Let’s start as we mean to go on. Within one episode, it’s abundantly clear that The Last Ride is the greatest piece of non-wrestling television that WWE has ever produced. And whatever number two is, it isn’t even remotely close. This five-part documentary is an overwhelming triumph.
Just in case someone is reading this having never watched wrestling before, The Undertaker is far and away the most protected character in modern wrestling history. In an age where kayfabe has long left the building and social media lets us see the real men and women behind the characters we see on our screens. But not The Undertaker.
We’ve been seeing him on screen for 30 years but never have we seen more than the tiniest peek behind the curtain. We’ve long known that nobody compares to Taker in terms of peer and fan respect but most of what we know is second-hand information from colleagues who unanimously credit him as the ultimate icon behind the scenes. The biggest presence in the locker room. The Fonz.
In fact, in this documentary Mark Henry refers to him as Don Corleone and that feels very apt. The Undertaker is clearly the ‘Godfather’ of that locker room.
One huge takeaway from this documentary is that it’s not about The Undertaker. Not really. It’s about Mark Calaway. The man behind the character. The man we’ve never really seen before.
Right at the start of this episode the scene is set. Just before WrestleMania 33 in 2017 (Yes, this thing has been in production that long), Taker decides he wanted the last lap of his career documented. We didn’t know it back then but it seems like these last 3 years, WWE cameras have been following Undertaker and that is tantalising.
The main focus of this episode is the build up to his match at WrestleMania that year against Roman Reigns. Many thought this would be the last match of Taker’s career and it seems Calaway himself was of the same opinion. His leaving his iconic hat in the ring after the match was no accident. In his mind, that was the end of the road.
So what did we learn from this documentary? Well we certainly don’t want to spoil everything but needless to say it was just full of amazing content.
In terms of revelations, don’t expect any huge surprises. This isn’t some shoot interview to settle scores. This is a document of Calaway dealing with the life of being an ageing icon battling through the last few years to keep giving everything he has for his fans and to keep on proving to himself that he can still live up to the standards he has set since 1990.
The quality of this programme really stands out. It speaks of the enormous respect WWE has for Undertaker that this feels like a high budget documentary of the type that would not look out of place on Netflix.
This is the real deal. That is backed up by the fact that every interview is seemingly shot exclusively for this series. That simply never happens in WWE productions where usually they will liberally re-use old interviews and soundbites here. If there are any in this, we didn’t notice. You’ve even got fresh interviews with talents who are not exactly in WWE’s good graces right now, including Chris Jericho & Jim Ross.
What I don’t want to do with this review is give you a blow by blow account of the 55 minute run time. You don’t need play by play on this because you’re probably going to watch it for yourself. And you absolutely should.
What I did want to do is pick out a couple of moments and observations that I clocked that really added depth to this picture of Calaway. Some are important points about the guy. Others are throwaway but fun.
- Seeing Taker prepare for his WrestleMania match is as surreal as it is fun. Normally all we see is The Dead Man’. And rightly so. Here we see him practising those theatrical entrances, talking over his matches….even skipping. SKIPPING!
- There is an interesting tidbit of an interview with HHH talking about Taker only working once per year and how he found it the hardest part of his career to be a sporadic worker. We’ve heard many times from talent who have come back from a big injury or layoff, saying that the bumps on that first night are horrific because their body has forgotten just how they feel. It’s not something that had ever occurred to me with The Undertaker but it’s true. At his age, the mental preparation when every match is ‘a first match back’ must be so, so taxing.
- At one stage, Taker is seen sporting a bright yellow, classic 70s/80s Japanese Andre The Giant shirt. Not only is it super cool to see one legend wearing a shirt paying tribute to his direct predecessor as ‘the phenom of wrestling’, more importantly, I WANT THAT SHIRT RIGHT NOW!
- Talking about his spot in the 2017 Royal Rumble and how the pressure is on to perform, Taker talks about how he knows him being on the card means a young guy working every night is deprived of a spot they deserve and so he has to perform to ensure their sacrifice is not for nothing. It’s not a surprise to hear him have that mindset but it’s wonderful to hear him say it. It’s things like that that set him apart from almost everyone on the roster.
- WrestleMania 30 is briefly discussed. It’s widely known that Taker wrestled most of the match with a concussion and was hospitalised afterwards. As it transpires, his last memory of that day is around 3:30PM. That is just frightening.
- That haunting piano version of Taker’s theme we heard in the trailers for this features towards the end of this episode. And it broke this reviewer. It’s the moment the bottom lip started to wobble. It’s a truly remarkable piece of music. With all the emotion and history tied to this theme tune, coupled with a truly beautiful, fresh arrangement of a melody we are all so used to….It’s a simply magnificent piece of music.
In closing, this met every single one of my expectations and then some. It is rare that any piece of television can offer such a candid look at someone with so much history coupled with so much mystique and personal privacy.
This documentary is wrestling history and it’s an utter privilege to be able to watch it. Episode 2 can’t come soon enough.
The Last Ride episode 1 is streaming now, exclusively on WWE Network.