I've been a fan of pro wrestling ever since the late 1980's. The first live event I ever attended was in January 1988 at Madison Square Garden, where Hulk Hogan and Bam Bam Bigelow teamed up to take on the villainous Ted DiBiase and Virgil in the main event. I wasn't even five years old at the time and so I have no memory of the rest of the card. But it didn't really matter because I was only there to see the super heroic Hulk Hogan conquer the evildoers, just like he always did.
Since that time I've attended all sorts of wrestling events, including numerous independent wrestling events, an ECW PPV, and multiple episodes of Monday Night Raw. But one thing I never did was attend a WrestleMania event.
So in 2013 when WWE brought WrestleMania 29 to my home area, there was no way that I was missing out. Even six months out with a projected card featuring two major matches that I had little interest in (Rock versus Cena, Lesnar versus Triple H), it was a no-brainer for me to purchase tickets. There were two wrestlers that I didn't want to miss out on - CM Punk and The Undertaker.
Undertaker's streak storyline was the one bankable concept that WWE could not screw up at WrestleMania, even if the rest of the card wasn't all that exciting. Since 2007 it always produced the best match of the night. I was not going to miss seeing the spectacle of a streak match, particularly with the clock ticking down on Undertaker's career.
And CM Punk is pretty easily my favorite wrestler of the last 15 years. I ate up everything this guy did on television, even the tasteless things like mocking Lawler's heart attack or bathing in Paul Bearer's ashes. He could do no wrong in my eyes. CM Punk was by far the main reason I was still tuning in to Raw live when it aired each week, yet I had never seen this man perform live. That needed to change.
I was going to WrestleMania 29 with two of my siblings. My brother is a few years older than me and is the person who originally hooked me on wrestling back in the days of Hulkamania. At some point around the death of WCW and ECW, he stopped following wrestling in a hardcore sense, but made sure every year to at least watch the Undertaker's match at WrestleMania. So he was super excited to see WrestleMania 29 live for that reason alone.
My sister is a couple years older than me. She was never a hardcore wrestling fan, but she followed the product enough between 1996 to 2001 to have a handful of favorites - Chris Jericho, The Rock, RVD, Tommy Dreamer, Lita, Edge, and Christian. She was always grossed out by how physically ugly Undertaker and Triple H were at that time, and they were just never appealing to her in any sense.
But she had not watched a wrestling show in nearly 15 years. She was aware of CM Punk's back story and his pipe bomb promo, but that was about it. So I had my work cut out for me in terms of catching her up to speed with some of the story lines heading in to WrestleMania 29. I wanted to explain to her why the legendary Chris Jericho was fighting some no-name dancing goofball. I wanted to make sure she knew how awesome that small angry guy with the beard was who was busy thrusting his hands in the air chanting "Yes" or "No." She needed to know why John Cena was the symbol of everything that was stagnant and boring with the world of professional wrestling for the last decade. And I absolutely had to explain to her why the Undertaker and CM Punk match was by far the main thing worth paying attention to on this card.
I only had a couple hours available on the night before the show to explain all of these things to her. I told her the main event was The Rock versus John Cena. My sister had never even seen John Cena wrestle a match or cut a promo but she already hated him without me even saying a word about him. Ok cool, so this wasn't going to be so challenging after all.
After mentioning that Triple H and Undertaker would also be on the card in separate matches she immediately reacted with, "Dude, Undertaker and Triple H are still wrestling? What are they, like 60 years old by now?"
I immediately explained to her that Triple H was just as awful and boring as ever, but she needed to change her tune on Undertaker. I started to give her a history lesson on Undertaker's matches at WrestleMania, and she quickly picked up on the fact that he was winning every match. By the time we got to the Undertaker's later matches with Edge, HBK, and HHH, she was hooked. The WrestleMania 25 match in particular with HBK was a great showcase for what she was in store for at WrestleMania 29. When even the ridiculous combo of the Pedigree and Sweet Chin Music at WrestleMania 28 wasn't enough to keep the Dead Man down, she was marking out like she had never stopped watching wrestling 15 years earlier. She still did not know who Undertaker was fighting at WrestleMania 29, but she was definitely sold on his upcoming match.
Then I showed her the Raw tribute to Paul Bearer right after he died, including CM Punk's shocking interruption of the tribute. She quickly put the pieces together and was about as hyped up as she could be for a wrestling show that she didn't know much about. I didn't have any time to tell her who Daniel Bryan or The Shield were, or who unimportant people like Ryback or Jack Swagger or Randy Orton were, but the main goal was accomplished.
The night of WrestleMania 29 finally arrives. We're about halfway through the show, and so far it's been a pretty lackluster event. Not surprisingly, Daniel Bryan's match was short-changed on time. Ryback's match with Mark Henry was awful. Jericho's match had a disappointing ending. I had no idea that Diddy was still relevant in 2013, so his performance was my bathroom break. And Dolph Ziggler did not cash in on Alberto Del Rio because WWE apparently prefers to save big moments like that for cable television rather than PPV. This show really needed a major kick in the ass.
And then out comes Living Colour to perform Cult of Personality. I have no interest in music, but I have to admit that seeing Living Colour do their thing live is pretty neat. My brother and sister are totally into it because they are hardcore fans of that kind of music and had never seen Living Colour perform before.
CM Punk, accompanied by Paul Heyman with the urn, walks to the ring and unveils his brand new t-shirt. This man looks like he has a chip on his shoulder. Here he is wrestling on the upper card of the show that he deserves to be main eventing, and I find myself 100% in his corner and actually hoping that he is the 1 in 20-1. There is no doubt in my mind that CM Punk deserves that accolade. When the Undertaker's initial gong sounds, Punk lets out a guttural scream. Here is a man who half-asses nothing; he is determined to once again prove to all the out-of-touch folks backstage that he is still the best guy they got.
And The Undertaker's entrance is just the coolest damn thing there is to see live. Holy shit, the lights go out and there are hands from damned souls reaching out from a pit at The Undertaker's feet as the phenom makes his legendary entrance with massive bursts of flames shooting up in the air behind him. We are all standing and in awe of what we are about to witness. The Undertaker's entrance alone is a million times better than anything else on the show up to this point. This man is simply a god.
But CM Punk doesn't give a shit about that routine. The lights come on and CM Punk is outside the ring, verbally taunting his opponent while flippantly tossing the urn around like it's a meaningless hunk of junk. CM Punk doesn't respect the Undertaker or his streak. Punk emphasizes this fact after the bell rings by slapping Undertaker in the face and darting out of the ring as fast as he can. Punk leads Undertaker on a chase back into the ring and Punk takes the upper hand with a barrage of strikes to Undertaker's head and upper body. Punk squeezes in yet another disrespectful slap to the face because he's just the biggest jerk in the world.
Undertaker finally starts unloading with punches on Punk outside of the ring and we're just buzzing this entire time. Punk's body is tossed into the timekeeper's area and his face is rammed into the announcer's table. Undertaker is already clearing the table off for more destruction and we're only two minutes into the match.
The crowd is alternating between chants for each superstar. Punk's body is draped across the ring apron and Undertaker's leg drop is on its way, hitting its mark as Paul Heyman looks on in frustration.
Undertaker scares the referee away from him and then climbs the buckle for Old School. We're all going crazy in anticipation of this popular move, but Punk takes away all of our excitement by tossing Undertaker off the top turnbuckle with an arm drag. Punk follows this up with the unthinkable - his own version of Old School! Punk briefly celebrates his own genius afterwards because he is just the greatest heel around.
Punk eventually hits a top rope ax handle smash on Undertaker to the outside of the ring. Back inside the ring, Punk counters Undertaker's punches with a swinging neck breaker, and he is fully in control of this match. Meanwhile with each pin attempt Paul Heyman is always there to annoyingly shout out reminders as to how close the streak is to being broken. Only one second away! Three quarters of a second away! Just a half second away! You're the best in the world!
Punk then gets a little too cocky and goes for Old School again, but he winds up crotched on the top rope. Undertaker kicks Punk's vulnerable body to the outside mat. Undertaker then looks all the way to the ropes on the empty side of the ring, and it is clear that Undertaker is going to try jumping the rope. I can't believe this. The Undertaker has lost his mind. This move almost ended in disaster for Undertaker a few years earlier at WrestleMania 25. Should he even be trying this anymore? My brother knows that it's coming too and he echoes his concerns as well.
Undertaker runs full force into the ropes and is actually going for it! But at the last second Paul Heyman climbs the apron and that halts Undertaker dead in his tracks. Taker grabs Heyman by the throat going for a choke slam, but then Punk comes flying in out of nowhere with a springboard clothesline, dropping Undertaker to the mat and saving Heyman's ass. Undertaker narrowly escapes the pin fall attempt. Every two count from this point on has us all on the edge of our seats, even though we should know that Punk never beats anybody with a springboard clothesline.
Punk then starts the sequence for his own five moves of doom, with the running knee/clothesline combo and then climbing the buckle for the Macho Man elbow. Punk really soaks in the crowd reaction on top of the buckle, even briefly sticking his tongue out before planting his (4 out of 10) elbow squarely on the target. Punk goes for the pin, and the people in my section are pretty divided, some screaming hard for Punk to win and others desperately begging Undertaker to kick out. I'm divided with my own siblings on this one too, as they are each rooting hard for Undertaker, while I'm cheering on Punk.
Undertaker escapes the pin and the match continues.
Paul Heyman holds up the urn and Punk mockingly reaches out to it for strength, just like Undertaker would do with Paul Bearer in the 1990's. Punk then stands up and signals for the GTS. Undertaker counters this with a sudden choke slam and Punk just barely kicks out, sending the crowd into an even bigger frenzy. And there are no side conversations going on between my siblings and I like there were during all the previous matches. We are all 100% glued to this match; nothing else matters right now.
They work their way to the outside of the ring towards the announcer's table, where Undertaker sets Punk up for The Last Ride. Undertaker hoists Punk all the way up in the air but then Punk slips out of his grip. Undertaker turns around into a vicious kick to the skull, and Undertaker's body limply falls onto the table.
Punk has a look of urgency in his facial expression, while his eyes connect an invisible line between Undertaker and the top turnbuckle. He knows that he can end the match right here with one major move. Punk darts back into the ring and climbs to the top rope, poised to launch yet another Macho Man elbow drop. Punk leaps off the buckle without regard for his own well-being and there is a brutal impact on top of the table, which didn't give way. Both men are down and Punk is holding his knee in excruciating pain. We're all breathless at this point, hoping both guys are ok.
Punk slides back into the ring and the ref starts counting Undertaker out. Undertaker dramatically makes it back into the ring at the very last moment, and Punk is holding his head in disbelief. Punk can't even stand any more at this point, but he drags himself along the mat over to Undertaker's prone carcass. Punk goes to grab Undertaker's leg but is immediately caught in an attempt at Hell's Gate. Punk fights off Undertaker from completely locking it in and eventually flips his body over Undertaker's, going for a surprise pin that Undertaker escapes. Punk doesn't relent at all, now grabbing Undertaker's arm and head and locking in the Anaconda Vise.
Paul Heyman is repeatedly screaming out for Undertaker to tap out. Undertaker's shoulders are down and the referee starts the count. One...Two...and Undertaker emphatically sits up right before the three count, still in Punk's clutch, but staring into Punk's eyes with a menacing glare that would cause any normal man to crap their pants right on the spot.
Punk's eyes open as wide as they can and his mouth is gaped open. This is just the greatest thing; how can any wrestling fan not love this moment right here?
Undertaker stands up and firmly grabs Punk by the throat. He goes for the choke slam but Punk floats out of it and Undertaker turns around right onto Punk's shoulders for a GTS. The GTS doesn't land all that solidly, and Undertaker bounces off the rope and immediately picks Punk up for a surprise Tombstone Piledriver out of nowhere. Holy shit! One...Two...and Punk kicks out! Paul Heyman is celebrating like a mad man while clutching on to the urn and we all know that we are witnessing something special here.
Both these guys have emptied their tanks and are now on their knees in exhaustion, trading blows. The intensity and speed of these strikes increase as both men make their way to their feet. Punk ultimately loses this war of punches, but with one last desperation effort he knocks down the referee before Undertaker can finish him off with a choke slam.
Heyman once again jumps onto the apron and distracts The Undertaker. Punk takes advantage of this by kicking Undertaker back into the corner of the ring. Punk hobbles across the ring with a running knee. Punk keeps his knee buried in Undertaker's face while raising his arm in celebration. Undertaker comes to life and has Punk in perfect position for The Last Ride. As Undertaker starts walking away from the corner with Punk in position for the deadly power bomb, Heyman hands the urn over to Punk. Punk smashes Undertaker in the back of the head with the urn and Undertaker crumples into a lifeless heap.
Punk takes a few moments to remove the evidence of his cheating from the ring before finally killing the streak. But this asshole isn't just trying to pin the Undertaker; he takes the Undertaker's arms and crosses them over the Dead Man's chest, while Punk sticks his tongue out. It's a perfect mock version of Undertaker's typical pin attempt. And it's as if time has stopped as we are all thinking, "Holy shit, is this the end of the streak?"
But Undertaker just narrowly breaks out of the pin, and my siblings are so happy and relieved while I let out some profanities. Punk is now chewing his fingers and Heyman looks defeated on the outside of the ring.
Punk is defiant until the end. He wildly slashes his finger across his throat, signaling that he has one more GTS left in him. Undertaker elbows out of that one and then tries to grab Punk for a Tombstone Piledriver, but Punk quickly turns it around and gets Undertaker back in position for a GTS. Undertaker's weight is too much at this point and he falls to his feet while turning Punk around into one more Tombstone Piledriver.
One...Two...Three. It's finally over, and the streak is still intact. That match ruled.
You probably know how the rest of the night went. Lesnar and Triple H stunk the joint up while Rock versus Cena, Twice In A Lifetime, was not as entertaining as the match they had the year before.
But when we walked out of WrestleMania 29 that night, all we could talk about was the greatness of Undertaker versus CM Punk. Those guys busted their asses and saved WrestleMania 29 from being a mediocre-at-best show. Instead of walking out of that stadium with a bad taste in my mouth, my siblings and I couldn't stop talking about that incredible match.
So I need to send a giant "Thank you" out to CM Punk and The Undertaker for creating one of the best wrestling memories of my life. It's going to be awfully hard to top that one.