In the latest episode of Vice’s Dark Side of the Ring series, we delve in to the career, life and philosophy of the man who called himself, Warrior.
This episode features commentary from his first wife and close confidante, Shari Tyree, Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, former WWE and current AEW commentator Jim Ross and former WWE executive Jim Cornette as well as voice recordings from Jim ‘ Ultimate Warrior ’ Helwig himself.
This was an interesting dive in to one of pro-wrestling’s most animated and beloved figures. Speaking as someone who grew up in the UK, Ultimate Warrior was very much seen as the alternative to an audience who felt disconnected from Hulk Hogan’s brash type of in-your-face, down-your-throat Americana. It’s not difficult to believe that when Hogan quit the business in 1992, Warrior should have taken over his mantle and, with his global appeal, he could have been every bit, if not more so, popular as Hulk Hogan was in his 80’s heyday.
We found out pretty early that Warrior believed that his look was enough for him. He was the biggest guy therefore he was the best guy. This attitude led to failed spells in Memphis and Mid-South Wrestling, where he was in a team with a pre-Sting Steven Bordin. It was a move to World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW), a promotion which very much traded on style over substance, where Helwig, rebranded as Dingo Warrior (a name which no-one had an explanation for on DSOTR), where his vision of himself could finally be realised. This bigger promotion eventually made its way to Vince McMahon, who saw the dollar signs instantly with Warrior, and a move to WWF followed soon.
It was at this point, where we started to find out about the philosophy behind the man. Abandoned by his father at aged 12 and grew up a scrawny kid, all he ever wanted to be was the best at everything he did. Wanted to be the best bodybuilder in his youth and now wanted to be the best wrestler or at the very least, thought of as the best wrestler. We learned at how vulnerable he was when he would hear the other wrestlers talk about him in less than favourable terms including his growing rep as a poor and unsafe worker.
This may have been backstage jealousy from guys who were incensed at this relative newbie rising the ranks quickly due to his huge push from Vince McMahon and was based purely on his look and the electric reaction from his fans whenever he appeared. At the same time, it was commented by talking head and former WWE producer Jim Cornette, that he showed little to no interest in learning how to learn the basics and rudimentals in Mid-South. Had he been willing to put in the hard work instead of solely trading off his image, it may have been a different story.
This insecurity continued after he was given the nod to go over Hogan at WrestleMania VI and become the WWF Champion (Also holding the WWF Intercontinental Championship at the same time, becoming the only person to hold both at the same time). Whilst he was effectively being told he was the best in the business, he showed signs of insecurity at having it taken away, and believed the only way to stop that from happening was to become the Ultimate Warrior inside and outside the ring.
This led to a divorce after being caught cheating and eventually being suspended and fired from the WWF after he made several demands to Vince McMahon relating to wanting a contract with all the financial perks and benefits that Hogan enjoyed. He threatened to no-show SummerSlam 1991. Vince McMahon agreed to the demands purely to get SummerSlam on as scheduled before suspending Warrior immediately afterwards.
At this point, we learned that Jim Ross was sent to get Warrior back in 1996 after WWF were falling further behind in the ratings war with WCW. Jim Ross described the meeting as “a waste of time” after Warrior spent the entire meeting talking about how he saw himself as an “inspirational speaker” and his entrepreneurship including his own comic book series. In spite of all this, he did return at WrestleMania 12 to battle newcomer Hunter Hearst Helmsley. He won to a rapturous applause but the fans soon realised that this wasn’t quite the same than what they fell in love with years previously and by July, Warrior was gone.
After a short-lived spell in WCW in 1998, Warrior opened up his own gym and returned to bodybuilding. He reconciled his friendship with his ex-wife and she described him as the happiest she had seen him in years. It was also at this gym that he met his second wife, Dana.
It was here that the documentary took another less than savory turn when it briefly touched on his time as an inspirational speaker to young conservative thinking student groups and several horrendous right-wing quotes from these speeches relating to black people and homosexuals, none of which I’m willing to repeat here. He then spends years disparaging his peers, focusing mainly on Vince McMahon and Hulk Hogan (“You’re a real piece of shit, Terry”. I agreed with that one personally!)
It finished with his Hall of Fame induction in 2014, including his reconciliation with Vince McMahon and Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, his appearance on Monday Night Raw the following night before dying from a heart attack 24 hours later.
Overall, it was a perfectly serviceable episode but just nowhere near as spectacular than an episode about Ultimate Warrior should have been. I felt this should have been a two-parter, however, seeing as how a lot of people he came up against in WWF are either dead or still involved with WWE in some capacity and can’t be seen to be talking to DSOTR, I understand why a big chunk of his WWF career was skipped over, similarly with the latter part where the only people who could have shed light on any of this would be Warrior himself and his wife, Dana. It’s very well put together as we have come to expect with these programs but it does leave you a little cold and it is the weakest episode of the series so far where I fell many would have expected this to be the stand-out.