Editor note: Please take the opportunity to check out our tribute piece to The Ultimate Warrior.
One of the most popular posts, especially in recent months, on this blog has been Craig’s article looking at The Ultimate Warrior’s 1996 run with WWE. This was an ill-fated return and the final nail in the coffin of a potential career revival in WWE for the face-painted maniac. However, more recent happenings indicate a willingness to do business from both parties. Warrior appeared in the WWE All-Stars video game a couple of years ago and more recently, and to much fanfare, he was included as a playable character in WWE2K14.
On the back of what appears to be a healing relationship between Jim ‘Ultimate Warrior’ Hellwig and Vince McMahon, today I contemplate the ultimate hypothetical question; what if The Ultimate Warrior never left WWE?
Much has been written of Warrior’s suspension directly after SummerSlam ’91. Long story short there was a disagreement over the size of Warriors pay packet following Wrestlemania VII, and until it was resolved the big man was gonna stay at home. Vince McMahon decided to pay Warrior the half a million bucks he wanted, because he had already advertised him for the SummerSlam main event. However, as soon as the event was over Vince slapped an indefinite suspension on Warrior. Why didn’t he fire him you ask? Because Warrior could have walked straight over to WCW. By suspending him, and rejecting a letter of resignation, Vince kept Warrior under WWE contract and, essentially, under his control.
The aforementioned SummerSlam main event pitted the team of Warrior and Hulk Hogan against the trio of Sgt. Slaughter, Colonel Mustafa and General Adnan. It existed purely to tie up loose ends as the Slaughter character was getting some serious heat from the media and needed to be taken out of the spotlight. Hogan won yet another feud, while Warrior, as the only feasible big name partner for the Hulkster, gained a measure of revenge after his Royal Rumble defeat to Slaughter. This was very much Warrior helping Hogan, so who was Warrior working with around this time?
After retiring Macho Man at Wrestlemania VII, Warrior began working with The Undertaker. This never yielded a PPV match, but they fought extensively on house shows and at home video tapings. The televised highlight of the feud occurred when Warrior was locked in one of Taker’s coffins during Paul Bearer’s Funeral Parlour segment on an episode of Superstars. This angle led Warrior to seek help from Jake The Snake Roberts. ‘Snake Man’, as Warrior called him, set him three challenges; get locked in a coffin (again), get buried alive and enter a room full of snakes. At the end of the third challenge Warrior was bitten in the face by Jake’s king cobra, Lucifer. It was then revealed that Roberts was in cahoots with The Undertaker and that it was a set-up all along.
So this, rather than anything to do with Sarge, is where Warrior left things in 1991. The obvious direction here would have been a feud with Roberts, with The Undertaker still lurking in the shadows if they needed to mix things up. Knowing that he was about to suspend Warrior, Vince put the wheels in motion for a Roberts/Macho Man feud at SummerSlam instead.
Savage was reinstated as an active wrestler in the Autumn of ’91, to fill the void left by Warrior. So, initially at least, he covered Warrior’s program. Given that Savage’s feud with Roberts lasted beyond the Royal Rumble I can only assume that would have been the plan for Warrior, but then what? Well Savage transitioned into the WWE Title picture with Ric Flair, was that the plan for Warrior?
On the surface it doesn’t sound like a good fit, and I would imagine that a match pitting Warrior against Flair for the WWE Title probably wasn’t Vince’s first choice for The Nature Boy. Flair signed a deal in August of ’91 and surely the plan straight off the bat was to have him face Hogan at Wrestlemania for the title, right? As it turns out the pair extensively feuded in late ‘91/early ’92, rendering a potential ‘Mania showdown a little redundant. You see, these matches may not have been on front of the cameras but they battled so frequently on front of large audiences that a sizeable chunk of WWE’s American fans did get a chance to see The Nature Boy v The Hulkster. Logic dictated that these fans would be unlikely to order a PPV headlined by a match they had already seen relatively recently – modern day WWE take note.
So, with a Hogan match off the cards and (within our hypothetical scenario) Macho Man still “retired”, what top name was there for Flair to battle at ‘Mania? The Undertaker was still relatively new at this point, and had only just turned face, so he would have been unlikely. Sid Justice was inserted towards the top of the card upon his arrival, but would Vince really take two ex-WCW guys and have them battle over WWE’s top title on the company’s top show? That would make the rest of the WWE roster look a bit shit, wouldn’t it? Roddy Piper could have been a candidate, but surely WWE would have wanted Flair in and around the title picture, making, by this point in his career, mid-carder Piper an unlikely opponent. This really just leaves one feasible candidate – Warrior. The fact that Warrior, as knock on effect from Savage’s involvement, ended up in a storyline with Flair later in ’92 adds credence to the idea that WWE had plans for Warrior v Flair all along.
What about some other potential post-Jake Roberts opponents for Warrior? His feud with The Undertaker, on television at least, was left far from resolved. That could quite easily have been revisited. Taker’s face turn could have been delayed until after Wrestlemania VIII to allow for a showdown with Warrior. With that said, an awful lot of fans saw this match on live shows in ’91, just as they did with Hogan v Flair. But then again, Taker v Warrior would not have been pushed as the main attraction. Had this come to fruition one has to wonder if The Undertaker’s famous streak would have ever come into being?
Sid Justice could have been another candidate, in a power v power match-up. Initially brought in as a babyface to potentially become the new Hogan-esque mega star, Sid was then, as he always was, a far more convincing heel. He could have just turned on Warrior instead of Hogan. As friend of Justice and ally of Warrior, Hogan himself could have been inserted into this feud too. Which brings me to my last candidate for a post-Jake Roberts opponent for Warrior – Hulk Hogan.
Vince knew that the clock was ticking on Hogan because after Wrestlemania VIII the Hulkster would be leaving for a while to film some movies. This would surely have set alarm bells ringing in McMahon’s head over whether or not Hogan was through with wrestling all together. It is therefore not out of the question that, had Warrior been available, we could have seen Vince cash-in on a rematch of the Wrestlemania VI main event at Wrestlemania VIII. The argument against this is that had McMahon decided to “cash-in” he would have, probably with Savage. Wrestlemania V, headlined by Savage v Hogan, stands head and shoulders above any other WWE PPV of this era in terms of buys. However, the demand for a rematch would have been greatly reduced due to the pair continuing to feud throughout 1989. Warrior v Hogan on the other was a self-contained, one-off match. In fact, one could probably count the dealings they had with each other on one hand.
Next time I ask the question – what if Warrior had never left WWE, the second time…?