INTERVIEW WITH THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR - PART 2 OF 4
You can read part one of the series here.
FLYNN: Let’s go to the WWF. There are a couple of matches that
I want to talk about. You got your first Intercontinental Title. It
was an eight-second match. Was something weird going on?
WARRIOR: It was a thirty-one second match, with the Honky Tonk Man at Madison Square Garden for the Intercontinental Championship.
FLYNN: But to sort of lay down for someone in thirty-one seconds, he didn’t take that the wrong way? He was fine with it?
WARRIOR: What are you, a mark? How old are you? (Laughs). Look, it was his job, and even though I didn’t have, or haven’t maintained relationships with any of the guys since leaving the business, I had respectful, decent rapport with the guys when I worked with them. Honky, Andre, Randy—we all did what we did, them for me and I for them because it was good business to make money, get people to buy tickets. But, yeah, to answer your question another way, there could be times between different talent, people who didn’t get along personally that it made for getting things done in the ring more difficult. I could tell you many stories about that, more than you have time for...But with the power of TV you can get out of or cover up anything talent would not do, refuse to do. For example, if Honky was of a mind not to do what they wanted, they could have just kept him off TV, made a match for the Intercontinental belt in some other way, put The Ultimate Warrior in that match, and put the strap on him.
FLYNN: Let’s move on a bit to 1990 and your winning of the WWF Championship belt.
WARRIOR: My match against Hogan, that was…I had a lot of great moments, but I would probably say that was the pinnacle of my wrestling career and one of the best matches of all time. I’m proud of it. It was significant for, as I’ve said throughout the years, many things.
One, I’d reached the goal I set for myself. Many people don’t understand, many in the industry just don’t want to hear it. But when I got in the business, I got in it to pursue success. If after a certain amount of time that would not have happened, I sure as hell wasn’t going to stick with it just so I could be professional wrestler, like so many others in the business do. And when I got in it, Hogan was the guy. The facts are I set a goal and achieved it. Did the work, turned the eyes of those who mattered, and made it happen. And like I’d done my whole life up till then, once I had reached a goal, I began setting others. In some ways, having that match with Hogan was anti-climatic. And I would say, now, after greater life experience and looking back, that the way I was about setting new goals, having the confidence to and not having any doubts I could achieve them, likely, underneath everything else that went on between Vince and I, contributed somewhat to the fallouts we had.
That match was also very significant from this point: Hogan was the superstar and had been for a long time the only superstar. Doing the match the way it was done, having the big baby faces face-off was a huge statement about how popular The Ultimate Warrior character was. I mean, Hogan was popular, there was no doubt about that. In fact, buildups to previous Wrestlemanias were done by taking one of Hogan’s buddies and having that buddy stab him in the back, turn the second hottest baby face heel. That’s how they built Wrestlemanias. But Ultimate Warrior was selling merchandise at the same pace or better than Hogan. If they’d done that, turned The Ultimate Warrior heel, they’d have been cutting their own wrists. So they had to do the match the way they did. I know on a deeper level what that meant and I am proud of what I accomplished to make that happen. It meant something to beat Hogan then, not later, like I told him when I came back in ’98 to WCW. Beating him didn’t mean anything then.
FLYNN: Were you and Hogan buddies?
WARRIOR: No. He’s doing a whole other head trip. People like to misbelieve I’m on one—please. When I was at WWF we didn’t really spend any time together. He did come out to my place in Arizona one afternoon when we had a TV taping there, and we rode in a car a few times to a few shows.
I don’t know if anyone ever gets to know Terry [Hulk Hogan]. He may not even know himself, he’s been working himself for so long. In ’98 he invited me down to his place in Florida and, well, let me just say here, to save expanded thought for my book, he was very, very shallow and was not mature in ways that a person his age with his life experiences should be. It was, especially since I had matured in some really strong and empowering ways, very disappointing, disheartening.
FLYNN: I guess a question I have is that a lot of people talk about the politics involved between Hogan pinning Andre the Giant. What seems to me a bit more fascinating is the politics involved for someone to pin Hogan cleanly.
WARRIOR: You hear a lot about politics this and politics that these days. Even though I don’t follow what’s going on, I do have a sense that politics may play a larger role today. In fact, when I went to WCW, there were what you could call politics, plenty of it, but I would call it what it really is: Backstabbing, conniving, being a scumbag to weasel whatever you didn’t have the talent to get. There are many things that led to the demise of WCW, but it was plenty of politics as I describe them that sped it along. I can guarantee you that. But when I was at WWF, I worked hard, performed, and made my spot. It’s just that simple. I didn’t know any differently to think there was any other way to make it. If you are good enough, talent will win out over favoritism and politics. It did then anyway.
I would say that to use politics, as you call it, if there were any, Andre doing what he did for Hogan carries less political weight than what Hogan did for me. In other words, Hogan had to concede more than Andre. Even Hogan would have to say this or else he’d be admitting Andre held greater political stature than him, and God knows Hogan, the man who has made his whole existence a work, would never admit that (laughs). Andre was at the end of his career. He was happy and wealthy...I had a great run with Andre and became good friends with him, really. I would even make the case Andre did more for the Ultimate Warrior than he ever did for Hogan. And that’s saying a lot because Andre did not ever do what he did not want to. Ask Randy Savage.
FLYNN: When you beat him in 1990, how did that happen then?
Well, again, Ultimate Warrior was a strong baby face in his own right and was competitive with Hogan on many fronts, pure and simple. I was just enjoying reaping this incredible success I had never had before. The money was great. I was traveling all over, training at gyms all over the place, doing—I would just say that at that time Titan [WWF] took really great care of me. I was seeing on a nightly basis how over the Ultimate Warrior was getting, and hearing about it through the office’s grapevine. From the beginning a match between Hogan and I was never discussed in terms of me turning heel. It was always from the very start going to be baby face versus baby face. From there it was easy to build up a challenge between our two distinct legions of fans, his Hulkamaniacs, and my Warriors. Vince and Hogan did play some head games for the few months leading up to the match about what the finish would be, who would go over. I think they knew from the start what they were going to do, but wanted to test me to see how I would react. After all, it was a big thing to do. Bottom line is I knew they were going to do what they decided, and I would go along with it. Like I said, I was just beginning to enjoy the success of reaching a great part of my goal and was having fun, life was great. It was not though till the night before when Hogan and Vince and I got together one last time that it was set that I would go over and the exact details of that finish were laid out. Hogan and I never really discussed anything beyond that. We did not hang out together. He did his thing, I did mine. We did the match and it was awesome.
FLYNN: The match itself: Neither Hogan, nor you, is considered by the wrestling wonks to be the best of technical wrestlers. But, even though this is the stigma that you both have—that you get by on charisma and ring personality and your physiques—a lot of wrestling fans think this is one of the best matches of all time.
WARRIOR: They do because it was. Look, technical wrestling to some degree is something every guy in the business learns to do—the basics and all—because you can’t get your foot in the door of the business unless you know how to get by technically to begin with. I learned all that stuff before I even went to the WWF and continued with it for a good while after I got there. I was wrestling in high-school arenas with Steve Lombardi and Terry Gibbs and Mike Sharpe and some others. And we were doing back drops, and arm drags, leap frogs, working holds—we were doing all the wrestling stuff that you see little guys do as part of their regular act. You have to be able to know how to do at least some of that stuff in the beginning. The gimmick, if you have one or are capable of one, takes priority later.
Not being a technical wrestler is kind of a silly bad wrap I get all the time from guys like Bret Hart and industry pundits. My response is, look, you guys were in the business for a dozen years before I even got there. A dozen years and you never figured it out that wrestling skills per se were not where it was at. It was about being a gimmick. I got there and in two years I figured it out. I’d also busted my ass in painful ways they never had—years of training in the gym, self-discipline in working out and dieting. If they want to criticize anybody they should criticize the promoters who were, in effect, telling them, your little bag of fancy wrestling moves don’t sell tickets t-shirts, posters, dolls, etc.—so leave them and your tears at home, instead show up with some muscle and some energy.
What, am I supposed to apologize I did what it took, at that time, and they didn’t?
It wasn’t part of my gimmick—it wouldn’t fit Ultimate Warrior—to keep doing the wrestling stuff. I was smart enough to know that. Making that decision is up to the talent. In other words, whatever a wrestler decides to portray himself as in the wrestling ring character-wise, he’s the one who develops that. Hogan and I both had strong big man gimmicks but we knew the significance of the match called for weaving in some of the wrestling skills we didn’t regularly use to create drama and emotion, the working of big man holds and the close false finishes, etc. It was a big thing, that match, and people believed in the Ultimate Warrior character enough to know he might be the one for the very first time to put Hogan cleanly on his back for the 1-2-3.
FLYNN: Does that small-guy stuff shorten your career?
WARRIOR: Well, it will if you stay with it and you’re a big guy with the potentials in other ways to pull off a big guy gimmick. If you don’t figure it out. I didn’t get in the business to be just a pro wrestler. Let alone one who had a whole bag of technical moves. I got in it to succeed at its highest levels and I did.
One of the hardest things about making it in the business is figuring out the image you need to portray of your persona. Even once you get up to a top spot in it, it is the thing you have to pay the most attention to. Small-guy is a broad term to describe many things here, but, I was a big, powerful—and violently intense—guy who didn’t need to do a lot of the other things others did.
FLYNN: Now with Hogan, did you guys take a lot of time to choreograph the match?
WARRIOR: No. We went over it one time. I went down to Florida and met him in an old building where they had a ring set up. We walked through the match one time. And in Toronto, we “danced.”
FLYNN: Let’s move on a bit. You were at the WWF when it’s at one of its high points when you’re wrestling Hogan. Then a few years later, the business goes south big time.
WARRIOR: The business has always had its highs and lows, but you are talking about the time when the crap hit the fan with the Dr. Zahorian steroid stuff, causing Vince and some of the talent, Hogan and Piper, to be implicated, eventually Vince being prosecuted.
FLYNN: That’s what I want to know. What was it like being in the WWF during that real dark time with the Steroid scandal, and the feds coming down on Vince?
WARRIOR: Well, most of the guys took stuff. Even guys you’d never imagine, just to keep up with the pace of the road, the lifestyle, the hanging out with groupies, and drinking, and whatever else. Of course, steroids were legal. You could get them with a prescription from a doctor. It was just at the time that the government was initiating a crack down. The war on street drugs was a bust, so they focused their attention on steroids. The word came down from the office to either to make sure you had a prescription or get off altogether. I can’t remember exactly without a timeline in front of me. All the documents I have from my litigation with Titan lay it all out to the day, everything. I just know the office did things in stages. Just trying to go off the top of my head here, it effected a lot of guys negatively. I wasn’t bothered by it. I never depended on just steroids to maintain my physique and knew I could keep right at what I was doing. In ’92 when I came back you couldn’t use them, and I reached a great physical peak by using the knowledge I had. Hogan, on the other hand, went on The Arsenio Hall Show and lied about having ever taken them, which just made matters worse and created, I recall, real friction between Vince and he. Both had different ideas about how to handle it all. Hogan would always say that Vince was going about dealing with all this the wrong way. But Vince got really scared about it all. I remember very vividly a conversation he had with me. He really thought he was going to do some time in prison.
FLYNN: What was the mood like in the WWF at that time?
WARRIOR: Guys were looking for ways around it all. They were especially pissed off that Vince was paying all the bodybuilders for the bodybuilding organization he was starting up, obviously all on the juice, and here they were—the wrestlers—busting their ass up and down the road to foot the bill for guys that got guaranteed money to do nothing but eat, train and sleep. But that was part of being on the road, the whining and complaining. Yet, like I said, nobody ever did anything about the bitches they had.
FLYNN: As a wrestler, when the crowds are getting smaller, what’s the mood like in the WWF at the time? It can’t be as good as a couple of years before, right?
WARRIOR: I never really let it effect me. I had to get so pumped up to do Ultimate Warrior. From the moment the music came on, I had to run out to the ring. I mean, other guys could just walk out there and walk around. I had to get into this zone in my head to do Ultimate Warrior to just get to the ring and always continue to just give people their money’s worth.
FLYNN: Over the years, to build up his company Vince McMahon has taken a lot of chances. Occasionally, he would make mistakes—the XFL, the bodybuilding federation.
WARRIOR: This is the way I see it. Vince has always tried to use the money he’s made from professional wrestling to become a part of the more elite class of promoters in other professional sports. That’s why he has done it. Of course, he wants to be successful as a businessman, I believe that. But I really think he wants to be a part of that more notable established clique to diminish the stigma of being more like a circus promoter. When he did the bodybuilding venture, it wasn’t like he wanted to raise a crop of bodybuilders. What he wanted was to have Joe Weider’s publishing empire, a credible business without the stigma. Contracting the bodybuilders, which Weider had never done at the same level, was really just a means to a bigger end. Vince said as much about what his end goals were when he brazenly belittled the NFL when he launched the XFL.
FLYNN: One thing that I remember, and I asked a guy today if I were dreaming or something like that—one of the gimmicks that Vince had you do which was probably the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen on professional wrestling…
WARRIOR: With the Papa Shango thing?
FLYNN: Yeah, you know exactly what I’m talking about. So, he had some guy put a voodoo curse on you and you where throwing up or something. Could you say to Vince, “Hey Vince, this is a bad idea?”
WARRIOR: I did. But it did little good once he had his mind set on something. The big problem was that every three weeks you showed up at a television taping and they had it all laid out already. They got that one evening to tape three different television programs—whatever they were at the time. So, they can’t modify things that much. You—the talent—have been on the road and you’re worn down anyway, so it depends how much fight or how much creativity you have in you to make the case for doing something differently.
FLYNN: If you tried to say to him, “Look, this isn’t such a good idea.” Is he the type a guy that takes criticism in stride?
WARRIOR: Yeah, Vince was always good about hearing good ideas out. In fact, back then it was really up to the top talent to come up with their own creative ideas to make an angle work. But you had to come up with another idea really quick because they are going from one thing to the next. Papa Shango was a voodoo type of character anyway. So, in some way the office was already convinced that people were buying the voodoo thing. So taking it up a notch and having Warrior leak ooze or puke pea-soup wasn’t, so they thought, wasn’t going to make less believable the angle.
FLYNN: When was the last time you spoke to Vince McMahon?
WARRIOR: Geez, 1996, if you mean spoke at any length. In 2000, the day our trial was to begin and all was settled, he came up to me in the courtroom before the day got underway with his hand out and stared with his trademark, “Hey pal.” I refused to shake his hand and told him, “I’ve been insulted enough and we have nothing to be pals about.” Truly probably the only time Vince has had that done to him. Try it some time. Refuse to shake the hand of a person you don’t respect when they have their hand extended. It’s very hard to do. But man does it build your character and tell you something about yourself. Ever since that day, my handshake means something and I don’t give it as if it does not.
Return to Flynn Files tomorrow for part 3 (of 4) of this interview. In part 3, read Warrior’s thoughts on the decline and fall of WCW, on the possibility of a return to wrestling, the character and integrity of Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon, and the deaths of Rick Rude, Davey Boy Smith, and Curt Hennig.