Before we start, I should tell you that one of my strongest held pro wrestling beliefs is that “Heel Biker Taker” is the best version of Undertaker.
Any character who, when the broken man he’s pummeling desperately asks “what are you doing?”, responds with “I’m kicking your ass... WHAT DO YOU THINK I’M DOING?” is aces in my book.
But I’m also not someone who really wants to see the Dead Man wrestle again after his loss at and exit from WrestleMania 33 in Orlando last spring. So the signs I’m seeing for John Cena’s angle with Taker heading into this year’s Showcase of The Immortals have me feeling conflicted. But despite (or, based on the response of the Detroit crowd to Cena’s promo on Mar. 12, maybe because of) Vince McMahon’s oft-stated “give the people what they want” mantra, it looks like the match is going to happen.
Convenient then that the tack I’d hope they’d take if they were going to do it is the one I think they are taking.
The unraveling of the supernatural kayfabe mythos Undertaker brought back to WWE when he entered Madison Square Garden for WrestleMania XX 14 years ago has been going on for a while. The loss to Brock Lesnar in New Orleans in 2014 began to show his human side. That also provided another reason to tie in Taker’s mixed martial arts interests - not something an undead mortician from the Old West would pick up - which started appearing in his act during the series with Shawn Michaels and Triple H from ‘09 - ‘11.
It all kicked into another gear when Roman Reigns beat him last year, though.
We almost immediately got an out-of-character appearance in a George Strait promotional video, and the man behind the gimmick started showing up occassionally in WWE’s own behind-the-scenes product. Sure, there’s a difference between what we get in WWE Network documentaries and on Raw - as we saw on the 25th anniversary show - but the lines are blurrier than ever in the ‘Reality’ Era. And that’s crucial to this angle.
Cena called out Taker in a new way... bringing the workout videos sites like Cageside make their bread and butter on on the Road to WrestleMania every year into the story. The Phenom introduced his wife Michelle McCool to kayfabe when he embraced her after what looked like his last WWE match on April 2, 2017.
And that’s what rode off into the sunset at the Citrus Bowl. Not Undertaker the wrestler, but the mystical aspects of his act he’s used for most of his legendary career. What we’re left with is a guy who loves his family, and this business.
The challenge laid down by Big Match John in Detroit didn’t only expose McCool’s Instagram, it also accused the Phenom of hiding in shame. This is his opportunity to not only refute that, but to say he’s coming back for one last ride without something else he could have been hiding behind for years - his gimmick.
Since he went back to that schtick, WWE’s been hesitant to embrace Taker’s biker era. His last ‘Mania showdown with Trips didn’t focus too much on their history at X7, which was during his brief run as the American Bad Ass. But, hell, the man who sings the song “American Bad Ass” will be in the Superdome on April 8 (and Kid Rock’s song being one of Undertaker’s entrance themes was listed among his credentials in his Hall of Fame video). Think what you will of this year’s celebrity entrant into the Hall, at least if I’m right, we can do this sans Limp Bizkit.
Win or lose, Big Evil answering Cena’s call makes it so WWE isn’t completely erasing the emotional moment we shared in Orlando. And it will hopefully allow Mark Calaway to exit the stage as something a little closer to the man he is - someone who’s played a big role not just on our screens, but in other’s careers, and the core of the overall pro wrestling business - and not just the character he played.
The kayfabe-bending, social media-driven ‘Reality’ Era is tough to accept for some... an old school guy like Taker probably chief among them. But this is the world we live in now, and the way he’s presented himself lately indicates he’s accepted that. This Cena match is an opportunity for Undertaker to make history one more time in a way that helps cement the transition into that new era while honoring his importance to previous ones. And it makes sense for the story, too.
So, I don’t think it’s just my personal desire to hear a Harley engine instead of a gong at WrestleMania 34 next month. Even if you throw out my meta ramblings, the American Bad Ass can appreciate John Cena’s anything-it-takes approach to getting the match, having done something similar to Ric Flair once. And it’ll allow him to end his career on his terms, doing what he does best.
Kicking someone’s ass.