In life, these words are associated with sadness and mortality. With death.
In wrestling, however, these words are associated with fear. With darkness. With destruction.
These three words have been immortalized by less a man, more a legend. A myth, if you will. The entrepreneur.
For more than three decades, the reaper of souls from World Wrestling Entertainment has traced a path of destruction and iconic and incomparable distinction that will be nothing if not impossible to match.
But the reaper himself does not discriminate.
“Rest in peace” is exactly what the man behind The Undertaker, Mark Calaway, is looking for 30 years later. He is well aware that time continues to turn in the corner of his unrivaled career. And for the first time in his career, the man behind The Deadman hangs his cross; his soul naked in a five-part docuseries produced for the WWE network entitled Undertaker: The Last Ride.
The series explores hitherto unknown territory for WWE and its most mysterious talent, who has almost never spoken publicly as Mark Calaway and rarely grants interviews.
“Funny enough, we’ve never set out to do docuseries,” said Calaway, the 55-year-old Texan who has been playing The Undertaker since 1990, in an exclusive interview with Postmedia. “Coming into WrestleMania 33 against Roman (Reigns), I thought it was going to be my last game. I was extremely beaten, I needed my hip to be replaced and I just wanted to capture the past few days, my interactions with talent and (WWE President) Vince (McMahon) and my family (on film). I didn’t know what we were going to do with it, but I just knew I wasn’t going to have another chance and I wanted it. “
This sequence was the beginning of what would give a fascinating and sincere glimpse into the world of a man who has built his career – and his character – around mystery.
“It was really a process to force me to lower my guard,” admitted Calaway of the series. “Even when we started talking about this, I had a film crew and I would be behind the scenes and see them filming and I would turn around and snap them like” What are you guys doing? “You know better,” he said. “Then I get up:” Oh yeah, you follow me. I told you to do this. I asked you. He said with a chuckle.
Part of what made The Undertaker successful was the mystery that surrounded it. Rarely, if ever, The Undertaker has been seen outside of a WWE ring. Even when cell phones and social media emerged, Calaway and WWE protected the aura surrounding the Phenom. So it’s a surprise when the docuseries were announced for the WWE Network. For Calaway, it was a culture shock to say the least.
“I don’t know if release is the word, because I’m a very private person anyway, when I’m at home and not working, but it was kind of nice to be able to light up my fan base,” said he admitted. . “He’s been so loyal over the years, especially at this age where there is a flavor of the week, it seems, all the time. For my fan base, they stayed with me forever and it was nice to be able to take the curtain down and let them see what I need to go out and do what I love for the fans. “
Together McMahon – Dr. Frankenstein at Calaway’s Monster – and The Undertaker have rewritten the history of wrestling, creating a mythical-style creature who has arguably set up the greatest career in history. As The Undertaker, Calaway has racked up 21 unimaginable consecutive WrestleMania wins, and 25 in total in 27 Mania appearances.
“I think that once we established this character – obviously, the character and the person are so closely linked – I was able to evolve the character,” he said, adding that the key to longevity de Taker was evolving. “I continued to be able to make it and make some changes to keep it fresh, because there was so much television and so much visibility.” Having gained McMahon’s trust, Calaway had creative control over his character. “Fortunately, Vince and my relationship have also evolved and once he knew he could trust me, he allowed me to take the reins. He gave me creative freedom with it. It’s sort of part of me. “
Undertaker has been an instant hit since its debut in the 1990 Survivor series, encompassing mystery, darkness, soul theft, coffin matches and win after win after win. He was indestructible. He was also one of the few talents who did not leave WWE to join his World Championship Wrestling rival when guaranteed contracts were offered in the mid-1990s. Instead, he helped WWE defeat his rival and by the time the Attitude era moved, he was the face of WWE.
Era’s attitude, Calaway noted, presented a series of different challenges for her character Undertaker. It was more daring. Without taboo. Gross.
It called for change, he said.
“I made the real big change when I went to the American Badass (character) because I felt like I had to let (the original character) rest a little,” said Calaway. “I think I would have really struggled back then with the attitude of doing Undertaker in the old school. The shackles were gone and that was all that was going on (at the time) and it would have been difficult for me to compete, in terms of promo, with backstage interviews and everything that everyone else was doing, guys like Stone Cold, The Rock, Triple H, Kurt Angle. It would have been very difficult for me to be faithful to the character. “
The character change from mysterious mortician to badass on a bike was a success: the Undertaker legend continued to grow as Calaway pushed himself out of his comfort zone.
And as expected, when it was time to resuscitate the old school Undertaker, he was still a huge star.
“It was almost new when I brought it back,” said Calaway. “I kept some parts of the American Badass, I had the original Undertaker parts there, and then that hybrid version that we ended up with.”
As professional wrestling turned into sports entertainment, Calaway was faced with new challenges to keep his character fresh and the mystery real. Ring entrances and music have become an integral part of a well-packaged character.
As a Badass American, Taker rode a custom Harley Davidson motorcycle to the ring and presented a Kid Rock song as input music. But as a Phenom, Calaway slowed the pace and revolutionized the entrance to the ring with scary gongs, smoke, lightning and fire. Sometimes he rose from the ground, sometimes even rising through the ring or through a coffin at the edge of the ring. Entering the ring, Calaway said, was arguably the Undertaker’s best weapon.
“That’s what sets the whole table, really,” he said. “You have this macabre morbid character, so the entrance is what draws the imagination … that’s what drives it. It is such a slow and methodical walk, smoke and fire and music, it was so different from what everyone else was doing, “he said.
“It’s the same way I approached my interviews and everything. Most of the interviews (at the time) were “Well, let me tell you something, brother!” Said Calaway, offering an impression of Hulk Hogan. “Where I didn’t speak often. Paul Bearer did most of the talking, but when I said something, I spoke low and slowly and it was like “whoa”.
“When someone is speaking low, what do you do? You sort of lean. You’re getting people’s attention. The entry, of course, is the match setup, and often the entry was more important than the actual match I was in. Obviously, I’ve had games that really stand out and people remember, but the entry is what people are so fascinated with. “
Calaway reflected on the biggest screenplay of his career, which starred The Undertaker, his manager and “father” of the day, Paul Bearer and Kane, the long-lost brother-in-law who died in a fire. The story spanned months and was among the most creative and well received in the history of wrestling.
“The Undertaker character was already on the way,” said Calaway. “(Creative) felt like we had to change something, so Paul turned to me and aligned with humanity.”
This legendary rivalry not only propelled Mick Foley’s career, it led to the introduction of Kane. The rest, as they say, is history.
“We have presented what some people believe, I suppose, to be the greatest story ever made. My long lost half brother who was supposed to have died in a fire and he is the son of Paul Bearer, “said Calaway.
“There were so many layers and it all goes back to the very beginning of what I started because when I started I was introduced as Kane The Undertaker. Immediately, people were like “Whoa, I wonder. “
The story has been told so well, noted Calaway, that fans were confident it had been in the works for years, which it was not, Calaway said.
“People thought it had been on the cards for all these years and were just waiting for the right moment to loosen, but it just got a little mixed up. The development of the three characters, so they intertwined forever. It was great. “
Calaway’s tone quickly became serious when the subject returned to the docuseries, which will see its third episode published on the WWE network this weekend. The first two episodes focused on Calaway’s enormous efforts to extend his legendary career, through countless grueling surgeries and enormous pain.
He also painted the picture of a man who had a career torturing the souls of opponents, but who now faces a tortured existence himself: having to decide when to get away from his first love.
“Obviously, you don’t trade unless you really like it,” said Calaway. “You could try doing this business, but if it is not in your heart and soul, you are not going to succeed. You could be a flash in the pan. For most of my adult life, this is what I have done and I have done at the highest level. I realize Father Time is hitting me on the shoulder. And I don’t want to turn around and face him. “
It is evident from watching the series that Calaway is looking for a storybook ending for his character, but faced with a number of factors conspiring against him, not the least of which is his age at 55 .
“I feel like I have a game (left) that is what I feel the legacy of The Undertaker deserves,” he said. “But the hardest part is that if I classify myself, I classify myself where I was physically in the early 2000s. I do not rate myself on the curve of 2020 and 55 years. “
It’s a battle between heart, mind, body and soul.
“Expectations of what I have for me, with the limits that I have physically, is really a delicate balance,” said Calaway. “You have to take a look (and ask yourself the question), OK, is this the match you’re looking for, is it possible and do I risk long-term damage? … I have still young children, “he added. “Do you run the risk of compromising your health in the long term? All this is a bit like what is going on in my head during these docuseries. What I’m looking for and trying to achieve. Try to figure out how to leave this aspect of the business. “
Calaway Tombston has ignored any idea that he would really retire.
“I will never, never retire completely,” he said. “I may not be going into the ring anymore and wrestling, but I will still be somehow involved, I’m sure in the industry. For 30 years, I have been a pillar of the ring. “
In a perfect world, Calaway knows how he would like to end his career in the ring.
“I always tell people how jealous I am of Shawn (Michaels),” he said, referring to Michaels’ retirement game in 2010 when The Undertaker beat Michaels in a streak against retirement. “When we had the retirement game, he was so calm and so happy, he knew he had done everything he wanted and he had to go out on his terms and he went out on a match that suited his legacy. . “
Calaway compares his own situation to that of NFL legends John Elway and Brett Favre.
“There is the end of John Elway and there is the end of Brett Favre,” he said. “John Elway wins the Super Bowl and retires. Brett Favre leaves the Packers and goes to the Jets, then he goes to the Vikings and he never returns. Then his last match is a little sad. I’m really trying not to have this ending and to understand the fact that I can’t get the end of Elway. This is the whole process. I’m trying to weave a real complex web here and I have to make some really tough decisions very soon. “
If The Undertaker never fights again, his last game was his victory against AJ Styles at WrestleMania last month in a Boneyard game. This match ended with him riding on his Harley. Fit, but maybe not the end he was looking for.
“It’s hard to say at the moment,” replied Calaway when asked if the docuseries would shut him down if he never had to fight again. “We haven’t finished the last episode (docuseries). At this point, today, it’s hard to really give you a definitive answer. “
WrestleMania next year is slated for April in Los Angeles, but COVID-19 is still forcing WWE and other sports and entertainment companies to stay away or perform without crowds, even Mania’s next year is anything but a guarantee.
Calaway is sure of one thing, however. He has no interest in another fanless Mania game.
“It would be difficult to try to wait impatiently to go play an empty warehouse game,” he said.
In fact, any Undertaker participation in a future WrestleMania at this point is far from a guarantee, Calaway said.
“You never say never, but to come back to Mania, it’s going to take something really, really juicy. “
Just like he has been throughout his career, Calaway is more careful when asked how he sees his own legacy.
“I guess there are a lot of layers to it,” he said. “Part of my heritage is that I am proud of the fact that I have never had to do anything down or fishy or stab to (do). I am proud of the fact that for all that I have accomplished, I have worked hard. I am proud of the fact that my peers see me as a leader. I didn’t look for that, it just happened. It’s really humbling to hear guys talk about my leadership in the locker room. “
And then there are his fans.
“I hope they understand what it means to me or it means to me to go out and play and how seriously I took this when they left it to me. Whether I was injured or not, I tried to go into the ring and play for them, “he said.
“I just hope my legacy is to have given everything I had for the business that I loved and I just hope that people appreciate it and know how much I have loved for the past 30 years. “
Mark Calaway, the man, will one day rest in peace, but his legacy, his character – The Undertaker – is eternal.
“The (Undertaker),” he said, pausing for a long time. “I am so proud. I wish I could say that I had foresight, but it was just an intuition, I guess, at first, how I should handle the character. I guessed right and I have this character who I hope will last the test of time and people will think about it when I finish and say “Man, what character was The Undertaker. »»
Calaway summed it up best in the second part of the series when he said, “I’m not as good as I used to be, but I am as good as ever. “
No Mark, you’re just the greatest of all time.