The Phenomenal One vs. The Phenom.
That billing alone is epic. The match itself? Maybe not.
From the sounds of rumblings, WrestleMania 36 will feature an Undertaker match. And his opponent is set to be AJ Styles, according to a report from WrestleZone's Bill Pritchard.
But like any supposed Undertaker match on a big stage, it has a "five years too late" feeling to it. Undertaker's matches haven't been the best as of late, with Father Time playing its part. And while he hasn't crashed and burned like he did in June's ill-fated encounter with Goldberg in Saudi Arabia, his brief appearances haven't been much to write home about.
The fact that it feels like Styles was specifically picked as Undertaker's opponent to massage these concerns in the first place is a red flag, right? That's a testament to Styles' best-in-the-world status, if not his best-of-all-time status. Vince McMahon and Co. know who to go to for this sort of thing, and we've seen it time and again.
But getting a passable match doesn't do either of the guys any favors in the legacy department. It's the same reason a Taker-Sting match never happened—having a matchup for the sake of having a matchup doesn't trump how good or bad a match is.
Build and story has to play a role here. A Styles-Undertaker build could end up, well, boring. Maybe it's the type of match that doesn't need much of a build at all. But that's problematic because it would feel like they are going head-to-head just for the sake of doing it.
That's especially a concern considering there are much more interesting stories available. It's hard not to think about how fun it would be to see Undertaker go after Bray Wyatt's Fiend. And watching The Fiend put down Taker after a brief spot-filled match filled with mystique would be thrilling.
Speaking of mystique, how amazing would it be to see Aleister Black set his sights on The Deadman? How many wonders would it work for WWE's next potential Undertaker-type character to put down Taker himself with a Black Mass at WrestleMania?
Love or hate Styles (it should overwhelmingly be the former), his story against the Undertaker just doesn't set pulses racing in a similar way. It just doesn't feel like there's a ton at stake in this hypothetical matchup. Either guy could lose without much in the way of consequences. Nor does it build either up for the future. And if Undertaker pulls out the retirement card in an effort to make this meaningful, well, we've seen that before, haven't we?
And this doesn't even mention the other possibilities for Styles. He could go all sorts of ways at 'Mania, including a vicious rematch with a returning John Cena. He could gun for a title. Maybe he even throws down with an NXT talent.
Look, nobody is saying the hypothetical match here isn't a big deal. Surely Styles has always dreamed of facing off with Undertaker. And surely something behind the scenes has made him the choice—likely Taker himself.
It's just unfortunate that it comes at a time when it's getting thrown together just to have it when there are so many better stories—and potentially matches—available on the year's most important card.
Then again, WWE has been known to surprise, and the potential lack of expectation here could make for a shocker if the story is done right and the match does indeed see Styles carry the workload to what would appear to be an unknown finish.
But for every surprise, there's a lot that goes wrong and doesn't hit right too. And while Styles has an incredible in-ring hit rate, more goes into it than that, especially considering story and the long-term implications of such a stage. Never mind the fact Taker hasn't hit the ring since July 2019 and hasn't had a 'Mania match since 2018.
Maybe there is a reality wherein this is an idea WWE has leaked to measure the reaction before deciding which way to go. There's plenty of time. And if that's the case, here's to hoping a better story surrounds what is sure to be a brief, impactful match with far-reaching implications.
As great as Styles-Undertaker might sound, it doesn't do much in a few key areas. It would make more sense for someone such as Aleister Black to naturally use his character to slot into the role and maybe pull off a shocking win.
For now, the rumored match is a ho-hum, almost going-through-the-motions idea. And from WWE's perspective, that can't be a good thing. The Phenomenal One vs. The Phenom sounds good when viewed with that tagline, but WWE needs to think beyond that.