It’s that time of year again. Wrestlemania approaches, and with it, the inevitable defence of ‘The Streak’. For 21 matches over a quite incredible 23 year period, The Undertaker has defeated every single competitor he has competed against on the ‘Biggest Stage Of Them All’. While undoubtedly a remarkable feat, and one almost certainly never to be repeated, I’m faced with the saddening realisation that this year The Phenom’s match just doesn’t have its usual appeal.
The Streak itself is a phenomenal achievement, representing an era of domination from one of the most intriguing and enduring characters to enter the sport. It transcends the power of the championship belts and is in essence the only Wrestlemania staple. It defines The Undertaker and, dare I say it, defines Wrestlemania. With this in mind, it seems to me that there is no way on earth WWE will put a loss on the Deadman, and even if they wanted to, with the respect that the locker room has for Mr Calaway, would anyone actually want to go over?
This left the WWE in a tough position when booking Wrestlemania for Taker this year. The chances of The Streak being broken are so infinitesimally minute that his opponent has to have a credible enough reason for victory for the fans to even begin to believe that The Phenom could lose. Brock Lesnar does not possess this reason. Don’t get me wrong, ‘The Beast’ lives up to his moniker. He’s a formidable human being, and whenever he takes to the ring it makes me sit up and take notice. I like to see babyfaces overcome him – he is often an overwhelming favourite due to his size and strength and the much hyped fact that he has been a legitimate fighting champion in UFC. However, against The Undertaker, he is the underdog, no matter how WWE try to spin it. Having Paul Heyman in Lesnar’s corner is invaluable in this situation, as he could likely talk his way out of a locked and sealed room, but this doesn’t disguise the issue to the hardened fan. Brock is a part time performer at best, popping in and out of the WWE when he can be bothered, and as his win / loss record shows since his return, he doesn’t really care about victories. Had they built him up as an unbeatable and undefeated machine, then pitting the Taker / Lesnar streaks against each other would have been compelling. As it is, there’s no advantage to the company for a Lesnar victory, only detriment. There’s just no way The Undertaker will lose this match. This certainty goes against the very nature of what makes me tune in each and every week to Raw, and purchase WWE PPVs.
When interviewed before the announcement of his match with The Undertaker at Wrestlemania 29, CM Punk raised the exact same concern…
“I like being in situations where you don’t know who’s going to win, where there’s drama. I think the Undertaker thing… whoever wrestles him, I feel it’s a foregone conclusion, you know what I mean? There needs to be some drama and stuff.”
This could very well have been one of the many bumps in CM Punk’s WWE journey and contributed to his eventual walkout, and the man had a valid point. At this stage, why break The Streak? It has taken a quarter of a century to build, and for it to end with a loss just seems entirely unnecessary. The only reason I can fathom is to hugely put over another superstar – either a slightly greener talent on the up, like a Shield member, or an established star in a massive swerve, such as John Cena or Daniel Bryan. With Brock Lesnar, it just isn’t going to happen, and this renders me wholly disinterested. Why let a part timer destroy the legacy created by The Phenom when he won’t be around to cash in on the colossal rub it would give him? I don’t buy it.
Granted, there aren’t many on the roster left for The Undertaker to fight, but the aforementioned superstars would not only put on a great match with the Deadman, they’d have a plausible opportunity to win. The Shield, by their very nature, are a rabid pack of 3 dangerous individuals who could interfere to give one of their number the victory. They also destroyed The Undertaker last year and were the kayfabe reason for his departure. All of this validates their ability to triumph, and it would unquestionably benefit their careers. If they lost, it wouldn’t harm their credibility, could sow the seeds of a split, and I could believe that they still at least had a chance of winning. The same goes for Bryan. His technical wrestling ability, popularity and spirited underdog nature would guarantee not only a match of great quality and interest, but also garner the hope and belief that he had a shot. As for Cena, he obviously has the ability to take down Taker, and not that it would ever happen, but if he were to win it could provide the moment for the biggest heel turn in wrestling history.
If any of the above fought the Undertaker for The Streak, I could suspend my disbelief and maintain the subconscious boyish naivety that keeps me so invested in this business. I’d know, in my heart of hearts, that they wouldn’t win, but hope on the surface that they could. It’s a subtle differentiation, but an important one. It was there for the bout with Punk last year; for the Shawn Michaels and Triple H matches; for the ’Legend vs Legend Killer’ match with Randy Orton in 2005. This year, it is noticeable in its absence in what should be one of the biggest matches on the bill.
I’m sure Taker v Lesnar will still have its entertaining moments. They’re both very capable, but Lesnar won’t bring the quality out of The Undertaker in the same way Punk did, which yet again leaves me feeling a little flat. Had this match come a decade earlier, things would be very different. As it stands, I’m bitterly disappointed.