difficult to build up a good story and raise some stakes for him. Then bam, out of nowhere, Shane McMahon makes a return to much fanfare, and Vince declares that he needs to beat the Undertaker in Wrestlemania to gain control of the TV show Monday Night Raw.
So most people’s reaction to this, myself included is… “cool… I guess?” I mean it doesn’t make too much sense to me. There was no particular beef between the two, short of Vince just announcing Taker as Shane’s opponent. The streak is gone, so that’s not really a big deal any more.
Shane and Undertaker are basically both faces going into this match. Taker could kayfabe murder an innocent man and the crowd would still get behind him at Wrestlemania. On the otherhand, Shane is incredibly over with the fans too. People want him to win, because it means Raw is removed from the Authority Bad Guys who run the show.
This means, as presented to us now, feelings are going to be mixed. Sure, Shane and Taker have been feuding in the last couple of weeks to try and build some heat, but it still doesn’t sit right with me somehow. I’m sure whatever they do, the pair will give it their all to entertain us, but I’m not convinced a satisfying conclusion can be reached.
So what’s the answer, smart guy?
Hey, I’m not a booking scientist or anything, but I have a general idea of what I’d like to happen. First of all, whatever happens, we need Shane to come out as General Manager of Raw. Why? Because goddamn WWE has been stuck with the managers and company and owners largely being Heel characters for way too long. It was a good time in the Attitude Era, with Stone Cold and Vince and all that stuff for sure. But people are fed up with evil bosses all the time, it’s lazy when you always just resort to making the bad guys part of The Man, you know?
I also want Undertaker to have a proper send off. Everyone remembers the Ric Flair retirement match, it was an emotional moment and a fitting send off for the guy. This is not officially a full retirement match (I believe ‘last Wrestlemania’ has been threatened) and the main plot is about control of Raw so… I guess we can’t have the ‘I’m sorry, I love you” moment here.
It’s not every day a stadium is moved to tears, but Ric Flair crying sure got a lot of people weepy.
Frankly, I don’t think Taker can have a better final Wrestlemania opponent than Shane. Shane can sell his ass off, and I don’t think you can fight anyone more popular than Shane is right now, realistically.
Fantasy booking nonsense
Anyway, what *I* want to see happen is basically a giant swerve of a match. And I’m aware at this point, it almost certainly can’t go down this way. But it could end up with interference and Undertaker basically making the same basic choices in the end, so hey, allow me this wild and baseless fan fiction for a couple of paragraphs.
I want Undertaker to basically forfeit to Shane, and here’s why. The Undertaker is a legend in the locker room as well as for the fans at home. He’s old school, always willing to put people over, looking out for the guys backstage, but also making sure that others are willing to do business. By that, I mean if people were threatening to make a mockery of proceedings, there was the chance you might piss him off, and he makes a mockery of your face. With his fists.
The fans are generally behind Shane, in that he’s the good guy to the evil current owners, but backstage by all accounts Shane is genuinely the nicest McMahon to work for. Thus: my theory is that Undertaker could use this as motivation for essentially defecting to team Shane, making the huge sacrifice of his incredible Wrestlemania record getting another loss added to it for the good of the company, the good of the guys backstage, and for the fans.
In addition to this (since this is too subtle for most) there’s also the whole thing where there doesn’t seem to be any particular reason for kayfabe Undertaker to go along with this anyway. Why should Undertaker even care about this? Maybe Vince has been threatening Undertaker’s career and blackmailing him or something? Oh wait, I guess that might be too much blackmail for one storyline.
Now obviously, people came here with the promise of a Hell in a Cell match between Shane and Undertaker. People would rightfully complain if, at the start of the match, Undertaker just cuts a promo about forfeiting his career for the good of the business and the card is now a match short, the Cell gets put away, lets move on to Roman Reigns.
What would then happen, in this hypothetical scenario, is that Vince/Stephanie/TripleH or whoever would be outraged at this, and appear at the entrance to the arena. With Taker and Shane still trapped inside the Cell, they put a bounty on the Undertaker. Anyone who takes him out gets a nice fat bonus, whatever they want, whether it’s money, or a title short, whatever.
Now the match is something else entirely, with all the Authority-aligned Heels and other free agents coming out for an opportunistic shot at glory, breaking into the Cell and trying to attack and overwhelm the Faces inside. A Hell in a Cell Handicap match is a rarity, and could make for some exciting spots as people get hit by team moves against the cell, while the situation look ever worse for the crowd favourites as they heroically make a stand against seemingly impossible odds. (this is where it comes in handy that Shane and Taker are both known for receiving a ton of punishment) You can even have a run-in rescue spot from Kane, and have people excited to see him for once.
At the end, they managed to escape the arena intact, perhaps with Shane *able* to flee the arena early, but deciding against it to come back and keep fighting, showing his resolve, and more specifically his very un-McMahon-like lack of cowardice.
The outcomes of a scenario like this are positive in many respects. We get Shane as Manager. Undertaker technically loses, so he can retire and not get further injured, while still being awesome and giving all the classic moves some extra time in the sun.
Ah well. That’s probably nothing like what’s going to happen. Probably there will be a generally competent match, and the crowd won’t know how to feel when either the Shane comeback gets cut short with all his momentum taken away, or Undertaker loses to a guy that has never been a ‘real’ wrestler. If Shane wins clean, I’m not sure how convincing it will be, and if there are shenanigans it might just feel like the changing of the guard when it comes to having a new Heel boss.
Or TripleH will just come out and bury Shane with a sledgehammer.
That’s enough rambling from me today. Enjoy Wrestlemania! Or don’t! It’s up to you really.