The Undertaker (@undertaker) is a legendary professional wrestler and a member of the WWE Hall Of Fame. He joins Chris Van Vliet to talk about his 1 deadMAN SHOW at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas on March 24. He also talks about lifting the curtain on his character after an incredible 30-year WWE career, Brock Lesnar breaking The Streak at WrestleMania 30 and the decision to lose to Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 33, other wrestlers trying to get him to break character, the biggest lesson he learned from his friendship with Vince McMahon, whether or not he believes that kayfabe is dead, three things he is grateful for and more!
You know, we’ve gotten to know you so well since your retirement especially with The 1 deadMAN SHOW. I’m curious, as we’re getting to know you more, are you also getting to know yourself more?
“I’m becoming more comfortable sharing myself, I can say that. I’m in touch with who I am and all that, but it has been a challenge to lower the curtain and lower the veil and let people see behind the hat and coat. I still find myself at times, I’ll get immersed into a story, and I’ll be halfway through the story, and then I go, Hmm, how much of this do I want to [tell]? Because I still, I fight, I fight it. I’m an old school guy, and I don’t think that’ll ever change regardless of you know, how we progress and how we evolve. I just, there’s certain things that I struggle with, and that old school mentality of protect this and protect that I think will always be with me. But it’s all, you know, I’m coming to grips with all of it.”
When you talk about being an old school guy, you know, letting us kind of peek behind the curtain a little bit. Do you feel like is kayfabe dead?
“I think, yeah, I think kayfabe died for sure when I came out and started talking as Mark Callaway. I shouldn’t say that, no, you know what, because there are a few guys that are out there that are, they’re living their gimmick, and doing a really, really good job at that. And I think, obviously, we go out of our way now to let everybody know what sports entertainment is. But I think, and we did that even while I was working, right. But the way I approach things and even with my character and my over the top gimmick as, you know, as The Undertaker, especially the last probably 10-15 years of my career. I really, the way I set my matches up and I tried to, I always tried to suspend that sense of reality. I didn’t want people thinking, like, I wanted people, when I threw a punch, I wanted people to go ooh, that’s different. Or the things that I did to make sense, even like before I do old school, which is a stretch for somebody to grab someone’s arm and to be able to walk [the top rope]. But so I would take the time to work that arm over and it hit that shoulder with the shoulder tackles and the shoulder tackles and this and that. I tried to have things make sense, and I always tried to get people invested and to forget everything else that we’ve told them about what sports entertainment and wrestling is, and try and let them immerse themselves into what’s going on. And that’s the way I approach things, and I think there’s some of that that is still applicable if you make the effort to do so. I think enlarge there’s just this okay, everybody, everybody’s in on it, and, you know, this is the way it is. But I think, I think there is room for kayfabe still. I just, I know everything’s evolving, and people have different perspectives on it, but that’s mine. And I’ll be the first to admit, I’m a dinosaur.”
You look great, though. Come on!
“Well, I’m a dinosaur, but I’m a T Rex. So, you know, take that for what it’s worth.”
Your relationship with Vince McMahon is well documented what you guys both mean to each other. But I’m really curious, what’s the biggest lesson that you’ve taken away from your friendship with Vince?
“Um, there’s several. You know, and I mentioned it last year in my speech at the Hall of Fame, perception is reality. And, you know, I think sometimes he may have forgotten that, but I never did. And so that went a long way. Perception is reality and how I dealt with people through my career. I always, I didn’t want anybody to ever think that, you know, that I swerved them or that I had to go behind their back or do anything. What they saw is what they got, and I think that was probably a large factor in people always considering me the locker room leader. Everybody knew my relationship with Vince and Bruce and all of those, Pat Patterson, everybody knew my relationship there. But those same guys that I was on the road with, that I was hanging out with and partying with, you know, they knew what happened there was safe, and there was never going to be any crossover. Don’t let what we’re doing at night get in the way of business. I mean, that was a, that was a really strong rule with me. I don’t care what we do, don’t be late, and work hard. That was, that was the only thing that I [told people], don’t get in trouble, don’t make us late, don’t embarrass us, don’t be late to work and work hard. And I think that was why I garnered, I guess the respect because people trust me. And they knew that the two never the two never cross, I was going to do what was best for business, and that’s something that I learned from Vince. With Vince, regardless of what anybody thinks, deep in his heart he’s one of the boys, he really is. And he has that mentality. Things had to change, obviously, whatever, things changed, when the business, when the company went public, there were a lot of changes that had to happen, changes for the better. Everything’s, you know, we’ve evolved into a whole I mean, it is a, I think, I think WWE is in a lot of [ways], a lot more now is regarded in the same way as as other major sports franchises, you know, NBA or the NFL, we’re on that, if we’re not on that level, we’re really close, and the company is run that way. It is not that circus, you know, carny kind of thing anymore. It is a big, huge business, as everybody knows. And that’s the way it’s treated. The product has evolved, and it’s evolved for the better.”
I know everyone wants to talk to you about the streak and I was there at WrestleMania 30 when it ended.
“What happened? I don’t remember.”
We don’t need to talk about that! I want to ask you about WrestleMania 33. And what went into the plans of the loss to Roman Reigns, because I don’t feel like that is given nearly as much attention.
“Yeah, so I was extremely beat up. And, you know, I had toyed with the idea of hanging it up. I knew it that year when I got to the Rumble, I wasn’t going to be ready, I wasn’t gonna be ready for Mania, but I’d already committed to the programme. Didn’t know that, didn’t know what we were going to do yet, I just knew that I was going to work with Roman, and we got there that day, and I was like man, I knew I was in bad shape. And my hip, my right hip, which I had surgery right after that, to have it, a Birmingham hip resurface done after that. You know, it was just the right thing to do. Not knowing if I was going to be able to come back again, and work anymore. So there I was, he was on the, you know, he was coming up, and he was going to be the face of the company, and it was the right thing to do. And I didn’t, you know, I’d already [lost], the streak had already been beat, so it was the right thing to do business wise, because I didn’t, like I said, I didn’t know that I was going to come back again. I mean that all that hat, the hat on the coat, all that being placed in the ring was 100% legitimate. At the end of it, I was done, and that was my way of saying goodbye. And yeah, it wasn’t, it wasn’t a plan or staged thing. And then I get my hip fixed, I get a call, and they want me to work with Cena. I’m like oh crap, man. So I trained, I know I’ve given you more than you asked for, but it was like, Okay, this is my chance for redemption. Because I was so just, if you watched The Last Ride, you know how disappointed I was in my performance, and that I put myself in that situation because I just couldn’t physically get to where I needed to be for Roman, and how important that was. And just as hard as I tried, I mean I trained like a like an animal, but I mean my hip just, it just, it held me back and I’m not making excuses, but that’s that’s the extent of it. So now I’ve got a new hip, and I’m like oh man, and it’s Cena and I was like, oh crap. So Vince called me and said what do you think? And I was like I don’t know, I don’t, I haven’t really, I’ve rehabbed my hip and I’m working out again, but I had no plans of getting back in the ring. And so I said, give me, give me a few weeks. So I get a ring shipped down here to Texas, and I rent a place and I build this, I put the ring in this building, and I start training and lo and behold, I can move again. So, probably the hardest that I’ve ever trained, not ever I trained, but the hardest I’ve been able to train in probably 10 years. And I was ready, man. I was, my cardio, I trained for like a 45 minute [match].”
But that match was so short though.
“Yeah, I didn’t know it was gonna be short till I got there that day. So I’ve trained for a 45 minute war, right, and all right, here’s redemption. I’m gonna, man, I am going to light this place on fire, I felt good. And Vince calls me into his office and he goes okay, he says it’s just gonna be about five minutes, you know, you’re gonna squash him. I’m like, what? What? And, you know, Vince, he just thought that was the funniest [thing], because he knew how hard I’d been training. I mean, he, and I’m like, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. I said, I’m going. I said, I’m doing 30 or I’m not going out. And he’s like, Mark, that’s not what we need. And I’m like no Vince, I was like, Where’s John? Where’s he at? So John comes in he goes, Oh no. He goes I talked mad smack about you dude. Yeah, you need to beat me quick and get this over with. I’m like are you kidding me? It’s like we’ve never worked on pay-per-view are you [serious]? And this is WrestleMania, give me a break here. And they both, they ganged up on me. I was finally, I threw my hands up. I was like, I can’t believe [it], and Vince just thought that was the funniest thing because like I said, I trained like an animal, I was so unbearable at home. I mean, as far as my diet and the training and just all my protocols of you know recoup, rehab, I was a nightmare. I get there and yeah, five minutes. And it was like that was it.”
When you did finally say goodbye to WWE, and you hung it up and you had the farewell at Survivor Series 2020. Is there a part of you that wished you were doing that in front of a sold out arena?
“It’s funny. Yeah, I can, you know, I can see where you’re coming with that, but I, I didn’t [want to]. Even though I knew I was done, and it was over, like I didn’t want to, I didn’t want to cry, I didn’t want to break down, you know, I was like I was still trying to protect that character. And I was like man if I, if I’m out here in front of a live audience, like, I mean you saw how hard of a time I had at that at the Hall of Fame, and I you know, that’s another year or two later, I would have been a wreck man. Because I didn’t, I didn’t want to retire. In my mind, in my heart, there’s nothing more that I want to do than get in the ring and perform. You know, it was my body that just said no, you’re done dude, we got everything out of this we can get, and it’s time for you to move aside and let these guys come up. So I would have been a wreck if there had been people there and, you know, all that all that kayfabing I did and protecting, the character would have been destroyed in one, in one promo, I would have been balling.”
So Triple H tells this great story about how everyone’s trying to always get The Undertaker to break and that the genesis of the People’s Elbow was The Rock creating this ridiculous move to try to get you to break. Do you remember that?
“I do. You know what, I always thought that was the hokiest ever, but iconic, right? And always to get me to laugh. There was such a time period there where, I think that was the company’s goal was to see who could get me to break. I mean, it was nonstop. We spent an hour and a half one night after a TV event in Seattle trying to get me to the Spinaroonie. Booker T swerved me, we’ve been doing this same match after TV tapings that was our advertised dark match. We’ve been doing it for weeks, and, you know every night I’d get on there and say let’s have Booker do a Spinaroonie, everybody go crazy. Well, Booker gets the microphone one night and completely swerved me, which was all set up. Vince was in on it, everybody was in on it. You know? He tells his sold out crowd and Seattle that he wants to see a Takeroonie, and I was like you son of a bitch, I was p*ssed. And here they come, one after another, just I mean everybody on the roster, everybody, Rock comes down, Triple H comes down, Big Show’s down, everybody’s down and doing these absolutely awful Spinaroonies. and I remember, I remember seeing my spot to leave because the ring is full of people now, right? And the crowd is going nuts trying to get me, everybody’s chanting Takeroonie and all this. And I finally saw my spot and I jumped out of the ring and I headed back to the back. And I looked over my shoulder and here comes Big Show, Vince had sent Big Show to come get me right and he came through that curtain. I said, I said you may kill me and eat me, but I’m gonna punch you in the face if you touch me. Vince, never forgive me. Because I always told him, I don’t care who you are, what you do, you’ll never get me to do that. And you don’t tell Vince that you can’t or won’t do something, because it becomes his passion in life. But I can honestly say he never got me to do a Takeroonie. So, I won. That’s the one battle I won with Vince.”
As we wrap this up, you’re one of the greatest of all time, but you’re also so humble. Well, for a second, don’t be humble. And I want to ask you, what do you think it was that made you have the success that you had in WWE?
“I think it was, the one thing that kind of really put the fire under me was being told by WCW that I would never draw money. I mean, to this day that motivates me, you know, being told to my face that hey you’re a great athlete, you’re never gonna make money. And, you know, so that and then just the passion that I had for this, and then I knew, right, really early on what I was doing with the character. I mean, that was such a gift, that character. I mean, it hit me. I mean, it just hit me right between the eyes. I knew when I got it I was like, wow, this is special, this is really special. And then it just, it just became part of me and I lived it. And I think the dedication to always being that guy everywhere I went, every time somebody saw me, it was that guy. And, you know, it, there was probably to, you know, probably to a fault, my personal life, everything kind of took a backseat to being The Undertaker, which is probably not fair, I mean, to my older kids, and I’ve made amends with them. But you know, I’ve heard different guys, I’ve heard Austin talk about this, you can’t be, or we couldn’t figure it out, a lot of guys do it now. But back then we just, we grinded everything and everything that we were as human beings were poured into our characters, and I just, it was the most, probably the most important, you know, outside of my kids, it was the most important thing in my life was to be Undertaker, and for that to be genuine, and for people just to like, even if they didn’t understand or they didn’t know, or there’s like, there’s something different about that guy. It wasn’t a character for a long time. It was just, I think that guy’s really like that. Not whether I was a zombie or whether I was dead. They, I mean, obviously they knew that I was a live human being. But they genuinely believed, I think, that I thought I was The Undertaker. And I think that came off, you know, I think that’s the way that I was perceived, like, this dude is just different and different from what everybody else was doing. So I don’t know, I think it was just like the dedication to the craft and the character that and nothing else came before that.”
That’s such a great answer. And you’re so good at telling stories. And we’re all looking forward to seeing you. Friday, March 24, the 1 deadMAN SHOW at the Cosmopolitan in Vegas. And I have just one final question for you. Because I’m all about gratitude is such an important part of my life. And I wake up every day, I say out loud three things I’m grateful for and I do it before I go to bed too. So what are three things in your life that you’re grateful for right now?
“I’m grateful for, I’m very grateful for my wife and my kids. And I’m grateful for the people that I realised that I don’t get to where I’m at, or do I have the career that I had, one without the people who paid their hard earned money to come and see me perform, and two, the people that I performed with, because you don’t you don’t get to the heights that you’re that I got to. There you go, that’s me not being humble. You don’t get to that level without a lot of people staring at the lights for you, and putting their gimmicks and everything else aside to make mine what it was, and that’s something that you know, I probably don’t say it enough because I didn’t do this by myself, and you can’t, no one does. There has to be a lot of people involved to help get guys over and to stay over. So yeah, my family, my fans, and my co-workers.”
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