As the access-all-areas documentary of the Undertaker’s last few years continues, this week’s episode shines a light on the aftermath of his WrestleMania 33 bout against Roman Reigns and what happened next for the Phenom.
“I’m not as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.”
In the aftermath of his disappointing match with Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 33, The Undertaker had adopted this as his mantra to motivate him through his return to ring shape.
As someone who vividly remembers the debut of the Deadman and has been a fan ever since, The Last Ride can be a difficult watch. The opening scene of Chapter 2 (appropriately titled Redemption) shows Taker and his wife Michelle McCool watching back the match. Seeing the most imposing man to set foot in a WWE ring describe himself as a “bloated Elvis” is difficult to say the least. This episode shines much more of a light on Mark Calaway the husband and father. His easy-going nature and playfulness comes through in the interview sections with the pair and Michelle’s unyielding support is an obvious source of strength for the Deadman.
In a rare moment of candidness, Vince McMahon’s reaction when asked about his relationship with Mark Calaway speaks volumes. As Vince tears up, it’s clear that the Undertaker is truly his “right hand man”, as Dave Bautista put it.
However, it’s tempting to be cynical about Vince’s agenda when Calaway goes to Titan Towers to talk about his contract renewal. While Calaway seemed on the fence about whether he would return to the ring in the wake of WrestleMania 33, he commented that Vince “could sell ice to an Eskimo.” You can’t help but wonder if Vince used his friendship with Calaway to get one more match from the most prolific WWE SuperStar in WrestleMania history. To be fair to the documentary makers, this is left open to interpretation which is surprising given WWE’s penchant for tight control of their product.
Having said all of that, the Undertaker is clearly a perfectionist and it was clear that he couldn’t just leave his career at that. The extremely graphic footage of his hip-replacement surgery and Calaway listing off his previous surgeries for the doctor during his pre-op gives a real sense of the toll pro wrestling takes on its athletes. However, like any artist searching for a perfect performance – and given that Calaway purchased a disused jet ski repair shop just to see if he could still go after the surgery – it was quite clear that he wasn’t willing to give up.
These moments give a true insight into how strictly Calaway values his artistic output. Like any quest, our only hope as fans is that it’s truly worth it. While Michelle McCool lends him her unwavering support, you can clearly see her nervousness at what the future holds if he keeps up his mission for the perfect ending. At the same time, her resolution to help him get as fit and healthy as possible while joining his workout regime is incredible. Her contribution to his career (in light of her own massive success as a former WWE Divas champion) cannot be overstated.
The latter half of the episode sees Taker adopt a laser-point focus to get back into shape for WrestleMania 34 and giving him WWE’s frontman of the modern era John Cena as an opponent would have made for fantasy booking for many fans. The contrast between his approach to WrestleMania 33 and 34 was like night and day and his punishing training routine clearly paid dividends. The highlights package of his match showed a return to form for the Undertaker but Michelle’s fears that it would whet his appetite for further in-ring competition came to fruition. One of his first comments on coming back through the curtain was that he felt he could’ve gone another 45 minutes. Such hubris knows no reward in the WWE however, where the Undertaker’s name will always equate to box office cash. Chapter 3 will be the run up to the controversial Crown Jewel pay-per-view.
In an industry where injuries come fast and careers are short, the Undertaker’s longevity is truly phenomenal. However, the question still looms over the cost it begins to extol at the end of a wrestler’s career and whether at this late stage, it’s a step too far for Mark Calaway.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @goodmanstephenj. Thanks for reading!