The Anti-Antagonist: The End in Sight?

Adam Gorzelsky

UndertakerLast week, we began hearing reports that officials within WWE have been discussing the possibility of having the Undertaker make a surprise return at the Royal Rumble to win the annual contest. Naturally, these reports set off a flurry of discussion regarding the wisdom of such a decision and its effect on the “streak.”

I understand that these merely are unofficial reports and that the ultimate plan can and likely will change between now and January. Nevertheless, these reports at least indicate that the subject has been broached by WWE officials at some point in time. If they have taken the time to consider the potential outcomes of such a decision, the topic certainly merits discussion on my part…In fact, it’s simply too intriguing to ignore.

The immediate negative reaction to this scenario essentially is two-fold. First and foremost, many see the Royal Rumble as an opportunity to launch or fully cement a career…an honor that simply is not lacking or necessary in regard to the Undertaker. Second, because of his extremely limited schedule, it is hard to view a Wrestlemania title shot as anything other than the end of the streak.

My response to the first of these concerns will become evident as this column moves forward…As such, addressing the streak and the potential for its end is the first priority in my mind.

At the surface, two main camps exist in regard to the continuation of this achievement…You either think/want it to end at some point, or think/want it to continue until the Undertaker’s retirement. For those who never want it to end, the reasoning is simple: you view it as a significant piece of the Undertaker’s legacy and wish it to remain as such.

For those firmly in the opposing camp, the ultimate issue is not as simple…Answering the when and why of the streak’s end is a divisive issue even for those who agree upon the utility of pulling the trigger.

Without question, money is to be made on a yearly basis as a result of the lore of the streak and the potential to see its end come to fruition. While the Undertaker certainly could be a part of Wrestlemania even after such a loss, the damage to any subsequent match’s draw cannot be understated.

The other major factor delaying an end to the streak stems from the value associated with hand selecting a superstar to perform the fateful task. Being the man who goes down in history as the first and only person to defeat the Undertaker at Wrestlemania is an honor that should not be bestowed without careful consideration…The natural inclination is to hesitate until absolutely certain that the right individual exists at the right time.

While this is pure speculation, is it possible that current reports reflect a belief that Dolph Ziggler may be that right individual at the right time?

WWE is in desperate need of creating mega stars in the shortest period of time possible. The John Cena injury and the sputtering ratings may have been the wake-up call needed to initiate the Ryback push, but the simple fact of the matter is that guys like Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rock are not walking back into the door on a regular basis…The future must be forged, even if it is at the expense of the past.

If the Undertaker was to win the Royal Rumble, is it possible that a clash with Dolph Ziggler, who presumably will have cashed in Money in the Bank at this point, is the underlying purpose? The Show Off versus the Phenom in a kayfabe attempt to show the world that Dolph is so damn good at what he does.

Although the Undertaker winning the Rumble would take the stepping stone status away from a younger competitor, it ultimately would be used as the world’s largest stepping stone for Ziggler at Wrestlemania…Furthermore, any big loss of revenue from subsequent defenses of the streak would be replaced by the drawing power of a newly created superstar who has the charisma and talent to run with this historic moniker…Again, revenue based upon a static legend simply cannot compete with the immense ceiling created by establishing a new mainstream success.

To those questioning the wisdom of placing Ziggler in this position, I have to ask who would be a better fit at this stage? Many have suggested that John Cena is the only man on the roster worthy of receiving such an honor…Don’t get me wrong, I respect everything that John has done for the WWE and certainly recognize that a Cena/Undertaker match with the streak on the line would be a cash gold mine.

Unfortunately, this would be a one-time cash gold mine with little to no pay-off after the fact. Cena doesn’t need this honor to cement his legacy and certainly doesn’t need it to enhance his on-screen character. On the other hand, allowing Dolph Ziggler to ride the wave of this victory could have lasting effects on the popularity and value of the product for many years to come.

Ultimately, in addition to the legacy factor in relation to the Undertaker, the streak also is a valuable commodity in terms of pure drawing power and career launching potential. While past stars may be a written check waiting to be cashed, current mega-stars are a blank check waiting to be filled with a limitless amount…The true money in the streak is leveraging its impact in a manner that is felt for years to come.

I obviously can’t say for certain that the possibility of pulling the trigger in favor of Dolph Ziggler was discussed in regard to the Undertaker potentially winning the Royal Rumble. Nevertheless, the more I think about the possibility, the more the pieces add up in my mind.

As a lifelong fan of the Undertaker, I have unlimited levels of respect for one of the most selfless and hardest workers that the industry has ever seen…In my opinion, utilizing a piece of his history to enhance the overall quality of the business would do nothing but further cement this legendary legacy.

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