Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Streak: An Appreciation

21-1 forever
Photo Credit: WWE.com
A rumor floats around that the Undertaker was supposed to lose to Diesel at WrestleMania XII. Contract flux and Kevin Nash's impending exodus to WCW, however, gave the Undertaker his fifth win out of five tries at the big event. Thousands of fans in attendance at the Superdome Sunday and millions watching around the world on some kind of television apparatus would not have been stunned into silence, faces contorted into permanent gape, had Nash and Scott Hall not bolted to kick the Monday Night Wars into higher gear.

Examples such as the above, with the rider that the above rumor is true and not urban legend, show how the best tropes, stories, and results need to have supernatural fortune in order to bloom properly and take hold within the pantheon. Make no mistakes; The Streak belongs within the conversation of the most legendary long-term wrestling stories of the modern era. Winning streak angles oftentimes are boring and lazy ways to advance the narrative. They're the last resort for bookers and writers who don't have a clue on how to get wrestlers they like over. But Taker's WrestleMania win-loss record felt different. Rather than being defined by winning at Mania, he was defined by his stories, at least until WrestleMania XXV.

By that point, the Dead Man was working a part time schedule, and he had barely anything to offer outside of wrestling at Mania, but because he'd put in the career, he earned the right to cling to his undefeated mark at Mania as his in for the show. His match had become the de facto third World Championship match. If the aim is to make WrestleMania the most important show of the year, having a match that could only happen at that show with one of the most iconic wrestlers in company history is a good way to set it apart. The Streak was organic, and the wrestlers within were able to make it seem in jeopardy even when it wasn't.

So when Brock Lesnar hit the third F5 and actually got the three count, a moment that had been building for 23 years exploded. The people walking out of the Superdome, those who remained with stunned faces, those at home who swore they'd never watch WWE or even wrestling again, and those who soaked the moment in and immediately applauded it validated not only The Streak itself, but the Undertaker's career. Scant few wrestlers ever produce singular events in time that cut to the souls of everyone within a fanbase.

When Lesnar's victory sunk into my head, I swore that Lesnar was the wrong guy to break it. But then again, the emotional response to him in general proves me wrong. Would the gravitas have been there had Roman Reigns ended it? If Daniel Bryan had ended The Streak, would everyone continue to chant "YES! YES! YES!" and keep him as the folk hero WWE needs? Would Kane ending it with both riding off into the sunset have given the same validation? Ric Flair once said that he thought the nWo was a failure because the group never made anyone, and by that logic, Kane being the one to end The Streak or even Taker keeping it into retirement would have made it a creative and financial failure.

One could argue the need for a "part-timer" like Lesnar to break it being superfluous (as if the irony of people not realizing he works more matches in an average calendar year than Undertaker anymore isn't lost on those making that criticism), but right now, WWE has a vacuum of heels who can actually get raucous heel heat no matter who their opponent is. Triple H and the Authority can't feud with everyone. Fans seemed ambivalent towards Lesnar at best in a good way. His pops are always big, but he gets a mixed reaction during them. Having him as the guy to end The Streak makes him the big bad that WWE needs him to be in order to get the crowd reactions it wants for guys like Bryan, Antonio Cesaro, or maybe even a Big E Langston.

Regardless of the logic behind ending it or behind the person ending it, I will be sad to see The Streak go. As Taker rides into the sunset, he takes a huge part of what made WrestleMania the event it has become with him. Regardless of how good the match was, he at least always did his best to inject drama into it, thick, effective drama with minimal storyline effort to back it. Mania's not going to be the same without The Streak involved going forward, but at least it provided kicks and some cool matches before it ended.