Like chapter one of the “Undertaker: The Last Ride” documentary series, episode two didn’t disappoint, keeping the throttle down on this inside look at the last four years of Mark Calaway’s fascinating life focusing on both relationships and the episode’s title “The Redemption”.
Similar to chapter one, the near hour-long episode is centered around a WrestleMania match, However, the filmmakers take their time having that enter the conversation as the first half focuses on two of the most important people in Calaway’s life: his wife, Michelle McCool, and Vince McMahon.
We open in January 2018 with the Calaways watching the Roman Reigns WrestleMania match for the first time, lighting the fuse for Calaway to not let that be his last effort inside the ring. He is very critical of his performance, calling himself “Bloated Elvis” and feeling terrible that Reigns had to endure working with him that night.
Calaway admits he wasn’t in the right shape and that his body was at the physical limit, and McMahon says as much in a separate interview. The WWE chairman, in particular, shines in this episode, and is as much dehumanized as Calaway is, a nice contrast to how many of us view him, fairly or unfairly, in 2020.
The viewer literally goes inside Calaway’s left hip replacement surgery in New York City and feeling at ease about retirement, wanting time to enjoy his life with his wife and kids. In his pre-op interview, he tells the doctor that McMahon gave him grief for not leaving the hospital the same day and laughs when asked how many surgeries he has had.
To hammer the retirement theme home, we get footage of the couple being normal parents (as normal as wrestlers are, I guess) including time the two spend with their two kids. Calaway, WWE, and whoever produced the series really deserve a lot of credit for being as open about his life as they are. Just when you think that curtain is about to close, it stays open to the series’ credit and hopefully is a template for future deep dives like this.
As we all know, wrestlers have a hard time staying away. After being relatively pain free following the surgery and mentally in a better spot, it’s when he and McCool watch that Reigns match that the wheels begin to turn again and McCool knows what is to come. She doesn’t fight it, understanding him more than any of us will, and instead becomes a rock in his life for support rather than an obstacle. Unlike how women in a similar role are portrayed in pop culture, McCool isn’t portrayed as an anchor depriving fans of one more match which is refreshing.
We learn a lot about their relationship right down to wedding pictures, learning he is playfully romantic, and spousal banter like the rest of us mere humans have every day. Calaway jovially talks about how they met and what attracted her to him which wasn’t just her looks but (seriously) how she could throw a football. They joke about how she didn’t want to meet he or Kane initially when the latter is a very nice guy and she ended up marrying Calaway.
As his contract is due to expire, she accompanies him to WWE headquarters for a Saturday meeting (Calaway rightfully points out how odd that is) with McMahon for a talk about the future. After a few minutes, an orange shirt clad McMahon fresh off a workout tells the cameras to leave but we later learn about their conversation and a Jedi mind trick he might have played on Calaway to get him to consider a comeback.
Like with McCool, we learn a lot about their relationship, the depths of which I never understood but was well-known to Big Show, Shawn Michaels, Batista, Kane, and Bret Hart who talk about it in great detail. Calaway says he’s the most important man in his life other than his father and a visibly emotional McMahon tells the cameras to stop rolling when asked about what Calaway means to him. It’s amazingly heartwarming.
The final act of episode 2 is on the comeback itself. Following the 2018 Royal Rumble where Calaway says McMahon casually brought up the idea of a John Cena match at Mania, Calaway gets a ring sent to an abandonded, leaky, jet ski shop which he cleans renovates into a makeshift gym so he can begin to test out whether he still can go. This was one of my favorite parts in trying to think through the conversations about sending a ring to Calaway, them finding a location, the cleaning itself, and how they kept everything under wraps from locals.
We get a great amount of training footage, more insight into his decision making process and finally, the video he sends to McMahon during the Elimination Chamber saying he’s back and how McMahon reacts.
The work it takes to get back into ring shape is on full display. Calaway takes the cameras into these training sessions with relatively no filter and is honest about the shape he was in going into this to where he ends up. You can see his confidence growing the stronger he gets and how he doesn’t just want but needs to make amends for the Reigns match.
Finally, we get to WrestleMania 34 and the secrecy in having him there as part of the “will he/won’t he be there” that was part of the build. The moments as he is heading to the ring to culiminate this journey elicits goosebumps with the anticipation of this moment even all these years later. Unsurprisingly, the execution is near flawless and that damned curtain remained open the whole time.
The match is essentially a five minute squash and Calaway is a bit disappointed as he was training to go 45 minutes. Unsurprisingly, he can’t give an answer as to whether that was his final match but by the look in his eye, we already knew what that answer would be.
“The Redemption” is just as good as the first chapter and continues to make “The Last Ride” must watch viewing every week.
You can watch both episodes now on WWE Network.
Find yourself a doctor who looks at doing surgery on you the same way Calaway’s does.
“I really don’t want to water up here” was a great tough guy line. Who knew this guy was such a big softie?
Also in the ‘Who Knew’ folder: Calaway’s mom wasn’t a big fan of the Billionaire Strut.
Calaway talking about the McMahon conversation saying “I will train and if someone gets hurt, I’ll be ready to go” indicates he ain’t leaving anytime soon.
I loved the foreshadowing of Calaway watching AJ Styles at the Rumble and saying he would have loved to work with him. You see something click as if to say, “Yep, that’s happening.”
It’s still surreal to see McMahon, Shane McMahon, Calaway, Michael Hayes, and Cena all sitting in a row in gorilla while everything is going on around them.
PRIMO COLON. That is all.
We get some Taker/Reigns time as he tries to make amends for the bad match the year before. Reigns seems genuinely unaffected by Calaway’s performance and doesn’t seem to hold a grudge.
Next week’s episode featuring the infamous Crown Jewel tag match and Triple H is seen saying it was a disaster. Sounds like must watch viewing to me.