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THE MANY COMEBACKS OF THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR, PART 2: WARRIOR RETURNS TO THE WWF FOR THE FINAL TIME IN 1996, SQUASHES A MCMAHON AT WRESTLEMANIA, AND HAS A CIGAR PARTY WITH GOLDUST AND MARLENA

By Stuart Carapola on 2011-06-22 11:00:00
The Ultimate Warrior had been one of the more popular and legendary figures of the late 80s and early 90s WWF, but he had already burned the company with two abrupt departures in 1991 and 1992, and found himself sitting at home for years afterward. By the beginning of 1996, however, the WWF was engaged in a fight for its life against WCW and the onslaught of Monday Nitro, being challenged by Eric Bischoff in ways they never had been before.

The Monday Night Wars forced Vince McMahon to go outside his comfort zone and open himself up to ideas he never would have given serious thought to just years earlier. This applied to not just storylines, but to the roster as well, and with his main eventers jumping to the competition by the truckload, Vince McMahon decided to give Warrior one last shot. The deal was made, and I'm sure you where this is going if you read the first part of this series, but here anyway is the story of...

The Ultimate Warrior's 1996 WWF Run

After years out of the limelight, the WWF announced that the Ultimate Warrior would be returning at Wrestlemania 12, where he would face someone you may have heard of by the name of Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Helmsley had gotten a steady push since his debut the previous summer, and was seen as a suitable first test for the Warrior upon his return. After all the time he had spent away from the company, there was an air of mystery about the Warrior since he didn't appear on camera once in the weeks leading up to Wrestlemania, and while Jerry Lawler would claim for weeks on commentary that Warrior had ballooned up to 400 pounds and had shaved his head, nobody took those claims seriously.

One legitimate question you might have asked was what kind of reaction Warrior was going to get since he was returning to a vastly different company than the one he had left. Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Ted Dibiase, Jake Roberts, the Big Boss Man, Earthquake and Typhoon, and nearly every other major star from Warrior's heyday in the 80s were gone, and in their place stood Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, the current main eventers whom the WWF had quite drastically altered their presentation to feature. Bret and Shawn's wrestling styles were very different from what had made the Warrior successful, and in an environment where the fanbase had been reconditioned to accept Bret's technical wrestling and Shawn's high flying and dramatic bumps as the gold standard, on a show where those two would be main eventing in a 60 minute Ironman Match, it was entirely possible that they would no longer accept a jacked up powerhouse who can't work as being on Shawn and Bret's level.

Fortunately for Warrior, that's not how it worked out. He got a huge reaction for his entrance, and proceeded to squash Hunter Hearst Helmsley in about 90 seconds. Helmsley went after him right at the bell and hit the Pedigree about a minute in, but Warrior kicked out (yes, of the Pedigree) and came back with his usual press slam/splash combo to get the win. He had made a huge impact right out of the gate, and was booked exactly the way he should have been in his first match back. Perhaps more satisfyingly, the fans gave him a great reaction, and that may have helped alleviate any reservations that Vince McMahon might have had about bringing Warrior back.

Warrior was given a title shot right out of the gate when he was set to challenge Goldust for the Intercontinental Title at Good Friends, Better Enemies the month after Wrestlemania. It was a bit of a strange move to put Warrior at the Intercontinental Title level at that point, but it may just have been a matter of Vince wanting to see how he reacted to that spot and whether it would lead to any of the attitude problems Warrior had been known for. In any case, Goldust was a good choice to put in the ring with the Warrior because he was (and still is) a fabulously talented wrestler and may very well have been able to drag a good match out of Warrior. Unfortunately, he came into the PPV with an injured (and heavily wrapped) knee and wasn't able to work, so instead of a match, we were treated to...a skit.

Warrior ran in and chased Goldust, Marlena, and his bodyguard for the evening (Bruiser Mastino, aka the former Mantaur) to the floor, then we saw a bizarre scene unfold with Warrior luring Goldust and his entourage back by stealing Marlena's cigar and director's chair, as well as Goldust's robe and wig, and holding them hostage in the ring. The crowd started yelling rather unsavory slurs at Goldust, so he threatened to come into the crowd and kiss them all. After settling that, Goldust and company slowly made their way back into the ring where Warrior offered them their stuff back in an apparent attempt to make friends. Goldust let Warrior put his robe on, then sat in the director's chair as the three of them passed the cigar around, but Warrior took the cigar and burned Goldust's hand with it, then clotheslined him out of the chair. Goldust rolled out of the ring and hobbled to the back, taking the countout loss, so Warrior beat up Mantaur instead, tearing his shirt off and slamming him just to give the fans something.

Warrior went on to beat Owen Hart in a dark match at Beware of Dog (which almost became a dark PPV due to the weather issues that knocked out the PPV feed for most of the show), then started a brief feud with Jerry Lawler that stemmed from an edition of Monday Night Raw where Lawler tried giving Warrior a portrait of himself as a peace offering, only to end up smashing it over Warrior's head. Warrior easily beat Lawler at King of the Ring, and then made another appearance later in the night to help save Shawn Michaels from a 3-on-1 beatdown at the hands of Jim Cornette's team of Vader, Davey Boy Smith, and Owen Hart. This led to a six man tag being set up for the next PPV, International Incident, as Warrior would team with Shawn Michaels and Ahmed Johnson to face Vader, Owen, and the Bulldog.

Unfortunately, the Ultimate Warrior never made it to the PPV because of some incidents that weren't international, but did involve him no-showing advertised appearances. The Warrior had finally pushed the WWF too far, and they threatened to suspend him indefinitely unless he posted an appearance bond that he would forfeit if he no-showed any more appearances. Warrior refused, and was pulled from the International Incident PPV and all other scheduled appearances. Ironically, he was replaced at the PPV by Psycho Sid, the very man who had disappeared in the middle of his feud with Warrior back in 1992. The Ultimate Warrior never returned to the company, and was only ever again referenced in any significant way when WWE released the Self Destruction Of The Ultimate Warrior DVD many years later, which featured everyone they could get ahold of to talk about how crazy and difficult to work with he was.

He may never have returned to the WWF, but the Ultimate Warrior's story isn't quite over yet, because he had one last run left in him before he was ready to hang up the tights. Next time, we wrap up this series (and the Ultimate Warrior's career) with the story of his 1998 WCW run!