Sitting in the corner of a dimly lit backstage dressing room, sipping on a bottle of water, the man best known as The Undertaker sat alone with his thoughts. And his frustrations.
Except this was not The Undertaker. It was Mark Calaway, the man who brought life to a legendary character deeply rooted in death. Surrounded by a Ping-Pong table, pinball machine and a hulking Guitar Hero arcade game, this was no time for amusement. There was a fire in Calaway’s eyes, the result of a squandered opportunity. And a determination to avoid suffering the same pitfalls.
Polite and respectful, Calaway introduced himself. He was less than a half hour removed from his “UNDERTAKER 1 deadMAN SHOW” at Big Night Live in Boston, which marked the fifth performance of his one-man show. After a string of four highly successful ones, where he left the crowd inspired and hungry for more, this appearance in Boston failed to hit the mark.
“I went too long in the beginning,” says Calaway. “Part of the show dragged on too long. The first few shows almost came too easy. I wasn’t happy with parts of this one.”
None of this is to imply the show was a bust. There were still plenty of fascinating stories shared, including a brief encounter on an airplane with the great Johnny Cash that helped fortify The Undertaker’s persona outside of the ring. Yet the show as a whole did not meet his lofty standards.
Calaway admitted he was going to lose sleep over his performance—until he has the chance to redeem himself at his next show, which will take place on Friday in San Antonio at the Tech Port Center + Arena.
Following the disappointing outing in Boston—where a few patrons repeatedly shouted out their opinions, mistakenly believing that people bought a ticket to hear their voices interrupt the man onstage—Calaway vowed to be better in San Antonio. In a scene reminiscent of an ace starting pitcher speaking to a horde of reporters after a harrowing loss, Calaway reflected on what transpired—and what went awry.
“I’m trying to give people the layers and stages of my life that brought me to where I am now,” says Calaway. “It’s a very limited audience, and I want to make it special. I want people to leave being blown away. Especially with my character, who hardly said a word for 30 years, I want people to think, ‘I can’t believe all that was going on.’
“I want to make people think. I want them to believe in themselves. I want to entertain, but also use my experience to show that anything is possible. My story exemplifies that. I was told, at every turn, I wasn’t good enough. Yet look at the final product. Hopefully that gives people inspiration to battle through in their own lives.
“The tricky part is telling the right stories in the right manner. It’s just like putting together a match.”
Over the course of an iconic 30-year career, Calaway mastered the art of pro wrestling. Practically any calamity could occur in the ring—or during the walk toward it—and he would still flourish. If you saw The Undertaker perform live, you were getting your money’s worth.
Yet this forum is vastly different. A man whose character was built largely around stoic silence is now onstage telling stories for a living. Despite his charisma and passion, there was bound to be a learning curve—and that lack of seasoning exposed itself in Boston.
Imagine that. The Undertaker, one of the greatest to ever grace the profession, is starting anew. The 57-year-old is a rookie, a peculiar thought for those so acutely aware of his brilliant career in the ring.
“It’s all new again,” says Calaway. “By the end of my career, I had an answer for everything. There was nothing that could happen I didn’t have an answer for. People could ask me questions, and I’d have an answer for them, too.
“Now it’s starting all over again. It makes it a new challenge. I’m a greenhorn again.”
Calaway made a rare on-camera appearance for WWE this week. During the 30th anniversary of Raw on Monday, he came out as the “American Badass” version of The Undertaker, started to get physical with LA Knight, and shared a private in-ring moment with Bray Wyatt (albeit in a very public setting). It was yet another reminder that the wrestling ring is a second home to Calaway. That is not yet the case for his one-man show, but history strongly suggests he will not be remotely content until it is.
“I have a new way of ‘putting my match together,’ a whole new kind of deal,” says Calaway. “I know I need to involve the layers that led me to where I am, but I also understand people want to hear about wrestling. The show in Boston was a learning-curve experience. I can’t wait for San Antonio.
“It’s all about storytelling. That show wasn’t my best, but I’ll learn from it, and I won’t make the same mistakes in San Antonio. People deserve my very best. I’ll always strive to be better.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.