Saturday 30 July 2011

XX and Beyond

At WrestleMania XXVII the Undertaker took his winning streak at the event to 19-0, beating Triple H in the match of the night. The next evening on RAW Triple H went to the ring to tell Undertaker that he’d be open to the idea of a rematch. The implication was that the two men would face each other again at next year’s WrestleMania. While that match still seems like a safe bet it’s not as certain to take place as it was when Triple H cut his promo on April 4th.

Recent storyline developments have seen Triple H become WWE’s on-screen top boss and CM Punk become one of two men WWE are claiming has a right to call themselves champion (the other is John Cena, who won a tournament to crown a new champion even though Punk had not vacated or been stripped of the title). Many people, including myself, believe this could ultimately lead to a Triple H v CM Punk match at WrestleMania XXVIII next year in Miami. With the event still eight months away it’s highly unlikely that anything has been decided on yet, but if that match were to happen you have to wonder who would be picked to face the Undertaker.

As of now I believe there are three men with a combination of in-ring ability, name value, big match experience and aura to make them credible WrestleMania foes for ‘The Dead Man’. They are Triple H, John Cena and CM Punk. The mention of Triple H should surprise no one: you need only watch his performance at this year’s show to see that he understands what is required from a match with ‘The Phenom’ on the company’s grandest stage.

Cena may not be a good worker, but he’s been the company’s top star for years and has been routinely put over everyone. If there is one man on the roster right now that WWE would consider ending the Streak for, it’s him. That’s why he’d make a good opponent: because it’s easy to see him being chosen as the man to finish the Streak. He always provokes a reaction from crowds too, precisely what’s needed at WrestleMania.

Two months ago I wouldn’t have considered Punk ready to challenge the Streak. Not because he’s not good enough in the ring or because he doesn’t possess the verbal skills to hype the event but because he wasn’t at the megastar level that is required of people facing Undertaker at that event. It was no fault of his own, it was WWE’s lax attitude to promoting him. But after the events of the last two months I now think Punk is in a very good position to be An Opponent.

The trouble is that the undefeated streak has developed into something massive. Undertaker’s ‘Mania opponents have to be picked with care. They have to have reached a certain level of credibility with the audience that doesn’t come quickly and be capable of entering a match of the year performance when it matters. Cena is, of course, the obvious exception to that. The appeal of a Cena v Undertaker match isn’t seeing if they can steal the show, it’s finding out whether Cena will be allowed to beat him.

With Cena confirmed for a match with The Rock and Punk and ‘The Game’ possibly set to face each other it looks as though WWE may have a problem finding someone suitable to face Mark Callaway at the twenty-eighth instalment of ‘The Granddaddy of ‘em All’. Luckily there are several members of the roster that have the potential for WWE to pick someone now and spend the rest of the year building them up ready for the task.

At the top of the list is Alberto Del Rio. He’s been destined for the main event ever since he first appeared on television. The reason I don’t think he’s ready yet is a basic one: he has not yet become a world champion. That’s not to say I think anyone facing the Undertaker has to have been a world champion (though it certainly helps). It’s more to do with Del Rio’s image: he has repeatedly told us his destiny is to win a world title, and yet he hasn’t done it despite various high profile attempts. If WWE wanted to prepare him for a match with the Undertaker at next year’s show they would need to put the belt on him within the next month and keep it on him until the end of the year. I think that’s the only way he could gain the credibility required in time.

There are also guys like Randy Orton, Christian and Rey Mysterio to consider. Christian and Mysterio both have the talent to make a good opponent (and in Christian’s case the verbal skills to shoulder the hypefor the event too) but neither is a big enough name. Were WWE to begin building either up specifically to challenge the Undertaker I think they’d be ready in time. Orton’s already got the name value. The only things in his way are the fact that he’s been there before (at WrestleMania 21 in 2005) and that he’s spent the last several months establishing Christian as a main event performer.

Worryingly, the Mark Henry push could indicate that he’s been selected to face ‘The Dead Man’. If that’s the case I’m confident he will do something (such as injuring himself or an opponent) beforehand to convince management o change their minds. He never has been and never will be a credible enough worker to fill that prestigious position.  

The question of how long Undertaker can carry on wrestling has to be asked too. He is clearly done as a full time member of the roster, but he has apparently stated that he could continue making annual appearances at WrestleMania for several more years. This is good news for both fans and WWE, as long as opponents can be built up in plenty of time.

Personally I think ‘Taker has three WrestleManias left. WrestleMania XXX will take place in 2014 and will probably be held in WWE’s “home arena” Madison Square Garden (I say “home arena”, they barely promote shows there anymore because of either exorbitant costs or some ridiculous grudge held by Vince McMahon about something or other – it depends on who you listen to as to which reason you hear). I can imagine ‘Taker wanting to hang on for a few years to help out the promotion and also finish up at a meaningful time, and MSG in 2014 would seem perfect.

If I were WWE’s booker (or lead writer, to use their terms) I would have ‘Taker face Triple H next year, going with a rematch angle. I would use Alberto Del Rio or CM Punk at WrestleMania XXIX in 2013 because I think of everyone on the current roster they are the most likely to become the next huge main event spectacle (Punk’s already there really). For ‘Mania XXX in 2014 I’d pick John Cena. That would allow the hype to really capitalise on Cena’s status as “the man” and cast real doubt on the outcome of the bout.

But that’s me. Judging by the current television product and the way the situation’s been handled for the last several years I expect that whatever happens next year The Streak will be handled with the care and attention it deserves. In many respects it now means more than any world title, and WWE want to keep it that way.

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