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WWE’s The Undertaker on Retirement, Boneyard Match and When Wrestlers’ Court Gets Real

Plus: How is the Dead Man’s basketball game these days?

The Undertaker will rise once more for a tribute at the upcoming pay-per-view “WWE Survivor Series,” which this November marks 30 years since his WWF debut. Along the way, there have been championships, the WrestleMania “Streak” and a ton of Tombstones.

So yeah, we had some questions for the professional-wrestling legend, whose real name is Mark Calaway, when we spoke early during what WWE has informally dubbed Undertaker Appreciation Month and officially titled “30 Days of the Dead Man.”

Below, read our November Q&A with the (dead) man himself.

TheWrap: What is your current status as an in-ring wrestler? Is it officially retired? Are we going with that?
The Undertaker: I’m going with it, but I work for a man by the name of Vince McMahon, whose motto is ‘Never say never.’ And I’ll kind of leave that there. In my eyes, yeah, I am officially retired.

TheWrap: Does that mean we should prep ourselves for no “Survivor Series” comeback?
Undertaker: Well, I will definitely be at “Survivor Series.” And what I do there, there’s no telling. But I will be live at “Survivor Series.” You never know what will happen, and we’ve got a couple of weeks. (Laughs)

TheWrap: Because of what you mean to WWE, you could have a Triple H post-wrestling career, a Steve Austin post-wrestling career or anything in-between or not in-between. What do you see for yourself?
Undertaker: You know, that’s the pickle that I’m in right now, is trying to [figure] out what lane I want to take. I’ve been on the road for so long, that really doesn’t appeal to me, traveling and doing all that. I love to teach. Triple H and I have had many conversations about me working with the talent there at NXT, in Orlando at the PC. And I really enjoy that. And we’re just trying to figure out how it works because I’d have to come in and go out. I live in Texas. So I’m sure I will do more of that moving forward. I think there’s a lot of– I think I have a lot to offer. The product is changing and evolving, but I think there’s a lot of what I bring to the table that is still applicable to the product and these guys need to hear it and see it from somebody who has made it work. So we’ll see what happens there.

TheWrap: I’m sure you were apprehensive at first to do the “Last Ride” docuseries, but now that it has aired, what are your thoughts on how it turned out — and even on just having committed to do something like that?
Undertaker: Very proud, very proud of how it turned out. That part of it I was extremely happy with. But it took a while for me to let my guard down. Initially, to even give that access, I was fighting it… Funny story, I may have said it already at some point, but Dan Pucherelli, who is the main producer on this thing, they were following me backstage somewhere. And I turned around and I snapped at him and was like, ‘Why the hell are you guys filming me?’ And Dan is such a respectful guy, and he just kind of was like, ‘Um, you asked us to?’ ‘Oh, yeah, you’re right, you’re right. That’s my bad. Just give me a second.’ So, yeah, I had to work through a lot of it, especially talking about behind-the-scenes things. It just was so unnatural for me to do.

Even today, as proud as I am of ‘The Last Ride’ doc, it’s like, man, should I have done that? I have this internal struggle with myself, like, should I have just kept protecting the gimmick? Everybody has been very happy and receptive to it, but there’s also those ones that are like, ‘Oh man, you just ruined my childhood.’ And I laugh at it, but it’s like, man I should have just rode off into the sunset and not give anything. Obviously, I know that’s probably not the right thing to do, but that’s my nature just due to the fact of how I protected [the character and the business] for so long.

TheWrap: So, no “Total Divas” spinoff for you? You’re done with reality TV?
Undertaker: (Laughs) Yeah, absolutely not, no.

TheWrap: I want to ask you a theory question: As a big dude and a multiple-time champion, how much of the time should the WWE Champion be a “big guy”?
Undertaker: It doesn’t necessarily have to be a big guy big guy, but we have stretched the realms of reality sometimes with some of our champions. When you see some of the guys that they have to work with, it’s like, OK, I get it, we’re sports entertainment — BUT. My whole goal when I went to the ring, I don’t care if you’re smart, not smart, whatever, when I’m in the ring I want people thinking, ‘This dude’s legit.’ And if I hit somebody, I want people in the front row going, ‘No, dude, he hit him. I don’t care what happened in the match before, he just lit him up. This is on.’ So it’s hard because we’re kind of starting to get a little bit of an influx of big guys, but it’s just kind of where– because there’s so much new talent, you can’t put the title on a guy just because he’s big. And back in the day, man, we had tons of big guys that could go and could carry it and do that.

So it’s more of a guy that kind of fits in the middle of the road. A guy that you’ll believe working with a big guy but can also work with a little guy. But there are certain guys that have had — I won’t bring in names — but it’s just like, yeah, I just don’t buy it. I don’t buy this as my champion. And it’s not any fault of their own, other than they’re physically not able to match up against certain people.

TheWrap: I’m kind of fascinated with Wrestlers’ Court. It seems a lot of the infractions are silly and the trial all in good fun, but what about when it’s a serious infraction? Is it still solved by a case of beer or a bottle of Jack Daniels?
Undertaker: Well, it’s not always solved by beer but there’s– sometimes it was used to kind of send a message. Sometimes that message was, ‘Look, everyone’s kind of taking notice. You’re doing this. It’s not out of hand yet, but you really need to check yourself before it becomes an issue.’ And then there’s been other times where things have moved on a little bit further along and it’s, like, OK, you kind of need to be made an example of. And it’s bad because you get put in front of your peers and you really don’t have much of a choice other than to sit there and take it. And what happens is, what do you do with it from there? Do you change the habits that brought you to Wrestlers’ Court or do you wear a chip on your shoulder and then you become really ostracized and on your own? Which is not a good thing to be in the wrestling business. Really, it’s not.

But for the most part, it was a lighthearted way to say, ‘Hey, you’re screwing up. Check yourself and get back on the same page as everybody else.’ And then there were times where it’s like, ‘OK, this– you really need to be made an example of.’ Because some people think they can get away with certain things and that ain’t the way it works. And we all lead by example.

But, yeah, there were a few occasions that the beer and the Jack — I took ‘em — it didn’t help the verdict any.

TheWrap: How is your basketball game these days? And how was it in the early WWF years? Could you still have gone to Europe and played (professionally)?
Undertaker: That would have probably been a stretch since I got up to about 320 (pounds). But I think probably till ’95/’96, I could still dunk and do some pretty creative things with a basketball. Obviously now I’m definitely a set shot [guy]. I could set a mean pick and maybe grab a rebound or two. But the jump shot has definitely turned into a set shot and, yeah, I don’t play nearly as often as I used to. But I can still see it all in my head. It’s like, wow, I used to be able to go between my legs and around my back…

TheWrap: The Boneyard Match turned out so well and was universally praised, but what were your thoughts about the idea during the pitch process?
Undertaker: I was on board because I wasn’t thrilled about having a wrestling match with AJ Styles without any audience there [due to the coronavirus pandemic]. So that was the first thing. Because obviously I had the Boiler Room Brawl with Mick, which was basically the same thing, but obviously the Boneyard Match was better covered by cameras and everything. But obviously, when I started thinking about, I was like, OK, this is going to give us an opportunity to take us out of that sterile, cold environment of just a wrestling ring in a building. So that intrigued me. And then you start thinking about all the stuff that I’ve done through the years and I’m like, OK, this could work. I became really nervous the day before when I went to the location. And it looked nothing like it did in the final. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what are we doing here?’ And I have to say, they put all that together and it was really amazing what they were able to accomplish in less than 24 hours. And then, obviously, my trust with AJ, I knew he was going to be there, he was going to get it and know what we’d have to do. And like I said, it was right in my wheelhouse. And you have to think about, is that going to be too over the top or is it going to be too hokey? Fortunately, I had a lot of equity built up with all the supernatural stuff that I could do and we could use it. And AJ being AJ, he was willing to do whatever it took physically to tell the story.

It was compelling because then I pulled the character forward a little more to kind of a hybrid American Badass Undertaker/Mark Calaway kind of deal. So we were able to bring that forward, which helped the story, I think. But I was really proud of it. Obviously, trying through the process of putting it together, trying to keep my finger on the pulse of it so that it didn’t go too far over the top. And make it entertaining, but not hokey — and I thought we did a really good job of that.

TheWrap: When you were injured in that match putting your hand through the hearse window, were you just like, ‘F— it, I’m gonna put my hand through a real window and see what happens’?
Undertaker: (Laughing) Pretty much, pretty much. So it’s virtually impossible to break glass with just a hand like that. So I grabbed that– there’s a little metal bar and I said, ‘This will be great. Duck out of the way of this and then I’ll break this glass.’ And [Styles] ducked, I hit the glass and I couldn’t slam the breaks on enough. That glass just chewed me up, man. I think to this day, I think I still have some glass in my forearm. I guess it’s trying to work its way out. But yeah, that was five minutes into the taping. And then I had this huge hematoma that popped up. And by the time we finished, it had actually gone away but it looked like a golf ball underneath my skin. I mean, it’s one of those things like, well, we gotta get this done. I mean, there wasn’t much they could do. We had a trainer there. They kind of picked out some of the glass that they could see, poured in what they could, and next thing you know, I’m rolling around in the dirt on it… But it ended up helping the story. Because all the dialogue and all that, that was just ad-lib. And I think that’s what made it really cool, was the smack-talking back and forth… It was all ad-libbed, all the dialogue was ad-libbed.

TheWrap: Over the years, the Undertaker character has definitely adopted some of you, like the American Badass iteration, but how did you, Mark, become more Undertaker-ish in your personal life over the years?
Undertaker: Oh yeah, definitely. You know, it’s kind of strange. I’ve always really been obviously a big guy, but I’ve always been kind of a free, fun-loving [guy]. I like to hang out with the guys and cut up and do all that stuff. But I had to figure out how to be– after the shows, if we went out and did something, I had to figure out how to be Undertaker and still have a good time… So Undertaker kind of took over. We didn’t go anywhere and I walk in and people didn’t– they knew exactly, like, freakin’ Undertaker just walked in. And obviously the guys that I trusted, my buddies that I trust, I could still have a good time with them. But everybody else, what they saw was like, ‘I’m going to keep an eye on this dude because he may snatch me by my neck and chokeslam me.’ But yeah, Undertaker kind of took most of Mark’s personality for a long time.

“Survivor Series” streams Sunday, Nov. 22 on WWE Network.