Headlined by Sasha Banks–Bianca Belair on night one and a triple-threat featuring Roman Reigns, Edge and Daniel Bryan the following evening, WWE delivered two nights of pure wrestling action at WrestleMania 37. The show served as a reminder of wrestling’s compelling nature, even resonating with a certain WrestleMania icon back home in Texas.
The Undertaker watched WrestleMania 37, in awe of the performances while also wrestling with the idea of whether he should have been on the card.
“I was fine all the way until that first ballyhoo of fireworks,” says Mark Calaway, who has starred for the past 30 years as The Undertaker. “Fortunately, I was home, which made it a little easier, but going through the show and watching, I kept thinking to myself, ‘You should be there.’ ”
The Undertaker is synonymous with the event. His string of 21 consecutive WrestleMania victories known simply as “The Streak” spanned generations and featured matches against opponents that ranged from Jake Roberts to CM Punk. In total, he has wrestled 27 matches at WrestleMania, with the finale taking place last year in a cinematic “Boneyard Match” against AJ Styles.
“About halfway through that night with AJ, I knew that was it for me,” Calaway says. “It became really obvious throughout the course of that night that I could no longer physically do things the way I want to do them, and I refuse to ever shortcut our fans.
“Usually around October, I start getting my body ready for WrestleMania. I didn’t train a lot this year, purposely building in a safety net that way. So I was at peace with everything.”
Calaway was fine, of course, until he saw the explosion of excitement as WWE returned to a live fan environment at WrestleMania 37. And though there are few icons more distinguished in the industry than The Undertaker, watching the fireworks marked the precise moment when he, just like every other star who once stood atop the marquee, immediately began asking himself why he was not booked.
“I had to work through that,” Calaway says. “It’s a little difficult once WrestleMania starts. I started second-guessing myself. So much of my history revolves around WrestleMania. There was a bit of an emotional tug of the heartstrings watching this year, but it’s time for me to step aside and let this next generation have the reins and go where they’re going to go.”
Calaway was part of A&E’s Biography last Sunday that delved into the career of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. This week, he returns as part of WWE’s Most Wanted Treasures, joining show host/aspiring wrestler A.J. Francis on a journey to find some of his most recognizable gear, like The Undertaker’s decades-old, original, purple gear. Searching through a treasure trove of his memorabilia sparked some long-forgotten memories of a life dedicated to pro wrestling.
“I don’t even think it’s in the episode, but we found my very first pair of wrestling boots,” Calaway says. “They were secondhand when I bought them, and I was flooded with memories when I saw them. All throughout the filming, I kept thinking about different points in my career, with the gear serving as a timeline of where I was in life.”
There was never a point in the early stages of The Undertaker’s career when Calaway could possibly imagine that his gear would ever warrant a television episode. In fact, it was the opposite that was true—he preferred to travel with as little gear as possible.
“It was extra luggage,” Calaway says with a laugh. “All that time on the road in the early days, I was always looking to make my bags as travel-friendly as possible. Little did I know there would be such a demand for this, like my ring gear. Looking at it opened up so many memories, and being on the show was a really cool project for me.”
The premise of WWE’s Most Wanted Treasures is built around Paul “Triple H” Levesque and Stephanie McMahon seeking to reclaim important artifacts of WWE history, likely with an announcement of some sort of physical Hall of Fame or museum as a major reveal later in the series. The first two episodes of the show, featuring Mick Foley and now Calaway, have done an excellent job of appealing to wrestling’s most passionate fans while also keeping the content evergreen for newer viewers. And while it is fun to see certain pieces of history and hear the stories behind them, there will always be items left out, such as the famed mask Calaway wore when he began his career in 1987 as Texas Red.
“I honestly had no idea I was still in possession of it,” Calaway says. “It’s not in very good shape, but I was amazed we found it.”
A key part of the episode is Calaway’s interaction with Glenn Jacobs, who was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame earlier this month for his work over the past two decades as Kane. As both rivals and partners, The Undertaker and Kane created captivating content in WWE, and viewers will enjoy seeing the two interact in a much more casual manner.
There is even footage of an old Smoky Mountain Wrestling match pitting The Undertaker against Jacobs, who was working at the time as the monstrous Unabomb. Though Jacobs went through his share of failed gimmicks, including Isaac Yankem and the Fake Diesel, Calaway was always one of his strongest advocates.
“With Glenn, it always starts with the human being because he’s such a great person,” Calaway says. “There’s a lot of people out there that feel entitled and think, ‘I should be this,’ or ‘I should get that.’ Glenn was always so respectful and hardworking. And then you look at the size of the man. It’s a little selfish, but you always need to look for that next guy to come along.
“You could tell by his size and the things he was able to do that he was special. He just needed something to push him over the top. Glenn’s biggest hurdle was that there were times when he could be too nice. He needed someone to speak up and say, ‘You deserve to be here and contribute to the product.’ Glenn had all the physical tools; he just needed to put it all together. And he is such a wonderful human being. That’s what made me want to help take him to the next level.”
Later in the episode, there are also some nice scenes where Calaway shares the screen with his wife, former WWE talent Michelle “McCool” Calaway. He credits her as an integral piece of his success.
“This is really the first stretch in my career where I’ve been able to let my hair down and show people a glimpse into the lives of Mark and Michelle Calaway,” Calaway says. “We really complement each other, and I’m so happy that people are seeing how talented she is, too.”
Calaway is at such ease discussing the pro wrestling business—both proud and protective of its ability to entertain and connect with people—as well as its unique eccentricities. Given his genuine affinity for wrestling and respect for the current collection of stars, he also addressed the much-discussed comments he made as a guest on Joe Rogan’s podcast, where he said, “The product has changed so much. ... I just think the product is a little soft.”
“I wasn’t bashing our talent,” Calaway says. “Our talent is extraordinary. What they’re physically able to do, I couldn’t imagine doing that back in the day. I have a lot of respect for our roster, but I came from a different time period. My point was it was tough back then. I remember when Triple H first came in, and he was shocked that I had black electrical tape on my boots.
“It was just a different time. We didn’t even have trainers on the road. If you had torn gear, you either wore it torn or you tried to fix it yourself. I’m so proud to be part of the evolution of our business. The industry has come so far. It’s a sign of the success and how far we’ve come.”
Calaway also expressed gratitude to his fan base. He noted that he greatly appreciates his newer fans and remains overwhelmed by the support people have shown him for more than 30 years, transforming an ex-basketball player seeking a new career into one of the most recognizable names in the history of pro wrestling.
“I’ve always considered myself extremely blessed,” Calaway says. “Wrestling fans are hugely loyal, and my fans have been with me during this whole journey. That’s so special to me. They deserve credit; they were vital to building and sustaining the Undertaker character. I never took that for granted. Look, tickets are expensive, pay-per-views are expensive. You need to work hard for your money, and people used their spending money on WWE and The Undertaker as their form of entertainment. That’s so humbling to me.
“I’ll put wrestling fans above any other fan base. Their support means the world to me.”
More on The Undertaker:
- Barrasso: AJ Styles on “Boneyard Match” vs. The Undertaker
- Traina: ’Taker Says Roman Reigns Should Have Ended His Streak
- Traina: Roman Reigns Responds to ’Taker Calling Today’s Wrestlers “Soft”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.