Ring Architect 3.30.14: Who Can Beat the Streak?
Posted by Obi Justice on 03.30.2014
For the past few years, the Undertaker has defended his Streak against the best of the best. But can anyone beat the streak and more importantly should they? 411’s Obi Justice examines…
"Ring Architect" is a format I've come up with to break down wrestling topics. The 20' x 20' is the main idea that I'll be talking about in the column. Red Corner/Blue Corner are two opposing takes on it that I see. Of course, it'll just be my thoughts on it, so I'll leave it to you guys in the comments to see how valid they are. And the last bit, the Main Strands, are three key pieces of information that I think should be kept in mind when considering the topic. It'll definitely help me sort out my thoughts and hopefully it makes things easy for you guys to read.
The whole deal, the main idea.
In a genre where everyone must lose, the Undertaker has created for himself a sort of invincibility. He has never lost a single match at the greatest event in all of professional wrestling, WrestleMania. A man who has over his 20+ year career been imbued with dozens of mystic traits, states of mind, and gears of aggression has, on top of all that, the legend of The Streak. This is a man who freely breaks the suspension of belief but captures you anyway. On that aura alone, his annual test at WrestleMania deserves its place as one of the spotlight matches on the card.
To a normal man, Taker's seeming invincibility would be a reason to hesitate. The chances of getting seriously hurt and leaving with light pockets are astronomical. For a pro wrestler, especially one who's fought his way to a top-level position in WWE, pride and competition are everything. The opportunity to do something that no one else has been able to do, the perfect once-in-a-million shot, is clearly irresistible. Shawn Michaels had no reason to quit, but he had to put everything on the line to try and beat Undertaker one more time. Triple H, having seen his friend try it, took down rule after rule, knowing he was throwing himself to hell but willing to risk it to try and pin him. CM Punk was willing to sink to terrible moral depths to try and psyche the Undertaker out. It was all in vain, of course, but they were willing to do it.
Michaels, HHH, and Punk are three of the sport's luminaries. They fought him in some of the most dangerous conditions -- not just match types, but states of mind -- that one can imagine. If they couldn't beat him, who can? It could be anybody, that's true. One of the maxims of wrestling is that anybody can be pinned on any given night. Plus, most anyone in the back would kill for the opportunity to step into the ring and just try his luck, even if it ended in a minute, to see if they could reach immortality. But these past few years the stakes have certainly been raised. Luck alone isn't going to cut it. The next man who steps into the ring against the Undertaker will have to be superlative in every category.
Enter Brock Lesnar. I don't believe there has been a more dominant destroyer in WWE. He has made a habit of destroying the Big Show and Mark Henry, two of the largest and strongest men in the company. He has decimated SuperCena himself and anyone who has stepped into his path. The beatings he delivers are nearly unequalled. Eat. Sleep. Conquer. Repeat. A tired phrase, but Brock Lesnar does not care about what is cliche and what is not. After all, the last word is repeat.
A real main event needs real risk, real drama. His opponent has to be a man who can beat The Streak. If there's anyone in WWE that can, it's Brock Lesnar. That's the kind of tension that the Undertaker's Streak match should have.
Red corner is pro. Blue corner is con.
RED CORNER: The Streak match is an attraction all its own, and an attraction deserves a big-deal opponent. WrestleMania is all about main events. I won't waste time here repeating all its nicknames or all the sell-outs, the huge matches, the massive weekend or the cities bidding for a location. Those are all well-known. But what all that revolves around is the show itself, and on the show have to be larger-than-life matches. The Undertaker, one of the most larger-than-life characters in WWE, needs no help in that regard, but when he steps into a real main event situation the energy spikes into another order.
We know the Undertaker can lose. It's easy to imagine him taking a fall to guys like the Big Show & A-Train, Kane, or the Big Boss Man. If it happened at WrestleMania it would be stunning but not unbelievable. However, that wouldn't really fit what the Streak match has become. It's sort of like David Arquette winning the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. Obviously, strictly speaking, it could happen because it did. But the fact that it did happen doesn't really live up to what the Championship is supposed to be. That's a much, much more extreme example than something like Kane beating Taker, but the principle is the same. A big deal event or accolade needs someone big deal to be involved.
BLUE CORNER: There are a lot of wrestlers who don't have a solid direction and could get a huge boost from a Streak match against Undertaker. Putting a guy who's almost on the level into that big-time spot is how people end up moving up the ladder. Most people don't get a title these days unless they've lost a few title matches, and usually they'll be pretty tough losses. That doesn't necessarily bring the belt down to have someone who's not-quite-there take a crack at it. A Streak victory is the Holy Grail of WWE, so guys like Sheamus, Christian, Alberto Del Rio, and Dolph Ziggler -- who have achieved a good amount of success, definite title contenders, but could go much higher -- would definitely be after that. Even Punk, who was already a big deal multi-time champ when he stepped into the ring with Taker, got a true feather in his career cap with that match.
Speaking of Punk, that's another thing about Taker's Streak match: the opponent is supposed to lose. Now, obviously, you want there to be the risk that the Undertaker won't. But the Punk contest was a great way of showing how that gap in disbelief can be crossed. CM Punk basically did the most dastardly things he could to get the edge. He did his best to close that gap and, in the process, showed off all his heel tricks. Getting up to that level where beating the Undertaker would be credible for a guy like Ziggler would definitely involve Ziggler standing tall a lot, getting the better of Taker, and basically looking dangerous as all hell. With those months of build-up to use, a guy can be packaged very well. The fact that the Undertaker will eventually win the match wouldn't be as much as a problem from a character progression point of view, as that guy will have gotten to show so much during the build-up that he'll probably come out of the match looking great.
Important lines of thought.
TOP ROPE: The Undertaker is getting older and can do better in slower-paced matches with established stars. Don't get me wrong, Undertaker can still deliver, but the body does grow weary. If you look at the style that guys on the undercard are using you'll see a lot of guys doing some very high-impact, high-speed stuff. Taker's busted all that out before, but could he do that at a quicker rate than he does? If you watch his matches these last few years they have all been very measured encounters. Bursts of speed, yes. Nice boxing flurries. Huge suicide dive. But those don't come as quick as you'd see in a Daniel Bryan match. And if he's going to really give a young guy a great match, he'd need to put on a main event quality match of the athletic style that these new guys are coming up on. If not, he might as well not have that particular match. Brock, on the other hand, works perfectly in set-piece matches and he'll give Taker a great chance of having a great match, as Taker doesn't need to worry about playing to Brock's strengths as much in order to make him look good.
MIDDLE ROPE: WrestleMania is the time to put on big deal matches, not experiment. To go off topic a bit, I don't think that the triple threat booking at Mania was planned at all. I think they had Orton vs. Batista planned for one reason: both Orton and Batista are made, established names. It looks a lot like the WWE prefers having sure shots in its main spots. The same deal for The Streak match. Sure, you could have Sheamus stand up against the Undertaker, but how many big-event-ending matches has Sheamus had? How many times has Sheamus really had to carry the ball? I don't doubt that Sheamus could put on a great match with the Undertaker, but when booking the card, the name value is important. People go to UFC to see great fights and that's it. That's not to say WWE fans don't like great matches. Without them, the enterprise wouldn't hold up. The difference is that WWE fans go for the whole WWE experience. WrestleMania is an experience all its own and it has its own set of expectations. Any other time, sure, but Mania is not a time to fuck around.
BOTTOM ROPE: If the Undertaker's opponent has more to fight for, it'll result in a lot more emotional weight in the match. One of the other things that separates wrestling from most other sports is the rewatchability. People will see these matches replayed forever on DVD, YouTube, WWE Network, wherever. When you look at it like that, the actual content of the match becomes much more important than its spectacle. Think about a match like Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage from Wrestlemania III. That was not a match near the level of Hogan and Andre. As far as title importance and event importance, Steamboat/Savage is not one of the biggest matches ever put on. However, it is remembered as one of the greatest matches of all time. Posterity is important, especially when you're talking about something like The Streak which is so built on its legacy.