The Undertakers infamous WrestleMania streak was broken by Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 30 last Sunday night much to the shock of WWE fans. Michael Dorgan looks at why fans never saw the upset coming.
In the Usual Suspects, Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint cautions Customs Agent Kujan that “the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist”. Similarly in the world of wrestling, the greatest trick The Undertaker ever pulled was convincing fans that his streak would never be broken. But in the end it was and what made last Sunday night’s loss to Brock Lesnar even more shocking was that no one saw it coming.
The Undertakers streak at WrestleMania is of legendary status; going into Sundays contest he was 21-0 in terms of victories at WWEs showcase event and with Taker’ approaching the end of an illustrious thirty year career fans believed the streak would either retire with him or at least if it was to be broken, that the mantle would be bestowed upon a young, up and coming superstar thereby propelling him onto the main stage.
WWE fans are a unique breed. Disingenuously lamented by non-wrestling fans for being blinded by the fact that the sport is scripted and not ‘real’, they are in fact, very aware of its theatrical connotations but chose to embrace all that is good about the sport and live vicariously through the various characters and their personalities. While its performers are not in genuine fights, they do put their bodies on the line all year round, travelling across America and often around the world to compete and promote the WWE. It is quite a sacrifice being on the road continuously and performing high risk manoeuvres week in week out. The injuries take their toll and they are respected for that.
Because it is scripted, fans attempt to read between the lines in order to predict the outcomes and directions of contests and their storylines, often battling it out for backstage news and rumours to lead them on the right course.
And this is exactly why they (and I for that matter), never saw it coming. As mentioned in my preview, the build-up to the Taker’ Lesnar contest had been short and mediocre; the two never fought a match and instead all we were given were a few promos with Taker choke slamming Lesnar through a table at the contract signing, appearing ringside in a casket and then finally last Monday Lesnar caught Taker for an F5. Throughout this time Lesnar, who portrays himself as ‘the Beast’, seemed intimidated and fearful of the Undertaker.
Lesnar, the former UFC Champion had a real life feud with mark Calaway (Undertakers real name) a few years ago and it even spilled out into the public domain at a UFC event Lesnar was competing in. Calaway was in attendance with wife Michelle McCool and as Lesnar walked past the two men went head to head with each other (see clip below). This indicated that Lesnar would be the last man Taker’ would allow break the streak.
Further, Lesnar is seen by many fans as a part-time wrestler who is only in it for a pay-day due to the fact that his UFC career was ended under medical grounds and would thus be undeserving of such an honour.
People never bought into the concept that the WWE and the Undertaker, who has creative control over his character, would allow Lesnar break the streak. The bookmakers made the Undertaker a 1/100 shot and Lesnar a 16/1 outsider such was the confidence in the Undertaker streak continuing.
Even as the fight, which was a dull and timid affair, moved into the latter stages fans clearly weren’t ‘into it’ as a contest. Lesnar had given Undertaker two F5s and he kicked out before the three count; as he had done in so many other WrestleMania bouts when opponents had inflicted their signature finisher move on him. Lesnar then applied the third F5 and the referee dived to the floor to count and whereas fans would usually count one, two along with the referee, they stood quiet. He then hit the deafening three count and fans looked on in silence. Shock, awe, jaws wide open; they looked around to see if it was for real. Was it an official referee? Is that the real Undertaker? Surely something would happen or someone would march out from backstage to tell us something was wrong, but nothing. “And like that… poof, it was gone”.
Nobody considered it was a possibility and because we hadn’t, we never thought twice that it was actually plausible. We thought we were too smart for Vince McMahon and right when we were at our most vulnerable, he pulled the plug. They had hoodwinked everybody and nobody saw it coming. This is why Lesnar’s music didn’t play immediately; they knew they had us, they anticipated the reaction and wanted to capture it, it was ingenious.
It was ingenious not only because they had caught their own fans out but the news reverberated around social media to people with little interest in wrestling. It was ingenious because it broke into the headlines of genuine news media, a PR masterstroke that only WWE owner Vince McMahon could pull off.
WWE fans often defend their ‘sport’ by saying it is no different to a play or a movie and like those fans, they know it’s not real but choose to immerse themselves in that world for the duration of the spectacle. WWE fans watch and attend because they too want to be entertained and while many are incensed that the streak ended this way, this is what made Sunday night so special. That’s what makes a film a classic and what will make WrestleMania 30 historic because like Kujan in The Usual Suspects, nobody saw it coming.
Michael Dorgan – Pundit Arena
featured Image via @NYRawCrowd