If the first episode of WWE’s “The Undertaker: The Last Ride” was about a man wrestling with his mortality, episode two was about an individual who has come to grips with his inability to let go of professional wrestling.
The five-part documentary that is like the WWE’s version of ESPN’s Michael Jordan documentary “The Last Dance” is all about the journey to what we think is The Undertaker’s final match that took place at WrestleMania 36 this year.
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“The Last Ride” pulls back the curtain on the mysterious Undertaker and gives viewers a look at Mark Calaway. And what we find is a man who knows that it is impossible to live up to the undead persona that he made a pop culture icon and works extraordinarily hard to give the character the sendoff it rightfully deserves.
After Undertaker's underwhelming match with Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 33 in 2017, the episode picks up nearly a year later as he watches the match for the first time since it happened. With his wife Michelle McCool by his side, he struggles through the viewing and hardly recognizes the man lumbering around the ring. During a botched spot, he turns away from the screen in disgust, embarrassed at what the fans witnessed that night.
“I feel bad for Roman,” he says.
We then go back to a month after the match, when he’s being admitted into the hospital for surgery on his long-ailing hip. It’s at this moment that we realize just how much wear and tear there has been on his body. When the nurse asks Calaway if he’s ever had surgery, he shares a laugh with his wife before blurting out that he’s had roughly 15 surgeries over the course of his career that include blowouts in both of his eye sockets and his other hip.
Now in his 50s, his body simply cannot sustain the amount of punishment that accompanies being a pro wrestler. Fans are used to seeing a man impervious to pain. But viewers of this documentary are introduced to a man who could hardly walk before his match at WrestleMania.
He’s human, after all.
There is some pretty graphic footage of his surgery and we next see him on crutches as he moves about the hospital. Almost immediately he starts talking about the next WrestleMania. And McCool is certainly not into the idea. But she’s going to back her husband, regardless.
What follows is a visual journal that documents Undertaker’s journey from April 2017 to April 2018 as he works to get his body ready for another retirement match. We get a better understanding of his relationship with Vince McMahon during an August meeting where they discuss Undertaker’s future. The normally emotionless McMahon is fighting back tears while struggling to muster up the words to describe what Undertaker means to him. As for Undertaker, how he feels about the WWE chairman and CEO is summed up pretty succinctly.
“I cannot think of anybody in my life more influential than my father than Vince,” he says while noting that his son’s middle name is Vincent, in honor of his boss.
We see some behind-the-scenes footage of the two over the years both at work and at play. It’s clear that this bond goes beyond the squared circle and McMahon genuinely cares about Calaway.
Eventually, Undertaker tells McMahon that he plans to compete at WrestleMania 34 and he puts himself through a rigorous training regimen to prepare himself for what would be a one-sided squash match with John Cena.
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Knowing how poor his outing with Reigns was, we’re treated with a glorified montage of Undertaker shedding weight and working himself into shape with former WWE Superstar Primo Colon. Without the first episode, this would just be another show that documents a wrestler in training. But this is different because it’s evident that he’s in far better shape than he was a year ago.
Along the way, there’s some intimate footage of Calaway as a family man. He talks about his children, how a perfect football throw attracted him to McCool and gets a little choked up when he discusses just how much his wife has put up with as he debates retirement.
And then the match with Cena happens, an event that wasn't advertised in advance of WrestleMania. It’s a brisk match that lasts just under three minutes as the fans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome explode in jubilation as The Undertaker dominates an all-time great in a dream match.
While the length may have been satisfying for the fans, it wasn’t enough for the man who was still searching for the perfect ending.
“Selfishly, I would have liked to been out there a little longer,” he says.
You can tell that there’s a part of him that’s disappointed that he couldn’t give fans more. The tone is far different from the end of episode one, but the result is still the same. He’s not done yet.
“If I had to (retire) I could. It’s just a matter of if I want to,” he says. And then we catch footage of Undertaker and McCool where he spouts out the words that he knows she probably doesn’t want to hear but surely expected.
“I feel like I have another match in me.”
He's still in pursuit of the perfect swan song.