Ladies and gentlemen, this is the first thing I’ve posted since the passing of Ultimate Warrior, my very first favorite pro wrestler. For those of you that were stung by the loss of Eddie Guerrero a decade ago or so many of the other superstars who have met their premature ends, that is how I feel about the Warrior. There is a similar feeling to the Warrior and Eddie situations, given the proximity of their deaths to their last televised appearances. It is, summed up in a word, “heartbreaking.” I feel so bad for his daughters. I have a daughter. I lost my father 10 days after she was born. I cannot imagine what this might do to Warrior’s girls. They were far too young to lose their dad. When they grow up and have kids of their own, I hate that they’ll have to answer the question I’ve been bracing myself for since my daughter started talking, “Where’s your daddy?”
The Ultimate Warrior Chapter from The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment
By The Doc
Apr 13, 2014 - 4:07:21 PM
Today, I had originally intended to post a review for the book that described it as my “love letter to the world of professional wrestling.” That is not far off the mark. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true. Pro wrestling has been a saving grace for my life, getting me through some dark times. Ultimate Warrior captured my imagination during a period in my existence where my imagination needed to be captured. I’m forever grateful for that. Warrior played a big part in cultivating my passion for pro wrestling.
I thought about taking a page out of Triple R’s playbook and writing a tribute column, but I feel as though I already have. So, in the late Warrior’s honor and with a heavy heart, here is the chapter from my book dedicated to the legendary Ultimate Warrior….
#24: The Ultimate Warrior
The Ultimate Warrior was my first “favorite” wrestler. He was a captivating performer, particularly to a young fan of sports entertainment. When his music hit and he flew down the aisle at full speed, ran around the ring, and violently shook the ring ropes, it drew young minds into the glitz and glam of pro wrestling as the 1980s ended and the 1990s began. At my kindergarten age, his entrance had a “wow” factor. His theme left such a lasting impression that my wife and I used it to introduce our wedding party at our reception. The WWE did a good job during Hulkamania of making sure that professional wrestlers became more colorful. Hulk Hogan’s red and yellow attire and Macho Man’s flashy robes were good examples, but there was no one more vibrant than Warrior. With his Greek God physique, the multi-colored tassels on his biceps and his boots, and his face intensely painted as a symbolic mask, he looked like the most awesome fighter on the planet.
A former bodybuilder, he was still learning the ropes when he made his debut in 1987. He spent the next eighteen months looking good, physically, but struggling as a performer. There was something about him that allowed the WWE to let him learn as he went, though. He had that x-factor, mowing through the competition en route to a record-setting Intercontinental title win at the inaugural Summerslam in 1988 over then-champion, The Honky Tonk Man, in less than thirty-seconds.
His popularity skyrocketing, Warrior needed only to prove that he was capable enough in between the ropes to step up to the next level at the turn of the decade. 1989 was an important year for him. It was during that year that I first saw him wrestle. In one of 1989’s best rivalries, Warrior traded the IC title back and forth with the incomparable “Ravishing” Rick Rude at WrestleMania V and Summerslam. Rude deserves a lot of credit in getting Warrior ready for the main-event. He basically taught him how to work. Their Summerslam match was one of the best of 1989. It was arguably the top WWE match that year, which was really saying something for Warrior. In the early 90s, Warrior would frequently step up in big match situations and more than hold up his end. The bouts with Rude were the turning point that eventually allowed him to excel. As mentioned in Ravishing’s chapter, you could see a marked improvement just from Mania to Summerslam. In just five month’s time, Warrior went from sloppy and out of control to crisp and psychologically sound. The WWE knew it could not ask much of him yet at Mania, hence the barely above five minutes in length. At Summerslam, they knew that they had a different level of wrestler on their hands and were able to give him more responsibility. He delivered in spades, with Rude leading the way.
To kids, Warrior was like Achilles in real life, human form; a gift from the wrestling Gods. He was seemingly not of this earth. Nothing that he said or did made him seem like a mere mortal to anyone under the age of eight. When he was given a WWE Championship match at WrestleMania VI, it felt as if it was Warrior’s destiny to win the title, dethroning Hogan in the process.
Warrior vs. Hogan was the most fascinating match of the early WrestleManias, eclipsing even Hogan vs. Andre. After having conditioned their fanbase for decades to believe that “good” would always win in the end, the WWE pitted two heroes against each other and told us all to pick a side. From Sammartino to Morales to Backlund to Hogan, evil had always been defeated. This time, there was no evil. They each had their fan followings and they each held a well-respected championship. Babyface matches, as they are called, had been done in the past, but never in the WrestleMania Era and never in this high a profile. Mania had truly become wrestling’s Super Bowl, by then. Warrior vs. Hogan had the feel of Troy Aikman’s Cowboys reaching their peak just as Joe Montana’s 49ers were winding it down.
“The Ultimate Challenge” was the name given to their “Title for Title” showdown, making it known that this was not an event built around Hogan, but on his match with Warrior being the most significant mountain he had ever had to climb. Some suggested that the torch was about to be passed. During the 1990 Royal Rumble match, they had a memorable face-off during the climax. It was an electric confrontation. Dare I say that it was one of the best handled pre-Mania moments.
“Feel the electricity,” said Jesse Ventura during the early moments of the Mania match. “You can cut it with a knife,” replied Gorilla Monsoon. I do not care if they rehearsed it (unconfirmed rumor). It does not bother me in the least that it was fairly pedestrian in its execution. The fact of the matter was that Warrior and Hogan had the nearly 70,000 people in the palms of their hands. It was presented so very well, with changes in momentum at just the right times and one of the most dramatic final sequences in wrestling’s history to that point. It was not an exercise in aesthetic perfection, but it was an absolute masterpiece in how to properly carry out a battle between two protagonists. Warrior won the match and the WWE Championship. Pat Patterson, one of the lead road agents and a Hall of Famer, came into the dressing room to check on him a few hours after the show to find him staring at the title, crying because he was so happy.
Warrior was given the ball, though I am not certain that he was ever really given the “torch.” He took the lead as the company’s champion and did well in title defenses against the likes of Ted Dibiase and Mr. Perfect. Rude then came back to challenge him for the belt at Summerslam ’90, concluding their multi-year struggle in a Steel Cage match. Savage attempted to be next in line. The Macho King, having won the King of the Ring crown in 1989, blindsided the champion in a maneuvering effort for a title shot. Sgt. Slaughter, though, had emerged as the top heel in the WWE. Warrior’s efforts to defend the USA pushed Savage’s request for a title match to the backseat. Macho did not much care for being cast aside (probably no more in real life than in storyline) in favor of a guy that had not been relevant in the WWE for years.
Royal Rumble ’91 made it apparent that Warrior’s win over Hogan the previous year was not meant to make him Hulkamania’s replacement as the face of the organization. He dropped the title to Slaughter due to Macho’s (heavy) interference, setting up the turncoat Sarge to get his comeuppance at the Hulkster’s mighty hand at WrestleMania VII. Wrestling lore has likely told the wrong tale in implying that Warrior “failed at taking up Hogan’s helm,” for that would suggest that Warrior was given the helm in the first place. Promotions have always had multiple tiers of drawing superstars. Hogan was the face of the company and remained the “The Man” even after Warrior defeated him for the title. Warrior could not possibly duplicate what Hogan did for the WWE. He could headline house shows and PPVs, but to expect that he could be the presence in the media appearances expected of the WWE’s #1 star that Hulk was? That would not have been fair. It would be like asking Undertaker to do those things as well as The Rock or John Cena. Hulk, Rock, and Cena are personalities fit for mainstream media appearances, while neither Warrior nor Taker are cut from that mold.
I, personally, look at the situation and see that the WWE was testing the waters with Warrior, rather than outright pushing him into Hogan’s spot. Surely the WWE knew that Hulkamania was no longer running wild, but business was still strong. I think Warrior was pegged as “one of” the top draws in the company that they could bank on for years to come, but I do not believe that he was intended to be “The Man.” If he had been, he would have been paid the same kind of money as Hogan was getting. As proven by the Warrior’s disputes with Vince McMahon in 1991, that was not the case.
At the top of the secondary tier, behind only the face of the WWE, Warrior would have thrived much the same way that Andre or Savage had before him. The problem is that being given the title, the main-events, and more responsibility grows the ego of a superstar. Warrior is and always was a smart guy. He wanted to be on equal footing with Hulkamania’s dollars and cents, but Vince was unwilling. It happens in every sport. Stars that do big things want to be paid like the guys doing the biggest things. Would you not want the same?
WrestleMania VII was an interesting night. Warrior vs. Savage, to the avid viewer, came across as just as important as Hogan vs. Slaughter. Putting their respective careers on the line added a stipulation arguably as vital to the buyrate as the WWE Championship. With the Operation: Desert Storm tie-in, however, Hulk vs. Sarge took most of the fiscal credit. The mainstream media blitz, negative as it may have been, begged the question as to whether or not Hogan-Slaughter would have been fine without the title involved and, subsequently, whether the strap would have enhanced Warrior vs. Savage. It is difficult to say, definitively. One thing that we do know is that Warrior and Savage treated their match like it was the main-event, with Warrior even going so far as to airbrush onto his ring gear that his match “means much more than this,” referencing a picture of the title in between the words.
In one of my all-time favorite matches, Warrior put on the performance of his career, defeating Savage to temporarily end his.
A few years ago, WWE Home Video released a DVD documenting the Warrior’s career entitled, “The Self Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior.” It was somewhat of a tongue-in-cheek production that saw his peers poke fun at his interviews and his performance capacity. I remember, upon seeing those interviews, wondering aloud, “Did these guys not watch WrestleMania VII?” Not to come across as too much of a Warrior mark, but I cannot recall many horrible wrestlers having a WWE Match of the Year candidate in four consecutive years. You would be hard pressed to name many WWE matches better in 1989 than Warrior vs. Rude, in 1990 than Warrior vs. Hogan, or in 1991/1992 than Warrior vs. Savage.
Everything that Warrior did in his WrestleMania match with Macho King was spot on. He sold the fact that his career was on the line as well as anyone ever has in a similar gimmick. He ran to the ring, full steam ahead in every one of his WWE matches to my recollection, with the exception of the one where he logically would need to conserve his strength and stamina given what was at stake. At Mania VII, he slowly walked to the ring. He proceeded to make each move count, carefully picking his spots. He played mind games in an attempt to psyche Savage out. These were not Warrior trademarks. Normally, he was all power, ridiculously intense, and seemingly had just the fifth gear. Yet, with his (kayfabe) career hanging in the balance, he was amazingly smart.
It was a masterpiece. Not only is it a favorite, but I legitimately believe it to be one of the greatest matches ever when taking into account the crowd reaction, the commentary, the psychology of the story told, and the execution of the moves from each wrestler. The much heralded War Games ’91 in WCW had nothing on it. The only thing that Perfect vs. Bret (from that year’s Summerslam) had on it was better technical wrestling. In every other aspect of what makes a wrestling match great, Warrior vs. Savage was superior. I can only imagine, if the championship had been on the line and it been Mania VII’s main-event, how history might remember it. I think it is top ten at WrestleMania and top 25 overall, as is.
Warrior and Macho had a rematch, the WWE’s second babyface bout in a high profile championship situation, at the ’92 Summerslam. With another piece of work that has stood the test of time and ranks as one of the best matches in the Summer Classic’s past, they solidified the legacy of their feud as one of the greats of the generation.
Unfortunately, financial matters cut short the prime of the Warrior’s wrestling career. Summerslam ’92 was his last main-event match until a brief stint in WCW saw him rekindle his 1990 tensions with Hogan at Halloween Havoc ’98. [Doc’s note – the next few lines were edited]
I wish he would at least come back to the do Hall of Fame. I was such a fan of the guy in my youth. I still own my Ultimate Warrior “Wrestling Buddy” made in 1990. I wrote a paper about it as a junior in high school and received “A” marks for my description of its meaning. If by some chance you read this, Warrior, accept the next offer to be inducted in the HOF. [Doc’s note – it’s quite sad reading this back]
It was a shame that he left when he did, as he was set up for a good year or longer with the storylines that they had going between him and both Undertaker and Jake “The Snake” Roberts. With as good, call it carryable if you will, as he had become in the ring, I can only imagine the matches that he and the psychologically brilliant Snake could have put together. They were well on their way to a conflict that would have given both of them another potentially celebrated feather in their caps, but each departed before it could ever take place. The bout I would love to have seen would have been Warrior vs. Undertaker at WrestleMania VIII. The Deadman completely dominated most of his opponents in a manner similar but more aggressive to how Warrior had when he was first coming up through the ranks. They were each known for their no-selling (purposefully, be it in character or otherwise, making another wrestler’s offense look weak). It would have been an interesting dichotomy to see whether Taker’s “power from the urn” or Warrior’s “power from the Gods” would win out. It may have, though, derailed the illustrious “Streak” before it ever got off the ground.
The Warrior came back to the WWE for a short stint in 1996, notoriously squashing a young Triple H at WrestleMania XII, but the business had changed and his mystique was gone.
My memories of him will never die.
He will live on as a former WWE Champion that carried the title for ten months and a two-time Intercontinental Champion that enhanced the stature of the belt. He had some of the most legendary matches of the early WrestleMania Era, headlining the “Granddaddy of ‘em all” three times.
Perhaps his greatest contribution to the wrestling business, though, was his promos. My buddy, Tony, and I went back and watched a bunch of his old interviews with the power of YouTube several years ago. It probably looked like we were watching the best of Chris Rock’s comedy tour to a bystander. Warrior was an off the wall interview, without question. He was certainly charismatic, but the subjects that he chose were just so random. Hilariously random. It takes a creative cat to come up with some of that stuff, so all the credit in the world to the guy. However, just read these quotes…
“How should I prepare? Should I jump off the tallest building in the world? Should I lie on the lawn and let them run over me with lawnmowers? Or, should I go to Africa and let them trample me with raging elephants?”
“And I came here for one reason: to attack and keep coming. Not to ask but just to give, not to want but just to sing; sing the power of the Warrior…because this freak of nature right here is just beginning to swell, and when I get big enough, brother, there ain’t gonna be room for anybody else but me and all the Warriors floating through the veins.”
“Load the spaceship with the rocket fuel; load it with the warriors!”
The above is one of my favorites because I can see him in my head saying it with inflection like only he could.
“The family that I live for only breathes the air that smells of combat.”
There was only one Ultimate Warrior, ladies and gentlemen.
The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment
©DPC Books 2013