ON THIS DAY IN PRO WRESTLING HISTORY... The WWF Superstar, the Ultimate Warrior, was officially gone from the WWF and ended his relevancy to pro wrestling. The Warrior was supposed to take part in a tag match at Survivor Series 1992 on November 25th, 1992. The match was supposed to be Ultimate Warrior/Randy "Macho Man" Savage vs. Razor Ramon/Ric Flair but ended up being Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig/Randy Savage vs. Razor Ramon/Ric Flair instead. What happened?!? And why didn't the Warrior show up in a major promotion after 1992 other than very brief stints with the WWF in 1996 and WCW in 1998?
First of all, who was the Ultimate Warrior? He was a 1 time WWF Champion and has a rare clean win victory against Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania 6. He was supposed to be the next big babyface in the business and Hogan handed him the torch at Wrestlemania 6. In years prior, the Warrior was a huge midcard success and is arguably the most successful Intercontinental Champion of all time with his domiance of that title during 1988 to 1990. He was actually Intercontinental Champion heading into Wrestlemania 6 against Hulk Hogan. Through 1990, the WWF thought that the Ultimate Warrior would continue the WWF's dominance and success in the pro wrestling market during the 1990's. In hindsight, it wasn't meant to be. More than 2 years later after winning the WWF Title at Wrestlemania 6 in 1990, the Warrior was GONE from the WWE.
Jim Hellwig, the man behind the Ultimate Warrior gimmick, would begin his pro wrestling career around 1985. With Vince McMahon's influence of chiseled wrestlers running wild in the industry, bodybuilders like Hellwig were getting pulled into pro wrestling. After changing wrestler names and gimmicks a few times, Hellwig would eventually wrestle under the name "Rock" and tag up with a guy named Steve Borden who wrestled under the name "Flash". The team would eventually split up and attempt singles careers. Jim Hellwig, or Rock, would join the World Class Championship Wrestling promotion as the Dingo Warrior with facepaint while his former partner, Steve Borden or Flash, would eventually go on to join the Jim Crockett NWA promotion that would become World Championship Wrestling (WCW) with facepaint and call himself Sting. How about that? Two of the most popular and successful singles wrestlers with facepaint once tagged together.
The Dingo Warrior wouldn't last long in World Class and soon joined the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in 1987, initially as the Dingo Warrior. He was soon repackaged as the Ultimate Warrior and quickly became a popular midcard act. His theme music created an explosive entrance that amped up the crowd and he was very popular among children who seemed drawn to wrestlers with face paint (Road Warriors, Sting, Demolition, for example). He was becoming the perfect midcard act that helped complement Hulkamania at the top of the card. And then came SummerSlam 1988, where the year long Intercontinental Champion Honky Tonk Man thought he had an easy night... Then, the music hit:
The Ultimate Warrior destroyed the Honky Tonk Man within moments to win his first Intercontinental Championship. The fans went bonkers and suddenly, the WWF had a strong babyface draw in the midcard. As time wore on through 1989 and then through early 1990, the WWF drew lots of money with Hulk Hogan drawing as the WWF Champion and the Ultimate Warrior as Intercontinental Champion (can't forget Demolition as Tag Champs, too). Fans either wore the red and yellow or they painted their faces up, and it was OK for fans to actively root for BOTH wrestlers. Merchandising was at an all time high and the WWF could draw crazy money by splitting the WWF rosters with Hogan at the top of one tour and Warrior at the top of the other. Money was pouring in by keeping them separate and letting fans root for both guys. But then by 1990, the WWF forced fans' hands to choose with the "Ultimate Challenge".
Wrestlemania 6 featured Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior, WWE Champion vs. Intercontinental Champion and babyface vs. babyface. The WWF banked on the fact that wrestling fans wanted to see this match (which they did, Wrestlemania 6 was very successful) and that the Ultimate Warrior could transition easily from midcard act to top guy carrying the promotion. Little did the WWF know that Hulk Hogan still had some tread on his tires and that Warrior wasn't the main event draw that he was intended to become. I'd possibly argue that after Wrestlemania 6, he wasn't quite treated as a champion as he rehashed his feud with "Ravishing" Rick Rude from the previous year. Rude was never meant to be a serious main eventer, at least in the WWF's eyes. Ditto for Ted Dibiase for a feud, as the Million Dollar Man's opportunity to become champion passed from Wrestlemania 4, two years prior. Quite possibly, the WWF missed the boat by not having Warrior feud with the "Macho King" Randy Savageimmediately, who was the perfect heel complement to the Warrior as the WWF found out by their spectacular feud and match at Wrestlemania 7.
At Royal Rumble 1991, the Warrior lost to Sgt. Slaughter (heel at the time, Iraqi sympathizer with Desert Storm going on) thanks to Macho Man's interference. This set-up the Retirement match between the Warrior and Randy Savage which many consider the Warrior's finest match (why was he looking at his hand?!?). After beating Savage at Wrestlemania 7, the Ultimate Warrior was set to tag up with Hulk Hogan to take on "Team Iraq" (Sgt. Slaugher/Colonel Mustafa/General Adnan) at SummerSlam 1991. Issues over money between the WWF and Ultimate Warrior led to SummerSlam 1991 being the last WWF appearance. WWF has claimed that Warrior held Vince up before the show for the money, whereas Warrior has claimed that promised payments, such as Wrestlemania 7 or merchandising deals, weren't made to him. After SummerSlam 1991, fans wouldn't see the Warrior until the WWF brought him back for Wrestlemania 8 in 1992. Warrior's return to the WWF in 1992 didn't go so well...
For one, Warrior appeared thinner than before and had a new haircut. This lead the the multiple rumors that the Warrior "died from substance abuse" and was replaced with another wrestler. His bizarre feud with Papa Shango perplexed WWF fans at the time, especially when strange fluids would flow or be vomited out of the Warrior while being under Shango's spell. I remember, in particular, when black goo came out of Warrior's forehead. The odd storylines and the thinner, different look seemed to harm the Warrior's image upon his 1992 return. Not so stellar matches with Papa Shango didn't help either. He had a rematch against Randy Savage at SummerSlam 1992 in England but their rematch didn't set the world on fire like the Wrestlemania 7 match and was overshadowed by the hot Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog Intercontinental Title match.
This time around for Savage vs. Warrior, it was babyface vs. babyface... The wrestlers were then naturally paired up for Survivor Series 1992 and take on the heel tag team of Ric Flair and Razor Ramon (Scott Hall). This tag match was as a result of Ric Flair recapturing the WWE Title shortly after SummerSlam 1992 thanks to some assistance by Razor Ramon to help Flair win. Macho and Warrior named themselves the ULTIMATE MANIACS and had one of the most classic promos ever...
But the match at Survivor Series 1992 was NOT Ultimate Warrior/Randy Savage vs. Razor Ramon/Ric Flair. In a matter of weeks before the Pay Per View, the Ultimate Warrior was released by the WWF. During 1992, the WWF and Vince McMahon were under pressure from a possible legal threat for steroid distribution in the WWF. Reportedly, the Ultimate Warrior and also Davey Boy Smith were released by the WWF for failing the WWF's drug testing of the time. Warrior has repeatedly denied the failed test, as it should be noted, but the main point is that the release removed Warrior from Survivor Series 1992. The WWF turned Mr. Perfect Curt Henning against his pal Ric Flair and the match was rebooked to Curt Hennig/Randy Savage vs. Ric Flair/Razor Ramon.
ON THIS DAY IN PRO WRESTLING HISTORY... Survivor Series 1992 went on without the Ultimate Warrior on November 25th, 1992.
Worse yet, the Warrior's contributions to pro wrestling were practically over despite his younger age of 33, an age of which is typically part of the peak years for a pro wrestler. Bret Hart has stated that Warrior was scheduled to wrestle Hart at Royal Rumble 1993 for the WWE Title. The Ultimate Warrior would disappear for the next 3 years instead of possibly following fellow disgruntled released wrestler, Davey Boy Smith, to WCW. The pro wrestling industry changed consideribly in those 3 years by the time the Ultimate Warrior returned to the WWF in 1996. The Monday Night Wars were heating up and in need of some starpower, the WWF buried the hatchet with Jim Hellwig in preparation for Wrestlemania 12. There, he would DESTROY Triple H in a nostalgic return:
But the Warrior's return momentum would end at Wrestlemania 12. He would last a few Pay Per Views but ultimately fizzle out with WWF management again (WWF cited absence issues, Warrior alleged missed payments by WWF for services/merchandise). He would disappear out of the mainstream until returning to televised wrestling by joining WCW during 1998. Now called just the "Warrior", as Jim Hellwig legally changed his name to "Warrior" to avoid the WWF's ownership of the Ultimate Warrior name/gimmick, he would arrive in WCW to immediately confront and challenge "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan for a match at WCW Halloween Havoc. The promos were bizarre, the disappearing act with the smoke and trapdoor was strange, and the match at Halloween Havoc with Hogan (with Hogan owning blame for it, too) was a disaster. Warrior was soon out of WCW...
Warrior has been essentially retired since, though he did some work with former WWE wrestler Orlando Jordan in 2008. For much of the 2000's and in recent years, the Warrior was more known for his mouth... Trying his hand at politics, he began a motivational speaking tour which was made famous by his University of Connecticut appearance in 2005 where he made a few controversial statements (the famous "queering doesn't make the world work"). He's been very outspoken about the business and several fellow wrestlers (Hulk Hogan and Kevin Nash). Recently, however, he's been quiet, making me wonder if he's made nice with the WWE to possibly be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame soon.
Sadly - The Warrior has not been the same to the pro wrestling world since his 1992 release from the WWF, or quite possibly, his first exit after SummerSlam 1991. Maybe he should have joined WCW for 1993. Maybe he should have worked through his issues in 1996 with the WWF. Maybe he should have joined WCW earlier rather than when he did in 1998. Could you imagine the Warrior coming out in Black & White facepaint, joining either the New World Order (NWO) or his former tag partner Sting in his fight against the NWO sometime during 1997? Instead, the Warrior joined WCW on the downswing and the Halloween Havoc 1998 match was destined to fail.
Hopefully, the WWE and the Warrior can do business again. There are many Warrior fans in their 30's now, including yours truly, who enjoyed the Warrior's WWF run and felt that his career was successful enough to merit Hall of Fame consideration. There could be some hard feelings over the The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior DVD, as the WWE made a video without any involvement of the Warrior and took many cheapshots. But the Warrior has said things about the WWE to various media outlets over the years. In then end, it's just words and there's always money to be made by exploiting nostalgia.
Recommended Ultimate Warrior Matches:
-Ultimate Warrior SMASHING Honky Tonk Man at SummerSlam 1992
-Ultimate Warrior 1989 "Ravishing" Rick Rude matches. 1990 matches are good, too.
-Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania 6
-Ultimate Warrior vs. Randy "Macho Man" Savage at Wrestlemania 7
-Warrior/Sting vs. Hulk Hogan/Bret Hart from WCW Nitro from 10/12/1998 (blows my mind that this match even happened!)