Icons of Wrestling #37 – The Warlord

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Jamie Lithgow

Height: 6’5″
Weight: 323 lbs
Hometown: Parts Unknown
Glory Days: 1988-1992
Fun Fact: The Warlord was Batista’s favourite wrestler, and believe it or not there’s only seven years age difference between the two.

Bio:

According to Wikipedia, A warlord is a leader able to exercise military, economic, and political control over a subnational territory within a sovereign state due to their ability to mobilize loyal armed forces. So, naturally, this equated to a wrestling gimmick in the late 80s and early 90s. However, rather than a small, sadistic military leader the WWE’s Warlord was a large, jacked-up dude with face paint and a shit haircut.

Said Jacked-up dude was first spotted working out in a Minnesota gym by Road Warrior Animal, who took some photos of the 300lb muscle man and handed them to Dusty Rhodes. Shortly thereafter Terry Szopinski officially became The Warlord.

Having cut his teeth in the singles ranks of Jim Crocket Promotions, Central States Wrestling and even New Japan Pro Wrestling, The Warlord would be paired with his one-time rival; The Barbarian. Barbs was almost as big as Warlord and had a little more experience as a wrestler under his belt, making them a logical fit as a tag team. Wrestling in JCP, the team were christened The Powers of Pain after doing a number on the team they were based on; The Road Warriors. Yes, The Powers of Pain were a conscious rip-off of The Road Warriors because they were presented as their heel counterparts. The two teams feuded with each other for a few months in JCP before reaching a series of feud-ending Scaffold Matches. Much to the delight of Warlord and Barbarian’s knees, a certain Vince McMahon came calling around this time to offer them a job in ‘the big leagues’.

OOOOHHH WHAT A….. rip off

Upon entering WWE’s tag team ranks, The Powers of Pain received the ‘Demolition treatment’ i.e. they exclusively wrestled, and squashed, jobber teams. This was a tried and trusted strategy as it had worked for Demolition who were the Tag Team Champions by this point. The difference being that The Warlord and The Barbarian were presented as babyfaces and Demolition were heels. This all changed at the 1988 Survivor Series however. During a 10 team elimination tag match, Demolition’s manager – Mr. Fuji – turned on them and sided with The Powers of Pain in one of the most famous double turns in wrestling history. Now working as heels under Fuji, Warlord and Barbarian were now free to actually lose matches. However, save for the odd dark match, double disqualification  finish or The Warlord’s infamous two second appearance at the Royal Rumble ‘89, that did not happen until Wrestlemania 5 where Demolition picked up the win to retain their tag titles in a handicap match which also included Mr. Fuji.

The Warlord and Barbarian discuss just how exactly they’ll squash these jobbers

Post-Wrestlemania 5 it was business as usual for Warlord and Barbs as they racked up win after win against jobber tandems. October was a rough month though. Warlord was defeated in singles action for the first time when he fell to Tito Santana in the non-televised King of Ring tournament. Later that month, he and Barbarian lost to The Bushwhackers, albeit by disqualification. It was a slippery slope for the Powers from this point as they were part of Ted DiBiase’s unsuccessful Million Dollar Team at the Survivor Series that year. Into the new year and the duo were losing more frequently in dark and televised matches, most notably to Demolition and The Rockers. Seeing the writing on the wall – or possibly the Road Warriors in the distance – The Powers of Pain were disbanded in Match of 1990 when Mr. Fuji sold their contracts to other WWE managers. The Barbarian became part of Boby Heenan’s Heenan Family while The Warlord’s contract was picked up by Slick.

Navigating away from The Road Warriors inspired gear, Warlord shaved his head, got short tights and gained a Phantom of The Opera style mask, a staff and shoulder pads for his entrance. So prior to the bell he was a jacked-up Phantom/cyborg but during the match he was a jacked-up Stone Cold Steve Austin. This is the best I can do to explain the gimmick because it was never really explained and never really got over. Some say that the gimmick change was brought about due to the real Road Warriors’ impending debut in WWE. Some say both Warlord and Barbarian were in line for singles pushes – against Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior respectively. Others contest that The Powers of Pain had run their course and that they were simply given a fresh paint of coat. Whatever the reason, The Warlord – nor The Barbarian for that matter – was unable to scale the heights of the singles ranks. On the rare occasions when he faced a name talent, he lost. Warlord’s most famous feud was the battle of Full Nelsons against The British Bulldog, which actually yielded a Wrestlemania match, which Bulldog won. The Warlord did actually work a singles match with Hulk Hogan too, which he lost. However, Warlord did manage to get one notable scalp during his singles run; a victory over Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts. That was quickly forgotten though because his final televised match came in April of 1992 and was a defeat to Virgil……. fucking Virgil!

For those that thought Bulldog was a big dude…

In terms of The Warlord character on national TV, that’s all folks. The Powers of Pain would reunite a few years later in WCW, but under masks and called The Super Assassins, so that doesn’t really count. As a fun piece of trivia, the Powers did reunite during their respective singles runs in WWE. In early 1992 The Warlord and The Barbarian teamed up to face Jim Neidhart and Owen Hart – aka The New Foundation – although they were never actually referred to as The Powers of Pain during the bout. Before retiring from wrestling in 1996, Warlord passed on some tricks of the trade to a young Chris Jericho. The big man smartened up Y2J on how to eat as much food as possible for as little money as possible while on the road i.e. hit the buffet kid! These days Terry ‘The Warlord’ Szopinski is a bodyguard/private security type guy. He has worked with the likes of 50 Cent, NFL running back Thomas Jones and MMA fighter Kimbo Slice, before he passed away obviously. Warlord has also made a return to the ring. He can occasionally be found teaming with his old pal The Barbarian at small independent shows.


All previous ‘Icons of Wrestling’ can be read here.


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One thought on “Icons of Wrestling #37 – The Warlord

  1. That Jericho story really is funny to read. I honestly think if the warlord had been more agile and a better worker he might’ve done better in his career, but he was just another ‘roided-up big man during that period, which were basically a dime-a-dozen back then. I believe I enjoyed his Tag run as the Powers of Pain more than his singles stuff. And yes, I STILL remember that infamous heel turn by Mr. Fuji as a kid. The looks of shock and surprise on Demolition’s faces seemed to match the one Dean Ambrose had on his face when Seth Rollins turned on the SHIELD.

    Like

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