Michael Cavacini

An award-winning arts and culture blog.

Review: Ultimate Warrior Dark Side Of The Ring Documentary

This past Sunday the official WWE documentary about the life and career of the Ultimate Warrior aired on A&E, and you can read my review of it here. Last night, Dark Side of the Ring’s documentary “Becoming Warrior” premiered on VICE. So, how do these two documentaries about one of the most colorful and controversial pro wrestling superstars compare to one another, and is the Dark Side of the Ring piece worth a watch? Read on and I’ll let you know my thoughts.

The biggest advantage that this documentary has over its A&E counterpart is the inclusion of Shari Tyree, Warrior’s first wife. They were married from 1982 to 1991, so she was living with Warrior, then Jim Hellwig, during his formative years and the peak of his career. Shari is the runaway star of this documentary because the intimate details and raw emotion that she provides is incredible. For example, hearing her share examples of how Warrior was insecure and, eventually, taken over by the character he created was fascinating. And when Shari told the story about her last conversation with Warrior, it was moving and provided me with a greater understanding of Warrior’s emotional maturity at that point in his life.

The personal photos of Warrior that are shown throughout the documentary are excellent and a fantastic addition to the story, as is the audio recording of an interview with Warrior, providing the late, great superstar with a voice in this retrospective. Unlike the A&E documentary, which included numerous people who never directly worked with the Ultimate Warrior, Dark Side of the Ring focuses only on those who knew Warrior personally or professionally. In many ways, this makes for a more credible story. Now, some will argue that Jim Ross and Jim Cornette do nothing but trash Warrior in this documentary, and I can understand where they’re coming from. However, both men, who are legitimate legends, worked with Warrior and they’re entitled to their opinion of him, as a person and as a wrestler. It’s always better to be brutally honest than phony.

One complaint I have is that they gloss over Warrior’s departure from the WWF in 1996, not even getting into him no-showing events and the death of his father. Considering this documentary is primarily focused on the man behind the mask, I thought, for sure, that this would have been explored, but it wasn’t.

It was heartbreaking to hear how Warrior’s first marriage fell apart, but it’s hardly surprising considering that this is a normal occurrence in the wrestling business. Nevertheless, I felt for Shari because it’s clear that she loved him a great deal.

The Jake “The Snake” story about Warrior costing him the WWF World Heavyweight Championship was amazing. I interviewed Jake a couple years ago, and he mentioned the heat he had with the Ultimate Warrior, without getting into the details of why. So, finally hearing the reason for this was enlightening.

The A&E documentary touched on Warrior’s controversial conservative viewpoints, but Dark Side of the Ring takes it a step further by pointing out the fact that, according to Warrior himself, Dana, his widow, is the reason for him adopting this ideology. No wonder she referred to this retrospective as “smut and filth.” Dark Side of the Ring responded by selling a limited edition “Smut and Filth” t-shirt, with all profits going toward Queer Art, a nonprofit that supports LGBTQ+ artists. Dana’s harmful influence on Warrior resulted in him eventually saying “Queering doesn’t make the world work,” among other hateful aspersions he cast against oppressed groups. The gay community benefiting from Dana’s hate is tremendous poetic justice.

The Ultimate Warrior was a flawed human being who carried a ton of emotional baggage. One minute he was at the top of the world, entertaining fans with his intensity and charisma; the next, he was a bitter former wrestler trashing minorities and those who he previously worked with, including, most notably, Hulk Hogan. I can separate the man from the character, and I truly believe that Warrior, as a person, matured dramatically after making amends with WWE. In the end, he found peace with himself, his legacy, his family, and the world. The tragedy is that he died less than 24 hours after achieving this goal. It’s as if he fulfilled his purpose in life and ceased to exist. This documentary also examines Warrior’s prophetic final words to fans, and it ends in a respectful fashion.

I thoroughly enjoyed “Becoming Warrior.” It’s exactly what I expected it to be: an unrestrained take on an infamous legend. Despite his flaws, I’ll always love the Ultimate Warrior. He learned from his mistakes, influenced millions of people and became a good father and husband along the way. If you want the full perspective on his incredible journey, watch both the A&E and Dark Side of the Ring documentaries. As a whole, they provide a satisfying look back at the legend of the Ultimate Warrior.

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