Now, if you’ve followed Realmgard for any length of time, you’ll know I’m big into Pro Wrestling.
And that brings me to revisit one of my specific Pro Wrestling Recommendations: The Boneyard Match between A.J. Styles and the Undertaker at WrestleMania 36:
To set the stage, this was April 2020, right as things were first locking down completely because of COVID.
It was, of course, a weird time for everyone. But it was especially weird for Pro Wrestling: no crowds, WWE doing shows inside their training facility, All Elite doing shows in the in the small-scale ampitheatre adjacent to the home stadium of the football team that shares an owner with the wrestling promotion.
A pre-taped WrestleMania with no one in attendance.
As frankly bizzare as it was — and as underwhelming as it made Drew McIntyre‘s coronation — it at least allowed for some very interesting lateral thinking on the promotion’s part.
Over the course of COVID, WWE really leaned into cinematic matches, and the best of those was probably the Boneyard, which stands out by being both an interesting concept and a well-executed match — probably helped by the fact that Taker and Styles are two of the best to ever do it.
Taker is one of the longest-tenured, most respected, and best-presented Wrestlers ever. He was never quite as popular or prominent as a Hulk Hogan or a Stone Cold, but he was a major part 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.
Incidentally, as of 2022, he’s all but certainly going to stay that way.
Following a health scare, Triple H announced his retirement from active Wrestling in the spring of 2022 and basically has his final send-off at WrestleMania 38. On the other hand, he’s now more involved in the behind-the-scenes aspects of the company. Following a string of scandals, Vince McMahon retired in the summer of 2022 and Triple H has since taken over as the company’s head of creative.
All of this is to say that that Taker has one of WWE’s major attractions and foremost veterans more decades.
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) in 2021, in a match that was similarly well-received for most of the same reasons.
Unfortunately, COVID isn’t over yet, but things have at least started opening up again and to a certain extent, a lot of things are getting back to normal, the Wrestling industry among them.
I’m not necessarily going to miss the empty arenas and constant reminders of life during COVID, but I will miss the creativity WWE was able to show with cinematic matches like the Boneyard and the Funhouse.
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