With all sports (and sports-entertainment) leagues currently hurting for new content to keep audiences engaged, networks are pulling out the big guns: Multi-part documentaries of some of their most iconic athletes. And what The Last Dance is to the NBA, Undertaker: The Last Ride is is to the WWE Universe. This five-part docuseries, airing exclusively on the WWE Network every Sunday through mid-June, follows the journey of the Undertaker from the days before his WrestleMania 33 match in 2017 until, presumably, present day.
We at With Spandex will be watching along with the rest of you every Sunday and distilling each episode down in our new recap, Ride Or Die. Here’s what we learned from episode four of The Last Ride.
Previously on The Last Ride: We learned that the Undertaker was just as embarrassed at his Crown Jewel 2018 main event as the rest of us. Surely, his trip to Saudi Arabia will go better this time around!
The Undertaker And Vince McMahon’s Relationship Is Still A (Power) Struggle
If you made it through the previous three episodes of The Last Ride with some shred of kayfabe intact, it will all go out the window this time around, as Mark Calaway himself says at the start of this episode:
“My days in the ring are numbered, it’s time for me to cash in on the things I never would allow myself to do for the sake of the character and the sake of the business.”
We get a blooper reel of Taker and Paul Bearer goofing around in cemeteries 30 years ago, complete with a talking head inserts from Bearer filmed in 2012, as well as a bunch of examples of other WWE Superstars trying to get Taker to break character in the ring (and if you’ve never spent a half-hour watching everyone trying to get him to a spinaroonie, there’s no better time than the present).
Then, kind of surprisingly, the docuseries actually takes a look at that weird moment in 2019 where Mark Calaway was alllllmost All Elite: As Taker tells the story, he hired a team to get him active on social media and seeking endorsements, and somehow, it “accidentally” ended in him being booked for Starrcast II in Las Vegas, the convention loosely affiliated with All Elite Wrestling, taking place the same weekend as AEW Double Or Nothing. Taker admits he and Vince McMahon had a pretty serious falling out over it, remarking, “We didn’t talk for a little while, then we both let our guard down enough to talk. It’s all been sunshine and rainbows since,” before delivering the face to end all faces:
This episode is full of examples of both the respect Vince and Taker have for each other, as well as the challenges of a billionaire and a multi-millionaire trying to get along with each other after decades of a friendship that’s largely predicated on money. This leads us into WrestleMania 35 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, the home of the last actually good Undertaker WrestleMania match, where, somewhat surprisingly, Mark Calaway, like Dennis Stamp before him, isn’t booked.
Was this a power move by McMahon to remind Taker just who actually signs his paychecks? It’s hard to say. Footage taken that weekend of Taker show the man trying to justify his lack of involvement, making remarks such as, “At this point I’m not sure if I’ll work Mania again. Mania’s probably come and gone for me. And I’m okay with that, I think,” and “I don’t want to be on the card just to be on the card. if it’s not something important or that means something, there’s really not a reason for me to do it,” as footage of his forgettable WrestleMania 19 match plays in the background.
Of course, after Taker has already arrived for WrestleMania weekend, he’s informed by Vince McMahon that he’s actually scheduled to appear on Raw the following Monday — only he forgot his gear, the ultimate rookie move. We then get the hilarious reveal that Taker flew back to Texas that same day just to get his gear bag and make it back in time for WrestleMania, which results in this delightful exchange:
VINCE McMAHON: “A pro would bring their gear. Always.”
THE UNDERTAKER: “A pro would’ve booked me to start with.”
While this is amusing on its face, it’s also all sorts of fucked up that McMahon pulled this sort of power play and made one of the top stars of all time spend another eight or so hours of his life cramped on a plane just to chokeslam Elias at Raw (something I literally forgot even happened until they showed it here). This scene is indicative of WWE as whole: Nothing ever feels planned out more than a few hours in advance, and talent is expected to jump through whatever hoop creative puts in front of them, no matter how stressful. (But also, Mark, buddy: You mean to tell me there isn’t a single person in Austin you could’ve had swing by your house and FedEx your shit? You gotta start leaving a spare key under a rock or something!)
Super ShowDown? More Like Super ShitDown
Finally, the moment many of us have been waiting for: A look at the Undertaker/Goldberg trainwreck that main-evented Super ShowDown in 2019. Whereas everyone involved in the main event of Crown Jewel 2018 felt comfortable making fun of it and themselves, this one was looked at far more seriously, for a reason we didn’t know until now.
First, though, we learn that it was Triple H who pitched the clash of these two titans, and that Taker was excited for it:
“I know we’re building for the big show in Saudi. That’s important to me, due to the fact the last time in Saudi didn’t go great in my eyes or anyone else’s eyes for that matter. A little redemption for my last trip to Saudi and get me out of my own head… Hopefully we can deliver on the hype.”
NARRATOR: They did not.
We all know how much of a disaster that match was, but the doc spends little time talking about the whys (mainly because to do so would just to be saying “Goldberg sucks, you guys”). Frankly, I kind of got the vibe that Taker and Goldberg haven’t even spoken since the match: At one point, Taker says he assumes Goldberg got concussed from that ringpost spot. He assumes? Like, couldn’t he have actually found the answer out himself by now?
Of course, the reason why Taker probably doesn’t care that much about Goldberg’s health and well being after the match is because Goldberg didn’t care that much about Taker’s health and well being during the match. It turns out that botched Jackhammer spot did a tremendous amount of damage to the Deadman, as explained by Michelle McCool:
“I knew when he came inches, centimeters away from breaking his neck, I instantly texted our doctors and was like, ‘Is he okay?’ Normally if he’s away and I know something’s happened and I text him, ‘Are you okay?’ it’s ‘Yeah, I’m good, don’t worry.’ [This time] I texted him and was like, ‘How bad is it?’ and he says, ‘Man, my back is jacked up.’ For him to admit he was truly in some serious pain, I don’t think I could even fathom how bad it really was… I’ve seen a lot of scary moments, but that one got me. It was hard.”
The resulting back injury put Taker into yet another funk, and caused him to ask some serious questions of himself:
“‘Am I risking permanent injury?’ I need to take a real honest look at this and assess where I’m at. ‘Is it me?’ You start second guessing yourself. ‘Have I lost that big of step? [Am I] the reason why this stuff is happening?’ I was overwhelmed with all these negative thoughts coming out of Saudi.”
This leads us to this episode’s biggest reveal:
The Undertaker Actually, Really Retired After Extreme Rules 2019
Yeah yeah, I know: fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me and all that. But after he finished his tag match with Roman Reigns at Extreme Rules, just a few weeks after that disastrous Goldberg experience, the Undertaker headed straight back to gorillaand told Vince McMahon, and I quote, “I’m done.”
There it is, folks. The Undertaker will finally rest in peace.
A New Challenger Has Appeared!
And he loves Diet Dr. Pepper as much as Mark Calaway! Seriously, there is so much AJ Styles sprinkled throughout this episode that it seems like next week is being set up to make him the savior of Taker’s career by convincing him to get back in the ring – er, boneyard — for one more go ’round.
Next week on The Last Ride: All the foreshadowing comes to a head, as The Last Ride finishes up with a look at the Undertaker’s Boneyard match with AJ Styles. Is this really his last match, or the start of the next leg of his career? Tune in next week to find out.