Thursday, July 23, 2015

Best Character Ever 6: Ultimate Warrior

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When I originally wrote this post, Wrestlemania XXX was just days away with a future for Ultimate Warrior and WWE that looked bright. He was back working with Vince, a new DVD reliving his legacy was out and I was watching clips left and right on the very new WWE Network. I hadn't paid this much attention to the Ultimate Warrior in a decade.

Sadly, less than 48 hours after his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame, the Ultimate Warrior was dead. But this article isn’t about Jim Hellwig, Jim Warrior or whatever name he used outside the ring. He was just a man. But the Ultimate Warrior was a legend. This is an article about the character he created inside the squared circle.

The Ultimate Warrior is all about character. Or more accurately for this column, being the best character ever.

He started out much in the same way as current NXT star Mojo Rawley, a guy that blasts to the ring and never stops for a second in his victories. And the then-WWF used television for months to make it clear why we should love him. He ran to the ring for months to completely destroy jobbers in ultrashort matches that made him look like a million bucks.

By the time he got his first loss to Rick Rude, it didn’t matter. He started to cut long winded promos about his ability and power, often adding new and interesting words that didn’t exist until that moment.

But it was his victory over the Honky Tonk Man, the wrestler that had held a stranglehold over the Intercontinental title for 14 months, longer than any star before or since. The Warrior made short work of HTM.

This happened to Rick Rude a lot.
The title win was the start of Ultimate Warrior’s rise to the top of the card. His impressive victories, great look and amazing—albeit crazed—promos cemented him as a fan favorite of the WWF’s young fans. Discussions over who the greatest WWF star began among young fans. Was it WWF champion Hulk Hogan or the new Intercontinental champion?

That answer came in 1990 at WrestleMania VI. In the main event of that show it was title versus title. The Intercontinental champion beat the World champ and Ultimate Warrior rose to the top of the heap.

Unfortunately, the Warrior’s story didn’t really work once he was the king of the heap. He always worked best in weird psychological battles with the likes of Rick Rude and Jake the Snake. Standing at the top of the heap as the guy with the belt only exposed his weaknesses as a talent. After nine months as the top guy, he lost the title to the turncoat Sgt. Slaughter.

In the year after his loss, he once again entered some great feuds, starting with a battle with Randy Savage that gave him his finest match at Wrestlemania VII. But after his exposure as the champ, the Warrior’s shine had faded. And with steroids becoming an issue for WWF, the most obvious roid user on the roster became more of a liability than a moneymaker.

The Warrior left in late 1991 and outside brief runs in ‘92, ‘96 and ‘98, his career was basically at an end.

Of course, those long absences were sometimes just fine with me. Post-1992, he dropped the Ultimate from his name and started writing in an insane but great comic series starring himself simply called Warrior.

The comic is probably best remembered for the issue he tortured Santa Claus. Yes, really.

Looking back now, it is clear that the Ultimate Warrior was all about personality and look without the needed skills to truly work as a great wrestler. But not even Hulk Hogan was able to so aptly and easily catch the young wrestling fan’s joy. Everything about the Warrior is worthy of study, simply to show the ability of great booking and an amazing personality to make a star. And because of that he truly is the best character of that era of pro wrestling.

The Warrior is one of the few characters out there that directly inspired a work of fiction by me. I will talk a bit more about American Arsenal later today, but his pattern of speech is based directly on the Ultimate Warrior’s often strange promos.

Rob Schamberger's Warrior painting.
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For more on Ultimate Warrior, check out the pair of DVDs WWE put out before his death and a few months after: Ultimate Warrior: The Ultimate Collection and Ultimate Warrior: Always Believe.

And remember, always believe.

For more on the Warrior check out my Figured Out post, over at The Wrestling Deep End!

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