Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Ultimate Warrior: Always Believe

In 2014, after nearly 20 years of a tumultuous relationship with the WWE, the Ultimate Warrior (the former Jim Hellwig who legally changed his name to ‘Warrior’) was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on Wrestlemania XXX weekend. It was the final step of a healing process welcoming Warrior back into the WWE fold after easing his way in by participating in the previous year’s video game ad campaign and getting interviewed for a DVD collecting his greatest matches dubbed The Ultimate Collection. What many people did not anticipate however was him suddenly passing away from a heart attack three days after his induction.

WWE immediately aired a bunch of tribute programming on the WWE Network that week which I covered here shortly thereafter. Nearly a year after his death in early 2015 WWE put out another home video with a brand new documentary on the life of the Ultimate Warrior, as well as collecting an assortment of previously unreleased matches and promos and called this collection, Ultimate Warrior: Always Believe (trailer). Read on to find out if WWE went to make this video as a ‘make good’ from their 2005 DVD that made him come off as the worst person in the business, or if the WWE doubled down and continued to disparage Warrior after his passing.

The documentary kicks off with Warrior’s unintentionally telling promo on RAW on the eve of his passing. I could not help but get chills watching in a new light a few years later. From there the feature starts off with Warrior’s first days in the business teaming with Sting and striking out in the Memphis and Mid-South territories in the mid-80s. Jerry Lawler, Sting, Warrior & Zeb Coulter are all featured here in interviews admitting they were way too green and had no idea what they were doing. I dug seeing all these old-school clips of the team, and instantly recalled a few of those so-bad-they-are-funny-matches of a very green Sting and Warrior teaming up off of Sting’s Into the Light BluRayI covered here last year.

A few minutes was dedicated to the year Warrior spent in WCCW where he credits finding himself as a single act as ‘The Dingo Warrior.’ I wish they spent more time about Warrior in this era where it is apparent how he evolved into the Ultimate Warrior persona there by the end of his run there, but Warrior does comment some about how he came into his own in World Class and there are a handful of matches and promos from his WCCW run in the extras that I recommend going out of your way to check out. From there the doc shifts to him landing in WWE by the end of 1987 and current and past stars such as Hogan, HHH, Batista, Kofi Kingston, Ziggler and Cesaro are interviewed about how they went gaga over the infectious Warrior character and entrance.

The documentary transitions into his meteoric rise up the WWE from winning his first Intercontinental Title from Honky Tonk Man to the big showdown with the Hulkster at Wrestlemania VI. I still recall watching that match as a kid and could not help but get that big feeling from that match and watched it countless times on Coliseum Home Video as a kid and for a few years it was my favorite match. The documentary got that feeling across on how that encounter was larger than life. I own the BluRay of Always Believe, and one of the BluRay exclusives is a unique ‘Arena Cam’ (AKA ‘HardCam’) only perspective of the Hogan/Warrior match with no commentary so all you here is the pandemonium of the sellout crowd from Toronto. It resulted in a fascinating take on that landmark match, and made it worth reliving again.

Throughout Always Believe there are little clips of Warrior backstage during Wrestlemania XXX with him engaging with current and past stars. At one point there is a funny exchange between Warrior and Sgt. Slaughter which served as a perfect transition in the film on how Warrior losing his title to Slaughter set up his killer feud with Randy Savage for their ‘retirement match’ clash at Wrestlemania VII. Of his initial successful WWF years I was bummed to see he that his feud with Rick Rude got the shaft with no mention of it at all here, but it is overall a much better recollection on his early years than the 2005 version of it.

The feature then shifts to Warrior’s heated years with the WWE in the early-to-mid-90s where he held the company up for cash and promptly got fired, and got fired again for missing shows in his ’92 and ’96 runs. Actually, only about 10 seconds is dedicated to his three month stint with WWE in ’96 which I could not help but crack up on how WWE glossed over it. I guess Triple H did not want to repeat his comments about his Wrestlemania XII match with Warrior this time around. I also cracked up with how Warrior’s brief run in WCW in ’98 is highlighted here. Warrior admits he only went there for the payday and he obviously was not a fan of all the hocus pocus infused into his character over there, but stated it did not matter in the end because of the big time money that came of it. Hearing Hogan admit how the feud wound up as one of his all-time blunders was nice of him to own up to as well.

I may rag in my yearly Wrestlemania blogs about the philanthropy nature of the ‘Warrior Award’ at the WWE Hall of Fame where we get to see Warrior’s widow, Dana present the award each year, but do not let that dismiss the fact that Dana and Warrior’s two daughters come off as legit wonderful people in the documentary. All three are charismatic, genuine talkers and the scene covering how Warrior and Dana met and how their wedding went down is easily the best feel-good scene in Always Believe. Speaking of the ‘Warrior Award’ however, I will take this moment to get on my soapbox and call out to WWE to please rephrase this award to Warrior’s original vision of it in his induction speech as an award to recognize the hard work of the little-talked about workers behind-the-scenes of WWE such as Jimmy Miranda and Mark Yeaton.

On the Self-Destruction DVD the interviewees were quite malicious of the Warrior character disparaging how he got gassed by the time the match started and how he was one of the most careless workers in the ring in history. A decade later in Always Believe, some of those same interviewees like Hulk Hogan and Triple H have a somewhat change of heart and still recognize Warrior’s shortcomings, but are more constructive with their criticism and eventually justify Warrior’s act by essentially saying it worked because it brought in good business. If you never saw the 2005 DVD before I recommend watching that documentary before this one because it is absolutely fascinating to see the 180 degree shift in tone on the Warrior in general. I wish they were this constructive the first time around, because while I agree with a lot of the shortcomings of Warrior’s act, it was ridiculous at how much WWE disparaged him in that original documentary. I am saying this as not even a big Warrior fan growing up (I was more of a Big Boss Man-kid). I still vividly recall that documentary’s ending being Christian’s blunt thoughts on the Warrior’s legacy being “like it or not, he is going to be remembered.”

Speaking of that DVD, Warrior and his wife are interviewed here about it, and rightfully trash WWE for releasing that and hold nothing back about how much that documentary hurt them. The feature then covers Warrior’s libel suit against the WWE and Vince McMahon and Hulk are on hand defending how their comments by saying they were misconstrued at the time and how the case was eventually dropped and nobody came out ahead at the end of it. There is a lot to read between the lines during this scene, and if you were following the business at the time, catching Hogan, Vince and Warrior’s thoughts about the DVD and the proceeding lawsuit several years later made for a very compelling segment of the feature.

Dana is then featured detailing how Hunter was imperative on repairing Warrior’s relationship with WWE. Vince, Steph and Hunter are all here commenting about what it was like to bring Warrior back for the hall of fame. Seeing Warrior’s final days backstage in these final scenes during Wrestlemania weekend is both ominous and fortunate to see how a lot of his final exchanges were captured on film. The big moments featured here from that weekend are Warrior and Hogan talking for the first time in many years and ‘burying the hatchet.’ Vince and Warrior also have a moment backstage where Warrior gifted Vince the children’s book The Little Engine that Could with his own personal foreward to Vince! Hearing Vince reflect on that moment and how he and Warrior got together for one last photo saw a rare, emotional moment for Vince on film when talking about it for Always Believe. The documentary wraps up with Dana detailing how Warrior’s last day transpired with him suddenly collapsing in the midst of traveling back home. Dana and her daughters then reflect on that weekend and Warrior’s legacy and wrap up by reading letters to their father and husband in a touching scene.

Like most of WWE’s BluRays, Always Believe is packed with a ton of extras and the first disc has 21 Warrior matches on it. WWE is getting better with most of their newer home videos only featuring matches never before put out on video, the tradeoff to this however is all noteworthy Warrior matches have already been released on other DVDs over the years. They got around this with the special ‘ArenaCam’ perspective of the Wrestlemania VI match. This is fine for the Warrior, who was like an early version of Goldberg who I primarily wanted to see for his larger-than-life entrance and to see him run rampant and squash nobodies. Believe me, there are a bunch of Warrior squash matches on here from the weekend shows I grew up with like WWF Challenge and WWF Superstars. It was actually refreshing to relive these old-school squash-fests.

There are also numerous house show matches that WWE use to record in the late 80s/early 90s. These are longer, traditional PPV-style matches, but worth taking a look at as Warrior faced off against Rick Rude and teamed up with Jim Duggan against Andre and Rude. There are a pair of fun Saturday Night’s Main Event matches on here where Warrior takes on Haku and Sgt. Slaughter where the crowd was eating up everything Warrior was doing around his championship run. Finally, there are a few surprisingly long, decent matches with Warrior facing unlikely opponents in these scenarios where Rick Martel, Demolition Smash and Owen Hart all got a surprising effort out of the Warrior.

Disc two has a whopping 2 hours and 41 minutes of Ultimate Warrior promos. This is vintage Ultimate Warrior where he mostly shouts nonsensical phrases I could not help but enthusiastically nod along too because of his organic charisma. The bulk of these promos are quick one to two minute rants of only him going off against a blue screen, but there are several longer interviews of him on the Brother Love show and having entertaining exchanges with Sensational Sherri and Ric Flair. His hall of fame speech is here in its entirety, and the aforementioned RAW promo the day before his death is here as well. It took a few sittings to get through them all, but I did not mind taking the time to get blown away by nearly three hours of random Warrior intensity. His tribute montage the week after his death is not on here, so here is a link to this very-well produced tribute.

There is just over an hour and a half of BluRay exclusives. Once again, I recommend going with the BluRay because of the alternate perspective of the Hulk Hogan match alone. There are four other BluRay bonus matches, with his WCCW match against Rick Rude and teaming up with Legion of Doom to take on Demolition in a bout that probably set a record for featuring the most face paint standing out the most. There are also 19 minutes of exclusive ‘stories’ with Dana sharing some fun Warrior courtship memories and Batista and Triple H sharing some bonus thoughts about the Warrior too. Natalya also is awesome here as she challenges one of Warrior’s daughters to an unofficial match.

Always Believe is an exponentially better documentary than 2005’s Self-Destruction. This does not hide Warrior’s wrestling shortcomings and controversies (though it does hide his real life political remarks and controversies), but it addresses them in a far more professional manner and it does not make Warrior come off as the quintessential slime ball like the Self-Destruction DVD did. Warrior is far from being my personal favorite wrestler and/or person, but he did serve up a number of timeless moments in wrestling for me in my impressionable years and Always Believe is a perfect way of celebrating those moments of the Ultimate Warrior character for past, present and future fans.

Past Wrestling Blogs

Best of WCW Monday Nitro Volume 2
Best of Monday Nitro Volume 3
Biggest Knuckleheads
Bobby The Brain Heenan
Daniel Bryan: Just Say Yes Yes Yes
Dusty Rhodes WWE Network Specials
ECW Unreleased: Vol 1
ECW Unreleased: Vol 2
ECW Unreleased: Vol 3
For All Mankind
Goldberg: The Ultimate Collection
Its Good to Be the King: The Jerry Lawler Story
Ladies and Gentlemen My Name is Paul Heyman
Legends of Mid South Wrestling
Macho Man: The Randy Savage Story
Memphis Heat
OMG Vol 2: Top 50 Incidents in WCW History
OMG Vol 3: Top 50 Incidents in ECW History
Owen: Hart of Gold
RoH Supercard of Honor V
RoH Supercard of Honor VI
RoH Supercard of Honor VII
RoH Supercard of Honor VIII
RoH Supercard of Honor IX
RoH Supercard of Honor X
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
Sting: Into the Light
Superstar Collection: Zach Ryder
Top 50 Superstars of All Time
Tough Enough: Million Dollar Season
True Giants
Ultimate Fan Pack: Roman Reigns
Warrior Week on WWE Network
Wrestlemania 3: Championship Edition
Wrestlemania 28
Wrestlemania 29
Wrestlemania 30
Wrestlemania 31
Wrestlemania 32
The Wrestler (2008)
Wrestling Road Diaries Too
Wrestling Road Diaries Three: Funny Equals Money
Wrestlings Greatest Factions
WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2015
WWE Network Original Specials Second Half 2015
WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2016
WWE Network Original Specials Second Half 2016

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