When it comes to professional wrestling, there wasn’t much more sacred than The Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania.
Starting with a victory over Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka, a legend in the winter of his career, at WrestleMania 7, The Undertaker remained unbeaten for more than two decades at the biggest showpiece in wrestling.
It became an attraction within itself that defied many previous conventions in wrestling. It wasn’t about titles. It was so simple – who can break The Undertaker’s undefeated streak?
At WrestleMania 13, Jim Ross finally acknowledged the run and it began to take on a life of its own. Before long, names like Randy Orton – going by his Legend Killer moniker – wanted to face the Deadman just to claim the scalp of the streak.
Only three times did the Phenom vie for a world title during his box office run of 21-0. He dethroned Edge, Batista and Psycho Sid, but the low conversion rate of title matches only serves to highlight what a draw The Undertaker at WrestleMania was alone.
So, why did Vince McMahon decide to have Brock Lesnar defeat The Undertaker at WrestleMania 30?
It was the most shocking conclusion to a match since the Montreal Screwjob in 1997. The whole arena in New Orleans fell silent in shock as Lesnar’s advocate, Paul Heyman celebrated in disbelief.
It was a surreal scene. Something almost never seen in wrestling – the crowd stunned into a silence. Did something go wrong? Was this the plan? Should Undertaker have kicked out? Nobody knew. So many questions.
According to journalist Dave Meltzer, McMahon made the call at the last minute, on the day of WrestleMania 30 as he thought Undertaker’s career was coming to a close. It was doubtful he’d have any more WrestleMania, at least in the Chairman’s mind.
“Vince McMahon was going on the assumption that this was Undertaker’s last hurrah, and he could either win, or lose,” Meltzer explained. “McMahon chose the idea that it was better to lose on your way out…One person close to the situation said McMahon talked Undertaker into doing it.
“Another, who would also know, described it as McMahon making the call and Undertaker agreeing and that he wasn’t talked into doing something he didn’t want to do. It was not his original call, but he was in on it and never protested the call.”
It’s been rumoured in the time since that Lesnar wasn’t actually a fan of the idea. He wanted to lose to The Undertaker and was upset with the aftermath that saw The Deadman legitimately have to go to the hospital because of a severe concussion.
The main problem with McMahon’s rationale is that The Undertaker would not be done. He is still wrestling occasionally today and has a match with AJ Styles at WrestleMania 36.
The one thing for certain in all of this is that the loss would have been McMahon’s call.
When Stone Cold Steve Austin asked his former nemesis on a WWE Network podcast about the decision, McMahon insisted Undertaker wanted to give back and Lesnar made the most sense on the roster as the benefactor.
“Nobody wants to give back to the business more than the Undertaker, more than Mark Callaway,” McMahon started. “He knew it was important to give back to the business. He knew there comes a time when it’s time to do that.
“So why not then [WrestleMania 30]?
“When you consider, looking down the line when you look at the talent roster, who else could Undertaker possibly work with and at that time, give back in the biggest possible way he could to help them be the biggest possible star?
“When you look down the roster, who else was it going to be? No one on the roster, potentially. And the following year, year after that – it was timing. The one person whose time was there at that moment, who Mark thought ‘Okay, this is it’ – it was Brock. I made the decision,” McMahon said.
Since Lesnar returned to the company in 2012, Heyman has been heavily involved in all of his storylines both in an on-screen capacity and behind the scenes.
Another man he has managed in WWE is CM Punk and at WrestleMania 29, he fought then fell to the Undertaker. However, Heyman later revealed he pushed for Punk to defeat ‘Taker in a bid to keep him from leaving the company.
“I actually pitched it for Punk because I thought it was the only thing that was going to keep Punk from eventually leaving WWE. Even before that match, he was itching to get out. I figured if they (gave Punk) this victory, he needed to stay a while and capitalise on it. That idea never came to fruition. Then of course the stars were just aligned for it to be Brock.”
McMahon didn’t take Heyman’s advice on and Punk would be gone from the company less than a year later following the 2014 Royal Rumble.
Since breaking ‘The Streak’, Lesnar has been one of the most dominant performers the industry has ever seen.
There’s no doubt the company used his victory as a platform to greater things, but many fans – and Randy Orton for that matter – feel like it was the wrong decision.
“I think ‘Taker and ‘Mania go hand in hand. It’s unfortunate that he picked up a loss a few years back, I think that was wrong and I think everyone would agree with me for the most part with the exception of maybe Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar,” Orton told Yahoo Sports.
“I don’t believe that that loss tarnished his career, I just hate that his streak was tarnished.”
It’s been rumoured in the past that Mark Henry was pitched to break The Undertaker’s streak before Vince McMahon got cold feet and ‘Taker himself was fond of the idea of losing to Randy Orton back in 2005 at WrestleMania 21.
Neither of those ideas came to fruition and his record grew to a staggering 21 straight wins before Lesnar’s shock victory.
Prior to the match, Undertaker could be found at 1-50 with some bookmakers. That’s how much of a long shot a Lesnar win was.
Heyman, during a tour with Inside the Ropes back in 2016, theorised that Lesnar went into business himself that night and forced Undertaker to lose by beating him so badly. He suggests that Lesnar went against the script and while that’s not totally out of the question, it’s highly, highly unlikely too.
That’s more Heyman being Heyman. Being a showman on stage. But The Undertaker being The Undertaker on the grandest stage of them all created a unique draw we might not ever see again.