Sunday, April 6, 2014 marks the end of an era. An era 23 years in the making. An era that ended the career of Shawn Michaels. An era that can be defined in two words – the streak.
WWE shocked the world on Sunday night when they booked Brock Lesnar over The Undertaker clean at Wrestlemania 30. In a bout where most assumed Undertaker going over was a given, WWE swerved and gave Brock Lesnar the biggest rub in Wrestlemania history. The decision was so shocking, it wasn’t even met with contempt but complete astonishment.
Wrestling fans are ordinarily very vocal when they turn on shows (the reaction to Batista winning the 2014 Royal Rumble is still fresh), however, during this moment, there are still not words to appropriately articulate what happened. As I sit at my desk exhausted from the long work day I find myself struggling to put words together to depict my reaction.
While a struggle, I can unapologetically state to you that I feel WWE made a mistake on Sunday night. Not just in their creative plan but in its execution. My issue is not so much that WWE chose to end the streak, it’s how they did it and who ended it.
I have no issue with Brock Lesnar. I’m one of the few that approves of his part-time schedule for big money deal because the fact of the matter is he earned it. Brock left WWE and millions of dollars in earning potential a decade ago because he despised life on the road. He was determined to do something else, anything else, before he chose to live in airports and hotels 300 days out of the year. Few believed he could do it but he exceeded any and all expectations. Following a failed attempt at the NFL, Lesnar burst on the MMA scene. While mocked by purists, Lesnar won the UFC heavyweight championship and drew 7-figure buy rates.
Brock’s fighting career ended prematurely due to diverticulitis and he returned to WWE as a much bigger deal. Vince McMahon, no longer allergic to part-time contracts, made Brock a lucrative offer and was determined that Brock’s first post-UFC appearance would be for him. For the past two years Brock has been booked questionably but still proven to be a draw. At SummerSlam 2013, in a bout against CM Punk, he also showed he can still work.
Brock is a draw and has adequate in-ring ability, however, I’m concerned about commitment and longevity. Once considered a very good in-ring worker, Lesnar’s run since returning to WWE in 2012 has featured a slower-paced style that bills him more as a fighter rather than an All-American amateur wrestler. While Brock is capable of more, he relies on his size to carry his bouts. He can still work, as he proved with Punk, but it’s not like he’s gone out of his way to push his abilities either.
A good example of this was on display less than 10 minutes into his bout against Undertaker on Sunday night. Lesnar appeared blown up, gasping for air and sweating profusely. The crowd was quiet and wanted more but he was exhausted. It could have had something to do with his health, however, he didn’t appear to be optimal physical condition. Lesnar’s health will push me right to my next issue and that is longevity.
Brock will be 37-years-old in July and hates life on the road. He’s past his prime and he’s not going to start working the full-time WWE schedule. So what’s the point in giving The Undertaker’s iconic streak to someone that appears to be back for a couple cups of coffee and isn’t necessarily concerned about his pro wrestling “legacy?”
It’s nothing against Brock but we could easily list five other workers that would benefit greatly from such a feat. In fact, there are people fully committed, willing to work every date thrown their way and would do anything for such a rub. Instead, WWE has created quite the quandary.
Not only did Brock end the most iconic element to Wrestlemania but he did so in unimpressive fashion. Lesnar vs. Undertaker at Wrestlemania 30 left a lot to be desired, never had the crowd and even the biggest Undertaker fans were Tweeting for them to take it home. Just not like that. Now the streak is history and WWE is left with little to show for it.
They do not have an up and coming talent about to hit their prime to push to the moon, they do not have a historic 5-star match to send Undertaker out on and they do not have an iconic promotional element for next year’s Wrestlemania (one that could possibly include Sting).
As I mentioned, not only was WWE wrong in their creative plan but also in its execution. If WWE was going to end the streak, they had to close the show with it. I understand Daniel Bryan was due his big pay off and was already pulling double duty, however, there was no way to get the crowd back. The company used the Vickie Guerrero Divas Championship Invitational as the comedown bout and I might has well have been intoxicated because I don’t remember it.
Even as WWE tried to push forward to the main event, it felt like a large portion of the audience had “checked out.” The only way to prevent this would have been for the streak to close the show. The risk there is you send the crowd home in the astonished state, however, I’ll argue they still did that even after a stellar main event.
The plan was bad, the execution was worse and now WWE has a major situation on their hands. This isn’t something they can undo. This isn’t the Royal Rumble where they can spin everything into a storyline and “right the ship.” The streak is over and Undertaker walked out with the L. Even if WWE ran an angle on Raw that Undertaker’s shoulder wasn’t down or Paul Heyman “paid off” the referee or any other hint of ridiculousness we can think up, there’s no undoing this.
The streak is over and it ended in unimpressive fashion. The streak was ended by someone that is not going to benefit from it.
All and all I should be celebrating right now and putting WWE over for doing the right thing with Daniel Bryan, however, I cannot do that tonight. All I can do is shake my head at a blatant creative misstep that wasn’t clearly thought through. The Undertaker will still go down as the greatest of all time at Wrestlemania, however, this blemish, this ridiculous streak ending blemish, didn’t have to be. It’s truly a shame that I tell you we have witnessed the end of an era. We have witnessed the end of the streak.