In the imagination of WWE fans around the world, there existed but two specific ways that The Undertaker’s legendary WrestleMania winning streak should’ve come to an end:
- He retires undefeated, his legacy intact.
- He passes the proverbial torch to a promising young wrestler like CM Punk or Daniel Bryan.
Heck, some of us could’ve even tolerated his reign ending at the hands (heel, rather) of Shawn Michaels. But this past Sunday, we witnessed something completely unexpected – regicide at the traiterous hands of arguably the most hated man in the franchise – the personification of destruction; Godzilla to Japan; Bane to Batman – Brock Lesnar. Ring royalty and childhood dreams were simultaneously stomped by the Size 15 boots of a man who traded in those very boots for MMA gloves not too long ago (only to return to the WWE on a part-time contract). Like millions around the world, I was shocked to see Taker’s 21-0 streak come to an abrupt halt by someone so undeserving. The shock turned to disbelief, the disbelief to anger, the anger to resentment. And therein, my friends, lies the genius of it all.
What does it take to get us talking nowadays? How does Miley Cyrus find her way into our conversations time-and-again? Sometimes talent isn’t enough; “build it and they will come” is an obsolete adage in world with as many distractions as we have today. To hear Bangerz, it takes grinding on Robin Thicke. To watch Palo Alto, it takes soliciting a minor. But make no mistake about it – such brazen and disruptive tactics are also steep gambles. Relevance Russian Roulette, if you will. Case in point: the waning relevance of Lady Gaga in the face of vomit-inducing gimmicks. What it comes down to is calculated provocation. Either you elicit a strong, impassioned reaction or be banished to the realm of blah. For Kanye West, it wasn’t the music that ultimately did it for him – instead, it took his impregnation of a reality “star” famous off a sextape to become a household name in America. Kanye persists, while his predictable peers like 50 Cent languish.
24 hours later, #ThankYouTaker is still trending worldwide. With its little left-field stunt, the WWE essentially renewed interest in the franchise for several years to come. I’m going to want a resolution to the “New Orleans Screw Job” for as long as I’m alive. And for Vince McMahon, that’s money in the bank. On Sunday night, Undertaker could’ve easily defeated Brock Lesnar, just as he had defeated 21 before him. But then we would’ve boo-hooed about how Vince is running out of ideas and driving the business into the ground.
Instead, we got a publicity stunt 21 years in the making. The result is a new story arc that unites fans from the Golden Era, New Generation Era, Attitude Era and Universe Era alike against a common enemy. Genius.