“The truth about me is much more than what you think you know.”

The Good Men Project / November 15, 2011

by Cameron Conaway

Part 1

The Microsoft Word document cursor blinks incessantly—a black line on a blank white page. A reminder of seconds passing, of nothingness. How to begin interviewing a man whose plush wrestling buddy I slept with as a young boy because I thought it would protect me when my own father wasn’t part of my life? How to interview a man so misunderstood, so diverse, a man whose persona inspired me as a youth and whose continued physical and intellectual intensity continues to inspire me now as an adult?

The Ultimate Warrior is a professional wrestling legend. His victory over Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI on April 1, 1990 is regarded by many as the single greatest moment in the history of professional wrestling. It was the event everyone watched or heard about, and was the first WrestleMania to be held outside of the United States. But the Ultimate Warrior (whose legal name is now “Warrior”) is also a motivational speaker, a political commentator, a devoted husband and father, a philosopher, a personal trainer, and a visual artist with oil paints being his preferred medium.

While browsing the many features on his website (Mind, Body, Soul, Art, and Life Empowerment, among others) you’ll find quotes and in-depth contemporarily-applied interpretations of work by everyone from Aristophanes to Nietzsche, Plutarch to Shakespeare. Included on his list of thirteen must-read books: Homer’s Iliad and the greatest writing handbook of all-time, Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.

Earlier this year, Mattel released a 2011 version of the The Ultimate Warrior figurine. And although the Warrior continues to be relevant within the wrestling circle, his personal expansion outside of wrestling is perhaps more interesting. The Oklahoma Sooners football team is using the Warrior’s intensity for motivation; the Warrior has even become a mentor to OU linebacker Tom Wort. Earlier this month, Warrior released this YouTube video in which he quotes the Greek historian Thucydides and goes on to say: “You know, Tom, man is the only animal who can choose to refuse to be what he truly is. Today, on that football field, unleash what you truly are!”

The external—the Warrior’s body—is obvious. The skinny eight-grader has come far since that first day moving weight on the 13-station Universal circuit-training machine. And even though I’m an NSCA-certified trainer and a former MMA fighter, it’s the psychological and emotional developments within Warrior that I want to explore. Those developments are perhaps even more important and certainly just as interesting. Most know the Warrior’s persona, but few know the depth of its origin. Most know the Warrior’s physique, but few know the poet housed within.

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Warrior, thank you for taking time out for us here at the GMP. Many of our readers will know of you from the wrestling days but not know about the man you are. Sadly, many people still think you’re dead. Can you fill us in on what you’ve been up to in the past ten years or so?

No, thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to be interviewed in this serious, legitimate way. Most solicitations for interviews I get include an agenda to stay stuck in the past. I don’t mind engaging discussion of my sports entertainment career. It was certainly a wonderful life experience and taught me a lot of powerful life lessons. But the here-and-now of my life is what is of most importance to me, and I think it is an even more interesting story than the one of my days in the business.

Yes, being dead is one of the many urban legends, falsehoods, mischaracterizations, what have you, about me. Nothing much I can do if people want to remain ignorant. I’ve had an Internet presence since ‘96-’97 so it has been easy for a long time to find out the truth. Of course my former employers have worked hard and spent a great deal of time and money over the years to fabricate and spread lies, all of which have helped to keep rumors and other nonsense alive.

The quick answer to what I have been doing is that I have been doing a lot of living … GREAT living. I’m alive which seems to be an achievement all its own when you consider most of the guys I worked with are now dead, prematurely of course.

On a practical level, I’ve stayed creative and productive as an artist. When I look back on my career creating and performing The Ultimate Warrior, in what was indeed sports entertainment, I see what I did as performance art. There are many things I loved about my time in the business and all its challenges but the engagement of creativity was certainly a vital aspect to my success, so I have continued to aspire through other forms of creativity. For me, this was natural, not something others should be surprised by.

I’ve built a career as a fine art artist, and it has been very good to me and my family. I own the Intellectual Property rights, the trademarks, to The Ultimate Warrior, and I manage the licensing of that, which, different than so many laughed about years ago when I was fighting costly legal battles, has also been very good to me and my family. Ultimate Warrior in action figures and video games is still today a more popular selling attraction than even most of today’s superstars.

The best thing I have gone to do is settle down and get married to an incredible woman and start a family, have kids, raise kids. It’s the greatest thing I’ll ever do—raise my kids and be responsible for instilling in them a philosophy of life. It brings me greater enjoyment and satisfaction than anything else I have ever done.

Other than these things, I work at paying serious attention to my life and think quite a bit about what it all means to have this unique existence. I think it’s healthy and important to be somewhat philosophical about it all. You know that your life does mean something more important than doing the routine and mundane to just get by day by day. I’ve always been into learning new things, engaging my mind, setting new goals—so I’ve gone on and continued that. When I think about it, it is these very things that have kept me alive and enthusiastic. I’m not the young kid I was years ago, but I am still very young at heart and still love to push my body with intense exercise. Very much into health and fitness, clean eating.

The naiveté I held years ago has evolved into a great deal of wisdom and I am proud of that. I’m glad things turned out for me the way they did. I’m a better man for it. More capable of handing-down some important life lessons for my own children—or other young people that are still inspired by my intense, bold, and no-BS attitude. I guess the best thing I can say is I OWN my life, all of it. I know my choices and ideas matter and I don’t waste them on anything or anybody that do not deserve their worth. I don’t know any other person who can say that with the same confidence I do.

In a recent post under the “Soul” category of your website, you wrote about the problems of males having “emasculated cultural role models” and how this limits men’s ability to handle inner conflicts. Can you talk more about male emasculation? How do you believe it happened? What are some positives and negatives you see in regards to the changing nature of men?

Well, it’s really simple. Males today just don’t have the balls or guts they used to have in previous generations. I don’t need to be a psychologist to see this or know it. There’s too much whining and complaining going on by people today, especially males. Too little self-discipline and accountability. For Christsakes, today’s population would simply crumble if they had to contend with similar challenges as our ancestors faced. And I for one am not inspired by it.

I mean, what is it young guys say today, Man Up? Since when did we have tell a male to Man Up? It’s a joke. There was a time when men did not need cheerleading to just be what they were created to be. Guys were raised by others, male and female, to understand that thinking and acting like a man was a responsibility that came along with life. No one used to question or doubt if a male should be a man or demand he tone down his masculinity to get in touch with his feminine side.

I’m inspired by those traditional times and people, not today’s metrosexual crowd. And, sorry, but the popularity of MMA is in no real way an indicator that manliness is on the upswing. Most modern males are confused about how to think and act like a real man. And it’s not like they get any proper guidance from any of today’s popular role models or men’s magazines and that sort of thing. Today’s modern comforts and conveniences make for a lot of the weaknesses and shortcomings we suffer. We are basically prosperous in most ways. Legitimate poverty does not exist in this country as it was once thought of. The extreme alternative of either doing what you had to do to stay alive or cease to exist does not exist anymore. This was a huge motivator for a male to keep a big balls attitude toward life. It toughened him up. There was no time to waste being confused. Guys got to work and did whatever they had to, without feelings and emotions getting in the way. Today, you can refuse to do the work and someone—the producers and workers who pay the taxes—will keep your deadbeat ass alive. Most young people think last about work and first about entitlement.

I think serious emasculation started four to five generations ago when political correctness and moral relativity came into fashion and, now, have become the poisons of greatest danger spread through and through our culture. Somewhere about the same time, the truth became offensive to people and reality became something people tried to get around rather than dealing with it head-on. From that point, what was black and white became all shades of grey, including our natures as men and women, male and female. And now it is not acceptable to take too much pride in being male. However, a male cannot conduct his life and its challenges effectively being anything but what he is created to be. He cannot compromise what nature intended him to be. It doesn’t work. Fails every time. And the truth is most females want a man who will be a man and be strong in his defense that he is. It will be interesting to see how things play out here in the next couple of generations. I certainly don’t see anything positive about the changing nature of males as we are experiencing it today.

Part 2

Wrestling personas are often thought of as pure entertainment falsities, as characters like any other, Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow for example. However, the Warrior’s persona didn’t come from a specific book nor was it a totally made-up gimmick. The creative embodiment was forged through the grunt and grit of lessons learned from years of high-intensity physical training and the accumulative visualization that arose after years spent studying human history, literature, and philosophy.

What you saw and cheered for on television—The Ultimate Warrior—was a manifestation of the intense warrior mindset that this complex and intriguing man embodied. He’s been unfairly judged as such, but he’s not your typical meathead. He’s a man on a mission to inspire others to harness their own creative intensities in order to lead their own fulfilling and inspiring lives.

You often mention the different phases of maturity, masculinity and mentoring that males should aspire to throughout their lives. How were you personally able to attain various levels and how would you recommend other men in 2011 find and channel their own inner warriors so they can best develop?

I talk about the importance of these things because they matter to the quality of a man’s life as he ages and time goes by. I believe there is a certain expectation we should all be able to depend on, that when people become grown ups, they will also think and act like one. I don’t think these ideas I hold are anything to be surprised about. Like I’ve said before, we should be surprised, even ashamed, of people who don’t grow up. And if a male chooses not to, as many today don’t, he’s going to be an asshole causing serious problems in his own life and the lives of others. There comes a time in a guy’s life where a transition must be made to using more of the head sitting atop his shoulders rather than the one in his groin.

Look, if a male attempts to use the philosophy, mindset and attitude he held at 20-30 years of age to guide him through his 40’s and 50’s and later years, he’s going to fuck up the things of real enduring value and end up depressed and unfulfilled—lame.

Over the years, I’ve received thousands of letters and emails from older guys who have everything in their lives they can buy with the success they have achieved, but they are either suffering the personal mess of their own screwed-up choices or still feel something is missing in their life. And this is it. They haven’t engaged aging and maturing in the right way to see that even greater power, nerve, and vitality can be had in their life in other manly ways. They think continued power and respect in their advancing years comes from doing whatever it takes to stay in competition with young people on their youthful level. It’s stupid and there is nothing to admire about it. And you see this destructive behavior going on all over the place in our culture today.

Look at Terry Bollea. Look at Arnold. Tiger Woods is another excellent example. They can all put on whatever kind of phony, happy face they want out in public. But alone, in front of the mirror, all by themselves, they must face the truth. They failed at one of the most fundamental things a man must do. They lacked the integrity and self-discipline to step up to the next level of maturity and responsibility their lives were demanding of them, and their family and loved ones trusted them to be capable of. Is there any simpler description of what it takes to be a real man? No amount of material success or fame can cover the debt or disgrace inflicted on your conscience when you fuck up things like these guys and many other men do.

As the years go by and life experiences accumulate, a man should become wiser about the ways of life and the world, not more naive. And look, before anyone misunderstands, I don’t mean that you just surrender to getting old in all ways, go ahead and slide one foot into the grave. I don’t mean that. Staying young at heart, in your spirit and enthusiasm for life is vital. I think one of the best things a man can and should do for himself, and as an example to others, is still bust his ass physically. Really engage stern self-discipline and not let himself become a physical wreck. But in other ways it is important to quit trying to hold onto ideas, thoughts and acts that are no longer suitable for his age, and step up into becoming something even greater and more powerful.

I would say two major things have served me well in stepping up in my life to do this.

One, I had an experience back in my high school days where an adult, a high school guidance counselor, basically told me my dreams of living a great life were silly and should be put away and forgotten about. And without getting into the details, what came out of that, contrary to what I was being told, was a confidence within myself that I could learn any knowledge that existed as long as I was willing to make the effort to do so. And since that moment of realization, I’ve never forgotten or doubted it. And I’ve applied my certainty of this to every new goal I have ever set. I’m inspired by new goals. I want them. Most adults I know do not, especially as they get older and find themselves fighting against it, usually in all the wrong ways in an attempt to stay young. Getting older is not easy. But it is a hell of a lot harder when you believe that your days of achieving new and different goals are behind you, that they were only possible or exciting during the period of your youth.

When you believe like this, you don’t see that although you have to give up some strengths as you age, there are others you can engage that are stronger and even more fulfilling. When you think there is nothing positive about getting older, then you resist it in self-destructive ways. And since it is inevitable, the best course of action is to engage it in all its positive ways. For me, as I get older, the focus isn’t on the ways I am getting weaker. My focus is on the ways I can still be strong. Using my mind, staying creative, staying hungry for more knowledge that will lead to greater wisdom, setting new goals, mentoring young people—for whatever performances I can no longer pull off, these things I can still kick-ass in.

The other thing that has helped me is my self-discipline. It’s always been as intense as my Ultimate Warrior persona. I don’t cut myself any slack about anything. So compromising what I know is the right thing to do with what is the wrong thing to do is never an issue for me. Meeting wrong halfway isn’t an option for me. Most things are either black or white. There are things that work in life and things that don’t. I choose the things that do. I don’t entertain fantasies. Unlike so many other guys, I don’t make choices that fuck things up in my personal life, therefore I don’t have drama or crisis there. I do make mistakes on business decisions, but I correct my errors as soon as I have the correct information. And all this counts for a lot in my being well-adjusted and comfortable with getting older and rising up to the different phases of maturity and masculinity of my life.

The best way to develop one’s inner warrior is to do just that: Look inside, not out, for advice about what you should do. Trust your gut instincts. The first time they speak up, they are speaking the purest form of truth. Only when you doubt and second guess them will they lead you astray. People have the answers within them to solve any challenge they ever face. We don’t need to get advice from others. Most people, though, don’t have the courage to trust themselves.

During an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News you said to him, “I was beginning to think you were intimidated by my purer form of conservatism—that’s why you were keeping me off the program.” As the Occupy movement develops, as the GOP wars within itself to find their best representative, and as political protests happen around the world, can you tell us about your form of conservatism and the ways in which it differs from the mainstream?

Good question, long answer. Let me give you a somewhat abbreviated one. When I got involved with Conservative activism, back in 2003, I wanted to really understand its definition as a concept myself, so I went to my favorite book, the dictionary. I figured that would be as good a starting place as any. Of course, I was not wholly ignorant to what the term generally meant. I had been paying attention to politics (how I came to first do this in my mid-30’s is a great story on its own) and had some dealings with local government as a business owner. But even in the short time frame which I had begun to study things, I was already aware that even those who called themselves Conservatives were using varying versions of what conservatism was, or what it meant to them, anyway.

Ironically, the definition of conservatism I found back then is still the best definition for me—and it is the purest form. And in that interview with Hannity when I said that to him, I think that was 2008, 2009 … by that time, I’d left activism and had my fill of the half-assers and I was basically calling him out on it. Most of those conservatives who have the TV shows and radio programs and other forums aren’t conservative at all. I call them CON-servatives. They are frauds. Enablers, hypocrites, sellouts, liars—you name it. I saw it all, firsthand. They don’t have any genuine desire to fix the things in our country that are wrong and destroying it. They only want to put on a game face to fool others long enough to keep collecting the big donations to keep their organizations up and running. All they really care about is keeping their jobs and their paychecks.

To truly be Conservative means to favor “traditional” views, values, and institutions, and that you have a want to conserve these traditional things—keep them alive, continue their existence, prevent their decay, their waste, prevent any injury to them.

And “traditional” means the modes of thought and behavior followed by a people continuously from generation to generation. Traditional doesn’t mean antiquated, out of style, outdated, can’t-be-used-effectively-anymore … It simply means: What has worked. And that is Conservatism to me. Preserving, keeping alive the things, the ideas, the ways, the traditions and behaviors that allow for effective living. There are so many cockamamie ideas we human beings entertain today and we just shouldn’t. There are some ideas that just do not work for the life of a human being.

I focus on the ones that do, the ones that truly do work, work hand-in-hand with the nature of reality. Mainstream conservatism rejects reality whenever it sees fit, so it can keep its agenda for political power and control alive. We’d all be better off—We the People—if we concentrated on what is true and real instead of entertaining dreams that some kind of fairy is there for us and will drop from the sky and rescue us—or to put it more bluntly: depend that government will be there to pay the bill for our lives. A successful and happy life comes with a price, and too many people don’t want to pay it. The divisiveness in this country has most to do with the battle between those who accept and handle reality and those who do (and will) not.

You’ve talked about how self-destruction has been a major positive force in your life. I’ve had the same experiences and it’s a concept that continues to intrigue me. Can you delve a bit deeper into this notion and provide us with some specific examples from your life?

Great way to ask this question. Yeah, well, in a weird way, self-destruction has played a significant role here in my adult life, I guess you could say. Not literally. I mean, there’s no actual self-destruction in my life. But the concept of self-destruction and the way it was used against me by Vince McMahon in an attempt to destroy and ruin my reputation as a man, both professionally and personally, has made quite an impression on me. And oddly, my thoughts on it have actually turned out to a positive force in my life. And as I like to joke, all without ever having to go to rehab.

It’s all been very interesting for me to be the main actor in the DVD project Vince produced, The Self Destruction of The Ultimate Warrior, and be portrayed as I was. Here you have a powerful and successful man, worth almost a billion dollars, making an executive decision to release an inaccurate, false, and vindictive portrayal of me in an attempt to ruin my reputation, simply because I decided to go my own way in life, do my own thing without depending on the wrestling business anymore. Hell, I grew up in small, rural town of 600 people and have basically always held small town values. When I was a kid, I never imagined that my life would matter in a way that one day I would find myself as one of the characters in what turned out to be a good vs. evil, David vs. Goliath type of battle.

Twenty-five years ago, if I’d been told I was going to be on the receiving end of this kind of treatment, this hateful revenge, I would have rejected the idea. I’ve certainly done nothing to justify either the title or content of the film. There has never been one shred of proof to back up even one of the false claims they put forward in the DVD. Ultimate was and still is one the industry’s most popular beloved characters. The best weapon I’ve had to use to fight back is that the quality of my actual life is the antithesis to what a self-destructive one is.

On the other hand, many of the guys I worked with did self-destruct. There’s plenty of evidence to prove it. Most of them are dead, prematurely dying from drug overdoses and other ugly, irresponsible misbehavior. You have to wonder, where are their self-destruction DVDs? And Hogan’s? Jeez, you could do like a 12-volume set on him.

The whole experience, though, has given me insights I am glad to have. To be honest, as much as The Ultimate Warrior was “over” in the business, you know, was popular and a money-maker, while I was all caught up in it I never had the big ego about it all that maybe I should have. I knew it was successful and all and I was on the receiving end of that experience, but I was focused on just doing my job and doing it well.

But when they came out with the DVD and you could see its purpose was to rewrite history and kind of erase the fact that Ultimate Warrior ever existed, it really, really hit me just how awesome what I did was and that the impression the persona made in the industry was truly one-of-a-kind. Because you don’t go to the kind of trouble or invest the enormous resources they did to ruin the image and memory of something if it did not matter in the first place. This was a great life lesson for me. It made me realize the worth of all my hard work and creativity.

The whole experience also revealed to me that people I had assumed were powerful and confident, going by outward appearances, could actually be weak and shallow psychologically. It’s funny, because I never thought so much of myself, had my head up my ass in such a way, that I ever believed the man I was had the power to intimidate anyone so much they would envy me with hatred. But when Vince personally oversaw the production of the whole DVD project, I knew I had. My decision to leave the business on my own terms, not his, really intimidated him and affected his psyche. That was an incredible thing to realize, too. After I got beyond, “How could that be possible?” I quit wondering whether or not it was bad that I had different ideas about how to think and act from most other people. I quit asking myself why I defined success so differently from everyone else.

I knew, then, that it was good to be independent and think for myself, cut my own unique path in life. I quit doubting myself and who I was, what I was about, and knew living a truly powerful life would only happen if I would just be me, nobody else. And I accepted the fact that by doing this, 99% of the other human beings on this planet would call it self-destructive. Good. I wear the label as a badge of honor now. My hope is that. by the time my baby girls reach the age to go out on their own into the world, there are a greater number of people living self-destructive lives in the same way as I have. The world will be a better, safer, and happier place.

Lastly, define what it means to be a Warrior.

There are so many accurate definitions. It’s hard to pick one. Warrior has been my full, legal name for 19 years now, and it is the surname my wife and children have. After all these years, my personal definition of Warrior as it relates to our family name has evolved quite a bit. I could write a book on that. Certainly, the one most associated with the military and its warriors is one not to go unmentioned. Anyone who would sacrifice their own life for the life of another they do not even know—that’s pure warrior, there.

A few more ways I would define it are these. Someone who believes their life comes with a unique destiny built into it and they are here to do the work it takes to fulfill it, exploiting the total resources and potential of their mind, body, and soul. Someone who leaves perfectibility on the table as the end goal and shoots for it, even though myths tell us it is not attainable. Someone who by the end of their life owns every aspect of themselves and owes no one else. Someone with a heart soft and compassionate enough to know there is nothing greater than the hugs and kisses of their own children yet also hard and cruel enough to rip the guts out of anyone who’d threaten one of them.

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-Originally published at The Good Men Project

—Photo via images.teamtalk.com / Ring-Rap.com