Early last year during Undertaker’s post-retirement press tour, the Dead Man brought about a boom in the take economy when he said the current WWE product was “too soft”.
That subject’s come up again during Taker’s pre-Hall of Fame induction trip through the interview circuit. To his credit, Mark Calaway seems to have taken a lot of the criticism he got from fans, and feedback he got from younger wrestlers, to heart when discussing the modern pro wrestling/sports entertainment business.
His discussion with Brian “The True Geordie” Davis demonstrates that while the Phenom may still prefer some aspects of the old days even with all their flaws, he’s adopted a slightly more generous outlook on the differences between today’s wrestlers and the men he came up with in the 1980s:
“I think things have changed and I can’t just say that it’s changed in wrestling. I think in all sports, it’s a different generation. Call it evolution if you want. I don’t think guys are leading the same lifestyles that guys in the past did.
“One, they can’t, because everything they do, there is somebody, somewhere [pulling out a cell phone]. I feel bad for them because they can’t go and blow off steam somewhere after they work because they are constantly under some type of surveillance, where I didn’t have to worry about that because there wasn’t cell phones and all that.
“When I came up, the locker room was a lot different. It was pretty crusty. You drove everywhere, you didn’t fly very often. There were a few guys that have knives in their bags, guns in their bags, it was a different group of men, not saying one is better and one is worse, but they had a different way of settling things.
“If there was a disagreement, they go in the shower and that’s where everything got handled. You discussed it and come to an agreement or you threw down... Those guys didn’t put up with any kind of crap and weren’t afraid to call somebody out. Today’s athlete is just that, they are athletes. They’ve been trained to do this. I’m sure there are some, but I don’t think they have the same bad habits that a lot of us had.”
It’s not just the lack of “bad habits”. One change Calaway definitely sees as an improvesment is that viewing wrestlers as athletes has brought a different approach to health from both the performer and the promoter:
“Fortunately, our business has evolved, now we have trainers, and we have doctors that travel with us. There are protocols in place when you do get hurt,” he said. “So, that is one of the greatest evolutions in our business that you have to, if you do get hurt, you have to get cleared before you’re allowed to get back in the ring.
“Whereas early on, one, you didn’t tell anybody that you were hurt, because you didn’t want to take any time off because you didn’t want to not get paid. It’s a bloody vicious cycle, you’re out there working hurt, and when you’re working hurt, you’re trying to protect one thing, then you’re going to end up hurting something else.”
He does think those changes have come with a price though. And Taker’s going to shout out the guys who deliver what he wants from the product despite the differences:
“I feel like there is a level of grit that is missing from today’s product. I don’t know that it is anybody’s fault. We all aged out, so that new group has come up. When you watch Brock [Lesnar] wrestle, you’re interested, because you know. He’s got this background, not only as an amateur wrestler, professional wrestler, mixed martial artist. Brock doesn’t do a bunch of crazy moves, Brock manhandles your ass. You get in there and you get thrown around, and you get smashed.
“Roman has a little bit of that to him. When he wants to, Randy has that to him, when he wants to. But a lot of the younger talent, it’s the evolution of that comic book era, the superhero era. I think that’s what’s their motivation, and that’s what their inspiration is. And they didn’t have to come up and bust heads in bars, and figure out how they’re going to eat and things like that.”
There’s still some cognitive dissonance to Taker’s take, as evidenced by a guy who’s famous for playing an undead mortician contrasting himself with anything comic book-inspired.
He’s speaking more about in-ring style than characters, but even there, lots of guys and gals have “a little bit” of that “grit” to them. They just save it for when the story (and the paycheck) calls for it. Calaway wasn’t working Hell in a Cell or MMA-style matches 100 nights per year, either.
But take it from a guy who’s pushing 50 himself. It gets harder and harder to not moan about “kids these days” as you get older. If we keep asking the Dead Man to compare the WWE of today to the territories or the WWF of the 1990s, he’s gonna keep pointing out stuff he doesn’t like about the modern version... even if his criticisms don’t hold up to much scrutiny.
Check out Taker’s entire chat on The True Geordie podcast here.