In my last Po Wrestling-related recommendation, I wrote about had WWE had to get pretty creative during WrestleManis 36 thanks to COVID, as best epitomised by the hilariously bizarre, bizarrely hilariously Firefly Fun House match between John Cena and Bray Wyatt.
The short version is that the event was done behind closed doors and the whole thing was pre-taped already, so the writers and producers took the opportunity to two a pair of cinematic matches — basically filmed fight scenes — the aforementioned Firefly Fun House on night two of the event, and a Boneyard Match on night two.
He was never quite as popular or prominent as a Hulk Hogan or a Stone Cold, but he was a major of the company across four decades, and was notably one of the few major stars in WWE never to leave for WCW during the Monday Night Wars.
To put it in perspective, he made a record 27 WrestleMania appearances. Second place on the list is Triple H with 23. To put it further in perspective, Taker’s record is 25-2 (with 21 straight victories), Triple H’s (the owner of the company‘s son-in-law, by the way) is 10-13.
All of this is to say that that Taker is one of WWE’s major attractions and foremost veterans.
And that was basically the entire premise of the Boneyard Match. Industry veteran, but relative newcomer to WWE A.J. Styles basically started talking smack (not be confused with WWE talk show, Talking Smack) about Taker, accusing him of being old and washed-up and needing to be put the pasture.
A sentiment, notably, shared by portions of the fanbase after several matches where Taker’s age and condition made themselves very, very apparent…
As an aside, A.J.’s heel (the word for bad guys in Wrestling, see etymology three) work was amazing during the build-up to this match. He is fantastic at playing an insufferable, high-strung, cartoonishly petulant jerk.
So, basically, Taker took offense to A.J.’s slander, as one does. And decided to settle their dispute by fighting it out in a graveyard, trying to bury each other alive, as one does.
Now, the Boneyard wasn’t really a Wrestling match. It was more of an extended cinematic fight scene. Which was probably the best possible decision. They could do things like have Taker shoot lighting at A.J. and other endearingly goofy supernatural stuff. And it also allowed Taker to cover for his weaknesses.
While he may not have been as washed up as A.J. was accusing him of, it’s undeniable that he was slowing down and starting to show his age — he is almost 60, has had a hip replaced, and has spent 30-some years landing on his knees. A cinematic match was a good way to present him like a badass while keeping the actual amount of work he had to do to a minimum.
It’s a smart enough decision that All Elite did exactly the same thing with Sting (basically WCW’s company equivalent of Undertaker) earlier this year, in a match that was similarly well-received for most of the same reasons.
While I’m obviously happy that the COVID pandemic is winding down and things are starting to open back up in earnest, part of me is a little disappointed that WWE is going back to live audiences, because it means we’re going to get less creative lateral thinking that led to stuff like the Fun House and the Boneyard.