Behind the Pyro: The Ultimate Warrior September 14, 2007Posted by skribbel24 in WWE.
By Harry Simon
Explorers the world over are said to still be searching for the fabled Holy Grail. But in the 80s, wrestling promoters had an even tougher assignment; They were searching for the next Hulk Hogan. Lex Luger, Sid Vicious, and Koko B. Ware were just some of the names touted as HHII, but none of them had that special something and none caught on with the public.
Then the clock struck midnight on 1/1/90, signaling a new decade. As a nation, we rose as one to shave our mullets, burn our neon-colored clothing, and tell that Rubik guy just where he could stick his aggravating cube. Exactly three months later, the WWF made one last grab for Hogan’s elusive torch.
It was 4/1/90 when one man cleanly pinned Hulk Hogan in the middle of the ring, ending the main event of Wrestlemania 6. It was the first title vs. title match in Wrestlemania history, and the winner left the ring with both Hogan’s WWF World championship as well as his own retained WWF Intercontinental championship. Of course, the man who would inherit the world (wrestling federation) was none other than Jim Hellwig, a.k.a. The Ultimate Warrior. That was fifteen years ago.
It was 4/5/05 when one man had a speaking engagement at the University of Connecticut. Far as I know, it was the first time that a former World/IC champion had been invited to speak at the school by a Republican group, and the speaker left the building with security protecting him from fans who wanted to string up the douche. Of course, the man who damn near caused a riot was Jim Hellwig, a.k.a. The Ultimate Warrior, a.k.a. Warrior.
So what went wrong? We’ll look at the ups, downs, rights, lefts, sideways, and many, MANY backwards roads taken by the man who legally changed his name to “Warrior”…and that was only the beginning. Tonight, we find out how well “Warrior Wisdom” holds up…BEHIND THE PYRO.
“One of my mom’s friends used to say to me, ‘Where’s your ass?!’ I didn’t have an ass.” –Warrior, 4/5/05
On the lecture circuit, Warrior is fond of telling the story of how a skinny little kid befriended a rusty old workout machine and the machine gave that kid an ass. Seriously, that was his proudest accomplishment. Not the biceps, triceps, delts, or lats. Ass. Not even “glutes.” Ass. He was very clear about that. Ass. The young Jim Hellwig wanted nothing more than look good and hang out with other good-looking guys. Jim signed up with an all-male review called “PowerTeam USA.” His teammates included Steve Borden (who would go on to later success as a popular mime) and two other guys.
While the two other guys were never heard from again (though there are still sightings around Fire Island), Jim and Steve wound up becoming professional wrestlers. The lads were put together as Road Warrior impersonators. “Rock” (Jim) and “Flash” (Steve) were collectively known as The Blade Runners. Presumably, that name was given to them to try and cash in on the popular 80s movie of the same name. And considering that said movie was about artificially replicated clones, the name was apt. Alas, the PowerTeammates soon went their separate ways. There was only so much eyeliner to go around, you know.
Jim wound up in the Texas-based WCCW, home of such acts as them wacky Von Erichs and anorexic Australian tag team, Steve & Shaun Simpson. Shaun took one look at Jim’s porn star moustache, and mistook him for Australian adult film legend “Backdoor” Jack McCrack. Shaun excitedly told WCCW uberlord Fritz Von Erich that Jim was “hung like a bloody dingo!” For a moment, Fritz wondered just how a makeup-clad Aussie dongasaurus would fit in with his wrestling company. Then he said, “Hell with it, we’ll call him the Dingo Warrior,” before returning to beating the hell out of his son Chris for being too short. But unlike McCrack’s claim to fame, historians found Jim’s WCCW career neither long nor satisfying.
It was late-1987 when Jim debuted in the WWF with a new name. Back then, the WWF was still running the “family entertainment” scam, so a wrestler named after the ginger-tinged animal with whom a renowned Australian porn star shared an appendage was a strict no-no. Following a good five seconds of pondering, “The Ultimate Warrior” was hatched.
During his initial WWF run, Warrior often roomed with Owen Hart on the road. Owen was languishing in curtain-jerking quicksand as “The Blue Blazer,” while Warrior was upset about…um, actually, I have no idea. Hell, the guy goes off when the sun rises. Owen decided to seek his fortune in Japan, and Warrior wanted to tag along, but Owen diplomatically told him that Japan wasn’t the best choice for everyone. By “everyone,” of course, Owen meant, “You, Jim.” So Owen headed off to Japan to build a legacy of respect and distinction, while Warrior stayed put and feuded with Dino Bravo. (This part actually happened.)
Warrior won his first IC Title at the first SummerSlam, then lost it to Rick Rude at WM5. The premise was that once Warrior won the World Title, Rude was the only man to have ever defeated him for a championship prior to the big win. The Warrior/Rude angle has been rehashed time and time again, most recently with Orlando Jordan beating John Cena for the U.S. Title before Cena won the WWE Title at WM21. If you listen to Shane Douglas, he was supposed to do a Warrior/Rude angle with Shawn Michaels, beating him for the IC Title in 1995 before Michaels won the World Title in 1996. Then again, if you listen to Shane Douglas, he’s a better wrestler than Michaels and Ric Flair.
The year was 1990 and Warrior was the WWF World champion while Hogan took time off to film “Suburban Commando.” Warrior was fortunate to inherit four of the greatest heel workers ever from Hogan. Rick Rude, Randy Savage, Curt Hennig, and Ted DiBiase could always be counted on to carry needy babyfaces to passable (or even “good”) matches. I call them “The Forklift Horsemen” for obvious reasons.
On the surface, everything was bright makeup and pastel-colored championship belts. But behind the pyro, the pressure of being champion was getting to Warrior. One arm-tassle wasn’t enough anymore. One became two. Two became four. By the time he lost the championship to Sgt. Slaughter at the 1991 Royal Rumble, it looked like Warrior fisted a peacock before running to the ring.
WM7 saw not only Hogan regain his belt from Slaughter, but underneath, Savage carried Warrior to what was easily the best match of his career. Warrior cleanly pinned Savage in a “retirement” match, with the stip being that the loser would have to stop wrestling forever. In the months after WM7, Warrior feuded with new monster The Undertaker. Their war kicked off when UT locked Warrior in a casket and left him for dead. Some timely mouth-to-mouth from Dave Hebner saved Warrior’s life, so now we have good reason to hate both Hebner brothers. After the Taker feud, Warrior finally achieved every wrestler’s lifelong dream of main-eventing a PPV against Col. Mustafa. With no worlds left to conquer, Warrior flaked off into the Arizona sunset.
Fast-forward to WM8. Randy Savage – you remember, he was supposed to stop wrestling forever after losing a retirement match the previous year – won the World Title. In the main event, Hogan beat Sid Justice by DQ after Papa Shango interfered. Alas, Shango’s run-in came too late, effectively botching the finish of the frickin’ main event of Wrestlemania. I mention this because it’s not every day I can talk about someone “botching the finish of the frickin’ main event of Wrestlemania” without mentioning Brock Lesnar by name. Oh, and also because this was where Warrior made his dramatic return to the WWF, making the save for Hogan.
In mid-1992, Warrior wrestled Brian Knobs on WWF Superstars. Papa Shango came down to ringside. Warrior easily polished Knobs off, but his problems were just beginning. To the horror of onlookers, Shango whipped out his big black stick and shook it at Warrior in a suggestive manner. We soon learned that Shango’s big black stick violated Warrior in a manner most foul. Shango had placed a voodoo curse upon Warrior, causing him to publicly vomit and secrete black ooze at inappropriate times. In the ensuing feud, Warrior got his revenge, defeating Shango (by disqualification) in bouts from coast to coast. “Little Warriors” rejoiced as Warrior had vigorously beaten Shango’s big black stick until he could beat no more. So Warrior had won yet another war (by disqualification)…but at what price?
Ladies and gentlemen, in a BTP exclusive, we have solved the mystery of the man called Warrior. To look at Warrior’s life from 1992 forward, there can be only one logical explanation.
That voodoo curse was a shoot.
In 1995, ABC’s “Wide World Of Sports” aired a story on wrestling, focusing on the deaths of Eddie Gilbert, Art Barr, and John Minton (a.k.a. Big John Studd). Steroid abuse was discussed, featuring an uncharacteristically out-of-character Ultimate Warrior. UW candidly stated that he didn’t know how many years steroid abuse took off his life. (This part actually happened, so feel free to reference it the next time he downplays his steroid use.)
But more importantly, ABC asked WCW for footage of their wrestlers to accompany the piece. WCW didn’t do their homework, and thinking any publicity was good publicity, they sent in clips of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage. So while the narrator solemnly talked about the dangers of steroid abuse, we were treated to the sight of Hogan and Savage posing in a WCW ring. (This part actually happened, too, so feel free to reference it whenever.)
For two-and-a-half years, the business was Warrior-free. But true warriors never die (well, ‘cept for Road Warrior Hawk). As a favor for Bill Anderson (who helped train him back in the day), Warrior agreed to return to the business in July, 1995. Warrior headlined an event for T.C. Martin’s National Wrestling Conference at the Silver Nugget casino in North Las Vegas, NV. The show failed to sell out the 1,000-seat facility, drawing 924 fans for the revival of the Warrior-Honky Tonk Man feud. During the match, they brawled down an aisle and back, during which Warrior loudly said, “I’m going to bang your head into the table.” And so he did. Was Warrior a prophet? Psychic? Or did the big goof just call an audible at the top of his lungs? Either way, Honker busted up laughing. (I was right there when it all happened.)
After the show, small clusters of fans usually gathered outside the trailer in hopes of scoring autographs, scoring pictures, or just plain scoring. (This WAS North Las Vegas.) On this night, most of them brought their 80s WWF memorabilia for Warrior, who had split long before T.C. thanked the fans for coming. So the stragglers “settled” instead for HTM, who graciously signed everything for everyone. One fan presented HTM with a WWF candy tin, featuring Warrior, Hogan, Jake Roberts, and Brutus Beefcake. HTM asked, “What the hell is this thing?” When the fan told him, he immediately shot back, “Well, if it was Jake Roberts, the candy went right up his nose!” But the moment of the night was when a young fan sheepishly presented Honk with a crayon drawing depicting Warrior standing on HTM’s chest, doing his pose. HTM examined it for a moment, then said, “You did a nice job on my sideburns, son,” and signed it. The kid was ecstatic.
If we’ve learned nothing else today, THE HONKY TONK MAN IS THE COOLEST WRESTLER ON GOD’S GREEN EARTH.
Warrior’s one-shot in the NWC led to him joining promoter T.C. Martin as something of a partner. Warrior vs. Jim Neidhart was announced as the main event for the promotion’s first anniversary show, in October 1995. (I was there for this, too.) T.C. opened the show by telling the fans, “Look, I’m not going to bullshit you. The Warrior isn’t here. I don’t know where he is.” Neidhart interrupted T.C. and barked that Warrior was afraid of him. Then Virgil interrupted Neidhart’s interruption, which led to T.C. asking the crowd if we wanted to see Neidhart vs. Virgil tonight. Despite the fact that NOBODY popped, the match was made as our substitute main event, anyway. Oh, and it wound up going to a double-countout in less than two minutes. (It couldn’t compete with a legit fistfight in the crowd.)
As the show ended, T.C. was bombarded with chants of “Warrior” and “refund.” I happened to be standing right next to one fan who loudly yelled that he was going to burn his NWC shirt. The “Ultimate No-Show,” as I creatively dubbed it in the Pro Wrestling Torch, effectively drove the company into bankruptcy, though T.C. did somehow find the backing to run a couple shows the following year.
Elsewhere in late-1995, the Monday Night War began, and a panicked Vince was desperate for some “star power” (translation = “has beens”). Not only did Vince re-up Jake “Nose Candy” Roberts, but Vince resigned himself to the fact that he “needed” to re-sign Warrior. After months of hardass negotiations, the sides came to an agreement, including an unheard of “no-job clause.” In layman’s terms, that means Warrior wasn’t losing a match. Ever. The hype for Warrior’s big return at WM12 started in early-1996. The industry was abuzz.
Then-WWF World champion Bret Hart, on the prospect of a match against Warrior: “I already know how to duck clotheslines.” (Actual quote.)
Warrior’s return match was on for WM12, against Hunter Hearst Helmsley, a mid-card nobody with a silly “blueblood” gimmick. (I was there, too. Fans were so geeked up for Warrior, there was even an “anticipatory” pop when Hunter’s intro music hit.) Vince wanted a competitive 12-minute match, but Warrior wasn’t having it. He no-sold Hunter’s finisher and squashed the holy hell out of him. Total time of match: 1:36. The live crowd ate it up. This will always be Warrior’s true legacy in the wrestling business, because Lord knows we’ve been paying for it for the last five years and counting, with no end in sight.
Warrior’s return also introduced America to “Destrucity,” his home grown religion, dispensing his patented “Warrior Wisdom” to the masses. A smattering of Destrucity vignettes aired on WWF programming in mid-1996. The one I remember featured a punk who was about to rob a blind man, only to get cold feet. When another punk queried Mr. Blindy, he said that if Punk #1 needed money that badly, then Punk #1 needed it more than he, himself. Our nation was fortunate indeed that Destrucity was on hand to tell our youth that stealing from the blind is wrong. Or maybe that it’s okay to steal from the blind if you need money. It kinda sent mixed signals. Personally, I haven’t stolen from the blind since. Mind you, I still sucker-punch the deaf, shave the eyebrows off coma patients, and hunt midgets in the wild for sport. Hey, they never made Destrucity vignettes telling me not to. Blame Warrior.
Warrior also had his own comic book, which the WWF shilled was the #1 comic book in the business. Bullshit.
The burn of it all was that Warrior actually did help Raw’s ratings upon his return, but after Warrior no-showed three live events over a weekend, Vince had a dilemma on his hands. Reportedly, he asked most of the locker room if they wanted him to keep Warrior, knowing that he brings ratings and star power, or drop Warrior, knowing him for the unprofessional pain in the ass he truly is. The overwhelming majority voted “ditch the bitch,” so Vince complied. Then-figurehead WWF President Gorilla Monsoon opened a Monday Night Raw saying Warrior was indefinitely suspended for the no-shows, and will remain suspended until such a time as he posts an “appearance bond.” Gorilla concluded that even though Warrior was popular, no one wrestler “is above our WWF fans.” Warrior’s final match on WWF TV aired on the 7/8/96 Raw. Ironically, his opponent was Owen Hart, the former bunkmate who saved his career eight years earlier.
Another couple of years went by, and the only notable public act by Warrior was during an internet chat session. One fan enthusiastically asked, “Hay warrior, why dont you go to WCW and help beet up the NWO?” Warrior replied, “It’s a work.” Credit where it’s due, that was seriously funny.
The year was 1998 when Warrior made his highly-demanded WCW debut. I say “highly-demanded” because Hogan had been demanding that WCW sign Warrior just so he could get his win back from 1990. Also, because whoever approved Hogan’s demand was clearly high at the time.
After cutting the promo of his career on Hogan during his WCW debut, Warrior went on to form the One Warrior Nation as a counterattack to Hogan’s New World Order. See, since Hogan’s army was the NWO, then Warrior’s group would be…riiiiiiiiight. Warrior’s first (and last) recruit was none other than Hogan’s own disciple, The Disciple (a.k.a. Ed Leslie, a.k.a. Brutus Beefcake, a.k.a. Brother Bruti, a.k.a. The Butcher, a.k.a. The Man With No Name, a.k.a. Zodiac, a.k.a. Disciple). To consummate their relationship, Warrior wound up in the rafters with a blow-up doll costumed to look like Disciple. And it was kneeling before Warrior, too. (This part actually happened.)
Warrior’s WCW stint also included a new gimmick where he used a special trap door built into the ring to enter and leave, so when the smoke machine started up, the illusion was that he was “Warrior-warping” in from thin air, then vanishing right back into it. The trap door caused difficulties for many, especially Davey Boy Smith, who took a powerslam right on top of it and wound up with a severe back injury that led to infection, his firing and a compounded pain pill addiction that nearly killed him. (This part actually happened, too.)
But the most famous Warrior-in-WCW story was when Warrior, Curt Hennig, and Scott Norton had to hide under the ring all night. The lads were waiting for their angle, and a bucket had been strategically placed under the ring with them in case of “emergency.” The emergency bucket came in handy for Hennig, who took a large dump in it. Rumors that the incident was triggered when Hennig heard a rap song are unsubstantiated. There’s not a lot of room under those rings, so you have to be impressed with the flexibility of Hennig. It was easily the most athletic feat accomplished by the former/future “Mr. Perfect” in his entire three-year WCW career. Upon getting a whiff, Warrior vomited, which was easily the most athletic feat accomplished by HIM in his entire three-month WCW career. (Yes, this part really happened, as well. And it does support the Voodoo Theory.)
Warrior’s second-most-famous WCW moment was the famous “magic mirror” angle. The premise was that Warrior had so gotten under Hogan’s skin that Hogan was cracking up and hallucinating. Backstage, Hogan freaked out when he looked in a mirror to see an image of Warrior staring back at him. Eric Bischoff was with Hogan at the time. (Bischoff did double duty for WCW both as Hogan’s on-air lackey in the NWO angle as well as Hogan’s behind-the-scenes lackey in the day-to-day business of killing the company.) Anyway, Bischoff didn’t see Warrior in the mirror and couldn’t figure out just what was wrong with Hogan (which was another reason WCW died). Mind you, the way this was SUPPOSED to play out, only Hogan and the viewing audience could see Warrior. Kinda like Dean Stockwell’s hologram character in Quantum Leap. Too bad no one bothered to tell WCW’s lead announcer, Tony Schiavone.
“LOOK, IT’S THE WARRIOR!! THE WARRIOR IS HERE!! THAT’S THE WARRIOR!! THERE’S THE WARRIOR!! IT’S THE W–”
Tony suddenly stopped short, and the silence was deafening. WCW was notorious for keeping their announcers in the dark on angles and storylines. They felt that commentator reactions were “more natural” if they were seeing everything for the first time along with the fans. So it wasn’t Tony’s fault, but the result was still that not only did Tony blow the angle, but he made his boss look like an idiot on live television. (Annnnnd this part really happened. Made-up crap is no match for Warrior’s true WCW stories.)
All this hullabaloo led to the long-awaited Hogan-Warrior rematch at Halloween Havoc 98. It was universally hailed as the worst match of the year, with many even insisting that it was the worst match in WCW history (!). Thanks to years of therapy and sensory-deprived-meditation, I don’t remember much about it. Though I do recall Hogan unsuccessfully trying to throw a fireball (he couldn’t get the flash paper to light). Then the finish of the match was the big heel turn by Hulk’s nephew, Horace. Yeah, “worst ever” sounds about right.
After his WCW stint, Warrior vanished. But four years later, guess who finally made it back to basic cable on a Monday night? It was Warrior. You should have guessed that. I’ve only been talking about him the whole column. Anyway, Warrior decided that his true calling was to become a motivational speaker, now dispensing his Warrior Wisdom to the masses with stand-up comedy routines that he refers to as “mentorviews.” Warrior somehow got himself on C-SPAN2 in 2003, bringing the funny with a routine that saw him take a swipe at Hogan, demand that the audience applaud for themselves, and do his routine about the evils of liberalism. Just like that, Warrior’s third career was off and running.
It was 4/5/05 when Warrior took his wacky antics to UConn (the University of Connecticut). Everything was going according to schedule for the first 34 minutes of his shtick, as Warrior amused the crowd with stories about his mother’s friend assessing his buttocks. But things started to unravel when Warrior made the catastrophic mistake of opening up the floor for audience participation. Warrior lobbed a handful of rhetorical questions, not realizing that every college kid knows everything about everything these days, so there’s no such thing as a rhetorical question on a college campus anymore. As one student after another fired off an answer that Warrior wasn’t prepared for, Warrior was visibly working on a meltdown. Could it be that the man who survived Perfectplexes, Rude Awakenings, and even Earthquake’s ass-splash was getting his formerly-nonexistent ass handed to him by a bunch of mealy-mouthed liberal sissy-marys?
Moments later, the shit really hit the fan. (Or at least, he WANTED to.) Warrior scoffed at the notion that homosexuals were as “legitimate” as heterosexuals. When a handful of vocal students angrily asked him why, Warrior’s reply was the quote that will follow him to his grave.
“QUEERING DOESN’T MAKE THE WORLD WORK.”
In the words of Straight-Shootin’ Stevie Ray, it was on like Donkey Kong. The event broke down into a big yelling match between Warrior and the students until campus security had to step in and shut it down. (The UConn debacle really, truly, quite sincerely happened. If you don’t take my word for it – and even if you do – go pick up the video over at http://www.bbrownvideo.com. Hypnotically surreal, it’s perfect for any social gathering. Far as I’m concerned, it’s a must-see for the entire human race.)
As fallout from UConn backlashed, Warrior was condemned as a racist, a homophobe, a crackpot, and a guy who could only have a two-star-or-higher match if he was carried by Rude, Savage, Hennig, or DiBiase. Warrior’s legal team (meaning, some dude claiming to represent Warrior) fired off menacing e-mail retorts that not only threatened legal action, but INSULTED people for their anti-Warrior propaganda. (Is that what they’re teaching in law school these days?) These threats were taken every bit as seriously as Warrior himself, and pants were peed from coast to coast. Sure, it was from laughter instead of fear, but facts are facts.
But seriously, Warrior is fully entitled to his opinion on homosexuality. And we all know that Warrior is a man who sticks to his guns. Imagine Warrior sharing a hotel room with another man! Or oiling himself up and rolling around with another oily half-naked guy! Or wearing makeup! Or locking lips with Dave Hebner! Or absconding off with a blow-up Ed Leslie! Or hiding out with fellas in deep dark places, watching them drop trou and defecate!!
So where is our once-assless chap now? Warrior’s one-man-show tours the lecture circuit across our great land, spreading Warrior Wisdom like cancer. If you get the chance, I highly recommend catching his act. Now that Dave Chappelle is off rehabbing somewhere, Warrior is officially the funniest man in America. Also, rumor is that the WWE plans to release an Ultimate Warrior DVD later in 2005. Since Vince and Warrior didn’t part on the best of terms – a couple of times, actually – this one just might be interesting.
Professional bodybuilder. Professional wrestler. Unprofessional motivational speaker. In all sincerity, we at BTP hope that Warrior will someday get the help he needs to break the voodoo curse and return to the huggable wrestling buddy we all knew and loved to watch (as long as he was being carried by Rude, Savage, Hennig, or DiBiase).
Remember, queering may not make the world work, but when in the lavender hell has Warrior ever showed that he knows how to “work” in the first place?
Harry Simon is a trivia-fueled wisenheimer who has been writing about pro wrestling off and on for 16 years and counting. Harry has written trivia pieces for both the Wrestling Observer and Live Audio Wrestling websites, and contributed a ton of research to his fellow Las Vegan Mike Tenay in preparation for the first NWA TNA PPV in 2002. Harry has also done play-by-play, color commentary, and ring announcing for indy promotions.