The Undertaker

The Undertaker On WrestleMania 40, Cody Turning Heel, Brock Lesnar, Retirement

Mark Calaway (@undertaker) is a legendary professional wrestler and WWE Hall of Famer. He is best known for his 30+ year career in WWE as The Undertaker. Chris Van Vliet sits down with him at his home in Austin, TX to talk about his incredible career, his podcast “Six Feet Under With Mark Calaway”, appearing in the main event of WrestleMania 40 to help Cody Rhodes with the WWE Universal Championship, his tag team with Kane, memories of Paul Bearer, the hilarious story of his coat that wouldn’t come off, not remembering anything from his match with Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 30, his legacy as both The Deadman and The American Bad Ass, his iconic entrances, never breaking kayfabe and much more.

Check out “Six Feet Under With Mark Calaway” here:

Quote I’m thinking about: “Legacy is not what’s left tomorrow when you’re gone. It’s what you give, create, impact and contribute today while you’re here that then happens to live on.” ― Rasheed Ogunlaru

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On how retirement is treating him:

“For the most part good. I actually have spurts though now where I’m out more than I was the last few years than when I actually wrestled. I’ll get busy and it’s like dang, when is the last time I’ve been home? But then I’ll have stretches like I’m on right now where I’ve been home for a month and a half and I get into a rhythm of doing things and it’s nice. And then soon as I get in that rhythm, I’ll get bombarded with a million appearances that I do.”

On being fact-checked by fans:

“I’m trying to think where it was. This happened, it may have been Australia. This guy, I would say something and I’m absolutely horrible with dates and all that and I will butcher it completely. The story will be accurate but the dates of when it happened and maybe what pay-per-view, Premium Live Event, I’ll screw it up every time and you know how wrestling audiences are. I think it was Australia and I would say something. And this guy on the front row [says] that was 94 it was In Your House or whatever it was. Okay, thanks. So I would go on and tell another story like that. And I’d get to a point where I couldn’t remember what and I just turned to him, it became a running joke in the show. I was like, hey, that time that I worked with Bret Hart in the UK? And he would give it to me like that. I’m like, Dude, you need to get a life because I lived this stuff and I don’t remember. It’s crazy how much and how quick they will fact-check. I mean, if I say something on the podcast and they say you got that wrong because this guy said it and I looked it up. Well, look, I can’t remember it all man. I’ve got a few concussions and I’ve got a few years on me and I just can’t remember it all.”

On realising it was time to retire:

“I never really [thought about it]. I knew the end was near, but I didn’t. It’s weird. Like, I knew that it was going to come but I wasn’t mentally preparing myself for it. I always just thought I was going to be able to do it and realistically, you know, Father Time is undefeated. I knew early on, even when I was still working, and I love this business so much, but I knew I was going to have a hard time. People always ask me, Well why don’t you go down to the PC? Or why don’t you be a mentor? When I’m around, I do that kind of stuff. But as an everyday deal, I can’t do it. Because recently, I’ve just kind of had closure, Mania. I don’t know if you heard this but I struggled since I retired at being at live events. I would go, I was at the Rumble because I had 1DeadMAN Show in Clearwater. I stayed over and I was at the Rumble. By the time I think maybe the first match had gone out I left. Because internally, my body and my mind is you should be getting ready, you should be going out there and I get almost, I wouldn’t say anxiety, but I just get this feeling like I can’t take it because I want to be out there so bad. I wanted to continue to wrestle, obviously, my body broke down and Father Time is undefeated, I never wanted to be a parody of myself and I really risked that at the end. I had some matches that I think maybe at one point in my career, they were bad. But there was one point in my career I felt like I could take anything and turn it around and I just didn’t have it in me, like the match I had with Goldberg in Saudi Arabia. I should have picked up on the fact that he had his bell rung, and then [he] rung it again when he hit the post, I should have been sharp enough to adapt at that point, and not try to get to where I was getting.”

That was a scary match to watch:

“It was a scary match to be in and it was just Father Time. The worst thing as you get older are the breaks. When you have long periods of time where you don’t work and as you get older you lose that sharpness, the mental quickness to figure out things. That was something that I always really prided myself on [that] if something happened, knowing what to do. So in that match, I was so just like, I’m gonna make this good. I’m gonna make it good, I’m gonna make it good and I don’t think I had enough mental acuity and the physical attributes to turn that around, and it just continued to go backwards. It was nobody’s fault. Just, you know what happened. [Were you pissed when you went to the back?] Yeah, I was pissed because you don’t get many opportunities, especially that late in your career to do a first, I had never worked with Goldberg. And the Saudis for all the good and all the bad, they paid a lot of money to get us to come over there for that. And regardless, I always like to live up to my name and I really felt like I had let people down I’d let myself down. Because I hold a higher standard for myself than what anybody else does. I can get over what other people think of me but what I want out of me is the very best. It happened and it’s it turned into a train wreck and yeah, I was extremely p*ssed. But yeah, mostly because I knew it wasn’t good. And we both, he thought he had a concussion and my back, I thought was broken. It was just one of those moments, it was a frustration of the whole thing.”

On the WrestleMania 40 cameo appearance:

“It was a lot of fun. The rib was on me though. Because normally we would stage a lot differently. So when I get downstairs and they say, Okay, we’re going to put you here and then when this happens in the match, we got to start running. So I’m at the far end of the bowl of the of the stadium, and whatever spot happens. [They said] Alright, let’s go. So I’ve got all these ring guys, these tech crew, we’re all running a big group trying to hide me. And we’re running and actually no one is really paying attention. And so I’m running and I’m like crap. I said, Where do we have to go? And they’re like, you see the tent down there? We gotta get under it. And I’m like, crap, it’s 75 yards. I had both my knees replaced. So this is the first time that I’ve actually run on them. So I’m running through the crowd and I finally get to the place and I’m blown up. And so then I waited on the second cue and slid in there, [you looked good], Hey, man, that’s what two new hips and two new knees. Well, then the hips are not new, but now I feel pretty good.”

Could you still do it?

“I could do it, but I couldn’t do it to the standard that I wanted to do it. But I mean yeah, there’s certain things that I don’t feel like I would be able to do. But after I did it I came back and I was like, I’m good now. I don’t need to do this again. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t if they needed something like that again, but I’m not gonna have a match or I’m not coming out of retirement.” 

On what drove him in his career and what drives him now:

“At the peak of my career, I wanted to be the best. I wanted my name at the top of the page, I wanted to carry the company or do the absolute most that I could. I always felt like when you stop growing and you stop improving, it’s basically time to move on. And I never felt like, and I said in my Hall of Fame speech, never be content. That was one of the things, I was never content. I was happy. Obviously, I was very proud of what I was able to accomplish in the business. But I was never content. I was always like, Man, I wanted to do this. Even back in the middle of the Attitude Era when Rock and Austin were the top two guys, that was a driving force for me to be better. Like, man, whether it was attainable or not, that was a goal. I want to be at the top of the page. Obviously, I was happy for Steve and I was happy for Rock, I was happy for all those guys because we were killing it and business was awesome. But for me personally, I wanted to be that guy. And that’s what drove me and I never got discouraged, just that was a goal. We’d go after it and unfortunately, Steve’s career gets cut short, Rock goes on to be an adequate movie star, I guess. Then I moved into into the role I took there in the 2000s. Now what drives me? I’m just looking to enjoy myself because as much as I enjoyed the business which I did. The business came first, second and third with me. And my kids paid a price, everybody paid a price for this dream that I was living. So now it’s trying to catch up and enjoy the civilian part of my life and do things like going hunting and going fishing and doing those kinds of things. But still, the 1DeadMAN Show, it keeps me out just enough just to stay in the world, but not so engulfed in the world of sports entertainment. I’m a trained soldier man. I have a battle all the time like man you don’t have to say sports entertainment. You could say professional wrestling, you could say the belt, the strap.”

On having 2 legacies as The Deadman and The American Badass:

“I think my legacy is going to be wrapped around The Deadman but I had so much fun being The American Badass, I enjoyed it. I think I had to do that just for the sake of staying relevant during that time period. Again, you go back to the promos that everyone’s cutting and the content that we were getting away with at the time As great as that Undertaker character was it was also kind of shackled to where you’re in a box, there’s only so much that you can do within that box. I think I just needed a little break and let me show the other side of what I had in the toolbox. So it allowed me to cut promos on the likes of what Rock was cutting, what Austin was cutting and Triple H and everybody was cutting. So it allowed and it freed me up to do that and then it freed my work up to where I could really get into what I enjoy most, which is storytelling. I had kind of figured out a way to do it with The Deadman but The American Badass was just there was no box, there were no parameters I could do and say whatever I wanted to. I love doing the pre-tapes backstage with the chewing tobacco and just making Tommy Dreamer drink barber water and everything else that he did. Before I get any bullying hate he did that without reluctance. He relished the fact that he could do those kinds of things. That was how he liked to operate.”

On the origin of the eye-rolling:

“Crazy enough I did it by accident. I had a match and I want to say it was Greg Valentine. I was working with Greg Valentine, and I was on him and I had him down down in the corner. And then like I said, just slapped a choke on him, you know, because of my hair being long like it was, I just put the choke on him, and I threw my hair back. And when I threw my hair back, my eyes went back. And I wondered if I could hold them back there, and I did. I wasn’t consciously thinking roll your eyes back, but I did it. And then I go back, I get to Gorilla position, and everybody is looking like, What the hell was that? That was the coolest thing, that was so creepy. And then they run it back and show it to me and I’m like holy crap. That’s scary. So it just happened by accident. And then naturally, I used to have a fairly long tongue. So the eyes and the tongue. Those were requested a lot by people that you probably wouldn’t think would want to see that.”

On not liking chops:

“Yeah, I’m not fond of chops at all. [But you worked with Ric Flair?] I told Flair he gets 3 [laughs], I think I ended up giving him more. I’m pretty sure he got more than 3 and Shawn used to chop me up pretty good too. It’s kind of a weird deal with me, and I didn’t mind getting [hit]. I’d rather get a potato than for a punch to look bad. I’d rather you hit me, hit me in a safe spot, but hit me. I’d rather the match be good than me selling a punch that misses by six inches. So, guys, they spent all this time working on their punches and trying to work light and then just knock the crap out of you with a chop. Just I don’t know, it was just a thing. I would love right now to be able to work Gunther, I’d let him chop the sh*t out of me. I mean, I would love to work with him. But it was just one of those deals man. I remember I worked with, it was me and Kane, I want to say we were working against Rikishi and Haku and Haku put me in the corner and chopped me. Instinctively I grabbed him and spun him around. I didn’t potato him or anything. Thank goodness my common sense kicked in before I did anything stupid. I’ve turned him around real quick and then I was like, oh sh*t, man that’s Haku. I don’t want smoke, man. Thank goodness. Haku is a sweetheart of a man, he liked me thank goodness, but I don’t know. It was just one of those deals, it’s the chop now. There’s two things that get overdone is the chop and then the leg slap, drives me nuts. just drives me absolutely nuts. It’s so bad. Even my daughter, my 11-year-old points it out. And she does it cuz she’s she’s all about the business. wants to get in the business.”

How do you feel about that? 

“Well, if her heart is in it and she puts in the work then I’ll support her. She’s a tremendous athlete [she plays] flag football. Yeah, that’s the fastest-growing women’s sport right now is flag football. But yeah, she wants to she wants to get into business. So we’ll see. We’ll see how that goes.”

On Cody Rhodes:

“I think he’s doing a phenomenal job. And again, I think he’s gonna have a tremendous run as a babyface, but I think his bigger run will be as a heel. I think there’s just something about Cody that I envision as a heel. It’s down the road. Because right now I think he’s killing it as the babyface and his promos are on point. He’s fighting all the people, he’s almost the anti-Roman for the most part. So things are gonna be really interesting when Roman comes back too.”

On an idea that did not work:

“There was a pair of snakeskin pants I wore at a match with Kurt Angle. That I really regret. It’s one of my biggest regrets. They were horrible. So the rumour for a long, long time was that I forgot my tights, or I forgot my pants and I had to borrow those from The Godfather. They were mine. Terry Anderson bless her heart, she did all my gear pretty much my whole career. I told her what I wanted to do. Throughout my extended career, my gear was very, I mean, it was minimalistic. I mean, there was not a lot of love and thrill to my character. When I told her I wanted a pair of python pants. She went no you don’t, I went yes I do.”

What was the thought behind it?

“I just thought it would be cool looking. They were snakeskin pants. I’m a biker, it didn’t translate well. I really regret those pants those are awful, man. I see them every once in a while. They’ll pop up on a feed or something. [Do you still own them?] No, no, no, no, they’re long gone. I think I burned those. And the horrible thing was, it was a really good match. That’s what really sucks is I had a really good match with Kurt. That’s when we used his twin and they screwed me out of the title there. But I can’t watch it and enjoy the match for its quality. All I see are those damn [pants]. I’m touching 330 At that time, too. I’m a big dude. And big dudes don’t wear snakeskin pants.”

On Kurt Angle:

“I mean, he gets his flowers but he didn’t get enough credit for how good he really was. He was willing, and it’s strange because of his background. Like a lot of times, shooters or, you know the amateurs, they can’t get that mentality out of their head and become professional wrestlers at a high level. They just can’t do it. And man, for an Olympic gold medalist to do what he did and be able to put his ego on the shelf and make himself look like a friggin idiot week after week after week it was so entertaining. But when you crawl through those ropes dude you better be ready to go because he could flat go. I had some really really really good matches with Kurt, he was a machine man. He was another guy that I really had a lot of fun working with and enjoyed working with. But he was so good. He could cut promos. I mean, his vignettes. And his backstage stuff was, I mean, next level and his work was so solid.” 

On an underrated rival:

“Because he had his big run late, I don’t think people really realise how good JBL was. He came in as a cowboy and then he was an acolyte in the APA. But not until he became JBL I think he really got to showcase his true ability. Not only as being able to cut promos, but also his work as a heel, as a big heel. He’s a big dude, but he was a chickensh*t heel and that’s sometimes tough to do. Just like being an amateur wrestler. It’s hard to conquer the ego part but he was a lot of fun to work with. I worked with him. I don’t know how many hundreds of times in dark matches after TV tapings. It was always just a constant, trying to get me to crack kind of deal.” 

On the laugh with Brock Lesnar:

“That was Brock. So we talked a little bit about that match and he ran it by me but I don’t think I was paying enough attention to what he really wanted to do. So when he did it, I was almost taken aback a little bit like what the freaking hell are you laughing at that? And then it kind of dawned on me what he was doing. And then I laugh back at him and it’s yeah, it’s become kind of an iconic deal but yeah, if I’d have been paying close enough attention I’d probably go Yeah, I don’t know if I want to do that. But the way it worked, it worked out worked out fine. Fortunately, too it was at the tail end of my career and not in the middle or the front end of it because that surely wouldn’t happen then. But I think for the time period, it worked out okay.”

On the scariest moment he had in the ring:

“Thinking that I was injured, that was probably Saudi. I mean, I already was nursing several injuries and body parts that already needed to be replaced years before. My spine was already starting to fuse so I didn’t have full mobility. I don’t know if that protected me or hindered me. I don’t know which way that went. But I know I went for a little bit and then it was like a bolt of lightning went through me. It went up my leg and right through my spine and I didn’t know like for a second there. I was like, Man, I hope I can move because I didn’t know that I was going to be able to. But thank goodness, I got up and got to be p*ssed off and walked out and I lived. [Didn’t you go to the hospital after WrestleMania 30?] Wrestlemania 30 is with Brock. Right? Yeah, that was, I got concussed somewhere in the first five, maybe 10 minutes of that match. I’ve watched it back. I can’t pick it out.”

Do you remember WrestleMania 30?

“My last memory of that day happened around two o’clock in the afternoon. Michelle had come backstage to check to see me. Then I told her, because I didn’t know until 30 minutes before that we were going to break the streak. I got to the building that day thinking I was going over. So I just got the news that we’re going to break the streak tonight. I remember telling her and the next thing that I remember I’m in the hospital at like 4:30 in the morning. When you get concussed like that they come in every five minutes. They want to know your name, your birthday, where you’re at, and everything like that. It was crazy. Because evidently, I knew who she was but I had no clue who I was. [They asked me] Sir, can you tell me your name? What year were you born? Where are you? [I said] Erm, hospital? This happened several times. But so evidently I knew who Michelle was, they left and I was like, come here, she goes, yeah? [I said] What’s my name? She says, babe, I can’t cheat for you on this. What’s my name? Just tell me my name. Finally, at 4:30 I figured out my name and where I was. It took me a while to figure out that I’d already wrestled. I gotta get to the stadium. No, it’s already over, all that had already happened. I’m in no pain whatsoever. They gave me a CAT scan as soon as I got there. A lot of people don’t know this either, Vince left WrestleMania, him and Brock both got in a car and followed the ambulance to the hospital. So the first thing they do is give me a CAT scan and they come out and Michelle and Vince are there and they say he’s he’s broken his neck. They’re like, oh, my gosh. Then another doctor comes in who reads the scans and he goes, No, no, no, he goes, that’s a that’s an old break, it’s an old injury. So I had broken my neck at some point and didn’t know that I had broken my neck. So no his neck is fine, he’s just got a really bad concussion. So I eventually remember my name and my birthday and where I was at and everything, but I have absolutely zero recollection of that match until I watched it back. I mean, and the reason why I know it’s like, five or 10 minutes, because I can tell by how I’m moving. I went through the whole match did whatever, did everything that we were supposed to do. But I can tell by how sluggish I was and the way I was moving. My timing was a little off, just a little bit off on everything. I think what it was, is out at that point, I was in that period of time where I was only working WrestleMania, I would do WrestleMania I would go have something fixed. I would rehab and then I started training again for the WrestleMania next year. And I think what ended up happening was it just again, Father Time, I wasn’t used to the trauma that you get during a wrestling match, and especially a wrestling match with Brock Lesnar. There’s not a lot of people that pick me up and throw me around like he was able to. It wasn’t anything that he did that was unsafe. It was just the fact that I was taking a bunch of belly to backs and something just rang my bell on.”

On being set on fire during his entrance:

“Yeah, that was pretty hairy and potentially could have been far worse than what it actually was. A lot of things happened just by chance that night. Backstory, two weeks prior I have Kevin Dunn and the lead Pyro guy out on the stage. I’m saying look these Pyro balls when I stop at the edge of the stage right before I hit the ramp. I said these two powerful bursts right here are too close, I’m getting a lot of heat. I said I want my entrance to be as scary and as cool as possible. But I said these right here, they need to back out a little bit. The guy goes no I think it was there’s just a draft in the building. I was like, I don’t care if there’s a draft in the building. I’m telling you these Pyro bursts are too hot, they’re too close. Kevin Dunn said you need to back them up. Okay, so now we jumped forward two weeks. It’s the Elimination Chamber, it’s in St. Louis and I’m the champion. We’re gonna switch the belt because we’re leading into me and Shawn. So originally, I had one of my Hellraiser jackets on. I had that coat on, well, when I wear that coat and when you wear the belt, you can’t see it, because it all fastens together. And I said, Okay, this is my last night as champion, I want people to see the belt. I don’t want to carry the belt, I don’t want to drag the belt, I want to wear the belt. This could be the last time that I have it. So the last minute I switched from the Hellraiser coat to the duster and hat so that when I walked down, you’ll be able to see the title. The first thing that I did right was that. So now I was the last one into the pod and I was gonna be the last one to come out. So I’m thinking about, okay, my hair is gonna dry out and when my hair dries out I can’t see a thing. So I take a couple of extra bottles more than I usually would do and I just doused myself with water so that my hair stays wet so when my music hit, I’m drenched in water. I mean, it’s just pouring off of me. That was crucial. I come out and make my entrance. I stop at my normal spot, my head down waiting to do the lift. The Pyro ball on the left comes up and it comes right up my left side. I mean, it’s like he moved it in and it’s so hot. I will no sell something as long as I possibly can until I can’t take it. So I turned to my right to get out of the fireball and then this one goes off. Now I’m right in it. So I’m totally engulfed in this propane Pyro ball. And the only place that I knew safe to go was go straight. Because you’re also dealing with walking off the stage and I’d be on fire and take a huge fall. So I run out of the fireball and obviously everyone’s freaking out and they’re trying to cover for me. [The announcer says] But he wants to get this match he runs into the ring. So I come out of this Pyro ball and I can see my hat’s on fire and my right sleeve is on fire. Now if I hadn’t switched coats this arm would have been totally just trashed. Then without all the water that I had on me, I mean, my eyebrows were all singed up my face was burnt and then I had a big burn right around my singlet. So I’m in the pod, I know that I’m okay but now I have the burnt flesh and burnt hair smell. I’m looking down and I’m watching the skin on my chest bubble up, it’s blistering up and I’m getting madder and madder and madder. They’ve got a couple of ring crew guys underneath. Back then the floor of the pods were grates. So they’re handing me bottles of water up from the bottom and I’m taking the water and I’m pouring them on myself. I still gotta go. They’re asking me do you want to stop? Do you want to get out? I was like, No man, we got business to do, I’ve got to drop this belt to Jericho. So everybody they work, they work, they work. Finally, I’m the last one in and then I ended up going another 20 minutes with Jericho and that Jackass puts me in the walls of Jericho. My burned chest is on the mat and I’m thinking you got to be kidding me! So finally Shawn comes up through the ring gives me the Super Kick and then I get out of there. I’d already told him, I said look if that dude backstage when I get back I’m gonna kill him and I totally meant it. So I’ve been out when I came out it was all over with man, I blew through gorilla backstage it was like a ghost town. There was nobody anywhere. And everybody’s kind of behind me chasing me because they want to take care of my wounds and everything, but I was like, man, if there’s any chance this dude is here he’s dead, because I was pissed. But yeah, so I had severe burns on my chest and ended up having to go to the burn centre the next day and went into a little bit of a shock later that night. Once I started trying to shower and get cleaned up I came out of the shower and I was just shaking. So yeah, that was pretty scary, that one could have been avoided.” 

What is The Undertaker grateful for?

“God, my wife and my children.”

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