This past Sunday, after the Money in the Bank event, WWE aired the first part of The Last Ride, a five-part documentary series on The Undertaker and the man behind the gimmick, Mark Calaway. For the first time, fans will finally get an in-depth look at the man behind the most successful and long-lasting gimmick in history. The drawing of this final curtain is the perfect opportunity to consolidate the Undertaker gimmick once and for all, and finally lead to its retirement.
Mark Calaway’s resistance to stepping out of character in any kind of public forum is legendary. Whether it’s his refusal to sit in the arena during the Hall of Fame ceremonies (he chooses to stay backstage) or his lack of public appearances outside of the wrestling circus (although he has made a few of those in the last few years), Mark Calaway always tried to keep his life as Mark Calaway private. If you saw him on camera, chances are you saw him as The Undertaker. The gimmick needed to be protected to keep its mystique, at all costs.
The first part of the documentary summarized the situation from Wrestlemania 27 to the lead up to WrestleMania 33 in what was supposed to be The Undertaker’s final match. In a telling scene, Mark Calaway tells Jimmy Hart and Jim Cornette that the boys were calling him Santa Claus because he only showed up once a year. Of course, the reason for that was simple: his body was broken down. It had gotten harder and harder to get in shape for his WrestleMania match, and the loss to Roman Reigns was supposed to be the final chapter.
We all know that’s not how it worked out. What followed in the three years since has been a squash against John Cena at WrestleMania 34, a casket match against Rusev in Saudi Arabia, a six-man tag at a house show in Madison Square Garden, a No Holds Barred match against Triple H in Saudi Arabia followed by a tag match with Kane against Hunter and Shawn on the next show there, a match against Goldberg at Super Showdown 2019, a tag team match with Roman Reigns against Drew McIntyre and Shane McMahon at Extreme Rules, the brief appearance at Super ShowDown to set up his match with AJ Styles, and the Boneyard match against AJ at this year’s WrestleMania.
But why? There are really three reasons. The first is that after his match with Reigns, the Undertaker had multiple surgeries, hip replacement being the most urgent, and felt in much better shape. Secondly, although he doesn’t need the money, the Saudi shows still are a nice payday. Most importantly though, Mark Calaway was apparently so disappointed in his own performance against Reigns at WrestleMania 33 that he just plain didn’t want it to be his last match.
This seems to be the key to an Undertaker retirement: Mark Calaway is looking for that final match, that last glorious WrestleMania performance, that will let The Undertaker gimmick “rest in peace.”
Whether it intended to or not, WWE may have found the perfect setup for that match. The documentary shows the man behind the Undertaker in a never before seen light: Mark Calaway is open. He is vulnerable, he is self-conscious, and most importantly, he is human. Not even as the American Badass has the Undertaker ever been presented in this way. As the show humanizes the man behind the gimmick, the show humanizes the gimmick itself.
This is where the storyline leading up to next year’s WrestleMania – which will mark thirty years after The Undertaker’s Mania debut – needs to begin. The Undertaker will be looking for his last great match and he will not stop until he finds it. Ironically, this will need to lead to the man who first exposed the man behind the Undertaker gimmick this past Mania season: AJ Styles.
At 43 years old, AJ is still one of the best wrestlers in the world. His physique and agility often draw comparisons to Shawn Michaels. Shawn gave the Undertaker probably the three greatest matches of his career (Hell in a Cell and WrestleManias 25 and 26). There is little doubt that AJ can give a healthy Undertaker that one last great match — and maybe even steal the show at WrestleMania.
After the Boneyard match, AJ still has a bone to pick with the Undertaker, with the loss still weighing heavily on AJ’s mind, as Money in the Bank showed. At the same time, the Undertaker needs AJ for that last match. Both men. therefore. have a reason to want to make it happen.
With almost a year until Wrestlemania 37, WWE can take its time with this story. But everyone involved needs this match to happen. AJ needs it to leave his trauma behind. Fans need it as a proper conclusion to the story set up in the Boneyard Match. And most importantly, the Undertaker gimmick needs it to finally send Mark Calaway into his deserved retirement.
By exposing Mark Calaway, the human being, the show humanizes The Undertaker, setting him up for a proper in-ring ending against AJ Styles.