Monday 14 April 2014


On March 24 1991 The Undertaker made his WrestleMania debut at WrestleMania VII. He defeated Jimmy Snuka in the show’s seventh match. Twenty-three years later he suffered his first loss at the annual event, falling to Brock Lesnar in one of the evening’s most heavily anticipated matches. In recent years The Undertaker’s Streak has become a big part of ‘Mania. It was something WWE could market just as much as any championship bout or meeting of icons.

The annual defence of The Streak was a big thing. ‘Taker’s imposing stature, coupled with his length of service in the company and supernatural trappings made him (and indeed still makes him) a unique performer. He has an aura unlike any other wrestler there’s ever been. The Streak became part of the magic of the character, something ‘The dead Man’ was known for as much as his eerie mood lighting powers or supposed zombie origins.

It helped that WWE took care of The Streak from around 2001, helping to make it appear something special in wrestling and a meaningful achievement. Undertaker’s opponents were selected more carefully, and for the most part a good job was done keeping ‘The Phenom’ linked to big names at the show. The challenges mounted by Ric Flair, Edge, Batista, Randy Orton, Shawn Michaels (twice), and Triple H (thrice) were all exciting affairs that added to the aura that accompanied the feat of The Streak, and did more than balance out less than stellar challenges from Mark Henry and Big Show and A-Train (the latter two at the same time in a handicap match).

The dream is over.
I never thought The Streak would end. This wasn’t through a desperate urge to see ‘The Last Outlaw’ ride off into the sunset (or should that be moonlit night?) with his greatest accomplishment intact. It was based on a feeling that WWE would want to bestow the honour of a lengthy undefeated record on a man who has arguably been their most loyal in-ring performer for well over two decades.

I certainly didn’t think Brock Lesnar had a chance at ending The Streak. The build-up to the match had been subpar, with Undertaker outwitting and dominating ‘The Pain’ in all but one of their encounters (the March 31 RAW). In hindsight it’s possible that this was a deliberate ploy to help convince people that this year’s Streak match would be business as usual, although I hope not because that would indicate WWE set out to short change their fans. Not that they’ve never done that before, of course.

It was more than just a ponderous build that had me convinced ‘Taker would slay ‘The Beast’. There were still men for him to defend The Streak against. Daniel Bryan could have presented a credible challenge to The Streak, and if WWE set their minds to it Bray Wyatt and Roman reigns could both have been ready by next year. The challenger I’ve mentioned many times before was John Cena. The match would have had such a great atmosphere: the most heavily pushed, unstoppable star of the company for well over a decade challenging the most impressive record in the business. It was the one match that WWE could have convinced people beforehand might not go ‘Taker’s way. It was the one thing Cena, the man who’s done it all, had not accomplished. That alone would have convinced people he was the most credible threat to The Streak ever.

These matches can still happen, of course. Just not for The Streak. It’s still too early to say whether or not it’s a good or a bad thing that it’s gone. Certainly WWE have deprived themselves of a key feature at WrestleMania but they of course knew that before the match took place. Presumably they have a draw in mind to replace it. It’s possible the feeling was that Undertaker’s career was in danger of becoming overshadowed by The Streak. While it’s clearly the thing for which he’ll be most remembered he has done other things in the company. WWE wanting to protect the legacy of one of their biggest ever stars seems utterly plausible.

'The Conqueror'.
And this is a boon for Lesnar, of course. It becomes a bragging right for the former UFC champion and in theory makes him a more interesting man to watch for WWE fans. Certainly ending The Streak is a feat nobody else will get to have, and it lends something to Lesnar’s “big box office draw” appeal. It’s a questionable decision, what with Lesnar not being a man fully committed to WWE’s long term future: his current contract ends shortly after next year’s ‘Mania and even if he re-signs it will only be another short, limited dates deal. The accomplishment would have been better going to a younger guy who’s going to be on TV to benefit from it for another ten years. But I can’t argue that Lesnar is a credible winner: his credentials make that impossible to deny.

I suppose some space should be dedicated to hypothesising as to why The Streak ended. I’ve already mentioned that WWE may simply have wanted to divorce Undertaker from The Streak. Another popular theory is that Undertaker was simply too knackered to continue and felt it was time. I’m not convinced by this.

Undertaker wrestles one match a year and there’s nothing in his repertoire that’s going to injure him too badly. The topé could simply be dropped. The Tombstone requires some strength but is more about precision, and it’s more risky to the person taking the move than Undertaker himself. The person taking the choke slam does most of the work. And the Hell’s Gate is a rather fancy rest hold that has the benefit of having been built up as a match ender. More to the point ‘Taker seemingly felt so good last year that he stuck around and wrestled a few matches on RAW and SmackDown against The Shield. Yes, he left because he suffered an injury and he has years of them accumulated but I think the man has it in him to wrestle his current schedule (the lightest realistically possible) for another year or two.

What’s so interesting at this point is that ‘Taker’s future is so unclear. Does his loss of The Streak mean he will retire? That’s the assumption many, including myself, have gone under for years. Will he return to TV for a rematch with Brock Lesnar at some point? His absence from the post-‘Mania RAW, despite being backstage, makes me think he’ll be gone for a while. He’ll definitely be back. But until the return happens we won’t know if it’s to get back in the ring or enter the Hall of Fame.

And somehow that feels right. The Undertaker, the closest thing wrestling has to a mythic figure, should not be someone we should know inside out. Mystery has always been a crucial part of the character. No matter what his future holds that's something that should never change.

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