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20 years ago today: The Ultimate Challenge

April 1, 1990 is an important day in wrestling history, and certainly in my life. It was the day that the Ultimate Warrior defeated Hulk Hogan to capture the WWE championship in the main event of WrestleMania VI. It was also the day I got hooked on pro wrestling.

Sure I had watched wrestling for years, dating back back to the early 1980s. But it was the excitement and emotion that came from the Warrior's victory that really took hold of me like nothing the sport had offered until that point. "The Ultimate Challenge" showed me how a compelling story could be told inside a wrestling ring.

Until WrestleMania VI, Hogan's WrestleMania matches were all largely the same. They ranged from 10 to 15 minutes, and featured him getting beaten down throughout much of the match, until making his big comeback, "Hulking up," dropping the leg, and then posing in front of the crowd.

This match was something different, and very special. For more than 20 Hogan and the Warrior weaved a masterful tale in the ring, filled with suspense, thrills and nail-biting drama. The show-closing scene saw Hogan hand the belt to the Warrior, hug, him and then leave the ring. Hogan wept as he returned to the dressing room, as the Warrior celebrated with his two championship belts, and fireworks going off behind him in the ring. It was an incredible scene, and one that gave non-Hulkamaniacs hope for a change in WWE.

 

 

Ultimately, it was not to be. Even without the title belt, Hogan remained WWE's top act, and won the championship back less than a year later.

It's a shame that the Warrior has gone on to have one of the worst reputations of any headline wrestling act of the last 20 years. And that, more than not, his name is mentioned these days as the but of jokes. I understand that a lot of that is warranted, as the Warrior's peculiar behavior has done nothing to earn him the benefit of the doubt.

But Warrior's place in wrestling history, and the contributions he made in the early 1990s, can't be denied. After six years of having WWE be the Hulk Hogan show, the Warrior represented something new, fresh, and invigorating. Without a doubt, he was a terrible wrestler - but no worse than dozens of other main event acts that have been pushed over the years strictly because of their look and charisma (Goldberg, Sid Vicious and the Great Khali to name a few.) And I'd say the Warrior was more fun to watch - both in the ring and behind the microphone - than all of those names combined.

It's a shame the Warrior couldn't come to terms with WWE this year for a Hall of Fame induction, because it's well deserved.

New York Sports