Category Archives: 21-1
The sight and sign fans thought they’d never see at WrestleMania… (Image Courtesy of 411mania.com)
At the 1990 Survivor Series pay-per-view, two major debuts occurred. One was the debut of the Gobbledy Gooker, a dancing guy in a turkey suit hatched out of a mysterious “egg” that the World Wrestling Federation had been promoting for months. The fans booed him, and Hector Guerrero, the guy who played him, out of the World Wrestling Federation in weeks.
The other debut was “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase’s mystery tag team partner. It turned out to be Mean Mark Callous, a 6’9″ 300-lb., former World Championship mid-carder. He was renamed Kane, the Undertaker. Later he was just called Undertaker, or ‘Taker.
The Undertaker was introduced as an invulnerable zombie that looked like a literal Grim Reaper. He also walked across the top ring rope and flew around the ring like a cruiserweight. He finished off foes with a tombstone piledriver. And with his new, even more macabre manager called Paul Bearer, he defeated “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka in under two minutes at WrestleMania VII.
At the time, no one could have guessed that to be the start of the longest annual pay-per-view winning streak, and the longest headlining tenure, in wrestling history. When one looks back throughout WWF/E history after 1993, there have been only two consistent entities: WWF Chairman Vince McMahon, and the man whose real name is Mark Calloway.
During the Monday Night Wars, ‘Taker wished those leaving for WCW well, but also galvanized the remaining WWF stars to tough it out. In rare mainstream interviews, he admits as much. Fans toughed it out as well. The Undertaker persona has evolved from a morbid mortician, an emissary of Hell, a straight-up devil worshipper, and a bad-ass biker. And he actually made the sh*t plausible.
Granted, many guys did get career-altering victories over ‘Taker (Mr. Kennedy, Randy Orton, John Bradshaw Layfield). But ‘Taker wanted to help up-and-comers become the future of the business; his legacy in the industry was set early. The only concession he ever kept was the “The Streak” at WrestleMania. It was pretty much seen as a token of respect from Vince and his fellow wrestlers.
‘Taker’s been part-time since WrestleMania XXVI, where he “retired” the event’s other iconic performer, “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels. Nonetheless, ‘Taker winning at his show has always been a given. Even more likely was his retirement from wrestling without ever losing at the WWE’s biggest event. At worse, he’d at least make it to 24 wins, and possibly lose match #25.
Going into WrestleMania XXX, he was an untouchable 21-0. Brock Lesnar made his WWE rep dominating ‘Taker when he burst on the scene in 2002. But there was no way he’d beat “The Dead Man” on his own playing field. Besides, Paul Bearer, who died just before WM XXIX, was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame the night before.
The crowd of 85K at New Orleans’ Superdome (and the Buffalo Wild Wings at Northgate Mall, where I was watching) was silent as Brock pummeled ‘Taker. He kicked out of two of Brock’s F-5 finishers, and kept the crowd into it. But then came the third. One…two…three. Complete silence. Gaping mouths. For many, it was the literal end of an institution that dated back to childhood.
The post-Mania Raw saw Brock Lesnar’s manager, Paul Heyman, tout his client as the “1 in 21-1” in one of the damnedest wrestling promos ever. Ultimate Warrior made his final, troubling televised appearance before dropping dead the next night. And ‘Taker, always on the post-Mania Raw, was nowhere to be seen. His absence just made the broadcast seem off kilter.
The decision to end “The Streak” was actually made hours before WrestleMania XXX was aired. ‘Taker was suffering from two decades of wear and tear. Both Vince and ‘Taker felt it best to begin the end. But nobody besides those involved in the match, not even those working in the blatantly scripted world of WWE, saw it coming. The response was legitimate, spontaneous shock.
Compare that to when so-and-so says or does this-or-that, and the media manufactures shock and outrage. Unless I pretended to be very naive, or really fake, a gay athlete, a third-world disease on American shores, an election win or loss every other November, or somebody drawing police attention to themselves with horrendous consequences can hardly qualify as shocking or controversial.
I was actually shocked more by that than anything else this year. The bulk of the brouhaha over most things, with the possible exception of international matters like ISIS, Kim Jong-Un, or Vladimir Putin, was far less spontaneous and more fabricated. But then again, when the focus is on self-affirmation, foreign aggression tends to rear its ugly head in times like that.