Mark Calaway is responsible for arguably the best character in the history of professional wrestling. Since his debut as The Undertaker in 1990, Calaway has been a fixture in WWE and the famously secretive star has been responsible for elevating the careers of dozens upon dozens of performers.
One of those performers was Glenn Jacobs.
Jacobs, who is the current mayor of Knox County, Tennessee, had bounced around several different wrestling promotions in the early 1990s before eventually landing with Vince McMahon’s WWE (then WWF) in 1995. Jacobs, who debuted as Unabomb before being repackaged as Isaac Yankem, a monstrous dentist character who had fit the cartoonish, gimmicky style WWE was known for at the time.
After two years toiling as a mid-card performer, Jacobs’s career was at a crossroads, and what essentially was his last chance to make it in WWE turned into one of the defining moments and angles in professional wrestling history.
“Originally, my whole storyline and the Kane character was kind of thrown together to give Undertaker an opponent,” Jacobs told Yahoo Sports. “Vince liked the idea so much that they decided to build an actual storyline behind it and character out of it. From my perspective, I had to make it work. I didn’t want to let anyone down and I didn’t want to let Mark down. I thought I could do it, but realized I had to do it because of the pressure and that for me, it was my last chance. I figured I wouldn’t get another one.”
Jacobs’s debut as Kane thrust him and Calaway into the forefront of the “Attitude Era.” As WWE competed with Ted Turner’s WCW for ratings supremacy, the feud between the storyline brothers became one fans were invested in. While many look back at that time and remember “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s feud with McMahon or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s charisma as the defining characteristics of late-1990s WWE, Jacobs and Calaway’s rivalry played out like a Lifetime movie, perfectly combining action and drama.
“I think it’s the best, most epic storyline that has ever been done,” Jacobs said. “Really it was almost like you took Greek mythology and put it into wrestling with us. The thing is, everything was moving so quickly and we were so caught up in the moment that we saw it as just doing business and trying to compete with WCW and everyone else on the roster. It was very internally competitive at the point. You had all of these people really pushing each other to provide the best product that we could, that was the focus. Now, you’re able to take a breath and look back and realize how amazing it is.”
More than two decades later, as fans get a rare look at Calaway during WWE’s “The Last Ride,” Jacobs plays a pivotal role in the documentary, specifically the third and fourth episodes. Calaway, Jacobs, Shawn Michaels and Paul “Triple H” Levesque took part in a series of appearances and matches in late 2018. The quartet, icons in the industry, came together to perform at the “Crown Jewel” event in Saudi Arabia in November 2018. The main event match, a tag-team bout between “D-Generation X” and the “Brothers of Destruction” seemed like a dream for fans wishing to relive a bygone era, but in reality, it was chaos. Levesque suffered a torn pectoral muscle during the match and all four men failed to meet expectations set for themselves and by fans.
One of the underlying themes of “The Last Ride,” is Calaway’s inability to walk away from the industry he has worked in for the majority of his life. Jacobs, who has appeared sporadically over the past few years in WWE, is now fully engaged in his new career as a politician.
“The fact that I was transitioning to something else full time, I felt comfortable with my next step,” Jacobs said. “At some point, the grind of the road wears you down. The physical demand of the business wears you down. I’m not 30 years old anymore. When I was, it wasn’t a big deal, but later in life all of those things take a toll, psychologically as well. Being on the road 250-300 days a year it takes a toll on you and your family. It was time for me to figure out what my next step in life was. WWE, Vince McMahon were very supportive. I wouldn’t have been able to do this if they weren’t, quite frankly, because I never wanted to completely shut the door.”
Unlike athletes in professional sports, the men and women who star in WWE often face a more difficult decision when it comes to walking away. Physically, because professional wrestling’s outcomes are scripted and the in-ring performances choreographed by the performers themselves, it’s not always a matter of your body telling you to retire.
“I’m actually an introvert, Mark’s actually an introvert, but in this business, you’re in the spotlight,” Jacobs said. “In this you’re competing, you’re in the spotlight and it’s what we had known for so long. In many ways, it defines who you are. It’s hard to put that behind you. Now, in my job in politics, I’m still in the news -- not always for reasons I want to be -- I’m kind of still in the public eye. That can be hard because you have worked your entire life to get there and in wrestling, that’s what success means.”
Part of the purpose of “The Last Ride,” which has drawn comparisons to ESPN’s “The Last Dance” series on the 1997-98 Bulls, is to shed light on one of the most notoriously private figures in the business. For 30 years, Calaway remained dedicated to “kayfabe,” which means he stayed in character and never did anything that would endanger his WWE persona.
Jacobs is one of many figures who are now able to break their silence — to a degree — when it comes to a person who helped them on their own career paths.
“Out of respect for him, you didn’t want to bring personal history up or behind the scenes stuff,” Jacobs said. “Despite the fact that with social media our business is out there and the curtain has been pulled back on it, I still am a bit of a traditionalist. It’s like David Copperfield and magic, the trick is ruined if people can see the wires and I hate it when people point out the wires of wrestling. The stories and stuff are cool, but there are things I still prefer to keep to myself. If Mark is cool with it though, I’m cool with it.”
It’s just one of the changes that has happened in the 25 years since Jacobs and Calaway first crossed paths.
“Now, I feel much more like a peer than having that mentor-student relationship, which is what it was many years ago. I’m no longer in awe of the guy. Now he’s Mark, not just Undertaker. You can say what you want about the authenticity of WWE, but when you see Undertaker standing across from you in the ring, in his full regalia, it’s something to behold and it’s an intimidating sight.
“[I remember our match at] “WrestleMania XIV” in Boston. To see the entrance and be out there for it with the druids, the torches, it was just awe-inspiring. I can now look beyond that and see the person. It’s been replaced with friendship.”
The fourth episode of ‘The Last Ride’ debuts on June 14 and can only be seen on the WWE Network.
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