For 23 years, the legend of the Undertaker's iconic WrestleMania streak has been slowly built. Since 2001, the record has been acknowledged. Since 2005, the aura surrounding it has achieved a level surpassing almost every other storyline in the company.
As a lifelong Undertaker fan, it pains me to say this, but here goes: In 2013, The Streak needs to end, and CM Punk is the best candidate for the job.
In the coming days, I will write a separate article detailing why I believe there are only three viable candidates (John Cena, Randy Orton and CM Punk) to end The Streak and why CM Punk is the best candidate for ending The Streak. But why does The Streak need to end?
There are several reasons, but here are the four most prominent ones.
As fans—not just of wrestling, but of sports in general—we root for the memorable. We thirst for records. More importantly, though, we are willing to pay good money to watch the pursuit of those records. It's the chance to watch someone being made immortal. It's the human desire.
Sports on the business side and wrestling in particular is about money. It's about putting out a product which makes fans pay handsomely to watch these feats of battle.
There is no legend, now or in the immediate future, who rises up to the level of the Streak. Whomever ends The Streak will be a made man for the rest of his career.
As Mick Foley noted in his autobiography, part of the reason he chose to give his career to HHH in a stipulation match was because the notoriety that came with ending Mick Foley's career would help take the person ending it to the top levels of the wrestling business, and HHH was a proven guy who needed that kind of bullet point on his resume.
Vince McMahon can sometimes be out of touch, but he has an instinct for the business side of wrestling and knows how to draw the biggest bucks available. I'm certain he knows that whomever ends the Streak will have a permanent career as a top draw.
It does the Undertaker no good to retire with The Streak intact. The Undertaker's legendary career is already written, and he will occupy the highest echelons of wrestling history. The Streak will not be tarnished, either.
It is a miracle to make 20 appearances at WrestleMania, as the Undertaker is the only one to do it, and the closest men on the active roster (not HHH or other aged part-timers) are John Cena and Randy Orton with nine.
HBK only made it to 17 appearances and HHH to 16. To win 20 of them, especially with the Undertaker's legend hanging over them, will be next to impossible. It will be teased. Some might come close. But the only person to occupy the rarified air of 20 victories at WrestleMania will be the Undertaker.
And these are not all jobbers who have fallen to the Deadman. Out of the 17 different opponents he has faced—two in a handicap match and three of them on multiple occasions—four are already in the WWE Hall of Fame (Jimmy Snuka, Ric Flair, Edge and Shawn Michaels).
Two more are virtual locks for the Hall when they retire (HHH and Orton), and four of them have borderline careers which could potentially see them inducted depending on how the stars align (Kane, Big Show, Mark Henry and Batista if he ever returns). These 10 legitimate superstars represent 14 of the 20 wins in the Streak.
The Streak is safe. The Undertaker's legacy is safe. The only good things that come from The Streak now is the money it draws every year and the legacy that would come for the wrestler who ends it.
By the time WWE hits MetLife Stadium in 2013, Mark Calaway will be 48 years old. Some people have taken to saying in regular life that 50 is the new 40 or even the new 30, but that is not the case with professional wrestling. Increased work rates and more daring bumps and spots have led to many careers being shorter than their predecessors.
And unfortunately, the Undertaker is no different. He's known for being double tough and working matches even when he's injured, but that dedication to his craft has left him in a position to where he can only physically handle WrestleMania and the events leading up to it.
I was in attendance at Raw 1000 this summer, and while everyone loved the fact that he made an appearance, it was very easy for this fan to see the wear and tear his body has taken over the years.
If he had the career of a Flair or a Sting, it might be one thing. But he prizes quality matches and doesn't want to stay past that point, and unfortunately, he is close to that point. There are no guarantees that he would even be able to make WrestleMania 30, much less any WrestleManias beyond that.
And that leads me into my final reason why The Streak needs to end...
I bring this up for one reason: Very few wrestlers end their active careers by winning their final match. Stone Cold lost his last match, Mick Foley lost his last match, Shawn Michaels lost his last match, and if he had kept his word to WWE, Ric Flair would've lost his last match. The only name that bucks that trend that comes to my mind is Edge, and that was for medical reasons.
The reason for this unwritten rule is simple: Whomever they wrestle in that match will need to be around in the weeks, months and years ahead to be a draw for the company.
The retiring wrestler will not be there, though. A lot of people thought the Montreal Screwjob was bad on the part of Vince McMahon, but they also blamed Bret Hart for not being willing to lose, because the standard protocol is that you enter a company with your hands held high—to help build you into a draw—and you leave on your back and looking up at the lights—to show respect to the company and help build the other guy into a draw.
As much as I love him, the Undertaker needs to lose his final match as well, and as he is a noted traditionalist in many ways, I believe he would agree with that.
If Undertaker were five or 10 years younger, if his body and his health were in better condition, or if he was going out like Ric Flair or Sting did, wrestling almost every week (at least every month) and still able to go at a pretty good level inside the ring, this conversation would not be happening. But with his age and condition, there are no guarantees that he will be around for even WrestleMania 30.
And, as he is only coming around once a year for the WrestleMania buildup, it's fairly certain that the only thing keeping him from retiring is to keep The Streak going and to help business.
It would be safe to assume that, should he no longer have The Streak to uphold, he would ride off into the sunset and enjoy retirement from one of the best in-ring careers that the business has ever seen.
So, rather than risk him not being able to make WrestleMania 30, 31 or whatever, he needs to do the right thing—assuming that he's ready to end The Streak—and use the loss to help put over other guys and trust that his legacy will not be tarnished by losing what would presumably be his final match.