The Undertaker was set to beat Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 30 until Vince McMahon changed it
After 30 years of protecting his legendary professional wrestling character — and the private life of man behind the black jacket and hat — from the public eye, WWE legend The Undertaker is ready to introduce us to Mark Calaway.
Through the lens of the WWE Network docuseries, “Undertaker: The Last Ride,” the 55-year-old Calaway has provided fans a personal and intimate look at the last three years of his career, including his struggle to deal with age and injury and his passionate pursuit of the perfect ending to retire on. The first three episodes are available to stream now with the fourth debuting on June 14.
Whether it’s the harsh critique of his own work, including a forgettable performance against Roman Reigns in the main event of WrestleMania 33, or his decision to allow cameras into his home to present himself as a father and husband for the first time, Calaway found the process of baring all to be as cleansing as it was difficult.
“It has been unusual, believe me, and it has taken me awhile to completely let my guard down,” Calaway told CBS Sports’ “State of Combat” podcast on Thursday. “I just had to fight the natural instinct to protect. But this thing doesn’t work if I’m trying to work. If I’m trying to be half character and half human, people would’ve saw through it. I had to drop the veil and let everyone in.”
Listen to our extended interview with The Undertaker below on the State of Combat podcast.
Against his own instincts to protect what’s left of kayfabe — the idea that the stories in wrestling, despite being scripted, are authentic — in an era dominated by fans’ thirst for dirt sheet rumors and tell-all podcasts, Calaway has finally come clean on the backstage realities of his entire career, including the end of his unbeaten streak at WrestleMania 30 in New Orleans.
Thanks to a concussion suffered during the match, Calaway doesn’t have a single memory of his loss to Brock Lesnar, which snapped his legendary WrestleMania winning streak at 21 and led to him being rushed to the hospital. The last memory he has is arriving to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and beginning his warm-up.
At that point, according to Calaway, the most recent discussion he had with WWE chairman Vince McMahon about the finish ended with The Undertaker beating Lesnar.
“We had gone back and forth depending on the day,” Calaway said. “It changed very often, but it had been that way [with Lesnar losing] for about a week, and I showed up thinking I was going over. I found out about 1 p.m. that I wasn’t. It is what it is.”
Asked if he regrets how the streak ended now reflecting on it six years later, Calaway shook off such a concept.
“No, not really. I did my job,” he said.
However, he does admit that — ahead of the 2014 match — he wondered whether Lesnar was the right choice to deliver such a shocking upset.
“Obviously, in Vince’s mindset, if it’s not Brock, then who?” Calaway said. “My biggest concern was I just wanted to make sure that [McMahon] was sure and that’s what he wanted to do. I didn’t feel like Brock needed it. Brock was already a huge star, and it wasn’t going to help him one way or another. My only concern was there might have been someone down the line that could have benefitted from it more and that probably would’ve been Roman later on.
“That’s with hindsight being 20/20. But if I was going to get beat by someone, Brock was a guy who had the credentials, I think, to do it and people would be like, ‘Um, OK, s—, that’s Brock Lesnar.’ That was my biggest deal. I just wanted to make sure that’s really what [McMahon] had wanted to do.”
A professional through and through, Calaway’s role as locker room leader and close relationship with McMahon left little doubt The Undertaker was going to do what was best for the company.
“Ultimately, the streak is one of the greatest accomplishments of my career and something I’ll be synonymous with for my legacy. But at the end of the day, I’m going to do what Vince wants me to do,” Calaway said. “He created The Undertaker. He gave me the opportunity. Could I have made a power play? Yeah, but seriously, what good was that going to do? What kind of precedent does that send? It just wouldn’t have been right.”
One thing Calaway does openly lament is how much his untimely concussion — he remains unable to pinpoint when it took place in the match — robbed from the match fulfilling its potential on an already loaded card which remains in the discussion for best WrestleMania in history.
“I just wish I would have had my wits about me so the match would have been a little better and I could have put a little more emotion into it to make it a little bit more special,” Calaway said. “There’s nothing I could do about getting a concussion. That’s business and that’s the way I look at things.”
According to Calaway, the last episode of the docuseries has yet to be filmed and taping is ongoing. So what’s the perfect way to cap a 30-year career as, quite possibly, the WWE’s most beloved and unique character?
“Right now, I don’t know. Obviously, I want to go out with a match on the big stage with a performance that you will think, ‘That is The Undertaker that I have known and have watched for 30 years,'” Calaway said. “I just want to be at that level so people can say, ‘Why on earth are you retiring? Why are you retiring when there is so much left in the tank?’
“I think that match is still in me, and I think I can deliver it. I think once that match is there, I think I can walk away and be happy.
“This doc has really changed my perspective on a lot of things. It’s a personal thing, I don’t think I have anything left to prove to anyone. This is an internal thing and, in my mind, I’ve envisioned my exit and I’m just trying to find that exit.”