If you checked Twitter last night, you might have seen an anachronism: The number one trending topic worldwide was wrestling legend The Ultimate Warrior, who WWE had just announced was going to headline their 2014 Hall of Fame class. The news follows the inclusion of The Ultimate Warrior in 2K Sports’ WWE 2K14, where the wrestler is featured in the game’s 30 Years of WrestleMania mode. Been a nice little run for the grappler from parts unknown, so Extra Mustard caught up with him to discuss his Hall of Fame career and the experience of being made into his virtual self.
SI: How does it feel to be immortalized in video games so long after your career ended?
UW: When you’re caught up in your career, you’re not thinking about becoming a legend one day, or how 25 years from now you’ll be immortalized in something, or that you might be going into the Hall of Fame. Being in the video game makes me smile, because I’ll make appearances and meet fans who now have their own kids who are learning about the Ultimate Warrior character through these games. I’m humbled, but it’s not like I can go down to a local business and say, “Hey, I’ve been immortalized in a video game, what kind of credit can I get here?” [Laughs]
What is it about The Ultimate Warrior that has so many fans clamoring to play as you in WWE 2K14?
It helps that with the Internet they can access videos of my matches easily on YouTube. Look, man, kids are energetic, and even at 54 I’m more energetic than any other 54-year-old I know. The Ultimate Warrior was explosive, confident, heroic, and ready to get into battle. He was a character who had his own set of rules. That’s like a magnet to young kids.
One of the best features in WWE 2K14 is the ability to recreate great moments in WrestleMania history. One of them is the WrestleMania VI match against Hulk Hogan. What do you remember most about that bout?
Because of our tour schedules, Hogan and I only had about 45 minutes to go over the match. We met in an old barn-like place where they used to train pro wrestlers down in Tampa and walked through what we were going to do. I didn't see him again until WrestleMania.
How much of an impact did headlining WrestleMania have on your career?
Back at the beginning of my career, I had to make all these sacrifices—sleeping in a car on nights where I’d wrestle in front of 20,000 people—because I wasn't making any money. Then for two years leading up to WrestleMania, I would hear all the background chatter of how popular the character was becoming. Merchandising and licensing are huge in our business, and back then they actually had a guy, Jimmy, who would set up a table and sell merch before the matches. One day Jimmy took me aside and told me how I was selling more merchandise than Hogan. “Don’t tell anyone I told you this,” he said. [Laughs]
At that time the typical storyline for WrestleMania was that one of Hogan’s friends would turn on him and set up a good guy-vs-bad guy scenario. But if WWE had done that with Ultimate Warrior, they would have been slicing their wrists, because merchandising was getting ready to go through the roof. So instead it became the Hulkamaniacs versus the Warriors. It was an incredible match—all the excitement, all the drama of the false finishes, and then the first time Hogan lost clean, and that really meant something. Of course, everything is choreographed, but that speaks even more strongly about what type of impact The Ultimate Warrior was going to have on the business.
Is that your favorite match of your career?
I have a lot of great memories, including my match against Randy [Savage] in WrestleMania VII. A lot of people say they enjoyed that more than the Hogan match. The Hogan match had so much meaning that it’s impossible not to list among my favorites, but I had all kinds of incredible matches against guys like Rick Rude and André the Giant. I had an incredible run against André all over the world, body slamming him.
Man, André the Giant. What was he like?
André either really cared about you, or he hated you. He liked me, I know he really did. Randy worked with him right before I did, but they killed that program because André didn’t like Randy. But André liked me. Hogan always talks about slamming him the one time at WrestleMania, but I travelled to hundreds of places and slammed André all over the place, and I just couldn’t believe that he’d let me do that. I was the last guy to really work with André before he passed away, and he was unbelievably gracious toward me. I’ll never forget what he did for my character. During one match at Madison Square Garden he told me to put him in a bear hug. So I did, and he squealed like a f—ing pig, man. That’s how you sell the power, and he did that for me to convince the people that The Ultimate Warrior was that powerful. Then he told me to slam him. He was a really great guy.
Who came up with the Ultimate Warrior character? Did somebody decide that you should wear facepaint and charge to the ring to that loud guitar riff?
The business is very different today—they have a staff of creative people who hold the hands of guys that have raw talent, and guide and script everything they do. In my day, the world you created around your character—how you were going to act, how you were going to talk, the interviews you were going to do, how your costumes would evolve over time— was all up to you. But the music wasn’t mine. Jim Johnston makes the music for WWF/WWE. He just has a knack for fitting music with different characters, and The Ultimate Warrior was a frenetic, energetic character.
The running of the ring came from my weight training background. I took up lifting back when Arnold and Franco Columbu were the up-and-coming bodybuilders, and the general idea back then was, you go to the gym and you workout as hard as you freakin’ can until you just don’t have anything left. I remember at WrestleMania IV, when the production people came to my dressing room and told me they had a cart to take me to the ring. I was having the paint put on my face at that point, and was already getting caught up in my character. I just glanced up and told them I was going to run to the ring. They were like, “Oh, s—, he’s going to run to the ring?”, and then left and told Vince McMahon. Right before my match I was walking backstage and I heard Vince yell, “Warrior!” I turned and said, “Vince, I’m running to that f—ing ring!” And Vince turned around and said, “Boys, you heard him, he’s running to the ring.”
How did you get from bodybuilding to smacking people around a wrestling ring?
I was actually going to school to be a chiropractor, but was also succeeding at bodybuilding—I did well in a few national contests. Eventually I went to Atlanta to finish up my chiropractic education, and I was almost done when I got a call about this guy looking for professional wrestlers. Since I was about to graduate and I wanted to open my own practice, I thought I could give wrestling a shot, make some money, then go back to being a chiropractor. So I went out to California and I got maybe 10 hours of training at the most, then me and Steve Borden (Sting) drove across country and started wrestling in mid-Southern, Jerry Jarrett’s territory.
It's incredible that Sting is still wrestling. Do you think you still have one big match left in you? Maybe a Royal Rumble run out?
The 90s version of The Ultimate Warrior, that beast? No. [Laughs] But I’m still very intense, I’m still in great shape, and the way the business is today, I think something could be arranged. But that 90s version of The Ultimate Warrior can’t be done. He’s my muse. I wake up every morning and I’m inspired by him, but trying to go back and bring him back 25 years later, there’s just no way.
The way you described the current wrestling landscape, with a team that creates characters—do you think that makes it easier for people to waltz into a wrestling career? It takes a lot to be a WWE performer. They do have these wrestling schools now where they help you develop characters, but back in 1996, the last time I was in WWF, I was working with Vince on opening a Warrior University. It was going to be the very first training facility that would take guys who had raw talent and see if they could make it in the ring. There were so many guys I’d meet at the gym—these great, huge guys who maybe were former football players—who wanted a shot, but there was nowhere to train back then. So Warrior University hosted a couple of “get a taste of it camps,” where guys could come in and ask any question they wanted from me. It was discouraging, because out of 100 people who might come in, there was maybe one guy who could do 20 standing free squats or 10-15 pushups then run back and forth in the official ring three to four times without gassing out. And yet, all those guys came in there thinking they could be the next big hottest thing. I guess that’s what the video games are for.