The hard rock beat, the roar of the crowd, and the sprinting, manic intensity of the man running down the aisle symbolized one of the greatest eras of professional wrestling for an entire generation of fans. Yesterday, we lost the Ultimate Warrior, but the undeniable charisma and energy of the man himself will never be forgotten.
For the past several years, World Wrestling Entertainment has been making a bit more of a concerted effort to pay proper respect to the performers that helped shape it into the worldwide operation it is today. In order to coincide with their twentieth annual WrestleMania event back in 2004, they made perhaps their biggest leap in honoring these talented individuals in the company’s Hall of Fame. By that point in March 2004, there hadn’t been a new inductee into the prestigious position in eight years, but WrestleMania XX featured the tagline, “Where it All Begins…Again,” and so it did. Over the last decade, recognized WWE greats such as Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, the Iron Shiek, Bret “the Hitman” Hart, “the American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, and the immortal Hulk Hogan have all been honored with a place there.
This past weekend, WrestleMania XXX took place in New Orleans, bringing the latest class of inductees along with it. These included trailblazing WWE Women’s Champion Lita, Undertaker manager Paul Bearer, and the “Bad Guy” Razor Ramon. It also featured a man who, for many, personifies the 1980s wrestling boom just as much as Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, or Randy Savage ever did: the Ultimate Warrior.
It was an induction that surprised many wrestling fans, since recent years have shown a highly strained relationship between he and his former company over the 2005 release of a less-than-positive retrospective documentary entitled, “The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior.” There were a lot of exchanged words and ultimately a lawsuit, but recently it looked as if Warrior and the WWE had reached a peace accord.
The company recently featured Warrior prominently in their latest video game release, WWE 2K14, and also released a new documentary on DVD and Blu-ray giving the firebrand a chance to respond to his critics, which ultimately led to the announcement of the Ultimate Warrior as the star inductee into the 2014 WWE Hall of Fame class. He gave an impassioned speech, and appeared both the next night at WrestleMania and the following night on the “Monday Night Raw” TV show, and now we’ve learned that the man himself has passed away just days after his legacy was cemented forever.
It’s no secret that among people in the business, Warrior was far from being the favorite person in either the locker room with fellow wrestlers, or with company managers in “the office.” In every way that counts, though, that doesn’t matter, because of the indelible imprint his larger-than-life personality left on millions of fans during his prime.
Perhaps the career-defining moment for Warrior arrived in April of 1990, when the then-Intercontinental Champion Ultimate Warrior was to face off against then-World Wrestling Federation Champion Hulk Hogan, in a battle that would see one man walk away with both prestigious titles. In that clash, Warrior emerged victorious, celebrating with a record 67,000 fans. It’s in moments like these that everyone, defender and detractor alike, has no choice but to understand that Warrior will undoubtedly go down as a legend in the history of professional wrestling.
Some people continue to disparage pro wrestling as cheap, mindless entertainment, which it can certainly be if you choose not to recognize its meticulousness. The fact is, though, that Warrior’s legacy will live on because he crafted and embodied a larger-than-life physical and charismatic mental personality that was almost like seeing a four-color character jump out of the pages of a comic book. He certainly wasn’t Shakespeare, but he was one man who managed to rise into a class that few have made it into in this crazy, unique, and decidedly physical entertainment form – kind of like the man himself.
Thank you for the memories, Warrior. From wrestling fans everywhere, I bid you a final and easy journey into that mysterious place you were always billed from: “Parts Unknown.”
Formerly: James Brian Hellwig
1959 – 2014
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