Archive for March, 2012

The world will be watching this Sunday night, April 1 from Miami, when the WWE finally unleashes what’s being called history-making, once in a lifetime, and the biggest main event in pro wrestling history at WrestleMania 28.

The Rock vs John Cena.

There hasn’t been a match that has divided millions of wrestling fans this much since….well, ever.

In one corner, you’ve got The Rock; the People’s Champion, the Great One, a leader of yesteryear’s Attitude Era, and someone who made the decision to “return home” after making a name for himself in Hollywood to set the stage for what’ll be one of the industry’s biggest moments in history. In the other corner, you’ve got John Cena; the Cenation leader, the WWE’s resident top dog for the past seven years, and a guy who will go down in history as perhaps the company’s most polarizing superstar of all time.

Now put them in the same ring and ring the bell, and indeed, it should be a monumental moment in history.

But before the main event begins, the story behind this Sunday’s epic Rock/Cena battle requires a little explanation, and a look back at their respective roads to greatness that tell an interesting tale.


Fresh off his blockbuster match at WrestleMania 18 against Hulk Hogan, at this point The Rock was weaving in and out of WWE storylines as he juggled main event commitments with a growing number of Hollywood projects. He left for the spring, with the plan being that he’d return in July to win the WWE Undisputed Title and begin his Summerslam program with Brock Lesnar.

Meanwhile, on the June 27 episode of Smackdown, Kurt Angle issued an open challenge to anyone in the back. Out came some cookie-cutter rookie named John Cena, who exploded against Angle and took him to the limit before the Olympic gold medalist was able to steal the win. Cena impressed many backstage, including WWE Champion The Undertaker, who shook his hand and said “Good job.”


Fast forward almost two years later. By this time, Cena was a fast-rising babyface in the middle of a feud with the Big Show over the United States Championship. They fought in the opening match at WrestleMania 20, with Cena winning the gold to the delight of the MSG crowd in New York City. His star was only getting bigger.

Elsewhere on the show, The Rock had returned in time for ‘Mania, teaming with Mick Foley against the Evolution stable of Randy Orton, Ric Flair and Batista. The Rock n’ Sock Connection lost, in what would be Rock’s last match for well over seven years. Afterward, he simply vanished from WWE programming. No goodbye speech, no teary final promo – The Rock was just gone.


By this point, The Rock was a full-fledged movie star and seemingly content to leave his WWE persona and career in the past. He’d seen it all and done it all, so conquering Hollywood was the next logical step in his life. However, with ‘Mania 24 on the horizon in Orlando, Florida, Rock was a presenter at the Hall Of Fame ceremony the night before the PPV, where he inducted his grandfather and father. Rock seemed genuinely happy to be “back home” in the WWE environment, doing some very fun mic work as only he could and even taking a few jabs at Cena in the process.

Cena himself was stirring up a lot of debate online after he shot on The Rock during an interview in February. He questioned why Rock “couldn’t come back” and took him to task for claiming he still loved the business when he wasn’t a part of it anymore.

A few quotes from the interview:

“He is a genuinely nice guy and a fantastic human being.”
“What I kind of get peeved about, and this is my Achilles heel, is that I’ve wanted to do this my whole life.”
“Rock falls into that category. At one point he loved wrestling and wanted to do this all his life.”
“So explain to me why he can’t come back.”
“Simply put, it’s because he wants to be an actor and there’s nothing wrong with that. He’s very good and very successful. Associating with sports entertainment doesn’t do much for his acting career. I get it.”
“Just don’t fuck me around and tell me that you love this.”
“That’s the only thing that gets me really pissed off.”
“Our fan base have so much admiration for him, he’s got to respect that. He doesn’t give anything back.”

Many took this as Cena and even Vince McMahon’s way of trying to make some kind of match between Rock and Cena take place back then, but obviously it wasn’t to be at that time.


Heading into ‘Mania 25, Cena ran his mouth again about Rock in an interview, this time actually challenging him to a match. From his side, Rock seemed to shrug it all off as Cena trying to make an angle for himself.

“”I’ve seen and heard all the things he’s been saying about me in the press. It’s honestly laughable and baffling at the same time,” said Rock.


And now, we’ve seen the rest of their story play out since The Rock returned in February of last year. We’ve seen all the promos, we’ve witnessed a taste of the physicality, and it all comes to a head this Sunday night at WrestleMania 28.

So then, how do you pick a winner?

I think there are a ton of factors to consider no matter who you pick to win.

It’s easy to say that Cena should win because he’s been WWE’s top dog for years and is the current leader of today’s generation. In that regard, it’d be like a symbolic ‘passing of the torch’ scenario as someone from one era putting over the guy from today’s era. Very much like how Rock/Hogan ended in the first place a decade ago.

That’s all well and good, but here’s where I have a couple of issues. First off, I think that Cena’s stock has dropped considerably in the last couple of years and frankly, the WWE appears to have the next top guy in CM Punk ever since he started climbing the proverbial ladder since that infamous shoot promo last June. Sure, you can argue that Cena is still the company poster boy to a certain extent, but the fact is he was a much bigger name three years ago.

Second, because of the length of time he’s been on top, does Cena really NEED putting over by anyone else at this point? Does he still need to be ‘made’ by a top superstar, current or otherwise? No, he doesn’t. On his way to being solidified as #1, Cena defeated top names like Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, Triple H and Shawn Michaels, while going over others like Edge and Randy Orton before those guys became top tier talent. Today, Cena is actually the one who needs to help make tomorrow’s superstars. And he has with CM Punk, who as I mentioned is arguably the new #1 guy in the WWE.

The other scenario is having The Rock take the win. Could it happen? Perhaps as a sign of respect for someone who will undoubtedly headline a Hall Of Fame class one day, Cena will put Rock over. But more than that, we’re talking about a guy who, even with his long list of accomplishments and successes in the past, is still relatively young at age 39 and could still have more than a few matches before he finally decides to end his in-ring career. In a lot of ways, The Rock is NOT where Hulk Hogan was a decade ago; someone who was physically ailing and whose best years were long behind him. The People’s Champ could most likely wrestle full-time if he wanted to, and the thought of him tangling with the other stars of today makes for some other interesting match-ups.

Another factor in having Rock leave victorious is the rumor that there could be a rematch, or even a Best 2/3 series that would start this Sunday, continue at Summerslam this August, and finally end at next year’s ‘Mania. Interesting scenario, but I think it’s overkill.

One final take on this match’s conclusion is that, win or lose, Cena could finally turn heel and unleash a new villain for the modern age. If WWE were to ever pull the trigger on Cena joining the dark side, ‘Mania would be the place to do it.

OK, so what’s my opinion?

First off, I think the build to this match has been hurt at times. On Raw for the last month or so, it felt like there was this apparent mandate handed down by the WWE to NOT be serious about the ramifications of this match, and to just be ‘entertaining’. Bad jokes, silly raps, rock concerts that drag too long, and all of it done with a big, toothy smile. Only this past Monday on Raw did Rock and Cena get in each others faces and leaves the comedy behind, but I wonder if it was too late.

Still, besides on-air promos, there has been quite the build for this match, and WWE is going out of their way to stress that this is a “once in a lifetime” moment in history, the likes of which we’ll never see again. Whatever one might think about Cena or Rock, I believe they’re gonna go all out to give us a memorable match.

I also think The Rock is here in the WWE because he genuinely wants to be. The Web has been going nuts for months over his intentions and how he’s “just here for the money”. Does anyone actually think he needs the money? Did he even really need to come back in the first place? No on both questions. And I believe Dwayne Johnson always envisioned that he’d come back one day. He didn’t know when, and he didn’t know how, but I believe it to be true. Why else would he have just disappeared after ‘Mania 20 back in 2004, with no fuss made or one final promo from one of the greatest mic men in the business? Rock leaving back then actually helped open the door for Cena to become ‘The Man’ in the first place.

In the end, I actually think that very first scenario will play out, with Cena winning clean over Rock. I could see Rock thinking about his match with Hogan back in 2002 and theorizing that he should do business for John like Hulk did for him. One leader putting over another, and that proverbial torch being passed. If that’s what we see on Sunday, I’ll be OK with that. One thing that people aren’t talking about is the aftermath of the contest, which I think could be the most interesting part of the entire battle. No matter who wins, what will happen when the bell rings and ‘Mania comes to an end?

Guess we’ll find out on Sunday.


It’s something that gets discussed time and time again throughout the course of any given year, ultimately leading to the WWE’s version of the Super Bowl, WrestleMania. In the last decade, it’s become more of a draw with each passing ‘Mania and a cleverly-marketed concept that has shaped the legacy of one man.

The Undertaker’s flawless WrestleMania winning streak. Or just ‘The Streak’, as it’s most commonly known.

Nineteen matches, zero losses.

The questions seem to start as soon as one ‘Mania has ended for another year. Who will Taker fight next year? What’ll the storyline be? Will anyone actually break the streak? It creates a ton of debate, and everyone seems to have an opinion on who Taker should face next or why that person should actually be the one to defeat the Dead Man. This is nothing new, and that kind of rampant discussion will continue until the day Mark Calaway – the man behind the Phenom – finally decides to hang up the black leather trench coat and unlace his wrestling boots for good.

It’s hard to imagine WrestleMania coming and going without The Undertaker, even though that’ll be a reality in the next few years. He’s become so synonymous with the event that we just expect him to be there, no questions asked; it’s like expecting a light to work when we flip a switch.

Shawn Michaels can have the nickname of Mr. WrestleMania. The fact is The Undertaker IS WrestleMania.

He’s 19-0 at the Show of Shows. This Sunday, at WrestleMania 28 in Miami, The Undertaker faces Triple H for a record third time (2001 & last year), and this time they’re going all out in what I’m sure will be an epic Hell in a Cell match. Shawn Michaels himself is the special guest referee, making things that much more interesting and dramatic. The world can’t wait.

But that’s this Sunday. What I wanna do right now is take a trip back in time and revisit each of the Phenom’s victories at the ‘Showcase of the Immortals’, highlighting each of them as they helped shape Taker’s legacy and set the stage for what could become a picture-perfect 20-0 record in a matter of nights. Along with the ‘Mania number, next to that will be the names of Taker’s various victims over the years. So, without further ado, let’s hop in the DeLorean with Doc Brown and punch this bitch to 88 MPH….

1. WrestleMania 7 – ‘Superfly’ Jimmy Snuka: Having debuted the previous fall in late 1990, Taker was a rookie in the WWF and given the task of being a slow-moving, lumbering, no-selling giant that was impervious to pain, no matter who dished it out. Even though this was the match that started it all, nobody knew that at the time, and this was just a bout to showcase Taker and have him beat someone of note, that being Snuka. Slapped in the middle of a 14-match card with a running time of just over four minutes, this match that began Taker’s winning streak wasn’t a big affair.

2. WrestleMania 8 – Jake ‘the Snake’ Roberts: This time around, Taker actually had a storyline heading into Mania 8 from Indianapolis. Roberts had been working with Taker in an effort to get inside the head of the Ultimate Warrior, who Jake was supposed to be paired with for a lengthy feud until Warrior got himself fired (the first of many times) from the WWF. Roberts moved on to harassing Randy Savage and his wife Elizabeth, and planned to blast the pair with a steel chair at one point on TV. Taker, finally realizing right from wrong, stopped Roberts and became a babyface, so this match came as a result. It was much better than the match with Snuka a year before because Roberts was such a master of in-ring psychology and he knew what would make the audience pop to get the biggest reaction. At one point, Taker rose up after Jake’s infamous DDT and began stalking him at ringside after Jake went after Paul Bearer. Roberts turned around and ate a Tombstone piledriver on the outside, and Taker rolled him back in to get the win.

3. WrestleMania 9 – Giant Gonzalez: Here’s where things get ugly. The Undertaker has always been credited as someone who could make chicken salad out of chicken shit, but even he couldn’t do anything to make Gonzalez look good. This feud started months earlier at the ’93 Royal Rumble, when Gonzalez debuted and attacked Taker as instructed by heel manager Harvey Wippleman. The match at ‘Mania sure wasn’t pretty, and ended in a disqualification win for Taker when Gonzalez used a rag soaked in chloroform to knock Taker out. The Phenom came to before he could be wheeled to the back and attacked the 8-foot giant, but nothing else could’ve saved this abomination of a match.

4. WrestleMania 11 – King Kong Bundy: The Dead Man missed ‘Mania 10 because of injuries and wanting to spend more time at home, which is interesting because if this hadn’t been the case, and if he also hadn’t missed ‘Mania 16 in 2000, he might already be at 21-0. Funny how history turns out like that. This wasn’t much of a feud for Taker, as he was just plowing over the minions assembled by Ted DiBiase left and right. Bundy was no exception. The match wasn’t exactly a five-star classic, but it wasn’t horrible, either. Bundy worked the slow, old school big man style and Taker took the punishment before coming back in the end. A forgettable match on what’s mainly remembered as a forgettable WrestleMania. The only Taker match in ‘Mania history, maybe even his career, to end with a body slam/flying clothesline combo, though.

5. WrestleMania 12 – Diesel: This is the point where I think the WWF realized Taker was a star attraction when it came to their biggest PPV of the year. There wasn’t any talk of his undefeated streak since this was only his fifth match at ‘Mania, but I think from this point on was where the company made sure that he had a big storyline and suitable opponent to properly showcase him. I really liked his feud with Diesel (Kevin Nash) because they were similarly built as two big powerful guys, but it was still quite a clash of personalities and styles. I remember Taker bursting through the ring at an In Your House PPV event in February during Diesel’s cage match with Bret Hart, pulling Big Daddy Cool under the ring, and then Taker producing a mock corpse of Diesel stuffed into a casket in the weeks leading up to ‘Mania. At this point, it was known that Nash was WCW-bound, so the older, smart mark crowd were convinced he’d do the job for Taker on his way out. I was young, so I wasn’t sure if the Phenom would be able to knock off Diesel. I remembering thinking how impossible it’d be for Taker to hit the Tombstone piledriver. As for the match itself, I thought it showcased both guys very well and it was quite balanced. Big man matches have a tendency to be quite slow and boring, but I thought this one broke that mold. I still love the repeated Jackknife powerbombs that Diesel hands out, and Taker just won’t stay down. The Dead Man eventually got the win, and yes, it was with the Tombstone as Big Daddy Cool’s head bounced off the canvas.

6. WrestleMania 13 – WWF Championship match, Psycho Sid: The year 1997 was a transitional one for the WWF, as they adopted more of a TV-14 approach to their programming as the year went on. Actually, it could be dated back as far as mid-1996 when Steve Austin won the King of the Ring and cut the infamous Austin 3:16 promo. As far as Taker went, his ‘Mania status went from being a question mark to battling Sid for the WWF Title when the original plans of Bret/Shawn flew out the window. Not a very good match, but notable for Taker’s first main event at ‘Mania, busting out the old school look of the classic grey gloves and boots, and of course, winning the Title in the end. I think the company was at a point where although they had guys like Bret and Shawn at the top, with Austin lurking just below the main event and waiting to break through, they needed someone who was reliable, a company man, consistent in their ring work and a top draw to carry the company on their back. Taker was that man, and I believe his championship run from March to August that year is one of the most underrated things out of those early Attitude Era days.

7. WrestleMania 14 – Kane: Definitely Taker’s best feud and storyline at that point. The build to this first of many brother vs brother matches went back to late ’97, when Paul Bearer informed Taker of his long lost brother Kane. The Big Red Machine debuted at Bad Blood in October, ripping the door off the Cell while Taker was fighting Shawn Michaels, and piledrove his brother into the canvas, beginning the feud. The build to this match at ‘Mania 14 in Boston was excellent, with Taker refusing to fight his own flesh and blood and Kane continuously attacking him to goad him into a match. When it finally happened, it was almost like seeing Taker fight himself since Kane’s style was incredibly similar to the Phenom’s. To this day, it’s my favorite ‘big man vs big man’ match because these two aren’t like normal big men in wrestling, as they have speed and agility on top of power. I love the spot where Taker goes for a dive on Kane on the outside, but ends up plunging through the announce table when Kane moves. It takes three Tombstones to put his brother away, but Taker finally does it. A post-match attack let viewers know the feud was anything but over, but this match is still their best to this day. Taker’s entrance is also a sight to behold.

8. WrestleMania 15 – Hell in a Cell, Big Boss Man: Unfortunately, this match was a step backward into that King Kong Bundy/’Mania 11 territory where it was just thrown together to get Taker on the card. This was in the glory days of the Attitude Era and Taker’s character was now a much more charismatic, Satan-worshipping heel who led a stable called the Ministry of Darkness (later the Corporate Ministry, a great example of overkill). The Boss Man was sent on orders from Vince McMahon to take the Dead Man out, and apparently the WWF thought Hell in a Cell would draw more interest to the feud between the warring stables (which hadn’t fused together yet). That wasn’t the case, and the prestige and reputation of the Cell took a hit with this watered-down, rather bland contest. Taker won in the end, and the two did the best they could with what they were given, but the match was a dud.

9. WrestleMania 17 – Triple H: And here began the first of what will be, as of Sunday night, three ‘Mania matches between these two. Taker missed ‘Mania 16 due to injury, but he returned later in the spring of 2000 and shed the Dead Man character in favor of, quite frankly, just being himself – an ass-kicking biker. Dubbed the ‘American Badass’, Taker began a feud with HHH leading up to ‘Mania 17 when The Game declared that he’d beaten everyone there was to beat. Taker took exception to that, and the match was made. This feud was great as it let Hunter be as dastardly and cruel as ever as a top heel, including trashing Taker’s bike and attacking him with a sledgehammer so badly that he needed staples to close the wounds. The match was excellent in the colossal Houston Astrodome stadium, as they tore into each other inside, outside the ring, and into the stands. One memorable image from this bout is Taker choke-slamming HHH off an audio-visual scaffold, and then dropping an elbow from the top of it. Another is Taker hoisting Hunter up for the Last Ride powerbomb, and The Game grabbing his trusty sledge up for the ride before bringing it down over Taker’s skull. In the end, the big biker got the win with the elusive powerbomb.

10. WrestleMania 18 – Ric Flair: Still a biker, but this time a heel again, Taker went up against Flair, who had returned to the WWF as a co-owner of the company after the WCW/ECW Alliance storyline ended following the Survivor Series in 2001. Taker kept goading the refusing Flair into a match, even at one point attacking his son David, until the Nature Boy had enough and accepted the challenge from ‘Big Evil’. Undoubtedly a contrast in styles, many point to this match as the one that got Flair out of his depressed funk following a long absence from the ring. Flair himself says a lot of what took place in WCW hurt his love for the business, and he didn’t have any confidence in himself to have a good match, but that Taker led him through it and went out of his way to showcase Flair and his abilities. It’s a fun match to watch, and the crowd pops huge when Arn Anderson runs in and drills Taker with a huge spinebuster, even if it didn’t put him down for the count. Ultimately, Flair ate a Tombstone and Taker’s ‘Mania record reached a pinnacle at 10-0.

11. WrestleMania 19 – Big Show & A-Train: Originally, this was supposed to be a tag team match and Taker’s partner was to be Nathan Jones (Google him), but it was decided that Jones wasn’t ready for a match at ‘Mania and it turned into a handicap match. Again, this was a match that was just kinda thrown together at the last minute to get Taker on the card, with no real storyline behind it. In fact, I think that entire year of 2003 was one of the most unremarkable times for Taker in his career. Taker fights the odds and gets the win here with a Tombstone on A-Train (Lord Tensai!), and then waves the American flag around. Nothing really special here, unless you were a huge fan of Limp Bizkit a decade ago and marked out when they performed Taker’s entrance theme live.

12. WrestleMania 20 – Kane: A rematch with his brother, and a return to the Dead Man character for Taker. Kane had ‘buried’ the American Badass at the Survivor Series months earlier when Taker was having a Buried Alive match with WWE owner Vince McMahon, and as the weeks wore on, there were signs that the Phenom was returning soon. The familiar GONG went off at the Rumble in January, distracting Kane, as well as weird happenings with arena lights and the ring at times. It all came to a head at Madison Square Garden for ‘Mania 20, as the New York City crowd went ballistic for the return of the Dead Man persona following a four-year absence. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I do remember feeling a little disappointed when he still just looked like the American Badass, just with longer, darker hair, a little make-up and the different entrance and attire. Whatever; at least he changed his look later on. That standoff right at the start of the match is still fun to watch, as Taker stares a hole through Kane, and the Big Red Machine refuses to believe he’s seeing his brother across the ring from him. The match is OK, roughly the same as we’ve seen from these two before. The intention was obviously to give fans the Dead Man’s ‘greatest hits’ to get the point across that he was the Phenom again, so in that regard it was a bit of a squash, but it gets the job done and the MSG crowd loved it. So did I.

13. WrestleMania 21 – Randy Orton: This is the point where the winning streak started to become acknowledged. Orton had just turned heel after a forgettable attempt at being a babyface, and he returned to his ‘Legend Killer’ roots, stating that he wanted to crush the legend of The Undertaker and destroy his flawless winning record. This was really just the beginning of what turned out to be a yearlong, epic feud between Taker and Orton. The build-up was great, as Orton was the brash, arrogant punk willing to do anything to get under the skin of the Dead Man, and Taker’s simple message to him was ‘Bring it’. There was a contract signing segment on Smackdown (those never end well) that saw Orton actually slap Taker across the face, and I’ll never forget the boiling rage Taker showed and the flames he made shoot up on the entrance ramp as Orton tried running away. The match itself was excellent and is still regarded today as one of Taker’s all-time best Mania bouts. It seemed for every move Taker tried, Orton had a counter, and near the end there was legitimate doubt over the Streak continuing. There’s a great spot where Taker tries a chokeslam, only for Orton to twist mid-air and drop him with an RKO. The Los Angeles crowd exploded. In the end, Taker was able to keep Orton’s father, Cowboy Bob, at bay and reversed Randy’s own attempt at a Tombstone, hitting his own and taking the victory. These two would go on to have a series of great matches with each other throughout 2005.

14. WrestleMania 22 – Casket match, Mark Henry: People may have marked out over Henry getting a World Heavyweight Title run late last year, but back in early 2006 he was just another big man with no direction. So they paired him with Taker and made it a Casket match for ‘Mania 22 in Chicago. Again, the company mindset seemed to be ‘Who can we pair Taker with this year?’ with no real motivation or deep meaning behind it. The Streak was never in jeopardy and I don’t think anyone actually believed Henry was going to win. I’ve read a few times over the years that the original plan for ‘Mania that year was to do Taker vs Kurt Angle for the World Title, but that got moved up to the No Way Out PPV a month prior. That would’ve been 100 times better than this uninspired contest. I’m a fan of Henry when he’s motivated, and his Title run last year was mostly well done, but he can be really unenthusiastic and even lazy sometimes, and this seems to be the case here as he and Taker have an ugly brawl of a contest. At one point, Taker hits his now-yearly dive over the top rope on the outside, and Henry barely makes the effort to catch him. Careless bastard. Taker actually managed to Tombstone him and roll him into the casket to win, putting an end to a match that lacked the kind of drama his match with Orton a year prior had.

15. WrestleMania 23 – World Heavyweight Title match, Batista: The difference a year can make. Going from mid-card casket matches to the World Title scene, the Dead Man was on a roll when 2007 began. He won the Royal Rumble, a first for him, after last eliminating Shawn Michaels in a showdown that seemed to set the stage for their own future epics at WrestleMania. Having his pick of whichever Champion he wanted to face, the Phenom picked Batista and made his intentions clear with a chokeslam. This set the course for their clash in Detroit, where over 80,000 people packed Ford Field. I remember being pretty pissed off that this match didn’t close the show, as it went on 4th on a card of 8 matches. Despite being right in the middle of the show, many people believe Taker and Batista stole it with their match, which started off fast as the Champion speared the Dead Man to the canvas. Exchanging power moves and trading control, the Animal at one point picked Taker up and drove him through the announce table with a powerslam, and nearly put him away with the Batista Bomb. Taker wouldn’t be denied though, and he eventually snatched Batista and hit the Tombstone to win the World Title. This was another example of a long feud just beginning, as these two met in several other matches throughout the rest of 2007. It also started the trend in which, I believe, Taker’s match was the overall best of the night whenever WrestleMania was said and done for another year.

16. WrestleMania 24 – World Heavyweight Title match, Edge: This feud was different than the ones with Orton or Batista, because it was actually close to a year-long WAIT before Taker could even get his hands on his opponent. Edge had cashed in his MITB contract on an episode of Smackdown in May 2007 following a cage match between Taker and Batista for the World Title, and immediately after Mark Henry had attacked Taker and left him helpless. Edge snuck into the ring, hit two spears and stole the World Title while Taker was on the shelf with a legitimate injury that killed any chance of a long run as Champion. Then, when Taker came back in the fall, Edge himself was out with an injury before he returned at the Survivor Series, posing as a cameraman and costing Taker the World Title, this time against the retaining Champion, Batista. Finally, Edge won the belt back in a triple threat match at Armageddon the following month and was Champion by the time ‘Mania rolled around in late March. It had been a long, frustrating wait, but fans finally saw Taker and Edge battle. Things started slow, but picked up after a few minutes, and soon they had the Orlando crowd on their feet with every trademark move and counter. Edge had a reversal for much of Taker’s arsenal, while the Phenom couldn’t seem to put the Rated R Superstar away whenever he did hit a signature maneuver, like a chokeslam, Last Ride powerbomb, and even a Tombstone, which saw referee Charles Robinson make a mad dash down to the ring that’s still hilarious to watch. The drama escalates near the end when the Edge-Heads (Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder – no doubt the only time you’ll ever see Long Island Iced Z remotely involved in a main event at ‘Mania) interfere and Taker manages to take them out. He turns, and Edge hits a spear. Taker kicks out, so Edge hits another one, but Taker grabs him and locks in the Hell’s Gate submission for the eventual win and, again, the World Heavyweight Title. Yet again, another feud where Taker and his ‘Mania opponent would lock up many more times after the big event.

17. WrestleMania 25 – Shawn Michaels: And here come the classics with HBK. What more can possibly be said about this match that nobody has said before? The only thing I can do is speak about it from my perspective, so here it is; this is, bar none, the absolute best match I have ever been witness to. I have seen some instant classics in my time, and there are others that are underrated gems, but this ‘special attraction’ match between Taker and Michaels is, in my book, the greatest match ever produced. What’s more is that it involves two men who are, arguably, the greatest workers of their generation. It’s 30 minutes of magic as they square off, starting off small with some mind games and just escalating from there. It’s just such a fantastic, well-told story that builds layer upon layer and makes you think they don’t have anything left, until Shawn or Taker kicks out of each signature move the other manages to hit. I still get chills every time I see Taker hit that sick-looking dive over the top rope where he lands on his head, and I remember seeing it live and thinking he was legitimately injured, and badly. Little did I know that this was only the half-way point of this contest, and there was so much more to go. So many great moments, like Shawn avoiding the Last Ride, only for Taker to finally grab him like he’s some pest and hit the big move. Or Shawn slapping Taker’s arm away and hitting Sweet Chin Music out of pure desperation. And of course, the first Tombstone of the match and HBK kicking out. Right there, THAT is my favorite Jim Ross commentary moment – “I JUST HAD AN OUT OF BODY EXPERIENCE!!!” And the look on Taker’s face just says it all at that point. By the time HBK moonsaults into another Tombstone and Taker finally wins, that Houston crowd was tapped out, and rightfully so. The image of both men just sprawled out on the canvas when it was over is burned into my memory.

18. WrestleMania 26 – Shawn Michaels: The rematch of rematches. The ‘Mania 25 match really helped build the fire within Shawn to throw out the challenge to Taker for a rematch, and I liked that Taker played mind games with him and rejected the idea at first. So began the downward spiral of good ole HBK, who became obsessed with wanting another match with the Phenom, causing tension with best friend Triple H in the process and, ultimately, the end of DX. Eventually, Michaels had to resort to costing Taker his World Heavyweight Title in order to get his attention, and the match was set with one stipulation; if Taker beat Shawn, his career was over. HBK said yes, and it was on. The build to this match was arguably the best work that the WWE audio/visual production team has ever done, with incredible video packages that highlighted Shawn’s career and the meaning behind this match. As for the battle itself, the drama was amplified by about 1000% compared to their first epic. Even so, I personally think it didn’t come very close to matching ‘Mania 25. It’s still a great match, and maybe you just need to view it without drawing comparisons. Like I said though, the drama was so much higher with the knowledge that it was HBK’s final rodeo. And that’s just the thing – I don’t know if anyone actually thought Shawn had a chance of breaking the Streak, but when you watch the match you don’t really care about that. If I had to criticize one thing, it’s that the amount of finishers they traded back and forth seemed like overkill, what with the three Tombstones and three superkicks we see. I suppose if that’s the design Shawn wanted for his last match, you can’t really fault that. The end is definitely an iconic ‘Mania moment; Shawn, on his knees and all the fight drained from him, taunts Taker one last time and slaps him across the face. In a fit of pure rage, the Dead Man snatches HBK, launches him into the air and drills him with the biggest Tombstone piledriver we’ve ever seen, putting an end to the match, and to the 26-year career of Shawn Michaels. Fantastic drama.

19. WrestleMania 27 – Triple H: The match that I personally wanted to see. I’m not ashamed to admit that I marked out when Taker made his return following those ‘2/21/11’ videos last year, and then Triple H came out right after him. The second that Motorhead riff hit, I said, “God damn, we got ourselves a match at ‘Mania!” OK, I didn’t SAY that, but that was my instant train of thought. Loved the staredown between them and the silent, no-words-needed challenge that Hunter made to the Phenom, which he rejected with a smirk but then gave a resounding ‘Yes’ with a throat-slash gesture. It was on. I also loved the segment between Taker, HHH and Shawn on the go-home Raw before ‘Mania. The dialogue back and forth between the Dead Man and the Game was fantastic and said a lot about the history and the respect they shared. Then HBK showed doubt over whether Hunter could get the job done, and Taker smirked and left the arena. That whole segment, in my opinion, is some of the best promotion ever done for a big time match like that. If it were a class, it’d be PPV Promotion 101. As for the match, I thought making it No Holds Barred was a good way to accentuate the positives and hide the negatives that both men had at the time. Let’s not forget, Hunter hadn’t wrestled in almost a full year, while Taker was being called into duty very early after shoulder and hip surgery. Those two factors in play, I think this was a great, brutal contest that told an excellent story, and it’s the ONE MATCH that made me believe the Streak was in trouble. I actually thought it was over when Taker weakly grabbed Hunter by the throat in a comeback attempt, but The Game shook his head ‘No’ and hit the Tombstone himself. It wasn’t over, but I love that those two were able to create that kind of drama to make me think it was. In the end, there’s this other great image that doesn’t get mentioned anywhere, and it’s when HHH grabs Taker and pulls him into the middle of the ring, holding the sledgehammer. That, to me, is just an amazing image. The legendary Dead Man, down and out, desperately trying to escape his possible fate, and The Game grabbing him and saying ‘No, you’re not going anywhere – this ends now’. Then Taker managed to lock in Hell’s Gate, and eventually got the submission win. But only one of them was able to actually walk out of the Georgia Dome under their own power, and it wasn’t The Undertaker.

So now, this loooooooooooong list of opponents later, here we are. WrestleMania 28 in a matter of days, and the Dead Man faces another rematch with Triple H, this time in a Hell in a Cell match. And with HBK as the guest ref this time around, again amplifying the drama to another level.

What do I think will happen? That’s simple – The Undertaker wins. No question. You will find no long-winded conspiracies or possible screw-job theories here.

If there was ever any real discussion some day about breaking the winning streak, does anyone actually think an honor that huge and history-making would be given to someone who now works in the WWE front office? A guy whose best days are long behind him? A guy who now only puts on the wrestling tights a couple times a year? No, that just isn’t good business. Personally, I don’t want to see the Streak end. I think Mark Calaway should be able to retire with that kind of record because he’s someone who’s been loyal to the WWE no matter what, and most people point to him as the heart, conscience or life blood of the entire company. On the flip side of that, if the decision was ever made, either by Vince or Taker himself, to end the Streak, the guy who finally pins the Dead Man at WrestleMania should be someone right on the cusp of being that next top guy in the business, like the next Austin or Cena. Someone who the company has huge plans for, and someone whose superstar status could be made when he pulls off the impossible and defeats The Undertaker on the most important night of the year. In a nutshell, someone who would benefit from that kind of historical moment. And a part-time wrestler, full-time office employee like HHH sure as Hell doesn’t need that kind of benefit.

I couldn’t even begin to think about what will happen inside the Cell on Sunday night. I do think it will be a long, brutal epic, and we might even see the return of blood if Taker and HHH are allowed to, as Hunter himself said, go “all out” one more time. My personal belief is that with all this ‘End of an Era’ talk, the match is secretly going to be Hunter’s last bout. There are just a few things I’ve noticed in the build-up that make me believe this. All I really know is that the story should be tremendous, the action spectacular, and the end result the same.

20-0 for the Dead Man.

So then, where does Taker go after ‘Mania 28? I’d say he stays as that once-a-year star attraction and only wrestles at WrestleMania until he decides to call it a career. Or maybe he’ll surprise us all on Sunday and show a rejuvenation that wasn’t quite there last year, and wrestle a good handful of times in 2012. I find myself defending The Undertaker’s health a lot, and I’ll just say this; I think he’s a lot healthier than most people seem to think. Sure, a full-time schedule is obviously not gonna happen, but he’s the type of character who actually shouldn’t be exposed that often. He hasn’t wrestled since ‘Mania 27 last April, meaning that as of this Sunday, it’ll be almost a full year. Even with the worst injuries he’s ever had, he’s never taken more than seven or eight months away from the ring. I wouldn’t count him out of a few other matches in 2012, perhaps leading up to his next big ‘Mania match, which is rumored to be against John Cena. If that’s what we get, then ‘Mania 29 is already looking interesting. And the end result of that match will be the same, too. The Streak going 21-0.


Because dead men don’t die.