Q&A: The Undertaker calls 'The Last Ride' 'therapeutic,' discusses his future in WWE
"The Last Ride" offers a unique insight into the career of Mark Calaway, a.k.a. the Undertaker. (Photo courtesy of WWE)
After nearly three decades of playing his legendary Undertaker character in WWE programming, professional wrestling fans have the opportunity to see Mark Calaway the way they have never done before.
WWE's five-part documentary "The Last Ride" tells Calaway's three-year journey from the main event of "WrestleMania 33" in Orlando to his last game against A.J. Styles at “WrestleMania 36” and at the same time a look back at key moments in his legendary career.
Before the last episode of the documentary, Calaway spoke to Yahoo Sports about how he can pull back his character's curtain like never before, which he believes can take on his legendary role as WWE locker room general and what his plans are, if he officially allows the Undertaker character to rest in peace.
Note: This interview was edited for reasons of length and clarity
Yahoo Sports: If you see all the interviews you've had, is it enough to make up for the 29 years you've lived outside of the media spotlight?
Mark Calaway: And then some [laughs]. Obviously, because of my character and the protection of this character, I haven't done much in so long. Second, I don't like talking about myself, so I've had my share in the past month. Enough to last a lifetime, I think.
YS: It's interesting that you say that because when I spoke to Glenn Jacobs (aka WWE star Kane) a few weeks ago, he described both of you as introverted. How strange was it to talk about yourself as much as you were?
Calaway: It was difficult to reduce my vigilance so much that I could have a normal conversation and promote the documentary. Obviously, the questions have grown deeper over time. [Glenn and I] are introverted. I don't want to talk about what I'm doing in that sense. It was difficult and a learning process. It was enlightening and thought-provoking for me. I really had to think about different things and remember, trying to think about the perspective, which makes you ask, "Hmm, what would I have done compared to what I did then." I think it was kind of therapeutic in one sense.
YS: The overwhelming response was positive. How did you feel about it? Did you expect a certain reaction after the first episodes?
Calaway: I really didn't. People have been asking for a look behind the scenes for years, so I knew people would be excited to take a closer look at Mark Calaway. I have to be honest, there is also the reason to be nervous, to give too much and to lose all the mysticism about everything that you have protected. I played this fight, especially early. As we put each episode together, I feel much more comfortable and enjoy the process of giving my personal insight into things that people have had so many guesses about. Hopefully I was able to educate people about my way of thinking. Overall, I was very pleased with how people reacted to it. It was very humble.
YS: One of the things we're withdrawing is your relationship with other WWE stars. We see many of you with Roman Reigns. The stories over the years have portrayed you as the locker room general, the leader, the greatest voice in the room. Could you look at how these relationships have changed from earlier in your career to today?
Calaway: It's very different. It's hard now because I'm not there very often. Regardless of what TV appearances I make in the run-up to "Mania" or another event, I'm in a slightly different role than when I was there all the time. When I am there, I look and try to get a pulse from the locker room and get a feel for who is playing this role, and I try to do a little bit of your mind. I don't go in and say "You have to do this if this guy does this" but I try to get the attitude and the feeling.
In no way am I still that type. I just don't have a personal relationship with the talent like I used to. This role for me has continued and it is time for someone to take on this role or not. However, they operate their locker room [so they operate it]. I can of course give my two cents, but it's not really my place to come in and blame someone and tell them how to do things. Although I'm still there and doing events, it's not the same as when I was there all the time.
Calaway's match at WrestleMania 33 was considered by many to be his last and a moment when he passed the torch on to Roman Reigns. (Photo courtesy of WWE)
YS: Who do you think is this guy now or can he be?
Calaway: I would assume it would be Roman. He seems to have leadership qualities. I don't know if he [plays that role now] but after sitting there and talking to him he seems to think beyond his gimmick and I think he has his finger on the pulse of everyone. I would see that if someone does, he will likely appear in this role.
YS: One of the things we see in the documentation is that with A.J. Styles and he are someone you want to work with, and you obviously got that at WrestleMania this year. We also see that you are always there when Vince calls [McMahon] to answer. How much input do you have in the opponents you currently have in your career?
Calaway: Not to give away too much of it because it comes out in this last episode, but at this point it's more a question than a "this is your opponent". It's a "Do you want to do this or not?" I would like to have this conversation at this point. Of course I appreciate that. Last year Vince and I both decided to stay away from the [WrestleMania] card. As well documented, I was good with it until the show, then it sank that I wouldn't take this walk.
To answer the question, I said. You can throw someone at me and I can say yes or no. It is definitely a collective effort.
YS: We see that you are re-tracking your match against Roman in this documentary and it is causing some emotion. Is there a moment when you can see exactly where your opinion has changed about something or what you haven't noticed at the moment?
Calaway: Nothing I would change. My biggest regret that I didn't know about until my match with Roman was that I didn't know that my hip was as bad as it was. I was at [WrestleMania] a year earlier with Shane [McMahon] at the [AT&T] stadium. I knew my hip was beginning to get doubtful, but I didn't do much to cause stress between the two games. Yes, my hip hurt, I probably didn't work out the way I should have. When it was time to exercise, I realized that and I said, "Oh, that hip doesn't answer the call." Then I had to train in a completely different way and change the stress I put on it because I knew I had to get into the ring that night. My weight exploded, my cardio was not where I wanted it to be. Every step I took was a burning pain.
In retrospect, I wished I had a better measure of where I was physically before I committed to working in the [Royal] Rumble this year. When I worked in the rumble, I knew I was toast. I knew it was going to be bad. I tried to find a way to persevere. If you watch this episode, you'll see all of the things I did [before my match at WrestleMania 33] to relieve the burning pain. I really wish I had my finger a little closer to the pulse of my physical condition because you could tell from my face that I wasn't very happy with what I could do in this match. I was really disappointed in this match.
Calaway asked a film team to document his preparation for WrestleMania 33 in Orlando, Florida, 2017. (Photo courtesy of WWE)
YS: After this match there is so much talk about it that it could possibly be the end for the Undertaker. Do you now feel different or free to have different types of matches to include different parts of your character in your matches, as you did with the “Boneyard Match” in WrestleMania?
Calaway: Yes. Obviously, the success of this game opened new paths, not only for me, but for everyone. They did it in a cinematic way with the match at "Money in the Bank". These types of matches bring another level to the characters. For me, it doesn't matter what kind of match you have, it's just about telling the story. I think Boneyard really helped us repay the story we wanted to tell. Everything is developing in our industry. I think you will see more cinematic elements in my work and other talents.
YS: Since this documentary places so much emphasis on when you will leave, I would like to ask you if you are involved in any way in the WWE after this decision.
Calaway: I definitely do. Not on the order of what people like Matt Bloom and Shawn [Michaels] do in the Performance Center, but I definitely see myself down there and help. I have over 30 years of wrestling knowledge and would like to try giving it to some of these aspiring guys. It's one thing I've discovered that I enjoy when I go down there to get in shape for the upcoming game. I like to be with the young people and their energy. They are all sponges, they want to soak up everything they can learn. There are a lot of monsters down there, some big big guys down there, and they don't really have anyone there that can somehow lead them in the right direction. I can definitely imagine that I play such a role.
I also want to continue promoting WWE and trying to be the face of the company in different countries. After 30 years on TV, I have many options. I know that. I know wrestling and sports entertainment, so I think there are many places where I can move, enjoy and feel fulfilled. It's the big deal filling the void of 80,000 people screaming and going crazy. It is difficult to get away from it. If you have nothing that you're really passionate about, it can really chew you up. I think teaching and expanding the brand is something I would be interested in.
YS: After George Floyd's death and increasing attention to police brutality, what do you think about the WWE actors who used their platform to campaign for Black Lives Matter, such as Big E, Kofi Kingston and Keith Lee?
Calaway: Definitely. If you have issues that concern you and that you love passionately, I think do it, man. Especially nowadays with your social media platforms how you can use them better. I'd much rather see someone take a stand and support what they believe in than publish silly content. I mean good grief. You have the platform, if you have a passion for something and believe in it, you should use it forever.
Part five of "The Last Ride" will debut this Sunday, June 21st, only on the WWE network.
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