The Undertaker: WWE icon opens up about his career in the ring

The Undertaker making one if his entrances Image copyright Getty Images

The gong. The silence. And the shadowy figure in a long leather coat emerging from the smoke.

It's a scene that makes every wrestling fan sit up, look around and wonder - what on earth is the Deadman about to do?

But the mystery of The Undertaker is such that fans don't really know the person behind the legendary character.

"There's a lot of people wondering what the man - Mark Calaway - is really like," Mark, AKA The Undertaker, tells BBC 1Xtra's DJ Ace.

He's decided to pull back the curtain and give fans an unprecedented look at what it's like to be The Undertaker, in the WWE documentary The Last Ride - named after one of his iconic moves.

"It's not a big secret that I have fewer matches ahead of me than behind me.

"It's going to give an insight into who Mark Calaway is and what it's like to be The Undertaker."

'WWE is where my heart is'

Taker is regarded by many as the ultimate WWE man, devoted to doing what is best for the company.

And despite his enormous popularity, he's chosen not to follow fellow superstars John Cena or Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson into movies, even though he "had the opportunities" to do so.

"It doesn't work for me. Wrestling and WWE is my passion. It's where I've completely invested and where my heart is."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption An iconic pose symbolising the end for his opponent

Mark's priority has always been to "maintain the mystique of the character".

"I can go out, do a movie and be a completely different character. But then how do I come back and be The Undertaker?"

He thanks his late on-screen manager, Paul Bearer, for helping maintain the image.

"When I initially came out, it was bizarre - people would think I was really a dead man.

"Paul would be the mouthpiece in appearances. I would sit there, just be as stoic as possible and if someone said something to me, I'd just grunt," he adds.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Paul Bearer was often seen alongside The Undertaker - but it's fair to say their on-screen relationship had its ups and downs

Credit for the iconic character goes to WWE boss Vince McMahon though.

"It was Vince's brainchild, his creation - and he never really found the right guy to play him."

But once Mark was shown the sketches of the character, he "fell in love with it".

That's when he started thinking about how to bring The Undertaker to life - which forced him to change his in-ring personality.

"I used to be really athletic and fast. But I had to slow everything down, change the way that I did promos, and be different from what everybody else was doing at the time," he says.

It could have gone in another direction though.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Undertaker and Brock Lesnar - one of WWE's fiercest rivalries

Around the time of his debut in 1990, Mark thought he would be playing someone called "the Eggman".

"They were doing a big promotion and had a big egg on the set. I thought that egg was going to be me because they had so many gimmicks."

The thought of having to "shave my head and eyebrows" caused quite a panic.

"I really didn't want to be the Eggman."

But then he got the call about being the Undertaker: "I thought, 'That's not Eggman. So hell yeah, I'm The Undertaker'."

'I have a responsibility to fans, but also my family'

After a career spanning three decades it's become harder than ever to keep Mark Calaway and The Undertaker separate.

"I started in November 1990 - when things like the internet and phones weren't really around. The only time people saw me was for the shows."

But now, with "the explosion of the internet", he's pictured wherever he goes.

"When I go to have personal time with my family I only like places that respect my privacy. I have the responsibility to my fans, but also of being a husband and father."

There was an incident last year where Mark was being followed and was "completely oblivious".

"I'm pretty conscious of my surroundings, but somebody had a long-lens camera and they were having a field day for about two or three days following me."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A rare moment out of his WWE character

After so many matches and injuries, the end isn't too far away. But Mark wants one big match "that puts the exclamation point" on his career.

Like the one he had with Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 26 in 2010 - widely regarded as one of WWE's greatest matches. It pitted The Undertaker's long streak of wins at WrestleMania against Shawn Michaels' career, with Michaels retiring after the loss.

"He was at the top of his game when he chose to retire.

"And more than anything, that's what I'm looking for. That one match to get on the horse and ride off."

Performing during coronavirus

Coronavirus has hit every sport, including the WWE.

Their set-piece of the entire year - WrestleMania - had to be moved. Instead of performing to 90,000 people cheering inside a stadium, matches took place in silence at the WWE performance centre in Florida.

Since WrestleMania, WWE has resumed live shows - albeit without fans - drawing criticism from some for continuing despite the virus.

But Mark says they are taking precautions at the company and safety is the main priority.

He adds there is social distancing, temperature checks at the performance centre every day and pandemic level cleaning to make everything safe.

"And it boils down to you. If somebody doesn't feel safe, they can just say so and they don't have to come into work."

For Mark, "there's only so many reruns you can watch".

"I think it's vital for people to have something to look forward in terms of live content.

"It's something different and great for people's morale."

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