This week’s episode of WWE’s latest documentary series, Undertaker: The Last Ride, looks at what happened in the year following his victory over John Cena at WrestleMania 34, posing the question ‘when will enough be enough for the Deadman?’
WrestleMania 34 was a landmark moment in these, the twilight years of the Undertaker’s 30-odd year career in WWE. Buoyed by his second hip replacement and a training regimen akin to most men some years his junior, the Deadman took to the grandest stage of them all to take on the face of WWE’s PG-era in John Cena.
As mentioned in last week’s review, this process of catharsis came to define the Undertaker in his search for the perfect way to round out his career.
However, hubris is a specifically human trait and Mark Calaway, the man behind the Undertaker character is a very proud man. Unable to step away fully, we see the Phenom’s pride as he’s able to hang with Rusev in a casket match, harking back to Taker’s roots in the early 90s. However, pride often comes before a fall and Mark Calaway is obviously a proud man. Even the clothing labels he wears betray his patriotism and political slant. Whether you agree with these ideologies or not, it’s easy to see how his business relationship with WWE owner Vince McMahon soon grew into a friendship that would come to define both men.
At its heart then, the Last Ride is presented as a human story, a performer searching for one last perfect performance, unable to draw a line under a prestigious career until the ‘right’ moment. However, what that right moment is remains frustratingly elusive throughout the series. Maybe it can be defined by what it isn’t.
It certainly isn’t Taker and Kane going up against DX, the Brothers of Destruction now a once-a-year-performer and a mayor respectively(at the time of making), going up against two aging Gen-Xers. Their match at the controversial Crown Jewel pay-per-view probably had little business being booked in the first place apart from as a means of cashing in on the star-power of the four veterans. With ring rust firmly set in for the retired Shawn Michaels and Kane, injuries soon mounted as Triple H tore his pec muscle mid-match, Shawn left with a bloody nose and Kane was hit so hard his mask and wig fell off.
Not the classic match any of the four would’ve hoped for.
As Michelle McCool voices her concerns that this cyclical search for the perfect ending will continue and the lack of anything close to resolution for her husband, her obvious frustration that this has turned into a Grail Quest for something unobtainable is almost tangible. It’s also clear that maybe the way in which this series was touted as unprecedented access all areas was somewhat misleading.
Sure, we get Calaway’s insights and reflections in terms of voicing his dissatisfaction with some of his performances and his immediate post-match reactions are interesting but there’s something opaque about these personal moments.
We get the odd glimpse, his reminiscences with wife Michelle in last week’s episode about how they met and, this week, his joking about beating his daughter’s favourite wrestler John Cena and a funny outtake from a promo he and Kane shot in the run-up to their Crown Jewel match against DX but it doesn’t give us any more than limited insight.Calaway alludes to family issues meaning that he “wasn’t there” mentally for the Crown Jewel match and there are references to him having been through dark times previously but this isn’t really explored.
And maybe that’s right.
Given everything that’s happened this week in the wrestling world, it’s important to remember that wrestlers or sports entertainers are just ordinary people with the same wants, faults and fragilities as the rest of us. There are personal demons and struggles and sometimes they will spill over into the ring and that’s alright. Maybe the true message here is that Mark Calaway isn’t someone for us to get to know or to understand.
The words “aging gunslinger” come up a few times to describe the Undertaker and, as a popular trope, it’s one that’s familiar – he’s proud, he’s professional, he’s stoic and a man of few words.
However, he’s also a perfectionist and, to paraphrase Adam Copeland, you can only hope that when the right ending does come, the Undertaker recognises it and is able to bow out in a way befitting such a legend.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @goodmanstephenj. Thanks for reading!