While beloved, The Undertaker is one of the most guarded characters in the history of the WWE. Unlike many of his peers in the business of sports entertainment, there has yet to a piece of media that has truly pulled the curtain back on arguably the greatest creation the WWE has ever had.
“The Undertaker: The Last Ride” is a five-part docuseries that premieres on Sunday, May 10 (WWE Network). The series takes an intimate look at the man behind the legendary character as he wrestles with his own mortality in an unforgiving business that relentlessly breaks down everyone who invests their body into the wonderful world of professional wrestling.
There are rarely stories about pro wrestlers that end well. For the most part, they aren’t able to escape the business until it has caused irreversible damage to the mind and body. It’s the reason why there are more “Dark Side of the Ring” documentaries than there are ones that celebrate life after pro wrestling.
For every Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Dave Batista, there are tons of stories that are rooted in tragedy.
“The Last Ride,” which is a WWE-curated experience, finds a middle ground that gives us just enough vulnerability without fueling the naysayers with harrowing tales of just how brutal pro wrestling is. While scripted, it is far from fake.
Filmed from 2017 to 2020, the series shows us just enough of the vulnerable side of Mark Calaway to qualify him as a human being. For years, The Undertaker has put forth a mysterious and invincible persona that has often demonstrated being impervious to pain. Here, we get to see the toll that his three-decade run as a pro wrestler has taken on his body.
“At this point and time, I can’t work a full-time schedule,” he says early in the documentary before seemingly regretting that those words ever spilled out of his mouth on camera. “There, I said it.”
It’s clear that getting Calaway to admit that it may be time to hang up his boots is like pulling teeth. Not that he doesn’t believe it, it’s more about the challenge of exposing himself in ways that he hasn’t before.
Part one takes place days before what was then thought to be his final match against Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 32. Knowing what we know now, this wouldn’t be the last we would see of him. However, it is incredibly fascinating to see how deeply invested he was in this being his final match.
Perhaps of more significance is how invested his wife — retired pro wrestler Michelle McCool — was in his send-off. She speaks every sentence with a subtle sigh of relief, outlining the pain that she has witnessed that fans don’t get a chance to see.
Sure, we are keenly aware that he’s no longer the force he was a decade ago when he turned in a pair of phenomenal WrestleMania matches against Shawn Michaels. But to see just how broken down his body is, and the pained voice that does its best to hide just how the wear and tear have taken a toll on him, makes for an intriguing watch.
He spends much of the episode walking with a permanent limp and a grimace on his face. He’s in pain but addicted to the business that he loves.
Whether or not “The Last Ride” intentionally took its cues from ESPN’s lauded documentary on Michael Jordan, right down to the play on words, it’s a rightful homage to The Undertaker.
Unlike “The Last Dance,” however, there are no juicy tales about his interactions with other pro wrestlers. Instead, much of the focus is just on him and how much respect he commanded in the locker room.
The appearances of several pro wrestlers and personalities that include Mick Foley, Ric Flair, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, Vince McMahon and others spend much of their dialog fawning over Calaway’s resilience and unique wrestling ability. If there is any criticism about The Undertaker continuing his career after 2017, it certainly doesn’t come from the talking heads in this particular episode.
Instead, the criticism comes from The Phenom himself.
He cites the exact moment when he began to doubt himself after suffering a concussion at WrestleMania 30 against Brock Lesnar, who ended up breaking his 21-match unbeaten streak at The Showcase of the Immortals. All signs pointed to him bidding the business farewell, but he simply couldn’t stay away.
What follows are some training videos and intimate moments behind the scenes that have never been released. Some videos of his past matches are woven into the fabric of the documentary and offer a look at who the man was before taking us to the current version, weathered and worn down.
Shades of doubt are tinged in his interviews as he approaches his match with Reigns. Unfortunately, that match itself wasn’t one of his finest moments and the WWE doesn’t hide a botched move that could have hurt both Reigns and The Undertaker. It’s a red herring that becomes the reason why he’s still wrestling today at age 55.
Mark Calaway is clearly in pursuit of the perfect finale to his career but is realizing that perfection will come at a cost. And that’s what makes this documentary so intriguing. The mystery of The Undertaker is revealed to be a battle-worn human being who just can’t let go of pro wrestling. It’s both commendable and alarming to know that he takes great pride in his work, no matter the cost.
As the first episode closes with The Undertaker seemingly having his last ride after losing to Reigns, we know what’s about to happen.
A somber piano version of his entrance theme plays as emotional exchanges and embraces are captured backstage after his match. His wife exhales and looks ahead to a future where her husband doesn’t need to put his family through the wringer any longer.
It’s supposed to be his last ride.
Except, it’s not.