It’s been well over 600 days since one of the most iconic Superstars in WWE history said goodbye to their in ring career. After 30 years, Mark Calaway, the man behind The Undertaker persona, stepped away from a character that changed not only his life, but the landscape of the wrestling industry.
Since his retirement, the man of few words has lifted the veil to let fans understand not only the character but Calaway himself. From podcasts to documentaries, one of the last true believers in Kayfabe has begun to tell stories from a career spanning three decades.
The latest platform for spinning yarns came just before Summerslam in downtown Nashville, one day removed from SummerSlam. Our wrestling editor, Andy Spoors, shares his thoughts on a one man show like no other…
There are only so many career paths ex-professional wrestlers can take when hanging up their boots, without returning to the ‘real world’. Coaching, commentating, maybe even managing up and coming prospects in the industry.
But what do you do when you are considered one of the greatest of all time? Well, for Mark ‘The Undertaker’ Calaway, you apparently do something you haven’t done an awful lot of for 30 years…public speaking.
After his excellent documentary ‘The Last Ride’ received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics and fans alike, The Undertaker has appeared everywhere. From eating chicken wings on YouTube, extended Hall Of Fame speeches to appearing on True Geordie’s channel, fans are becoming accustomed to hearing stories of The Deadman’s career.
It was perhaps his HOF speech earlier this year that particularly piqued the interest of the WWE Universe. Described as part comedy stand up, part TED talk, Taker spoke for more than two hours on his upbringing, life philosophies and the people that made him who he is today.
So the next logical step would obviously be to take that show on the road. No fancy gimmicks, no pyro, nowhere to hide. Just one man, with one microphone and of course one bottle of Jack Daniel’s.
The decision to host his first one man show in Nashville at the Wildhorse Saloon was a welcome addition to a SummerSlam weekend. With no other live WWE events in the area, wrestling fans snapped up tickets with no reference point as to how the show would turn out.
Sure Mick Foley has toured the world, but Foley has made a career out of making fans laugh and could almost be considered a stand up comedian. Actively ducking the public stage for years, this would be new ground for ‘The Phenom’.
Intriguingly, the venue took unprecedented but most welcome steps to keep the performance under wraps by banning phones. In 2022 it is almost commonplace to be distracted by a sea of recording phones hoping to capture something they or social media will remember forever. Here, all fans handed their phones over to security on the way into the venue and given back in individual fabric ‘Yondr’ pouches. These pouches could not be opened until leaving the building at the end of the show.
Safe in the knowledge the content of the show could not be leaked onto social media, the show felt more intimate. The crowd more engaged. So when the first infamous gong sounded and the lights went down, there was no scrambling for phones or cameras. Just a few hundred people losing their minds, lost in the moment. The way it should be.
For any purists, this was not a typical one man show. This was a wrestling crowd fully versed in the pantomime that accompanies WWE events. The hype man was booed mercilessly when trying to intro The Undertaker. By the time he had composed and readied himself to speak, chants of ‘Thank you Taker’ and ‘Undertaker’ were already a few minutes deep.
The content of the show itself started with Taker mock scolding fans for their social media posts about ‘ruining their childhoods, by talking so much’ or addressing comments made in recent interviews about the modern day locker rooms. Stories about keeping Kayfabe, catching up with his buddies from the Bone Street Krew and life after wrestling kept the flow, for the most part, fairly seamless.
Make no mistakes, this was not a perfect show. Even after performing in front of thousands of fans, all over the world, in bingo halls and sold out stadiums, you could see nerves creep in throughout the show. There were no obvious cues and when a thought or tangent was lost there was no script to move back to.
But if any trains of thought veered off the track, Taker remained collected enough to stay professional and move on. The only reason for any nerves evident could easily be explained by how much this night meant to him to get right. From the genuine thank you to fans for showing up to hinting at future shows, a man that struck fear into the hearts of many a man over the years found himself conquering some jitters of his own.
To their credit, the crowd never once turned against the ‘American Badass’, lapping up every anecdote with raucous laughter, cheering and egging him on to take shots from the bottle of JD sitting on a table in the middle of the stage.
The majority of the show was taken up by audience questions. A show producer appeared to somewhat vet questions by asking fans brave enough to address the deadman. Hardly surprising, given the current climate and hot topics in the wrestling industry that could have easily derailed the performance.
From questions about favourite matches, worst roommates (The Iron Sheik), to retelling an astonishing and hilarious story about his first WWF Championship match against Hogan, it was this section of the show that stood out.
Quick witted, personable and funny, these are sides of Undertaker the majority of fans have never had a chance to see. It quickly becomes obvious why the man Mark Calaway was respected and revered backstage.
Closing the night, one lucky fan shared a final shot of Jack on stage as Taker thanked any members of the armed forces and first responders for their service to a standing ovation.
A raw, stripped back and funny debut for one of the greatest to step into a professional wrestling ring. Free from (pretty much all) limitations that come with a branded WWE show, for any fan interested in peeking behind the curtain, look no further.
For fans in the UK, the opportunity to see the show for yourself is right around the corner. This week WWE announced that the UNDERTAKER 1 deadMAN SHOW will make its international debut on September 2 at New Theatre Cardiff, Wales, the night before Clash At The Castle.
Listen to never-before-heard stories from his Hall Of Fame career and maybe even have the chance to ask The Phenom a question yourself.
Tickets for UNDERTAKER 1 deadMAN SHOW go on sale Friday, August 12, at 10am BST via NewTheatreCardiff.co.uk