The Streak is over (and that’s okay)

The Undertaker struggles to stand as he leans against the ropes to a standing ovation from over 75,000 in attendance at the Super Dome in New Orleans.

On March 24, 1991, The Undertaker, accompanied by the late Paul Bearer, defeated Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka at WrestleMania VII: this was The Undertaker’s first victory and debut at WrestleMania. 22 WrestleManias later, and The Undertaker secured his 21st victory, defeating CM Punk; he was still undefeated. On April 6, 2014, at WrestleMania XXX at the Mercedes-Benz Super Dome in New Orleans, The Undertaker squared off against Brock Lesnar (managed by Paul Heyman) to defend his 21-0 record at WrestleMania, an unprecedented feat that was known by pro wrestling fans of all degrees simply as “The Streak.”

There are not many certainties in life, but for fans of professional wrestling, The Streak was one of them. Every year The Undertaker would enter WrestleMania undefeated an walk out undefeated. Whether you were ignorant to the fact that professional wrestling was a “work” (staged, or predetermined) or knew the ins and outs of the business, there was not a remote chance that anyone believed The Streak would end, especially at WrestleMania XXX. After all, The Streak had remained intact for 21 years; there was no reason to believe it would end, and to a part-time talent like Brock Lesnar no less. To further reiterate this point ad nauseum, The Undertaker’s match at WrestleMania was, and by no means to diminish its importance, a spectacle, nothing more. The outcome of the match was universally known by everyone, and there was no way that the feud between The Undertaker and that year’s opponents could ever cause any doubt in a fan’s mind. As ironic as it is, The Undertaker’s matches at WrestleMania were the ones that even a fan who believed the product was a “shoot” (actual fighting) knew were fixed.

In the past five years, The Undertaker has been in some of the greatest matches in WrestleMania history, most notably his contests against Shawn Michaels and Triple H at WrestleMania 25 and 26, and 27 and 28 respectively. Just before this time, about a decade ago, The Streak became the annual certainty that every fan cherished. Because The Undertaker spans nearly 30 years of professional wrestling, so many people from several generations have experienced “The Deadman” in some fashion, and thus The Streak. Although not doing justice to the legend that is The Undertaker, he and The Streak were a major component of many people’s childhoods, something they remember looking forward to every WrestleMania — it was pure happiness, a celebration. At WrestleMania XXX, nothing different was expected. A gong sounded throughout the arena, the lights turned dark, illuminated by dark blue lights as smoke filled the ground level of the arena; The Undertaker entered the stage in his classic hat and coat, stared at a casket labeled “22” on its top, followed by “Brock Lesnar.” With a swift motion, The Undertaker lifted his arm and the casket burst into flames, signifying what everyone believed to be an extension of The Streak, and the demise of Brock Lesnar.

When the match began, The Undertaker was dominating as usual. Midway into the match, Lesnar gained the upper hand and began to beat down “The Phenom.” Of course, fans knew how this formula played out. Lesnar would dominate The Undertaker, The Undertaker would keep coming back, an eventually The Undertaker would win despite the odds, proving his resilience, and living up to his name as “The Deadman.” After Lesnar hit his finishing move for the second time, the F-5, The Undertaker miraculously kicked out of the pin attempt; fans knew that this was the beginning of the end for Lesnar. Except this time, Lesnar continued to beat down The Undertaker for an extended period of time; this was not the typical formula that was expected. When The Undertaker suddenly made a last-ditch effort to come back, it was obvious that The Undertaker would hit the Tombstone Piledriver, pin Lesnar, and extend The Streak to 22-0. Lesnar reversed the Tombstone attempt, hoisting The Undertaker onto his shoulders, pushing his legs off, and driving him into the mat. Based on past years, this was obviously another spot for The Undertaker to kick out of the pin, make his final come back, and exit WrestleMania victorious yet again. However, this time the referee’s hand hit the mat three times, and on April 6, 2014 at WrestleMania XXX at the Mercedes-Benz Super Dome in New Orleans, The Streak was broken.

I, like the 75,000 others in the Super Dome, sat in my living room with my two friends, in utter shock and disbelief. (In fact, I still get legitimate chills when I watch the end of the match still.) The emotions that overtook me were not anger at WWE for orchestrating Brock Lesnar to break The Streak. Instead, the same emotions that overwhelmed me as a kid — one who believed what I was seeing was, in fact, real — returned instantaneously. I was shocked; I was saddened; I was in denial. This was my tenth anniversary of watching WrestleManias live. I witnessed, in person, The Undertaker defeat CM Punk at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford at WrestleMania 29 (for what would be his last WrestleMania victory). For fake fighting, this was as real as it got. Of course, after being detached from the moment some time, I was able to reflect on the reality of the scenario. The Undertaker losing at WrestleMania XXX allows the 49-year-old legend to retire. He doesn’t have to return for one more match; he can literally (no pun intended) rest in peace. In fact, it was revealed the next day that “The Deadman” suffered a severe concussion and was rushed to the hospital following his match. The Streak ending is for the better. Additionally, millions of pro wrestling fans who “gave up this fake stuff” suddenly became interested in the product, and it is no coincidence that WWE put on one of its best shows in years following WrestleMania XXX: it was genius marketing.

As far as Brock Lesnar being “the one” to end The Streak, that makes sense, too. Having a young talent end The Streak puts an immeasurable amount of pressure on that person to live up to the hype, to win over the fans and be a mega star. If that young talent were to fail, then The Streak’s demise would have been wasted. Additionally, if an established active talent were to end it, then The Streak would overshadow his entire career, and that’s all it would consist of. With Lesnar, a part-time talent, ending it, Paul Heyman, who is an active talent, can make the most of The Streak. Lesnar is diverse enough with his UFC and NCAA amateur wrestling background to not have The Streak consume his gimmick, for his gimmick is simply “The Beast Incarnate”; and what better way to exemplify being a beast than to have ended The Streak.

WrestleMania XXX and Raw the day after will be remembered forever as two of the most historic days in professional wrestling, period. Not only because Daniel Bryan finally became WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Cesaro won the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, and The Streak ended, but because new talent from WWE’s developmental system (NXT) are immediately beginning to be integrated into the main shows. The future is bright for WWE, and it starts now. I said at the beginning of 2014 that this year would belong to WWE. With a massively successful launch of the WWE Network, one of the best WrestleManias in history, and a Raw that featured “the stars of tomorrow,” there is no doubt in my mind that 2014 will be the best year for WWE in a long time.