LUKEWARM BURIAL AND BIOGRAPHY OF ULTIMATE WARRIOR
THE SELF-DESTRUCTION OF THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR
Review by Mike Rickard II
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
- Julius Caesar Act Three Scene II
Without a doubt, the Ultimate Warrior is one of the most unusual individuals in professional wrestling (and if you’ve followed the sport for as long as I have, you know that’s a pretty big statement to make). He skyrocketed to superstardom during the mid 1980’s and after vanishing from the sport in 1992, his bizarre beliefs and behavior became unmistakably clear after brief reappearances in both the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW). Even more imbecilic were his out of ring appearances which were so senseless as to be laughable. While the Ultimate Warrior’s in-ring success is unquestionable, his personal life and behavior have overshadowed his career to the point where his name evokes the same response you get from mentioning the lady with 2,000 cats living in her home, the guy pushing a string of shopping carts through the poorer section of town, or Teddy Hart.
For many fans, the Ultimate Warrior was the epitome of Vince McMahon’s vision of sports entertainment, the evolution of Hulkamania. The Warrior had the look of a Greek god, the ability to pump up fans, and just enough wrestling skills to put on a brief match without anyone getting killed. His matches were short and as Jim Ross points out, there wasn’t much between bell to bell. As history has shown though, promoters can make a lot of money using guys who can’t wrestle and the Warrior was the perfect example of how to do this successfully.
Jim Hellwig, the man who would become the Ultimate Warrior started his career working with Steve Borden (later known as Sting) in California as part of a group known as Power Team USA.. At the time, wrestlers like Hulk Hogan and the Road Warriors created a demand for body builders to look at careers in wrestling even if they had limited or non-existent wrestling backgrounds. There was no question that Hellwig and Borden had incredible physiques nor was there any question as to how limited their in-ring skills were. Their incredible look meant that promoters were willing to give them time to develop their in-ring skills and they next showed up in Memphis’ Championship Wrestling Association where they wrestled as the Freedom Fighters. While their wrestling ability was downright laughable, people such as Jerry Lawler knew he would see more of them in the sport.
After a short stint in Memphis, Hellwig traveled with Borden to Bill Watts’ Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF) where they wrestled as the Blade Runners. Borden stayed in the UWF but Hellwig left for World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) wrestling as the Dingo Warrior and enjoying a fair share of success.
The ambitious Hellwig next traveled to the WWF where Vince McMahon saw incredible potential in Hellwig (although the Dingo Warrior name left much to be desired and was soon changed to the Ultimate Warrior). The Warrior’s incredible physique and charisma opened the door for tremendous success in the WWF despite a clearly limited repertoire of in-ring skills. The WWF masked the Warrior’s lack of wrestling ability by keeping his matches short and pairing him off with quality opponents. As Jim Ross mentions in the show, the Warrior didn’t have much to offer from “bell to bell” but the WWF made up for this by giving him an exciting entrance and making him seem like an unstoppable monster.
The formula was nothing new to wrestling (and it would prove to be a big success when used to get Bill Goldberg over in the 90’s) but it was perfect to turn the Ultimate Warrior into a superstar. He soon won the Intercontinental Championship and feuded with Rick Rude over it before heading into an epic confrontation with Hulk Hogan. The two incredibly popular babyfaces met at Wrestlemania V in an unprecedented (at least for Wrestlemania) babyface vs. babyface match up where Hogan dropped the belt to the Warrior, passing the torch to him in the process.
Without question, the Ultimate Warrior was a big success in the WWF but just as quickly, his run in the WWF ended when he threatened to walk away from the main event of SummerSlam 1991 unless Vince McMahon paid him an unknown sum of money (or at least that’s McMahon’s story). A less than thrilled McMahon promptly fired the Warrior after SummerSlam only to bring him back the next year at Wrestlemania VIII in 1992. He didn’t last the year before walking out on the WWF again and after legally changing his name to “The Warrior”, he remained out of wrestling until 1996 when the WWF was battling for its life against World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and Vince McMahon was willing to try anything to win the Monday Night War. The Warrior’s returned at Wrestlemania XII and was gone by the beginning of the summer after no-showing a series of house shows. He surfaced in WCW for a brief run against Hollywood Hulk Hogan before disappearing yet again.
In recent years, the Warrior has used his web page to spread his life philosophy of destrucity, a sort of Zen and the Art of Insanity. He occasionally gives speaking engagements which are reportedly full of right-wing rhetoric and more of the Warrior’s bizarre life philosophy. As evident by tirades launched on his web page, there is no love lost between him and Vince McMahon, a fact made abundantly clear when the Warrior refused to appear in the Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain video game and chose to instead appear in the Showdown: Legends of Wrestling video game.
Over the past few months, there has been a lot of buzz about the World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) latest home video release The
Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior. Nostalgia is a powerful force and for many fans, the Ultimate Warrior is someone they remember from their earliest days as a fan. Undoubtedly, a good number of people were excited to hear that WWE Home Video was going to produce a Warrior DVD, especially when they heard that it would be a double disc set. As time passed, things became even more interesting when fans heard that the Warrior refused to work with the WWE on the project. Rumors took off that as a result; the WWE was going to produce a less than glowing look at his career. When the title of the DVD was released, fans had a pretty good idea what to expect of the product and given Vince McMahon’s willingness to rewrite history to his convenience, things were looking pretty bad for the Ultimate Warrior.
With a title like the Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior and the level of friction between the Warrior and Vince McMahon, there doesn’t seem to be any uncertainty as to how the video will profile the Ultimate Warrior’s career. Fans will be surprised to discover then that the DVD isn’t the total hatchet job that many people have been expecting, While the production is clearly a negative depiction of the Warrior’s career and standing (at least as far as the WWE is concerned), it does offer more than a token representation of people who value the Ultimate Warrior’s career. While there’s definitely more brickbats than bouquets, the DVD reluctantly acknowledges the Warrior’s accomplishments. Therein lies the problem with the Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior- the DVD is as mercurial as its subject. The producers of the DVD don’t know whether or not the DVD is supposed to be a hatchet job or a (somewhat) balanced biography of the Ultimate Warrior’s career. At one point the program seems to be a mean-spirited episode of WWE Confidential and then it will go into a ten minute segment on why the Warrior hailing from Parts Unknown was a stupid idea.
The focus on the negative wouldn’t be so bad if it was done in a consistent manner. Perhaps the biggest problem with the DVD is that a lot of the time when the Warrior is panned, it’s done in a half-assed fashion. The aforementioned part where concept of a wrestler hailing from “Parts Unknown” is mocked is unnecessary and counter-productive. The reason being is that the Ultimate Warrior was far from the only wrestler billed as being from Parts Unknown. It was part of wrestling and making fun of it like making fun of someone from the 1980’s in a white pastel suit when you yourself wore the same crazy outfit. Another example is when the producers spotlight some of the off the wall promos the Ultimate Warrior cut before matches. These could probably be prima facie evidence in a hearing to institutionalize the Warrior save for the fact that the producers shoot themselves in the foot by next showing a series of promos in which the Warrior goes from talking like the Incredible Hulk on acid to him sounding like Alistair Cooke.
There’s no need to stretch for material like the Warrior’s promos or his residence in Parts Unknown. The DVD presents plenty of anecdotes from people like Sgt. Slaughter, Bobby Heenan, Vince McMahon and Ted DiBiase as to what a real pain in the ass the guy could be to work with. By focusing on the petty things, it underscores the legitimate beef that Vince McMahon and his employees had working with the guy and makes the WWE look petty and vindictive.
Nowhere is this more evident than when the program delves into the Warrior’s matches with two deceased wrestlers. Not only does Ted DiBiase badmouth the Warrior’s feud with Hercules Hernandez and the lack of quality wrestling in their feud but he points out Hernandez’ ring skills. Even more astonishing are the comments made by Jim Ross and others about how they believe Andre the Giant didn’t like him as if there was any need to speculate what a long dead wrestler’s opinion on the Warrior was. The producers obviously don’t know when to stop and it hurts the production.
It’s really a shame because at times the video has some remarkably candid comments from wrestlers on how they handled their financial problems with Vince McMahon. Both Sgt. Slaughter and Hulk Hogan mention their problems with the WWF when discussing the Warrior’s pay gripe with Vince that led to him “holding up” McMahon prior to SummerSlam. More of this and less of the cheap attacks would have made this DVD more believable as a biography and not a character assassination.
In fairness to the WWE they do present some pro-Warrior comments. Mixed in with the abundance of anti-Warrior comments from people like Bobby Heenan (“nobody liked him”) and Ric Flair (he dismisses the Warrior as “a flash in the pan”) are moments of admiration and praise. Some are half-hearted (the most credit that Ted DiBiase will give the Warrior’s wrestling skills is that he “took instruction well”) while others are quite enthusiastic. Wrestlers such as Christian, Edge, and Chris Jericho share their respect of the Warrior’s accomplishments (perhaps due to the fact that they grew up watching him wrestle rather than actually work with him) and they’re given a chance to express what made them enjoy the Warrior’s work.
In the end though it isn’t that the Warrior’s legacy is ignored as much as it is downplayed. In the mind of Vince McMahon and some of the Warrior’s contemporaries, the Warrior’s success was largely due to the time and money invested in him by the WWF and it’s clearly presented as such in this video. Hulk Hogan proposes that the Warrior was given every opportunity and wrestled during one of the most successful periods in the sport’s history (he also gets in his share of digs at the Warrior including one comment where he says he knew the Warrior couldn’t carry the torch after Wrestlemania VI because the audience’s attention was on Hogan and not the Warrior).
For fans of the Ultimate Warrior, this is not a product they’ll want to buy. The WWE’s efforts to bury the Warrior in its biography might be overlooked if the DVD featured a lot of the Warrior’s matches. The DVD is surprisingly short on matches so there’s no real incentive for a fan of the Warrior to buy the product. There are just five matches included on the DVD (one of them being a squash match) and the extras are mostly stories further demeaning the Ultimate Warrior (although Christian’s impersonation of the Ultimate Warrior is good).
The DVD’s failings don’t mean that it isn’t worth watching. For people who like the absurd this DVD provides plenty of material. For people who like to see how far Vince McMahon will go to present his side of the story, this is a textbook example of how warped Vince McMahon’s thinking process can get. While describing the Warrior’s second departure from the WWF, McMahon implies that the Warrior was shown the door because the WWF had implemented a very strict drug testing policy. Anyone even remotely familiar with the WWF’s drug policy will get a laugh out of that statement.
Despite the DVD’s sheer ridiculousness, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to buy this product. It’s good for a few laughs but that’s the extent of it. There are nowhere near enough matches included to make it worth buying for that reason and the lack of matches and extras make it seem like it was rushed into production. Rumor has it that there is a bonus disc of material available at FYE but there’s no word on what the second disc includes. Rent it for laughs but don’t waste your money on this DVD. With the 3 disc Undertaker set released and the upcoming Bret Hart, Jake Roberts, and Wrestlemania Anthology, you’ll need to save your money for more worthwhile products.
1. Ultimate Warrior vs. Terry Gibbs - Wrestling Challenge 10/24/87
2. Ultimate Warrior vs. WWF Intercontinental champion The Honky Tonk Man - Summerslam '88
3. WWF Champion Hulk Hogan vs. WWF Intercontinental Champion The Ultimate Warrior - Title-For-Title - Wrestlemania VI
4. WWF Champion The Ultimate Warrior vs. Rick Rude - Steel Cage Match - Summerslam '90
5. Ultimate Warrior vs. Randy Savage - Loser Must Retire - Wrestlemania VII
Jerry Lawler discusses wrestling the Ultimate Warrior in Memphis.
Christian impersonates the Ultimate Warrior.
Ted DiBiase tells a story about an autograph signing with the Ultimate Warrior.
If you want to purchase The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior
Copyright © 2005 Derek Burgan. All rights reserved.