On last Mondays Raw, the very first stone was cast in the upcoming feud between the Undertaker and CM Punk. Just going by the one show, the feud seems to have begun on the right, if nervous, foot. Although many fans would suggest that it is an insult to CM Punk to not be working in the Wrestlemania 29 main event, working with the Undertaker is probably the next best thing for Punk. In fact, an argument can be made that working with the Undertaker may be a bigger opportunity for Punk than working in the main event for the WWE Championship.
In case you missed it, Punk won the opportunity to face 'Taker and Wrestlemania by defeating the Big Show, Sheamus and Randy Orton in a fatal four-way on Raw. This was a nice touch by the WWE, especially compared to how the last two Undertaker matches at Wrestlemania were created.
Two years ago, the Undertaker appeared for the first time in almost a year. His appearance was quickly followed up by HHH also making his long-awaited return to WWE television. They both just gazed at the sign that read "Wrestlemania 27" on it and then walked away. Kind of underwhelming right? Last year had a little more teeth to it, but it was still built on the Undertaker vs HHH in a rematch because HHH "had got the best" of Undertaker at the previous Wrestlemania.
CM Punk started off the program fairly well by badgering the Undertaker and his streak, only to be challenged by three other top competitors. This was a good representation of the importance of facing the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. It is something to be earned through conquest, not just something that one person (HHH) can demand.
As for the match itself, the physical condition of the Undertaker is in question, as it has been for the last decade or so. He is reported to be overweight and nursing a Litany of injuries. At this stage in his career, I think it is unfair to judge the Undertaker's physical capabilities in the ring before we actually see them. This is a man who has wrestled with nagging injuries his entire career and has rarely failed to deliver a quality match when the bright lights come on. He wrestled Mankind in the infamous Hell in a Cell match at King of the Ring 1998 with a broken ankle. Last year Undertaker was banged up pretty bad too, yet he worked through and delivered a generally well-received match. It's obvious to the careful observer that the Undertaker has lost a step or two in the ring, but it is still safe to say that expectations for his match at Wrestlemania will be very high.
Although there are a lot of questions still looming about Wrestlemania, one that definitely isn't is that if CM Punk can put on a good show. His 400+ day championship reign may not have been as financially successful as others have been, but you would be hard pressed to find a better collection of in-ring work from a champion. CM Punk routinely carried limited workers such as John Cena to stellar matches, filled with a great balance of technical excellence and acute drama. If Punk can get a five-star match out of John Cena, he is very capable of doing the same with a banged up Undertaker.
Undertaker also seems to work better with smaller competitors as well. Shawn Michaels is of course the prime example of this, but Undertaker has also worked sensational matches with guys like Kurt Angle and Rey Mysterio. Punk fits right into that mold, and as stated before, he has the history to back it up.
The result of an Undertaker match at Wrestlemania should never really be in question. However, the quality of the match usually depends on there being moments where for a split second, it appears that the Undertaker could actually lose. Take last year's match into account, the moment when I personally believed that the streak was in jeopardy was when Shawn Michaels superkicked Undertaker right into the arms of HHH who delivered the Pedigree. For the five or so seconds that followed, I actually thought that the Undertaker was going to lose and the streak would be history. The matches that capture that special moment are the ones that we will always remember, and the matches that don't (vs Mark Henry, vs Big Show and A-Train) are the ones we would like to forget.
Just because it is likely that the Undertaker WILL win, it does not necessarily mean that he SHOULD win. The WWE has struck a goldmine with the Undertakers streak, but as his career winds down, the pressing issue of the streak and its demise continues to come into play. If the Undertaker is as true of a professional as he is portrayed, surely he will put over someone in his final match, right? Of course, that then raises the question of how will the streak being broken impact the Undertaker's legacy looking down the road? It's an interesting debate.
So the big question for this year's Wrestlemania is if it is going to be Undertaker's last. If I had to guess, I would say no, just because I believe that the Undertaker's last match will be advertised beforehand as being his final match in order to generate more revenue from the event. This means that this will not be Undertaker's last Wrestlemania, which means that the WWE is probably hoping to get at least one more year out of the streak after this year.
In the long run, I don't see a loss to Undertaker as being a huge determent for CM Punk. By losing to the Undertaker he joins a list containing a host of legends, from Jimmy Snuka to Ric Flair to HBK, and post-mania, he will more than likely get back on the right track. On the contrary, how much would a win over the Undertaker help out CM Punk? Not as much as you may think. Punk has reached the status in the WWE that he can contend for a world title at any moment, at any time. Similar to someone like Randy Orton or Chris Jericho, he has been booked strong enough for long enough that he can always be a credible challenger for the WWE or World Heavyweight Championships at any time, regardless of how many losses they have racked up as of late. Giving Punk the win at the cost of destroying the streak? I just don't see the risk justifying the reward.
All in all, the first shot has been fired by the arrogant Punk and now the spotlight shifts over to the Undertaker this Monday to see how he will respond. The storyline will continue as the WWE inches closer to Wrestlemania 29, and it's safe to say that we will all be watching intently to see the action.