The Brock Lesnar vs. Undertaker match at WrestleMania 30 may go down as the most talked about "bad" match in WrestleMania history. It was slow and long and though the crowd had too much respect to chant "boring", their quiet response to the proceedings, mixed with only the occasional courtesy boo or cheer, says all you need to know about the actual bell-to-bell action.
But then Lesnar won and the world stopped spinning. Lesnar won and everything changed. Lesnar won and the match became mythic.
People need to stop thinking either Brock OR Undertaker went into business for himself. There was no mid-match audible. There was no shoot. In time we will look back on this match and enjoy it, not for the quality of the contest, but for it being a 25 minute farewell to the legend of "The Deadman".
This WAS the story they were telling; It was the story they were telling from the moment they booked the match. It was just too unfathomable for us to see it until it was over.
Which is what makes it so great.
Think about it: Lesnar is perhaps the most credible opponent to challenge the streak who was given 0% chance to win. Other guys were credible, and we thought "maybe this is the year..." Some guys were clearly not the guy but they made us believe. There was always that one moment. That one magical near fall.
Not this time. And looking back it was obvious.
The entire feud featured Undertaker getting the upper hand. He embarrassed Lesnar in their first encounter with a pen in the hand. He consistently won the mind-games battle and got the better of "The Beast" physically until the go home show when he ate an F-5.
All the while, Heyman was in the background saying
"You're getting old. You're getting tired. You've done this too long. This guy won 2 but never 3. That guy won 3 but never 4. This guy won 4 but never 5. Meanwhile you've won 21 straight times...."
The writing was on the wall. We just couldn't believe it so we didn't.
The promo video basically told us it was coming. They hyped up Heyman's point, showing each kickout after painful kickout, each one taking a little more out of the Undertaker over the years. He's getting older. He's getting slower. One day...he won't make the three count.
your days are numbered.
count em one by one
in time your time will be no more
Then Undertaker comes out for the match and he's already got a Lesnar casket waiting for him. As Geno Mrosko said, it was hubris. It was the kind of pride that specifically precedes a fall. But, again, it was unthinkable, so we just chalked it up to this year's cool entrance gimmick.
Then the match happened. And watching a big pro wrestling match live is never the same as watching the repeat. It's not until it's over that you can appreciate the entire story being told from contract signing to 1-2-3.
At the time, this felt like a match between "a guy who needs a smaller, faster opponent to have a great match" versus "a guy who needs a smaller, faster opponent to have a great match." It looked like it would be a poor match because of the too-similar styles.
And it was slow. It seemed plodding. It seemed like an extended version of the Lesnar/Big Show beat down at the Royal Rumble. I remember commenting that this wasn't a match. It was "Lesnar works some power stuff, with 'Taker's signature 'moments' peppered throughout." And that's all it was. There was no flow because Undertaker was barely on offense. The only times he did anything was to pay homage to his legacy. An Old School attempt here. A situp there. Tombstone here. Hells Gate there. That's it. He didn't compete in the match; he took a beatdown and occasionally gave people a little bit of the "Undertaker at WrestleMania" magic.
But that's the point. It's not that Undertaker was giving us "one last look" at all his signature spots. The story of the match involved him thinking he could just go through the motions and somehow just win like he always does.
Isn't that what you were thinking watching it?
All the while, Lesnar was proving to us what we didn't want to believe, what we couldn't fathom. Like Undertaker, we were already looking ahead to the next fight. The match hadn't even started and Lesnar's casket was already open. We were looking ahead to maybe Sting, or John Cena, or Bray Wyatt.
Meanwhile, there is a legitimate fighter in the ring and he's not looking ahead. He's looking to cripple Undertaker. "The Deadman" and all his fans took their eye off the ball. And by the time Undertaker realized it, he realized he was too old and too broken down to mount his patented comeback.
This time it was Undertaker who had one good near fall. Then Lesnar hit his third F-5 and the ref didn't even hesitate. The crowd didn't see it coming. No one was even bothering with the "1-2-no!" chant. No one believed it would happen. And they got us.
And that's the point. We spend every year saying "is this the year..." only to convince ourselves that it can't be. Why? "Because he still needs to take on this guy or that." It can't be this year. Why? "Because he has to reach this milestone or that." Not yet. Not now. (Not ever.)
We were thinking like the smart fans we are. But Vince McMahon doesn't book like that. He doesn't book with an eye on "how does this look to the smarks." He never has. That's what separates him from all the guys who have failed to compete with him. He books stories over the course of weeks or months and then pays off those stories with a 30 minute performance art spectacle called "a match."
What we saw at WrestleMania 30 was the story of a legend (and the fans who lived vicariously through him) who was too myopic to see his days were numbered. He came to believe he could rise up like he always did and that he would live to fight the next challenger. And then the next. He was a gunfighter who had won 21 straight shootouts. He had created a mystique that he came to rely on despite the progressing slowness of his draw.
And by the time he realized it was over, it was over. His legend was no more.
I hope you saw it live. It's the kind of finish you literally will only see once in a lifetime. You can't just MAKE the streak. It happened organically. And once it became a thing (around WrestleMania 21) it became a featured attraction to see who would step up next. Once it became A THING (WrestleMania 25) it became "how many more does he have left?"
We all thought he had more. We all thought he would have the "obvious opponent and the main event match. The Hall of Fame. The hoopla."
It was always going to be when we least expected it. That was yesterday.
We were just too blind to see it.
Rest in peace, Undertaker.
And thanks for the memories.