Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Sports Entertainment: 360. For the first time in quite awhile, I’m joined by my esteemed colleague, The Stinger. Years ago, he and I combined for specials like these every so often before he won the LOP’s version of NXT and found success on the main page. His stint was brief but memorable before real life took over and forced him and LOP to part ways. He has since started his own site, The Vortex Effect, which features a variety of content from sports to MMA to wrestling to video games to politics. You should check it out. In the meantime, he’s back here partnering with me to talk about one of the annual hottest topics in the WWE: when Wrestlemania comes around and the Undertaker defends his “Streak,” should he or should he not be successful? Should the illustrious undefeated record end?
“Sports Entertainment 360″ explores the issues at hand, taking an in-depth look at the world of professional wrestling…
"Should Undertaker's WrestleMania Streak End?"
Gary "Stinger" Smith: It’s only August, but already wrestling fans and the news sites “reporters” are talking about WrestleMania 29 matches. It’s all speculative centering around The Rock, Brock Lesnar, John Cena, CM Punk, Triple H, and The Undertaker. Now anytime WrestleMania and The Undertaker are mentioned the discussion typically shifts to the streak. Should it end or should Undertaker retire undefeated at WrestleMania? If it does end, who should end it? Well I’m part of the minority here in that I think Undertaker should retire by losing at WrestleMania. Yes, the streak should end.
Undertaker is 20-0 at WrestleMania, and that’s a feat that will not be replicated. However, I’d argue that the streak isn’t Undertaker’s legacy and him losing at WrestleMania would not hurt him or his legacy at all. In fact, I’d say Undertaker losing at WrestleMania would add to his legacy. I don’t think the streak means a great deal. All it means is that each year Undertaker was booked to win at WrestleMania, and then one year WWE officials/creative turned it into a storyline and started making it into a big deal. And that’s a brilliant strategy because it has helped sell WrestleMania’s. Will the Undertaker lose has become bigger than the WWE Championship, which is kind of sad when you think about it.
My colleague Dr. Chad here wants to see Undertaker versus John Cena at WrestleMania. I’d like to see it too, and yes I’d want Undertaker to win that match because John Cena doesn’t need the rub. That is the biggest WrestleMania match that WWE has left; the Streak vs. Super Cena. But, I think WWE needs to look long term and actually not give us a huge money making match. What happens on Monday after Undertaker versus John Cena, or even Undertaker versus Brock Lesnar, happens at WrestleMania? Absolutely nothing. It’s one and done with absolutely no thought to the future. Just as WWE will not be able to continue to rely on past superstars to come back and work a big match to pump up a buyrate, they also can’t forgo thinking of the future just to provide one big WrestleMania dream match that doesn’t matter and doesn’t help push the company further.
WWE needs to build new stars and create a long term plan for the future. About four years ago I was talking about how CM Punk should be the one to defeat Undertaker. I don’t think that’s the case anymore as CM Punk doesn’t need it. He’s already a top talent. So then who do I think should get the rub of defeating Undertaker and ending the streak now? Simple, it’s someone that WWE needs to feed more. Yes, I’m talking about Ryback.
People love streaks. Streak’s in basically every sport creates excitement and is generally a draw. People either want to see a streak continue, or they’re actively rooting for it to come to an end. Even better, folks like to see two streaks on the line where they know either way a streak will come to an end. Ryback has a streak going on, an undefeated streak. It should continue. Now of course Ryback needs to quickly be moved into a real program and start facing and beating tough challengers, otherwise there’s simply no reason to put Ryback in a position to face Undertaker. Ryback needs to be dominant against the WWE’s best.
There’s a ton of fans who think Ryback is nothing more than a Goldberg rip-off. That’s nonsense. He’s big, bald, wrestles a power style and is undefeated. That’s the similarities. Goldberg didn’t invent any of that either, by the way. Even if it were true, who cares? Goldberg worked, and would have worked even better if WCW weren’t ran by complete idiots. And when something works there’s absolutely nothing wrong with going back to that well after some time has passed. Considering Goldberg’s actual relevance was 1997 (beginnings) to 1998 (peak), I’d say more than enough time has passed… almost 15 years to be exact. It’s not exactly revisiting something that just happened.
Ryback could be the huge for WWE if they get behind him and push him right. Right now the fans are responding to him some with the “Feed Me More” chants, even though the “Goldberg” chants continue to taunt him. But if WWE would give him bigger opponents and book him to be equally impressive against those opponents, then maybe the fans would have a reason to care for him. He has all the qualities to actually be a big superstar. No, he’s not a good promo guy and he isn’t a great wrestler, but you don’t have to be to be huge in WWE. Hulk Hogan was neither of those things, same goes for Ultimate Warrior. Hell, for that matter the same goes for Bill Goldberg too.
Ryback’s biggest upside is that he’s young. He’s only 30. He’s younger than Cena, Orton, Punk, Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, Kofi Kingston, and The Miz. If WWE were to truly get behind him and give him quality opponents and eventually making a small deal about his undefeated streak, the fans would rally behind him. An undefeated and dominant Ryback against Undertaker at WrestleMania would be huge. It wouldn’t be Hogan/Andre huge, but it’d be huge nonetheless. Ryback is the kind of guy who could be made into a megastar by “doing the impossible” in defeating Undertaker at WrestleMania. If John Cena wins, who cares? It would just be another win for John Cena, who actually just lost to The Rock. And if Undertaker wins, again who cares? He still won’t be on RAW the next night or Smackdown the next Friday. Nothing is gained other than a few dollars with no thought given to the future.
Undertaker losing at WrestleMania gives the WWE something to build off and use for the future. Undertaker retiring undefeated at WrestleMania does absolutely nothing for the future of WWE or Undertaker himself. WrestleMania 29 needs Undertaker versus Ryback, and it needs to end with the Deadman flat on his back 20-1 while the announcers ponder over who could possibly stop Ryback.
Dr. Chad Matthews: There was a time when I thought that the Undertaker should lose at Wrestlemania, but that time has passed. I once looked at the Deadman as a quality second-tier player in WWE history and nothing more. I did not share the immense respect for him that did his peers, though I did appreciate his contributions to the business. I used to read and hear wrestlers talk about him like he was one of the greatest of all-time and I would roll my eyes. Sure, I understood that he was one of the best big men, but I’d seen enough crap matches from him over the years that I was not about to mention him in the same breath as Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, The Rock, Ric Flair, or other top notch performers from the last few decades.
I would have gladly watched “The Streak” end back when his best match at Mania was the X-Seven bout with Triple H. Back then, the only thing sparkling about Undertaker’s Wrestlemania resume was the record – certainly not the overall quality of the matches. Three of those matches aside, I did not hold the “Streak” in high regard, so what did I care if it ended. I certainly knew that the likes of Randy Orton, Batista, and Edge would benefit from handing the Deadman that elusive “L,” but it was not until the last few years that I have truly become a fan of the Undertaker. As such, I have grown to care about the Streak. I no longer view it as the expendable accomplishment that would be best served to help create a new star. I was not formerly concerned about what the loss might do to the legacy of the Undertaker, but as the legendary Streak has grown, so too has my desire to see it remain untarnished.
Taker’s last six Mania matches are what I’ve affectionately come to refer to as “The Streak within The Streak.” Beginning at Wrestlemania 23, the Undertaker has put together an unbelievable, unprecedented run of 4-5 star matches that have elevated his profile to include the rightful place only behind HBK on the list of best “Grand Daddy of Them All” performers and boosted him up to the top of the “Greatest of all-time” conversation. Without the STREAK, Taker is not at the top of any best of list in my book. What the Deadman did against Batista, Edge, Shawn Michaels, and Triple H, nobody has ever done before. Not even the Heartbreak Kid can lay claim to six consecutive, generally thought to be classic Wrestlemania matches. In doing so, he earned my everlasting respect and my supreme adulation. Six years ago, I’d have argued with you had you tried to tell me that the Undertaker was one of the best. Now, I’d argue with you if you said he wasn’t. And that’s because of 20-0.
When and if he suffers a Mania loss, then there went the special qualities that come with being undefeated and so, too, will go the one thing that stands out above every other accomplishment in his and anyone else’s career. While people can argue that Taker would be unaffected by suffering a loss, I do not think that anyone can deny that a “0” in the loss column looks much better than “1.” Being undefeated is the greatest accomplishment in American sports. It flat out means a lot here in the United States; I think more so than anywhere else. I watch a lot of club football/soccer teams from Europe and neither they nor their fans seem to care if they lose a game or two, as long as they maintain the points lead in the end. American football teams, in contrast, are placed on quite the pedestal if they’re able to achieve an unblemished season. The 1973 Miami Dolphins remain the only NFL team to ever go undefeated through the regular season and playoffs and every time there is a team that gets close, it takes over as the leading sports headline until that team loses. If you think that the Undertaker losing at Mania wouldn’t be a big deal, just go back and look at the 2007 New England Patriots, who managed to make it all the way to the Super Bowl before finally losing. Does history remember them? For now they do, but they’ll fade into decreasing relevance as other teams flirt with the elusive 19-0. If they had finished the job, though, they would have been heralded as the greatest team in American sports history.
I thought that Edge should defeat Taker, perhaps in an effort to solidify him as a main-eventer. As it would turn out, he didn’t need it; neither did Batista. So, the ship has sailed and the time has passed for Taker to lose at Mania. Even in a sport with predetermined winners, winning still needs to matter and for him to lose would take away one of the last drawing wrestlers that brings in money because of winning.
Chad: Well, Stinger, it's been a really long time since we've done this. You ready to dust off the SE360 logo?
Gary: Definitely ready, and it has indeed been way too long.
Chad: Readers, if you want to see more of this, then be sure to let us know. So, Ryback, huh? I get the idea of wanting to put over a new star. That makes sense and I can buy that argument. I don't agree with it, but I can certainly see that side of things. Why Ryback, though?
Gary: I see the most potential with Ryback to be that next big star. He's not going to be putting on wrestling clinics or anything, but he's young, big, powerful, and dominant and I think that's something that is lacking in WWE that has a proven track record of working in the wrestling industry. It's just the booking of him, thus far, that is lacking and potentially doing harm to him.
Chad: I actually like how they're booking him. It's a slow process, but he's building momentum that way and nothing with him has been rushed. That's a nice change of pace. I'm indifferent to Ryback. I could see him being a big star, but I'd say it's an outside shot. I'm not sure a guy like that can make it in today's WWE. He seems to be missing that intangible quality that is the pre-requisite to becoming a big star.
Gary: It's getting better now that he's facing actual WWE superstars, but he needs to get put in an actual feud. I like slow, but there is such a thing as too slow. What quality exactly are you referring to? I think he has all the tools necessary to be a huge babyface, and eventually a big monster heel. I don't see what he's missing from a WWE perspective.
Chad: I can't put my finger on it, to be honest. With Goldberg, Batista, the Warrior, etc., there was just something that jumped off the page about them. Even if they didn't instantly connect with the audience, you could just see that star quality. I don't see that in Ryback. At this point in my fandom, I should feel some sort of connection to the guy like I did with those others. And I don't...
Gary: I'd argue with Batista at least that it took him a while to get to that point. Even then, it never got there for me. I never liked Batista, there was just something about the guy. Ryback though is different. I think his dominant power based style is a throwback that WWE is lacking with so many smaller (or slower in the case of the big guys they do have) wrestlers. I'm as high on Ryback now as I was Sheamus when he first appeared on RAW a few years back. And more and more, I think he's starting to catch on with the fans.
Chad: I agree that he's catching on with the fans, so that definitely helps with what you're trying to get across. Ending the Streak, though...you've got to be high on someone to suggest that they receive that honor. Here's one thing I don't like - he's been in the WWE for 7 years and he still can't talk and he's still not much of a worker. He is not charismatic, either. So, the one thing he's got going for him is intensity, but that's not a sustainable quality for a main-eventer...and what you're talking about is creating a huge new headliner out of a guy who cannot do any of the three things that, in my opinion, are necessary to sustain any kind of long-term main-event run. Put aside that I disagree that the Streak should end, but to have it end at the hands of a guy that isn't capable of sustaining the success that instantly would come from ending the Streak?
Gary: Well I look at Hogan, Warrior, Goldberg, and Batista as guys who fit that same mold. I don't think any could cut a decent promo (Batista probably the better of the bunch) and none were great workers. So I don't think it's necessary to have be a good talker or a good worker to be successful long term in the wrestling industry. And I'm not looking long term like Ryback should be the next John Cena, I'm looking more two, maybe three, years. I think we need much faster turn around when it comes to creating new top main event guys. I'm not a Cena hater, in fact I think John Cena is one of the best worker's in WWE with a ton of fantastic matches, but I've grown tired of his being "the man" for the past seven years. With proper booking, I think most anyone could get there.
Chad: Those guys had charisma, though. What they said may not have always made sense. I don't know what a seismatologist is, but Hogan's Mania V promo on Savage is one of the most entertaining interviews I've ever seen, if for nothing else than the hilarity of it. I cannot comprehend why a guy would lay down on the lawn and let the lawnmowers run over him, but the Ultimate Warrior put together a lengthy run-on statement about it and it was undeniably engaging (however stupid it may have been). "Feed me more" is effective; no denying it. But I'm just disappointed that a guy with seven years under his belt cannot do anything more than that and the sweet ass backpack stunner. Pushing Ryback to the side for a second...I want to go back to something you mentioned your part of the column about a loss not hurting the Undertaker. How do you figure?
Gary: I don't think he needs to talk though, in fact it's probably better if he doesn't. "Feed me more" should be all he says. Goldberg was a lot more interesting when he snorted and dodged interviews; an ass kicker who did his talking in the ring. Even silent Sting was one of the most compelling things done in wrestling. I want to see Ryback dominant people in brutal fashion, not give nonsensical promos. Leave the talking to guys like Punk and Cena.
Gary: Well why would it hurt? He's old, he's 20-0, logic would dictate that the more he keeps putting his streak on the line that he will eventually suffer defeat. It's a quit when you're ahead and go out undefeated, or keep pushing it until someone finally beats you thing. Win or lose, Undertaker will still be "the Phenom" and a legend in the business. Why not take something that has been built at WrestleMania to be more important than the titles and give someone the rub of a lifetime? It doesn't do the WWE any good to have Undertaker retire undefeated. That's just a wasted opportunity.
Chad: He's still a legend, but it would strip him of his most legendary accomplishment. Like it or not, the Deadman's legacy is far less without the Streak. It's just too big an accomplishment. Unless they have someone that can take the massive ball that ending the Streak gives you and run with it long-term, then I don't see that tarnishing Taker's legacy is worth it. He's earned that accolade, at this point. What he's done in the last few years has been unbelievable.
How doesn't it put a blemish on his legacy if the biggest part of his legacy becomes blemished?
Gary: Yes, he's had a string of fantastic matches (though I'm not that high on the Batista match, nor the Edge match really), why isn't that enough? Shawn Michaels is supposedly "Mr. WrestleMania," do any fans care that his WrestleMania record is actually 6-10? No. Each year, Undertaker gets closer to losing. I don't view his legacy as being the streak, since it doesn't mean much. It just means he won every time, then they started making a storyline out of it because it made since to do so (people like streaks). I think it'd be a testament to Undertaker's legacy that he would give up the streak to do what's best for the company and go out losing (as I think all legends should).
Chad: There's no disputing that they could end the Streak and that it would make someone, but they had guys that could have used it to launch legendary careers and they ended up getting a rub just from being in the ring and almost being the guy to give him a loss. Each used their experiences at Mania with Taker to achieve greater success in the industry. His Streak does matter. Winning should matter and being undefeated should and does matter. HBK's career wasn't about winning - it was about performance. Taker's career is about winning at Wrestlemania. That has become his legacy. It isn't his entire legacy, but it's a piece that puts him on a level with all-time greats and that, taken away, doesn't. To me, Taker losing at Mania - especially at this point - is like HBK having a 1-star match by your comparison. Unless Michaels performed at the highest level time and time again, his status as Mr. Wrestlemania would be tarnished. If Taker doesn't win at Wrestlemania and uphold that undefeated record that finally turned him into a draw, then it will tarnish his legacy....I think the Streak means that much.
Gary: You wouldn't put Ryback in the position, but for arguments sake if you had Ryback still undefeated come WrestleMania 29 with the fans firmly behind him why wouldn't you put him in there with Undertaker? Streak vs. Streak sells, a ton. And in this case, where Ryback has been booked correctly and the fans are steadily behind him, why he should he lose? Undertaker wrestles one match a year, and he can't keep going because the longer he does the more a joke it becomes. Let the guy who will be on the show the next night get the win and carry the company forward. I don't think any one man is bigger than the company or the industry, so from that perspective I don't think WWE should be concerned with the Undertaker's legacy. When the Undertaker is retired, his legacy means nothing to the present day WWE. I look at Fedor Emelianenko as an MMA legend. When he finally lost, he did lose some of his mystique, but it was bound to happen and I certainly don't think any less of him for losing (three in a row at that). Eventually though, if Undertaker keeps putting the streak on the line, it needs to end. 20-0 sounds good, but I'd rather not see 21-0. If he's not going to lose, WrestleMania 28 was the perfect send off for him.
Chad: That's not Taker's role and never has been. I cannot say that I liked it back in the day, but the time came and went for him to be that guy. It just didn't happen. The guy that Ryback, if booked perfectly like you describe, should beat at Mania to become the next big star is John Cena. As it stands, Cena is the guy that everyone most cares about right now. He, as you mentioned, is "The Man." That's why he should be the one putting these new guys over at big shows and that's also why I think the WWE would be foolish not to let the Streak go to 21-0 by having Cena vs. Taker. That needs to happen. It's a cash cow and a dream match still possible and it would be cheating the fans, in my opinion, if they didn't make that happen when they clearly could.
Gary: We've seen Cena lose at WrestleMania though, so it isn't that big of a deal. I mean The Miz beat John Cena, and he's not exactly setting the world on fire right now. Streak vs. Streak is a cash cow too. It may not be a dream match, but it would still be something that would sell extremely well. I thought Punk should end it, and then I thought Sheamus should end it. Neither need to now, and neither would have had the opportunity to do so undefeated anyway, and I ultimately I think Streak vs. Streak is too good of an opportunity to pass on.
Chad: I won't deny my interest in that, but I will deny any interest in seeing Ryback be the one that takes down the Deadman.
Gary: The only other person I'd like to see, or consider at the moment, would be Wade Barrett. But he isn't undefeated, so it doesn't have the great "Streak vs. Streak" selling point to it.
Chad: I could buy someone like Barrett pulling it off. I would've liked Edge to have done it, but he didn't need it. I just think the role of creating a money making star of the future falls to Cena and the like, at this point. If you want to make money for the future, beat Cena. If you want to make a lot of money right now, then let's put Taker against legendary figures in the business and call it a Mania. Miz should've been made by beating Cena, but the booking team dropped the follow-through ball for whatever reason. As it stood at the time, beating Cena was huge for him. If he'd have beaten him clean, that would've been even bigger.
Gary: As usual when we do these, we'll have to agree to disagree. Undertaker's pushing 50 and I'd like to see him make one superstar rather than face guys he's already beaten. Ryback presents the best opportunity if booked correctly. But ultimately, I just don't view the streak as being that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.[/html]