This match signals the end of The Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak. Of course, I don’t mean his WrestleMania winning streak, but his streak of having the best match at WrestleMania. It began at WrestleMania 23, with his surprisingly great match against Batista (which even bettered the main event, pitting John Cena against Shawn Michaels). It ended with this match at WrestleMania 29 against CM Punk. Even in this match, ‘Taker was visibly struggling to keep up. His matches against Brock Lesnar and Bray Wyatt both failed to even touch the quality of his previous matches. The years of wrestling have taken their toll on him, and it’s hard to envision him having another mind-blowing WrestleMania match ever again (unless he battles John Cena…).
But at least he gave us this classic bout with Punk! Let’s not talk about the risible build up to the match, which included Punk desecrating Paul Bearer’s urn (Bearer had recently passed away). The WWE truly scraped the barrel with that one. ‘Taker looked old and knackered, and his pot belly did not bode well for the match. However, within the first couple of minutes of the bout, it was easy to tell that ‘Taker still had one last great match in him. He just needed Punk to draw it out of him. Punk and ‘Taker had battled before, rather infamously, in late 2009. The feud, both in the ring and out of it, was utterly dull. With this match, they erased the memories of one of the worst Hell In A Cell matches ever!
One of the reasons this match is so compelling is that ‘Taker is on the defence for much of it. Apart from his early flurry, going through the motions with his punches in the corner and leg drop on the apron, ‘Taker never really gains much momentum. Punk’s offence really begins with his stolen ‘Old School,’ which brings the crowd to their feet (and that is definitely a mark-out moment!). From that point on, Punk always seems to be one step ahead of him, and it tricks you into thinking Punk can break the streak. It also helps, ironically, that ‘Taker looks like a decrepit warrior, desperately fighting to remain relevant. He does his best to keep up with Punk, but at times, his eyes tell us that he is close to giving up.
Punk stealing ‘Taker’s ‘Old School’ move is only one of many memorable moments in the match. There’s Punk’s elbow from the top rope to a prone ‘Taker on the Spanish announce table. The table doesn’t break, and both wrestlers look legitimately hurt afterwards. There’s Punk’s GTS, which ‘Taker rallies against and hit a Tombstone to create a nail biting near-fall. And the closing moments of the bout are the hottest on the card, as both wrestlers block each other’s finishers and Punk uses a foreign object to almost score the Streak-ending pinfall.
There is little to fault in ‘Taker’s last great ‘Mania match. Punk wanted to prove that he should have been in the main event, defending his epic WWE Championship reign against The Undertaker. Instead of boring Cena vs The Rock, imagine Taker’s Streak vs Punk’s WWE Title reign (the longest in modern history!). Punk made us believe that he could end the Streak in what is his greatest ‘Mania match (but it isn’t ‘Taker’s greatest ‘Mania match…). ‘Taker fought valiantly to hang with the younger Punk, and even though he looked haggard, he still managed to put on a fantastic showing. It’s a match full of shocks and surprises that builds to a nail-biting finale.
VERDICT: 9/10. CM Punk’s greatest ‘Mania match, and The Undertaker’s last great ‘Mania match had (unless he proves me wrong!). It would have been a brilliant swansong for ‘Taker…
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(Click here for my review of #67 Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Triple H (Three Stages of Hell Match, No Way Out 2001))