The number in the left column of the streak record. That's what sells The Undertaker's annual WrestleMania match. Not the threat of it being broken.
Prior to Monday night, WrestleMania 30 had sold most of its tickets based on the expected novelty of one man—The Undertaker.
It wasn't known for sure who was going to be involved in the world title match. Hulk Hogan hadn't been officially announced. CM Punk is gone and assumed to not be there.
Until officially declared retired, The Undertaker's annual match and the reputation of WrestleMania sells it all.
Some casual WWE fans might buy how strong Brock Lesnar has been booked over the past two months when he's been around and see that as a threat to the streak. However, I think that's honestly a minority— maybe just the youngest of fans who don't yet comprehend that it's a scripted show. Most other fans realize that if the streak couldn't be broken by all of the fallen men who have tried so far, it's never going to be broken.
One man holds the threat of doing so, and that's John Cena. That's the only threat because he's Cena. If he beats the streak, it would be only because The Undertaker demands it. Nobody wants to see the streak broken. The fans don't and, and the same could be said for the boys in the locker room.
The Undertaker returned to Raw for a staredown with Lesnar. It was nice to see him channel his look circa 1999 with the devilish-like goatee facial hair. It was also good to see that he took the time to put some dark color back in the facial hair. (The picture that surfaced online days ago really did scream “dead man walking.”)
The lights going out is over with the fans. The sound of that gong is over with the fans. The Undertaker legacy is over with the fans. WWE recycles him every year, and, yes, he takes up a 30-minute time slot on the card that could go to one of the younger guys. But as long as he has the drawing power, wants to be there and can make it to the ring, the streak will keep on going.
So much reaction came out of so little to start that segment on Raw. He doesn't have to say anything. Body language tells it all. The stabbing of Lesnar's hand with the pen was a nice touch. Only The Undertaker could make a corny idea on paper like that look good. If it wasn't TV-PG, it would have been a production show about drawing blood and signing the contract in Lesnar's blood.
The match provides a great case of hype—two very popular names to get the yearly attention on the big event.
The Undertaker is one of the most recognizable names in wrestling history. Everyone who's watched wrestling at some point has heard of him. Average Joe who hasn't watched wrestling in 15 years might be shocked to hear The Undertaker's still wrestling or even alive, but his name means something.
Lesnar's name means a lot due to his time in the UFC, when the company was at the height of its popularity.
The match won't need much. It will be a typical build where maybe two more times we see both men appear on Raw. Otherwise, the match will be sold via Paul Heyman promos and WWE's production staff with its wonderful video packages.
The selling point is to see one more potential Hall of Fame name in the ring for what is always a contender for match of the year on the grandest stage against the man with the greatest gimmick ever, a man who also happens to be one of the most respected wrestlers of all time.
The selling point is to see The Undertaker drop to a knee after he wins and watch the scoreboard change to 22.
The streak started as an accident. If Kevin Nash/Diesel wasn't on his way out of WWE in the spring of 1996, he would have likely beaten The Undertaker, who at the time had only won four WrestleMania matches and continued being pushed as a top heel.
Nash was on his way out, and The Undertaker won his fifth WrestleMania match. The streak was a fun coincidence that WWE didn't really start to push as a gimmick until the last 10 years. It then went from good statistic to bigger than the world title matches themselves in the last five years.
You give the people what they want. That's what WrestleMania is all about. The crowd always gets sent home happy. Nobody wants to see it broken. Even the few who might say they do, they really don't. If it gets broken by anybody, the pressure it would put on that person's career to live up to such lofty expectations would be unmeasurable.
It's an expectation for a career that is too high, and if someone doesn't live up to the expectations, it's a slap in the face to The Undertaker. It would be squandering what has taken over 20 years to do, which is create this undefeated streak of validity in a predetermined genre.
The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar to see the number change to 22. That's the selling point...and maybe a tease for a Sting appearance the next night on Raw. Hook, line and sold out.
Justin LaBar is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also the creator of the Chair Shot Reality video talk show and Wrestling Reality radio show. He's been featured by various outlets, including several appearances on NBC Sports as a wrestling analyst.
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