The Streak Ended Too Soon

The Streak was 21 consecutive victories by The Undertaker at WrestleMania, WWE’s annual premier event. Debuting with a win against Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka at WrestleMania VII, his final victory came against CM Punk at WrestleMania 29 before it was broken the following year by Brock Lesnar. Despite Vince McMahon’s proclamation1 that he thought it was the right call at the right time with the only credible person on hand to break The Streak, that being Lesnar, we’ve since seen with hindsight that it would have benefitted everyone to exercise some patience.

What did Lesnar gain in breaking The Streak? If there is one wrestler most qualified and credible to break The Streak, it is Brock Lesnar; inversely, if there is one wrestler who did not need to break The Streak to secure his legacy, it is Brock Lesnar. Lesnar himself was allegedly never a fan of breaking The Streak, a rumor that popped up even just a year2 after WrestleMania XXX. Perhaps McMahon already knew he would never brand future WrestleMania’s with Roman numerals or any other numerical digit and figured that is why it was the best time to break The Streak. It seems like an incredibly minute thing to end The Streak over, but McMahon also allegedly thought this was Undertaker’s last match, perhaps trying to force a stroke of fate.

Although The Undertaker was already a bonafide attraction and wrestling less than ten matches a year by this point, clearly McMahon was wrong about WrestleMania XXX being Undertaker’s last match since he wrestled for another six years after his loss to Lesnar. Some may look at the stunned and silent reaction from the crowd after Lesnar’s pinfall victory and continue defending the decision based on that reaction, but that was always going to be the result when The Streak finally ended. To further illustrate the intrigue generated by The Streak, look no further than Undertaker’s match history on “The Grandest Stage of Them All.” The Undertaker headlined WrestleMania 13, XXIV, and XXVI; he competed for the WWE Championship at 13 and the now-inactive World Heavyweight Championship at XXIV, but his performance at WrestleMania was such a draw in itself that challenging for the title wasn’t necessary to sell tickets. His only other shot at a title came at WrestleMania 23 when he beat Batista for the World Heavyweight Championship. Perhaps more impressively, Undertaker had one more WrestleMania main event after The Streak had already ended at WrestleMania 33. The Undertaker had more WrestleMania non-title main events than he did non-main event title matches at WrestleMania; that’s some considerable drawing power.

McMahon was the first commentator to mention The Undertaker being unbeaten at WrestleMania when Undertaker took on King Kong Bundy at WrestleMania XI. After The Undertaker’s victory over Ric Flair at WrestleMania X8, he counted all his fingers and put both hands in the air to display his 10-0 WrestleMania record to the crowd. It wouldn’t be until WrestleMania 21 that defending The Streak became the predominant Undertaker storyline around WrestleMania season. Randy Orton challenged The Undertaker to a match at WrestleMania to prove he was “The Legend Killer,” when Orton’s gimmick at the time was running roughshod over WWE’s older legends. Rumors circulate that originally Orton was booked to end The Streak3 back in 2005 until he went out partying the night before WrestleMania 21, much to Vince McMahon’s displeasure, and that McMahon changed the finish on the day of WrestleMania. There are also rumors McMahon had Mark Henry booked to end The Streak the following year at WrestleMania 22 but got cold feet and decided against it at the last possible moment. Honestly, all these last-second changes do is highlight how keeping The Streak intact was always the right thing to do in the first place.

WhatCulture’s YouTube channel devoted to pro wrestling uploaded a video4 back in 2015 that saw the host engage in some fantasy booking and explain how he would have had John Cena turn heel for the first time in over a decade and defeat The Undertaker at WrestleMania. While that idea would be a great way to generate massive heat for Cena and successfully turn him heel, I always agreed more with McMahon and Undertaker’s idea of giving back to the business and letting a younger star get “the rub,” if you will. Anyone breaking The Streak after Lesnar ideally would be thought of in the same class as Lesnar, but really, defeating The Undertaker at WrestleMania after Lesnar had already broken the incredibly lengthy winning streak only further highlights Lesnar. That’s why Roman Reigns’ victory over The Undertaker at WrestleMania 33 feels so hollow in hindsight, especially when that match didn’t even end up being his last either. Reigns should have been the one to break The Streak, something The Undertaker, real name Mark Calaway, has stated in interviews5 since his retirement. The only problem with Reigns’ victory, other than the above-stated Lesnar already broke The Streak issue, is the overall timing and execution of the match. It’s not even necessarily Reigns’ fault for fans booing and opposing the idea of him as the top babyface of WWE; it’s WWE’s fault for mishandling long-term booking and his overall portrayal the last several years.

Reigns, real name Laeti Anoa’i, received a great deal of fan pushback for four years as the WWE creative team stubbornly refused to accept his gimmick wasn’t getting over with the fans or make changes to ensure he could get over. He was the member of The Shield stable that WWE chose to push initially, winning the 2015 Royal Rumble and headlining WrestleMania 31 against Brock Lesnar. While they sent fans home happy that night by booking Seth Rollins, another former member of The Shield, to cash in his Money in the Bank contract and steal a win and the title at the end of the show, the creative team continued forcing fans to accept Reigns as the top babyface. It became evident the company wanted to recreate the underdog story and aura of Daniel Bryan that culminated at WrestleMania XXX with Reigns in the years since, but fans weren’t buying it. Anoa’i is at least 6′ 2″ and is billed at 265 lbs, while Daniel Bryan, real name Bryan Danielson, is 5′ 8″ and weighs around 80 lbs less than that. It doesn’t matter if Reigns dismantles The Authority stable, defeats Triple H at WrestleMania 32, overcomes all obstacles presented in front of him, and it doesn’t even matter if you have Lesnar beat him at WrestleMania 34 to try and gain sympathy. It’ll never be as organic and believable as when the crowd got behind the smaller man in Daniel Bryan.

It’s not as if WWE hasn’t had a situation like this before; take Anoa’i’s cousin, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, for example. His initial debut and babyface run in late 1996 and early 1997 eventually failed once fans turned on the bland, smiling, cheery hero nicknamed “The Blue Chipper.” Rather than continue with an unsuccessful gimmick, the WWE and Johnson tweaked it and turned him heel in August 1997 by joining The Nation of Domination. Turning heel gave him the chance to showcase more of his natural charisma with bombastic, over-the-top, insult-laden promos that eventually got him over with the fans, which led to him later turning babyface again in late 1998 to great fan reception. However, he quickly turned heel again the next month at the 1998 Survivor Series event to become Vince McMahon’s “Corporate Champion,” despite being a heel, he was still cheered by fans. It didn’t matter anymore at that point; he had worked to get over with the audience and succeeded. All he had to do was keep the gimmick going, and people would tune in.

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Anoa’i is billed as the same height and weight as The Rock by the WWE but possesses an entirely different demeanor. Anoa’i stated he wanted to incorporate more real-life elements into his gimmick, saying that outside the ring, he is more of a goofball6 like his cousins, but showcasing that kind of characterization is at odds with the understated confidence and stoicism Reigns displayed on tv. It didn’t help that the guy they were pushing as the top babyface was often vocally dismissive of his critics both in promos and outside the ring or that the company stated they were happy with any crowd reaction7 for him. It was worth it to give him a shot as the top babyface against Lesnar at WrestleMania 31, but once the crowd went berzerk for Rollins’ cash in and subsequent victory, it should have been back to the drawing board for Roman Reigns. Instead, the WWE tried for another four years to get him over as the top babyface before finally playing to Reigns’ strengths and turning him heel last year.

Unfortunately, he never received his “WrestleMania moment” during this time for his trouble, as his last WWE Championship reign was in 2016. His family was reportedly upset with the WWE for changing plans at WrestleMania 31; he received heavy boos from the crowd following his victory over Triple H at WrestleMania 32 and lost to Lesnar at WrestleMania 34. Worse yet, he received boos for beating The Undertaker the year prior at WrestleMania 33 without gaining the notoriety of ending The Streak. When Reigns finally overcame Lesnar at the 2018 SummerSlam event and first won the WWE Universal Championship, a title introduced in 2016 as a second world championship due to the WWE’s second brand split, he had to vacate the title 64 days later due to a re-diagnosis of leukemia. This time off was his second time dropping out of the main event scene, with his first coming after a wellness policy suspension in June 2016. However, the first time, he stayed busy in the mid-card feuding over the Intercontinental and United States Championships in late 2016 until early 2017 and late 2017 until early 2018, respectively, before moving into feuds to make his way back into the main event scene. After returning from his leukemia re-diagnosis, he was moved out of the main event scene, feuding with other wrestlers lower on the card before taking a five-month hiatus following the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

The Streak was a preemptive casualty of all this card shuffling, and WWE failed to get the most out of the remaining prestige from The Undertaker at WrestleMania. It’s why Calaway himself has said in interviews since his retirement that he continued wrestling after losing The Streak, searching for that “one match”8 to put a cap on his career. It makes one wonder why McMahon insisted on The Undertaker losing at WrestleMania XXX if he believed it was to be his last match only to have him win his final match at WrestleMania 36. It certainly makes one question the booking for his string of matches in subsequent WrestleMania’s. Defeating Bray Wyatt the year after losing The Streak was a good move since it allowed The Undertaker to look strong against the man proclaiming himself to be “The New Face of Fear” at the time. However, it was incredibly puzzling when Vince McMahon announced that Shane McMahon, who had just made a surprise return after being gone for six years, would have a match at WrestleMania 32 against The Undertaker on the February 22nd, 2016, episode of Raw. I was in attendance for Raw that night, and I can assure you that the audience in Detroit was just as confused as everyone else watching.

Aside from being inconsequential in the long run, it wasted one whole year Calaway could’ve competed inside the ring at WrestleMania with an active member of the roster. I’m no professional wrestling booker, but I would have had The Undertaker defeat Brock Lesnar with his Hell’s Gate submission finisher just as Lesnar went for his third F-5 finishing move that did win the match in reality. Assuming Calaway still receives a concussion and looks as worse for wear as he did after the actual WrestleMania XXX match with Lesnar, it could then play out as The Undertaker just barely scraping a win by “The Beast.” The next year I would have most of the same storyline play out with Bray Wyatt challenging The Undertaker at WrestleMania 31 to take his place and claim his status as “The New Face of Fear,” and I would still have The Undertaker go over. However, instead of working a series of matches throughout the latter half of the year with Brock Lesnar, I would have Bray Wyatt continue his angle with The Undertaker and get a win back at some point, preferably at SummerSlam or Survivor Series.

Rather than wait two years longer than it took, in reality, to make this match happen, I would book The Undertaker to go over John Cena at WrestleMania 32. Cena returned from injury at WrestleMania 32 but didn’t have an actual match until a month later on a Memorial Day episode of Raw, so it may be a bit cruel to have Cena do the job while he was still injured. However, this hypothetical match could have lasted the six seconds that Erick Rowan did against The Rock when Cena ran in to help The Rock from an attacking Wyatt Family in reality at WrestleMania 32. Cena could’ve still shown up and surprised everyone alongside The Rock; he could have still cut a promo about trying to “find his path” to WrestleMania as he did later when he did end up challenging The Undertaker in real life. The Undertaker could have still come out and surprisingly accepted Cena’s challenge, and then just as surprisingly squash Cena quickly as Undertaker later did at WrestleMania 34. Cena is one of those superstars where winning and losing no longer affect his legacy, so he can easily come back a month later, fully recovered, and pick up right where he left off. Having The Rock and Cena squash The Wyatt Family while The Undertaker and Shane McMahon have an unimpressive Hell in a Cell match on the same card as Reigns was booed heavily after beating Triple H, though, well, that didn’t help anyone.

The Undertaker then would’ve been 24-0 at WrestleMania before falling to Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 33 in my fantasy booking world. During that time, between WrestleMania XXX and WrestleMania 33, I would have been slowly building Reigns as the top heel; he could’ve even used his “Tribal Chief” gimmick this early on. Lesnar would have been an attraction, showing up occasionally to wreak havoc on anyone in his path and muddy up the title scene. Paul Heyman would still be Lesnar’s on-screen manager and do his usual boasting on Lesnar’s behalf, but with the caveat that Lesnar was the man who came closest to breaking The Streak and how no one could accomplish it. To generate further heat, Heyman could boast how after seeing “The Phenom” in as bad shape as he was after their WrestleMania XXX match, Lesnar decided to continue focusing on “bigger” things; championships. That way, when Reigns cut his promos about being “the big dog of the yard now,” he could have added in a slight against Lesnar about how “some things are bigger than championships” before ultimately being the one to defeat The Undertaker at WrestleMania 33. After defeating The Undertaker, we could see Paul Heyman offer his services to Reigns, much like in reality since Reigns has turned heel, and then take on Lesnar at WrestleMania 34 with The Usos in Reigns’ corner and Heyman seemingly representing both men.

A heel vs. heel WrestleMania main event is perhaps too unconventional for even Vince McMahon, but since he tried booking this match repeatedly anyway, why not build Reigns up as a heel beforehand and coax the crowd into cheering him as the “cool bad guy”9? I bet if he had been booed as a heel for those four years with my fantasy booking above, he’d be getting cheered as a principled, stoic babyface by this point if that’s the direction McMahon truly wanted. Even if not, we’ve seen a better reception from fans for Reigns since he turned heel, and I’m sure he would be getting cheers as a heel now if a babyface run didn’t work out with my above fantasy booking. Reigns ended up teaming up with The Undertaker in July 2019 in a tag-team match against Drew McIntyre and Shane McMahon; the opportunity for a babyface turn was certainly there if they had just established him as a heel first. As for The Undertaker, he could have taken WrestleMania 34 and 35 off and made sporadic tv appearances, preferably without losing matches to Triple H and D-Generation X or having a poor-quality match with Goldberg; before ultimately retiring with that cinematic “Boneyard Match” against AJ Styles at WrestleMania 36. Ideally, he would have retired after Reigns beat him at WrestleMania to break The Streak, but Calaway wanted to reach the 30-year milestone, and he still could assist in getting a Reigns babyface turn over with fans. If it was necessary for The Undertaker to perform at one WrestleMania between 33 and 36, then he still could have had a match against Shane McMahon, this time though at WrestleMania 35.

The Undertaker could have shown solidarity with Reigns by having a match with Shane McMahon while Reigns took on McIntrye on the same card. I think 25-1 has a better ring to it than 26-1, so another WrestleMania match in-between then would be unnecessary, but 25-1 also has a better ring to it than 24-1, which would have probably been the best time for The Undertaker to retire. However, at that point, it’s a judgment call on if you want The Undertaker out there or not to work with and further push younger talent he’s already put over and not Undertaker out there doing jobs attempting to get someone over; all in the carefully handled details. Then again, maybe Vince McMahon just wanted to make a product that would force people to question the behavior of a live audience when one is streaming past episodes of Raw, and that’s why Reigns’ heel turn took so long to come to fruition. Regardless, I’m certain of one thing; The Streak ended too soon.

Editor’s Notes

  1. talkSPORT – 6/22/2020 – NEW KID ON THE BROCK As The Undertaker retires, here’s why Brock Lesnar was chosen to break his incredible WrestleMania winning streak
  2. FanSided – 6/24/2015 – Brock Lesnar did not want to break Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak
  3. Pro Wrestling Stories – 1/11/2020 – Undertaker WrestleMania Streak – The Superstar Meant To Break It
  4. YouTube/WhatCulture Wrestling – 6/29/2015 – How WWE Should Have Booked: Ending The Streak
  5. Sports Illustrated – 11/19/2020 – Undertaker on His WrestleMania Streak, Not Wanting to Throw Mick Foley Off Cage and More: TRAINA THOUGHTS
  6. SEScoops – 3/14/2019 – Roman Reigns Wants To Incorporate More Joe Anoa’i Into His Character
  7. Podchaser/PWTorch Dailycast – 1/26/2017 – Interview Thursday: Keller w/Steve Austin
  8. YouTube/PowerfulJRE – 1/20/2021 – The Undertaker on Finally Retiring
  9. Especially if he’s a full-timer competing against a heel attraction.

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