To celebrate the Undertaker’s 55th birthday, we’re going to look at what many people consider one of the last true dream matches. One wrestler has called himself ‘The Phenomenal’ for almost two decades. The other has been referred to as WWE’s ‘Phenom’ for almost the same amount of time. At this year’s WrestleMania, The Undertaker and AJ Styles will finally cross paths.
As wrestlers, they’re almost mirror images of each other. Styles is one of the best in-ring performers alive and in many fans’ eyes the best wrestler on the planet. The Undertaker, meanwhile, is the ultimate wrestling character, a mythical figure whose persona has withstood the test of time. Fans have clamored to see these two icons face off in a wrestling ring, and how it’s finally happening. Two of the best pro wrestlers of all time will square off at WrestleMania 36.
For many people, this is a dream match they’d never get to see.
AJ Styles was considered ‘an indy’ guy for so long that people were convinced he’d never get signed by WWE. After all, for the longest time, WWE was the land of giants, bodybuilders, great talkers, and larger-than-life characters. Styles didn’t fit any of those criteria; he was small, physically unimposing, didn’t always cut the best promo and came across as a humble, salt-of-the-earth family man (which, while admirable, doesn’t match up with the kind of eye-catching superstar aura WWE likes to project).
But that doom and gloom was put to rest in 2016. When A.J. Styles debuted for WWE in 2016. He reached the main-event in very short order and captured the WWE Championship by September of that year. Thereafter, he remained in the main event scene for the better part of two years and later went on another reign as WWE Championship. That second reign lasted more than a full year, becoming the longest world title reign in SmackDown history. It became clear that WWE wanted Styles nickname as ‘The Phenomenal One’ to be more than just a silly catchphrase.
With each New Year – and with each new WrestleMania – one question would dawn on fans’ minds: whom would the Undertaker face at WrestleMania? For reasons known only to him, The Undertaker keeps coming back at WrestleMania, despite him not really having to. He still had a match at a WrestleMania until WrestleMania 35. That marked the first time in nineteen years that The Undertaker had neither wrestled nor even appeared on The Grandest Stage of Them All.
Yet he keeps coming back even to this day, and when he does he almost always gets the main event treatment, because, well, he’s THE UNDERTAKER. And it was that last point that irked AJ Styles enough to throw down the gauntlet and challenge The Deadman.
Now, Styles likely wouldn’t’ve set his sights on the Undertaker if ‘Taker hadn’t ruined Styles’ night in Riyadh. Styles was on his way to winning a gauntlet match for the Tuwaiq Trophy, and his final opponent for that math was supposed to be Rey Mysterio.
But instead of the masked legend appearing, Styles found himself facing another legend when that famous GONG went off. Styles found himself facing off against the Undertaker, who then dropped him with one monstrous Chokeslam and won the match and the trophy.
From there, Styles began to cut one scathing promo after another aimed at the Undertaker. But these promos haven’t been in the same style or tone as the Undertaker’s previous opponents. Those wrestlers all felt the mighty aura of the Undertaker character. They only spoke of the mountain that was defeating him. Previous opponents all spoke highly of The Streak when it was still alive. And even after Brock Lesnar ended The Streak, few wrestlers spoke of The Undertaker in insulting terms. Only John Cena had ever made light of the Undertaker’s life outside of WWE, and that was in a passing joke while he was revisiting his rapper character.
But Styles went one step further. He revealed what was basically an open secret in the WWE world, one that you know is there but you don’t talk about: that the Undertaker is a mortal man. A mortal man with mortal flaws and mortal weaknesses.
Styles cut scathing promos on the Undertaker’s age and his worn-down body. Calling the Undertaker old is taboo in WWE’s world, but Styles did so unabashed and unafraid.
Then on the March 16th episode of RAW, Styles took it one step further. As the Undertaker stood in the ring waiting to sign the contract to make his WrestleMania match with Styles official, Styles appeared on the TitanTron. And there he delivered the most scathing remarks anyone has ever said to the universally-admired Undertaker.
From the safety of WWE’s backstage area, Styles blamed the Undertaker’s continuing returns to WWE on his real-life wife Michelle McCool. Styles told the world what everyone more or less already knew, but was supposed to be kept ‘hush-hush’ among WWE characters. The Undertaker’s mythical and supernatural persona took a back seat to the man’s real-life family.
And in this case, Styles argued that Undertaker’s immediate family – his wife – was the one responsible for the Undertaker tarnishing his own legacy by still wrestling long past his prime.
He condemned both of them for how the Undertaker continues to wrestle and ‘take other people’s spots’. In doing so, Styles echoed the voice of real-life people around the wrestling industry. These included especially pundits and fans – who have articulated that the Undertaker should retire. That he’s tarnishing his legacy by continuing to perform at such a watered down state.
Styles then finished his taunt by calling the Undertaker ‘Mark’, his real first name. This act of wrestling sacrilege would’ve been grounds for severe punishment in another era. But that wasn’t the end of things.
On March 23rd episode of RAW, AJ Styles mocked the Undertaker once again by referencing ‘Taker’s Twitter account (which is a set of three words no one ever thought they’d see together in a sentence). AJ Styles lamented on how the Undertaker has gone from being a mythical and supernatural wrestling monster to a retiree that tweets cheesy charity videos with his wife in their pool.
The Undertaker was furious on March 16th when he demolished Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows last week, and one can only wonder how furious he’ll be when he and Styles clash. And this won’t just be any match; AJ Styles challenged the Undertaker to a Boneyard Match. Whether this is something entirely new or just a rehashed version of the Buried Alive Match remains to be seen.
One thing’s for sure: This is one WrestleMania encounter you cannot afford to miss.