It’s easy to look at Undertaker: The Last Ride as a blatant WWE cash-grab.
Certainly, WWE isn’t above capitalizing on a mainstream success. In this case, ESPN’s hit docuseries The Last Dance. But while the world at large knows Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson? Nobody really knows the real Undertaker.
Most people in pro wrestling don’t know the man behind the Deadman.
And after the first chapter of Undertaker: The Last Ride, it’s fair to most fans probably won’t know him much better.
Chapter One, ‘The Greatest Fear,’ goes into the mind of the Undertaker to find out what it is that drives the Phenom. It goes deep. But it fails to come away with a real thesis.
The Greatest Fear
Undertaker: The Last Ride begins with Undertaker’s match against Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 33 weighing heavily on his mind.
Compiling interviews with industry legends like Jim Ross, Shawn Michaels, and Steve Austin, Undertaker: The Last Ride gives us an inside look at the Undertaker. But it’s one we’ve seen a million times before. It’s a look from the outside in.
It’s interviews with the Undertaker himself and his wife, Michelle McCool, that help peel the onion that is the Deadman.
Undertaker openly worries that he might not be up to the task of going into the ring with Reigns. This is the key of what Undertaker: The Last Ride does well. Hearing the Undertaker’s thoughts and insecurities.
“At this point in my career, I can’t work a full schedule,” he says. “There. I said it.”
By the time the curtain falls on chapter one of Undertaker: The Last Ride, though, the real mystery comes to light. What is this docuseries about, anyway?
Of Streaks And Concussions
The only real thesis I’m able to grind out of Undertaker: The Last Ride is that Mark Calaway is a real human being.
That, in and of itself, makes chapter one a success. Humanizing the Undertaker after he’s been a mythic figure for 30 years is difficult. It’s clear that the focus in chapter one of Undertaker: The Last Ride is on his trepidation about WrestleMania 33 bout.
We see glimpses of the aftermath of Brock Lesnar ending the streak at WrestleMania XXX. Some of which was already seen on The Broken Skull Sessions with Austin. Like not remembering his name for hours after the fact. But some are new. Like Undertaker needing a pep talk before heading out to face Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania 31.
Everything culminates with Undertaker coming out the loser against Reigns at WrestleMania 33.
I get all of that. What the doc is going for is clear. And it all makes Undertaker: The Last Ride a compelling watch. But the mystery remains.
What’s The Point?
Undertaker: The Last Ride chapter one is the episode to set the stage for the entirety of the docuseries.
But when it’s over, I still don’t know what the piece is supposed to be about in its entirety. Is this setting up what will really be Undertaker’s last match? Or is it hinting that Undertaker will never be satisfied until he erases the pain of under-performing against Lesnar at WrestleMania XXX?
There’s a segment of the interviews where Undertaker acknowledges that his place on any given card means someone else is being kept off that card. Undertaker: The Last Ride goes to great lengths to show how important it is for the Undertaker to make his match worthwhile.
Chapter one makes very clear that Undertaker doesn’t want to become a parody of himself.
But where do we go from here? In terms of pacing, Undertaker: The Last Ride might have been better served by covering stuff that we already know. His debut at Survivor Series 1990, the development of the character. The early days. But we know that already.
Undertaker: The Last Ride has an unenviable task of hitting the ground running almost in medias res.
All of that is relatively inconsequential to this first chapter. I’d be more worried if Undertaker: The Last Ride didn’t make me wonder what was coming next.
And in that respect, Undertaker: The Last Ride is definitely a hit in its first outing.
New chapters of Undertaker: The Last Ride, a six-part docuseries, air Sunday nights on WWE Network.
All images courtesy of WWE.
'Undertaker: The Last Ride' Chapter 1 - The Greatest Fear
- The sheer rarity of getting into the mind of the Undertaker
- Solid cast of interview subjects
- Mark Calaway might be the realest guy in wrestling
- Room for the rest of the series to expand
- But honestly, where IS this series going?
- It's early in the series, but starting in the middle of the story is a strange choice