Squared-Circle Science: Ultimate Warrior – Always Believe

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Ultimate Warrior: Always Believe is a special treat for those who don’t subscribe to the WWE Network or have failed to take advantage of its month-long free preview offerings in the past. After Warrior suddenly passed a few days following WrestleMania XXX, an hour-long tribute special (Ultimate Legend) was produced for the network. The documentary that comprises the first disc of the DVD is not a simple rehash, nor is it an extended cut with a few scenes worked into the original special. Instead, it has been completely redone with new scenes and interviews to make an entirely different cut. The additions total more than 40 minutes and pushes the documentary to 1 hour and 38 minutes in length. extending the documentary to 98 minutes.

The documentary begins with a prologue with Warrior’s wife, Dana, speaking directly about the Warrior Girls (she along with daughters Mattigan and Indiana) making their return to New Orleans and the Smoothie King Center in January 2015, which was the site where the 2014 Hall of Fame ceremony and the post WrestleMania XXX Monday Night Raw were held, for the first time since the Warrior’s passing. Dana becomes very emotional in thanking World Wrestling Entertainment and the WWE Universe for the well wishes that were bequeathed to the Warrior family after his passing last year.

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Utilizing footage that was shot during WrestleMania weekend and from the interview conducted during the production of Warrior’s Ultimate Collection (read my review), the documentary takes Warrior’s comments and behind the scenes footage in recounting his humble beginnings as an aspiring chiropractor and bodybuilder, where he would become Mr. Georgia, before making his way to California where he took up the sport of wrestling. Powerful and with a good look, Warrior’s career saw him venture to promotions like Mid-South, Memphis and World Class Championship Wrestling before he finally made his way to the World Wrestling Federation.

We revisit his major career milestones during his career, including becoming Intercontinental Champion (defeating reigning champ The Honky Tonk Man in 27 seconds at the first SummerSlam event); becoming the face of the WWF when he cleanly pinned Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI to claim his first and only WWF Heavyweight Championship; and “retiring” Randy Savage at WrestleMania the following year.

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The documentary pays little attention to his departures from the company in 1991 (after SummerSlam when he holds up Vince McMahon for $500k or he won’t do the main event), in 1992 and in 1996. His departures were the subject of lambasting in the 2005 DVD release The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior. The controversial WWE Home Video release literally paints Warrior in a negative light after his refusal to be work with WWE at that time, content to focus on being a father to his daughters, Indiana and Mattigan. And if any of you have viewed the documentary the vitriol spewed about Warrior from the likes of Triple H is caustic to say the least.

The segment dealing with the Self-Destruction kerfuffle and the legal action Warrior took against World Wrestling Entertainment on the depiction of his wrestling career is interesting in the sense that few WWE home releases have affected wrestling history. Consider if you will Bret “Hitman” Hart’s first DVD compilation. Originally, it was going to be similar to Warrior’s Self-Destruction release. Hart was bitter with the company and the passing of his brother, Owen Hart, the result of an ill-conceived harness and grapple line entrance at 1999’s Over the Edge pay-per-view event. Eventually, Hart and Vince McMahon would make amends and would do business together again. Then you have what is arguably the company’s best DVD release, The Rise and Fall of ECW, an epic-sized documentary that, because of its DVD sales, would see WWE try to reestablish the brand to disappointing results (December to Dismember, a stinking turd of a PPV) with some exceptions: the introduction of CM Punk on WWE TV and a few standout television matches, like an extreme rules match for the ECW World Championship between Big Show and Ric Flair, and Rob Van Dam vs. Hardcore Holly – the one where Holly gets a huge laceration on his back (both can be found on WWE’s Extreme Rules compilation).

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Something WWE gets mostly right is who they have as talking heads in the Warrior doc. Almost everyone involved in Always Believe are relevant. Amongst them are Sting, Vince McMahon, Triple H (doing a complete about face to the comments he made back in 2005), Warrior’s wife Dana and his two daughters, Stephanie and Linda McMahon, Hulk Hogan, Sergeant Slaughter, and Jerry Lawler. But then you have a few comments from the likes of John Cena, Kofi Kingston, Cesaro and Dean Ambrose that offer nothing of substance, merely nostalgia and awe.

Perhaps the greatest strength of the featured documentary is Vince McMahon’s and Warrior’s relationship. Neither were the best of friends, with holdouts and bridges burned, but even when the relationship was strained there was still a bond. A bond made all the more strong thanks to, surprisingly enough, Triple H. He was the one who orchestrated the push for Warrior in the Hall of Fame and extended an olive branch in making amends. At one point, Vince McMahon becomes teary-eyed when he reflects on a gift Warrior gave him: a signed copy of The Little Engine That Could. It was a puzzling gift, for sure. But it was a symbolic gesture. A metaphor of what the WWE would eventually become, a sports entertainment giant.

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Always Believe has the Warrior candid as ever in his interviews, going as far as touching upon his use of HGH to get back into shape following WrestleMania VIII and acting as a witness during WWE’s federal trial concerning the illegal distribution of steroids.

The sections involving Dana and daughters Mattigan and Indiana will be grating to those “warriors” wanting to revisit one of WWE’s legendary icons. However, their involvement shows that the once larger-than-life star was an upstanding father who loved his daughters immensely, going as far as to hand make birthday cards with personalized drawings and greetings (take that Hallmark!). The emotional testimony, especially in the late proceedings, with the Warrior Girls reading individual letters they have written to Warrior, is a tough watch. Their allowance to share something personal to the WWE universe is both beautiful and a somber reminder that while he may have been a wrestling personality his greatest success was being a father.

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Always Believe is often sugarcoated with reflective comments by those now showering Warrior with praise. Because it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie and bury the hatchet. Concessions were obviously made and I’m sure there was some leniency towards the Warrior clan when it came the finished product.

To have a complete story you probably have to take portions of The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior and this documentary to end up somewhere in the middle. Warrior was far from a saint, but he was an inspiration to thousands. And emphasizing the good points over the bad ones is, as they say, what’s best for business.

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Warrior was never technically-sound in the squared circle, oftentimes depleting his energy with his wild sprints to the ring as part of his introduction, so a majority of his matches went in excess of 90 seconds. Having already released his two greatest bouts at WrestleMania VI and VII, the matches featured on Always Believe serve as the B-side collection to last year’s Ultimate Collection. Here we get rare tag matches with him teaming with Randy Savage against the Nasty Boys, or with the Undertaker (if you spring for the Blu-ray). We also get some matches where he is carried by the likes of Rick Martel and Owen Hart, the latter of which was Warrior’s final WWE match. There’s also his first taste of Madison Square Garden against Frenchy Martin. Oh, and Iron Make Sharpe finally makes an appearance on a WWE DVD. Seriously, I would gladly pay for retrospective sets of both midcard talent that probably wouldn’t get their own collections (Tito Santana, Rick Martel, Bam Bam Bigelow, et al.), plus the Job Squad, those lovable losers whose only purpose was to serve as fodder in getting talent over (Iron Mike Sharpe, Barry Horowitz, Barry Darsow, et al.)

Your mileage may very when it comes to Warrior promos, because there is a complete disc dedicated to Warrior doing whatever he does when a microphone is in his presence. From his early days in Dallas’s Sportatorium (WCCW) to his return on Monday Night Raw, the final disc is wall-to-wall promos (close to three hours worth!). Surely some of these promos aren’t essential, save maybe any involving Brother Love and Sherri Martel. They could have taken out some of these segments for the chance to include at least one unreleased Warrior/Savage match that is somewhere in the WWE vault.

Released a little more than a year after Warrior’s passing, Always Believe will be a good documentary for most, not necessarily the Gen Xers that grew up during wrestling’s boom period of the 1980s and 1990s. The compilation is a nice companion to the Ultimate Collection and is an easy recommendation for little and big warriors alike. The spirit of The Ultimate Warrior will continue run wild!

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