By Seth Falvo
The man born as Jim Hellwig — famous for wrestling as The Ultimate Warrior in the WWE during the late eighties and early nineties — died last night in Arizona at the age of 54. His death comes just three days after being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, and one day after his final appearance on “Monday Night Raw.”
Professional wrestling is an art over-saturated in hyperbole; it’s an art where every wrestler is “the biggest” and/or “the best,” every event is “the most important,” and the phrase “the most” is uttered so frequently it practically loses meaning. Yet it’s hard to overstate the popularity that The Ultimate Warrior achieved, and the influence that he has had on any wrestling fan who grew up during the late eighties and early nineties.
I know it’s lazy to compare professional wrestlers to superheroes, but for millions of kids like myself, The Ultimate Warrior was as close to a real-life superhero as it got. The Ultimate Warrior’s look and in-ring style — from his heavily-muscled physique and facepaint to his energetic entrances and quick, devastating matches — were convincingly brutal, and his intense, chaotic interview style was extremely unique. His WWE feuds against “Ravishing” Rick Rude, Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker, and Jake “The Snake” Roberts were nothing short of legendary.
(Highlights of The Ultimate Warrior’s best promos. Yes, clips from the Hulk Hogan “Crash the Plane” promo are at the very end.)
As big of a star as The Ultimate Warrior was, his career could have been even bigger if it weren’t for his shaky, mercurial relationship with WWE owner Vince McMahon. There were his numerous departures from the WWE. There was tension over Jim Hellwig legally changing his name to the mononym “Warrior” and suing for the rights to his character (which he eventually won, by the way). There’s been Warrior’s refusal to work with the WWE on a career retrospective DVD, which lead the WWE to turn the project into The Self Destruction of The Ultimate Warrior; not to spoil it for you, but Warrior’s portrayal is less-than-flattering. And, of course, there were Warrior’s stints in WCW (as well as their cheap Warrior knockoff, The Renegade) and in Nu-Wrestling Evolution — the less said about those, the better.
But time has a way of healing all wounds, and The Ultimate Warrior would make amends with the WWE shortly before his death. Warrior is a playable character in WWE2K14, was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame merely four days ago, and made one final appearance on “Monday Night Raw” the night before his death. In retrospect, the speech he gave on Raw was haunting: The Warrior essentially gave his own eulogy.
“No WWE talent becomes a legend on their own. Every man’s heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe a final breath. And if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others, and makes them bleed deeper and something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized. By the storytellers, by the loyalty, by the memory of those who honor him and make the running the man did live forever. You, you, you, you, you, you are the legend-makers of Ultimate Warrior. In the back, I see many potential legends. Some of them with warrior spirits. And you will do the same for them. You will decide if they lived with the passion and intensity. So much so that you will tell your stories and you will make them legends, as well. I am Ultimate Warrior. You are the Ultimate Warrior fans. And the spirit of Ultimate Warrior will run forever!”
Warrior is survived by his wife, Dana, and his two daughters. Feel free to share your favorite Ultimate Warrior memories in the comments section.