At WWE’s WrestleMania XXXIV pay-per-view on Sunday, the legendary Undertaker made a triumphant return, squashing John Cena like a bug. After last year’s loss to Roman Reigns in the main event of WrestleMania XXXIII, many fans had believed that The Undertaker had retired for good. Following a nearly 30-year in-ring career, age was starting to visibly catch up with The Dead Man, with most online appraisals of his encounter with Reigns calling it a huge disappointment.
At age 53, it’s not like Undertaker (real name Mark Callaway) has anything left to prove, and no one would have resented him for retiring after the Reigns match. Of course, in the context of WWE storylines, one man very much did resent Taker’s exit: John Cena. A WrestleMania dream match between the two top WWE stars had been rumored for years, but never come to fruition for various reasons. After failing to earn his way to WrestleMania by other means, Cena decided to go for broke and call out The Reaper.
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Cena spent weeks on Monday Night Raw relentlessly insulting Undertaker, in the hopes that the multi-time WWE champion could be stirred out of hiding in order to defend his honor and reputation. Surprisingly, Undertaker never showed up, at least not until last night at WrestleMania. Not only did Undertaker return, he did so with a vengeance, immediately pummeling Cena with strikes. While Cena mustered a tiny amount of offense, Taker would not be denied, hitting all his signature moves on the way to chokeslamming and tombstone piledriving Cena into next week. In the end, Undertaker pinned Cena clean in less than three minutes.
While some may have been disappointed by the one-sided nature of the Undertaker/Cena contest, the live crowd ate it up, and in the end, it was probably the best call the WWE could make. With the possible exceptions of Shawn Michaels and Hulk Hogan, no wrestler is more closely associated with WrestleMania than The Undertaker. For over 20 years, Undertaker maintained an undefeated streak at WrestleMania that was finally broken by Brock Lesnar in 2014. To have a WrestleMania without Undertaker almost seems wrong.
Yet, the reality is that The Undertaker is not the performer he once was. As evidenced by his last few WrestleMania matches, the man just isn’t as elite an athlete as he used to be, and having him try to go back and forth with John Cena – a performer 13 years younger – for very long would likely have led to another disappointing encounter. What WWE opted to do accomplished two things. First, Undertaker’s possibly final WrestleMania match now sees the legend go out on a win instead of a loss, and if anyone deserves that, it’s him. Second, it allowed the fans in New Orleans and watching at home to see Undertaker get to do all his crowd-pleasing spots without the aging fighter being forced to push his physical limits once again.
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