Pruett's Blog: The Undertaker's Streak Series Part Seven - The Best in the World tries to take on The Streak - WrestleMania XXIX
By Will Pruett
This is part the newest addition to the now seven-part series on The Undertaker's WrestleMania winning streak. Before reading the latest entry, catch up on the first six installments.
Click here to read Part One.
Click here to read Part Two.
Click here to read Part Three.
Click here to read Part Four.
Click here to read Part Five.
Click here to read Part Six.
One of the biggest discussions in wrestling after Undertaker's "End of an Era" match at WrestleMania XXVIII was whether or not Undertaker should come back. On one side, it seems ludicrous. Undertaker was coming off of an amazing run of four straight show-stealing and career-defining WrestleMania matches. Why not go for five? On the other hand, twenty is a nice round number. Leaving at twenty kind of seemed natural. The curtain call Triple H, Shawn Michaels, and Undertaker took felt like a fitting end for The Deadman. Should it have been the end?
WrestleMania XXIX - The Undertaker vs. "The Best in the World" C.M. Punk in a No Disqualification match:
C.M. Punk was WWE Champion for 434 days. From the 2011 Survivor Series to the 2013 Royal Rumble, Punk held the WWE Championship. This was an amazing feat. While wrestling is scripted and titles are awarded, not truly won, holding one for this amount of time is still an accomplishment. Punk, who many had said would never win the big one, not only won it, but defended it for 434 days. C.M. Punk would lose his championship and a rematch to The Rock. He would then lose a No. 1 Contenders match with John Cena. Punk was firmly out of the title picture.
On the March 3, 2013 episode of Raw, Undertaker kicked off the show. The bell tolled, Undertaker walked onto the stage, and fire rose up around him. The WrestleMania logo appeared on the screen as Undertaker posed. This was Undertaker assuring everyone he would be there. It was simple and effective.
Moments later, after an "Old School Raw" opening, Punk made his challenge for The Undertaker, blaming the fans for ending his title reign and promising to end The Streak the fans love and cherish. Punk was joined by Big Show, Sheamus, and Randy Orton in his challenge for The Streak. He defeated those three men later in the night. Undertaker repeated his posing on the ramp and the match was made. Punk vs. Undertaker, with The Streak on the line.
What was planned from this point forward is unknown. I'm sure WWE had a story in their collective minds for the diabolical Punk challenging "the conscience of the WWE" in The Undertaker. Whatever this story was originally meant to be is completely unknown. On March 5, 2013, William "Paul Bearer" Moody passed away unexpectedly. Bearer was closely tied to Undertaker's character for years, being both his principle ally and principle foe on multiple occasions.
On March 10, Undertaker came to the ring to pay tribute to Bearer, striking his signature pose in front of the signature urn Bearer used to carry as a symbol/trigger of/for Undertaker's powers. It was a nice moment for the character of Undertaker to say goodbye and it would have been fine if left alone. Punk interrupted the end of the tribute and discussed of Undertaker would always be undefeated at WrestleMania to Bearer, but he wouldn't be to anyone else at the end of WrestleMania. Once again, this moment wasn't tasteless, but it signaled a major shift. This feud would not shy away from Paul Bearer. It would lean into the situation. In leaning in, it would create many tactless moments.
Over the course of the next few weeks, C.M. Punk would steal the urn, prolonging its presence on television, juggle it around, drop it on the ground, infer that Paul Bearer's ashes were inside of it, and use the top of the urn as a puppet doing a bad Paul Bearer impression. It was weird. Undertaker had said goodbye to Paul Bearer, which was fitting, but centering a feud on the tragically departed Bill Moody was too much. Punk may have been a heel at the time, but this went beyond heel heat, it was real life discomfort.
The worst moment was yet to come. On the final Raw before WrestleMania, Paul Heyman dressed up as Paul Bearer and appeared on the ramp with Druids while Undertaker was in the ring. One of the Druids was Punk in costume. Punk attacked Undertaker and beat him with the urn. When the beating wasn't enough, Punk opened the urn and poured its contents on a downed Undertaker. This was a startling moment. Since Bearer's ashes were inferred to be in the urn, it was even more uncomfortable.
Having seen every match of The Streak and the build to every match as well, this was, most assuredly, the worst build. It was even more disappointing considering how high hopes were for a Punk vs. Undertaker program. Punk had been doing brilliant character work for over a year. Undertaker had been a part of an amazing story with Shawn Michaels and Triple H. It was exciting to see him getting a chance to be against a true heel and tell another amazing wrestling story. The hopes were high for this feud. Undertaker and Punk, as they built up this match, disappointed.
The narrative would shift at WrestleMania. On this night, they took the poor story they had been talking and flipped it on its head. A bad build up couldn't stop Undertaker from wanting to steal the show at WrestleMania. After a video recap of the prior month of tasteless storytelling, C.M. Punk made his entrance as Living Color played him to the ring live. They sounded better than most bands do at wrestling events and the crowd seemed to enjoy them.
Undertaker's entrance was a thing of beauty and could end up being his best ever. The bell tolled, C.M. Punk let loose a determined guttural scream, and the lights of MetLife Stadium in New Jersey went dark. The familiar funeral march played as Undertaker rose from a sea of smoke. Hands, presumably those of Undertaker' previously claimed souls (or Druids, or both), grasped at Undertaker, none of them holding him back. Undertaker rose above the sea of hands and walked to the ring. When Undertaker arrived at the top of the stairs, he raised his arms to summon light and pyro exploded from around the stadium. It was glorious.
The attire of both men was notable. Undertaker's had a gold urn with RIP P.B. written on it. It was another great tribute to his fallen friend (and it would have been perfect as the only tribute after the original moment on Raw). C.M. Punk's trunks were in Undertaker-themed colors; dark grey, purple, and black.
The match would consist of a lot of brawling. The announcers played up the story of Punk attempting to get Undertaker to get himself disqualified. It worked for a pest-heel character, but it was hardly consequential in the match. The same went for countouts, which the announcers played up as possible, but the referee forgot to perform multiple times. These things happen occasionally, but they were especially notable here. This was the first time countouts and disqualifications were possible in a match for The Streak since WrestleMania 25.
With the silliness of rules everyone knew wouldn't really come into play out of the way, Undertaker and Punk had a brutal brawl with some great wrestling as well. Undertaker was enraged. Punk was a vicious heel out to destroy Undertaker's legacy with one brawl. Punk attempted and landed Undertaker's signature "Old School" move not once, but twice. He brought the fight to Undertaker impressively.
Undertaker, with Punk on the outside of the ring, attempted the dive he should never attempt again, but Paul Heyman stopped him from almost-death. Within a few moments, Undertaker was actually outside the ring and laid out on the Spanish announce table. Punk climbed to the top rope and attempted his signature tribute to "Macho Man" Randy Savage. He flew far, but not far enough. Punk would strike the side of an apparently steel-reinforced Spanish announce table. He returned to the ring while Undertaker suffered outside until a nine count brought 'Taker back in.
From there, the match rolled into its climax with Undertaker and Punk trading their submission finishers (Hell's Gate and the Anaconda Vice, for those wondering), then moving on to their other major moves. In a stunning moment, Punk hit the Go To Sleep, Undertaker rebounded against the ropes and delivered a Tombstone to Punk. Punk kicked out at two, much to the delight of some in the audience. Both men were down and they fought their way to their feet.
Punk soon forced Undertaker into the corner, delivered his signature running knee, but was caught. From there, Punk was lifted into the Last Ride position, but Heyman managed to get the urn to Punk. Punk struck Undertaker in the head with it and pinned him in 'Taker's signature style. This was the most convincing near-fall in the match. Undertaker kicked out at two.
From here, the men attempted their finishing maneuvers, until Undertaker was finally able to hit Punk with the Tombstone Piledriver and pin him for a three count. It was a nice climax, but it didn't pack the drama of those Undertaker had produced in recent years. It was symbolic of the match itself not quite measuring up to what Undertaker had done for the last four WrestleMania events. It wasn't bad by any means. In fact, it stole the show at WrestleMania XXIX, but it didn't quite reach the level Undertaker had been at for so long. It was the difference between an A and an A-.
Part of the magic of Triple H and Shawn Michaels facing Undertaker was the way they seemed to humanize him. While the character is supernatural and seems to have supernatural powers, the character is strongest when those supernatural powers are balanced out by a human soul. Undertaker is put in jeopardy when he is human and one of the most important aspects of building up to a match for The Streak is putting Undertaker in jeopardy. The death of Paul Bearer had a similar humanizing effect on Undertaker. Paying tribute to a friend and winning this one for him was an easy story to tell. When WWE took this story to a despicable level with the "ashes" and urn juggling, Undertaker lost a little bit of his human self. The story was too broad to be human.
Punk may have wanted to bring in a "reality era" years ago, but he didn't bring reality to this program. He was a super villain. The end of this match was easy to predict, and it was the whole time. Super villains exist for super heroes to beat. Punk was meant to lose, and everyone knew this, he just made it too obvious.
Undertaker paid tribute to the urn once again in the middle of the ring as Punk and Heyman disappeared from the scene. Pyro shot off from the stage and around the stadium as 21-0 was shown on the big screens. Undertaker had vanquished the foe of the year.
The Verdict at 21-0:
Should WrestleMania XXVIII's curtain call have ended The Streak? Possibly, but this match isn't the reason why. The story around this match is. Undertaker had an amazing ending written for him a year before and this match felt like a good sequel that could not reach the level of the original. It was almost like a self-contained sequel following a trilogy of movies (think of the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie). C.M. Punk was a decent foe, but he didn't bring the humanizing threat to Undertaker we had grown accustomed to seeing.
This match being the best match at WrestleMania XXIX demonstrates how important it was to the show. Ending The Streak a year before would have severely damaged this WrestleMania. Perfect conclusions are hard to come by, but so are show-saving matches. It would have been ideal for Undertaker's perfect ending to happen when Undertaker was ready to end his run, but it didn't. We are left with sequels. They're capable of being good, but they won't reach the epic conclusion we've already seen.
Take some time to reflect on The Streak, and this series, then share your thoughts with me! Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or to follow me on twitter at twitter.com/itswilltime.
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