Decade Turn and Clash of Icons: The Ultimate Warrior Emerges
The adage of “time waits for no man,” was ever-present entering the ’90s. At the turn of the decade, Hulk Hogan continued being the top babyface in the WWE (then-WWF), but a younger, edgier Ultimate Warrior was quickly garnering a solid backing from the fans.
The formula of babyface versus heel was flipped on its head when Vince McMahon decided to bank on the popularity of two babyfaces to headline his annual WrestleMania extravaganza. It pitted champion versus champion, causing a divide amongst the fans and those involved.
In the ’80s, much of professional wrestling and the WWF was synonymous with Hulk Hogan. While Ric Flair found dominance in the NWA, establishing unparalleled excellence in the ring and microphone, few will argue that Hulkamania became a pop culture phenomenon and global brand like no other wrestler of the era and perhaps since.
When The Ultimate Warrior exploded onto the WWF scene in ’87, for the first time in years, Hogan saw someone competing against him to become the number one babyface in the company.
For The Ultimate Warrior, All Roads Lead to WrestleMania 6 and Hulk Hogan
James "Jim" Hellwig was a former bodybuilder who started training with weights from a very early age.
While preparing for a local bodybuilding competition in a California gym owned by Steve Borden (later known as Sting in wrestling), someone approached him to gauge his interest in possibly becoming a professional wrestler.
Soon with the help of Rick Bassman sponsoring them, both Hellwig and Borden entered wrestling after training with “Big” Bill Anderson, and Red Bastien. They teamed up to form Powerteam USA in California and not long after, they were convinced by Anderson to work in Memphis and Nashville as the Freedom Fighters. Then they got rebranded as The Blade Runners in Bill Watt’s Mid-South Wrestling (later UWF).
Jim Hellwig’s Journey to Becoming The Ultimate Warrior
In time, they moved on to the very popular World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) based out of Dallas, Texas, where Hellwig became The Dingo Warrior. First envisioned as a heel by management, the Ultimate Warrior’s contagious energy and the cheers from the fans swayed them to turn him babyface.
Recommended reading: Ultimate Warrior and Sting | Their Broken Relationship and Fall Out
But the WWF is where Jim Hellwig made his mark.
Warrior’s Progress in WWF: From Dingo to Ultimate
At first, he kept the name Dingo Warrior, and his matches consisted of destroying enhancement talents such as Steve Lombardi, Barry Horowitz, and José Estrada.
Others claim that Vince McMahon simply didn’t get what a "Dingo Warrior" was supposed to be, so a name change was in order.
Feel the Power of The Ultimate Warrior!
Now with a more colorful and revamped image, Ultimate Warrior – with his cartoon-like exaggerated musculature, colorful attire, face paint, and high-energy ring entrance – received a significant push.
Feuds and Triumphs: The Ultimate Warrior’s Early Success
His first feud was against Hercules Hernandez, which culminated at WrestleMania IV. He then dethroned the longest-reigning WWF Intercontinental Champion in the title’s history, The Honky Tonk Man, at SummerSlam ’88. The Elvis impersonating, hip-swinging, bothersome baddie had been the IC Champion for 454 days until the Warrior ended his reign in around 30 seconds.
Rebranding and Initial Push: The Birth of The Ultimate Warrior
In his book Hollywood Hulk Hogan with Michael Jan Friedman, Hulk Hogan recognized that The Ultimate Warrior had the looks but didn’t give him credit for much else.
"He was the most chiseled bodybuilder to come into the wrestling business. When this guy came in, he blew me away. He had no game when he got into the ring after he ran and shook the ropes and stuff. He had no wrestling psychology."
Hogan Gives His Opinion On The Ultimate Warrior
Hogan continues, "Great guy, nice guy but just a flash in the pan."
Although Hulk Hogan didn’t think much about the Warrior, his merchandise sales said otherwise. Many fans who now followed The Ultimate Warrior used to be fervent Hulkamania backers.
Vince McMahon and the WWF certainly saw the possibility of making good money from this, so plans began taking shape towards pitting these two superstars against each other on a grand stage.
As the Intercontinental Champion, The Ultimate Warrior rapidly picked up steam and entered feuds with "Ravishing" Rick Rude, where he engaged in a "Super Posedown Challenge" against him at Royal Rumble ’89.
The two then faced each other at WrestleMania V, where Rude gets a lot of credit for making The Ultimate Warrior seem like an unstoppable force, despite Rude receiving the win thanks to the assist from Bobby Heenan.
The Ultimate Warrior recovered the IC title at SummerSlam ’89, becoming a two-time holder of the belt. Entering in a feud with André The Giant and repeatedly disposing of the older, slower but yet, still very powerful Eighth Wonder of the World quite easily, helped solidify Warrior as a main eventer. His popularity was now through the roof.
Collision of Titans: Royal Rumble ’90 and First Encounters
Royal Rumble ’90 saw Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior clash for the first time when finding themselves as the only two left in the ring.
Initially, the two tested each other’s might by colliding into one another with shoulder tackles, but neither man knocked the other off his feet. But when they ran the ropes and crisscrossed to build momentum, both fell to the mat after a simultaneous clothesline.
The crowd seemed to savor this appetizer, which fed into a dream match between the two. Eventually, The Ultimate Warrior got eliminated from the Rumble match after Barbarian and Rick Rude (with an assist from Hogan) dumped him over the top rope.
Momentary Unity: Hogan and Warrior Team Up
One week after The Royal Rumble (although taped weeks prior), Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior teamed up against Mr. Perfect and "The Genius" Lanny Poffo on Saturday Night’s Main Event.
In a pre-match interview with "Mean" Gene Okerlund, a buff, tan and oily Hogan aptly described themselves as "The two strongest forces in the WWF."
In his eccentric manner of expressing himself, the frenetic Warrior explained the team the way a deranged chemist might.
"Any time you mix two physically, mentally reactive chemicals, there’s going to be boiling, and there’s going to be bubbling! But when settled, that common bond is stronger than anything that perfection and intelligence could EVER be!"
If you ever played WWF Superstars (1989) or WWF WrestleFest (1991) at the arcades, players imagined that they could stack the cards in their favor by having Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior tag team.
The concept was like the 1992 men’s Olympic basketball team nicknamed the "Dream Team" that saw no worthy competitors and might be the best roundball team ever assembled. But video games don’t take into account the one thing that has befallen some of the best tag teams in wrestling: Egos.
Egos Collide: The Abrupt End of Hogan and Warrior’s Team
Two massive stars like Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior as a team (and previously Macho Man and Hogan) are usually intense like a brush fire but as short-lived. They awe fans for breathtaking yet brief moments but eventually fall into the category of: "if only they could’ve stayed together longer…"
Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior won the match, but during the celebration, an impassioned Mr. Perfect, along with his partner, The Genius, got back in the ring, and as Gorilla Monsoon used to say, "Pearl Harbored them."
Hogan landed outside after Perfect landed a well-placed knee to his backside.
An Honest Mistake Builds The Tension
Meanwhile, Warrior cleaned house inside the ring but didn’t notice that Hogan had recovered and was now behind him.
An unsuspecting Hogan tapped the frenetic Warrior on the shoulder and got clobbered by a short but powerful clothesline. Hogan laid on the mat clutching his throat, coughing, as if he’d just gotten his adam’s apple crushed. Warrior tried to help him up, but Hogan refused. The plot thickened, and the tension between the two rose several degrees.
The Leadup to The Ultimate Challenge
Before WrestleMania, both Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior saved each other from attacks by Earthquake. However, each time, the other didn’t seem to appreciate the other doing so. Both the World and IC titles would be on the line (some assure that only the World title was at stake) when Hulk Hogan challenged The Ultimate Warrior, calling it "The Ultimate Challenge."
The setting was WrestleMania VI at Toronto’s Skydome. It became the first time the WWF held WrestleMania outside of the United States and was the same venue used for WrestleMania X8, where we later saw the iconic matchup of Hulk Hogan versus The Rock.
Recommended reading: The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania X8 – The Real Story
Behind the Scenes: Hogan’s Challenge and McMahon’s Vision
On television, Hogan issued the challenge, but the reality was different, according to his book. "Vince McMahon wanted The Ultimate Warrior to beat me for the belt. I didn’t agree with him. I didn’t think the guy could carry the load. Then again, maybe I didn’t give Vince a choice in the matter."
It’s Hard Being At the Top: Hogan Reflects
He adds, "By that time, my mind wasn’t focused on wrestling the way it should have been. Seven years of carrying the load as the main event guy had taken its toll on me. I was tired, and I was starting to get hurt a lot. I was beat. I kept wrestling, and the more it ground me down, the more my attitude started to suck.
"I should have told Vince that I needed a break; everybody else took time off. I should have looked in the mirror and said, ‘Hey, man, you’re human. You can only push yourself so far.’ When Vince wanted to hand the title to Warrior, it was because he could see down the road to a time when he might not be able to depend on Hulkamania and would need to switch gears."
Choose a Side: Hulk Hogan or Ultimate Warrior!
The average fan would be hard-pressed to name three of the fourteen matches from WrestleMania VI. "The Ultimate Challenge" is what enticed most to plunk down $29.95 ($58.75 in today’s money) of their hard-earned money for the pay-per-view.
Hogan was unpinned on a grand stage leading up to WrestleMania. This was perhaps the company’s biggest match since André The Giant passed the torch to the Hulkster at WrestleMania III.
Interesting Side Note: A Legend’s Last WrestleMania
Did you know? WrestleMania VI was the last televised match for the 43-year-old André The Giant. Other than a couple of international tours and untelevised matches, he never worked for the WWF again. His WWF career ended as a babyface after he and Haku dropped the tag team titles to Demolition. He received a huge pop and a standing ovation after defending himself from Haku and Bobby Heenan’s post-match abuse.
Cultural Divide: Hulkamaniacs vs Warrior’s Army
With kayfabe still with a steady pulse in 1990, the lines were drawn in schoolyards across the United States. You were either a die-hard Hulkamaniac or part of The Ultimate Warrior’s army marching astride him, going into the Toronto Skydome for battle.
April 1st was not just another wrestling match. These were like two larger-than-life cult leaders, fighting for the hearts and minds of WWF fans everywhere! Magazines like Pro Wrestling Illustrated analyzed the upcoming colossal matchup like a legit sporting event.
Clash of Cult Leaders: Hogan’s Experience vs Warrior’s Force
Either Hulk Hogan’s experience would prevail in the matchup against The Ultimate Warrior, or his age would be a detriment against the formidable force that was upon him. Hogan had disposed of so many challenges over the years, but The Ultimate Warrior could prove problematic.
The Ultimate Challenge: Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania 6
There was a good build-up to the main event, and the electricity in the air was palpable at the Toronto SkyDome. Both Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior traded moves and delivered a very memorable encounter.
It wasn’t a technical masterpiece, but an emotional match heightened thanks to the invested crowd reaction during it all. I remember having a viewing party, watching this match on VHS tape, and EVERYBODY was glued to the television. It was our Super Bowl!
If you haven’t seen this emotional champion versus champion match, we highly encourage you to seek it out in its entirety. Below we provide you with the stirring conclusion.
The Aftermath of WrestleMania 6: Did It Bring in the Moolah?
The Ultimate Warrior became the first wrestler to hold both the World and IC titles simultaneously but vacated the IC title the next day because nobody was allowed to hold both at the same time. So, what was the point of the match then?
Hulk Hogan made sure that he looked good even when losing. He kicked out at three, making it look like Warrior had barely beat him. Hogan claims that the plan was for the referee to give Warrior the Championship belt. Instead, Hogan went over to the timekeeper’s table before he could hand it to the referee, presenting the title to Warrior himself as they embraced.
Before pay-per-views became part of the WWE Network in 2014, one of the metrics used to determine these events’ success was buyrates (the percentage of those with cable who ordered the card). This match is remembered very fondly because of the build-up and the emotion throughout, but did it bring in the moolah?
The BuyRate and Payoff For The Ultimate Challenge
A recent 2020 article by The Sportster indicates that WrestleMania VI isn’t in the top ten of most buys of WWE pay-per-views.
According to an older 2012 Bleacher Report article, WrestleMania VI isn’t even in the top fifteen. For those who are interested, the event had 550,000 buys, with a 4.5 buyrate. This was roughly 200,000 less than the previous year’s WrestleMania, where the Mega-Powers exploded, with fans eating up the Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage main event. Oh, and Miss Elizabeth!
Another crucial metric is gate revenue, and here WrestleMania VI shines. Fightful looked at the live gate adjusted for inflation in 2016, finding WrestleMania brought in $6.4 million, which stood as their highest-earning gate entrance with a reported 67,678 people.
This would stand until WrestleMania XXIV in 2008, which brought in $6.5 million with 74,635 fans at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida. The main event for this card was Undertaker versus Edge.
The Downfall of The Ultimate Warrior
At one point, it looked like The Ultimate Warrior could become the new face of the WWF, but his peak atop the mountain was relatively brief.
He certainly had his multitude of fans that adored him, but his relationship with the company started to strain after demanding half a million dollars as payment for the match versus Randy Savage and a higher percentage of profits from his merchandise, among other demands, to which Vince McMahon agreed. Warrior seemed always to believe that he wasn’t fairly compensated compared to Hulk Hogan.
Post-“Ultimate Challenge” Era and Name Change Petition
The short-lived Hogan and Warrior combination teamed up once again at SummerSlam ’91 to defeat Col. Mustafa (The Iron Sheik), General Adnan (Adnan Al-Kaissie) and Sgt. Slaughter.
The Ultimate Warrior would come and go a few times, with his last hurrah with the WWF in 1996, but he never reached the peak of the mountain as when becoming the victor of The Ultimate Challenge. Jim Hellwig petitioned to change his name to "Warrior" in 1993.
His reasons being, "Petitioner is well-known to the public at large by his professional pen name and therefore desires to change his present legal name to that of the pen name Warrior." His future wife, Dana Viale, took on the surname, and their children were named Indiana Warrior and Mattigan Warrior.
The Uncertain Departures and Attempts at Recapture
Speculation over further monetary disputes or violations of the WWE Wellness Policy that led to his departure from the company remains unclear. In 1998, WCW tried to recapture some of the magic Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior had in their WrestleMania match, but it is not considered memorable on any level, not even for nostalgia buffs.
Legal Battle for Likeness and Rights
In 2000, Warrior and Titan Sports reached a settlement to determine who was the legal owner of The Ultimate Warrior and whether he could use the likeness while not employed by WWE. In the end, the war of attrition favored the deeper-pocketed Titan Sports.
In summary, after four years of legal maneuvering, Hellwig retained the rights to use The Ultimate Warrior likeness.
Legal Triumph and Implications
He could go out in public, paint his face, wrestle as him, etc. He was also granted trademarks and service marks of The Ultimate Warrior but lost the rights to all the previous copyrighted Warrior performances with WWE.
Before the settlement with WWE, Warrior accumulated almost $1,000,000 in legal fees. But now Warrior would be looking at $80,000 paid within the month, and $90,000 deposited into an interest-bearing account if, after one year, neither he nor his wife Dana had breached the non-disparagement clause. Meaning, they could not publish false or injurious statements that were derogatory of another’s property, business, or product.
Breach of Non-Disparagement Clause
Warrior held his tongue for a year as per the agreement. Still, in June 2002, after receiving the last $90,000, he breached the non-disparagement clause.
He took to the internet on his website ultimatewarrior.com writing about how "sick and repugnant" the WWE and the McMahons were and mentioned, "the absence of moral principle in the business, along with crude, profane creativity… and nobody in WWE cares about wrestler’s deaths because it lessened the headaches over what to do with used up talent begging to be kept on the payroll for life."
He called Vince McMahon a ‘scumbag’ on several occasions as well.
Escalation of Conflict and DVD Release
At the summit of discordance between the two parties, and after Warrior breached the non-disparagement clause on several occasions from 2002-2005, the WWE fought back by releasing the scathing DVD entitled The Self-Destruction of The Ultimate Warrior in 2005.
Suppose you want proof that you don’t want to [upset] off Vince McMahon, look no further than this one-sided and total burying of the Warrior. In 2006, after Warrior had typed pages upon pages insulting and ridiculing WWE on his website, he tried to sue Titan Sports for disparagement over the recently released Warrior DVD. Really?? It appeared that the relationship was now irreparable.
After a 10-year hiatus from the ring, his last official match was on April 19th, 2008, against Orlando Jordan for Nu-Wrestling Evolution in Madrid, Spain.
Surprising Death of The Ultimate Warrior
In 2013, Vince McMahon and The Ultimate Warrior seemed to patch up their differences (or at least realized that they could benefit financially by burying the hatchet) when the Warrior helped promote the new video game, WWE 2K14.
In his final speech on Monday Night Raw on April 7th, 2014, Ultimate Warrior spoke about mortality just one day before his tragic death.
He said, "No WWE talent becomes a legend on their own. Every man’s heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe a final breath, and if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others and makes them bleed deeper and something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized."
Farewell and Inspiration
On April 8th, 2014, while walking with his wife in Scottsdale, Arizona, Warrior clutched his chest and collapsed. Declared dead at a local hospital due to heart disease, Warrior just three days before had been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. He was 54.
Hulk Hogan claims they put aside their differences and wrote on his Twitter, "RIP WARRIOR. Only love … We talked, both forgave each other, we hugged, we shook hands as we told each other I love you. I am so sad. God bless his beautiful family. HH."
For an upcoming UK tour after Warrior’s death in 2014, Hogan wanted to be in the best shape for an appearance he would have on the May 20th Smackdown show at the O2 Arena in London.
He tweeted, "Got in the gym tonight and got my head right, rededicated myself to getting in Warrior shape just out of total respect for Warrior’s legacy. HH."
Enduring Legacy and Lasting Impact: The Immortal Imprint of The Ultimate Warrior
One cannot talk about the WWE’s most successful years and not mention The Ultimate Warrior. It is easy to look back and make fun of his outlandish promos, which left you wondering what the heck he had just said, but these were very effective for the late-’80s and early-’90s. The Ultimate Warrior and the man born Jim Hellwig saw reality and fiction blurred where they eventually merged.
Now, Hogan has become a polarizing figure whenever fans utter his name. It isn’t rare to see venom-infused rage and resentment hurled towards the almost 70-year-old wrestling legend. The Warrior gets a lot of slack too, but one thing is certain, on April 1st, 1990, the world’s stage belonged to Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior, and both secured their places within the halls of pro wrestling’s immortals.
In 2015, WWE introduced the Warrior Award. It’s presented to individuals who exhibit unwavering strength and perseverance and who live life with the courage and compassion that embodies the indomitable spirit of The Ultimate Warrior.
12 Times The WWE Failed To Recognize Talent: Notable Hall Of Fame Omissions
We pay tribute to the legends who were done wrong by Vince McMahon, despite being clearly on his radar. Sadly, many of them will never receive this honor.
Rick Rude: A Ravishing Man with a Tragic End
“He refused to budge.”
Rick Rude was a unique, once-in-a-lifetime kind of wrestler. He went by the nickname “Ravishing” — and rightfully so. He had a solid moveset, great looks, and unbridled arrogance with the in-ring skill to back it up. He played hard in the ring but even harder out of it.
Wrestling Injuries That Ended Careers Too Soon
“When I hit the mat, I knew my neck was broken and that I was paralyzed.”
Greg Valentine’s Defiant Act Behind The WWE Intercontinental Championship Belt
When Greg Valentine and Tito Santana met on July 6, 1985, in a steel cage in Baltimore, Maryland, Santana got the victory to reclaim the title. Valentine responded by retrieving the championship and destroying the belt, beating it repeatedly against the cage and tearing the gold away from the leather.
"I had to give the belt back to Tito after that angle," Valentine said. "And one day, when I saw him a few years ago, I asked whatever became of that belt, because Tito kept it after that angle. What he responded with broke my heart.”
Owen Hart’s Death: What Really Happened, From Those There
VINCE McMAHON: “Earlier that day, I was shocked and surprised by what Owen said.”
On May 23rd, 1999, the wrestling world mourned the loss of Owen Hart. People behind the scenes on this unthinkable day reflect on the tragedy, answering the all-important questions.
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