REVIEW: Broken Skull Sessions – The Undertaker; An In-Depth Interview

We don’t do reviews too often here at WWE Network News. Mainly because a lot of the WWE Network’s original offerings are relatively short or light-hearted enough to not put too much time or focus investment into. Enter Broken Skull Sessions, a new monthly long-form interview series that is specifically promoted as “in-depth”. Starting by having Steve Austin interview none other than The Undertaker out-of-character for nearly 2 hours is pretty much the definition of “starting as you mean to go on”. So, let’s see if this new concept does live up to this initial hype.

Thankfully, both Austin and Taker do make the most of the 98 minutes. The initial pleasantries are kept to a minimum and used to immediately transition into Mark Calloway’s initial “training” with Buzz Sawyer in Texas. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give “Stone Cold” for this entire discussion is that he merely nudges Undertaker into interesting subjects and then lets the veteran talk uninterrupted for as long as possible. Steve only ever speaks when he was involved in whatever is being discussed, meaning that he only ever adds to proceedings.  The Deadman is captivating to listen to.

Another great thing about the way this interview is laid out is that it doesn’t rush anything. For example, we spend 10 minutes alone in Texas (WCCW/USWA more precisely) with the two legends enjoying going back and forth about matches they had in the territory and how they struggled to communicate.

That’s not to say that every little minute detail gets 10 minutes. You could make this show 4 hours long and you’d still struggle to cover the 30-year career of Undertaker. But there are so many great little stories or nuggets of information even for those passing mentions that nothing feels wasted during those early minutes looking at a legend’s growth during his introduction into the business.

As you might expect, the genesis of The Undertaker character gets the biggest spotlight (as it should, quite frankly) and I found it fascinating. From hearing how Mark’s confidence was at an all-time low as he was practically discarded by WCW, only to be initially told he wasn’t needed in the WWF is amazing to consider. Then we’re treated to rare concept drawings of the “western undertaker” persona and hear Mark’s entire thought process as he “clicked” with what he was asked to do and took inspiration from slasher movie icons. I’m intentionally distilling everything down into this paragraph so that you can experience a masterclass in psychology for yourself but I can’t stress enough that hearing all of the inspirations and advice that Taker took in for this make-or-break time in his career is a must-watch experience.

For those wondering, the “American Bad Ass” gimmick reinvention is indeed discussed. It’s quite rightly brought up as the biggest departure from the “zombie” stereotype up to that point and we get to hear how the man himself felt about his return in May 2000 and the impact it had on his future in-ring work.

There’s plenty on the big man’s later career too, including very open discussion on how much pain he lives with daily, his 4-year storyline with HBK and Triple H and his candid thoughts on the streak ending against Brock Lesnar. This topic, in particular, covers just how bad his concussion was that night and how much it has affected him moving forward. And yes, Taker’s retirement is brought up. Steve asks how strongly he’s considered hanging up the boots or if the symbolic exit after his loss to Roman Reigns was a legitimate gesture and more. It’s a sobering insight into the mind of an ageing veteran and how much he struggles with accepting the encroaching end while still taking pride in his craft.

Thankfully perhaps, we don’t end on what could be a mildly depressing note. Our last 15 minutes involve Taker reacting to a video reel of times when fellow superstars tried their best to make the stoic Deadman break character. This transitions into some tremendous tales of when wrestlers entertain themselves during house shows.

All told, I can’t criticise this inaugural episode of Broken Skull Sessions. The closest I can come to a critique is wishing that it was closer to 4 hours rather than 2. But that speaks to how enthralling hearing these men talk was rather than an indictment of quality at all. I couldn’t recommend these 98 minutes any more highly.

 

Highlights

  • Mark Calloway breaking into the business and ending up with Buzz Sawyer’s Rottweillers
  • Mark and Austin discussing their early days in Texas
  • “Mean” Mark learning from Dan Spivey in WCW
  • A fascinating in-depth discussion and breakdown of The Undertaker’s creation and the character’s early psychology
  • Taker talking about how he’s learned to cope as his body breaks down and what his later matches have meant to him
  • Fantastic backstage anecdotes throughout the entire interview from both men
  • Undertaker and Austin casually downing whiskey shots like two old friends

Lowlights

  • Give me more, damn it!

Broken Skull Sessions: The Undertaker is set to air later tonight on the WWE Network livestream, immediately following Survivor Series and will, as always, be immediately available for on-demand viewing.

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