If you've spent any time exploring the WWE Network, you've come across a long list of documentaries about a variety of wrestlers, matches, pay per view events, and even entire wrestling companies. However, there's one thing that's been sorely lacking on the company's streaming platform: an in-depth look at its longest-tenured wrestler, the Undertaker. With the premiere of Undertaker: The Last Ride, that changes.
The new five-part documentary series follows the legendary Undertaker between 2017 and 2020 as the man behind the character, Mark Calaway, struggles with the realization that the end of his career is nigh. WWE supplied GameSpot with the first episode of the series for review. So does Undertaker: The Last Ride meet the hype WWE has created around it?
In short, it exceeds that hype. The Last Ride raises the bar for WWE's in-house productions and offers the kind of unrestricted access to its subject that the company has dabbled in with its WWE 24 and WWE 365 projects. There's no sugarcoating the last few years of Calaway's career, though--and there's no promise of a happy ending. The first episode finds the wrestler being blunt and honest about his life now that he is toward the end of his career.
He's largely unhappy with his matches since losing to Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania 30 in 2014, his confidence has been destroyed at certain points, and he lives in pain every day thanks to taking a beating throughout his career. Even with these factors, though, Calaway can't bring himself to walk away from the ring just yet.
Why that is the case is the question The Last Ride explores. There's a part of Calaway that is quick to answer the call whenever WWE chairman Vince McMahon needs him. But ultimately, the Undertaker's in-ring career hasn't ended because he's not ready for it to. Even though multiple surgeries, even more injuries, and age have slowed Calaway down, he won't be ready to properly retire until he can have one great final performance--something that continues to elude him.
"I want [the audience] thinking, 'This guy's got a lot left in the tank.' If I can leave with that, I'll be content. I can walk away," Calaway says to open the documentary. "I say that, but I've been saying it for a long time."
In many ways, this documentary is a celebration of the Undertaker's once-in-a-lifetime career. It features interviews with many WWE legends, including Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Mick Foley, Edge, and even McMahon himself. Calaway's wife, former WWE superstar Michelle McCool, is also interviewed extensively. They don't mince words when concluding that Calaway is likely the greatest performer WWE has ever seen and will ever see. His 30-year career is unparalleled and it's hard to think of a single character that's meant more to the company.
Still, the reality of Calaway's current health is a harrowing look into his career in 2020. Seeing the legendary Undertaker laying on a table and getting injections into his knees to numb them so he can wrestle a match is hard to watch, as is seeing him undergo surgery on his hip to make walking more manageable. For Calaway, though, it's his new normal. Throughout the first episode, he's seen walking with a slight limp, even when practicing his entrance the night before Wrestlemania 33.
In fact, that's what the majority of the first episode focuses on. Many believed Wrestlemania 33 would be the final match for the Undertaker, as he was matched up with Roman Reigns in a bout that would take Roman's career to new heights. Ultimately, Reigns won the match and Undertaker left his hat, jacket, and gloves in the ring--a sign that his time was done. In reality, though, Callaway discusses his unhappiness with the match, due largely to his own physical health.
The episode also takes a look at his match with Lesnar at Wrestlemania 30. At some point in the match, Undertaker sustained a concussion, and to this day, he has no memory of being in the ring that night. A lot more is revealed about that night, with Calaway, McCool, and McMahon discussing the scary moment after the match when the wrestler was taken to the hospital.
If you're reading this and thinking The Last Ride is going to be too much of a downer, it should be noted that there is plenty of levity in the first episode. Whether it's Calaway getting excited about seeing how his elaborate ring entrances will play out, or watching him catching up with friends and fellow wrestlers behind-the-scenes at shows, it's clear that regardless of his health, the Undertaker is still having fun as a WWE superstar. It's just that the work it takes to get into the kind of shape a WWE superstar needs to be in to perform doesn't come as easily now as it once did--and there's no turning back the clock.
It's surprising to see such honesty about the toll professional wrestling can take on a person in a WWE-produced work. In recent years, the company's wrestlers have been more open about their real lives than ever before, especially with the advent of social media. This documentary, though, is a real look at the biggest star in WWE. It's an exciting and, at times, painful window into a performer who has spent the last 30 years traveling the world and putting his body through the wringer, and is now only willing to go out on his own terms.
If you're a WWE fan, The Last Ride should be considered essential programming. That said, this is the one place the documentary is slightly lacking. If you're not a fan of professional wrestling, you likely don't know the Undertaker's importance to sports entertainment. While there is a short recap of his 30-year career in WWE, it would have been nice for The Last Ride to spend a bit more time looking back further into the past--and perhaps providing a short explanation of the various incarnations of his character. It would give more context to who the Undertaker is and make the portions of the documentary dealing with his current health more impactful.
That said, I can't recommend Undertaker: The Last Ride enough. Based on the first episode alone, this is WWE at its best and the honesty with which Calaway speaks about the ups and downs of his career is a refreshing reality check that often goes unseen in the over-the-top world of sports entertainment.