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Schrödinger’s match, or: John Cena’s long road to WrestleMania

John Cena’s path to WrestleMania has been long and it has not been easy.

Now, we all know that if a sixteen-time world champion wants a match at WrestleMania, all he has to do is ask. You know that, I know that, people who don’t even follow wrestling know that.

But the oft-frustrating thing about Cena is that he’s a noble man. He knows he could just take a spot, but that would mean someone else on the roster, and almost certainly someone not as well-established as he, would be in line to lose the spot he just took. To lose not just the exposure and glory of wrestling on the grandest stage of them all, but to lose that fat paycheck that comes with the opportunity, and John is not the kind of man to take that away from someone without earning it.

And so our story begins with John Cena’s return before the Royal Rumble this year. Business as usual, he declared his entry into the Royal Rumble match in hopes of earning a shot at the world-level title of his choosing... and came up short, eliminated by man that won the deal in the end, Shinsuke Nakamura.

Okay. Not the first time Mr. Hustle, Loyalty, and Respect has stumbled on his first step. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back out there, right? Elimination Chamber’s next on the schedule, seven men vying for a chance to be #1 contender to Brock Lesnar’s WWE Universal Championship... and again, Cena came up empty, eliminated this time by Braun Strowman.

Now the desperation started sinking in. With only one pay-per-view left on the Road to WrestleMania, John reached out with both hands and grabbed one of the opportunities SmackDown commissioner Shane McMahon and general manager Daniel Bryan love handing out— if he could beat WWE Champion AJ Styles, his toughest rival in recent memory, he’d earn a spot in the title match at Fastlane.

Lo and behold, Cena did it. He beat the Champ That Runs the Camp and earned himself a spot in what had burgeoned into being a six-pack challenge at Fastlane... and promptly came up short at the actual event. Despite his best efforts to come out hot and secure a WrestleMania match for himself as a seventeen-time world champion (beating WWE’s official record for Ric Flair’s number of reigns, although still a few short of the total number of possible reigns you can assign the Nature Boy), the chaos of a six-way match left John sitting in disbelief as Styles retained.

The dream was over

Through all of this, Cena insisted that he would not demand, he would not beg, he would not plead; he would simply earn opportunity after opportunity until he got to WrestleMania. And after Fastlane, with the door seemingly well and truly shut, he headed out to Raw one more time to declare his intent to go to WrestleMania with us, as a paying fan.

...except he couldn’t quite bring himself to go through with it. Through all the talk of earning a spot, going all the way back to last year’s WrestleMania build and beyond, the idea of a modern-day Cena match against the Undertaker has been tempting. And hey, if you’re calling the Deadman out in a time where he’s shown no inclination to return to the ring, are you really costing anybody else a spot?

And so he did, putting it to Taker that he isn’t as finished as he thinks he is and he’s the only one stopping another match from happening. The thing of it is, he’s not wrong. Yes, against Roman Reigns last year, the Undertaker looked old, tired, and out of step... but he still put up enough of a fight that it took over twenty minutes for the Big Dog to put the Deadman away.

Age in pro wrestling is so often just a number. and the Undertaker is a relatively sprightly 53. 53 years old, after all, is the age at which Genichiro Tenryu introduced the snap brainbuster he’d use as a finishing maneuver through the remaining twelve active years of his career until his retirement in 2015 at the age of 65. Jushin Liger is currently 53 years old and remains performing at a high level, as his match against Will Ospreay at NJPW Strong Style Evolved recently proved.

Now, that’s not to say that the Undertaker isn’t broken down, because he is. He’s a big man in a big man’s business, and worse, a big man who spent years hurling himself around the ring and off the top rope. Age might just be a number, but the real accounting of a professional wrestler’s longevity is in his wear and tear, and Taker is worn and torn to be sure.

A done deal?

Now we come to the part that makes my job harder rather than easier, because the Undertaker has remained silent in the face of Cena calling him out. It got to the point where Cena demanded literally any sign, anything at all and... nothing.

Not one DONG of the gong, not one bolt of lightning, not a cryptic message on the video screen, not an eerie haze settling across the arena, no druids, not even a polite handwritten note declining the match, nothing. The closest thing we’ve had to a sign is the Undertaker’s brother, Kane, standing in John’s way as a roadblock, suggesting that his brother would prefer to rest at this time.

But... “no answer” isn’t necessarily a no. Sure, Cena’s proceeding under the assumption that he’ll be attending WrestleMania as a fan, but every wrestler worth their salt knows you always, always bring your gear.

But if it happens...

This is the part of the preview where I usually like to try and talk about the stylistic aspects of a matchup and break it down, but here, assuming the match takes place, it seems not so much a question of if John Cena wins, but how long it takes him to defeat the Undertaker. But then...

We’re talking about the Undertaker. And not just “the Undertaker”, but the Undertaker at WrestleMania. The show where he’s racked up a record of 23-2 and beaten the likes of everyone from Kevin Nash to Randy Orton to CM Punk.

There’s something about WrestleMania that puts the Deadman into another gear, and it always has. Sure, maybe he can’t stand up to forces of nature like Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns, but given his failures on his way to WrestleMania, can you say with a straight face that John Cena is on that kind of roll?

And further, all signs point to the idea that the Undertaker will not be coming out as the undead wizard we know and love. Kid Rock’s entry to the WWE Hall of Fame, Taker’s own reluctance to show his face, the ending of WrestleMania 33 where he left his hat and coat in the ring... The American Badass, Big Evil, call him what you will, it’s time.

And take it from me, Cagesiders, there’s nothing like a change of image to lift you out of a pit and fill you with energy you never thought you’d have again. It might just be the thing that pushes Taker across the finish line for the 1-2-3.

Assuming the match even happens, Is John Cena the “3” in 23-3 or will the Undertaker keep on rollin’ to his 24th WrestleMania victory?


Who will win?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    John Cena
    (62 votes)
  • 78%
    The Undertaker
    (230 votes)
292 votes total Vote Now

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