Dark Side of the Ring: “Becoming Warrior”
The life of the late 1980s WWE superstar The Ultimate Warrior has been much-documented, in both the WWE and non-WWE-sanctioned worlds of wrestling documentaries.
In 2005, there was The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior, a DVD put out during an estrangement between the company and the wrestler, which may have been the most mean-spirited documentary in the history of the wrestling business.
A decade later, WWE put out a much gentler documentary called Ultimate Warrior: Always Believe, which chronicled the Warrior’s return to WWE, his Hall of Fame induction, and his death just two days later.
Now, the same week, we’ve had two Warrior docs, from the two popular cable wrestling documentary shows. A&E’s Biography series on WWE legends aired its Ultimate Warrior episode last weekend, and just a few days later, Vice’s Dark Side of the Ring aired its own Warrior episode, titled “Becoming Warrior.”
The two new documentaries are quite different from one another. The Biography version is twice as long, much slicker, and probably considerably more expensive than its Vice counterpart. The Biography episode, of course, was produced with WWE’s cooperation, complete with full access to the federation’s entire video library, while Vice’s was not. And each episode featured a different one of Warrior’s wives- with his first wife, Shari, talking to Vice and his second, Dana, participating in A&E’s documentary.
Some things we learned, in particular, from the Dark Side of the Ring episode:
Not really from “Parts Unknown”
The Warrior, whose real name was Jim Hellwig, was probably the best-known wrestler to claim to be from “Parts Unknown,” which existed as a popular fake wrestler hometown long before Anthony Bourdain used that name for his CNN travel show.
While wrestling magazines billed him from Queens, N.Y., Warrior was in fact born and raised in Indiana, moved to the South to start his wrestling career, and lived in Arizona during and after his time in wrestling.
He and Sting started together but went in different directions
Most wrestling fans know that the Warrior and Sting formed a tag team, called the Blade Runners, as young wrestlers in the original UWF. The Vice documentary established that while Sting worked hard and was talented in the ring, the Warrior had less natural ability, and mostly got by on his look and muscles.
Sting and Warrior went on to win championships in WCW and the WWE, respectively, but the two wouldn’t share the ring again until Warrior’s brief WCW run in 1998.
The wrestling establishment didn’t much like him
The more “old school” voices heard in the Vice documentary, Jim Ross and Jim Cornette, make clear they weren’t fans of his, with Ross assailing him for lack of in-ring ability and Cornette calling him “a jerk in the ring.” The late Bobby “The Brain” Heenan is also said to have despised the Warrior for once hurting him during a wrestling spot.
Jake the Snake’s grudge
Jake “The Snake” Roberts claims in the Vice documentary that he was set to have a main event feud with Warrior in 1991, one that was scuttled when Warrior was fired by Vince McMahon shortly after that year’s SummerSlam. This, Roberts says, caused him to hold a grudge for years- and even brought a “roll of quarters” with him to Warrior’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2014. Get ready for more extremely dark tales of Jake the Snake in next week’s Dark Side episode, “In the Shadow of Grizzly Smith,” which follows his family history.
He had his name legally changed to “Warrior”
In a move similar to Prince changing his name to a symbol around the same time as part of a record company feud, the former Jim Hellwig had his name legally changed to “Warrior” in 1993 to get around WWF’s ownership of the Ultimate Warrior character. Not only that but his widow and daughters refer to him as “Warrior,” and continue to use “Warrior” as their surname.
The origins of his conservatism
In the later years of his life, Warrior tried to reinvent himself as a politically conservative speaker and blogger. And during those years, he sometimes got in hot water for racist and anti-gay statements. In the Biography episode, Dana Warrior stated that she thought her late husband had overindulged in right-wing talk radio, but in footage in the Vice doc, Warrior is seen implying that his wife encouraged him to become a conservative.
It all went really, really fast
It’s the sort of thing that doesn’t hit as hard for those of us who grew up watching him, but Warrior’s WWF heyday was incredibly short. He arrived in 1987, won the Intercontinental championship in 1988, and beat Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania VI in 1990, and was fired in 1991. He made brief returns to the WWF in 1992 and 1996, and to WCW in 1998, but that original run lasted just four years.