Sunday, April 13, 2014

Memories of Seeing the Ultimate Warrior Live for the Only Time

I was thinking about the Ultimate Warrior’s passing over the week and wondering to myself if I had ever seen him live. I couldn’t remember one way or another. So I went back to look through some old results. I went to my first house show in 1993 when Warrior was gone, so it would had to have been in 1996 in his short lived return. I went through old house show results from 1996 and found a show that Warrior wrestled on at the Baltimore Arena on May 17, 1996.

Scanning the results quickly, there was no confusion about whether I was at this show. I remember it vividly. This was the last house show run for Scott Hall and Kevin Nash in the WWF before they left to form the NWO (two days before the infamous curtain call incident at Madison Square Garden), as well as the first house show run back for Ultimate Warrior. Adding in talented newcomers Vader and the newly christened Stone Cold Steve Austin, it was one of the more loaded house show cards I can remember from that period.

What I really remembered about that card, however, was that I somehow managed to score front row seats. During that period, I would call the box office on the day and hour that tickets went on sale to Baltimore Arena or Capital Center events. That was usually good enough to get me in the first five or so rows but rarely ever would you get further up than row 2. I’m not sure whether those tickets were reserved for scalpers or if other people had a better method for getting through, but I was accustomed to being a few row backs. So I was blown away when I had the chance to buy front row seats for the final matches of Nash and Hall plus the return of Warrior.

I then seemed to remember something else about that night. I thought that I took a roll of photos at that show. I rarely did that, but I was excited for the lineup and the great seats. So I dug around through my old photos. Sure enough, I found a bunch of pictures from the night that I hadn’t looked at in probably 10-15 years. I thought I’d share them as a fun but also kind of sad time capsule of a bygone period. Hope you enjoy. They’re obviously not professional quality or anything as I was just a kid with a disposable camera having the time of my life. Hopefully the lack of polish adds to the charm.

The show started with the Bushwhackers beating the “New” Rockers. I was not a happy camper, as I was a big fan of Al Snow from his Smoky Mountain days and here he was losing out to a comedy act collectively over a hundred years old.

If there’s a fondness apparent in the way JBL talks about Zeb Colter on commentary, it’s because they go way back. Here, Zeb (as Uncle Zebekiah) managed JBL (as Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw”). His opponent, laid out in the background of the picture? Aldo Montoya, who went on to greater fame as Justin Credible in ECW.

Savio Vega next defeated local Maryland star Mike Khoury in less than a minute.

Things get a little more glum at this point, with a match between Ahmed Johnson and the late British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith. Johnson was a hot act at this point, a month away from winning the Intercontinental Title. Like Warrior, I liked Johnson despite his subpar in ring work because of his natural intensity and charisma. Johnson won the match via disqualification when Smith’s tag team partner Owen Hart interfered.

A month before Steve Austin defeated Jake Roberts in the finals of the King of the Ring tournament and cut the famous Austin 3:16 promo, he defeated Roberts with a rollup on this house show (shown in the third pic). Roberts got his revenge by draping his snake around Austin after the match. This was during an up period for Jake. He got a great reaction a few months before at the Royal Rumble and parlayed that into a role behind the scenes and as a wrestler. Unfortunately, the demons would come back again for Jake and this 1996 run was his last for the WWF. Austin, of course, was destined for much bigger things.

That led to the match that got me to put this together, with Warrior taking on another great who was taken from us too soon, Owen Hart. I remember Warrior getting one of the biggest reactions on the show, as fans were eager to see him after a nearly four year absence. He beat Owen clean in what would end up being his final northeast run for the WWF.

In the next match, Vader defeated the late Yokozuna. Vader entered the WWF with great momentum off his long WCW main event run and a lot of people (including myself) thought he would fare even better in the WWF as the sort of big man that Vince McMahon always loved. But things never clicked for Vader in WWF as one would have hoped. Apart from an excellent SummerSlam title match with Shawn Michaels, he didn’t have a lot of highlights for the company. But during this period, there was still the hope that Vader would be a big factor for the company.

The Body Donnas retained their tag titles by defeating the Godwinns. Not that you’d know from this photo. Unfortunately, no pictures of that match survived. A number did of Sunny.

In the second to last match of the night, Triple H was given the rub by his buddy Razor Ramon. HHH beat Ramon in many house shows on the way out with the pedigree. Obviously, big things were being planned for Hunter. Then came the curtain call two days later and those plans went up in smoke. Austin got King of the Ring instead and HHH would take a more circuitous route to the top.

Without context, the first photo might give you the wrong impression. Shawn Michaels during this period was on fire. He’d give you great house show matches every time out and this was no exception. He had a great match with Diesel and beat him clean. Diesel and Razor would show up on Nitro the next month and wrestling history would change.

RIP Ultimate Warrior.


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