So last weekend was the annual convention for the SWNA (Saskatchewan Weekly Newspapers Association) down in Regina, and as a finalist up for an award in the Better Newspapers Competition, held in conjunction with the convention, I was headed south for the weekend and put up in a free hotel room at the Delta, where everything was held.

To make a long story short, which isn’t my style if you know my writing, I actually won the freaking thing! I landed the Best Feature Story Award for my article on the late Lisa Rendall, a woman who was born and raised in this area and nominated as the Saskatoon Citizen of the Year on December 31, 2010. At the time, Rendall was going through Hell with the breast cancer she’d been fighting for over a decade, and sadly, it was winning. My article appeared in our January 13, 2011 issue, and although Lisa found herself physically able to attend her own award banquet two months later in March, she passed away in April.

Looking back now, I’m incredibly grateful that she gave me her time, and provided me with a look into her world as the disease ravaged her from the inside. I had no idea that the story I was writing would come back and benefit me with such a groovy accolade well over a year later.

I’m all for entertaining my readers, so I thought I’d throw together the entire weekend scenario as a journal-like series of events.

SATURDAY, APRIL 21

– I set the alarm on my cell phone to go off at 9 am, which it does with no problems, except for the craving I have for just a little more sleep. I set it for a half hour later, surmising that I’ll still have plenty of time to pack up, get ready and hit the road by roughly 11. Still, even though I’m really not asleep and just want the luxury of staying curled up in the warmth of my bed with my thoughts, I can hear Dad yelling from his chair in the living room that I “better get a move on”. Although cocktails aren’t until 5, dinner until 6, and the awards ceremony until 7, he must think my getting down to Regina will require a team of Clydesdales, plowing and pulling their way through thick forest while I engage in fisticuffs with the most diabolical of thieves, braggarts and shady individuals. Dad is just gonna keep hollering every few minutes until he hears my bedroom door open, so I just get up.

– I’m on the road to Regina by exactly noon, after a few errands in Outlook. These include hitting up the ATM, fueling up, and stopping at the Bargain Shop for a couple things. I’m looking for Brylcreem, but instead settle for some AXE version of pomade called ‘Clean-cut Look’. Whatever. I’m Regina-bound.

– Hitting the highway and throwing my Ford into cruise, my entertainment for this 2.5 hour drive is a blend of an mp3 disc I recently made and the best of the Howard Stern Show from the past week on Sirius. As I arrive in Davidson and hit up the A&W restaurant, I chow down as Howard wraps up an interview with John Cusack. The show never ceases to be that reliable driving partner, keeping me alert, making me laugh and passing the time when my job or other activities require me to hit the road.

– I’m in Regina by roughly 3 that afternoon, and after finally getting to my hotel and obtaining a parking pass while experiencing the superb downtown traffic the city has to offer (damn one-way streets), I’m on my way up to the 24th floor and open the door to my room. A Kong-sized bed and a cool view of the city are among the highlights of it, and even cooler is the fact that I’m not paying one dime for any of it – thanks, SWNA!

– Settling down from the day’s travel and after laying out my clothes for the night, I flop down on the bed and watch Storage Wars on A&E. At around 5:30, I start putting on my fancy evening wear – dark purple dress shirt, black pants, black dress shoes, a black/silver/red tie, and then I top it all off with a black zip-up vest. Hardly fancy when I think about it, but certainly better than sweatpants and a wrestling t-shirt, which was, obviously, my first choice.

– I find all the goings-on on the second floor of the Delta and begin the mingling process, shaking so many hands that they all seem to blend together. This is my first time at the yearly convention, so I figure a little networking is in order. There are faces I instantly recognize and new ones that I eventually meet, and then I find my table where Delwyn (my boss) is sitting and dinner begins shortly.

– What a feast! Roast beef, BBQ ribs, chicken breasts, fish, potatoes, veggies, the whole nine yards. Everything kicks ass.

– After dinner, the awards ceremony begins and my eyes are trained on the white board in the northwest corner of the room, which is showing the nominees in each category as MC Chris Ashfield (of the Whitewood Herald) reads them out. Winners come and go with each category that comes up, and the ‘Best Feature Story’ one is inching closer and closer as others collect their plaques for the best in advertising, photography, and so forth.

*Daniel Bryan mode* YES! YES! YES! YES! YES!

– Here it comes. Ashfield begins reading out the nominees for ‘Best Feature Story’ and I see the front page of my article come up on the white board. The hair on my arms raises just a little at the sound of my name, and I turn my gaze down to my table, preparing myself not to win and trying to look gracious in defeat. The only problem with that is that Ashfield says my name a second time, just after he says ‘And the winner is…’. I win. My eyebrows raise, I silently mouth ‘Holy shit!’ and I make my way to the side of the stage, where SWNA President Alison Squires greets me with a smile, hearty handshake, and a photo is snapped. “Ended up being worth the drive, huh?” she asks. Indeed it has been.

– Handshakes around my table, and Delwyn is beaming. Obviously, I am too. I never expected to win, and designated myself to that comfy “Just cool to be nominated” position in the weeks leading up to this event. Actually taking home the plaque was by no means a certainty in my mind, so this is very, very cool.

– I’m a happy man. So happy that after the evening comes to a close, I go back up to my room, grab my little Canon Powershot and shoot a number of photos, including one of the plaque resting against a window that looks out onto the city of Regina at night. But not before I make the obligatory phone call home to announce my hearty triumph to the family. Ma sounds a little choked up after I tell her that I’m “coming home with more than what I left with”. Crazy dames, with their feelings and whatnot. All kidding aside, I’m more than a little proud to tell the woman who is arguably the biggest fan of my work that my peers in the paper business seem to share the same sentiment.

– I throw the photo of the plaque on Facebook and within mere seconds (not an exaggeration), I start getting a flood of “likes” and words of congratulations from friends, family and assorted acquaintances. Ah, the power of social media.

– Having had some time to celebrate by myself and put it out into cyberspace, I head back downstairs to the ‘hospitality suite’, which is a politically correct way of saying, “Hey, you in the purple shirt! Get in here and drink with us, cuz it’s open bar and we don’t work tomorrow!” Sounds good to me. I indulge in a few rum and Cokes, shake even more hands and find myself going over the Lisa Rendall article all over again. A lot knew her name because she was a longtime radio personality on C95 in Saskatoon, or else they knew her from the endless breast cancer fundraisers she organized over the years.

– One more rum and Coke (didn’t I say that two of them ago?) and I head back up to my room, where more comments have hit my Facebook page. I’m feeling good, but now a little hungry, so I order some wings and pizza from Domino’s. I devour the wings while watching Corner Gas, but I guess that’s all I needed, because the pizza goes untouched. It’ll have to make the trip home with me. In hindsight, I probably should’ve just gotten room service.

– I didn’t think of it when I was packing, but I’m now stuck with no form of white noise so that I can actually get to sleep. I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember – I just can’t sleep without some kind of background noise. I’ve used a fan in my bedroom for the longest time, but just this past week my sleep therapy machine arrived in the mail. I now get my beauty rest with the help of ocean waves, and sometimes the sound of a summer night. A word of warning to the future (ex)Mrs. Ruttle – you land me, you land my sleep machine.

SUNDAY, APRIL 22

– I ended up using the Food Network as background noise to lull me to sleep. Strangely enough, that didn’t make me dream of steak, pasta or seafood, though it’s not like I didn’t want it to. Even though I set my cell phone alarm for around 10, I’m up by 8. Weird how that happens. Must be the unfamiliar sleeping environment. Also funny is the fact that despite this bed being stupidly large, I stayed on only one side of it all night. Hmmm. Guess I could’ve invited one of the many lovely ladies clamoring to be my date for this gig. Ha ha ha…………..is he joking?

– I’m packed up again, checked out of the Delta and back in my car by a little after 11 am. But I’m not headed home yet, as I told myself that once everything in Regina was over with, I was gonna take a trip down to Rouleau, where Corner Gas was filmed. I make my way out of the city and arrive in ‘Dog River’ after a half-hour drive.

– This is pretty cool, now that I’m here. I’m staring at the Dog River police station, as well as the bar, and I snap photos. Finally, I make the actual Corner Gas station and Ruby Cafe set the main event of the early afternoon, getting many more snapshots. As it turns out, the inside of the gas station is being renovated because that’s where the memorabilia and gift shop is being moved to as of May 1. It was in the Dog River police station, but now people will actually drive out to Corner Gas to buy something related to Corner Gas, all because of their fondness for the TV show………Corner Gas. CORNER GAS!!!

– Back in the car, and I make my way back home. Again, Howard Stern and the gang keep me company, save for an hour or so when I’m blasting tunes good and loud. I arrive home a little past 4:30, and walk into a house full of people congratulating me once again, this time in person. Feels good. They hear all about the convention, the awards ceremony and my trip down to Rouleau, and it turns out they’ve been preparing a congratulatory supper. We sit down to steak right off the BBQ, seasoned potatoes, asparagus, and then a choice of either chocolate or butter pecan cake for dessert. Good eatin’.

Such was my entire Regina experience. I went, I saw, I ate, I won, I drank, I drank some more, I ate again, I slept, and I left. All in all, a great weekend. I suppose time will only tell if I am summoned to next year’s convention to defend my title. We’ll see.

For now though, I’m happy.

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For my money, WrestleMania 28 this past Sunday more than lived up to all the hype, promotion, pomp & circumstance when all was said and done.

Shawn Michaels, Triple H and The Undertaker look to the crowd following an awe-inspiring clash. (Photo WWE.COM)

I would easily slot this in as one of the all-time best ‘Manias in history. No joke. If I had to give you my Top 5, I’d have to say that ranking goes 17, 19, 20, 24 and then 28, but that’s just the chronological order. If I rearranged them to go from absolute best to, well, the fifth best, then those ‘Mania editions are scattered in the form of 17, 20, 28, 19 and 24. So this year’s event is sitting pretty right in the middle of the greatest editions ever. Well, at least in my humble opinion.

I rank ‘Mania 28 as high as I do because, as I said, it more than delivered on all the hype. It exceeded my expectations and as a lifelong fan, I was incredibly satisfied with the overall show when it was all over.

I’ll put it another way. This is the first ‘Mania in years (since 24 in 2008) that I could sit down right now and watch all over again, from start to finish. That hasn’t been the case with the last few ‘Manias. There may be a great match here and there (in the case of 25, the greatest one ever), but the last few ‘Manias suffered from a lot of misses on top of the few hits. Last year is probably the greatest example of that, when the main event match for the WWE Championship – The Miz vs John Cena – was bland, off the mark, and more about what someone else NOT WRESTLING was gonna do other than the actual match inside the ring.

Was ‘Mania 28 perfect? No, but again, in my book it was the closest thing to it in a long time. But the matches that needed to deliver – CM Punk vs Chris Jericho for the WWE Title, The Undertaker vs Triple H in a Hell in a Cell match, and of course, The Rock vs John Cena – did just that, and then some. In an era where fans are lucky if a big-time match goes over 20 minutes, those three bouts consisted of nearly 85 minutes of bell-to-bell wrestling. Money well spent, in my book.

But enough marking out over the show in general. My thoughts on each of the matches….

1. World Heavyweight Title, Daniel Bryan (C) vs Sheamus: Here’s where the Internet is going ballistic. The match was over before it even began, because what WWE did was have Sheamus kick Bryan’s face off as soon as the bell rang and after Bryan was done kissing girlfriend AJ for good luck. The angle is that Bryan either didn’t hear the bell, or just didn’t care that it rang, and it cost him the World Title. It was over in 18 seconds. Of course, I was instantly disappointed to begin with, but as it sunk in more I realized that perhaps people would remember that moment MORE than they would an actual match that went maybe ten minutes at best. It kicked off ‘Mania with a bang and popped the crowd huge. Did I want to see Bryan and Sheamus have the match they should’ve had last year? Sure. But in the end, it was more about creating a moment than a match. And I think with how well he’s gotten over as a heel, Bryan isn’t leaving the Title picture anytime soon.

2. Randy Orton vs Kane: It had next to no heat or momentum going into the PPV, but on paper it’s still a match between two main event superstars. I liked this match and thought it was in the right position on the card. A solid undercard bout that got very physical, very quick. I was surprised that Kane got the win, because if I had to guess I wouldn’t have pictured this feud continuing. Looks that way, anyway. Far from Orton’s best ‘Mania outing, but it’s the best we’ve seen from Kane in a long while.

3. Intercontinental Title match, Cody Rhodes (C) vs Big Show: This one was short and sweet, for good reason. Cody looked good against the mammoth Show, who gave him more than his fair share. I didn’t see Show actually winning the gold, but I don’t hate it either. That was a cool tackle in mid-air when Rhodes went for the kick off the top rope. I wonder if Cody finally losing the Intercontinental Title after eight months is a sign he may be moving up the ranks to the World Title picture? I’m not sure about WWE pulling that trigger yet, but there’s nothing wrong with at least teasing it.

4. Kelly Kelly & Maria Menounos vs Eve & Beth Phoenix: Yay, it’s the annual Divas match at ‘Mania that no one cares about! Just kidding, but sadly it’s not really a joke. The last time the Divas division got any proper attention at the biggest show of the year was six years ago at ‘Mania 22, when Trish Stratus fought Mickie James in the payoff match to that really well done stalker angle. That being said, I didn’t hate this match. Listen, it was what it was – another match where a celebrity goes over an actual WWE star to gain even a morsel of mainstream publicity. That’s just the reality of it. The match itself was fair, and I actually applaud Maria for trying to work a match like an actual wrestler, even getting worked over at times and selling like a champ. That dumb bitch Snooki did jack shit in that farce of a match last year.

5. Hell in a Cell, The Undertaker vs Triple H (guest referee Shawn Michaels): Absolutely amazing. The whole presentation of this match fired on all cylinders; great entrances, awesome face-off, Taker finally revealing what his new hairdo looks like (a cool mohawk), and even playing Metallica’s “The Memory Remains” as the Cell was being lowered to start the match. The action was intense and told a fantastic story. Well, it HAD to. This was the last chapter in what can really be called a four-part epic, starting all the way back to ‘Mania 25 with Taker’s first classic with Michaels. I thought it blew away the Taker/HHH match from last year, and really mimicked the second Taker/HBK clash from ‘Mania 26 as it reached the conclusion. Taker himself looked healthier and even quicker with the full year off he had from action. Triple H looked better than he did in his matches late last year with CM Punk and Kevin Nash. And HBK as the guest ref was great in his facial expressions to really sell the drama. And of course, with a final Tombstone, the Dead Man went 20-0 in his winning streak following a 30+ minute blockbuster. Cool as that is, the post-match image of Shawn and Taker helping a defeated HHH to his feet and then the three of them walking up the ramp is one hell of a WrestleMania moment. The emotion behind it made me question whether we’ve actually seen the last of The Undertaker at WrestleMania. I really, really hope not.

6. Team Teddy vs Team Johnny 12-man tag match: This was the right place for this match. People needed to rest after the HIAC epic and there needed to be a good ‘buffer’ between it and the other two main events, so this was appropriate. By itself, I thought it was a fine mess of a multi-man match. Everyone got a chance to perform in the ring, and it even managed to pop the tired crowd once or twice. The right team won, that being Team Johnny representing John Laurinaitis, because it opens up a lot more storyline opportunities for the foreseeable future.

Punk calls for the GTS to end the match. It wouldn't work. (Photo WWE.COM)

7. WWE Championship, CM Punk (C) vs Chris Jericho: Excellent match. What I salivated over was the prospect of this being the best pure wrestling contest, and that’s exactly what we got. For over 20 minutes, Punk and Jericho tore into each other with various moves, strikes, holds and submissions in a match that started off slow, but gradually snatched the crowd’s attention and had them on their feet in the final moments. Just a great chemistry between these two, and I loved the several submissions attempts by both of them to try and end the match. It pulled the crowd in with every anguished yell and scream, as Punk or Jericho tried making the other tap out. Punk finally managed to get the win by submission, and I cannot wait to see how this story moves forward. If I had my way, I’d have Jericho win the gold at the next PPV, Extreme Rules, which is in Punk’s hometown of Chicago. Then a third match, the rubber match, somewhere else down the line. And I’d make it an Iron Man match. Book it, Vince.

8. The Rock vs John Cena: Epic. Historic. Once in a lifetime. That’s how WWE promoted this match, and the end result lived up to it. Great face-off when both guys got in the ring, which I was looking for to mimic that feeling of Rock/Hogan from a decade ago. Very back and forth in the beginning, which was the right move in order to show the fans that it could go either way and was too hard to predict yet. Rock was the absolute babyface throughout and Cena the heel, which surprised me because I thought that, like at ‘Mania 18 when Rock fought Hogan, a large portion of the fans would switch over to Cena and split the stadium almost 50/50. That wasn’t the case here. I thought Rock looked great in his first singles match in nine years; very fluid and bumping really well for Cena. And people can say what they want about John, but he brings his A game in big match situations. For a match that’s designed to only happen once, I liked the chemistry between them. It had some great near-falls and great drama in the end. I loved that the WWE brought back that old bit of the ref checking on a wrestler by lifting his arm to see if he’s conscious. The ref did that to The Rock when Cena had the STF submission locked in, and just like it always does, Rock’s arm staying up on the third check blew up the Miami crowd. From there, it built to the end where Cena got too arrogant and attempted his own version of The People’s Elbow. It bit him in the ass though, as Rock exploded and nailed the Rock Bottom for the huge win. That, I didn’t expect. A pleasant surprise to see Rock win this half-hour battle, even if it does produce many calls for a rematch some day. But I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t happen.

Rock vs Cena provided as much drama as was expected for this year-long anticipated match. (Photo WWE.COM)

Again, overall, this was just a fantastic PPV. Great wrestling, emotional storytelling, and memorable moments. All ingredients that a WrestleMania should always have.

On to ‘Mania 29 in Jersey…..

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.

2002

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.”

2004

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.

2008

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.

2009

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.

PRESENT DAY

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.

Why?

Because dead men don’t die.

It’s late February, the winter weather has gave way to wet, slushy conditions and warmer temperatures in recent weeks, and online debate and discussion is running rampant over a certain huge event on the horizon for Sunday, April 1.

Yeah, it’s WrestleMania season alright.

The WWE’s Super Bowl-esque extravaganza takes place in Miami this year, emanating from Sun Life Stadium, where the NFL’s Dolphins call home. And with it being just a week before we’re into the month of March, the WWE has started kicking things into overdrive when it comes to shaping up the pay-per-view’s match card.

As it stands at the moment, four matches have been made official for Mania 28, while others are just speculation based on the direction that certain storylines are headed:

Confirmed
– The Rock vs John Cena
– WWE Championship match, CM Punk (C) vs Chris Jericho
– World Heavyweight Title match, Daniel Bryan (C) vs Sheamus
– Hell in a Cell match, The Undertaker vs Triple H

Rumored
– Intercontinental Title match, Cody Rhodes (C) vs The Big Show
– Divas Title match, Beth Phoenix (C) vs Kharma
– Zack Ryder vs Kane
– Team John Laurinaitis vs Team Teddy Long for 100% control of Raw and Smackdown
– Possible return of the Money In The Bank Ladder match
– Possible match involving the NBA’s Shaquille O’Neal

Of the rumored bouts, there are some that can be considered more of a lock than others. For one, things between Raw general manager John Laurinaitis (Super Dave!) and Smackdown general manager Teddy Long definitely foreshadow some kind of multi-man match at WrestleMania, where one team would represent John and another represent Long. One theory floating around the Web is that WWE doing this kind of match with as many as 6, 8 or even 10 guys eliminates the return of the Money in the Bank Ladder match. If that’s true, then I think it’s justified because the PPV already has a major gimmick match as a main event – the HIAC match between Triple H and The Undertaker.

I’m excited for WrestleMania, that’s obviously a given, but I’d be lying if I said the show has been absolutely flawless in execution over the past three or four years, because it hasn’t. Every Mania comes with a set of unique challenges, ranging from the number of matches on the card, the match order and times, finding a suitable spot for any possible musical acts or performances, and dealing with the egos of talent who want at least SOME spot on the card to ensure a nice payday. And those issues have hindered at least a few past WrestleManias; in 2009, Mania 25 was ill-timed on a show that saw Kid Rock do about ten minutes of music while the Tag Title Unification match was bumped to the pre-show, and in 2010, Mania 26 had ten matches promoted and managed to get to them all, but as a result a couple matches were given peanuts as far as match time (Tag Titles bout got 3:30 minutes, while CM Punk/Rey Mysterio got 6:30 minutes).

So trying to find that balance is the key. They’ve already got the main event card locked in, so now WWE just needs to pepper the rest of the show with a solid undercard and carefully prep the match order. This might seem like an easy task, but when it comes to WrestleMania it’s crucial that you don’t tire the audience or get them burned out by simply scheduling the matches to go from the Divas Title bout all the way to the Rock/Cena main event. That’s where Mania 25 went wrong; the instant classic between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker was an absolute epic, and as a result the Houston crowd was damn near too exhausted to show any enthusiasm for the World Title and WWE Title matches that followed it, which is too bad because they certainly weren’t bad matches.

I think WWE should go with eight matches this year. I’d pick those first four I wrote under ‘Rumored’ and then come up with a match order that satisfies everyone. With four hours to work with on PPV, I believe eight bouts ensure that each one can get the proper time to work with. But until WWE officially announces the rest of the card, I just wanna get my thoughts out on each confirmed match that we know of.

Daniel Bryan (C) vs Sheamus for the World Title: I like both guys an awful lot, especially Bryan, but I fully expect this one to be changed into a triple threat match that throws Randy Orton into the mix because frankly, I think it needs the added star power of someone legit like Orton (well, WWE-legit). On their own, I know Bryan and Sheamus can have a very good match, as we’ve seen them feud over the US Title. In fact, most people remember that this same match was supposed to happen at Mania last year for the US gold, only for it to be – you guessed it – bumped to the pre-show. It shows how very far both have come in the last year, going from dark match to main event Title match, but I think the addition of Orton can make it really interesting and a hidden gem of a match among its higher-profile co-main events.

CM Punk (C) vs Chris Jericho for the WWE Title: For technical wrestling purists, this is the one they’re drooling over the most, myself very much included. I think Jericho’s return has left a lot to be desired, with the mysterious, dark-toned video clips signaling ‘the end of the world as we know it’, but then again we could be seeing the early stages of a bigger picture (Mania is still about six weeks away). But at its core, it’s about two guys who claim to be the best in the world and have the resumes to back up both claims, and Jericho says that Punk is a jealous, carbon copy of himself. It’s still early in their feud, because we have yet to see that first real 1-on-1 promo between them, but I think the ingredients are there to have a hell of a feud over the WWE Title. And of course, from a performance standpoint, all signs point to this being the best wrestling match of the entire night. We shall see.

The Undertaker vs Triple H in a HIAC match: I was originally against the idea of a second consecutive match between Taker and HHH. My predictions for the Mania 28 card were that Jericho was going to target Taker and his winning streak, and that Hunter would turn heel and become a corporate heel, putting himself in a WWE Title match against Punk. But that didn’t turn out to be the case, and now we’ve got Taker going up against an opponent for a record third time in Mania history, HHH. But I started liking the idea more and more following Taker’s sudden return on Raw the night after the Royal Rumble, and now that the stakes have been raised I’m very excited over the possibilities in this match. The Cell hasn’t been used at Mania since 1999, and in recent years the concept has lost a lot of prestige as WWE gave it its own PPV every year, with watered-down matches that hardly called for its use and really pulled back on the violence that Cell matches always resulted in. But I think Taker and HHH will undoubtedly bring the match back to sacred ground and prove that it should be used very sparingly. In fact, I think if there was any match that called for the return of blood, THIS would be it. Hunter said it to Taker himself, “We do this, we go all out.” I think that’s exactly what they’ll do.

The Rock vs John Cena: The match that’s a full year in the making. WWE certainly pulled off something different when they decided to book the main event of WrestleMania 28 the night after WrestleMania 27, and now we’re starting to see the build-up more intensified as the show is mere weeks away. I thought booking the main event 12 months out was weird at first, but quickly realized that WWE did it so they could accomplish two things; one, start integrating social media like Twitter and Facebook into the company to not only help build the feud over a year, but get millions of fans to feel involved, and two, give The Rock an out to return to Hollywood for the rest of 2011 without people asking why he left again. So I think it made sense in the long run. Now, this past Monday we saw Cena give a heartfelt shoot-like promo that threw many daggers at The Rock, which I thought was really well done. Why Cena can’t feel that same kind of passion any other time of the year, I’ll never know. So now, The Rock will be on Raw every week leading up to Mania, and I’m very interested to hear his response to the things Cena has said about him. I believe, of course, that a lot of what Cena or Rock say about each other is greatly exaggerated, but it never hurts to have a little real animosity leading to any huge match.

I don’t wanna try and come up with my win/lose predictions for WrestleMania right now because it’s way too early, but I’m sticking to my guns on the main event. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I think the Rock/Cena rivalry is the 2012 version of the Rock/Hulk Hogan feud from a decade ago. You’ve got Cena in the same position Rock was in 2002 – he’s won it all, done it all, and he’s the leader of today’s generation. Then you’ve got The Rock – not in a place where Hogan was ten years ago, but similar in spirit where he was a top guy in another era and who also accomplished everything in his time. The build-up and the match will definitely be different, but I do see it ending the same way, with Cena winning clean in what I’m sure will be a fantastic contest. And then, either at the conclusion of Mania itself or on Raw the next night, The Rock will fully endorse Cena as ‘The Man’ and put him over in a big way.

The Road to WrestleMania is definitely shaping up to be an interesting one with many twists and turns, and like millions of other people, I can’t wait to see where that road ends up on April 1.

Looking Back & Looking Ahead

Posted: January 10, 2012 in events, life, local, writing

Nice knowing you, 2011.

Another year has come and gone, and just as I’m sure everyone else says it, I’ll say it too – where the hell did the last twelve months go? Is it just me, or does it feel like it was only May or June a couple of months ago? Yet we’re over a week into 2012 already. Son of a bitch!

I work in a very lightning-paced environment. Now this requires some explanation, because I DO NOT mean that my two coworkers and I run around the office like tweens loaded up on Red Bull. In fact, there are days that seem to crawl by with little to no activity. No, I mean that this chosen profession of ours – the weekly newspaper gig – operates under a five business day cycle in which the ultimate goal is to be done with one issue on Tuesday afternoon and already try to have in mind what’s going in the next issue before the current one even arrives by courier to our back door. What might be the hottest topic of one week is just a memory after two or three more issues, and the cycle continues as I resume that voodoo that I do do.

It’s because of this that time seems to jet by without a moment’s notice, and 2011 is now in the record books.

With that, I feel it’s appropriate to try and make sense of the last 365 days and highlight some of the most notable occasions that I’ll take with me to my grave.

Overall, I feel that my 2011 was a pretty good year, all things considered. Work has been steady, and the raise I got near the beginning of the year was a nice boost to my morale in addition to my bank account. In non-office related news, my Stephen King project, “Mute”, saw some significant progress, though I’m still a good deal away from yelling “ACTION” on set. So far, the script has been finished for nearly a year, having been completed after an all-night write-a-thon and hitting ‘Save’ at roughly 5:30 am on Saturday, February 19. Perhaps the biggest chunk of the project’s budget was taken care of in October, when I snagged the camera I’m going to use to shoot it, as well as any other ideas in the future – a Canon Vixia HF M-400, one of the newest ones on the market. This came as a result of a car rally that my mom hosted at her bar (that’s Ma’s Tavern in Conquest, everybody!) that people paid $5 to take part in. It raised over $260, so it was a huge help in buying the camera. Yes, you read that right – people in small towns still help each other, and being neighborly is not a thing of the past.

Right now, I’m trying to get my hands on a few set pieces to use and hammering down locations, as well as working on getting the script to a few actors, although I do have my ‘deaf and blind’ hitchhiker cast, so that casting call has been heeded! If I were forced to reveal any kind of deadline, although there isn’t one and I’d only be giving myself a date that would be looming over my head, I’d say that I want to be finished shooting by the end of April and use May as my obsessive, two packs a day, mucho-cursing-from-the-basement editing period. Progress is slow, but it’s coming.

The recent Christmas and holiday season was a damn good one, at least from my point of view. We were done here at the paper on Wednesday, December 21 and had a sweet, mini-vacation of an eight day break before coming back on the 29th. From there, it was just two days of work before the New Year’s long weekend, and here we are, back into the groove once again.

My Christmas celebrations shaped up like this:

December 21: Done work for over a week, I celebrated by preparing myself a gourmet feast and popping the most enjoyable Christmas movie ever made into my PS3 – “Die Hard”. Consisting of a baked lobster tail, two seasoned chicken breasts, potato wedges and crab-stuffed shrimp, the meal cost a little more than grabbing a burger and fries (altogether, and glancing at grocery store receipts, it was roughly $38), but I had a holiday to ring in, dammit! Hardly the modest type, I snapped a pic and threw it on Facebook, claiming that I had just “won the Internet tonight” before chowing down.

December 23: The day before Christmas Eve, I got together with my gang of fellow rapscallions – Alex, Chris and Kyle – up at Alex’s condo in Saskatoon for a night of movies, cards and intelligent discussion and debate regarding the state of the world economy as we head into 2012. (Try and guess which one of those is complete bullshit. Oh c’mon, guess!) As plans have a way of changing, we ended up getting together a little later than planned, but all was well when Kyle finally got to Alex’s at roughly 8:00, having made the drive all the way from Swift Current, and a kudos to ‘Big Country’ for making the cross-province trip with no complaints. We had originally planned to watch a few movies, but once I brought out the cards, we ended up playing and sitting around Alex’s kitchen table all night, talking about anything and everything and listening to ’70s and ’80s classic rock (thank you, Sirius satellite online radio). Exchanging gifts, it turned out my friends decided to go the gift card route, as they doled them out from Best Buy, Walmart and HMV, respectively, and I think they were happy with the t-shirts I found for each of them, consisting of Ghostbusters, Mortal Kombat and Back To The Future, respectively.

Though there was no tree or turkey to tear into (we opted for Domino’s), the night was a huge highlight of my holiday, and I think it was something that all of us needed. Among the bigger news items to come out of it was the fact that Chris and his wife Kristin have found a house they want to buy and are currently in the midst of a mountain of paperwork and negotiations. Here’s hoping they get it, even if I’m just looking forward to the housewarming party. Hehehehehehehe, is he joking?

December 24: Running around and picking up a few last-minute things before all the stores close, I ran into an old chum of mine in front of the Co-op in Outlook, Kevin Guillet, who was down for his own massive family gathering out at the farm. Kev lives in Victoria, a former stomping ground of mine, and seems to be doing well for himself with film and video gigs here and there. Back at home, we had Christmas Eve celebrations over at my brother Perry’s, though by this time a stubborn and ill-timed nose congestion really decreased my enjoyment. We played Uno, ate food, joked around – a typical Ruttle family gathering. When everyone else either went home or back to their motel rooms, Brendon and I stayed behind and we all watched “A Christmas Story”. I hadn’t seen that movie from start to finish in years. After getting home, I wasn’t ready to go to sleep so some fat guy could break into my house and leave me a bunch of shit I didn’t ask for, so I watched “Christmas Vacation”, a must-see staple of the holiday season.

December 25: The main event. I was the last one to wake up – remember my duty to watch Chevy Chase attempt a family holiday at home – and open a few gifts, consisting of some new clothes, new bedding, couple of books, and some other stuff I can’t remember right now. I never asked for anything specific and made no list of any sort, so whatever I got, I had to be happy with. No complaints. We had our big family dinner, gift opening and all the aftermath at the tavern, which was an odd idea on paper but turned out great because it had tons of room. Again, more food, more games, lots of photos taken and yes, just as an Irish-Scottish family will partake in, plenty of liquid courage flowing.

The rest of my time off before heading back to work was spent unwinding and recharging my batteries, as well as blowing my nose alot and trying to get that cleared up. I also watched a ton of “Degrassi Jr.” and then “Degrassi High” on Netflix, which really took me back to my childhood when I watched the show on CBC after school every day. Someone send the guy who invented Netflix the finest bottle of scotch they can find, and send the bill to someone who isn’t me.

On December 30, I hit the city looking for some good shopping deals and came out of it pretty decent, picking up seasons three and four of “Oz” and the TRON: Legacy soundtrack for the magnificent total of just under $22, thanks to Kyle’s HMV gift card. I cruised over to Amazing Stories and bought a Batman comic collection I’ve been looking for forever, as well as a neat Freddy Krueger action figure, and he now stands on one of the shelves of my entertainment unit at home, guarding the place along with my larger figure of The Undertaker in all his finger-knived, red and green-sweatered glory.

After satiating my retail urge, I went and saw David Fincher’s North American remake of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”. Overall, I thought it was an incredible film, unique at times and very disturbing in others (rape is a heavy theme), but Fincher knocked it out of the park. I wasn’t exactly ‘wowed’ with “The Social Network” last year, but “Dragon” is Fincher at his best – directing an epic (nearly 2.5 hours) with real, gritty and dark drama that makes for some fantastic storytelling. Daniel Craig sure as hell isn’t James Bond here, and Rooney Mara – a relative unknown now getting some much-deserved attention – throws herself into a role that more than half the actresses in Hollywood don’t have the balls to try. As well, it doesn’t hurt that the opening credits sequence of the film is a total creative mind-fuck. Just gotta see it.

My New Year’s Eve was actually quite uneventful, to be honest. I don’t usually make a big deal out of it, as I consider Christmas to be more significant during that week-long time period where both events take place. I cooked up some skewered shrimp (or lollipop shrimp, as the marketing folks at President’s Choice call it), poured myself a rum n’ Coke or three and bounced back and forth between the South Park and Drew Carey Show marathons on TV. Man, what a bad boy I grew up to be.

Rewinding back to the summer months of 2011, I loved the Conquest Centennial long weekend celebrations back in July. I wore many hats over the course of those three days; reporter, photographer, proud Conquest resident, as well as a son, brother, nephew, uncle, and pyrotechnics supervisor as I blasted off a bunch of fireworks on the night of July 1. Saw some family, took in the events to celebrate my hometown’s 100th, and just enjoyed being in that environment.

I gotta say though, I think the village of Milden got it right with their own centennial celebrations just four weeks later. They kicked it off with a parade on Saturday morning that seemed to never end, and had a street dance that night, filling the prairie air with the sound of music. As fun as our own community’s weekend was, I wish we’d taken advantage of what we have and done the same things. Oh well.

In August, I took a day out of my two-week break from work and drove up to my late uncle’s old cabin at Candle Lake at the beginning of August. It was only for one day and night, and I was by myself, but I have to say that it was the best thing that I experienced last year, bar none.

My original intention was to just make a day of it and actually drive home late, but I’m glad I ended up staying overnight. Making the four-hour drive and armed with a loaded MP3 disc, a change of clothes and my trusty Canon PowerShot, all my old memories came flooding back to me almost instantly as I approached the cabin. This was a place where my family vacationed for many summers when I was a kid, and I hadn’t been up there in 11 years. Older, wiser, and experiencing a lot more in life since that time, I started to feel like a kid again as I saw all the same buildings and businesses that made my summers up there so memorable; the general store/laundromat that even in 2011 still rents out VHS tapes and VCRs, the walk-up fast food restaurant on the corner with vintage advertisements and a carnival-like color scheme, the mini golf course, the petting zoo, and everything else from the mechanic shop to the restaurant/lounge. There’s also quite a bit of new infrastructure up there, including more food services like Family Pizza, a clothing outlet, and even a health centre. What’s neat is the way Candle Lake has been able to adapt to the new century and capitalize on the economic boom and public demand, but a lot of things are still the same and seem to have not changed a bit. It’s an old school meets new school fusion that seems to work for everyone.

I got to the cabin and just took in the surroundings. It’s definitely an old cabin, and quite frankly you’re living a bit rustic when you’re up there, but it’s got power and four walls, so I was happy. I grabbed my camera and just took a drive around the area, taking in the sights and getting reacquainted after a decade-long absence. Saw some wildlife, checked out the trout pond used by those who just want a quaint and quiet day of fishing instead of the choppiness of the lake, and obviously, Candle Lake itself, which seemed no more bigger or smaller than when I was a kid. The water had a silvery grey color to its surface and was alive as it churned tide-by-tide to the shore.

I picked up some dinner, consisting of two medium pies from Family Pizza (pepperoni & bacon, shrimp & mushrooms), as well as a few things at the store before sitting down to watch some electrifying entertainment – whatever the hell was on either CTV or CBC. The cabin is equipped only with an antenna, so you’re stuck with whatever happens to be on those two channels. To hell with it, I say. In the middle of summer, you shouldn’t even be indoors at Candle Lake during the day. I watched the news and then went back down to the lake, relaxing in my lawn chair with my feet in the sand. It wasn’t long before I walked into the water, and doing so once again threw me back in time to when I was up there as a kid, splashing around with my brothers and tossing handfuls of wet sand at each other, which the other guy would take square in the chest and pretend he got shot.

I'll be back.

I fired off quite a bit of photos while both on the sand and in the lake, simply because my surroundings were begging me to. It was roughly 8:00 pm, and the sun was starting to call it a day. As it descended in the northwest, it created an incredible silhouette out of a bunch of tall trees, and the dimming light had begun to shine a light off the surface of the water. It literally looked like some painting a tourist would buy in a gift shop, so I snapped away. The lake is surrounded in this U-shaped section of land, and trees and lakeside cabins dot the properties, which has always made me jealous. I’d kill for a cabin right by the water up there, because I’d be driving up there all the time and nobody from around here would see much of me in the summertime. Christ, I wish I was there right now. No lie.

The next morning, I took one last drive down to the lake and just sat there for a little while; looking out at the beach, the water, the cabins all around the area, a few boats cruising around, and some family enjoying the day. I told myself that I’d be back a hell of a lot sooner than another 11 years, and I fueled up before making the long drive back home.

I intend to keep that promise. I don’t mean to get all soft and ‘deep’ on this, but I went up there to try and reestablish a connection that had gotten lost years ago. I wanted to feel like a kid again. In this hyperspeed world we live in, life jets by waaaaaay too fast at times, and we get lost in our daily lives that consist mainly of work and just waiting for Friday to come so we can recharge and get ready for another workweek. You have to wake up and smell the coffee. Step back and look at things from a different point of view. I went up to Candle Lake to try and reawaken some form of worry-free emotion in my gut that everybody had when they were growing up; to take in my former source of childhood memories and – even if only for one day – not worry about a fucking thing else on Earth and just do as Frankie says, and that’s relax. I’m happy to report that I was successful on all fronts.

And it seems that I got up there just in time, as the word going around my mom’s side of the family is that my aunt Hazel has told her kids to put the old cabin up for sale. Not that it’s worth much, and frankly it’s mainly the land that someone would be buying, but I still wish they’d reconsider and keep it in the family in some way. Hell, I’m sure my family would put some money into it and share it with someone. Time will tell on that front, but when I return to Candle this coming summer, I’ll more than likely be renting a cabin anyway.

From asking ‘Are we there yet?’ to renting my own cabin – yup, getting old sucks.

From there, I actually drove home into a somber affair. My aunt Mabel, on my dad’s side, had died in June and while there was a funeral service out where she lived in Cochrane, Alberta, the graveside service and burial was in Conquest in early August. As my clan tends to do, we managed to turn a negative situation into a positive, and the outpouring of relatives that I hadn’t seen in many years made it into a makeshift Ruttle Family Reunion as we celebrated Mabel’s life with enough food to feed two and a half countries and plenty of alcohol. Hey, it’s what we do.

Looking back, these events were really just a taste of what I encountered and experienced in 2011, but they were the ones that left the biggest lasting impression by far. I don’t know how your year was, but I can look back on mine and say it was satisfying on several different levels. Hope you can say the same.

With that, I don’t know what 2012 holds for me. I know what I’d LIKE to accomplish – getting “Mute” off the ground, shot/edited, and then submitted to film festivals around the country – and I know what I’d like to do again – return to Candle Lake – but that’s the mystery of a new year, I suppose. No idea just what will happen.

In the meantime, it’s nice to think about.

DWR

Greetings from the office of a roving writer who apparently doesn’t know what it means to keep up a consistent blog. I know that I haven’t posted in some time – the last entry having been in August – so I think it’s appropriate to take a look back at 2011, now that we’re nearly a week into 2012.

This first post – there should be two today – will focus on all the big happenings in the WWE this past year. Yes, I’m a wrestling mark, you already knew that, but I thought I’d sorta resurrect my old “Blood On The Canvas” column and highlight the biggest headlines of 2011, while looking ahead to the new year.

February 14 – The Rock returns to the WWE.

The People’s Champ had been on the company’s TV shows twice in the past four years, but they were pre-taped segments and he had not appeared live and in person inside a WWE ring since 2004. That changed when at the end of Monday Night Raw, the lights went out in the arena, the audience started getting antsy, and a loooooong pause built the anticipation to see who would be the special guest host of WrestleMania 27. It was The Rock, who seemed genuinely happy to be back ‘home’ and proceeded to cut a 20+ minute promo in a segment that would go down as possibly the best superstar return ever in professional wrestling.

April 3 – The Undertaker and Triple H tear the house down at WrestleMania.

People had their doubts over how good this match would be, but the two longest-serving veterans of the WWE produced an instant classic of a battle at WrestleMania 27. Triple H had not competed in nearly a full year, and many questioned the health of The Undertaker, who had only been gone since late October with a shoulder injury and returned in February. However, with a great story told in and outside the ring, their No Holds Barred match was a half-hour war as announce tables, ring stairs, steel chairs and even Michael Cole’s ridiculous ‘Cole Mine’ sanctuary became victims of the onslaught. Nearing the conclusion, Triple H tried everything in his power to put the Dead Man away, including three Pedigrees, a barrage of chair shots to the body and even a crack in the head, which raised many eyebrows since blows to the head are a big no-no, per the WWE’s Wellness Policy. Taker would not stay down, and even grabbed HHH by the throat in a weak attempt to rally back. The Game was not to be stopped, and even hit Taker with his own Tombstone piledriver. Now I’ll admit, THAT made me think for three quarters of a second that the Streak was over. Taker kicked out, and when a shell-shocked Triple H grabbed his trusty sledgehammer as a last resort, the Phenom snatched him down to the mat and locked in the Hell’s Gate submission. The Game squirmed and struggled, but his strength was sapped from his body and he tapped out. And although he’d lost the match, Hunter was at least able to walk out of the arena on his own two feet, while Taker collapsed at ringside and had to be stretchered out. The Dead Man hasn’t been seen on WWE TV since.

April 11 – Edge is forced to retire from the WWE.

Edge, real name Adam Copeland, debuted in the company in the summer of 1998 and enjoyed an impressive rise up the proverbial ladder of the wrestling world, capturing everything from the Tag Team Titles (14 times) to the Intercontinental Title, and after becoming a main event talent going on to win the WWE Championship and World Heavyweight Title a combined 11 times. In between all the title wins, he also made history as the only WWE superstar to win the King of the Ring, Money in the Bank contract, and the Royal Rumble. But the life of being a pro wrestler caught up to him, and on the April 11 edition of Monday Night Raw, he walked to the ring, still holding the World Heavyweight Title that he retained at WrestleMania 27 only eight days earlier, and announced that he had to call it a career in order to avoid risking paralysis or worse while performing, citing lost feeling in his arms relating to his past neck problems. This being wrestling, some fans thought it was a work of some sort, but it was all too real for fans of the Canadian superstar and Edge himself, who thankfully got to retire in good health and even as the World Heavyweight Champion.

May 20 – Randy Savage tragically dies after a heart attack & car crash.

Unfortunately, we as wrestling fans are all too familiar with loading up an industry news website and seeing headlines about some indie guy, or a past or present star’s untimely death. Nobody saw the death of the “Macho Man” Randy Savage coming, and it was a hard kick to the nuts of millions of fans around the world who grew up idolizing The Savage One, me included. He was driving in Florida on May 20 when he suffered a heart attack, which caused the vehicle to smash into a tree. Randy was 58. The news really shook up the wrestling world, and even made mainstream news since Savage was second only to Hulk Hogan as a globally known superstar responsible for the WWF/E’s rise to prominence in the ’80s. The WWE acknowledged his passing at their PPV that weekend, and then aired a very well-done tribute piece on Raw and Smackdown the following week. CM Punk even wore pink Savage-style tights during a match on TV and has since adopted Randy’s flying elbow drop as a signature move. And although all signs point to the Macho Man finally getting inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame this year, lifelong fans such as myself hold it against Vince McMahon that Savage wasn’t inducted years ago. He should’ve been alive to accept the honor.

June 27 – CM Punk cuts a work-shoot promo on the WWE.

Though he’s had some big success in the WWE since arriving in 2006, CM Punk was never really given the ball and allowed to run with it. Yeah, he’d been World Heavyweight Champion three times and had feuds with talents like John Morrison, Jeff Hardy, The Undertaker, Rey Mysterio and Randy Orton, but he always believed he could be that #1 top dog in the company like John Cena. On the June 27 Raw, he sat on the stage near the end of the show and in the biggest controversy of the year cut a promo that blurred the lines between fiction and reality, lambasting the company for dropping the ball with him and targeting figureheads like Vince McMahon and Triple H. He mentioned names that under the routine policy are strictly avoided, like Paul Heyman, and gave a shout-out to good friend Colt Cabana. He even said he likes to think that the WWE will be run better once McMahon is dead, and seconds later his mic was abruptly cut off. Whatever fans thought of the promo, whether it was an elaborate work or Punk venting real frustration, the end result was that it was a blend of the two, as Punk ended up winning the WWE Championship at the Money in the Bank PPV in July in the best match of 2011.

July 17 – Money In The Bank is WWE’s best PPV of 2011.

Even though WrestleMania is the company’s biggest PPV of the year, the end result has been iffy the last few years, and a bland and uninspired main event of The Miz vs John Cena sure didn’t end Mania 27 on a high note. Enter July’s Money In The Bank PPV, which wound up being the most enjoyable and downright best show of the year. Taking place in Chicago, the fans on that night made it seem like a Madison Square Garden atmosphere as they were loud, energetic and very invested in the show. CM Punk, the hometown hero was to battle WWE Champion, John Cena in the main event, but that wasn’t the only thing that raised eyebrows and made history as in the opening match, which was Smackdown’s MITB Ladder match, Daniel Bryan won after an awesome contest, giving the indie sensation a huge boost of credibility and paving the way for his World Title victory in December. Of course, the main event of Punk vs Cena was amazing and fantastic storytelling, as the match reached over half an hour in length and both men pulled out all the stops. Punk’s eventual victory blew the roof off the arena and set the stage for the Straight Edge Superstar’s permanent place in the main event picture.

November 20 – The Rock returns to action at Survivor Series.

The Rock returned to the WWE, but he hadn’t returned to the ring just yet. His upcoming match at WrestleMania 28 against John Cena still set in stone, The Rock ended up joining forces with Cena in Madison Square Garden at the Survivor Series, taking on the team of The Miz and R-Truth. If anyone had doubts about his abilities after nearly eight years outside the ring, Rock shut them up as he hadn’t seemed to lose a step and looked great mixing it up with Miz and Truth. It remains to be seen whether or not he gets in the ring one more time before Mania, as the Royal Rumble is only a few weeks away. Elsewhere on the card, CM Punk won the WWE Title again, this time from Alberto Del Rio in a very good match. Punk even had legendary announcer Howard Finkel introduce him prior to and after the bout.

December 12 – Kane returns under a new mask.

The Big Red Machine originally shed his mask in June 2003 and had been the bald monster ever since, but following an injury from Mark Henry on Smackdown in July, he came back on Raw in December, interrupting a match between Henry and John Cena. At first wearing some kind of outer metal mask, almost something the Predator would wear, he stalked to the ring and, instead of targeting Henry, chokeslammed Cena before taking off the metallic piece, revealing a newly designed face mask. He even has long black hair, although most of it must be a wig piece attached to the mask. Nevertheless, Kane seems more conditioned and monster-like than he has in years. It probably doesn’t hurt that the company can now market Kane masks again for the first time in over eight years. Ka-ching!

January 2 – Chris Jericho returns as the one behind the ‘It Begins’ videos.

Fuck it, I’m including it here, even if it was 48 hours into the new year. Jericho hadn’t been seen on WWE TV since September 2010, when he was written out of programming after Randy Orton punted him in the skull. In reality, his three-year contract was up and Chris just wanted a rest from the ring and a chance to further his other professional loves, like his rock bank Fozzy and grabbing some other showbiz gigs like Dancing With The Stars. In November, the WWE started airing viral video clips that spoke of a dark and cryptic nature, signaling of the end of the world and that ‘it begins’. The videos stated ‘he’ would come on the second day of 2012, which of course fell on the first Monday Night Raw of the new year. It turned out to be Jericho, who wore an electronic sparkling jacket and soaked up the adulation of the welcoming crowd. Perplexing about his return was that it was basically the same one as his 2007 return, and was hardly any sort of dark or apocalyptic event that the videos made it seem. But as Jericho seemed to milk the crowd and ham it up so much that it became creepy, with a disturbed and out-of-it smile across his face, it became clear that this was not the Y2J of old. He didn’t say a word, and exited the arena to half-boos from the crowd. The Internet exploded with half outrage and half praise for Jericho’s return, but clearly there is a much more serious story to be told as the weeks and months roll on.

As far as 2011 in the WWE goes, as well as the first big moment of 2012, that’s about it in a nutshell as far as history goes. Sure, there were really good moments and feuds, as well as some excellent matches on TV and PPV, but these were the biggest stories in the last twelve months. I can’t say for sure where 2012 will take the WWE, but with a confirmed WrestleMania main event of The Rock vs John Cena, as well as other speculated matches, it’s safe to say TV will be memorable as the biggest show of the year shapes up.

However, on the flip side of that coin is the interest to see if the company can create new stars before, at, and then after Mania to ensure that people stay tuned into the product following the biggest show and match of the year. It’s always awesome to see guys from the old guard stepping back into the ring (Rock, HHH, Taker, a future final match from Austin) but the company can’t rely on those guys forever, and they need to push this current crop of guys to the moon, and quit with the go-stop-go-stop-reset philosophy on pushing others (Alberto Del Rio being the prime example). They either need to be confident in someone to draw money and interest, or don’t be.

Should've been a Christmas card.

But it’s not all negative at the moment, and the WWE has actually taken great strides in the last half of 2011 to develop the new breed of main event superstars and tomorrow’s future legends. The current crop of title holders, consisting of WWE Champion, CM Punk; World Heavyweight Champion, Daniel Bryan; Intercontinental Champion, Cody Rhodes; United States Champion, Zack Ryder; Divas Champion, Beth Phoenix; and the Tag Team Champions, Kofi Kingston & Evan Bourne, are a potent mix of experienced indie veterans who’ve finally hit it big on the biggest stage (Punk and Bryan) and those that have the ability to break through the proverbial glass ceiling (Rhodes and Ryder). There’s a great photo floating around the Web of this class of champions, and when I look at it, I get the sense that the WWE is on a really good path so far and they’re making some decent strides towards filling their talent pool deeper. I definitely look forward to seeing where these champions, as well as other guys like Wade Barrett, Dolph Ziggler, The Miz and Sheamus stand when 2012 comes to an end.

Hopefully, in the case of Barrett, the WWE and its Smackdown brand makes its way to Saskatoon again, so I can make my simple, yet witty sign that says “Pade 2 C Wade”. Time will tell.