Every wrestler from a specific generation has a horror story about breaking into the business.
The Undertaker is no exception. Before becoming “The Phenom” and headlining WrestleManias for the WWE, Mark Calaway cut his teeth in different territories and promotions before getting a shot as Texas Red, a masked behemoth in Fritz Von Erich’s World Class Championship Wrestling in 1987.
The Undertaker was a guest on “The Joe Rogan Experience” this week and discussed his early days in the business, his awful first training experience, and how resembling Von Erich’s late son actually helped get a young Mark Calaway booked.
Calaway’s journey into wrestling started just after college. The 6’8 basketball player had an opportunity to play in the European league, all he needed to do was bulk up his frame with some weight training.
Calaway’s college basketball coach said the European scouts were giving him a look but he needed to be bigger because of the style of play at the time. Calaway hit the gym more and befriended a guy who tried every day to convince the college athlete to try wrestling.
“I’m going to try wrestling, why don’t you try wrestling with me?” Calaway remembers. “I was a big wrestling fan as a kid, but as I got into basketball and football and everything else and I kinda drifted away.”
Calaway stuck with his basketball dreams for a while until really giving thought to what signing on to play in Europe might actually mean.
“One of the things that helped me in my career is being a realist in what my talents are and what my talents aren’t and I started having these conversations with myself like ‘even if you do make a team, how long do you really have?’
And being 21 and sitting at the end of a bench in Lithuania. I’m trying to weigh it up against what I’m seeing on TV, right? You’ve got the Von Erichs and Hogan and I’m like, sh*t, these guys are huge household names.”
Obviously, Calaway chose wrestling and scraped together $2K to train at a “wrestling school” with a star at the time, Buzz Sawyer. Sawyer was nicknamed “Mad Dog” for a reason, he was as volatile outside the ring as inside the squared circle.
Calaway recalls showing up for the first day of “training” and meeting Sawyer for the first time.
“Buzz was a good amateur. There’s about ten of us, knocking on the door, standing on his front lawn. Finally, the door swings up ‘What the f*ck do you want!?! He’s standing there butt a** naked. Woke him up. He’s just standing there naked. We’re like ‘Umm we’re here to train?’ and he goes ‘F*ck! Is that today?’” Calaway remembers.
The experience only got worse for Calaway and his classmates. The entire ordeal ended, after weeks of grueling workouts, with Calaway being the final guy left standing on Sawyer’s front lawn. Unfortunately for Calaway, Sawyer skipped town with all of the money and taught the future Hall of Famer next-to-nothing about professional wrestling.
In this clip from “The Joe Rogan Experience,” The Undertaker discusses his time training with Sawyer and how he finally broke into the wrestling business by refusing to stop showing up at the offices of World Class Championship Wrestling, every week, for months.
Eventually, Calaway and Sawyer crossed paths again in 1990 when both worked for WCW.
According to a former WCW announcer, Calaway said he had a “score to settle” with Sawyer and was going to fight his former teacher but was talked out of the idea.
[via Joe Rogan Experience]