After nearly three decades of playing his iconic Undertaker character on WWE programming, professional wrestling fans are getting an opportunity to see Mark Calaway like they never have before.
WWE’s five-part documentary, “The Last Ride,” chronicles Calaway’s three-year journey from the main event of “WrestleMania 33” in Orlando to his most recent match against A.J. Styles at “WrestleMania 36,” while also looking back at key moments throughout his legendary career.
Ahead of the documentary’s final episode, Calaway spoke with Yahoo Sports about pulling back the curtain on his character like never before, who he believes can assume his fabled role as WWE’s locker room general, and what his plans are once he officially allows the Undertaker character to rest in peace.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity
Yahoo Sports: Seeing all of the interviews you have been doing, is it enough to make up for the 29 years you lived out of the media spotlight?
Mark Calaway: And then some [laughs]. Obviously, because of my character and protecting that character for so long, I didn’t do this very much. Second of all, I don’t like talking about myself, so I have had my share over the past month. Enough to last me a lifetime, I think.
YS: It’s interesting you say that, because when I spoke a few weeks ago with Glenn Jacobs (aka WWE star Kane), he described you both as introverts. Just how weird has it been to talk about yourself as much as you are?
Calaway: It’s been difficult, one, just to let my guard down enough even to have a normal conversation and promote the documentary. Obviously, as we’ve moved along, the questions have become deeper and deeper. [Glenn and I] are introverts. I don’t like to talk about what I do so in that sense it has been difficult and a learning process. It has been enlightening and thought-provoking for me. I’ve had to really actually think about different things and recall, try to think of perspective, which makes you wonder ‘Hmm, what would I have done now compared to what I had done then.’ I guess it has been kind of therapeutic in a sense.
YS: The overwhelming reaction to this has been positive. How have you felt about that? Were you expecting a certain response after the initial few episodes?
Calaway: I really didn’t. People have been clamoring for years and years to get a peek behind the curtain, so I knew that people would be excited to get a closer look at Mark Calaway. I have to be honest, there’s also the point of being nervous about giving too much and losing the whole mystique about everything that you have protected. I have had that battle playing, especially early on. As we put each episode together, I have become much more comfortable, to the point of actually enjoying the process of being able to give my personal insight into things that people have had so much conjecture about. I’ve been able to hopefully enlighten people to my mindset. I have been very pleased overall to how people have reacted to this. It has been very humbling.
YS: One of the things we get the curtained pulled back on is your relationship with fellow WWE stars. We see a lot of you with Roman Reigns. The stories over the years have depicted you as the locker room general, the leader, the biggest voice in the room. Could you dive into how those relationships had changed from earlier in your career to now?
Calaway: It’s a lot different. It’s hard now because I’m not there very often. Whatever TV [appearances] that I make leading up to ‘Mania or whatever event, I’m in a little different role than when I was there all of the time. When I am there, I look and I try to get a pulse of the locker room and a feel of who is filling that role and I try to pick their brains a little bit. I don’t go in and say ‘This is what you have to do if this guy is doing this,’ but I try to get the mindset and feel.
By no means am I still that guy. I just don’t have that personal connection with the talent like I used to. That role for me, I’ve moved on from and it’s time for somebody to step up and take that role, or not. However, they run their locker room [is how they run it.] I can obviously give my two cents but it’s not really my place to come in and reprimand somebody and tell them how things need to be done. Although I’m still around and do events, it’s not the same as it was when I was there all of the time.
YS: Who do you think is that guy now or can be?
Calaway: I would assume it would be Roman. He seems to have leadership qualities about him. I don’t know if he is [playing that role now], but from sitting there and having conversations with him, he seems to think beyond his gimmick and I think he has his finger on the pulse of everybody. I would see him probably emerging into that role if anybody does.
YS: One of the things we see in the documentary is you talking with A.J. Styles and him being someone you want to work with and you obviously got that this year at WrestleMania. We also see that if Vince [McMahon] calls you will always be there to answer it. How much input do you have in the opponents you have at this point in your career right now?
Calaway: Not to give too much of it away because it comes out in this last episode, but at this point it’s more of an ask than a ‘This is your opponent.’ It’s a ‘do you want to do this or do you not want to do this’ conversation at this point. Obviously, I appreciate that. Last year, Vince and I both decided that I would stay off of the [WrestleMania] card. As was well-documented, I was good with it until showtime, then it sunk in that I wasn’t going to make that walk.
To answer the question, I have say. They may throw someone at me and I can say yea or nay. It is definitely a collaborative effort.
YS: We see you rewatch your match against Roman in this documentary and it evokes some emotions. Watching this series back, is there a moment that you can pinpoint where your opinion changed on something, or something that you didn’t realize was going on in the moment?
Calaway: Not anything that I would change. My biggest regrets, which I didn’t know about until I committed to doing that match with Roman, was that I didn’t know that my hip was as bad as it was. I was coming off the year before at [WrestleMania] with Shane [McMahon] at [AT&T] Stadium. I knew my hip was starting to get iffy, but between the two matches, I didn’t do a lot to put stress on it. Yes, my hip was sore, I wasn’t training probably the way I should have, so when it was time to train, that’s when I realized that and said “uh-oh, this hip isn’t answering the call.” Then I had to train a completely different way and change the stress I was putting on it knowing that I had to get in the ring on that night. My weight blew up, my cardio wasn’t where I wanted it to be. Every step that I took there was searing pain.
In retrospect, I wish I’d have had a better gauge of where I was physically before I committed to working in the [Royal] Rumble that year. When I worked in the Rumble, I knew I was toast. I knew it was going to be bad. I tried my hardest to try and figure a way to get myself through that. If you look at that episode you see all of the things I did [prior to my match at WrestleMania 33] to alleviate the searing pain. I really wish I had my finger a little closer to the pulse on where I was physically because you could tell by my face that I wasn’t very pleased with what I was able to do in that match, I was really disappointed in that match.
YS: After that match there’s so much talk about it possibly being the end for the Undertaker. Do you feel any different now, or freed up, to have different types of matches, to incorporate different parts of your character into your matches like you did this past WrestleMania with the “Boneyard Match?”
Calaway: Yeah. Obviously the success of that match opened up new avenues, not just for me, but for everyone. They did it in a cinematic way with the match at “Money in the Bank.” Those kind of matches bring another layer to the characters. To me, it doesn’t matter what kind of match you have, it’s all about telling the story. I think Boneyard really helped us pay off the story we were trying to tell. Everything’s evolving in our industry. I do think you’ll see more cinematic elements in what I do and other talent as well.
YS: With so much emphasis in this documentary on when you eventually will walk away, I want to ask if you see yourself staying involved in WWE in some capacity once you do make that decision.
Calaway: I definitely do. Not on the scale of what guys like Matt Bloom and Shawn [Michaels] are doing at the Performance Center, but I definitely see myself going down there and lending a hand. I have 30-plus years of wrestling knowledge and I’d love to try and give it to some of these up-and-coming guys. That’s one thing that I have discovered that I enjoy when going down there to try and get in shape for whatever match may be coming up. I like being around the young guys and their energy. They’re all sponges, they’re looking to soak up anything they can learn. There’s a ton of monsters down there, some big, big dudes down there right now and they don’t really have somebody there that can kind of guide them in the right direction. I can definitely see myself playing a role that way.
Also, I want to keep promoting WWE and trying to be the face of the company in different countries. After 30 years of being on TV, there’s a lot of avenues for me to take. It’s what I know. I know wrestling and sports entertainment, so I think that there are a lot of places I see myself moving into, enjoying and feeling fulfilled. That’s the big thing, trying to fill the void of 80,000 people screaming and going nuts. That’s tough to walk away from. If you don’t have something you’re really passionate about, it can really chew you up. I think teaching and expanding the brand is something that I’d be interested in doing.
YS: After the death of George Floyd and the increased attention towards police brutality, what are your thoughts on the WWE performers that have used their platform to speak out in support of Black Lives Matter, such as Big E, Kofi Kingston and Keith Lee?
Calaway: Absolutely. When you have subject matter that affects you and you are passionate about, I think yeah, go for it, man. Especially in this day and age with your social media platforms, what better way to use them. I’d much rather see somebody making a stand and supporting what they believe in more so than putting some goofy content out there, I mean good grief. You have the platform, if you’re passionate about something and believe in it, my all means, you should use it for good.
Part Five of ‘The Last Ride’ debuts this Sunday, June 21st, only on the WWE Network.
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