Undertaker: Last Ride – Review

To seek out closure in any aspect of life is a truly rare thing. For any performer to willingly let go of the spotlight and a sold out audience is something rarer. In professional wrestling many have never been able to close the door on their own terms and to be able to do that, to end a legacy and tenure on one’s own terms is something that doesn’t get seen very often. 

For those who know me will know that the pageantry and mystique of professional wrestling has had a place in my heart since before the years I ever aspired to pen any book, or write any blog but still to me wrestling is story telling. When it’s good, it’s awesome and of course many will laud the bad’s of an industry that once upon a time I aspired to get into. We’ve all heard of the premature deaths, or various scandals of new and old, most of us have even done a few laps on the whole ‘fake’ contemplation racetrack. The truth is wrestling is a performance; something I always dreamed of doing.

WWE The Last Ride: Who Should Be The Undertaker's Final Opponent?

Of course I itched my performing scratch big time by swapping out the ambition of stepping between those ropes to treading the boards and taking in the spotlight via theatre instead, and even though my ten years as a performer don’t compare anywhere near to most who have any type of career in pro wrestling, I can fully relate to the addictive nature of what performing is. For me and quite fortunately I had always been eyeing up a way off the stage, to have my day and be done, then to find a way to escape the pressure of learning lines, wearing goofy costumes, dealing with performers who don’t take things as seriously and of course risking my own mental health to stand up in front of strangers. That escape came in the form of script writing and so I haven’t fully turned away from performing but taken a diagonal turn towards new challenges. But most importantly my escape from performing was both peaceful and final. It was the ‘Star Wars’ ending, it was closure.

The Undertaker is a name that sits in the very upper echelons in the realms of pro wrestling. It’s a character that has never really been broken or had any type of backstage lid lifted upon it. There hasn’t been any ‘shoot’ type interviews over the many years by the man behind the ‘gimmick’ Mark Calaway who has operated, since 1990 mind, when the likes of Hulk Hogan headed match cards. Luckily for me I managed to see the Undertaker way back in 2009 when at a Smackdown taping in London where he faced off with the Big Show and yes his entrance is as awesome as it looks, even from the nose bleed seats…

Quite recently the WWE network has premiered 5 special and ever so candid documentary style interviews with the Undertaker in the form of a series called ‘Last Ride’. Each episode follows the Undertaker who, without many realising this really is his final ride and crowning piece to a thirty year career. It goes into depth about the feelings of a man who has gone round and round in his time in the squared circle.

Much of the theme focuses on family. The Undertaker has kids and a wife, Michelle McCool – a name fans of the female wrestling movement will know and you can see the strain it is putting on her concerns for a man who might not know he is at the end of his career. During these 5 episodes we get a roller coaster ride as it covers his final years and matches with have been rare occasions of recent, from his initial ‘retirement’ moment against Roman Reigns at Wrestlemania to the few special exhibition matches that didn’t go too well; Bill Goldberg comes to mind. There is even some in depth look at the ‘streak’ where the Undertaker went 21 years without a loss at Wrestlemania – something that should have never been broken in my mind. In a sense it just goes round and round on a somewhat damning repeat for the Undertaker who is either looking for redemption in one match or finality in another. This vicious cycle is something he must break to find some finality.

10 Things We Learned From WWE's Undertaker: The Last Ride (Final ...
Without giving much away because even on this blog spoilers matter, the whole docu-series is well worth watching, even for the casual fan of wrestling, like me I don’t tune in much these days. You’ll see wrestling in a different light and through the eyes of a man who has been there the longest. ‘Taker’s interactions with others backstage is seen for the first time along with his emotional journey of seeking closure, it really is gripping. Those with their ear on the Twitter verse ground will know the Undertaker has used this show to laud his perhaps final retirement, and whether or not he is going to stay away from the spotlight and squared circle, this show has been the vessel for a great ending of a great career in performance, sports entertainment and the culture of wrestling. For the Undertaker it has been closure.

 

 

The Problem(s) with WWE in 2020…

Fans of pro wrestling have been saying for as long as I can remember that the WWE ‘modern product’ is dying. The truth is, and although I am a casual or even social viewer these days, they may actually be right. Even I’ll admit from a very loose standpoint that I no longer know what they are doing to tell stories. 

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Those stories is what first drew me to tune into the then WWF all the way back in the late 90’s. The men and women who collided in the ‘squared circle’ were gladiatorial super heroes to me – the whole pageantry of the bright lights and a ruckus crowd pulled me in and even inspired me to be a stage performer. But that was then, and now what stands in place of a company that seemed to be on the constant up is a plateau of ‘cash grab’ style events that most probably keep it afloat.

Of course I am talking about the multiple event deal WWE is aligned with putting on in Saudi Arabia who are opening their doors to more and more mainstream entertainment. While these ‘shows’ may do wonders for the WWE’s bank balance their true investment in the global fans is suffering for it. Their latest event which last Thursday saw a popular modern day Champion known as Bray Wyatt (the Fiend) drop his belt to a part timer and star of yesteryear Bill Goldberg (who wrestled a handful of times in the past few years). Their match lasted no longer than their entrances and even left me asking questions.

Aged multi billionaire owner Vince McMahon is at the very forefront of ‘creative’ decisions and has been since most probably the stone age of wrestling. And with the short term of pleasing a singular audience in mind he is pretty much imploding the company’s rep from within. WWE has been a money making super business for some time now but their tunnel vision towards making that cash has began to unravel and even casuals like me can see it from afar. You can see the reactions from the twittersphere…

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Part time performers seem to be a theme these days in WWE with McMahon acclaimed ‘attraction’ Brock Lesnar being a high profile champion for some years but only appearing every now and then. In fact he appears on a sometimes monthly basis and hence demotes the rest of the roster. This whole ‘nostalgia’ thing is great for one night but it has no longevity for the performers looking to prove themselves and become big stars of their own.

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I guess even billion dollar companies ‘sell out’, that’s why they are worth billions but how long can they sustain doing things like this? Those who are ‘smartened up’ will know there is another wrestling promotion in the US which has recently emerged known as All Elite Wrestling. They too are backed by a billionaire and could eventually ‘go places’.  Perhaps WWE’s days are numbered… thank God I’m not a full time viewer these days…

 

 

 

 

 

HITMAN: An evening with Bret Hart – Review

‘My career was everything to me.’

Those were the first words said by Bret ‘the Hitman’ Hart on what would become an evening of honesty and even some real emotion as he recalled the run up to his WWE return; that being the Hall of Fame induction in 2006.

And that was the subject of this evening’s show (Bret’s WWE return and beyond) of what has been a several night tour of the UK for Hart, London being the final stop which was all well presented and put together by Inside the Ropes.

Just an hour or so before the audience like myself had the opportunity to meet Bret; although brief I did manage to tell him how much it meant for him to come over to the UK and the fact I don’t think professional wrestling got any better after him. He was softly spoken and truly thankful like he always has been for the fans.

‘That mean’s a lot,’ he said and of course he continued on with signing autographs and meeting the large turn out of fans.

For those not so in the know about the history of professional wrestling; I watched it religiously while growing up and even into my early twenties along with my brother who got us tickets to this event. The performance side of wrestling and the spectacle is what always attracted me to it, this is probably why I eventually joined a drama club and performed in shows. Wrestling is a performance art; it’s story telling and most punters who know me on here will know where I stand when it comes to stories.

Bret Hart is arguably one of the greatest ever, the 90’s was mostly a good decade for the Hitman while he became more and more popular. He won championships and was a staple to the industry and the then WWF. He really was (and still is) a Canadian hero who also inspired the rest of the world. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on what side you stand Bret’s career hasn’t been without controversy, of course the 1997 Survivor Series ‘screw job’ comes to mind (google it if you haven’t heard of it) – possibly the most fascinating piece of wrestling politics in it’s whole history. His rivalry on and off screen with Shawn Michaels cannot be ignored. Hart has also been through a lot more, he lost his own brother Owen, a fellow wrestler who tragically died during an event in 1998.

At the near end of the decade Bret who then wrestled for rival outfit WCW was forced to retire eventually due to a rather stiff kick to the head by Bill Goldberg; a person he referenced with the upmost contempt and now I have heard the real story, I don’t blame him. Not only did this kick cause a severe concussion; it took him a year to recover but it also led to a life changing stroke some years later. Goldberg apologized via the phone 8 months later.

We can all agree Bret Hart has been through a lot of misfortune; he lost a lot including the majority of a 16 million dollar contract he had with WCW after he got injured. His final payout via Lloyds of London – who he also regards with contempt, 1.6 Million and this included the a stipulation that he could never wrestle again.

His departure from the WWF in 97 wasn’t a good one. He’ll be the first to admit that he was angry and mad for a long time.

‘It doesn’t help to carry around a lot of grief,’ he says when tackling the subject of what he’s been through. 

There were a few moments when Hart had to stop, for a man who has been though so much and probably hardened by it he still manages to get emotional and this is when everything really sunk in to me. A lot of folks over the years have said he’s just a bitter former wrestler, he isn’t and he’s so damn proud of the career he’s had.

Bret even was determined not to be erased from Wrestling history and why should he? His family; the Hart’s are a famous wrestling family from Calgary; they deserve to be recognised. Vince McMahon of WWE, or the enemy back then called Bret whilst he was still in the hospital post stroke. They began to mend fences and Bret knew he deserved to be in the Hall of Fame which is what the subject of the phone call.

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The evening continued with a plethora of eye opening accounts of his return to the WWE and even his long awaited return to their flagship show Raw in 2010. This was indeed another emotional recollection but he had to do it, he had to bury the past and he did. Of course Bret went on to have a ‘match’ at Wrestlemania after seeing Donald Trump throw down with McMahon; of course Lloyds of London began a lawsuit but they did the match anyway even with Bret not able to take bumps.

After all these years Bret ‘the Hitman’ Hart is still able to fill an auditorium just by telling his stories and they were worth every word. Even though he’s older he’s prouder than ever of what he has achieved and you can tell that by how emotional he got – something I never thought I would see, he let us in. You can still argue to this day that Bret is the excellence of execution, he admitted he never hurt anyone in the ring, so my belief sways towards him being just that!

This was my first Inside the Ropes show; I’m definitely going to be looking out for future shows especially if they were like this one! 

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