The Ultimate Warrior is one of the biggest stars in the history of modern wrestling. He turned his back on the business to pursue, among other things, an intellectual calling promoting his philosophy-Warrior Conservatism. I recently conducted a lengthy phone interview with Warrior discussing wrestling, weightlifting, books, politics, and numerous other topics. This four-part interview is based on our phone conversations, and follow-up electronic correspondence. The Ultimate Warrior approached wrestling in an intense, passionate, and colorful manner. He comes across as no less intense, passionate, and colorful in this interview. Enjoy.
FLYNN: You went from packing sports arenas through your physicality as a wrestler, to packing lecture halls with your mind. How, when, and why did this transition come about?
WARRIOR: Well, a few things: Some, a natural part of growing up, maturing; some having the unique life experiences I had had up till my mid-30s, my goals and my accomplishments. Then, later getting involved as a Conservative activist had a lot to do with relationships I began to have with others through some entrepreneurial projects that I operated very hands-on.
I have to go back and give a little background to get to the pivotal moments, I guess. I got into wrestling when I was like 25, 26—till then I’d always been very goal oriented in my life. When I was kid, I stumbled into the shabby weight room at my high school and befriended this old rusty weight machine and that launched me on an incredible journey of self-discipline and self-motivation. Out of that I set an educational goal for myself to become a chiropractor. I turned my hobby of working out into a successful bodybuilding career. At the tail end of my schooling, the school being in Atlanta and it being a hotbed for pro-wrestling, my bodybuilding success created an opportunity to get into the business of wrestling. The rest, really, is history there. Of course, as the Ultimate Warrior character was evolving. I was too—evolving as man and having unique relationships with those I worked with, especially [World Wrestling Federation/World Wrestling Entertainment Chairman] Vince McMahon and other males who were essentially getting paid big money to behave a lot like kids. Vince and I had some professional fallouts. Through the handling of those fallouts, I came to see him in an unethical, unfavorable light, and began to question his and others’ definitions of success and their definitions of what they thought it was to be man, or how they thought one should think and act like a man.
It was natural for me, when we parted ways as we did a few times, to see having done what I did for the opportunity that it was, and just accept it for that, and then I set off to set new goals, etc. Being in the business for me was always about the challenge of succeeding it, not the fame and celebrity parts. Long story short: I came back and left and came back a couple more times. This brings me into the mid-’90s. And each time I split, like I said, I’d set new goals and some of those goals were entrepreneurial and for the first time in my life, because of the pace I had lived life at, I had this first real opportunity to listen to others and find out what they thought about life—really hear about their philosophies of life. The more I paid attention the more I realized I thought differently on many levels. Being off the road and still having incredible energy and discipline and intensity, I began to want to do new things. I began a lot of self-study, including beginning a self learning journey reading the Great Books of the Western world, and the study of American history and came to see and call the Founding people and times the absolute heroic models. This was special for me, having done what I did as heroic role model for young minds, and never before in my life able to point to any one identity as a role model.
It was also during the second term of the Clinton presidency when I began all of this. That was uniquely disgusting for me, for reasons related to my unique experiences a role model, and even though I was not paying long-time direct attention to politics or parties, etc., I thought, here is the literal and figurative role model for the United States of America behaving like a perverted little kid. I just found it all really unmanly and undignified. About the same time I met the woman who would become my wife. She was conservative and through her I knew I had been throughout my life, without knowing it directly, living by a conservative philosophy of life.
Sorta out of necessity to have a job, build another career—more for knowing, as any conservative does, that work is how you build self-esteem and good frame of mind—I began building a speaking career. First using the knowledge I was acquiring from the self-learning journey I was on, to go and talk at schools about how power in your life comes from using your mind, not muscle.
Who better to do that right?
As I paid more attention to current event stuff, and was deciding to begin a family, I was appalled at what was going on in education. I mean we really are not teaching young people to even think, as it is classically defined. I was also really disheartened the first few times I went out to speak on college campuses. I just thought people on college campuses would be interested in talking and hearing about serious ideas. I went in to talk about Aristotle’s ethics and I got back this glazed over look. So I had to rethink some things about my game plan, or maybe I should say unthink some things. And that’s when I reached out to Conservative organizations. You, I remember reaching out to you, you were at Accuracy in Academia. You were very helpful, thank you. Young America's Foundation and the Leadership Institute and some other conservative leads I got through Internet. In fact, a guy by the name of Dan Labert at the media part of the Leadership Institute, who was a fan of my career in wrestling, really put a good word around. He, I believe, got in the ear of YAF, Patrick Coyle over there, and out of that I went to CPAC 2003 and since then we have been doing, again, I believe really positive things. I was back at CPAC 2004, and spoke in the big ballroom.
You know you mentioned in your question about once packing them in the arenas, and packing them in on college campuses now. Well, go easy, the crowds aren’t as big, but they can often be just as raucous, many of the young kids come because they were little-kid fans of my career. Sometimes in the middle of my speech all the faces turn into ten-year olds...but what you say is true in one sense, as I always make sure to say when I am out for the group that brought me in—it is just as inspiring for me to be doing what I am now as it was to wrestle in front of 5,10, 20,000 fans in the wrestling arenas and coliseums I once did. So, there you have some of the how, why and when.FLYNN: Tell me your own personal history.
WARRIOR: I grew up in Indiana, born and raised there. Did a year of college there at Indiana State, the same year the great Larry Bird was kicking basketball butt. I’m the oldest of five. My dad split when I was twelve, never to look back to provide any support at all—financial or otherwise. I don’t have any horror stories. I don’t have any Sally Jesse Rafael-horror stories of being raped or molested by the next-door neighbor. Did get into plenty of innocent-enough juvenile behavior though. Even ran away from home when I was 13, 14 with a lady who was 28 and had seduced me, no less. I reckon I could blame all my failures and foibles on that if I wanted, take the typical liberal way out. Anyway, that’s a story for my book.
Really, though, I had a really great upbringing. I grew up in the country, in the rural areas, small town of 600 people. We did a lot of fishing and a lot of hunting, a lot of boy stuff. My mom, when I was about thirteen or fourteen, married a really decent guy. He had a really good sense of integrity, and also was a great outdoorsman.
I’m sure, although I was your typical young male not paying strict attention, that I got a decent education—they still said “The Pledge of Allegiance” and taught you unrevised American history!—and they had no quibbles back then about disciplining you. We used to get the paddle, and I can remember when my mom found out, she'd take me back to school and tell them to paddle me again, She held great authority over me and my siblings. She didn’t take any back talk.
And, like I said, in the last part of sophomore year, first part of my junior year, I stumbled into that weight room and made friends with that old weight machine. My life really changed from that point on.FLYNN: My understanding is that you got into professional wrestling with a small group of guys that included Sting. Could you talk about how you got into the business?
WARRIOR: I was going to chiropractic school and competing in bodybuilding. In 1984, I won the Mr. Georgia competition. From that, I went to the Mr. America competition that year in New Orleans. And there, there was a guy by the name of Ed Connors, who was one of three guys who bought the Gold’s Gym that Joe Gold founded, and the three set out and turned into the worldwide franchise operation that it is today. Every year, back at that time, in the ’80s, they would take two amateur bodybuilders they thought had potential to make it big, and bring the two out to California and put them up while they trained at “The Mecca” for a Junior National or National level contest. I was one of the guys in ’84 or ’85. I went out there and I trained for a Junior Mr. USA contest, took fifth in my class, if I remember right. Anyway, things didn’t, in the contest, really go the way we expected them to go. The opportunity was still there. I was like one of the biggest, by bodyweight, bodybuilders at the time, got great reviews with [Joe] Weider and all the other top bodybuilders, just didn’t hit my mark for that show. So, I decided to get back to Atlanta and finish the small amount of school I had left, mostly clinical requirements.
Just as I got back to Atlanta, Ed called and told me there was a guy out there in California who’s putting together a team of four guys to become pro-wrestlers, and he asked me if I’d be interested. I didn’t follow the sport at all. Atlanta, of course, was a hotbed of wrestling at the time and I had crossed paths with a few of the guys—the Road Warriors, Paul Orndoff, Dusty Rhodes, Tony Atlas—but I didn’t know them personally. But after some minor investigation, and the fact that I could use all the hard work I’d done in bodybuilding to capitalize off it—make some money, come back to the chiropractic later... I decided to go for it.FLYNN: Did you watch wrestling as a kid?
WARRIOR: No, I was never into it, but, ironically, my step-dad was. He used to watch it late at night—Dick the Bruiser and the Crusher. I remember them by catching him watching it. My stepdad and I got along in a really good way, but I always thought he was kind of goofy for watching it. I’d come in late on the weekends, being out with my buddies and he’d switch the channel like he didn’t mean to have it on.FLYNN: Like he was embarrassed?
WARRIOR: Yeah.FLYNN: Early on, you jumped around a bit from different federations. Where are some of the places you wrestled?
WARRIOR: Well, long-story short, when I went to California I was really supposed to be a playing out of a whole of masterplan: training, marketing, big-time access, and success. Turned out, within a couple weeks, that the guy who had the idea didn’t have the money to float the beginning phases and the bottom fell out. We lost our place to live, had just enough to eat peanut butter, and do midnight snack runs at local grocery stores, eating in the aisles, funny stuff. To top it off, as Steve [Sting] and I later found out, this guy didn’t know jack about how the business operated on the inside. Even if he’d had the money to feed us and get us fully trained, his big plan still would have failed.
Steve [Sting] and I stayed positive about it all, and really our ignorance about things was a blessing. We sent pictures out to everybody on a list of wrestling organizations we had. We only had ten to fifteen hours of training. And that was basically just lifting each other over our heads and dropping one another on the floor—on the basic gymnastic mats. One of those regional territories was Mid-Southern, over in Tennessee, at the time Jerry Jarrett ran it. They saw the pictures. We were big guys. We were impressive in that way. We were all-American looking. And they gave us a call and told us to come on out. We just really got our bags and went for it with expectations that were way too high. I swear to God, when we drove from California to Tennessee we thought within a few months we were going to be millionaires. We were so pumped.FLYNN: What kind of money did a wrestler make back then?
WARRIOR: We were making $25 to $50 a night.FLYNN: Were you rooming with Sting?
WARRIOR: We did everything together. Laundry, gym, groceries—always together. We had the one car. I’d sold mine so we could eat in California. We drove to the towns together. Sometimes 4-5 hours one way and with 4-5 guys in the car just to cover the cost of gas. Slept in a fleabag hotel until we got an apartment then we slept on the floor. Ate tuna fish out the can. Had to call Ed Connors to send us some money. It was really rough, but we stayed positive as we could. I thought a lot about going back to school, but didn’t even have the money to get back to Georgia, let alone re-enroll. And we knew there was nothing we could do about it. It was about paying dues. One week we got a check for the whole seven days of working for like $150-$200. Beat all to hell, bummed out and all, we ask one of the boys, Rip Morgan, a guy from New Zealand, “How do you know when you are getting screwed (euphemism)?” He said, “Oh, don’t worry about that mate, you’ll know when you are getting screwed. The question then becomes ‘What can you do about it?’” He was right. There was nothing we could do about it.FLYNN: Both you and Sting have had huge success in professional wrestling. Neither of you on principle has gone over to Titan [WWF/WWE].
WARRIOR: Well, I can only speak for myself really. You are right, Sting hasn't gone over there, but I don’t how much that has to do with principle. I’ve never read that. I know he’s done the born-again Christian thing, but I mean he’s worked with NWA—whatever it is—the Jarrett thing. Creatively, they’re doing the same raunchy, risqué garbage.
About me you are right. I haven’t gone over on principle—that it is degenerate and I’m not doing it because of that. In addition, I have extensively articulated what my principles are, at my site and when I go out and speak. That makes a huge difference as to why I am not there because of principle. Others haven’t done that. I also fought Vince in a five-year litigation, on principle. I stood up to his ways, the ways he screwed many, many others. While others have never done that, yet every single person I worked with knew and expressed how Vince had wronged them. I mean, at WCW, [Eric] Bischoff and all the current WWF talent that went over, practically used the majority of their programming to deride and taunt McMahon for how he had treated them and the other boys over the years. That said, even if I didn’t have the history with Vince, there’d be no way I could, especially with where I am in my head today, rationalize degenerate and perverse behavior claiming I was just an actor acting. I know that’s hard for some people to understand, especially today, but it’s the truth. I just happen to believe people should think and act like grown ups when they are.
Hypocrisy for me just doesn’t work. Like, though, it does for many, including those who are born-again Christians, like Steve [Sting] and Sean Michaels and others. If you participate, in my mind, you support and condone. It’s that black and white for me. Vince is laughingly stabbing them with their own Devil’s pitchfork.FLYNN: Then your road is a little different from Sting’s?
WARRIOR: You mean for me to be able to say that I am not wrestling because of my principles?FLYNN: Yes.
WARRIOR: Definitely! It’s a lot different. There’s no comparison, especially if principle means anything. Look, I know it’s hard for others that have never gone through it to understand, but my five year legal battle was not like showing up for traffic court. And I know that’s what most people, you know, somewhat imagine—like okay some sorta big deal, but not really. It was a huge event, a huge experience in my life. Everyone else I know that whined and complained never had the guts. And believe me, they all whined and complained—all of them. It taught me that it is never—never wrong to fight for what is right. And then aside from that, all the self-study I’ve done to be able to know what I talk about. Hell, I spent great amounts of the money I made, buying myself time, investing in myself, becoming capable of doing something else, and to do it legitimately. I am bothered by not just the guys I worked with but by others too who have the professional fame and success, get personally detoured down a degenerate and promiscuous side road, then show up hawking born-again Christianity, or ambiguous, get-your-life/act-together routines, or that they know about principles, or are principled and on and on. Why can’t they just be principled without having to use hitting the bottom as their excuse and Christianity as their savior, then worse, go out and turn it into somewhat of a con and a way to thieve money. It’s repulsive to me and I’m very bothered by it.FLYNN: Do you still have contact with Sting?
WARRIOR: No, not for years. I saw him and we spoke when I was at WCW in 1998, but, well, we are different people than when we began and during those years he went his way and I went mine. We never sustained contact.FLYNN: Do you have contact with any of the people from wrestling?
WARRIOR: No. Look, I’m cut from a different mold. Most of the guys have this loyalty to the business that I don’t have. Even when it ruins their lives, breaks their character as a human being, or, worse, kills them. If things would not have gone sour with the McMahons, maybe I’d be more inclined. I mean, many of the old timers still work for Titan behind the scenes, as agents, gophers, real jobbers. It’s their job. They’ve made the business their life.
When I was having my success, you have to understand something: I’d been in the business a few years. Other guys had been in it 10 to 12 years and they never had the success I did. There was a ton of envy. I knew and was also smart enough to navigate the shark infested waters. I was despised in a lot of ways. I knew I had to be a loner to succeed—do my own thing. And I beat them at their own game—their own “work.” I got out on my own terms. They didn’t get to abuse the character or me.
They want to think in some ways—the pundits at least—that they were instrumental in making you what you were. And they also want to write the obituary for you. They want to be the ones to ridicule you on your way out: “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass.” It pisses a lot of people off that I have gotten on responsibly with my life. Like I’ve said numerous times, if I had ended up a pitiful, drugged bum I’d be better appreciated for what I did in the business. If I OD’ed in a Budget hotel room doing dirty little street drugs, my wife and kids at home, I’d be a real superstar. It also bothers a lot of people in the industry that I don’t have a problem defending the legitimacy of my career, using my mind to do so instead of muscle.FLYNN: So you went from what, from Mid-Southern to where?
WARRIOR: We went to a place called Mid-South, and this guy named Bill Watts ran it.FLYNN: He later ran WCW?
WARRIOR: He did, yeah.
We came in and Watts had this reputation for roughing up new guys, especially muscle guys; especially muscle guys that really wanted to make it in the business and showed deference to him because he was the boss. After about two or three months, there was an instance where Watts wanted me to get down in the locker room in front of all of the other guys. I’d heard the story through the grapevine about what he did. He wanted me to get down on all fours like a dog and he was going to show me how to throw a “working” kick to the underbelly (so he makes you think).
Well, I heard about what he did—he would kick the shit out of you and bust your ribs up. It was like a test to see if you would take the crap. And I knew what he was going to do and I said, “Look, if you want me on all fours you’re going to have to put me there.” Of course, he wasn’t man enough to go for that. He wanted me at a disadvantage to begin with. This is something that the whole locker room didn’t expect, because guys come in the business and they really want to make it and they do whatever it takes. Steve just stood there and didn’t really back me up, even though we had like this bond between ourselves that we were in this—good or bad—together. I was bothered by that. We really started splitting ways after that, thinking differently about goals, etc. Eddie Gilbert and some of the others there got in Steve’s ear, and our relationship quickly fell apart after that. I was never afraid to think for myself, Steve more liked to be handled.
I picked up the phone and called WCCW over in Texas. And that’s when I went over there and started the Dingo Warrior.FLYNN: How long did you stay there?
WARRIOR: I stayed there, I think, about a year and a half. I did really well. Just before I came in to work, Kerry [Von Erich] had a motorcycle wreck where he actually lost his foot. They amputated it. They kaye fabed [shielded] it for years. Even I didn’t know about it until much later when Kerry and I became really great friends, like brothers, after I went up and was doing my thing in WWF with wild success. I was living in Texas and he was just down the road from me and we began hanging out together. WCCW was a territory, when I went there, that had the second amount of exposure compared to Titan. Titan was really just starting to spread nationally at the time. And the Dingo Warrior character really took off and got decent press in the monthly wrestling magazines out on the newsstands. I started as a heel, but people took to the similarities between me and Kerry, our bodies, our warrior look, and mannerisms you might say. It was actually the crowds down there that turned the Dingo Warrior [into a] baby face.FLYNN: So you get into Titan in what, the late ’80s?
WARRIOR: About the later part of ’86 or ’87. I was actually in the middle of signing a deal to go to Japan at the time. This guy named George Scott, who worked for Titan and was one of Vince’s right hand men when he did his first Wrestlemania, was booking there at the time. He had just retired from Titan and as a favor to Fritz he came down to Texas on his way to Florida to take over the book for a while. Through people who worked at the Texas office, at the Sportatoriam where I was at WCCW, I found out that he was having conversations with Vince talking about me, talking highly about me. Telling Vince that there’s a guy down here who has got this unbelievable potential. That guy happened to be me.
It’s ironic because if you look at the timeline, as soon as that George Scott guy came to Texas, Vince started running shows in Dallas, Texas. So, really what was going on—this George Scott guy came down to kill off the territory completely.FLYNN: You think he was like a fifth columnist or something?
WARRIOR: Yeah. That’s a great way to put it, for sure that’s what he was doing. I don’t have any doubts about it. Neither would any one else being straight with themselves. Shortly after I began with WWF, WCCW shut down.
Continued tomorrow…Come back to www.flynnfiles.com to read about Ultimate Warrior’s Wrestlemania victory over Hulk Hogan and his courtroom victory over Vince McMahon. In part two of four, Warrior discusses his distaste for the wrestling business, the WWF steroid controversy, Titan’s failed venture into bodybuilding, as well as names that haven’t crossed your mind in years (if ever!)—Iron Mike Sharpe, Honky Tonk Man, Papa Shango, the Renegade, and more.