CM Punk came to WrestleMania to prove to the world that The Undertaker was not a Demon from Death Valley, that his mythical urn was nothing but a tin jar full of dirt, that The Deadman’s storied Streak was just another record waiting to be broken.
On The Grandest Stage of Them All, Punk faced the same reality as 20 other Superstars before him — the legend of The Phenom is not just “hocus pocus.”
In what was perhaps the most personal of The Deadman’s 21 WrestleMania matches, Undertaker successfully defended his flawless Show of Shows record against a Superstar flagrant enough to publically desecrate the memory of Undertaker’s close friend and former manager, Paul Bearer. Last seen pouring the contents of Bearer’s hallowed urn on top of The Phenom’s fallen body, Punk was black-hearted in his pursuit to get inside The Deadman’s head, but he did not consider what it would be like to deal with the devils that dwell inside.
Entering MetLife Stadium to the bombast of a live Living Colour performance of his “Cult of Personality” theme, Punk walked fearlessly onto a battlefield where icons like Shawn Michaels, Triple H and Ric Flair had fallen before him. Was it confidence? Arrogance? It may have been both, but the wicked iconoclast from unforgiving Chicago streets did not lose his will when The Deadman approached him through bolts of lightning and plumes of fire in an entrance that has been intimidating challengers since the days when Hulk Hogan was WWE Champion.
WrestleMania is an event designed around spectacle, but once crew members have lugged the drum riser from the stage and the smoke machines have been turned off, what’s left are two gladiators with raw nerves, heavy hands and a willingness to do what is necessary to put the other man down. From the opening bell, this match was a fight — the ugly kind usually witnessed in parking lots of seedy bars on bad nights and not in front of more than 80,000 people.
The Phenom has never believed in remorse. He’s put innocent men in body bags for no other reason than to prove a point. What he would do to the person who desecrated the memory of his close friend, Bearer, was a question some WWE fans were afraid to hear the answer to. It took seconds for The Deadman to drive his fist into Punk’s face, minutes before The Straight Edge Superstar was introduced to the people in the first row.
Punk, to his credit, would not play victim. Underneath a blackened New Jersey sky, the former WWE Champion mocked The Deadman the entire way, aping The Phenom’s patented Old School maneuver and barking insults about Bearer. In those perfect moments where Undertaker had Punk right where he wanted them, the slimy Paul Heyman would inevitably insert himself into the action. With Bearer’s urn in his slippery tentacles, Heyman appeared so slimy and vile that comparisons to Jabba the Hutt would seem like a compliment.
Oddly, The Straight Edge Superstar was his most dangerous when he played by the rules. Countering the best The Deadman threw at him on multiple occasions, Punk made it clear that he had been studying The Phenom’s playbook since he was in middle school. By the time the Chicago native splayed The Undertaker across a ringside table and blasted him with an elbow drop from the turnbuckle, it became apparent that The Streak was very much in danger.
Willed to the ring by what can only be described as supernatural force, The Deadman avoided a count-out loss by nanoseconds. From there, the one-upmanship between the two warriors was off the charts. When The Undertaker locked in Hell’s Gate, Punk countered with a creative pin attempt. When The Straight Edge Superstar connected with the Go to Sleep, The Phenom bounced back with a Tombstone. How Punk was able to kick out of that will be questioned for years to come.
The final moment nearly came when The Deadman went for the Last Ride and Punk responded by smashing him in the head with the urn. Crossing Undertaker’s arms upon his chest and sticking his tongue out at the WWE Universe, the unapologetic menace came closer than maybe anyone to pinning The Phenom on The Grandest Stage of Them All.
The Voice of the Voiceless had mocked The Undertaker’s fallen friend. He embarrassed him. He threw kicks at his knees and dangerous elbows to his head. He laughed at more than two decades of The Deadman’s legacy, thumbed his nose at the things that meant the most to The Phenom. But this match still ended the way these matches always end — with a devastating Tombstone from The Undertaker.
The Straight Edge Superstar is a man who puts weight in numbers. As the longest-reigning WWE Champion of the modern era, Punk recited the digits of his 434-days title reign like a personal mantra. It was a numerical accomplishment that mathematically proved that he was better than the rest. In WWE, though, the only numbers that matter are 21-0.
At WrestleMania, CM Punk entered as a dangerous skeptic with the hubris necessary to break sports-entertainment’s most vital Streak. He left as a victim, another soul claimed and, most importantly, a believer.