Few WWE performers have had the rivalry and relationship with The Undertaker that Paul “Triple H” Levesque has. Ahead of the final episode of the docuseries “The Last Ride” (Sunday, 10 a.m., WWE Network), Levesque talks with The Post’s Joseph Staszewski about Mark Calaway and their experiences together.
(Edited for clarity and length)
Q: How would you characterize your relationship with The Undertaker?
A: We have a close relationship that I think was built on mutual respect for each other, but also I think we have a lot in common from a human being standpoint, the way we look at things, the way we approach things. I think there is also an understanding of, we were, it sounds cliche, a slightly different generation of performer. I think that we just had that same mentality of stuff at kind of a moment in time over the past five years, or so it feels like, we have been going through the same, to a degree, some of the same doubts and fears and anxiousness and nervousness around our careers and how do you get to the end. We’ve shared a lot of that. We’ve shared a lot of time in the ring. We shared a lot of time together outside the ring and I just think there’s a lot of respect there.
Q: Are those conversations you’ve had both ways about obviously he’s struggling with how to end his career and have you talked about how you’d like to end yours?
We haven’t talked as much about how mine ends. When you’re at the level The Undertaker was at, that Mark was at, the business is so all-consuming. And it becomes so much a part of everything that you are. I’m not saying that it’s all that you are, because I think Mark would say he’s a lot of things. He’s a dad. He’s a husband. But, everything else that you are the business is so all-consuming that it’s your passion. He talks about it. It’s your mistress in someways. It’s chasing those dragons in those moments because there is no feeling like it in the world. But for him, when it goes away, when he’s not in the business he’s on the outside of the business. He goes home with his family. He does his stuff.
He’ll come around and he’ll do things and we’ll talk about it and he’ll be involved slightly but he’s not day-to-day. For me, it’s still day-to-day in that obsession with it, if you want to call it that, is still there at all times. I’ve just channeled it in a different manner.
So it’s a little bit of a different scenario, we’ve certainly discussed it for sure, but there’s moments for me when I first began to realize … To me, he’s The Undertaker, he’s Mark Calaway. There is nobody bigger, more respected in the business. When I first started to see that he had the doubts and the fears and all those things it was mind-boggling to me. I was like, how can he doubt himself?
But it’s like, oh my God, he’s going through the same stuff I am. It’s like holy cow I had no idea. But then it humanized. In a lot of ways I always … like Mark and I over the years would talk a lot of family, not just the wrestling business. But to me as much as I knew him and saw it, the rest of his life was the same as everybody else’s there was the moments when I thought, Well he’s The Undertaker. He has no doubts. He’s the friggin’ Undertaker. What would he have to possibly doubt that he’s going to go out there at WrestleMania .. why would he even for a second think, ‘Boy I hope this goes well’ (Laughs).
That was mind-boggling to me, but it was the same things I was going through and having those same anxieties and fears. And to hear him say it almost made me go, “OK, I’m not out of my mind.” Because in some ways he’s that inhuman character and it never dawned on me that he had that. Once I saw it, then I could see it in him. I just would see him trying to get inside his own head so we would talk about it more and more.
Q: Jim Ross said on his podcast that Vince McMahon “forgot” to book you and Undertaker originally for WrestleMania 17. What do you remember about that lead up to that match?
A: (Laughs) I’d like to think it was more in-depth than Jim Ross’ expert analysis, well they forgot to book them?
Q: That’s why I’m asking.
A: There were a lot of things brought up for me for that year, but things weren’t panning out. We weren’t in the right spot for this, this ended up changing, this guy gets injured. Things move. You’re into your stuff and you see it (WrestleMania) coming.
One day Mark and I just happened to be talking and I’m like, “What are you doing for ‘Mania?” And he was like, “Man, I got nothing. They were supposed to do this, it fell apart. I was supposed to do that, it fell apart.” We were in the same boat and the two of us at like the same time we’re like, ”Ah, hey you want to work ‘Mania?”
We went to Vince and if I remember correctly we went to him together, I could be wrong. For me the moment I was like, “Oh my God I could work with Taker at ‘Mania. This would be phenomenal.” It’s nobody’s fault because now I can see it from the other side. But when you’re on the other side, you’re like, “How the frick can they have nothing for me at WrestleMania?” And how could they have nothing for The Undertaker, which actually made me feel better.
We both went in with a chip on our shoulder, like we’re taking this show and we’re gonna do everything we can to steal the show on this one and make sure they don’t ever think twice about not booking us, again.
I remember having this conversation with Mark going into it a little bit, just God, man this is so short. I wish we had more time to build this up and somewhere Mark looked at me and saying, “Dude, I usually get like Giant Gonzalez or something like that. You know how excited I am right now?” Which made me feel good.
Q: How special were the matches at WrestleMania 27 and 28, coming off what Undertaker did with Shawn Michaels and to have a four-year program between the three of you?
A: It was incredible. I don’t think it was until after they had the first that we all kind of got together and started saying like, hey, what if we booked an almost yearly comeback thing and it was sequential if Shawn does it and then I take up for Shawn and I want to finish what ended up putting Shawn away. Now I get there and I can’t get it done but I do what hasn’t been done before which was him in that third one getting carted out for the first time ever. He beat me, but he couldn’t walk out of the match and all that, legitimately I think. And then we get to the other side of it and get to the hell in a cell and for us … it’s hard to look at anything and go here’s a four-year story in the business. That first match between Taker and Shawn is, this gets thrown around a lot especially right now, the greatest match ever, but it arguably was.
There’s a lot of pressure [at WrestleMania 28] but I’m out there with Taker, I’m out there with Shawn. For us, and our relationships and our respect and everything that we had for each other, man, it was like this whole storybook series. I talk about it a lot about the moment of us all standing at the top stage is one of the biggest moments of my career. I’ll never forget that feeling in that moment.
Q: In the finale of “The Last Ride” we get a look at the lead up to his WrestleMania 36 match with A.J. Styles. How long was that kind of starting to rumble?
A: All credit to A.J. and I get it. We’ve all been there. Shawn would tell me, A.J. would call him before WrestleMania and try to talk him into coming out of retirement. He’d talk to me, “What are you thinking about doing for ‘Mania this year?” He was always digging for the stuff for him that I think, he was on the sidelines on that other place watching a lot of stuff go down that he was like, “Damn, I’d love to work with that guy. I’d love to work with that guy. I’d love to work with this guy” So I get all that.
He had gone to Taker and as he alludes to in (The Last Ride) chasing the dragon. When you’re the junkie for this business it doesn’t take a lot of convincing to get you to go, think about what it could be.
It’s one of those ones where things it would be bantered about and would get spoke about but like ya never knew. It all seemed to depend on, well Mark’s gonna start training let’s see how he feels and he gets closer because nothing’s written in stone until you start booking it on TV and you start going down that road.
Next thing you know he’s agreed to this match, everybody’s thinking ‘Oh my God, this is gonna be awesome, it’s going to be a guy that people talk about in some way in the vein of Shawn Michaels A.J. Styles and The Undertaker, on paper this is epic,’ and then here comes COVID. It’s just snakebit again.
Q: Do you think Undertaker could end his career on a match like the Boneyard Match? It gets great reviews, but it’s not in front of an audience.
A: I don’t know. It’s hard for me to say when somebody like him puts it down because I feel like the dragon is always in front of him one way or another and he’s always gonna look to do it. I think it would be hard for him to end on some kind of theatrical piece like that because of what you said, the emotionality of it.
We finished the last shot and then we’re like, “Alright, I think we got some good stuff let’s go home.” There weren’t 80,000 or 100,000 people standing up going crazy and you getting to stand on the top of that stage and get to have that one last moment. It’s not the closure you’re looking for.
Then again, if he decided to never come back or his health gets worse or he gets injured or something, this could be the last one. So, when I got involved in it, I was hell-bent on making sure for Mark this thing’s got to be everything it could be. It can’t fall apart on our end.
Q: In one of the episodes you said he was one of the people you talked with when your relationship with your wife Stephanie McMahon was starting. What did that mean to have him in your corner and were you ever worried that maybe he’d not be on your side?
A: You want a guy that’s gonna say, honestly, I could see how it could be bad for business, I can see how it could affect you, affect her and also see you guys have to do what makes you happy. He’s the one guy that I felt would hit me between the eyes with it and not go, well here’s what he wants me to tell him or here’s what needs to be said, but I’m gonna really sugarcoat it. He would say point-blank, “dude it’s gonna be hard for you to hear,” but bang, whatever. He was the one guy I really felt like this is a guy I need to go speak to about this. Not because I was looking for his approval or permission, but more because I was looking for his counsel.
Q: How often has he been talking to the talent at the Performance Center?
A: It’s been elusive, he wants to be heavily involved. Over the last few years, he’s had a lot of personal (things) with his kids and his family and everything else. He’s been down there a lot to answer the first question.
It’s the fountain of youth, so when you go down there …. Everybody who goes down there from a legends standpoint goes can I come back, can I do this, can I do that. He was the same way. We’ve had moments in time where we stood in front of all that talent down there and Mark said, “Hey I’m going to start coming around all the time, I’m gonna be involved here,I want to connect with everybody.” Then it falls apart because of everything else he’s got going on. I also think there’s a part of him that, if I’m just here training people that’s almost like a commitment to this other stuff’s done. I do think there’s a little bit of that. You don’t coach and play on the team. I feel like in a place in his mind he’ll think like, yeah I really want to do this but I really want to do it when I’m finished.
Q: What’s your favorite version of The Undertaker?
For me, that first epic Undertaker that I got to get in the ring with where he was still this amazing performer, but was still this amazing character. I think in some ways he felt like that was slightly limiting to him because he can’t do some of the stuff, he can’t sell the way he wants to for everybody, but if you could work around him and you could work to that character and you were willing to work around that character you could do some amazing stuff.
It wasn’t just about having a great match or a great in-ring performance it was about all of that plus the character, plus everything else. I really enjoyed that and it’s not to say when he did the American Bad Ass and all that stuff, now the doors are wide open and you can have any kind of match. That version of the Undertaker can sell a headlock. The dead guy version of it, not so much. But those things were fun.
The moments of building with the old-school Undertaker to the sit-up thing, all he’s going to do it sit up, I’m going to react to it and people are going to lose their minds. … He’s down, you get up first, give him the crotch chop and he sits up. That’s so much fun to do. That character allowed you to do so much of that fun stuff. You lost some of that with the American Bad Ass.
I love the traditional, not all the way back to the beginning where he was just slow and plotting, but somewhere in that late 90s version of the Undertaker who could go with anyone at the highest of levels but still had enough of that character in him where you could do the Shakespeare so to speak.