Takeaways From Episode 4 of 'The Last Ride': A Missed WrestleMania and the Battle With Retirement

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The Last Ride documentary returns this Sunday for its second-to-last episode. The 48-minute fourth installment, “The Battle Within,” is an accurate portrayal of The Undertaker’s desire to retire with his legacy intact, juxtaposed with his refusal to walk away.

The doc opens with an enthralling first five minutes, as we hear insight from Bruce Prichard, an out-of-character Bray Wyatt, and the now deceased Paul Bearer, as well as see some fascinating B-roll of The Undertaker during old-school WWF promos where he was digging graves, blacksmithing and building caskets. The brilliance of his past is contrasted by the abject disappointment of Taker’s trip to Saudi Arabia, where he tagged with Kane against Triple H and the returning Shawn Michaels, a match that served as a harsh reminder that younger opponents were needed in order for The Undertaker to come close to approaching anything great again in the ring.

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That never-ending contrast is a driving force in this part of Last Ride. This latest episode also provides a look into the psyche and vulnerability of The Undertaker. He jokingly refers to himself as WWE’s godfather, bestowed endless respect upon arrival. The lucrative pay days, spotlight, and reverence from his peers make it impossible for Mark Calaway to close the casket on his career.

Parts of chapter four were uncomfortable. At WrestleMania 35, Taker looked more like the late Dennis Stamp, endlessly wrestling with the fact he wasn’t booked. Vince McMahon, who has some incredible cameos throughout this episode, had Taker booked for the following night’s Raw, but it was humbling for Calaway to see himself as another aging legend rather than a preeminent part of WrestleMania. The show always goes on, with or without The Undertaker, which only made Calaway’s drive to return even stronger.

It is possible that The Undertaker was not booked at WrestleMania 35 as he served out his penance after accepting a booking at Conrad Thompson’s Starrcast wrestling convention. Fans of the “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” podcast will undoubtedly enjoy that both Prichard and Thompson are involved in this part of the doc, even if Thompson is never mentioned by name.

In a story first reported by Sports Illustrated, Thompson announced that The Undertaker would be at Starrcast, which coincided with Double or Nothing, AEW’s premiere pay per view.

McMahon was livid that The Undertaker chose to appear at a convention so closely aligned with his new competitor. Starrcast was set to take place in May of 2019, but Taker was removed from the event by April.

“I was trying to create the biggest wrestling convention ever,” said Thompson. “We felt having The Undertaker in his first appearance like that and ‘The Roast of Ric Flair’ would check both of those boxes. In the end, neither one happened.”

The Undertaker mentions in Last Ride that his marketing team set up the deal with Thompson, and that he did not know that Starrcast featured so much connective tissue with another promotion.

“In Taker’s defense, at that point, AEW had never run a show,” said Thompson. “There had been a press conference, but they didn’t have a TV show and they hadn’t run any buildings. It would be really hard now, but it’s totally possible it was completely off his radar.

“The appearance didn’t happen for us, but in the end, it worked out great for him. Vince and Undertaker mended fences, and Taker signed a 15-year deal, which is essentially a lifetime wrestling contract. I’m happy for him.”

The Starrcast fallout leads to the scene of The Undertaker as a mere spectator at WrestleMania, which was clearly painful. But McMahon ultimately put booking ahead of relationships, as Taker’s appearance at the following night’s post-Mania Raw was a hit.

Taker’s next journey led him back to Saudi Arabia for a Super ShowDown match against Bill Goldberg in June of 2019. The narrative presented in the documentary is that this was a dream encounter. In reality, this was a match covered in problems from the moment it was booked. Ironically, Taker mentioned that he saw this bout as a chance for redemption following the failed DX-Brothers of Destruction tag in Saudi.

Instead of reclamation, the Goldberg-Taker match was a full-fledged disaster. In less than 10 minutes, both stars nearly irrevocably stained their legacies as well as came precariously close to causing permanent injury. Goldberg was not at full strength when entering the match, as he did a number on his mental state by banging his head against the wall in his pre-match warmup, which was not covered in the documentary. Goldberg then hit his head on the ring post during the match, which is when the situation went from bad to worse. The lowest point occurred when Goldberg nearly dropped Taker on his head while attempting his Jackhammer.

Following that debacle, The Undertaker again considered retirement. But there was no chance he was ending his career in that manner, and he finally found true redemption that July at Extreme Rules. Taker teamed with Roman Reigns against Drew McIntyre and Shane McMahon. McIntyre, who had wanted the singles match with The Undertaker that ultimately went to Goldberg, made Taker look incredible in their tag, restoring the aura and mystique that went missing in Saudi.

Anyone who knows The Undertaker’s career understands that he is seemingly incapable of walking away, and this week’s installment ends with him again contemplating retirement. The episode ends with Taker engaged in a conversation with AJ Styles, foreshadowing a match we will see at WrestleMania 36 and one that will be examined in next week’s finale.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.