The WWE has undertaken separate tributes to the late Ultimate Warrior this week, including a live “Monday Night Raw” dedicated to his memory.
But strangely, the company’s most fitting tribute to the Warrior came a week before his death, with the release of the “Ultimate Warrior: The Ultimate Collection” DVD set.
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The two-disc set—the centerpiece of the reconciliation between Warrior and WWE chairman Vince McMahon following a 17-year-feud — not only does a fine job of compiling some of the Warrior’s most memorable matches and interviews, but it also captures Warrior in a light in which most wrestling fans never saw him before his Hall of Fame induction three nights before his April 8 death: reflective, appreciative, and very much at peace.
Warrior, who was born James Hellwig, died Tuesday from a massive heart attack, according to authorities.
The DVD set was, undoubtedly, WWE’s attempt to make good with Warrior following its petty 2005 home video release, “The Self-Destruction of The Ultimate Warrior” — mostly a compilation of WWE talking heads poking fun at the Warrior, and downplaying his contributions to the business. That DVD—now a collector’s item listed on Ebay for as much as $80—only served to deepen the rift between Warrior and McMahon.
The “Ultimate Collection” attempts to right history by having Warrior himself, looking grizzled but healthy while talking in front of a fireplace, walk viewers through the evolution of his iconic wrestling persona. The DVDs span Warrior’s entree into wrestling as a competitive bodybuilder, through his earliest days in the ring teaming with Steve “Sting" Borden, through the earliest incarnations of his legendary character in World Class Championship Wrestling, through his meteoric rise in WWE.
In addition to the Warrior’s most famous bouts, including his “Ultimate Challenge” of Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI and his “career-ending match” with “Macho King” Randy Savage at WrestleMania VII, the DVD set features several rare treasures that even the most ardent Warrior fan has likely never seen. They include a Blade Runners "squash" match in Bill Watts’ UWF territory, a WCCW singles bout against “Gentleman” Chris Adams, and several WWE house-show matches from the 1980s, including one against Harley Race and a title-for-title bout against Savage during the first WWF heavyweight title reign for the "Macho Man."
As is usually the case with the Warrior, four-star showcases of technical wrestling acumen are nowhere to be found. But the chosen matches effectively capture the excitement and frenzy that followed the Warrior every time he sprinted to the ring. The atmosphere at the Warrior’s higher-stakes showdowns, including a pair of matches against Andre the Giant in 1989 and a 1991 cage match with Savage at Madison Square Garden, was particularly electric.
But, by far, the most compelling parts of the DVD set are the new sit-down interviews with Warrior. Far removed from the scornful, delusional and resentful ex-wrestler whose eccentricities are well-documented on YouTube, the Warrior depicted here is wise and gracious. He has a realistic grasp on the contributions he made, and on the business of wrestling in general.
Warrior — often criticized for not respecting his colleagues — gushes about Andre, "Ravishing" Rick Rude and, in particular, Savage, and shares some lighthearted stories about his years working and traveling with them. He recalls not having a problem dropping the WWE championship to Sgt. Slaughter, and how much it meant to him that Savage allowed him to pin him with one foot at WrestleMania VII.
The “Ultimate Collection,” combined with Warrior’s touching Hall of Fame induction speech and what turned out to be his farewell promo on “Raw” last week, all combine to paint a picture of someone who had turned a corner sometime in the last few years, let go of a lot of anger, and was able to look back on his career with pride and gratitude in his final days.