Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Top 10 Ultimate Warrior moments, matches and memories!

With the sad news of the Ultimate Warrior's passing last week, it got me thinking about all the wonderful memories I have of one of my greatest childhood heroes. The Warrior even got a mention during a speech from my father on my wedding day such was the lengths I went to idolize the WWE legend when I was a youngster. Heck, who am I kidding - after the right amount of alcohol, even today I have been known to splash on the face paint and strip down to my underpants and salute the man!

Too much information? With that being said, perhaps it's best I skip straight to my top 10 Ultimate Warrior moments, matches and memories!

10. Induction into the Hall of Fame
Arguably this one should be a lot higher in the list, but I personally think it’s the perfect place to start to prelude everything that made the Warrior the legend he became. He could have used the platform to have one final dig at the WWE for the bad blood that had gone on between the two in the passing years, but instead he was gracious in his thanks to Linda and Vince McMahon. But perhaps the most memorable part of the whole induction was his first appearance since 1996 on Monday Night Raw two days later. It was vintage Warrior, or Wawr-yer as he would say, but at the same time extremely poignant with what would develop just a day later. In what must now viewed as an extremely emotional speech the Warrior declared the WWE fans were the ‘legend makers of the Ultimate Warrior’. With the tragedy that would strike less than 24 hours later it is this part of that speech that stands out the most: ‘Every man's heart one day beats its final beat, his lungs breathe their 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, than something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized by the storytellers, by the loyalty, by the memory of those who honor him and make the running the man did live forever.’

9. The ultimate package
If, like me, you were a kid growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, the best possible wrestling fix you could hope for in the UK would be a balding obese guy called Shirley Crabtree belly-flopping someone who looked like they had just been plucked out of the local Weatherspoons. So you can imagine just how awe-struck I was as a 10-year-old the first time I struck eyes on this growling, face-painted long haired beast from parts unknown, storm to the ring with a physique that looked like it had been chiselled by the Greek God’s as ring music reminiscent to Eye of the Tiger blasted out across the arena to a thunderous ovation. In a sport that had been previously dominated by one man, here was a guy who didn’t preach that we had to say our prayers and eat our vitamins. Instead, here was a guy who spouted off gems such as ‘Load up the spaceship with the rocket fuel!’ and invited us to ‘Come on in where nightmares are the best part of my day!” A few years ago the WWE released a DVD called The Self-Destruction of The Ultimate Warrior which was basically Vince McMahon’s opportunity to take a cheap shot at a man who he was clearly at odds with. The likes of Chris Jericho and Triple H mocked the Warrior’s nonsensical promo’s but as a kid growing up during that nostalgic era of the WWF (that’s right, I said WWF – none of this WWE nonsense. Proper wrasslin’!), no one came close to the power, mystique, intensity and damn-straight craziness of The Ultimate Warrior!

8. The Warrior destroys Triple H at Wrestlemania XII
In what would be one of a number of Ultimate Warrior ring-returns, this one probably stands out for all the wrong reasons! After yet another reconciliation between the Warrior and Vince McMahon, this match saw the return of the Warrior with what was no-doubt planned as a high-impact comeback as Triple H – the future COO of the company – was squashed in less than 2 minutes. But the part that undoubtably left the most sour of tastes in Triple H’s mouth was having the Warrior completely no-sell his trademark finisher The Pedigree. Alas, this would be the Warrior’s final foray with the WWE prior to his Hall of Fame induction as he would later leave the WWE under another cloud and we would not see him again until…

7. It’s all smoke and mirrors in the WCW
I turned 20 in 1998 and just about every wrestling hero I had as a teenager seemed to be plying their trade in WCW at the time. It was like a massive retro-themed wrestling amusement park and it should have been amazing. The notion of Hulk Hogan being a bad guy was still a novelty that was hard to fathom for all the little Hulkamaniac’s and the scene was set in 1998 for arguably the most iconic wrestling collision to happen all over again when the Warrior turned up in WCW. It all started with so much promise, but the fact Warrior had pretty much been given carte blanche to do so as he pleased with his character, and Hogan was seemingly only interested in an ego-boosting victory over one of the few men to have pinned him cleanly meant that this was just another example of a wasted opportunity for the now defunct WCW. 

6. The real Royal Rumble super posedown
Many will remember the Super Posedown at Royal Rumble 89 that kick-started the memorable feud between Ravishing Rick Rude and the Ultimate Warrior, but that has nothing on the posedown that came one year later when two of the biggest babyfaces in the company would come face-to-face in the briefest of moments that would change sports entertainment forever. Hulk Hogan was the untouchable force in the WWE that had ruled the sport for the best part of a decade beating giants and macho men along the way. But no one was prepared for what was about to follow as Hogan and Warrior cleared the ring until only the two of them remained in the every man for himself contest. Every single fan held their breath as their two heroes locked eyes on each other for the first time. Neither man budged as they met in the centre of the ring and as one simple double clothesline floored them both, we as fans were already hooked on to the life-support of wrestling at the prospect that these two gladiators might, just might, face each other in the ring for real one day.

5. ‘I said I’d wrestle anyone, I didn’t say I’d wrestle a warrior!’
In what was a career-defining moment for the character building of the Ultimate Warrior, his match against the Honky Tonk Man at Summerslam 88 will live long in the memory. The Honky Tonk Man had annoyingly held on to the Intercontinental Title for a record-breaking 18-months; somehow escaping defeat after defeat via the backdoor. But when the arrogant Honky marched out to the ring and demanded an opponent stating he’d fight anyone, a wrestling icon was truly born. The moment that instantly recognizable guitar riff hit the speakers the crowd inside Madison Square Garden were on their feet as the Warrior stormed to the stage and took Honky apart in a mere 31-seconds to capture his first title. Everything about this squash worked perfectly from the stunned expression on Honky’s face, to the sheer brute force in which the Warrior took his opponent out with, to the comical after-match interview in which Honky bemoans ‘I said I’d wrestle anyone, I didn’t say I’d wrestle a warrior!’

4. Warrior returns at Wrestlemania VIII to rescue Hulk Hogan
This is a personal favourite of mine because it was one of those occasions when no matter how many people felt the need to tell me wrestling was ‘fake’ the sport still managed to grab me by the scruff of the neck and throttle me with so much excitement that I’m sure I actually peed in my pants! If you watched wrestling in the late 80s/early 90s you were in one of two camps – a Hulkamaniac or a Little Warrior. For those Little Warriors like me, there was a gap in our lives when the Warrior left the WWE in 1991. Sure we cheered for Hulk Hogan, but it wasn’t the same. So as Sid Justice and Papa Shango beat up on our replacement hero at the end of Wrestlemania VIII something incredible happened. The first beat of that unforgettable music reverberated around the arena. Surely it couldn’t be, could it? The second beat. No, it has to be a mistake. The third, the fourth, the fifth… and he’s back! In true Warrior style he came to the rescue of the Hulkster and the two of them shared a Wrestlemania ring for the second time in as many years and it was a truly beautiful sight. Now stop looking at me, I’ve got something in my eye…

3. The Warrior retires the Macho Man
It seems incredible to think that these two gladiators of the ring are sadly no longer with us. Of course for me it is a generational thing for me, but I think you would be hard-pressed to find a better story-line and feud than the one the Warrior and Randy Savage played out throughout the early 90s. It all started with Savage costing Warrior to lose his World Title to Sgt Slaughter at Royal Rumble 91 and culminated in one of the greatest matches in Wrestlemania history which cost Savage his career. In between, Savage went completely off the rails and separated from his long-term manager and main squeeze Miss Elizabeth, but after the gruelling match-up which saw the Warrior come back from five top-buckle elbows to beat the Macho Man with a one-footed pinfall, Savage was reunited Elizabeth and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house! Sasvage would eventually be re-instated and the two of them would do it all again in a great match-up at Wembley Stadium for Summerslam 92!

2. Warrior/Rick Rude feud and Summerslam 89 and 90 matches
It’s only when you start to write a list like this that you realise just how many great matches the Warrior was actually involved in. Of course, there is one match that clearly stands out in everyone’s mind but for me, the Warrior and Ravishing Rick Rude Summerslam duals in 1989 and 1990 were absolutely top drawer. This is a feud that raged for nearly two years taking in Royal Rumble’s and Wrestlemania’s along the way, before these two classic summer showdowns. The first would see the Warrior gain revenge for his Intercontinental title defeat at the hands of Rude (and literally the hands of Bobby Heenan) at Wrestlemania V as he regained the belt, before the two would clash again a year later, this time inside a steel cage for the world title. I’m not too sure which one I would say is the best match, but if I was hard pressed on the subject I would probably opt for Summerslam 89 down to no small part in the near hysterical state Tony Schiavone manages to warp himself into at the end of the match!

1. The Ultimate Challenge
It was hardly going to be anything else now was it! One of the most iconic images of wrestling in the early 90s, if not all-time, has to be that of the Ultimate Warrior’s silhouette standing in front of the huge in-ring firework display holding aloft the two WWE championship belts. After allowing us fans to dream the ultimate wrestling dream by giving us a taste at the Royal Rumble of what a Hulk Hogan vs Ultimate Warrior showdown might look like, that dream became a reality when it was announced that the Ultimate Challenge would take place at the SkyDome in Montreal, Canada at Wrestlemania VI. It was champion vs champion, title for title. Of course, Hulk Hogan would win – he always wins, but then something happened. The Hulkster didn’t win! It was like a torch had been passed as the two embraced at the end of what would be named Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s Match of the Year 1990. This match cemented the Warrior’s legacy and for that moment he was the main man in sports entertainment, and for many wrestling fans who remember that golden year like this Little Warrior, he still is and always will be.