Brian Barnett is grateful for the influence that the Ultimate Warrior had on his life.
As a kid, the 34-year-old watched the late WWE legend on television and even got the chance to see him battle “Ravishing” Rick Rude at Madison Square Garden in New York during the late ‘80s heyday of pro wrestling.
In more recent years, however, the Ultimate Warrior (a longtime Valley resident before his untimely death in April) helped advise Barnett on starting and running his own independent promotion, the Phoenix-based International Wrestling Federation.
“If it wasn’t for the [Ultimate Warrior] helping me out and giving advice, I know that the concept for the IWF wouldn't have been what it is right now,” Barnett says. “He definitely helped us focus in on what the wrestling should be. He’s one of the reasons why the IWF even happened.”
So it's only fitting that the IWF is paying tribute to the late WWE legend this weekend at the Celebrity Theatre during its latest event Desert Storm on Sunday.
“It’s the least we could do,” Barnett says. “Ultimate Warrior was one of the true legends and influenced a lot of people and the wrestling business itself.”
And Barnett was one of them. As a child of the ‘80s, he was a preadolescent fan of the WWE (then known as the World Wrestling Federation) and the Warrior, who was famous for his wild face paint and wilder ring style, was one of Barnett’s favorites.
“I think for all us ’80s babies, him and Hulk Hogan were just about as cool as it got. That's what we wanted to be as kids,” Barnett says. “But I was never a huge [Hulk] Hogan fan. I never bought into the whole, ‘Eat your vitamins and say your prayers’ type stuff. But I always thought the Ultimate Warrior was cool. Obviously, when you're in my age group, when we were kids, he was the guy.”
The Ultimate Warrior also may have also influenced Barnett’s wrestling career, after he decided to step into the ring in his late 20s and began performing on the local circuit as “Tyson Tyler.”
“Maybe even subconsciously in some weird way the reason I have muscles and long hair was because I grew up on the Ultimate Warrior,” he says.
He definitely played a role in the formation of the IWF, which Barnett co-founded last year with several other independent wrestlers.
Barnett struck a friendship with his childhood hero after a chance meeting at the Gold’s Gym in North Scottsdale in 2011. The WWE legend, who lived in Paradise Valley, approached him and asked about his wrestling t-shirt, which featured “GFY” (shorthand for “Go Fuck Yourself”) in large letters and was something that Barnett wore to the ring as Tyson Tyler.
“I knew who he was but I didn't want to say anything,” Barnett says. “And he walked up to me and said, ‘GFY? That's fucking awesome. I told him about how it was from wrestling. He patted me on the back and then asked me my name."
Further conversations and meetings followed and the two became friends.
“We just became casual gym buddies and we talked about a bunch of different stuff [and] not just about wrestling,” Barnett says. “He got to know about the local thing and told him about how I was trying to put together this concept of a local [wrestling federation] that was different from WWE, but something that people would want to watch. And he gave me his opinion. And it ultimately ended up becoming the foundation of IWF.”
Ultimate Warrior gave Barnett more than his opinion, however. He offered his advice on connecting with other independent wrestlers (including former WWE superstars like Shelton Benjamin, who later became a part owner of the IWF) to help fund and launch the project. He even agreed to be a reference for the IWF when it was seeking out potential investors.
More importantly, the Ultimate Warrior also provided Barnett with a boost of confidence.
“He gave me some motivation to go ahead and try it. When a guy like that tells you to go ahead and do it, I mean shit, you got to do it. I don't think there are very many people that he talked to in that capacity. And he didn't have to talk to me, I'm a nobody to him,” Barnett says. “What he did, as small and minute as it was, it had an impact on me and ultimately had some sort of impact on IWF.”
The IWF will honor the memory and legacy of the Ultimate Warrior on Sunday at “Desert Storm” with a tribute video and a 10-bell salute at the beginning of the event. Barnett says they’re also encouraging attendees to come wearing face-paint similar to the late wrestler’s signature look. Donations to the Valley of the Sun Dog Rescue will also be accepted at the event and will be passed on to the charity in the Ultimate Warrior’s name.
Barnett says that “Desert Storm” will also be filled with intense and exhilarating action that he hopes will just as entertaining as one of the Ultimate Warrior’s matches from back in the day.
"We're trying to stay true to our acronym as the International Wrestling Federation,” he says. “We've got guys from all over the world coming that have world-class names and are world class wrestlers. People are going to want to see the match-ups we have going."
Highlights of the card include a battle between onetime WWE superstar Matt Hardy and Joey Ryan, as well as matches featuring Shelton Benjamin versus Trent Baretta, and Chris Sabin wrestling Ricochet.
“It’s going to be a packed card of insane wrestling," Barnett says.
And we’re sure that Ultimate Warrior would approve.
Sun., May 18, 4 p.m., 2014