Shining a Spotlight 4.11.14: The Streak Ends
Posted by Michael Weyer on 04.11.2014
A brief return to the Spotlight to note the controversy over Brock Lesnar ending the Streak, why it happened and why it may not be as bad a thing as many think.
I had written this column and posted it when the news of the Ultimate Warrior's death hit. In my initial shock, I considered dropping this totally as it seems so petty now. But after talk with others on the site, I decided to go ahead as I did put work into it and do want to share my thoughts given how it's a pretty big story this week, even after Warrior. I will share my thoughts on the Roundtable being given for Warrior but here, I will say that despite all the crap people have given him over the years, I was always a fan of the guy in the ring and a great persona for wrestling. It was great for him to mend fences with WWE and say goodbye before this happened and while we miss him, I'll always remember the great moments the Warrior gave us. RIP and may he find peace elsewhere.
Again, the below was all written before that news hit and I'd like to think that it might be seen with a clearer eye now as Warrior's death does put some things in better perspective.
And so Wrestlemania XXX is in the books and to say it's gotten a lot of discussion is sort of like saying Obamacare caused a bit of a fuss in Washington D.C. Yes, Bryan got the win like we all wanted, the epic moment of him standing in the ring with the title and 70,000 people chanting "YES YES YES!", a moment I'm sure is going to be making WWE highlight reels for years to come. But leave it to the company to manage to outdo that with a moment that has already generated more talk and controversy than almost any Mania match in memory.
I am talking, of course, about Brock Lesnar defeating the Undertaker and ending the Streak.
This has to be one of the most shocking match endings we've seen in years. The IWC exploded when it hit, the reactions wild and amazing. I'm used to how guys online can erupt with wild comments and admit a few making me laugh ("WWE messed this up worse than the How I Met Your Mother finale") and many joining Scott Keith's declaration that "This was the worst booking decision in wrestling history." I admit, my own reaction was much the same, it was totally unexpected and made little sense on multiple levels. Now, given a few days to let the initial uproar die down a bit and with word on Taker's condition, I thought it best to examine the situation a bit better and see how it falls out and whether the end of an era really is an epic disaster.
It was never meant to be. It was never planned. The Undertaker's tenure in WWF in the early days was selling him as an unbeatable monster, really pushing him as a supernatural being. That paid off nicely when he beat Hogan for the belt in November of 1991 but that was undone by backstage controversy and he found himself stuck for the next few years in battling whatever big guy was around in mostly dull feuds. He got a boost embracing a more bad-ass attitude in the late ‘90's and then his "American Bad-Ass" period but still respected for his work and how he was a pretty solid leader in the locker room. And like so many, Wrestlemania was a chance to enhance that.
It was at Wrestlemania X-7 that is started to hit people that Taker had never lost but the next year really started selling it as, after beating Flair, he counted out his ten victories on his fingers. It was 21 that really began the idea of "The Streak" as Orton talked of ending this and since then, it's dominated Undertaker for a while. It gives his battles a push as he always wants to entertain there. See his war with Batista at WM 23, what was expected to be a slow match instead turning into a fantastic battle as they clicked well with Taker winning. It gave tension to his battles with HBK and HHH, the idea of the Streak ending and resulted in three out of four great bouts (sorry, I still contend WM XVII is an incredibly overrated affair). His battle with Punk last year was a terrific match too and so with Brock, most of us thought it was just another mark to extend it to 22-0. But to see him lose…well, this does tarnish that legacy a bit.
Frankly, I never thought they'd break it. The Streak is part of the Undertaker's persona, his almost inhuman bearing, it's a key part of why fans cheer him. WWE has marketed the hell out of it, DVD's released of those matches and everyone speaking of it with awe. I truly and honestly thought they'd let Taker retire with the Streak intact, a legacy never to be broken and solidifying him as a true legend. If he had to lose, I thought it might be to Cena who (despite what so many fans prefer to deny) is the top star of today, a true company man and would intensify fan reaction to him. Or if Sting does indeed sign, that would have been a great one for WM 31, the last true dream match of our generation and to have Sting try and challenge the Streak would be great.
I know, there are those who say that if it was to be broken, let it be a young guy. Some still insist Orton should have done it back in 2005 or Edge in '08 and so many younger guys are mentioned like Reigns or Ambrose or such. Personally, I never bought into that. Yes, breaking the Streak would put a guy over huge but let's face it, so many guys rise and fall in WWE fast, it might hurt as well as help, something a guy can't live up to. Just see how Sheamus or Jack Swagger or Dolph Ziggler have faltered, ending the Streak really wouldn't mean much to their overall careers. No, I always thought that if it was to be broken, it would be someone established as it makes sense it takes someone of huge caliber to finally do it. You thought it would be HBK or HHH or Cena or someone like that, to lord it over and continue their huge runs.
But instead it was Brock and that's why folks are upset.
First off, I do not feel this is the "worst booking decision ever" as many do. I can count at least twenty examples from WWE alone (the Invasion not least among them), quite a few from TNA and let's not even get started on WCW. I agree the build was not what it should have been but it is telling that there were complaints over not as much physical contact as there should have been and now reports that Taker was going in injured from the F5 he got from Brock on RAW which shows why keeping guys separate is a good thing sometimes. But the issue for so many is that Brock, a guy seen as "part-time" ends up being the one with a victory so many would have (and can argue should have) gotten. But as always in wrestling, there are a variety of factors you have to consider beyond just what you see.
First of all is that Taker himself wanted it to be Brock. Indeed, reports are that Taker has wanted to end the Streak for a while. The man knows his in-ring career has been on borrowed time for quite a while after so many injuries and major matches. His long absences prove it as he knows all he needs it one or two huge matches a year to keep fans satisfied and provide enough for him. He's got more than enough to live on with not just his matches but slews of marketing and really nothing left to prove as he's worn the title multiple times, won the Rumble and so much else. That he would want to end the Streak might seem baffling since, as I said, it's a key part to his entire character. But maybe that's a reason why, that Mark Callous wanted to free himself of that incredibly heavy burden and put it to a rest. So many athletes have said they felt trapped by their big records, of those past achievements more reminders of their past greatness than really something to live with and felt oddly better when they were broken. The fact is, the guy has 21 straight Mania wins which is something that's going to take a damn long time for anyone to match and nothing to be ashamed of.
So why Brock? Why of all people would Undertaker choose Brock to lose to? And make no mistake, this was his choice. Vince McMahon has always respected Taker for his loyalty as even in the dark times when WCW was kicking WWF's ass, Taker never made noise about possibly leaving, he loved the company and was always sticking with it and Vince liked that. So if Taker was going to lose, it would be on his own terms and against the person of his choice. For Brock, he and Taker have always gotten along pretty well together. That was shown in their terrific 2002 feud highlighted by the Hell in the Cell war where Taker did one of the most gruesome blade jobs imaginable before putting Brock over with a win. Taker has also been seen at a lot of UFC events with Brock, the two friends and respect each other a lot. Yes, Brock lost a lot of love when he walked out on WWE a decade ago but still regarded as a great fighter and thus it makes sense Taker would choose him as the guy to finally snap it. The man has proven himself as a real fighter in UFC, a guy who can take on monsters and win in battles more pro wrestlers could never handle. Surely if anyone can be believable to defeat "the Dead Man," it's Brock, a real fighter who can handle the brutal hits.
Now we move to the booking itself. There are those saying that it wasn't until after the contract was signed that Taker realized he was in such bad shape and thus chose to lose but as I pointed out, he's been wanting to end it for a while and that he chose Brock knowing he was in rough shape already says a lot. It also explains a lot of them staying away from each other until that F5 on RAW which just ended up hurting Taker more. Again, the fact this wasn't hugely built as an "end of an era" thing actually worked for the end result. Would it have been shocking for HBK or HHH to have won their bouts when they were so hyped as ending the Streak? No but this did stun us. If this had been the main event, it would have hinted at the end as well (besides, Bryan's victory celebration was always the logical capper to the show). Knowing that Taker was already badly hurt and had to be taken off in an ambulance immediately after the match does put things in a new perspective. Fans were complaining about how slow it was, lackluster stuff from Taker but given the man was literally a step away from collapse makes the struggle almost inspirational. People still give Brock props for nearly breaking his neck against Angle at WM XIX and he hung on to win so Taker should be getting massive respect as well for what he did. So I can excuse the match not living up to expectations in work rate. But for storytelling power, it was getting you as you felt…something off in those attacks and such and yet when Brock hit that F5, we were ready for the kick out that never happened because it was what we always expected.
And that's why the match worked.
We all knew going in Bryan was going to win the title. Sure, some doubters but did anyone truly believe Vince and HHH would risk the absolute wrath of 70,000 people and millions around the world by gypping Bryan again? For Taker, we have been used to years on his winning, it was always going to happen and that robbed a lot of bouts of tension. This was no different as no one thought Brock would do it. HBK didn't, HHH didn't so why would Brock be the one? That this is a truly gifted athlete who is a former UFC champion at the top of his fitness game didn't enter our minds, we just assumed it was a Taker victory. There were no special stips to it, no additional "loser retire" or such, this was set up as just another Mania Taker match and thus no one expected the ending. The shock when Brock won was, no lie, the single most stunned reaction I have ever seen a crowd that huge show. The online reactions have been as massive and it's overwhelmed Bryan's victory as the story of Wrestlemania. If that's not a testament to amazing storytelling, I don't know what is. The build had been there with Heyman talking of Taker being old, ready to be taken down and such but we just ignored it as so used to Taker winning but no, Brock made good on the boasts to do it. He did what no one else ever has and pulled off a stunner. We like surprises and upsets, just look at why the NCAA basketball tournament is always a big thing every year. For those talking on how unlikely it is that Brock beat Taker, is it that more unbelievable as, say, the seemingly unstoppable Denver Broncos offense totally shut down in the Super Bowl? No. Would Taker going 22-0 been a big deal? No, but Brock winning is and gotten everyone talking and that's what wrestling is meant to do. And as poor as the match was, given Undertaker's condition was it really credible he'd be able to kick out after a third F5? No, that ending was sold as truly brutal and capable of putting anyone down and in that regard, the match ending made sense.
For what happens next, the RAW promo by Heyman was sensational and this has instantly elevated Brock as the man who broke the Streak can write a ticket for most anything this year. He can use that new bit to his character to really sell himself as a heel, the man who did what no one else could and that can be money. I know I'm not the only one now hoping for Brock vs Bryan which should be a fantastic affair. For Undertaker, I don't think he's as done as folks say. He'll be out a while, he need legitimate healing time but I think he'll be back and maybe come off stronger as he'll want to prove he still has something left after this. He won't want his last match to be the ending of his Streak, he'll come back at least once more. Again, if Sting gets to WWE, a Taker match just makes absolute sense and money in the bank. If anything, I think Taker might feel relief now that it's done, finally no longer the pressure of having to defend this unbeaten run and his decision to do it might end up being a good one for his life in the long run.
Personally, I didn't want the Streak to end as it seems to rob the Taker of some of his mystique. If they had to end it, I wish the booking had been better not to mention a better match. But…I can understand it. I can understand why Taker would end such a key part of himself and put it to rest. I can understand why he chose Brock, a guy he likes and respects and believable as a fighter to take him down. And I massively respect Undertaker for going through that battle when he was walking wounded and still trying to entertain the fans as he always has. It wasn't what we wanted or expected but just look at the reactions online and there's no denying that this match did far more to generate excitement in fans than anyone thought it would. It proved how nothing is for granted in wrestling, that no supposed "record" is safe and wrestling is an unpredictable beast. That's why we keep watching it, why we keep putting up with it and why this moment worked. Planned or not, it was a moment that is now historic and makes this show even more memorable than it already was. If that's not something to add to the Undertaker's legacy, I don't know what is as even in losing, the man achieves amazing greatness to help the business he's always loved.