The world of professional wrestling has had its fair share of larger-than-life characters, but perhaps none were more polarizing than The Ultimate Warrior. The man whose real name was Jim Hellwig, eventually changing it legally to “Warrior” in 1993, had a widely successful career in Vince McMahon‘s empire of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). While he did generate a lot of money for the company, together with an undeniable impact on popular culture, Warrior also earned the ire of his peers and even the boss himself. In 2005, WWE wanted to make a documentary on Warrior’s impact, focusing on a career retrospective presentation that was usually given to their biggest stars. When Warrior declined the offer, it resulted in The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior, a feature that was more of a character assassination than a tribute to a storied individual.
Directed by WWE’s Executive Vice-President of Television Production Kevin Dunn, the documentary pulls no punches in telling its story from the viewpoint of a frustrated employer. Through archived footage and insights from several talking heads, it is a fascinating look inside a company cleansing itself from their own wrongdoings against one of their biggest stars. This doesn’t mean that Warrior was innocent. His own history and his eccentric demands showed a mixture of passion and megalomania brewing inside an eccentric individual.
The Best and Worst of The Warrior
If the title of the documentary was not indicative enough, one could immediately surmise that The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior was not done with the best intentions at hand upon only a few minutes of viewing. There is a weird structure in how it decides to introduce the warrior, starting with a mish-mash of good and bad things about his stardom. For each compliment the company had for Warrior, there were about five things it would say to denigrate his reputation. For instance, The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior begins with a discussion on how The Warrior captivated audiences through his intensity, his strength, and his chiseled physique. However, according to the testimonies of his former colleagues such as Sgt. Slaughter, Jim Ross, and Ted DiBiase, his size is also his own detriment, as it would result in painfully slow matches which came to rely on cartoonish feats of strength. His entrance, which composed of him sprinting full speed to the ring and shaking the ropes with an unmatched fervor made the people in attendance go bonkers. Unfortunately, when it came time to perform, he was already gassed and would resort to his charisma, which slowly faded the longer the matches went. Barely a quarter into the feature, Dunn and his work landed haymakers into Warrior’s reputation, with each blow only feeling heavier and heavier as it rolls on.
The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior goes on to critique and dissect Warrior from the inside out, and the next thing to target was his promos. Filled with the avidity of a thousand bodybuilders, and the comprehension of a rock, Warrior would ramble on about incomprehensible things that made absolutely no sense. From the point of view of those who grew up watching him, it was endearing and a way that made him stand out in a world full of out-of-this-world characters. However, The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior frames his skills on the microphone as a pile of hot garbage, acting as the cherry on top of a bland character who managed to be popular. The feature pushes the agenda that Warrior was merely a big body who had a frenetic entrance and no regard for the business of professional wrestling. It is bizarre, to say the least, to see a company who wants viewers to take in more of its history and its old catalog, but go out of its way to systematically destroy one of its creations.
His Relationship with McMahon and the Company
Perhaps the most interesting part of The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior is the examination of how Warrior was outside the ring, particularly how he dealt business with Vince McMahon. In one of the most famous backstage wrestling stories of the company’s history, Warrior figuratively held a gun to McMahon’s head in the middle of Summerslam 1991 by refusing to go out and wrestle in the main event unless Vince paid him a huge sum of money. Left with no choice, McMahon reluctantly accepted. Once the match was over, McMahon immediately suspended him, opting to pay his star to sit at home for the rest of his contract. Warrior would go on to return a few more times with the company, but would not be seen for a long time.
Almost all the accounts of the story point the fault to Warrior. While Vince can’t be blamed for feeling such in the context of the situation, putting this whole debacle in a feature for the whole world to see is a bit problematic. To frame Vince McMahon as some sort of savior in The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior is amusing to say the least. The WWE chairman is described in the best of terms, with him offering second chances even to the most undeserving individuals, holding a responsibility to the audience to deliver, and that he did what was best for the company. The last part may be true, but to describe the chairman who has been involved in several scandals before and after this event is asinine, and goes to show how far he can go to destroy the image of those he despises. The release of The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior had Warrior seething, and he filed a lawsuit for defamation against WWE and McMahon, to which he ultimately lost.
Moving Forward from ‘The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior’
Despite seeming to have burned every bridge, Warrior and McMahon made amends in 2014 with the help of Paul Levesque, more commonly known by his stage name Triple H. Letting bygones be bygones, the two have reconciled and Warrior was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame that same year. In his speech, while thankful to everyone in the company, Warrior made one last jab at The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior which evidently caused him distress. He mentions that “the DVD was just wrong, that’s all. And it did make me angry but it also, it was hurtful.” On the Raw after WrestleMania 30 on April 7, 2014, Warrior made his triumphant return to the company, which would become his last public appearance before his untimely death less than 24 hours later.
While it is comforting to know that they have made amends before Warrior’s passing, one must ask, what is now the significance of The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior? When the WWE network, a streaming platform where all content owned by the wrestling promotion was available on demand, was launched, the documentary was noticeably absent from its offerings. Symbolically, it would appear that the company is once again cleaning the blood off of its hands for something more than an error in judgment. It may be erased from acknowledged viewing, but The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior‘ existence still remains in the wrestling consensus. It is an artifact of a different time that proves the age-old adage in WWE: do not cross the boss. In a company that’s doing their best to clean their image and called to act by its investors as a publicly-traded company, The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior serves as a stark reminder that the skeletons they hide could fill an entire graveyard.