April 1 is fast approaching and for wrestling fans that means one thing: WrestleMania XXVIII.
That’s right, the Super Bowl of wrestling, “the granddaddy of ‘em all,” “the showcase of the immortals” is almost upon us.
While the event’s headlining match sees The Rock square off against John Cena, by far the most significant (and talked about) match on the card is that between WWE legends Triple H and The Undertaker.
On the line is Undertaker’s 19-0 Wrestlemania undefeated streak, which began way back at Wrestlemania VII with a win over Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka.
As an added twist, serving as the special guest referee is WWE Hall of Famer “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels: Triple H’s real-life best friend and one of the greatest performers in the business.
From an immediate financial perspective, the match makes perfect sense in that Triple H, The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels are all incredible talents and huge draws.
Indeed the 80,000-seat Sun Life Stadium in Miami sold out within 24 hours and coupled with the return of The Rock, there is talk amongst the Internet Wrestling Community of this being one of the best-selling WWE pay-per-views in years.
But for serious, lifelong wrestling fans like myself, the match is very much a disappointment.
Not only is this the second year in a row and third time to date that Triple H and the Undertaker have met at WrestleMania, but the match is arguably meaningless as both men are at the twilight of their careers with nothing left to gain or lose.
No matter what, The Undertaker will soon retire as one of the greatest wrestlers in the history of the sport, his reputation not blemished by a WrestleMania loss in 20 appearances.
At the same time, Triple H does not need any more accolades as he has already accomplished everything of note in the business, including marrying into the royal family of wrestling.
Ideally, breaking Undertaker’s streak should be a symbolic passing of the torch. It should mark the graceful retirement of one legend and the crowning of another.
It should be the WWE’s way of announcing to the world who the new face of their product is and the man who will be carrying the company through the coming years.
For decades, this metaphorical torch was passed through the WWE Championship Belt. Every household name in the wrestling business has held the belt at least once in his career and has passed it over to the next champion in line when the time came.
Andre the Giant passed it to Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania III in one of wrestling’s most iconic moments. Ric Flair lost it twice, once to “Macho Man” Randy Savage and again to Bret “The Hitman” Hart.
After a great deal of controversy, Hart lost the belt to Shawn Michaels who was eventually succeeded by “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
In recent years however, the WWE Championship has been passed around by so many mediocre and undeserving talents (John Cena, Sheamus, Randy Orton, Alberto Del Rio, CM Punk) who could obviously not carry the company, that it has lost its symbolic importance.
Breaking The Undertaker’s streak is the last legitimate way the WWE can crown the new face of the company and assure fans that the future looks bright in terms of talent.
Therein lies the problem: the future is bleak and the company knows it.
In order to keep viewers interested in its stagnant product, the WWE has been consistently bringing back and pushing old and retired talent from the glory days of the “Attitude Era” when ratings were through the roof.
Over the last few years, the WWE has brought back names like The Rock, Kevin Nash, Steve Austin, Chris Jericho and Booker T, among others, to fulfil various different roles.
In doing so, the WWE is inadvertently repeating the same mistakes that ultimately spelt the downfall of World Championship Wrestling (WCW), Vince McMahon’s biggest rival promotion.
During the mid-90s, Ted Turner’s WCW was the most popular professional wrestling company in the world. Led by Hulk Hogan and the New World Order, WCW was crushing the WWE in both ratings and popularity during the infamous “Monday Night Wars.”
The mistake they made was rather than develop new, young talent of their own, WCW simply overpaid for aging stars from other promotions.
While the WWE was developing names like Austin, The Rock, D-X and Mick Foley, WCW was handing out huge contracts to over-the-hill performers like Bret Hart, the Ultimate Warrior, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and Ted DiBiase.
In the end, the WWE’s innovative, forward-looking approach to business proved to be the winning formula and in 2001, McMahon conquered his greatest rival to the tune of a paltry $5 million.
But rather than learning from WCW’s mistakes, WWE seems bent on repeating them. Maybe the company is too focused on making straight-to-DVD films or McMahon is finally out of ideas.
Regardless, the pressure is on to have WrestleMania XXVIII be an incredible show: it could be the last one for a long time.
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