Mark Calaway is wearing an olive green beanie and a matching sleeveless hoodie while speaking over a video call from his home in Austin, Texas. His massive arms — which have choked and body-slammed nearly all of WWE’s biggest stars over the last three decades — are on full display.
But Calaway, better known by his ring name “The Undertaker,” has taken it easy as of late, spending more hours relaxing with his wife, Michelle McCool, and their 8-year-old daughter, Kaia. It’s, admittedly, something Calaway has needed time to get used to.
“Being in the moment, that’s something that I’ve had to learn,” the 55-year-old tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.
Following his appearance at April’s WrestleMania 36, Calaway has mostly stayed out of the spotlight. But he’s once again the subject of conversation as WWE commemorates his 30th anniversary with the company this month. Calaway debuted at Survivor Series in November 1990, transforming into The Undertaker for the first time in front of a WWE audience.
In honor of the milestone, the company began a 30-day celebration that included the release of four documentaries focused on Calaway’s career. And a new interview with Calaway and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin will air on WWE Network on Nov. 22, the same day as Survivor Series.
“It’s very humbling and I’m honored, but I’m even getting a little bit sick of myself now,” Calaway says while laughing. “But it’s really surreal just to have any career span 30 years, that’s an achievement in itself.”
Calaway will appear at Survivor Series — streaming on WWE Network at 7 p.m. EST on Sunday — for a special segment that the WWE is calling “Undertaker’s Final Farewell” (which a company representative did not refer to as an official retirement).
Over the last year, Calaway has been open about his struggle to fully walk away from the business, despite numerous injuries and health scares.
“When you do it right and you get that ovation, or whatever it is from your audience, that energy that comes back from them, it’s hard to get that anywhere else,” Calaway says of what has kept him performing. “I think that’s probably the only reason guys like the [Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson] come back, as successful as he is.”
He continues, “I always look at it as the best of athletics, and the best of entertainment. It’s like a live movie going on, except you don’t have stuntmen, and you can’t forget your lines because you’re doing it live. I mean, that’s a lot of pressure, and I don’t think our talent gets enough credit for what they have to do.”
Calaway tells PEOPLE that the “magic” of WWE performances and “storytelling” are not to be ignored.
“There are just so many different layers to our business, and I think people that aren’t fans have these preconceived ideas about what it is,” Calaway adds. “Usually if you’re not a fan, it’s negative, it’s like, ‘it’s this, it’s that.’ They have no clue what it takes physically, and what it takes emotionally. I think that gets really lost too, the sacrifices that people in this industry have to make.”
Someone who knows the extent of these sacrifices is McCool, who has learned to put her fears aside to support her husband whenever he has ventured back into the ring over the last decade.
“It’s hard because I know the business, and I know what he expects of himself,” the 40-year-old former WWE Superstar and Women’s Champion says. “No matter what type of pain he’s in, he’s going to go out there and perform, and he’s not going to back down or compensate for anything. That’s always scary.”
“But just because something’s scary doesn’t mean that we still can’t go out there, be brave and do it,” McCool adds. “It’s hard emotionally, it’s hard physically, but that’s what you do when you love somebody.”
Whether or not he returns to the ring again — surprises are one of the things that make the business so exciting — Calaway is getting accustomed to life at home. He even practices moves with Kaia, who could one day continue the family’s WWE legacy. (She recently surprised her parents by giving them a Christmas wish list that included a real WWE ring.)
“Time will tell,” Calaway says of whether Kaia will eventually pursue a career at the company that made her parents famous.
With three decades in the business now behind him, Calaway is focusing on the future, and whatever it may hold.
“There are certain days I think about it being 30 years and how long that is, then there are other days where it just seems like a flash,” he says. “It came and it went really, really fast. It just reminds me to soak in the things that I should be soaking in because 30 years goes a lot quicker than you think it does.”
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