Yes, the Undertaker’s 20-match undefeated streak at WrestleMania, which began back in 1991, needs to be broken. It’s wrestling’s cycle of life. The stars of each new generation must feed on the bones of the generation before them, and the last money that WWE makes off the Undertaker will be through the one who puts him down.
So who’s the guy?
Before I can answer that, I need to get this important point out of the way: Fuck Brock Lesnar. People have been talking about Lesnar as the Undertaker’s WMXXIX opponent, but Lesnar doesn’t have any chance of ending the Streak. Moreover, there’s no compelling reason to ever see Lensar in a WWE ring again.
The most obvious choice for ending the Streak is John Cena, who spent most of the last decade in the Hulkster position as WWE’s kid-friendly, merch-unloading superhero. Cena vs. Undertaker is the WWE’s only chance of imitating Hogan’s historic match with Andre the Giant at 1987’s WrestleMania III, in which Hogan ended Andre’s (fictional) streak of having never been defeated or bodyslammed in a 15-year career. Hogan was already the biggest star of wrestling’s 1980s boom, but when he achieved two unthinkables against Andre, slamming and then pinning him, he became something else: a champion hailed with buzzwords like “icon” and “immortal.”
John Cena, however, has been in the Hogan spot longer than the Hulk during his 80s run. If we’re thinking of Cena’s career in terms of Hogan years, this isn’t Cena’s spring of ‘87; Cena is now in the early 90s, the Suburban Commando phase. Cena has already followed Hogan’s post-WMIII path of forgettable movies, and has reached the point at which we have to wonder how much longer he can stay on top as the face of the company. In 1996, Hogan breathed new life into his character by becoming a villain, and folks all over the wrestling blogs and boards have asked when Cena will make the same move. As this era’s Hogan, Cena would have been the most logical candidate for a WrestleMania win against the only wrestler today to have anything close to Andre’s mystique, but the moment has passed. Cena should have his iconic WrestleMania triumph in next year’s rematch against the Rock, a passing of the torch comparable to the Rock’s own WMXVIII win over Hogan a decade ago.
Choosing the right star to end the Streak requires a difficult balance. He has to be established enough for fans to accept that he deserves an elevation of this scale, which basically amounts to instant wrestling immortality. At the same time, whoever ends the Streak needs to be a rising star whose future can pay back the investment. Because the WWE’s star-making machine is not what it once was, there’s only one wrestler who fulfills both requirements.
Here’s how I’d book it: CM Punk holds the WWE championship until the Royal Rumble, where—after an historic reign of 434 days—he loses it to the Rock. Understandably, Punk then amps up his bitter, no-one-respects-me bit, resentful that a legend of the 1997 to 2001 “Attitude Era” can just walk in and take the title; but while the Rock moves on to his rematch with Cena, Punk relocates his rage at the Attitude Era upon the Undertaker and pulls some hellish shit on the dead man. Punk goes into WrestleMania with all kinds of heat and then wins clean. When the ref counts three, Punk appears to be as stunned by this as everyone else in MetLife Stadium; it’s a win of such immeasurable magnitude that it can actually humble an asshole like Punk. Maybe on Raw the next night, the Undertaker gives Punk a spooky respect gesture or something, and Punk stands alone, elevated to the next level.
As the Undertaker fades out of wrestling, CM Punk is the only star who’s already at a position to jump in and get the rub. If the Undertaker had a few more years, you could consider Daniel Bryan. At any rate, someone needs to do it. The Streak, like the Undertaker himself, exists only to feed a fictional wrestling world. If the Undertaker goes out with no one having beaten him at WrestleMania, the Streak’s power and meaning leave with him. The Streak’s legacy can only live on if the Undertaker gives it away. If no one from this era is at a level worthy of the Streak, however, it confirms what many of us fear: that the Attitude Era was the last golden age that wrestling fans will ever get, having produced no heirs.