WrestleMania XXX was an eventful show. It calmed the fears of those afraid that it would crash the WWE Network and cause major damage to the company’s radical streaming venture. Cesaro broke away from his tag team and broke out by winning the Andre the Giant Memorial Trophy. Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, and the Rock hung out in the ring and had a blast. Mr. T and Roddy Piper buried the hatchet. Daniel Bryan went through an endless supply of punishment before being defeating Triple H, Randy Orton, and Batista.
That was a big moment and a major story, but the biggest, most shocking moment came at the end of Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar. For the first time ever, Undertaker lost at WrestleMania and nobody saw it coming.
The legendary Streak started in 1991 at WrestleMania VII. Undertaker had only been in the company for four months and was thrown into a match against Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka. It was a nothing match, really. Much of the card was made up of short, nothing matches between guys who didn’t have much going on. Snuka was past his prime and Undertaker was the new, big threat, needing someone to crush. Snuka’s brief moments of offense succeeded in only slightly stunning Undertaker before being silenced by Undertaker’s violent rebuttal. He dropped Snuka with the Tombstone and moved on.
Undertaker was a big deal in his first year, aligning himself with Jake “The Snake” Roberts and feuding with both the Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan. To show just how much stock the company had in him, a segment on Saturday Night’s Main Event featured Undertaker both manhandling the Warrior and no-selling a title belt shot to the face delivered by Hulk Hogan. Yes, in one mere moment, Undertaker got to look good against the two super faces of the era.
With Undertaker’s reign of terror came unexpected popularity and he turned face by saving Randy Savage and Elizabeth from Jake Roberts’ steel chair ambush. Undertaker never explained his actions, other than simply responding to Jake’s demand to know whose side he was on with, “Not yours.” This set up a match at WrestleMania VIII that was meant to both solidify Undertaker as a face and send Jake out of the company. Undertaker’s limits had yet to be established and they wouldn’t be truly measured either. Jake dropped him with a DDT and waited for him to get up so he could give him another. Perhaps this could have ended the match, but Jake never followed up with a pin. He instead went after Paul Bearer on the outside, allowing Undertaker to recover and seal his fate with a Tombstone into the floor.
The year after, Undertaker faced Giant Gonzalez in one of the most famously bad matches in WrestleMania history. On paper, Gonzalez should have won in some way, especially since the blow-off was scheduled at the end of the summer. Instead, Gonzalez disqualified himself by chloroforming the Undertaker. It was a win, but didn’t feel like one, even with Undertaker recovering and scaring away the naked, hairy giant.
Undertaker was on the injured list during WrestleMania X, but returned a year later to face King Kong Bundy. Nothing about the match was of interest except for something briefly mentioned by Vince McMahon on commentary: in terms of the PPV, Undertaker was undefeated with three wins. It wasn’t that big a deal. It was a meaningless squash match, a sendoff match, and a technicality. Nothing to get excited about. Undertaker defeated Bundy and kept it going.
Then Diesel ate a Tombstone at WrestleMania XII. Undertaker ended WrestleMania 13 as champion after dethroning Sycho Sid. His evil brother Kane appeared at WrestleMania XIV in a match Undertaker where had to pull out all the stops to win. He defeated Big Boss Man in a Hell in a Cell at WrestleMania XV and hung him with a noose.
Undertaker was penciled in to lose his next big match at WrestleMania X-7 against Triple H. Plans changed when Triple H tried to bring Shawn Michaels back into the fold and he got sent home for his bad behavior (which probably involved a lot of drugs). As punishment, Triple H lost the match with Undertaker. Between Gonzalez, Kane, and how close that Triple H match came, it wasn’t hard to miss that the man had built up quite an undefeated streak at WrestleMania. The commentators surely never mentioned it. It was just this big booking coincidence.
After making another victim out of Ric Flair at WrestleMania X-8, Undertaker did a cool gesture where he uncurled each finger one at a time while holding his hands in the air. He did this to illustrate that he was 10-0. With the help of short-lived protégé Nathan Jones, he cut through Big Show and A-Train at WrestleMania XIX and then made a huge return to get revenge on Kane a second time at WrestleMania XX.
It wasn’t until the setup to WrestleMania 21 that anyone actually called out this impressive run of wins. Randy Orton was obsessed with being known as “The Legend Killer” and decided that not only did he want to end the Undertaker, but he wanted to be the first one to ever defeat him at WrestleMania. It seemed likely that Orton would be put over, but shockingly, Undertaker kept it going.
The Streak was given life, making it pretty obvious that Mark Henry had no chance in WrestleMania 22‘s Casket Match. Batista at WrestleMania 23 had just as much a chance as Orton did, but fell short after possibly the best match in Batista’s career. It was also the beginning of a streak of fantastic matches from the Undertaker, who was finally coming into his own after years of in-ring mediocrity. His match against Edge for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 24 was just as good.
Once we reached WrestleMania 25, things started to get interesting. Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels was a major battle that had been in the making for over a year, since they closed out the 2007 Royal Rumble match. The winner of the rematch a year later was more up in the air as Michaels had put his career on the line. Undertaker still continued with his winning ways.
A year later, there was a brief period where the fans misinterpreted a cryptic Undertaker return vignette to mean that Sting was coming to WWE. Undertaker vs. Sting?! Could it happen?!? Probably not, since it was just supposed to be Undertaker and fans misread it. Instead, Triple H showed up to wordlessly challenge him, pointing at the WrestleMania sign and then pointing at his own crotch with the “Suck it!” gesture.
Michael Cole hilariously asked, “Could that be the fate of the Undertaker in six weeks?!” Thankfully, it wasn’t. I don’t think you can show that on TV and keep your sponsors, dude.
The Triple H matches were interesting because while logic dictated that Undertaker would continue to win, there was always the nagging feeling that he might not, strictly due to Triple H’s tendency to put himself over when he really shouldn’t (hello, Booker T!). Coincidentally, the other time they wrestled at WrestleMania was never allowed to be mentioned at all in the lead-up to this. No, WrestleMania XVII was their first WrestleMania match. Don’t question it.
Undertaker won again and again, making it a wonder just who would ever beat the Streak. Would anyone ever break the Streak? Should anyone ever break the Streak? For years, it spawned endless online debates with people explaining why it should never happen or how it should. There were murmurings at one time that WWE intended to one day have Ted Dibiase Jr. beat the Undertaker, back when they thought he might amount to something. You know, before they killed his credibility by never having him turn on Randy Orton. One popular piece of fantasy booking I had seen again and again over the years was how he should do his last match at WrestleMania as champion and after winning, the lights would go out, turn back on, and all that would be left in the ring was the title belt and maybe his hat.
The Streak had become a major staple in WrestleMania, as beating Undertaker was like winning an invaluable championship belt that could only be achieved once. It was bigger than the World Heavyweight Championship and the WWE Championship. Unfortunately, the special attraction could only last for so much longer. Prior to WrestleMania XXVII, Undertaker stepped away from the main roster to become part-time. He had been getting on in years and could only handle a limited schedule before his body would break down. His days were numbered, but the Streak had become so legendary that it was inconceivable for anyone to end it unless the company was 100% sure that this victor was the future of the company. The winner certainly wasn’t his WrestleMania 29 opponent CM Punk, whose feud was more based on watching him get his just desserts instead of the will he/won’t he be the one to strike gold.
It also became a major staple in video games. Story modes would make stopping the Dead Man at the Grandest Stage an option, most notably WWE 2K14‘s “Beat the Streak” mode. You could either play as the Undertaker and beat a bunch of opponents or you could play as a challenger and try to make history. It’s just that trying to fight Undertaker at WrestleMania makes the game super difficult, bordering on impossible. Undertaker constantly sits up from damaging moves, chokes you for nearing his prone body, randomly puts you in the Hell’s Gate, and will respond to finishers by turning off the lights and teleporting behind you.
Then one year, Undertaker offered the challenge to Brock Lesnar. Not since Mark Henry at WrestleMania 22 had popular opinion been so strongly on Undertaker’s side. Brock Lesnar conquering the Streak? Yeah, right. The guy was just a part-timer from yesteryear. No, they were not going to end it with him. They still had Cena as a potential candidate or maybe someone who could use it to build their career…like Daniel Bryan, Bray Wyatt, or Roman Reigns. Not Lesnar, though. Even the build to the PPV made it look like it was in Undertaker’s favor with him manhandling Lesnar a couple of times and only falling to Lesnar when attacked from behind. In addition, Lesnar appeared to be really spooked by the Undertaker, right up to the Undertaker’s pre-match gesture of revealing a casket with Lesnar’s name on it and setting it on fire. Still, the Raw panelists claimed that Lesnar was going to be the one to do it without giving much of a strong argument.
On paper, the match sounded good, but it was a complete bore due to Undertaker suffering a concussion early on. It was slow, plodding, and Undertaker looked like maybe his impending retirement would be for the best. Surprise came twenty-five minutes in when Lesnar reversed a Tombstone into yet another F5. Everyone sat there, expecting Undertaker to kick out. He’d move a shoulder up. He’d sit up and glare. He’d make a cutthroat motion and finish Lesnar with another Tombstone or make him tap to the Hell’s Gate. 22-0, baby!
But there is no joy in the WWE Universe. Mighty Undertaker has struck out.
For several minutes, they didn’t even play Lesnar’s theme song. They just let it all soak in with the silence, watching the disbelief. The sweet, delicious disbelief. Fans stood with mouths agape and nobody could process the very history going on before them. Lesnar… won?!? The man who left the company ten years ago at WrestleMania XX and became the butt of countless jokes based on his final performance? The part-timer? Really? How could that happen?
I’m going to be honest with you, the crowd reactions made it all worth it. Even with the match being a turd, the looks of complete horror redeemed everything. When I got home from watching the show at a friend’s house, I loaded up the WWE Network and rewatched the end of the match. It was so wonderful.
It’s been five years since I’ve originally written this article and in retrospect, it was for the best. WWE, to their credit, made Brock Lesnar’s victory mean something. He was already a special attraction, but that win ascended him into being the Akuma of WWE. He’s spent the last five years as a god among children, cutting through the likes of John Cena, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Kevin Owens, Sheamus, and more. The only one to really take him down and pin him decisively was Bill Goldberg and Lesnar got his revenge in time.
Meanwhile, the Undertaker was finally free. He could face the likes of Bray Wyatt, Shane McMahon, and Roman Reigns in the following years without the weight of the Streak holding down the drama. The matches could breathe on their own.
Even though Roman Reigns seemingly retired Undertaker at the end of WrestleMania 33, John Cena made a huge stink about having one more match at WrestleMania 34. Undertaker showed up unannounced and not only squashed Cena in mere moments, but also gained his 100th PPV win. Broken streak or not, that’s pretty damn impressive.
Gavin Jasper writes for Den of Geek and thinks it’s funny that the Undertaker had the Streak, but Giant Gonzalez was the guy running around naked. Read more of Gavin’s articles here and follow him on Twitter @Gavin4L