WWE Network wrapped up its Undertaker: The Last Ride mini-series event with the release of the fifth installment “Revelation” yesterday (Sun., June 21).
In general, it’s a great show that I encourage everyone to check out - even if the reservations I had after watching the first episode were reinforced over the course of its almost five hour runtime.
It’s big theme of whether or not Mark Calaway will ever have a match he feels good ending his legendary career with appeared to be answered in The Last Ride’s last chapter. As you can see in the clip embedded above, talking about his Boneyard Match with AJ Styles at WrestleMania 36, Taker said:
“If Vince was in a pinch, would I come back? I guess time will only tell there. In case of emergency, break glass, you pull out The Undertaker. I would have to consider that. Never say never. But at this point in my life, and in my career, I have no desire to get back in the ring.”
That’s not “I’m retired.” In fact, Calaway doesn’t say the words “retire” or “retirement” during the hour and nine minutes of “Revelation”.
WWE, which has a lot invested in The Last Ride, promoted “I have no desire to get back in the ring” as a retirement announcement. That included a #ThankYouTaker campaign on social media. It got some traction, but if you skim through the tweets that use the hashtag, you’ll notice there aren’t a lot of wrestlers using it.
Now, there’s currently A LOT going on in the wrestling and overall worlds, and Superstars may just be using their social media a bit more judiciously than usual. But this also strikes me as an indication that people who know Calaway are taking an “I’ll believe it when I see it” approach to him hanging up his boots.
It makes sense. Not only does Taker give himself a couple of outs in the above quote, but one of them was the secondary theme of The Last Ride - Calaway can’t say no to Vince McMahon. That storyline wasn’t resolved. Vince says he’ll “follow Mark’s lead” on the decision, but Mark’s lead is still “call me if you need me”.
With WWE television ratings flat and Network subscriptions stagnant, plans to sell PPVs to other carriers stalled and faced with having to incentivize fans to return to arenas during an ongoing pandemic... who thinks Vince won’t make that call to the biggest draw he has that won’t say no to him? And Calaway himself is all but confirming he still won’t say no if asked.
That’s a shame. Partially because the Boneyard Match was a great send-off. It merged the versions and elements of the Undertaker character fans have loved over the past three decades. A gifted dance partner and the cinematic approach let a 55 year old with a beat-up body look like a badass. He literally rode off into the night!
But the bigger reason it’s a shame is because Calaway admits that the 2019 Super ShowDown match with Goldberg planted a seed in his head that every match he works from now on could ruin or end his life.
“Something nearly catastrophic happened. It wasn’t anybody’s fault, it was just something that happened. But I was two inches away from probably having my neck broken.
“Once those thoughts, once they get in there, it’s really difficult to get them out.”
Imagine going out there again - because Taker decides he wants to hear the roar of the crowd for another last match, because Vince decides it’s an emergency, or both - with that fear in your mind? Imagine Michelle McCool and Calaway’s children watching him out there knowing he’s as worried about that as they are?
We absolutely can, should, and will see Undertaker on WWE television again. But I’m with those hoping we never see him work another match.