INTERVIEW WITH THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR - PART 3 OF 4
FLYNN: There was a guy on WCW TV, after they bring in Hogan and Savage, they bring in this guy...
FLYNN: Yeah. Now, were you flattered or pissed-off by this?
WARRIOR: I don’t know...I never watched TV when I was out of the business, so I didn’t see it until somebody at my gym told me about. I don’t know if I’d say it was flattering. It’s been a long time ago but I was probably a little pissed off. But it does validate the strength of the Ultimate Warrior character’s success and his impact on the business. Just like when organizations drop his name today. I mean, you can’t hear or read the transcript of one wrestling related program, radio or internet or whatever, without someone calling in and asking: “What about the Ultimate Warrior?” I did think Hogan and the others who came up with the scheme really believed that I would see them making this attempt to replicate The Ultimate Warrior and I would see it and go, “You motherf’ers! I’m the damn Ultimate Warrior! How dare you!” and then, like, show up unannounced at the next TV taping with my gear bag laying claim to what was mine (laughs).
FLYNN: And you really think they had that scheme in mind—that you showing up to defend yourself is the way it would play itself out?
WARRIOR: Hell, yes. These guys are still on the streets working their gimmicks, all the time TV or no TV.
FLYNN: I skipped over something—the lawsuit with WWF.
WARRIOR: It’s a lot to skip over and probably too much to, in this interview, cover in any decent respect. In 1996 I went back to work for Titan [WWF] after having had two previous contractual fallouts with them in ’91 and ’92. Shortly after I came back here in ’96, they violated the terms of my contract. The first two times, being a person who was never afraid to set other goals, do other things, without doubt and confident of that, I just went on my own way. Thinking positive and giving thanks to the opportunity and wonderful experience of it all. But here in ’96 it was different and other things of value, and of value to me, were on the line. So yes, in ’96 litigation with Titan began
FLYNN: What was the lawsuit about and what was the outcome?
WARRIOR: Primarily, it was about breach of contract. They violated the terms of the ’96 agreement we had. Vince called me at the end of 1995—I’d been out since 1992—and wanted me to come back to wrestling because the business needed a lift, and I guess, he had had the time to reconsider how he’d wronged me in 1992, using me and Davey Boy Smith as scapegoats to take the heat off his back when he was federally prosecuted over the steroid stuff.
When he called I was already up to my neck in my own entrepreneurial projects using the Warrior intellectual property. Basically, I just told him no, especially if it was to be under a generic contract. There was no way I could do that after all the investments I’d made since leaving the ring. Linda called me, his wife. Of course, I knew Linda because I had met her before out at their house, at Titan. I don’t know really how much she did business wise before, my business was handled with Vince really. But somewhere in the 1990s, she took a more active role, then eventually became CEO.
She called me and said, “Can I meet with you?” So she came out to Phoenix and I just got the impression that it would really be different this time. So I said, “Look, I can’t come back under a generic contract. I need a special contract. I got all these other projects going on. I got my gym, which is becoming a private facility—maybe to train guys who want to get in the business. I got my big comic book project I want to turn in to an animated movie, got my mail order business, etc. I can’t just up and leave these things.” I said, “This is what I’ll do. I’ll come back. I’ll be the wrestler. You can sell the t-shirts, the posters, you can make the money from the ticket sales. You give me a price for that. But I get to plug into your merchandising and networking with my other Warrior projects. And there’s got to be a distinction between my new intellectual properties that I’ve developed, and those that represent who the wrestler is. So, we had our distinct agreement and four months after I came back they just started violating it. They didn’t give a shit. And it turns out they never were going to live up to it. Screwing me again was premeditated.
FLYNN: So did you sue them, or did they sue you?
WARRIOR: I sued them.
FLYNN: So what happened in the suit?
WARRIOR: The short answer is that I prevailed. Beyond that, I learned a lot about myself and life and my own integrity. I found out a lot I do not like about other people, especially the professional, expert suits in the world who get unchecked approval just because of who they are. I am more skeptical and cynical of others. I matured much, became a better man and came to know how I would define being one. I found out that it is never wrong to fight for what is right—never. In ways, having the experience has set me on the path I am now.
FLYNN: And when was the date of that?
WARRIOR: March, 2000, and then I fought my own lawyers for over a year, because they did an unbelievably corrupt turn and tried to screw me out of rightful settlement. I hung in there and beat them too. It was a rough five years.
FLYNN: So now, you have the right to “Warrior,” “Ultimate Warrior”?
WARRIOR: Yeah, I have all the intellectual property rights and everything to it. I always did, the lawsuit was necessary to prove it, to put to rest Titan’s fallacious claim that they did. Although just one aspect of the litigation, it was important from the stand point—a standpoint many don’t want to understand—that I had worked hard to create it and make it what it was and wanted to be able to, should be able to, use it to do other business things outside of the ring—down the road at a different time in my life. Christ, what was I supposed to do: just lay down and give over all the work, sweat, toil, and value? Critics are so narrow-minded, like, “Yeah, he fought for it just so he could always have it as a momento of his wrestling days.” The intellectual property is worth more than the memory of my career there. That chapter in my life signifies something about the whole of my life, what my life and the way I think about it and live it means to me. Of course, too, my full legal name is the one name of Warrior, and my family has it as their surname. It signifies the philosophy of life I live by.
FLYNN: Let’s move forward to WCW.
WARRIOR: That was in ’98, in the middle of my lawsuit against Titan. [Eric] Bischoff called me about coming to work there. I think Hogan called me too. I guess they were surprised the Renegade fiasco didn’t drive me to make that mad dash to the ring they expected it to. Titan got wind of them contacting me about a return and rushed into the court and filed a brief making even wilder and broader claims about negotiations than even I knew myself, in an attempt to prevent it. In their brief they made the claim that I, Warrior, didn’t own the Ultimate Warrior—that they did, that they owned the intellectual property.
So we had to file a response to it. What happened out of those two briefs being filed was that I came forward and proved through photos and footage—copyrighted footage I owned of the Dingo Warrior—that Dingo Warrior was really just a nascent version of the Ultimate Warrior; that I all along owned it, even before I went up to Titan. The judge said look, there’s no question that Warrior owns the character “Warrior”—all the trademark indicia, all the mannerisms, and everything else—he had indisputably created it and was performing the Warrior persona before he even came up to Titan. Vince though had a couple of his cronies file affidavits telling a contrived story that they came up with and provided “Ultimate.” So the judge decided that as the trial played itself out, what the truth about that specific matter would be determined then. So that’s why when I went to WCW in 1998, it was only under “Warrior.”
FLYNN: What did you spend, a few months in WCW?
WARRIOR: About three months. I had a six month contract, and believed,
was misled to believe, that we’d move into working with one another
much longer than that. Actually, right from the start, they pushed for
a one year contract, and I kept it at six. In hindsight, they never
had any intention of going beyond Halloween Havoc and the one single
match with Hogan—and that was, like I said, only three months
into the six month contract. What basically happened was [Eric] Bischoff
used Turner’s checkbook—Hogan called it the [Turner] ATM
machine—to bring me in to soothe Hogan’s ego about ’90,
even the score, catch the pin-fall on UW (laughs).
FLYNN: Ultimately, obviously, WCW gets absorbed by WWF. It fails.
WARRIOR: Yeah, as soon as I got there I realized it was falling apart. It was inevitable.
FLYNN: Why did it fail?
WARRIOR: Bottom line is nobody was in charge. Bischoff—as much as he was credited for rebuilding and reinvigorating WCW when they were happening—while I was there, he literally ran from the responsibilities of the job. I don’t know if it was anxiety or what. But he had this thing about “spontaneity” as he would say, and there was no advance preparation. You couldn’t reach him all week. About an hour and a half before live show-time, Bischoff and his “yes” guys—all of them playing favorites for their own buddies—would get together and start deciding, then, what to do. It was erratic and destructive, shooting from the hip like that. Somebody has to be in charge overall. At WCW, at that time, every talent did whatever they wanted to. There has to be a chief in charge of sorts. Someone who makes it clear what the hierarchy of talent is—who goes over, who shines, how talent is going to come off in the programs, on the TV.
In WWF, that happened. In WCW, everybody went out and did what they wanted to do regardless of their ability to sell tickets or where they stood on the talent roster. If I’m in the ring and I’m punching at a guy and he doesn’t want to sell or take bumps, yet in the next segment he’s selling for his bottom-of-the-card buddy, like he’s trying to stand on banana peels, it looks ridiculous. A guy has to know his spot and work it. Too many there that were middle-card guys didn’t know they were—nobody acting with authority told them. In the end it’s about making money and in the beginning someone with authority has to lay it out about how a talent is getting used, let others know, in an essence, the investment being made and how that investment is to be treated—come off, be portrayed in the ring.
Say what you want, and others can think whatever they will—and naturally the business has changed in so many ways since then, but when I went over there in ’98, Ultimate Warrior was a Main-Eventer and I can assure that is the kind of investment they made. My first 15 minutes in the ring, after another long, long absence, proved that beyond any reasonable doubt. It was a launching pad WCW could have used to take Ultimate Warrior to a whole other level. But they didn’t want to do the work, put the time in. They were already convinced reaching for the lowest, degenerate level of creativity was where it was at. And as much as I was willing to give it whatever it would have took, you need a whole team of people behind you.
FLYNN: You haven’t wrestled since then. Has anyone approached you to come back since then, like the Jarrett outfit?
WARRIOR: Yeah, when they first started up they did—others too, mostly dreamers. I spoke with both Jeff and his dad. They, the Jarretts and others, always present themselves like they think I’m sitting at home drooling for a chance to charge at the ring and that I should be grateful that they called, like, allowing me an opportunity to do so. Blows me away. Of course, that is how most other guys still working, outside WWE, are. They don’t know anything else, are afraid to go out and attempt anything else and get all their self worth from being in a ring, staying part of the circus of it all. They don’t have any other means of making a living for themselves so when anybody calls and says jump they say how high and when their feet hit they ask about how far to bend over.
This type of attitude they have though, these promoters, like the Jarretts had when they called, creates a problem when it comes to negotiating with me. This has contributed to many mischaracterizations. They get offended when they realize I know how valuable the Ultimate Warrior is and if they want him he isn’t going to come cheaply. They don’t get away without discussing those details with me like they do with others, which is to say they don’t really discuss them in detail at all with others. It’s like, “Hey, we have a ring set up and are going to put your face on TV for a little while, come on down and we’ll figure what we’ll pay you afterwards.” That’s enough for most guys looking for work not doing anything else. That doesn’t work for me.
Another thing with the Jarretts, in the initial conversations, was that they told me they were going to go in a different creative direction, not so heavy on the degenerate, shock-value provocativeness. It became clear the more I paid attention to what was going on through the grapevine that they weren’t being honest about that. So, I pulled back after that too. And it also became clear very soon into discussions that Jerry was really getting involved sorta to get Jeff his own little clubhouse, where he could play and be king. So that Jeff could have a place to live out his own “get-over” dream.
FLYNN: When you look back, who are the biggest egos you’ve come across in the business and who are the genuine good guys you’ve come across in the business?
WARRIOR: Wow, the list would be long. I would probably say, to be honest, I’d begin with me (laughs)! I have a huge ego when it comes to the Ultimate Warrior and standing up for him. Most will agree with me here (laughs). Hey, like I always say: “If I don’t do it for him, who will?” Then again, I don’t define ego altogether in bad way. I think there’s difference between a healthy ego and unhealthy one, and having a healthy ego is a necessary thing if you want to succeed, even just to survive at life really. It’s a must and I don’t make any apologies about having one and don’t sit quietly by when others want to universally claim that “ego” is a bad, mean thing. It’s not.
I think a healthy one is defined by a person, especially a guy, who, even if he’s done really great things, can acknowledge and praise others who are or have done things just as great or even greater. Guys who are comfortable in their own skin about what they have done—who they are. There are a lot of guys in pro sports, especially the backstabbing one such as wrestling, who are so full of themselves they don’t have it in them to tell when someone else has done good. Using the example of a current guy, I’d say Goldberg has an unhealthy ego. Obviously, he’s talented and made a way in the business. I even told him as much when I was at WCW. But the guy has got a huge insecurity complex running through him and others like him—Nash and Hall and their clique. That says a lot to me about his, or their, character as men. Shows me they’ve got a really weak link in their masculine makeup no matter what macho image they put forth. Nash is the type of guy who would shit in your bag to ruin your day—literally. Nash and Hall and Hunter and Michaels—all those guys.
Some of the good guys I’ve met are guys whose names you wouldn’t even recognize. They were lower-card guys and they were really just good people. The ring crew guys were better people than the talent. I always got along best with them and treated them with respect. One person’s name you would recognize is Owen Hart—Owen Hart was a really good guy. He had his head on straight. Jimmy Powers was a good guy. Mark Calloway [Undertaker], certainly one of those deserving great respect for what he’s accomplished in the business, was a really great person. Mark is a great example, for me, of what I was mentioning just a second ago. I was the first guy to work with him. Even though Ultimate Warrior was over as a huge baby-face, the ticket buyers dug [Undertaker’s] gimmick. I could have, with the position I had, been an a-hole and worked in unknown ways to curb that. Instead of trying to damage his gimmick though, as many in the business would have done, I embraced it and worked with him to get it over as the people wanted to have it over. He was going to be a great talent and I was inspired by that. It made me want to better my own. Too many guys in the business spend too much time conniving ways to make someone else look worse, rather than spending that time on becoming better themselves. You asked about politics earlier—this is politics to me.
The people who have their heads up their asses the farthest and have really off-putting unhealthy egos are Vince and Hogan. They really do deserve each other. They are cons all the way through and weirdly get off living their lives that way.
FLYNN: If wrestling were real, who would the champion be?
WARRIOR: It would have been Haku. He had a way of going into the zone
that was really superhero-like.
FLYNN: Have you ever read any of the wrestling websites? What’s your take on the wrestling press?
WARRIOR: I don’t spend the time.
I get about 500 emails a day and people do fill me in on what’s
going on though. There’s a rumor going on right now that I’m
going to go to NWA or something like that. I found out about that through
emails then responded at my site through a post. One of the wrestling
sites, whenever I went to a wrestling site, is www.1wrestling.com.
Like when people die: If I hear a rumor that somebody died, I go to
1wrestling.com. Bob Ryder is a guy over there who did an interview with
me a long time ago. We’re not on the outs with one another. He
really hasn’t ever said anything belittling about me or what I’m
doing. But some of his other writers—he has a whole bunch of them
over there—they have. I’m not so much that everybody should
be agreeing with me, but they don’t even take the chance to read
what I’m writing. They just dismiss it out of hand.
One thing is for sure none of them have taken the time to really know who I am and what I am about today. I mean what do you do when people don’t want to accept what is true? I defend myself and my career when I think I have to, but I’m never so bothered by it that I doubt myself or what I have done or what I am doing today. I know I did what they will only ever dream about doing. These are the little people who have regrets at the end of their wasted lives.
FLYNN: I’ve noticed that many wrestlers live a paradoxical lifestyle. So, on the surface they seem a paragon of health. But when you go beyond the surface, on the inside their bodies…
WARRIOR: They’re rotting.
FLYNN: …are filled with drugs. They’re rotting. They’re battling inner demons…
WARRIOR: Hey, when we are young it’s built into us to think we’ll never die. That you’re invincible. And truth is you, your body, can get away with behavior when you are younger that later in your life you and, again, your body can’t take. There are ways other than hard work, diet, and discipline to achieve a healthy look on the outside, yet be messed up and damaged on the inside. This is what definitely happened to some of the guys I worked with who have since died. They get some juice and keep taking it and continue, as they always have, to practice unhealthy dietary habits. None of them really exercised hard. When they were young they could getaway with it. At 40-50 years of age, you throw in a bit of slimy street drugs and the fact you haven’t consistently practiced healthy exercise and diet habits and BAM!—the body says, “No more.”
Also, in the business it’s easy to get scripts for potent pain-pills and the like. In every arena that they go to there is a doctor there that’s a big fan willing to write scripts for whatever the talent may ask for. Add to it street drugs and booze and fatigue and eventually there’s a wall one is going to hit and hit hard. And, you are right, the inner demons. It takes quite bit of level headedness to put celebrity and life on the road into perspective. You have to be grounded in solid, genuine ways.
FLYNN: You wrestled with several of these guys who are obviously no longer with us—Rick Rude, Curt Hennig, Kerry von Erich. Do you think there is something about the lifestyle that leads to self-destruction?
WARRIOR: Ultimately each individual is solely responsible for destroying their own life. I think there are always tell-tale signs one gets warning them that “Hey, you better take a hard look at what you are doing.” Typically, self-destruction happens in stages and each person is given ample opportunity to get their act together. You can’t keep tempting fate without there eventually being a serious, negative consequence.
Shit, the autopsies came back and a lot of those guys died from street drugs. Hennig died from a coke overdose. Rick Rude died from [liquid] ecstasy. Davey Boy Smith was doing cocaine and ungodly amounts of growth hormone and all kinds of different steroids.
Look, these guys who have died over the last few years didn’t just have that vision of death at that final moment of their life. The further and further out there they got with destructive behavior they knew inside themselves, many, many times along the line, that there was a price they were going to pay. They were doing the drugs to run from something. Something they didn’t like about themselves, their lives, the way things had turned out. The more drugs they did the greater the escape from the reality they didn’t like. Unfortunately, there are no success stories down that road. None. Not one. You don’t drug yourself into a reality you would like better. You have to fix the one you are living. Too bad that fact isn’t enough to have people snap out of it and get their life act together before it is too late.
People have criticized me about what I wrote in some posts when some of those guys died—like I didn’t have any sympathy. Anybody who wants to can read them. Frankly, I’m sick of all the sympathetic praise we throw around adults who screw up their lives. Life is about finding the strength day in and day out to make it work. Most people do. I’d rather praise them than people who don’t. We are a society, today, where we pathetically place praise of vice above praise of virtue and, as an adult, I’m not okay with it. My kids, if no one else, deserve better out of me, deserve better out of the world they will have to grow up in.
FLYNN: What did you think of Bret Hart punching Vince McMahon after the infamous “Montreal Screwjob”?
WARRIOR: I wasn’t there at the time. I would say first that he did what many others wanted to do. Of course, the circumstances of mistreatment were more blatant and radical.
Not to take anything away from Bret, but other guys would have kicked the crap out of Vince plenty if he had done something like that to them. Vince, in subtle, covert ways, was always screwing people over. His entire business, in many ways, has been built on the backs of people he’s screwed. I expect that Vince thought Bret wouldn’t go so far as fisticuffs. He probably thought his well-honed ability to talk his way out of talent disgruntlement would be enough.
That said, I do believe that over time Bret himself came to think the punch wasn’t enough. He frequently voiced his aggravation about having ended up over at WCW and how his career ended there and how he wasn’t used right over there, all of that the direct result of Vince screwing him and sorta shortchanging him, to hear him tell it, on a brilliant end to his otherwise brilliant career. He has many times over the years since then hinted about greater repercussions, threatening legal action, etc. My counsel and I gave him an opportunity to go on the record during the discovery phase of my litigation, do a deposition. He told me he would over a phone call we had, then he backed out when we went to Canada to depose Davey Boy. I think he’d have a better sense of having genuinely righted the wrong Vince imposed on him if he had pursued the litigation he threatened.
FLYNN: What’s your take on the whole controversy over steroids in sports? When you were wrestling, what percentage of guys were taking steroids or human growth hormone? Remembering the size of guys like Hercules Hernandez, Don Muraco, and Superstar Billy Graham, I’d imagine it’s less now. Do you agree?
WARRIOR: Steroids. Talking about them is always a Catch-22. They aren’t all bad and they aren’t all good. Athletes are going to do them—or whatever else—to be the best at what they do.
But, let’s face it, bodybuilding and wrestling is more circus like—people want to see the freaks. The guys today are definitely gassed to the max. Wrestlers and bodybuilders. Have you picked up a bodybuilding magazine lately? They are like recipe books on how to commit suicide using steroids. And they have guys who've lost kidneys and had organ transplants writing the articles giving advice. Like killing yourself with the juice is badge of honor!
I really think the thicker look of past wrestlers really has more to do with how people used to train and eat—the basics and good food. Skin on guys today is thinner. Nutrition and even training has been so broken down into little, itty-bitty specializations, I really think it’s created different looking physiques. I still believe in the basics and just good eating of healthy foods. Not the machines so much or the endless supplementation programs that are out there. It’s just a bunch of junk to waste money on. But it’s hard to get a young kid who wants instant muscles to grasp that. Then you throw in all the exotic steroids there are today. Growth Hormone is used by most all the guys. When I was at WCW the guys were flying to the Bahamas to get physicals to cover some legal loophole allowing them to get GH, then getting a whole year’s supply Fed-Exed to them, all under the guise of anti-aging. I think there’s too much they do not know about growth hormone and what kind of hell it plays on your internal organs.
But overall, I really think the difference in look of the guys from the past has more to do with how they trained and ate. Bottom line is, there is differences between use and abuse and it’s obvious that many guys have crossed the line. For some it will take getting to know the inside of a casket before they come to terms with that.
FLYNN: What is it about wrestling? There does seem to be a disproportionate number of wrestlers that die young despite the fact that they look like they are the absolute symbols of health. Now, what is it about the wrestling lifestyle that brings that on?
WARRIOR: I saw an article on world class bicyclers, and it was amazing to me how many of those guys have died. I never knew. And you’d think, your first thought is, that these guys would have really great hearts—and yet most of them died by heart attacks. The only conclusion you can come to is that they are doing some extreme things with drugs—blood doping is what the article alleged.
Well, again, like I said earlier, it not so much the lifestyle itself, it’s the way the guys go about mishandling the lifestyle and coming to abuse it. If I had to relate anything to the lifestyle it would be to point out how the demands of being a pro-wrestler differ from the lifestyle of other organized sports pro-athletes. But, still, a cheap excuse is a cheap excuse. There is no season. You go year round. If part of your gimmick is your physique, your body look, then that demands a different approach than a big fat guy who can sleep and eat pizza all day, doesn’t have to worry about scheduling workouts or getting good food. Also, and this is probably a big contributing factor as to how guys get messed up—other than the relationships you have with other talent you want to be around—you basically travel alone and as long as you make it to the building to have your match, you don’t answer to anyone about what you do. And with the travel you do, you can fall into a bad habit of burning the candle at both ends. You are in different, and often fun and unique, places almost every night and you can come to see work as, well, like being constantly on vacation. I guess that might be a way to say it. And, hey, we all cut corners on sleep, recuperation and healthy living when we are on vacation. I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s how I’d describe it.
To cover up for lackluster energy it’s easy to fall into the habit of abusing stimulants, pain killers, and those things. What is also different is that there are no guidelines to how, as a representative of a company, you should conduct yourself. Oh, Titan will say they have rules. Bullshit. There are no rules. Not that I’m saying there should be any, but the truth is some guys don’t have the discipline to keep their act together. Neither are there chaperons like other organized sports organizations would have to keep the guys in line, keep them out of trouble.
Another factor is that pro-wrestlers are known. They get huge exposure off the TV, and that has people who watch it fawning all over them wherever they go. It’s easy to give into the temptations on the road. Many of the guys screw around, even those with families. Soon enough, you start believing because of what you are and who you are, you should be able to live both lifestyles. Have your cake and eat it too. And when you go home and things aren’t as exciting as they were on the road you start laying the blame on someone else and criticize them because, in your mind, they don’t understand you. It becomes a vicious cycle and all the ups and downs, natural and pharmaceutically induced, can really throw your life out of whack—unless you have great self-discipline.
Wrestling fans, visit the rest of Flynn Files—you’ll find something you like. The fourth and final installment of the FlynnFiles.com interview of the Ultimate Warrior appears tomorrow. Warrior discusses politics—George W. Bush, John Kerry, Jesse Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the late Ronald Reagan—the Great Books, The Rock, Vince McMahon, and Eric Bischoff. All that, plus Warrior answers the all-time locker-room question: Dude, how much can you bench?