Why Did The Ultimate Warrior Fail as WWE Champion?


As 1990 began, the wrestling industry was beginning to take shape into what we would see until the Monday Night War. The WWE was number one, riding the Hulkamania train and it seemed like it wasn’t stopping. The previous year saw attendance for Hogan headlined cards at its highest since 1986 (The Orndorrf feud) thanks to a hot feud with the Big Boss Man and rematches with Savage.

Cards that weren’t headlined by Hogan were also the highest since 1986 thanks to feuds like The Ultimate Warrior vs Andre the Giant and Rick Rude vs Roddy Pipe among others. WCW had planted itself as a firm number two even though they had some great talent and television, but ineptitude in upper management kept them from being competitive. A rift between Ric Flair, the company’s top star plus booker and Jim Herd, the Executive Vice President of WCW. It also saw the defection of the Road Warriors to WWE, Sting blowing out his knee, and Ole Anderson’s disastrous run as booker that included The Black Scorpion.

[adinserter block=”1″]Elsewhere, the territories were finally starting to die out or begin to feel the pressure of the battle between the Big Two. World Class shut down for good, leaving various promoters to converge upon Texas to try and recapture that World Class magic in the next few years. Don Owen, wrestling’s lovable old grandfather was facing immense pressure from a state athletic commission with too much time on their hands. The AWA was breathing its dying breaths having suffered the worst of McMahon’s raids next to JCP.

They still had television on ESPN but their roster was a mixture of guys nearing the end and talent that would eventually be picked up by one of the big two. Memphis was still alive and began to emphasis younger talent, but the days of the fans filling up the Coliseum to see Lawler was staring to fade. In Japan, All Japan and New Japan would hold a supershow at the Tokyo Dome in-front of 63,000 fans or that card you know about since Vader had his eye knocked out. Both companies were still battling for supremacy with a mix of young and old talent but a new competitor would rise this year, Genichiro Tenryu’s Super World of Sports.

In McMahonLand, the relationship between Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon was beginning to sour. Vince became enamored with The Ultimate Warrior and saw Warrior as his new star. Hogan was looking at making a run in Hollywood even though his popularity was waning at the time. Hogan signed onto Suburban Commando with Christopher “I WAS FROZEN TODAY” Lloyd, once a vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito. McMahon would let him go off to film (Vince was also letting Hulk pick his dates to work) but asked that he would put Warrior over clean at WrestleMania that year.

In what was billed as The Ultimate Challenge, WrestleMania VI proved to be one of the most lucrative WWE shows of the 1990s. The Skydome was packed with 67,287 fans that paid $3,490,587, a gate number that wouldn’t be broken until WrestleMania X7. CCTV netted the company a nice $600,000 and the 646,447 buys would not be beaten until 1998 and had a gross of $19.3 million dollars. It seemed like Warrior was going to take the company by storm and lead into a new golden age.

Except, he didn’t.

When Warrior won the belt, attendance fell in 1990. Hogan was around in the aftermath of WrestleMania, but left after the Earthquake angle. With the rock directly on the back of the Warrior, the average attendance of a WWE show was in the upper four thousands. So what happened? Well, that is why I am here to examine just how the massive success of WrestleMania VI didn’t translate into a successful 1990. I have two reasons as to why the Warrior wasn’t the next Hogan; it’s like ESPN show whose name I can’t say out of fear of a lawsuit. Hey, I get to be Brian Kenny!

Reason Number Two: The Attempted Makeover

Whether you love him or hate him, Hulk Hogan was the ultimate PR guy for the WWE in the Hulkamania Era. Until his brutally disastrous Arsenio Hall show appearance, Hogan was everywhere representing the company. In 1994, he was honored by the Make-a-Wish organization for making 200 visits to sick kids. With Hogan filming a movie, the Ultimate Warrior was expected to take Hogan’s role. While he made a memorable appearance on The Arsenio Hall show before WrestleMania, that was the apex of his talk show appearances. His appearance of Regis and Kathie Lee was surreal, it seemed like Vince must have spiked Warrior’s coffee with Xanax. The guy known for cutting promos that have mystified most seemed like he was in a daze, presenting Kathy Lee with a Wrestling Buddy for Cody and cutting a half-ass promo hyping his match with Rick Rude.

Then, there was insanely cringe worthy Amanda Ultimate Warrior segment that most have to see to believe as the once mighty Warrior talked about his Ultimate Love as a Warrior fan performed handstands and what not. A segment so weird that if freaked out Vince McMahon, who demanded that it would never be shown again. It popped up on Youtube but was taken down, so I’m looking forward to that being on the Network. It should be noted that it was actually a family member of the Warrior, but still really weird. Most of all, everything that the fans had loved about the Warrior was starting to fade away. The promos were less intense and McMahon had Warrior scale back on the amount of face paint he wore. In the end, it was the beginning of a trend by McMahon to try and pound a rectangle into a circular hole. Diesel went from being a monster heel to a Hogan-esque babyface, Lex Luger went from being a narcissist to a patriot, the only guys he didn’t mess with Hart and Michaels.

Reason Number One: The Booking

When Hogan first won the title, he had a solid stable of heels to work with who were fresh. When the Warrior won the belt, all the heels were guys that lost to Hogan. Let’s look over the opponents the Warrior had in 1990:

-Ravishing Rick Rude: After the Warrior feud, Rude had a pretty good feud with Roddy Piper. Neither Rude nor Piper actually won the feud; it was blown off at the Survivor Series when both guys were eliminated via double count-out. It was pretty unusual that the feud didn’t get a blow-off on Saturday Night’s Main Event or even some interaction in The Rumble. After that, Rude drifted around and faced Jimmy Snuka in a meaningless match at WrestleMania VI. Rude was given the task of being Warrior’s first feud and I didn’t mind the build. Rude treating the match like it was really big was neat, cutting his hair and training for the fight like a boxer. Despite the build, the fans had a hard time buying Rude as a challenger. In the build-up to Warrior/Rude, Warrior wasn’t even facing Rude in singles action; he was teaming up with the newly hired Kerry Von Erich against Mr. Perfect and Rude.

-Mr. Perfect: Perfect was in an odd spot after WrestleMania. He had been in a feud with Hogan and was involved in the Warrior/Hogan feud, but then had his winning streak killed off at WrestleMania by Brutus Beefcake. Yes, I know that he had lost in the Rumble and had lost to Hogan at live events, but people bought into that type of stuff back then. He then lost to Hogan at the April SNME and was then placed against Warrior on house shows as his first major opponent. Losing to Hogan I can understand, but why not have Hogan be the first guy to beat him on TV? At-least fans could buy Perfect as a threat to Warrior if he went toe-to-toe with Hogan, but having him lose to Beefcake was a bad move. Perfect would later meet up with Warrior at Survivor Series 1990.

-Ted DiBiase: Now, this is an interesting case. DiBiase got the nod to face Warrior at the AJPW/WWF Supershow and would then have zero interaction with the Warrior until November. While DiBiase was more of a short-term threat, the days of DiBiase being a main-event level heel had faded away. After a really good feud with Jake Roberts, DiBiase didn’t do much really until the Rhodes feud. I think DiBiase could have been a good short-term opponent for the Warrior after WrestleMania. You could at least buy some time to build Rude up as a threat to Warrior by putting him with DiBiase.

-Randy Savage: Savage came in at the tail-end of Warrior’s reign, after his feud with Dusty Rhodes which extended into the fall from WrestleMania. After The Megapowers feud, Savage had been bumped off the main event but was still the top heel. Savage was just floating around after the Rhodes feud, not injured but there was never any word on what was going on with him. He was starting to work house shows with Warrior (Even a card in Chicago opposing Halloween Havoc) in the fall and it seemed like Savage was going to be the big Mania main event for Warrior. We did get the Mania feud, just not for the belt since Slaughter caught on.

In the end, three of these guys had lost to Hogan in the past year and weren’t perceived as major threats to Warrior. Rude had lost to Warrior the year before. The one heel that could be seen as a major threat to Warrior was Earthquake but he was being held off until Hogan returned. Earthquake was being put against Duggan and Tugboat to buy time. There was some thought of putting Earthquake with Warrior after the Hogan feud, but the damage was done to Earthquake. He quickly slid back down the card after the Hogan feud. With the exception of Earthquake, there were two faces that if they turned, could have been bought as a threat to the Warrior.

[adinserter block=”2″]Roddy Piper: With the departure of Jesse Ventura, Piper transitioned into the announce booth with McMahon for Superstars. You could even use that and have Piper slowly become bitter that he never won the belt and he begins to show it on commentary. Eventually, Piper invites Warrior onto Pipers Pit to clear the air and it seems all good between the two until Piper sneak attacks him. Piper beats Warrior with the stool and poses over him with the belt. Of course, there is the fear that Piper would be cheered over Warrior, but if there is any many that could get the crowd to boo him, it’s Roddy.

Jake Roberts: The Snake was inserted into the number two face position after Hogan left, but you have Piper, Dusty and Boss Man that could fill the role. So, I propose you go ahead and book Robert’s heel turn a year early. Have Jake lure Warrior into a trap of a tag match against two heels and yes this has done before. Warrior goes in first, takes a beating but makes the comeback, tags Jake in and when Jake enters, he hits that deadly DDT. It might be in the oldest trick in the book, but Jake is a good enough heel to pull it off plus the promo after.

There you have it, at least my two beliefs as to why the Warrior failed as champion. You may have your reasons, so sound off. I’m always open to a different perspective on a situation like this. I think with better opponents and keeping what made the fans like him (Intense promos and the face paint); Warrior could have been a good champion. I’m Robert Goeman playing Brian Kenny, have a good night.

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  1. I wish he would have Stan Hansen terry Gordy and Brody to fued with I know Brody was dead btw I’m just fantasy booking. I think that would have worked

  2. Overall, a good analysis of the time period. I have to point out that Rude and Warrior faced each other plenty — probably too much — during the lead up to Summerslam. Those tag matches seem to start in August to fill the weeks leading up to Summerslam and probably to take the load of Rude and Warrior. From what I’ve seen, Warrior and Rude were facing each other on house shows almost immediately after Wrestlemania until August. Plus they had a match on Saturday Night’s Main Event during which Warrior kicked out of the Rude Awakening just a month before the cage match. If anything, I’d say Warrior and Rude worked against each other too much prior to Summerslam.

    I agree about the booking, though. Earthquake was the one heel that was ready for the champ. Plus, he and Warrior had a reason to feud since Earthquake made his debut at Warrior’s expense. The only other heel I’d say had the right look to threaten the Warrior was The Warlord, and they would have had to build him quick.

    Just to point out how messed up WWF booking in 1990 could be, they had Hogan destroy Dibiase at the Survivor Series one night before an episode of The Main Event which featured Warrior defending against Dibiase.

  3. I am looking at the attendance records right now and it looks to me like Warrior’s house show drawing power during his reign wasn’t significantly lower than Hogan’s program with Earthquake. Also if you look at average attendance of Warrior’s program with Slaughter early 91 and Hogan’s own program with Slaughter post Wrestlemania, the attendance is about the equal. If Hogan did draw more than Warrior, the difference was miniscule. So I think that it is a myth that Warrior failed as champion. It is true that Summerslam 1990 did not have as many buys as the previous year but it was still the highest grossing Summerslam until 1998 with the rise of Austin 3:16. Also, Survivor series with Warrior as champ had the highest buyrate of any Survivor Series until 1998. Also Royal Rumble 1991 highlighted by Warrior’s title losing match with Slaughter has the highest buyrate of any Survivor series until 1999 when the Attitude era was in full swing. Having said that I do agree with the points of the author regarding how Warrior was booked and that the money was down, but it was going down anyway. Even if Hogan won in WM 6 the money still would’ve been down and everybody would’ve complained that he should’ve put Warrior over.

  4. Warrior wasnt a bad champ but he was doomed to fail from the start. During that time frame nobody was going to get passed Hogan. They tried with Savage and it didnt work as well. Same with Warrior. Hulk had the wrestling world wrapped around his finger until the Arsenio show in July 91. I really feel people want to overlook just how good Hogan was back then for the company. I have never believed at that time he was holding people down or whatever. Vince tried to go different directions and the fans just werent ready for that yet. The only thing that could have killed Hulk Hogan and Hulkamania back then was Terry Bollea. Golden Age of wrestling for sure!

  5. The general consensus is that Warrior didn’t live up to the hype. Actually, I thought he was a good champion, the WWE just panicked when things didn’t go well. I think if DiBiase was given a decent-sized feud, they could have done well together. He always worked well with Warrior. I also think they missed the boat with Earthquake/Warrior.


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