The Undertaker Reveals His Favorite Metal Bands + Names the Most Metal Wrestler of All Time [Exclusive]
Hearing the Undertaker's voice come out of your phone is a surreal experience. The iconic WWE Superstar (known by family and friends as Mark Calaway) has remained one of wrestling's most consistently brilliant character artists and in-ring performers for 30 years, and in WWE's new docuseries, The Last Ride, the man behind the legend is revealed for the very first time.
The incredible series portrays the life of a man who is far beyond driven to prove he's still capable of giving fans their money's worth. Through countless injuries, major surgeries and months of rehabilitation at a time, the Undertaker shares his preparation for his most recent Wrestlemania matches in The Last Ride, including a brand new episode airing this Sunday [June 14].
We were given a rare opportunity to speak with Mark Calaway, so we spoke with Taker about his favorite rock and metal bands, what drives him to keep adding onto his tremendous body of work, who the most metal pro wrestler of all time is and much more. Check out our chat with the Undertaker below and be sure to watch The Last Ride on-demand on the WWE Network.
Hi, Mr. Calaway. How are you today?
I’m good, Graham. How are you? Call me Taker, Mr. Calaway was my dad.
In the very beginning of your career, for 10 years, you entered to a funeral dirge. But when you debuted as the American Bad Ass, you originally came out to Kid Rock. How did it feel from going to a very gloomy, atmospheric, low-energy entrance to something so high-energy?
Well, it was a shock. It was very interesting, especially the first night that we did it. We played a little bit of a tease, but then we rolled into that. [We were] a little bit nervous, obviously, to have such a big change, but that song ‘American Bad Ass’ fit perfectly; the lyrics, the energy. It was right there where we wanted to be. That was a home run for us.
How did you feel about the change to Limp Bizkit’s “Rollin’”?
‘Rollin’’ and being on the bike all tied in together. Again, another high-energy song, a song that a lot of people recognized and identified with. A wrestling match, in my eyes, doesn’t start at the bell. It starts when the music plays. As soon as that music kicks in, your match has started. It sets the tone for the entire match. It was a such a high-energy, fun song and still kind of bad ass and got people going, got them excited. The lyrics, obviously, weren’t quite the same, but the energy level was still where we wanted it to be.
It was really cool in Seattle at Wrestlemania when Limp Bizkit played me in. Came in, American flag off the back of my bike… one of my favorite entrances, actually.
Later on, you got to come out to a version of a Johnny Cash song. I imagine that must have been really cool.
That was. Once again, storyline-wise, it just fit perfectly for where we were at. “Ain’t no grave gonna hold this body down.” Once again, a perfect song. Johnny Cash’s voice alone, it’s so rich and his delivery just fit my character perfectly. I was real excited that they let us get the rights to that for that Mania.
They don’t come much more legendary than Johnny Cash, but I heard you on a podcast recently talking about how when you go to Madison Square Garden, one of the pictures you look at before you go out to the ring is a picture of Elvis. Can you tell me about how he influenced you and what sharing the same stage as someone that iconic feels like?
That was really cool. Funny enough, my mom was a huge Elvis fan. I listened to Nugent and Kansas and Boston and all these groups, but Elvis was just so cool. I remember as a kid seeing how he was able to affect his audience, just by the certain little things he would do and get these crazy reactions. Obviously most of them were women, but he just had such control over his audience. His whole presentation, even at the end when he was really sick and overweight, he still had that ‘it’ factor. I was always drawn to Elvis.
Madison Square Garden, obviously, is the most iconic venue, probably in the world. Then coming out of my dressing room, there’s Elvis onstage with his arms out and his cape and it’s just like, ‘Man, this is so cool that I’m about to go out and perform in the same venue with Elvis, man.' It’s just crazy thinking back to being a little kid watching Elvis from Hawaii, then you’re at the same venue Elvis sold out. It’s really cool, man. It’s really strange and not in a million years did I think I’d be playing in the same venue as Elvis did.
Elvis was such an interesting character, because even offstage he was such an enigmatic person. He was going to meet Richard Nixon and getting police badges from him, pulling people over in his car in Memphis… he was an American Bad Ass.
[Laughs] Yeah, actually. He was just the epitome of cool.
“I’m really eclectic when it comes to music, but I would say Rage and Metallica were probably my mainstays.”
So you mentioned Ted Nugent, Boston and Kansas. In the Last Ride documentary series, we see you blasting music in this warehouse while you’re training for Wrestlemania. What are some of the bands and the records that really get you going when it’s time to prepare for Mania?
Obviously, it depends on the day, but I think a mainstay is always Metallica. There’s certain days like sparring days, hard grinding days when I love to put in Rage Against the Machine. Even in training, Johnny Cash songs… my trainer has different music for different parts of my workouts. There’s those certain days when I might be draggin’ and not feeling it completely, he’d put in Johnny Cash, "The Man Comes Around."
I’m really eclectic when it comes to music, but I would say Rage and Metallica were probably my mainstays. Ozzy’s there, Guns N’ Roses… all that stuff with a pulse to… [Laughs] get my mind off the grind and into the music.
Do you have a favorite Metallica album or favorite era of Metallica?
They’ve been so good for so long, it’s hard to separate them all. They may not have played quite as hard later on, but James Hetfield’s voice quality and everything else matured. That whole era around Master of Puppets… that was some good stuff back then.
Of course, you entered to Metallica for your Boneyard Match at this year’s Wrestlemania.
It was pretty cool, man. I thought it was the perfect song for the perfect night. Obviously, we rolled the character back a little bit. Wasn’t completely back to American Bad Ass, so there were so many elements of the original Undertaker and American Bad Ass and Mark Calaway. They were all kind of rolled in together. I thought the song really put the bow on the whole thing, of tying all three together. It was definitely the right choice of music for that night.
One of the great things about watching The Last Ride is that you get to learn about your mindset. It’s really inspirational to see someone who doesn’t want to rest on their laurels and still wants to contribute to the industry they love so much, regardless of how much you’ve already given the industry after decades of hard work. What do you attribute that mindset to?
Coming up through the years in the business, I’ve seen a lot of people that probably should’ve hung it up a long time ago, but basically were resting on their laurels and resting on their previous accomplishments. It just kind of always rubbed me the wrong way. Obviously, I know I don’t move the way I did in 2003 and my body isn’t where it was, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t go out and give everything that I have.
People pay a lot of money to come see us work. You have to go out and perform. It’s not what I used to to, it’s what I’m doing right now. That’s always bothered me. You can’t just rely on what you’ve done, it’s what you’re doing in the present. That’s the way I always look at it; I have to go an give everything that I have, the ability to give, because that’s what people are expecting and that’s why they’ve stayed fans for so long. They know I don’t mail it in, I try to deliver the best that I can deliver on any given night.
The Boneyard Match was extremely well received by fellow WWE Superstars, fellow wrestlers and fans. Did that help scratch your itch a little bit, in being able to prove that you’ve still got so much to offer?
Yeah. We were really fortunate in a sense that we got to go off-site and do that match. It’s hard after 30 years to be involved in something new and fresh. I think the match — the way it was shot, the execution of the story, everything — was really unique and I’m very proud of what we were able to accomplish.
It was not what we expected, not what we set out to do when I first agreed to work at Mania. Obviously, you think you’re gonna be in front of 80,000 people in a wrestling ring, but regardless of that, it would’ve been the right call even if COVID hadn’t hit. That match felt like it’s where it needed to be. After the buildup and all the trash that AJ Styles talked about not only me, but my wife, it needed to be rough and it needed to be a non-typical wrestling match. It needed to be a fight. Where better to have a fight than in a boneyard, man? [Laughs]
I couldn’t be more proud of what we did, what the camera crews did, all the techs that were there. It was a huge effort to pull that off and I think you’ll see more and more of that in the future.
So one of our good friends at Loudwire is Paul Booth and I know he did a tattoo on you. Were you a fan of his work before you got tattooed by him?
Yeah, I had seen a little bit of his work in Tattoo Magazine or something like that. Just by chance, we used to stay at the Newark Hilton at the airport there, and they were having a tattoo convention. I worked some other town, drove into Newark, checked in and headed down to the bar just to have a couple beers before I went to bed. Just by chance, I sat down right next to Paul. We introduced ourselves and he goes, ‘Look, I’m not tattooing at this convention, I’m just selling some of my swag, but if you want a tattoo, come up to my room tomorrow and we’ll put something on you. I was like, ‘Hell yeah.’
Sure enough, the next day, I went up to his room. I think he worked on me for five or six hours. We finished up right in time for me to grab my bags and go to the Garden where I was working that night. I was just in the right place at the right time. It’s still, to this day, one of my favorite tattoos and probably the tattoo I get the most compliments on. He did it freehand too, which I was amazed by. I was like, ‘Dude, aren’t you gonna… No? Never mind, I’ll just shut up.’ Really good dude.
He told us a story about that tattoo session. He said that during the session, there were these kids that found him and gave him a rotten, severed head they’d found in a graveyard as a gift. He said he invited you to come check out the head and you politely declined. Do you remember that at all?
I don’t remember that, but I do remember him having some really bizarre things in some lab beakers. [Laughs] I do remember somebody coming to the room, but my gosh, this is 20 years ago. There was enough stuff in that room already to put a lab project together. [Laughs] He’s definitely a character, man, but a tremendous artist.
“I want our fans to understand how much I appreciate them supporting me for so long.”
When it comes to The Last Ride, is there anything you hope fans will take out of it? You put so many years into filming this project and documenting your life for the first time. What is it that you, personally, would like to get out of the series?
I want people to understand how much this all has meant to me, how much I appreciate the people I’ve worked with through the years, how much I appreciate what they’ve done for me and that character. I want our fans to understand how much I appreciate them supporting me for so long and having so many special moments with them. I want people to have an understanding of how important this all was to me and what it meant for me to perform. I really try to never take anything for granted and try to always deliver for my fans.
Overall, if you set your mind to doing something, sometimes there’s going to be bumps in the road and things aren’t going to go the way you want them to go, but if you keep your eye on the goal then you can achieve it. You just have to stay focused, dedicated, determined and you can get your way through just about anything.
I’m gonna have to put you on the spot with this last question. Who is the most metal professional wrestler in history?
The most metal?
The most metal.
Hmmmm. You know what? I’m gonna go with… which a lot of people probably don’t get… but I’m gonna go with Triple H. Especially now that he’s Mr. Corporate and all that, you kind of lose that, but he’s a big metalhead.
Funny enough, we’d always talk a little bit about music. He’d always have really good stories about Lemmy [Kilmister, Motorhead] that I’d just laugh at. We’ve been friends for a long time, we’ve had lots of discussions about ring music and entrances and things of that nature. When it comes to metal, he’s definitely my go-to guy.
Thanks again to Mark Calaway for giving us his time. To watch 'The Last Ride', only on the WWE Network, be sure to click here.
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