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Ask 411 Wrestling: Why Was The Undertaker vs. John Cena at WrestleMania 34 So Short?

October 11, 2021 | Posted by Ryan Byers
WWE Undertaker John Cena WrestleMania 34

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

If you have one of those queries searing a hole in your brain, feel free to send it along to me at [email protected]. Don’t be shy about shooting those over – the more, the merrier.

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One of many Johns to write into the column is sitting in the front row. He bought a ticket:

I’ve always been interested in the decision about Undertaker vs. Cena at Wrestlemania 34 only going for about three minutes. Seemed far too short for what could have been an absolute dream match (particularly if held a few years earlier). Other than the Undertaker saying he was prepared for a longer match, I’ve never really read much about the thinking of having such a short match. Is there anything else you can add?

Yes, there is more to the story, and it actually relates to the unusual build the match had. If you’ll recall, John Cena versus the Undertaker was never actually announced as taking place at Wrestlemania XXXIV in the weeks leading up tot he show. Instead, John Cena cut a series of promos on the Taker challenging him to a match, but UT never accepted and instead Cena claimed that he would be at the biggest show of the year as nothing more than a fan. Everybody assumed that this meant the match would be happening, but it was never expressly stated.

Then, the match did take place, and it ran for a whopping three minutes as John noted.

According to the April 16, 2018 Wrestling Observer Newsletter, everybody was aware of the fact that the Undertaker was not physically capable of wrestling a lengthy match at Mania. That is why the match was never officially promoted for the show – because the company did not want fans thinking that they were going to get an epic dream match between the two legendary wrestlers, even though they wanted to send the signal that they would be interacting on the card in some fashion. For the same reason, the match ran short. Though the Dead Man has subsequently claimed he was prepared for a lengthier encounter, reporting contemporaneous with the event contradicts this.

Donny from Allentown, PA is pretty wonderful:

Since Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff’s recent passing I have heard a lot of rumors about the 1987 Saturday Nights Main Event cage match with Orndorff and Hulk Hogan for fhe WWF Title. From what I heard, in case Andre the Giant wasn’t going to be able to work Wrestlemania III against Hulk Hogan, Orndorff was going to take his place as defending WWF Champion meaning he would have won the title from Hogan on Saturday Nights Main Event. Any truth to this?

I’ve heard this rumor myself, and I have not seen anything out there which confirms it or expressly denies it, but the preponderance of the evidence out there makes it seem fairly unlikely.

First off, Paul Orndorff was on an episode of Ric Flair’s podcast back in 2016, and co-host Conrad Thompson asked Mr. Wonderful why he was not involved in Wrestlemania III. Orndorff’s response was that he simply did not remember, but then Flair spoke up and mentioned that he had some recollection that Paul’s consistent neck injuries kept him off the card. At that point, whether it was legitimate or the power of suggestion, Orndorff began to agree with Flair and stated he thought he was kept off of WM3 by an injury. Similarly, on a 2015 episode of the Two Man Power Trip podcast, Orndorff was asked directly about the story that he was being kept to the side as a potential sub for Andre, and he said he did not recall one way or the other but that he was “probably” supposed to be in that spot.

However, if you look at other evidence out there, Ric Flair’s recollection that Orndorff was off the Mania card due to injury makes a lot more sense.

According to Cagematch, Mr. Wonderful was wrestling a pretty regular WWF schedule throughout February 1987 and the first part of March, but things slowed down significantly in the days heading up to Wrestlemania on March 29. He had a house show match on March 20 in Omaha, teaming with the Honky Tonk Man and Harley Race in a losing effort against George Steele, Jake Roberts, and the Crusher. After that, he did not step into the ring again until June. Though it’s technically possible that this slowdown could have been to keep him “fresh” for a potential Hogan match, it seems far more likely given how wrestlers typically operated in those days that he was just being held off the show because he could not go.

Tyler from Winnipeg is trying to find out more about the man behind the questions:

Do you have an autograph or a selfie or a piece of memorabilia of a wrestler?

I actually do. Back in the early 2000s, the WWF regularly auctioned off memorabilia through its website, and I decided that I needed to own a piece of the Fed. Ultimately, I purchased and still to this day own a Kaientai t-shirt that was worn on camera by Sho Funaki in a food fight that took place on the Thanksgiving episode of Smackdown from the year 2000. He also autographed it. I chose that item to bid on at auction because, in addition to the WWF, I was a big fan of the 1990s Michinoku Pro Wrestling promotion, which is the Japanese company that Funaki and the rest of Kaientai first made their names in before coming over to the United States.

The autographed shirt also came with a certificate of authenticity, which was signed by Linda McMahon in her capacity as CEO of the WWF at the time – though if I’m not mistaken, it’s a replica of her signature as opposed to an original.

Davros says it’s showtime, folks:

So why are there so many wrestling references on Billions?

For those not in the know, Davros is referencing Billions, a television series on Showtime that focuses on the exploits of a wealthy hedge fund manager.

It appears that Brian Koppelman, who co-created the series and has writing credits on several of the episodes, is a wrestling fan. In addition to being the primary person behind Becky Lynch’s cameo on the show, he also did an interview with Sam Roberts about his fandom of Bruno Sammartino and tweeted at one point that he’d love to do a scripted move about the wrestling industry.

Night Wolf the Wise is turning into a belt collector with two questions about NJPW titles of the past:

I wanted to ask a question about NJPW. We know they had the IWGP Heavyweight Championship for years. That title was unified with the IC title to create the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. I read that NJPW had an IWGP Heavyweight Championship (original version) with Hulk Hogan as the first champion. Can you give a brief history of that title?

The “original” version of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship wasn’t like most professional wrestling championships in that it would be won by an individual and then defended until the individual lost it to another competitor. It was more like the type of championship we see in professional team sports like basketball or baseball, where the championship for a year is given to the competitor who wins a tournament. Then, instead of being defended, a new champion is just decided in a new tournament the following year.

The only difference is that, with the original IWGP Championship, rather than the tournament winner being declared champion outright, he would have to wrestle the prior year’s winner in order to claim the prize outright.

There were four of these IWGP Championship tournaments over the years. The first was held in 1983, and Hulk Hogan did in fact defeat Antonio Inoki in the finals to become the first champion. In 1984, Inoki won the tournament and subsequently the title. In 1985, Andre the Giant won the tournament, but he is not considered an IWGP Champion because he lost the follow-up match to defending champion Inoki. In 1986, Inoki stated that he wanted to compete in the tournament again, so he actually vacated the championship rather than facing the tournament winner for it. He ultimately went all the way in the tourney, defeating Dick Murdoch in the finals. It was in 1987 that the company decided to adopt a more traditional championship, the version of the IWGP Title that would last until the creation of the IWGP World Heavyweight Title earlier this year. Antonio Inoki won that tournament as well, defeating Masa Saito in the finals.

After the more traditional championship was established, there was one more IWGP tournament in 1988, being won by . . . you guessed it, Antonio Inoki. The win made him the number one contender to the title that had been established the year before. In 1989, the tournament was held but renamed the World Cup, and then in 1990 it was give the name that is still used to this day: The G1 Climax.

I also read that NJPW had a Real World Championship with Karl Gotch as the first champion. What was the story behind that title, and why was it abandoned?

As near as I can tell, the so-called “Real World Championship” was never meant to be a longstanding championship in New Japan. It was just something used to help promote a few of the company’s earliest shows.

To give a little bit more backstory, NJPW was formed by Antonio Inoki in 1972 when he left the first major wrestling promotion in Japanese history, the JWA. The very first New Japan show took place on March 6 of that year, and the main event was Karl Gotch defeating Inoki. Gotch’s involvement in NJPW was critical. Much of Japanese professional wrestling was built around Japanese natives fighting off foreign heels, and the JWA had most of the top foreign stars willing to come to Japan locked down. Gotch was an exception, though, as he had a longstanding relationship with Inoki and helped train him when he first broke in to the sport. As the primary gaijin wrestling in NJPW, Gotch’s feud with Inoki was an important part of the promotion’s early success.

After the two men main evented the company’s first show together, it was decided that they would have another series of matches later the same year, namely on NJPW’s October 1972 tour. This time, it was decided that a championship belt would be interjected, presumably to make the bouts seem more meaningful.

Thus, NJPW started billing Gotch as the “Real World Champion.” He did not beat anybody for this title. He was just billed as holding it when he came back to the promotion. In fact, the physical belt used to represent the “Real World Title” when Gotch returned to NJPW was the World Heavyweight Title belt of the American Wrestling Alliance, which was a territory promoted by Johnny Doyle and Jim Barnett in the American Midwest in the late 1950s through the mid-1960s. (This is not to be confused with Verne Gagne’s AWA, which was the American Wrestling Association.) Gotch became the American Wrestling Alliance World Champion in 1962 when he defeated Don Leo Jonathan in Columbus, Ohio. The title was eventually unified with the NWA World Heavyweight Title when Lou Thesz beat Gotch in 1964 in Columbus, but Gotch apparently held on to the physical belt and used it as a prop in NJPW a decade later.

Inoki defeated Gotch to become the so-called “Real World Champion” on New Japan’s October 4, 1972 show, but Gotch quickly won it back on October 10, just six days later. The title was never really seen or heard from again, underscoring the fact that, as noted above, it was just being used as a one-off to add some extra excitement to the tour and some extra credibility to Inoki, who could refer to himself as a World Heavyweight Champion after having won it.

In 1973, NJPW would do something similar with the NWF Heavyweight Championship, a belt that originally belonged to a promotion based in upstate New York that was subsequently brought to Japan by wrestler Johnny Powers. The difference is that the NWF Heavyweight Championship did stick around New Japan for a few years, though it was ultimately replaced by the IWGP Heavyweight Championship ans New Japan created its own title instead of playing off the legacy of others.

Unfortunately, I lost the name of the person who asked me this question, and for that I apologize. But here’s the question:

Which PPV do you feel like has the greatest potential for rebooking, and please rebook it?

Without going back and re-reading the card of every pay per view in history, one show that jumps out at me as needing rebooking is the 2000 King of the Ring pay per view. For those who may not remember it, KOTR ’00 looked a little bit like this:

1. Rikishi def. Chris Benoit in a King of the Ring Quarter-Final Match (3:25)
2. Val Venis def. Eddie Guerrero in King of the Ring Quarter-Final Match (8:04)
3. Crash Holly def. Bull Buchanan in a King of the Ring Quarter-Final Match (4:07)
4. Kurt Angle def. Chris Jericho in a King of the Ring Quarter-Final Match (9:50)
5. Edge & Christian def. Too Cool, The Hardy Boys, and T&A in a Four-Way Match (14:11)
6. Rikishi def. Val Venis in a King of the Ring Semi-Final Match (3:15)
7. Kurt Angle def. Crash Holly in a King of the Ring Semi-Final Match (3:58)
8. Pat Patterson NC Gerald Brisco in a Hardcore Evening Gown Match (3:07)
9. Road Dogg, X-Pac, & Tori def. The Dudley Boys in a Dumpster Match (9:45)
10. Kurt Angle def. Rikishi in the King of the Ring Finals (5:56)
11. The Rock, The Undertaker, & Kane def. Triple H, Vince McMahon, & Shane McMahon (17:54)

Any wrestling fan can look at that card and see it’s loaded with quite a bit of talent, but anybody who has watched the show can tell you that, while aside from the Brisco/Patterson match it’s not actively bad, it’s nowhere near as good as it could have been given the individuals involved. Some of that is because of the pairings of wrestlers were not exactly optimized to create the best possible matches. Some of it is because, if you add up the times, you’ll realize that, on a potentially three-hour long show, there was only one hour and twenty-three minutes of wrestling, with over half the show being devoted to video packages, interviews, and other gaga.

Keeping that in mind, you can find my rebooked card below, attempting to use all of the original talent on the show and still attempting to keep it to less than two hours of wrestling, adding some time to correct the issue of there not being enough in-ring action on the original show but still allowing for all of the other junk that WWE likes to load its PPVs down with.

Here goes:

1. Eddie Guerrero def. Val Venis in a King of the Ring Quarter-Final Match (10:00)
2. Chris Benoit def. Bull Buchanan in a King of the Ring Quarter-Final Match (5:00)
3. Chris Jericho def. Crash Holly in a King of the Ring Quarter-Final Match (5:00)
4. Kurt Angle def. Rikishi in a King of the Ring Quarter-Final Match (7:00)
5. Edge & Christian def. Too Cool, The Hardy Boys, T&A, The Dudley Boys, and The Road Dogg & X-Pac in a Six Pack Challenge (12:00)
6. Eddie Guerrero def. Chris Benoit in a King of the Ring Semi-Final Match (12:00)
7. Kurt Angle def. Chris Jericho in a King of the Ring Semi-Final Match (15:00)
8. The Undertaker & Kane def. Vince McMahon, Shane McMahon, Gerald Brisco, & Pat Patterson (7:00)
9. Kurt Angle def. Eddie Guerrero in the King of the Ring Finals (20:00)
10. The Rock def. Triple H (15:00)

The idea behind the show is to make the King of the Ring tournament the true centerpiece of the show, as one ought to expect from its name. In those brackets, there are four performers who are head and shoulders above the others (though Val Venis is underrated), and the idea is to get those four into the semi-finals and finals while also doing first-round matches that are acceptable but not necessarily blow-aways. I’ve also consolidated the two tag team matches into one so that the six-man main event can be split apart, as Triple H versus the Rock in a singles match would be a much-improved main event, while the Brothers of Destruction against the McMahons and the Stooges is not exactly a match I would want to see but one that remains for the sake of using all of the talent that was on the original show.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected]. You can also leave questions in the comments below, but please note that I do not monitor the comments as closely as I do the email account, so emailing is the better way to get things answered.