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 June 7, 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 two of The Last Ride.
Previously on The Last Ride: We learned that the Undertaker remembers nothing about WrestleMania 30, was a shell of himself mentally going into WrestleMania 31 and came into WrestleMania 33 completely out of shape. (He also said nothing about WrestleMania 32 whatsoever, which is maybe for the best.)
The Undertaker Hated His Retirement Match
Episode two of The Last Ride has its flaws (like Undertaker’s extremely questionable wardrobe choices — yeesh), but it’s nothing if not honest, especially when the episode begins with Taker dogging on what was ostensibly supposed to be his retirement match. Eight months after getting beaten by Roman Reigns, Taker sits on his couch, watching blown spot after blown spot, admitting he dropped the ball:
“I feel bad for Roman. That bothers me. It’s like I didn’t even know where I was supposed to be. I haven’t spoken to him about it… I did the best that I could do for him, the problem was my physical conditioning. my body was at the limit of what I could take.”
Vince McMahon goes onto echo Taker’s sentiments, saying, “He wasn’t there and he knew in his heart he wasn’t there.”
So, of course, this means Taker wants a second crack at a goodbye match, commenting, “I feel like I need some redemption for that performance, so here we are.”
Michelle McCool, the secret MVP of the series thus far who went on the record saying she was hoping Mania 33 was really the end, wearily echoes her husband’s sentiment: “Here we are.”
The Undertaker Had Hip Surgery Following WrestleMania 33
Just a few weeks after getting pinned in Orlando, Mark Calaway has his right hip replaced, after having already had his left hip replaced a number of years ago. His time in the hospital provides the first real laugh-out-loud moment of The Last Ride, when a nurse asks him if he’s ever had any surgeries and Calaway chuckles and deadpans, “Yeah, I’ve had a few,” before listing off his myriad procedures (among them, blown out eyesockets, torn rotator cuff, biceps repair, knee scoping and broken fingers).
The next laugh-out-loud moment comes immediately thereafter, when Calaway is wheeled into the OR where the doctors are literally playing his theme song. Not exactly the kind of thing you’d want to hear on an operating table! But the surgery goes as planned, and Calaway is back on his feet by the next morning — though apparently he caught some guff from McMahon, who told him he walked out the same day of his 2013 hip surgery. (Once a genetic jackhammer, always a genetic jackhammer, I suppose.)
McCool once again steals the show here, as Calaway says, “I’ve changed, I’ve changed” in regards to wanting to return to the ring, to which she immediately fires back, “Since yesterday?” She knows what’s coming, whether or not he realizes it.
The Undertaker And Vince McMahon Have An Incredibly Tight Bond
As much as Calaway loves his wife (and her ability to throw a football), there’s no question the deepest love in his life is the love he has for Vince McMahon, a feeling which appears to be evenly reciprocated — even though Calaway says he can’t ever predict how his converstions with Vince will go. “I gave up on strategizing meetings with Vince a long time ago,” he remarks as he heads to a meeting at WWE’s corporate headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut, on a Saturday in August, 2017. (Who conducts business on a Saturday? Vince.)
We learn that Taker’s love for Vince is so deep that he named his son Gunner Vincent, and McCool says of the pair, “They would literally take a bullet for each other,” a sentiment reiterated by Taker himself later. When McMahon is asked what Taker means to him, he responds, “Mark Calaway is the most loyal performer I have ever dealt with,” before breaking down into tears when pressed as to what he means to him personally.
It makes sense, though: The Undertaker never left. Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Randy Savage, Bret Hart and countless others switched sides in the Monday Night War (and beyond, with TNA, AEW and elsewhere). Even talent in good standing like Shawn Michaels eventually retired from in-ring competition. Hell, even Vince’s own son Shane left WWE in the mid-2000s — but Taker always stayed. How many people can you say you’ve been loyal to for 30 years?
The Undertaker Called His Shot For WrestleMania 36 Two Years In Advance
Undertaker praising AJ Styles pic.twitter.com/HkpSNSsOZv
— Fardeen ファルディン (@rasslin_fanatic) May 17, 2020
In a neat little bit of foreshadowing, we catch up with Taker backstage at the 2018 Royal Rumble (in which Michelle McCool was competing), and he hypes up AJ Styles, sayin he wishes he could’ve worked with before retiring. Barely two years later, we get this dream pairing in a Boneyard Match at WrestleMania 36. Ask and ye shall receive, Taker!
WrestleMania 34 Was Ultimately Unfulfilling For The Undertaker
The final chunk of this installment of The Last Ride deals with Calaway getting himself ready to make a comeback/final(?) match against John Cena at WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans, inside the same arena where his streak (and his confidence) was shattered four years prior. We get some pretty impressive training montages, with Taker running the ropes and taking clotheslines and arm drags like he was 19 years old, with the help of recently released WWE Superstar Primo, of all people (mirroring fellow released talent Dash Wilder who was enlisted to get Edge back in ring shape for WrestleMania 36).
Now nearly a year removed from his match with Reigns, Calaway continues to be honest about himself and his performance:
“I was slow, I was old, I was overweight… I shouldn’t have been in the ring last year. Simple as that. It won’t happen again, you can bet that.”
As Mania 34 approaches, a slimmed-down, in-shape Taker speaks again of his legacy, mirroring remarks from the buildup to Mania 33, even going so far as to say, “There’s a good chance tomorrow’s the last time I make that walk and an important part of my life stops.” (Suuuure it does, Mark.)
His return match against John Cena is 1/10th as long as his main event with Reigns from the year prior, going a meager 2:45 — but in that time, Taker, to his credit, looked great. But despite the positive reception from the audience and those backstage, you can tell Taker isn’t happy, remarking that he prepared for a much longer match.
“Mission accomplished from what we set out to do. I had a lot more in the tank tonight. At the end of the day that’s what I wanted. Hopefully people are gonna wonder tonight, ‘Wow, what’s he gonna do next?'”
If you guessed, “Cash a check from a bloodthirsty Saudi Arabian prince,” congratulations, you win.
Next week on The Last Ride: We take a look at the disastrous Crown Jewel match between the Brothers of Destruction and D-Generation X. Hold onto your butts.