It’s the question everyone asks of The Undertaker this time of year. The answer is just different this time.
“It’s like, are you training? That’s the question I get, ‘are you training?” The Undertaker said in a Zoom interview with The Post. “Well yeah, I’m training. ‘Yeah, you training?’ I’m not training that way. I’m not training to get ready for a match. I’m just working out. I’m just training trying to stay healthy.”
The 55-year-old WWE legend, whose real name is Mark Calaway, announced his retirement from pro wrestling in June at the end of “The Last Ride” docuseries about the final years of his in-ring career. There have been previous times where it appeared he had wrestled his last match, only to come back for one more attempt at the perfect ending. It’s why it’s hard for even those closest to him to believe this is truly it. When he says he’s “done” to his wife, former WWE Divas and Women’s champion Michelle McCool, he gets told, “I have heard that before.”
“She busts my chops quite a bit,” said Undertaker, who added he’s feeling pretty good physically. “Anytime I say the actual words, ‘Yeah, I’m retired.’ I just get a huge eye roll. I think she still thinks I’m gonna work this year.”
While he won’t be working a match, he will be appearing at the Survivor Series pay-per-view on Nov. 22 (7 p.m., WWE Network) for a “Final Farewell” that will mark the 30th anniversary of his debut in WWE at the same show in 1990. WWE will also be running new special programming about his career this month on the WWE Network.
Undertaker — while reaffirming WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon’s belief of “never say never” — has no aspirations of returning to the ring because his body isn’t capable of “an Undertaker-WrestleMania type match.” He knew he was done while shooting the cinematic boneyard match with A.J. Styles for WrestleMania 36.
“I realized I have taken every physical gift, tool that I have and have used it up,” said Undertaker, who began wrestling professionally in 1987. “There’s no water left in the sponge, if I can use that analogy. I’ve rung everything I could get out of that sponge.”
There was the thought at the time, and because of how well the boneyard match was received, that he could extend his career through cinematic matches that were less taxing on the body. While Undertaker believes he could have done a few more of them, he felt resorting to that presentation was “cheating.”
“It really doesn’t appeal to me because basically what it is, is working around my limitations,” he said. “It’s capitalizing on some of my ability and some of my creative ability to tell a story but basically it’s trying to mask some of the lack of my physical abilities at this point.”
None of that was the case 30 years ago when “Mean Mark” Callous came over from WCW and was given the Undertaker gimmick that he eventually made iconic. He remembered being nervous the day of his debut at the Hartford Civic Center when McMahon told him that he was going to be throwing veterans Dusty Rhodes, Bret Hart, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart and Koko B. Ware around “like ragdolls” after being revealed as the mystery partner for Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Team. Undertaker still considered himself very green at the time.
“There were just a whole litany of things that were going through my mind,” he said. “’Oh man, are one of these old-timers gonna get pissed at me? Are they gonna try to take a liberty on me somewhere?’”
Then there was the task of successfully presenting this new character, who walked and wrestled in a much more methodical style than he was used to. WWE had taped some segments for TV with him prior to that Survivor Series, but this was the first time fans were going to see him. Undertaker said he’s “appreciative” of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s famous, “Look at the size of that ham hock!” line during his entrance aiding in his presentation, something that weighed heavy on his mind that night.
“’OK, don’t walk too fast, don’t walk too slow. I’m trying to think about my presentation. I don’t have it yet,’” he recalled thinking. “I’ve only done this a couple of times in this character, so I’ve got all of those thoughts going through my head. It’s like, ‘don’t trip, don’t fall, don’t stumble, don’t get your foot caught getting in the ring, don’t let your hat fall off.’ Everything you could think of possible things that could go wrong, you’re thinking in your head please don’t [let that] happen to me.”
His debut was a success and he went on to win his first WWE championship from Hulk Hogan at Survivor Series the following year in what he called a very special moment. He remembers the crowd being 60-40 for him as the audience was trying to turn him babyface even while wrestling the company’s top hero. Over the years Survivor Series showcased a number of memorable Undertaker moments, including a buried alive match against McMahon himself in 2003 where things didn’t go quite as planned.
He described working a match with McMahon as “stiff” because the WWE chairman is not a polished in-ring performer and doesn’t try to wrestle that way. Undertaker said he truly “knocked the crap out of him” with a snow shovel early in the match. McMahon later sliced him open on the inside part of his arm near his elbow with the side of the shovel.
“I’m just shooting blood and I know that I’m still going in the grave and Kane’s gonna come and betray me,” Undertaker said. “I’m trying to work, if you look at it at the end you’ll see me with my arm clenched for the last five minutes of that match because I’m trying to keep my arm close so it doesn’t get filled full of dirt. I still have the scar to this day.”
Undertaker’s loyalty to WWE helped him forge a special bond few performers have with McMahon, whom he describes as “a caring human being” and “not the monster that people think that he is.” He takes issue with the notion that he can’t say no to McMahon, who is often portrayed as the person who kept pulling Undertaker back to the ring all these years. Undertaker never took for granted the “special opportunity” WWE gave him 30 years ago. The decisions to come back were always his.
“If Vince feels like there’s still something there, I have a place on the roster, then I had no problem doing it,” he said. “That’s where the internet and all that stuff kind of show up, ‘Just let him retire, just let him do this, let him do that.’ I’m a grown man. I can walk away anytime I want.”
As Undertaker has faded away, WWE has a new supernatural character in “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt. Undertaker is a fan of what Wyatt is doing, calling it edgy. He feels there are some similarities between what Wyatt is now and what he did 30 years ago because The Fiend is “so much different than everybody else” in WWE.
He included a warning for Wyatt, who reportedly has great input into his character. Undertaker believes that perk is something Wyatt should never let someone wrestle away from him.
“When you have people outside writing for you, sometimes they get a little carried away and you’re just like, ‘OK let’s do that.’ ” Undertaker said. “I hope he stays really invested in it and says no when he has to say no and do what’s right for that character because it’s really the strongest character WWE has right now.”
It’s why The Fiend is someone Undertaker wishes he had “a little bit more gas left in the tank” for. Wyatt has frequently included his past interactions with performers in The Fiend’s storylines. He and Undertaker had a feud that led to a WrestleMania 31 match won by The Deadman.
“We could have really done something special together,” Undertaker said. “Especially since I worked with Bray right after I lost to Brock [Lesnar] that year. I think it would have been a really nice catalyst into where he’s at now.”
Undertaker loved what he did in WWE for the past 30 years, potentially culminating in his “Final Farewell” at Survivor Series. It’s still hard for him to believe he lasted so long with one company. Doing so was almost unheard of when he started his wrestling career since talent bounced around so frequently.
“Guys will have their run and then they’ll go somewhere else, they’ll go to Japan, they’ll go wherever or just take some time off,” Undertaker said. “Because you get burned out and obviously our fan base, sometimes there’s a flavor of the week. Once something new comes in the old kind of gets set aside. If you had told me, ‘yeah you’re gonna have a 30-year straight run with one company,’ I would have been like, ‘yea OK. If you say so.’”