For months, it has been speculated that not only would the Undertaker be putting his 20-0 WrestleMania Streak on the line at the event at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, but also that he would be facing the self-proclaimed "Best in the World," CM Punk.
Now, several dirtsheets are reporting that the Undertaker isn't healthy enough to make an in-ring return at the biggest wrestling event of the year, and WWE Creative has been told to come up with other storylines and matches for Punk leading into WrestleMania. After his lengthy championship run, Punk definitely deserves a high-profile spot on the Show of Shows.
The obvious choice for many is to add CM Punk to the expected WWE Championship match between current champ The Rock and Royal Rumble winner John Cena, making it a Triple Threat match. That would certainly satisfy the internet fans who believe Punk should be a big part of the WrestleMania main event and WWE Championship picture.
Personally, I'm not a huge fan of Triple Threat matches as main events at WrestleMania. WWE has been way too reliant on the Triple Threat gimmick over the years to the point it doesn't seem special. (Case in point, during his 434-day reign, four of Punk's 13 pay-per-view title defenses were in Triple Threat matches, two involving Cena.) I'd certainly rather see a one-on-one main event between the Rock and Cena with the title on the line. In fact, when I purchased my WrestleMania tickets for the first time this year, that was the main event I was hoping for.
However, the other major selling point was to see the Undertaker defend the Streak at WrestleMania. If he's not part of the show, it would be a huge disappointment. (Even though I was really holding out for Taker defending the Streak against Brock Lesnar.)
If the Undertaker decides not to work WrestleMania, then what are the options for Punk? He certainly deserves a top-tier match on the card, and I'm not sure who else you can pair him with that would be fresh and feel like a WrestleMania moment for the self-proclaimed Best in the World.
Chris Jericho, who returned at the Royal Rumble, is off the table. Punk wrestled him at last year's 'Mania and again on Raw this past week. While it's magic when they get in the ring together, it's no longer a WrestleMania level match.
Lesnar? It's rumored that WWE wants a Punk-Lesnar feud later in the year, and I think Paul Heyman's association with both will allow that to happen. But it seems the ball is already rolling toward a Lesnar-Triple H rematch at 'Mania.
That takes the Game out of conversation as well, which is a shame. In addition to that Undertaker-Lesnar match, I was hoping for a Triple H-Punk rematch from Night of Champions two years ago as well, with Punk going over. While I've long been a much bigger fan of Triple H than Punk, I think that it would be a signature victory for the Straight-Edge Superstar and what better stage than WrestleMania? Alas, it isn't going to happen.
Fans wishin', hopin' and prayin' for the return of Stone Cold Steve Austin to face Punk can keep on doing that. It's a pipe dream. If Austin is going to return to the ring, and I don't think he is, I'd think it'd be when WrestleMania likely returns to Texas, at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, in a couple of years.
Realistically, the only full-time opponents on the same level as Punk would be Sheamus and Ryback. And facing either of them won't give Punk a real WrestleMania moment.
We've already seen Ryback vs. Punk a couple of times on pay-per-view and television. It doesn't feel fresh enough for WrestleMania, although you could argue that Ryback beating Punk clean would give some closure to their feud, but that doesn't really give Punk the moment he deserves.
Sheamus? Meh. They had a few matches when they were WWE and World champions, respectively -- notably the one on the first episode of Main Event. And they were quite good. Since they haven't faced each other on PPV, this might be fresh enough for fans to buy into, although it still feels like a mid-card match at WrestleMania, and not a main event.
Daniel Bryan? Maybe. Again, it certainly wouldn't be fresh, but they tore the house down a few times on pay-per-view last year and it would be a welcome "wrestling-heavy" match on a card that is likely to be a lot more sizzle than substance.
How about challenging for the World Championship against newly christened babyface Alberto Del Rio? Perhaps. Would it elevate the status of the Big Gold Belt to have Punk going after it on the biggest show of the year, or feel like Punk was being shoved down the card to go after the title many wrestling fans recognize is second rate to the WWE belt?
One out of the box solution that might be to have the Paul Heyman guys -- Lesnar and Punk -- team up to take on Triple H and the Undertaker. That's a ton of star power in one ring, giving it a big time WrestleMania feel, even if it isn't a one-on-one match. It would also be a way to keep Undertaker from taking too many bumps while still allowing fans to see him in action -- and preserve the Streak. It would also give fans like me who want to see Lesnar and the Undertaker lock horns one more time a chance to do that without having to carry an entire match together (not to mention Punk and Trips facing off again).
There would also be some uneasiness between Triple H and the Undertaker working together because of their past confrontations that would make the bout intriguing and -- assuming the babyfaces come out on top -- it could lead to tension in the Heyman camp that ends up leading to the aforementioned Punk-Lesnar feud over the summer.
The only issue is whether Undertaker would be willing to come back for a tag team match. If he's not healthy, he's not healthy and he might not want to work at all.
Barring that happening, the only other match I think would be suitable for Punk would be for the "Best in the World" to take on one of the Greatest of All-Time. Of course, the only two to fit that bill are Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair. While Shawn tends to show up for WrestleMania season, he's been adamant that he doesn't want to wrestle another match. Meanwhile, Flair -- incidentally retired in the WWE by Michaels at WrestleMania five years ago -- has come out of retirement in other promotions.
Some would be furious to see Flair wrestle in the WWE again after the send-off he was given five years ago, but as I wrote right after the Slammy Awards when he and Punk had a verbal confrontation, I have no problems with it. Wrestling retirements have never meant anything when there is money to be made, and without the Undertaker, there is money to be made with a Punk-Flair match at WrestleMania.
Hell, WWE could get a couple weeks of compelling television out of Flair saying he's not going to come out of retirement and have him convince Shawn to give his blessing to do so to prove he can still kick CM Punk's butt, after Punk does a bunch of dastardly things to urge Flair to fight him.
More than likely, this will all be moot, and Undertaker will decide to get back in the ring on more time at WrestleMania 29. But if it doesn't, I think these are the best paths for WWE to pursue to ensure a WrestleMania moment for CM Punk.