It's been two days since Brock Lesnar stunned the WWE Universe by ending its most notable streak, and the backlash from fans has been remarkable. There have been many "why WWE got it wrong" articles floating around the web, and the words "stupid" and "ridiculous" are woven throughout as critics express their ultimate disapproval.
In my opinion, that’s missing the point.
If you are truly a fan of this industry, if professional wrestling means anything to you, you would stop chastising the company for its decision and spend your effort praising The Undertaker for being a true professional. What The Undertaker did on Sunday was nothing short of incredible, the ultimate sacrifice for a business he loved. To not acknowledge that is criminal.
In 2014, we know it all. We can pretty much guess every single thing that's going to happen. That's not necessarily a slam on the WWE—while I do think the company needs to get more creative, there just isn't much fans haven't witnessed.
What separates good theater from bad theater? It's the storytelling. Powerful stories hold our attention. Lazy stories with poor narratives and obvious outcomes are met with criticism and disinterest. It's the reason why a show like The Walking Dead will never be Breaking Bad. One show told an amazing story, the other capitalizes on our fascination with zombies.
Professional wrestling is just another form of theater. We're captivated by the story wrestlers tell in ring or on a mic. For years, The Undertaker has taken us on some amazing journeys. We know this stuff isn't real. But we've always bought into the Deadman. We never rejected his character, whether he's being struck by lightning bolts in the arena or supposedly buried alive.
The Undertaker has always risen to the moment. The word "history" is used an egregious amount of times in this business, but it's only fair that the word accompany the matches The Undertaker has performed in at WrestleMania. He's given us everything.
But think back to this match last Sunday. Think back to your living room couch, or that bar where you were watching this. If you were one of the lucky ones in attendance, recall your thoughts during that match. I bet we were all thinking the same thing.
We were thinking that no matter how many F-5s were hit in the course of this match, no matter how many close encounters The Undertaker would face, we knew he was kicking out. The Deadman always kicks out at WrestleMania. It was almost silly.
What kind of drama is that? What's the quality of a story that has an ending that predictable? The Undertaker is 49 years old. He hardly even looks like the man we watched string together 21 WrestleMania victories. And now he's supposed to get in a ring with a 36-year-old former UFC Heavyweight champion and just Tombstone him for the win? Kick out of five F-5s en route to an amazing 22nd WrestleMania victory?
That’s another gripe I’ve seen. People are disappointed that he lost to a “part-time guy.” That’s irrelevant. That doesn’t matter at all. In my opinion, he couldn’t have picked a more believable opponent to end the streak. We’ve witnessed Brock Lesnar do the real thing and wear gold for doing the real thing. Being candid, this guy can actually hurt people and has done so professionally.
Who is more qualified to say he's ended professional wrestling’s most impressive streak if not a real fighter?
Think about some of the most amazing matches we've witnessed to end careers. Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels. Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker. Stone Cold and The Rock, round three. Three icons who all eventually fell. This sport, this business, is still bigger than any single superstar, be it Hulk Hogan, be it Stone Cold, The Rock and, yes, The Undertaker.
When Ric Flair begged Shawn Michaels for that final Sweet Chin Music, it was powerful. When Shawn Michaels lost to 'Taker the second time (and was made to retire) we were moved. If we are to be expected to suspend disbelief, which is absolutely necessary for this product, then what happens in-ring must be believable.
That three-count on Sunday night was an enormous dose of reality. We think we know it all. I doubt anyone so much as tensed up when The Undertaker took his third F-5. We watched casually until something happened that we thought would never and could never happen. For a moment, wrestling was very real.
It was the ultimate sacrifice to an industry that had given him so much. 22-0 is fun to talk about, but what does that even mean? What kind of story does that ultimately tell other than a guy who would never put anyone over at WrestleMania? Is 22-0, 23-0 or 25-0 really the legacy that The Undertaker wants to leave behind?
Apparently not. And we're very lucky because of it. We're lucky to have been treated to the most compelling story this business has told in years. We're lucky to have truly witnessed history.
Don't hate the WWE or The Undertaker for 21-1. It might not be what the fans wanted, but that's irrelevant. The fans got their champion that night. Daniel Bryan was on Raw last evening with two belts screaming "Yes!" We got what we ultimately wanted out of WrestleMania. It's not the WWE's job to just feed us what we want; that would be lazy. Its job is to tell a story. Entertain us, surprise us, shock us.
On Sunday, that's exactly what happened. We might never experience a reaction of that magnitude following a three-count again. The Undertaker provided us the most exceptional theater we've witnessed in a WWE ring in over a decade. We should thank him for it.