WWE's new documentary is 'The Last Dance' for wrestling fans

"The Last Ride" offers a unique look into the career of Mark Calaway, a.k.a. the Undertaker. (Photo courtesy of WWE)

As the world watches and relives the epic career of Michael Jordan as part of “The Last Dance” documentary, wrestling fans are getting their own version as WWE is releasing “The Last Ride,” a look back at the Undertaker’s legendary career.

Aside from the obvious resemblance in titles, these documentaries have much more in common that one would imagine, especially considering the subject matter. Yahoo Sports was provided a screener for the first episode of “The Last Ride,” and here’s a look at what fans can expect to learn from the five-part series.

A rare look at Mark Calaway

Anyone familiar with WWE and, more specifically, the Undertaker’s career, knows that he has been one of the most guarded and mysterious figures over the past three decades. Even as social media expanded and fans learned more than ever about the goings-on backstage and in WWE stars’ personal lives, Mark Calaway remained as dedicated as ever to kayfabe and rarely broke character. This documentary may be about the Undertaker per se, but it’s entirely through the lens of Calaway. 

In many ways, Calaway and Jordan share similar mentalities, and “The Last Ride” illustrates that. Through his own words — and those of his peers — Calaway is described as having a singular focus: Being the best professional wrestler he can possibly be. Similar to how Jordan expressed not wanting to play until he physically couldn’t anymore, Calaway comes to the realization in the first episode of “The Last Ride” that his own ability has diminished and his desire to not take a spot on the WrestleMania card from a more deserving, younger talent. Despite this, the obsession and love for the business shown by Calaway is akin to Jordan’s insatiable appetite for competition. 

Sensing he may have been near the end of his career, Calaway reached out to Vince McMahon days before his match at WrestleMania 33 and requested a camera crew film behind the scenes footage, similar to how the Bulls — and the somewhat shielded Jordan — granted access to a film crew prior to the 1997-98 NBA season.

Calaway requested a film crew document his preparation for WrestleMania 33 in Orlando, Fla. in 2017. (Photo courtesy of WWE)

WWE’s version of Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson

If Calaway is Jordan in WWE’s documentary, well then who is the supporting cast? While it may seem like a bit of a stretch to make these comparisons, after watching the first episode, many fans may find them to be a bit more realistic. 

Of course, the obvious connection to make is between Jackson and McMahon. One of the prevailing storylines of the 1997-98 Bulls season was that Jordan refused to play for a coach besides Jackson. The loyalty between player and coach closely mirrors the relationship depicted on screen between Calaway and McMahon. Calaway, who has been with WWE for 30 years, is fiercely loyal to McMahon and WWE. 

Through the “Monday Night Wars” in the 1990s, where it was typical for wrestlers to jump between WCW and WWE (then WWF), Calaway was one of few stalwarts who never left McMahon’s side, in turn earning his position as the locker room leader. The mutual respect McMahon and Calaway have for one another is clear throughout the first episode, with Calaway reinforcing the point that his purpose is to never embarrass McMahon or WWE.

Paul "Triple H" Levesque plays a prominent role in the documentary's first episode. (Photo courtesy of WWE)

As far as Pippen goes, wrestling fans will immediately go to Calaway’s longtime, on-and-off tag partner Kane (current Knox County, Tenn. Mayor Glenn Jacobs), but it’s actually Paul “Triple H” Levesque who serves in that role early in “The Last Ride.” Much of the first episode focuses on the fallout from WrestleMania 30, where Calaway’s “streak” was ended. Calaway opens up about the concussion he suffered in that match and how it rattled him moving forward. As both Calaway and Levesque’s in-ring careers winded down, they experienced similar training routines and there are several moments between the two that show the bond they share and how Levesque helped his friend regain his confidence.

Passing of the torch

One of the main storylines during episode 5 of “The Last Dance” was the relationship between Jordan and the late Kobe Bryant. Similar to the metaphorical passing of the torch during the 1998 All-Star Game, “The Last Ride” offers a look at Calaway’s interactions with Joe “Roman Reigns” Anoa’i prior to their match at WrestleMania 33. 

Calaway's match at WrestleMania 33 was believed by many to be his last and a moment where he passed the torch to Roman Reigns. (Photo courtesy of WWE)

During the premiere episode, Calaway and Anoa’i are seen chatting and exchanging pleasantries backstage. Considering the belief that the match between the two in Orlando in 2017 marked Calaway’s retirement — with the most clear signal coming when he left his gear in the ring — the connection between those moments and the moments seen and shared between Jordan and Bryant is a simple one to make.

Structure, timeline and reverence

Ironically, Jordan and Calaway’s careers both blew up in 1990. As the Bulls started the trek to their first NBA championship in the fall of 1990, Calaway would make his debut as the Undertaker at Survivor Series that November. 

Although “The Last Ride” doesn’t seem to have the exact same timeline jumps as “The Last Dance,” the concept is similar. “The Last Ride” follows the past three years of Calaway’s career, while flashing back to his iconic moments in WWE (WrestleMania matches, his “Hell in a Cell” match with Mankind, etc.).

The easiest comparison to make between these two documentaries is the reverence in how both Jordan and Calaway’s peers speak of each man, respectively. While in “The Last Dance” you hear from Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas and Charles Barkley, “The Last Ride” features Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Shane McMahon. The adulation and admiration shines through clearly in both cases.

‘The Last Ride’ premieres this Sunday on WWE Network immediately following the “Money in the Bank” pay-per-view.

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