In late January, Mark Calaway appeared on the Joe Rogan podcast (who has pushed baseless conspiracy theories on his show), to push his own baseless narrative on current WWE wrestlers and the “soft” product. Mean Mark outright called the boys out for playing video games and making themselves look “pretty” backstage and longed for the days where “men were men”.
Old Man Mark must reminisce in the days where underaged sex scandals were the norm, wrestlers were stabbed with scissors (in Bruiser Brody’s case, stabbed to death), and talent would shit in each other’s food and duffle bags. Everyone was packing heat and popping pills – you know, a “safe” environment.
Drug abuse was so rampant in the days where “men were men” that it led to such notable memories where the British Bulldog showed up to Summerslam 92’ on crack, the infamous 2002 “plane ride from hell”, and everyone from Vince McMahon to Bret Hart was doing cocaine on the regular throughout the 80s and 90s. Such an atmosphere of addiction and drug use would lead a lot of talent down the dark road to their unfortunate demise (see: Miss Elizabeth, Chyna, Lance Cade, Luna Vachon, Dynamite Kid, The Von Erichs, etc…).
And of course, there’s the steroids, most notably the 1993 steroid trial. With everyone blazed out of their mind on cocaine and steroids, it’s no wonder why years of such self-harm and mental abuse would lead to an even darker path for one Chris Benoit, who murdered his family and committed suicide in 2005.
But you know, the days where “men were men”, right, Mark?
This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding wrestling’s very dark past, and much of it revolves around heavy drug use, sexual assault, and toxic masculinity. The Undertaker is the same man who has a phobia of cucumbers (unless they’re cut), which is a Freudian slip if I’ve ever seen one. However, what Texas Red is missing here is not that wrestlers are soft, but that the current product has changed in such a way that no longer applies to an ‘old school’ state of mind – and for the better.
Titan Towers: The Land of Main Event Mid-Carders
When those who write about this agree with Mark’s sentiments, they point to the possibility that wrestlers are no longer “hungry” anymore (so, you know, video games). Well, you aren’t hungry if everyone is being fed…let me explain…
Right now, WWE is still the place with the most pound-for-pound best talent in the industry – but by a failed design. When Vince and Paul swooped up every hot name on the Indies scene, they put themselves in a place where the roster is full of top-tier talent that is good enough to be expected to win championships and headline shows.
Of course, not everyone can literally headline shows, so you have a melting pot of main event talent that has nowhere else to go when the main event is being taken by the likes of Roman Reigns, Drew McIntyre, and whichever old fart legend they bring in for a temporary ratings boost to impress their shareholders.
It is because of this dynamic that most talent is brought in with an already established resume and will be treated well and with a six-figure deal. There doesn’t exist a hierarchy in WWE like it does with New Japan or even AEW. You’re not going to get these “hungry” wrestlers that want to work desperately from low-card to main event because they’ve already done that elsewhere, and they’re quite comfortable being paid more for less work.
And who could blame them?
If you were to double my pay for putting my body on the line less than what I’m used to, why not take it? Especially when time and time again, WWE creative will have very little, if anything for these main event mid-carders. When you’re in a spot where you’re creatively unfulfilled (as we’ve seen with wrestlers who left and jumped to AEW), and you’re not really climbing up the card, even though you have the talent to do so, you’re going to become a bit jaded with everything.
Back when Mark was wrestling under the moniker Cain the Undertaker, he performed in a time where the WWF was not a publicly traded company, there were no shareholders to answer to, and social media didn’t exist. Mark Calaway is as corporate as corporate gets, being the company man – but he should know better that the times of toxic locker room behavior is something of the past – and for good reason.
The WWE is a workplace, and if social media were to exist in the mid to late 90s, the #metoo movement would have brought that company down quicker than a botched chokeslam in Saudi Arabia. “It was a different time” is simply a dog whistle excuse for “I miss the days of rampant misogyny and toxic masculinity”.
The same man who is uncomfortable around cucumbers is the same man who appears to be uncomfortable with a locker room that treats their co-workers like equals, doesn’t try to stab each other to death, and prefers the recreation of playing video games and self-care over doing bumps of cocaine before matches.
Being the level of corporate that WWE is means providing a safer environment for their employees. That's not "soft", that's humane.
You Should Have Listened to DDP
Diamond Dallas Page was no doubt ruined in his WWE run, being given a life coach gimmick that went nowhere. However, there’s a bit of foreshadowing in that character. Mental health is now recognized, more than ever, as something to take very seriously – in and out of the wrestling business.
I must question the mental health of these talents in the decades where “men were men”. When your coping mechanism is to take lots of drugs, imbibe excessive amounts of alcohol, and create such a violent and toxic backstage atmosphere; you clearly have mental health struggles to work through.
Luckily, the industry now respects mental health, and a few examples have played out right in front of us as of recent. When Kylie Rae needed time away from AEW due to mental health concerns, she was granted as such with no pressure, and an outpouring of support.
She didn’t self-medicate her way through her new role in AEW to cope, she understood that she needed time away. When she returned to the sport, this time for Impact, she shined in her performances for that company. However, she again needed take a step back – this time for good -- as she retired from pro wrestling 8 months later for similar reasons.
And all of this is completely okay.
What Mark fails to understand is that everyone has their own level of mental health struggles – literally everyone in some form. This likely was not supported in his heyday, and the onslaught of drug-induced, violent backstage stories back this up.
Mark Calaway is a legend in this industry, but he is also human. He is a 55-year-old man that when faced with the notion of evolving with a healthier era that focuses on self-care and mental health – chose to remain stagnant.
He chose not to understand why talent would prefer to carry themselves in a safe environment and play video games over needlessly putting their bodies through self-harm in the name of archaic and toxic backstage behavior.
Never meet your heroes. Kill your idols. Everything evolves, and will continue to evolve in this industry, and The Undertaker is just a man who has failed to keep up with the times. There is a difference between “not getting it” and seeking honest answers, and “not getting it” but instead putting everyone on blast on a popular podcast.