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Joe: Come every Wrestlemania, amid the excitement of the World Title matches, celebrity involvement, the Hall Of Fame and the general spectacle of it all, one topic of discussion has remained resolute in it’s answer for the last five years or so. ?Should the Undertaker’s streak be broken?? Is usually met with an emphatic ?NO!? from aghast wrestling fans, shocked to the very core that someone could even fathom the idea that Taker loses the streak.
Taker fans winced behind their pillows as Randy Orton countered a chokeslam into an RKO at ?Mania 21 and held their breath as Batista nailed The Deadman with a Batista Bomb at 23, yet The Phenom always prevailed. But why?
I?m sure Monsieur Hagen is going to provide some very valid points in this piece as to why ?the streak? is so untouchable, but in my opinion, ?the streak? was born out of amazing fortune only maybe 7 years ago, if that, when people started to suddenly realize that The Undertaker had never been beaten at the Grandaddy of ?em all! And all of a sudden, wrasslin? fans everywhere were clamoring for this record to remain preserved. However, in an age where the WWE has suffered from the likes of Austin and The Rock never properly ?passing the torch? before they left the squared circle, wouldn?t Mark Calloway staring at the lights for an MVP or a Jeff Hardy or a CM Punk or maybe even a Ted Dibiase make ending ?the streak? worthwhile?
Mr. Hagen, the floor is yours.
Ben: Joe brings up two interesting points, but I hope to press them a bit.
First, I think most fans recognize (or would rec ognize willingly) that Vince McMahon didn?t put Taker against Jimmy Snuka at Wrestlemania VII with an undefeated streak in mind. But I would argue that the streak’s origin in unforeseen and unconscious booking decisions does not necessarily diminish its value. Your insight may put the streak in a sober historical framework, but it certainly does not lessen, for lack of a better word at the moment, the ?charge? or the ?importance? or (gasp!) the ‘sacredness? of the Undertaker’s streak.
I have several responses to your second point (readers might want to check out my column last month on this very issue of ?passing the torch?), but I think I would like to point out just one of the presuppositions upon which the question rests. The question assumes that the Undertaker has a torch to pass. Although many might assume that the Undertaker is the ace of the WWE, this assumption is certainly not the case. At the moment, John Cena, Batista, Triple H, and so on . . . these are the aces of the company, the guys who have worn the world titles f or a majority of the last several years and who have something to pass. The Undertaker, rather, is a ?phenom,? a character that is not created in a single night with a single loss (a s you?ve already pointed out). Whether fans might want to believe it or not, a loss at Wrestlemania would not ?pass? that status onto a guy like MVP or CM Punk or Jeff Hardy.
Joe: Au contraire Ben, I believe the Undertaker certainly has a torch to pass. See, whilst Taker is not the ?ace? of the company, so to speak, a clean win over The Phenom is still a rarity, and when it does come along, it’s usually to an already established star such as Big Show and Batista recently. However, I agree that even so, should CM Punk, for instance, beat the Undertaker clean in a match at Summerslam or No Mercy, no torch would have been passed. But that’s somewhat beside the point. The point is beating The Deadman at WrestleMania. Should Punk (again, only using him as an example) defeat Taker at ?Mania, then he will forever be known as the guy who ended ?The Streak?. HHH failed at breaking it, so did Batista, HBK, Randy Orton, Kane and Ric Flair.
In WWE land, the top guys have even begun contes ting over who gets the chance to end it, as we saw Shawn Michaels and JBL battle it out over who earned the right to face Taker at WrestleMania 25. Ok, that was only a storyline, but it’s obvious that creative want us to buy into the fact that even a superstar like Michaels, one of the most decorated superstars in wrestling history, would desperately want to add to his already glittering resume. All kinds of guys have held World Titles, but no one, in 17 attempts has managed to defeat The Undertaker at WrestleMania. It’s become a Holy Grail that even the biggest and best haven?t been able to prize away from The Phenom. But put that grail in the hands of a guy like Punk and watch their stock rise. As put over’s go, I can?t think of anything more significant.
Ben: Joe, I think we?re crossing wires a bit here. The term ?passing the torch? implies a generational transfer, a bestowal of one’s position on another. When one passes this torch, one no longer has said torch. I think this is quite a bit different than a ?put over.?
When Jumbo Tsuruta lost to Mitsuharu Misawa in June of 1990, it served as a symbolic win, a gesture that signaled (but did not cement) Misawa as the ace of the company for the next ten years (even though he LOST to Jumbo three months later). In other words, Misawa took his spot. If Taker loses at Wrestlemania, no one gets his spot . . . because his spot took years and years and years to create (as you mention a above), a result that bookers just can?t repeat on a whim.
In attempting to argue that a win over the Undertaker would automatically raise the stock of a younger wrestler, it appears that you?re actually putting more faith in the Streak’s sacredness than I am, as if you know for sure what a win over the Undertaker would do for another wrestler! The system of exchange in professional wrestling is more complicated, and much less black-and-white than the picture you paint. Just because CM Punk could always be known as the ?guy who ended the Undertaker’s strea k,? this fact does not necessarily equal the value of the Undertaker’s streak, nor does it signal the continuance of anything with as much drama as a Wrestlemania Undertaker match. Since one cannot really guarantee that anything of=2 0value would really result from breaking the streak, the smart move from a business position, from an aesthetic position, and from a fan’s position is to keep the streak as it is: in tact and significant.
Joe: You are indeed correct Ben and I will concede that I misused the term ‘passing the torch’ with reference to The Undertaker’s Wrestlemania streak.
However, I would say it IS safe to assume that a victory over The Phenom would do wonders for a young superstar. Ok, no one knows what path their career may take afterwards (injuries, suspensions etc) for sure, but in a world where World Titles can be won by cashing in a briefcase on a whim, isn’t the more effective put over having a guy perform a feat no superstar in history has done before?
The WWE would never bestow this priviledge upon just anyone, and neither would Mark Calloway be=2 0comfortable with jobbing out the streak to someone who he didn’t feel was worth it, but he has said in the past if it was the right thing for business, then he’d be happy to sacrifice ‘the streak’. I mean, at the end of the day, will one loss at a Wrestlemania really cast much of a shadow over Taker’s career? He knows it wouldn’t affect the way his peers and fans alike perceive him as a performer and he’ll still go down as one of the most popular wrestlers in history.
Is ‘the streak’ special? Sure, but by building The Undertaker as invincible for 17 years at ‘Mania, the ‘E’ have given themselves the perfect opportunity to pull off one of the great “Oh my God” moments in recent history. The one thing that has undeniably affected Taker’s recent ‘Mania offerings is the predictability factor surrounding each of them. This predictability has been compensated by the matches themselves usually being MOTY contenders, which is no bad thing. However, say ‘the streak’ goes next year, then the unpredictablity factor is brought to the table once more for what would likely be Taker’s last couple of ‘Mania offerings.
Ben: To your first question: ?isn’t the more effective put over having a guy perform a feat no superstar in history has done before?? Not necessarily, Joe. By definition, if no one has ever done something before, it is impossible to measure its effectiveness. It may seem as if I?m being curt here, but I think it’s an important point. No one can know whether or not a win over the Undertaker will turn out to be one of the greatest moments in wrestling history or whether it will come across as the pop of a balloon that took nearly twenty years to blow up. The fact that all that work may end in something that will merely fizzle out indicates that WWE has backed themselves into a corner. A single win over the Undertaker will have to be miraculously special if it is to have the same sort of longevity or value that a perfect streak already has for WWE fans.
To your second question: ?will one loss at a Wrestlemania really cast much of a shadow over Taker’s career?? I doubt that a loss will cast any sort of shadow (and one would have to be crazy to think that his peers or his fans would lose respect for him!), but it will upset something far more important than popularity (which isn8 0t an issue, I think).
Your third point (i.e. the apparent return of unpredictability) seems to come out of left field. Perhaps this is a matter of personal taste, but I don?t really see how Taker’s recent matches against Triple H, Ric Flair, Randy Orton, Batista, Edge, and Shawn Michaels could possibly be called ?predictable.? Were people 100% convinced that Taker would walk away from these matches with a win? (The message boards seem to indicate not.) Perhaps some fans were confident, yet all of these matches played off of an uncertainty (i.e. an ?unpredictability?!) that grows and grows with each passing year and that is necessary for the quality and value of his most recent matches. If Taker had lost, say, his match against Triple H in 2001 or against Randy Orton in 2005, would any of the following matches have been as exciting? It’s hard to say, but they certainly wouldn?t have had as much on the line.
Joe: Well Ben, for me, the streak being brought to an end would certainly be a huge deal. This is a streak which is synonymous with one of the most popular wrestlers in the history of the sport. It’s even had a DVD released about it! It’s now at a point where at Wrestlemania, the streak means more than the World Titles. Even in the matches against Batista and Edge where the Title was on the line, they were always billed as ‘Title vs Streak’ with the streak being the bigger prize. I mean, Taker wins the Title in those contests and Batista and Edge are going to get at least one shot at winning the Title back. However, should Edge or Batista take the streak from Taker, they’ve taken it forever. So where as World Title reigns may come and go, the streak remains constant.
As for the ‘unpredictablity’ factor, I genuinely feel that from Wrestlemania XIX onwards, there’s only ever been one guy who I thought would end the streak and that was Randy Orton at WM 21, during his ‘Legend Killer’ phase. Aside from that, not even the Batista or HBK matches had me believing it wa s going to end. Don’t get me wrong, I still love both of those matches, but for me at least, I felt as if we were getting a great match to substitute the fact that many of us knew what the outcome would be, which in fairness I would rather see than a terrible, yet unpredictable match, however I digre ss.
Obviously the above point is just a matter of personal taste and I’m not going to attempt to speak for everyone when I say the matches are predictable. I’m not even saying the predictability is a bad thing, I’m just saying that Taker has I’d say two ‘Mania’s left in him as a full time worker, and will probably come back at a couple more as one off type appearances upon retirement, so why not go for broke with a Punk or MVP or Swagger and attempt to make a bona fide megastar whilst at the same time cast a genuine, consistent sense of unpredictability over Taker’s future WM encounters? Because at the end of the day, he can still be known as the guy who only lost once in 20 Wrestlemanias, not exactly a bad feat.
And I’m spent!
Ben: Joe, I am not necessarily saying out that a Wrestlemania loss for the Undertaker wouldn?t be a big deal. I?m trying (clumsily=2 0perhaps) to make it clear that no one could possibly know HOW big of a deal the loss would be and if that loss would be ?worth it? (i.e. would it have the same impact? The same marketability? The same longevity?). I think you nail it on the head at the end of your first paragraph where you say that the streak ?remains constant.? It should stay that way!
I?m still not buying the ?predictability factor? that you keep pushing. Even if people were 95% certain that Taker was going over Orton, Batista, Edge, or Michaels, it is that other 5% (i.e. the smidgen of uncertainty) that makes those matches as special as they are . . . and I doubt even you were 100% positive while watching those matches live. (But that’s merely speculation.) If the Undertaker loses, say, at Wrestlemania 26, I highly doubt the ?unpredictability? of his match at Wrestlemania 27 will mat ter all that much to the majority of fans. If he wins his match at Wrestlemania 26, however, that ?constant? you referred to earlier (that ?constant? that is more important than the World Title, as you say) would still be in tact for Wrestlemania 27 (if he doesn?t retire first!).
I?ll repeat, it makes financial sense as well as aesthetic sense to keep that streak in tact. You say, ?why not go for broke with a Punk or MVP or Swagger and attempt to make a bona fide megastar?? I?ll answer your question with some more questions: ?why ?go for broke? when you have something that works? That gets fans excited? That has made most of his Wrestlemania matches since Wrestlemania X7 extra special?? And again: a megastar is not created with one match . . . not even if he beats the Undertaker at Wrestlemania.
Joe, it has been a pleasure debating with you, and it is gracious of you to let me have the last word.
Dear readers, hope you enjoyed our debate.
There you have it two very strong arguments from two of WrestleView’s finest columnists. So who won the debate? Was it Ben Hagen – the man who brings you the ?word from the world of wrestling? with his argument of Undertaker’s streak remaining untouched or was it Joe Baiamonte – the man who would allow all of you access each and every week to ?Baiamontes Casa? with his feelings of Undertaker needing to do the honors for someone and ?pass the torch?. These two gentleman have taken each other the proverbial distance with this argument leaving you to decide who won.