In this, the penultimate episode of the much-discussed WWE Network series, Undertaker: The Last Ride, we are taken behind the curtain yet again.
This episode starts with the build-up to Wrestlemania 35, the first without this documentary’s eponymous protagonist, in years.
When The Last Ride was announced as a limited series on the WWE Network the question was, and this is intended with the greatest respect for a wrestling legend, do we really want to see behind the Undertaker character and get to know Mark Calaway? So-called shoot interviews have long been a hallmark of pro wrestling and it has long been acknowledged that the wrestlers themselves adopt personas, some more outlandish than others. Gone are the days of Dr. D. David Schulz clocking an interviewer square in the face for insinuating that wrestling is somehow fake.
In the midst of New York Times bestselling autobiographies and tell-all exposes by wrestlers, the Undertaker has remained a bastion of kayfabe in a sea of smart marks.
In my review of Chapter 3, I raised the point that while the access to Mark Calaway provided here is unprecedented, so far it isn’t in the same vein as some other shoot interviews which is OK.
This week, while it was slightly glossed over, we are given Calaway’s side of what happened when he was booked to appear at, what was unknown to him, AEW’s affiliated fan expo Starrcast II back in 2019. The short version is that he fell out with Vince McMahon over it and that eventually they patched things up and started talking to each other again and that things have been ‘sunshine and rainbows’ ever since. This is then followed by a lingering close-up on Calaway pulling a face. Huh.
When this is stacked up against the Undertaker not being booked for Wrestlemania 35, the question does spring to mind as to whether these two things are mutually exclusive. The McMahon camp is known for rewarding loyalty to the company, one just has to look at Triple H and Shawn Michaels’ success in backstage roles, not to take anything away from the years of insight that they offer, to see that Vince keeps his friends close.
Then there are other moments like this:
Calaway is then told that he’s been booked for RAW the day after Mania and has to make a round trip from New York to his home in Texas to get his kit bag. Was this the kind of mind games that was alluded to in earlier chapters whereby Calaway explained that he would go into a meeting with McMahon with a clear idea of what he wanted only to be talked around? It doesn’t sound like it’s beyond the realms of possibility.
We then move on to the unmitigated disaster which was the Undertaker’s Super Show Down match in Saudi Arabia against Goldberg. The Saudi shows were quite obviously used to cash in on WWE breaking into a new market, however, as revealed in Chapter 3 booking several retired and semi-retired wrestlers does not always go to plan.
It’s worth noting here that, even in his WCW heyday, Goldberg had a reputation for in-ring botches and a stiff working style (see Bret Hart’s career-ending injury). Unsurprisingly, Goldberg and Undertaker’s match went a similar way with Goldberg concussing himself and dumping the Undertaker on his head when attempting his Jackhammer finisher.
At this point, the series seemingly comes full circle with Calaway raising questions about his fitness for consistent in-ring competition and searching for a perfect way to round out his career. After a barnstorming tag team match at Extreme Rules, it’s quite clear that Taker works best when in the ring with younger talent.
The documentary team (I would love to credit them but this is WWE so there are no end credits which is a shame) then move on to capitalise on several teases of Undertaker’s Wrestlemania 36 match against AJ Styles, a technique which sows the seeds for the final episode.
After reflecting on the perfect end for the Undertaker for several weeks, what’s become quite clear from the talking heads segments with Adam Copeland (Edge), Dave Bautista, Triple H and Shaun Michaels is that such a thing is time-limited. Steve Austin stepped away relatively early on but in the process preserved his legacy as a bad ass.
While it’s late on in the day for Calaway to do this, Shaun Michaels’ analogy cannot help but ring in your ears. He likens the quest to the perfect ending to being an artist willing to finish a portrait and sign their name at the bottom. The question still remains whether the Boneyard Match against Styles was just that, an artistic signature at the end of a lengthy and prestigious career. Only one person knows the answer
And that is Calaway himself.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @goodmanstephenj. Thanks for reading!