By Chuck Carroll
Every year there is no bigger moment at WrestleMania than when Undertaker hits the ring. All 80,000 fans fall silent as the lights go out and the unmistakable sound of a gong echoes throughout the stadium. Then the iconic organ begins to play as thunder and lightning crash on the stage and fire shoots up from the ground below. Fog slowly begins to flood the entrance way. The crowd builds into a slow frenzy then explodes as a dark shadowy figure appears cloaked in a long jacket and black hat. As he steps forward, the cheers are deafening. For the WWE Universe knows what’s coming: Magic.
The Undertaker’s WrestleMania opponents are almost irrelevant. What matters most is that moment. That entrance and 30 minutes of unequalled showmanship that follows. It holds true win or lose.
So what type of WrestleMania moment will WWE create for Undertaker this year? After his declaration that he will enter the Royal Rumble, the stage is set for perhaps his biggest showdown to date. Prior to his announcement on Monday Night RAW, reports had been circulating for months that Undertaker’s opponent was already locked in. But then a funny thing happened. A relative newcomer popped up on the radar. Prior to Monday, there had been no chatter that Undertaker would wrestle Braun Strowman at WrestleMania. However, speculation began running rampant after WWE cut to a shot of Strowman watching the Deadman’s promo intently on a monitor backstage.
A match pitting the Undertaker against a giant is nothing new. In an industry where storylines get recycled, it is possible that we could see it once again. When the 7-foot 1-inch Great Khali debuted in 2006, he attacked the Undertaker to set up a six-month feud between the two. And who can forget about the 8-foot Giant Gonzalez? Sure, everyone would like to, but he squared off against Undertaker at WrestleMania IX and promptly became another number in the streak. Certainly 6-foot 8-inch Strowman could be just the ticket WWE is looking for.
It is a fact that Vince McMahon loves to push big guys. He’s always been a fan of giants. Much of WWE’s very foundation was built around Andre The Giant. So a matchup against Strowman would make a ton of sense on paper. But is that really where WWE is heading? I wouldn’t count on it.
Strowman can get a rub just by trading blows with Undertaker during the Royal Rumble match. It doesn’t need to become a full-on feud to grow his credibility. Yes, if that match were to occur, millions would tune in to watch simply because it’s Undertaker at WrestleMania. However, it wouldn’t generate a great deal of interest among casual fans who are responsible for the spike in pay-per-view buys and new WWE Network subscriptions the company is counting on for WrestleMania.
WWE is reportedly keen on having Undertaker wrestle John Cena at WrestleMania this year. And a match between the two headlining the event would almost certainly bring WWE the economic fortunes it is seeking. Cena’s reception from the WWE Universe is always a 50-50 mix of cheers and jeers. But should this match take place, the boos will reverberate from Orlando all the way to New Orleans where next year’s spectacle will be held.
Now, here is where this match gets interesting. A lot has been made about Cena’s quest to join Ric Flair as a 16-time world champion. From all appearances, the pieces are in place for that to happen at the Royal Rumble when he faces AJ Styles for the title. But I’m not 100 percent sold Cena will walk away the victor that night. I think it’s possible that the title changes hands two weeks later at Elimination Chamber. This still allows WWE plenty of time to properly build a feud between Cena and Undertaker heading into WrestleMania.
But will the Undertaker win the Royal Rumble match? It would undoubtedly be an incredible moment, but I don’t think we’ll see it. Instead, we could see the Deadman get his guaranteed title shot by winning the main event at Elimination Chamber.
Seeing the 16-time World Champion John Cena vs. Undertaker and a 23-1 record at the granddaddy of ‘em all would be an enormous win for WWE, even if the match has been rumored and speculated for months. And seeing Undertaker’s hand raised as the new champion would be a WrestleMania moment we can all remember.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.