17th Apr2014

Remembering: The Ultimate Warrior

by Chris Cummings

the-ultimate-warrior

When I began watching professional wrestling in 1992, The Ultimate Warrior had just returned for his second run with the WWF after returning at WrestleMania 8 looking slimmer and different than he did a year earlier. It was here that I got my first glimpse of Jim Hellwig, the man who was known to millions of wrestling fans across the world as The Ultimate Warrior.

Looking back on the career of Warrior, especially his initial WWF run in which he won both the Intercontinental and World Titles in memorable matches against The Honky Tonk Man and Hulk Hogan respectively, it is easy to see why he was the superstar he was. The fans loved him, the pop he received when he won the Intercontinental belt in mere seconds at SummerSlam 1988 was massive and was surely the reaction that planted the seed in Vince McMahon’s mind to make Warrior one of the main stars of his WWF brand.

His match with Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania 6, in which Warrior was still the I-C Champion and was challenging for Hogan’s WWF Title, is remembered fondly by many and is considered one of those iconic matches in the history of WWE. Two of the biggest stars of the 1980’s and early 90’s standing face-to-face while the fans chanted each of their names was a wonderful moment, and possibly the greatest moment in the career of The Ultimate Warrior, who went on to defeat Hogan to become the number one guy in the WWF and the WWF Champion.

While these two matches immediately come to mind when I think about the important matches in the Warrior’s career, they aren’t the matches I enjoyed the most personally. When I think about my favourite matches in which Warrior competed, I think about the following ones.

His match against one of my favourite wrestler’s of all time, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, at WrestleMania 7 in Los Angeles at the Memorial Sports Arena. This match, which was promoted as a “loser leaves” or “retirement” match, in which the loser would be forced to leave WWF if they lost, was one of the finest that Warrior ever worked. A lot of the match’s quality was down to Savage and his ability to make his opponents look better than they might have been, but Warrior did his damndest to put on a good show here too, and the match, though at times corny, remains a fun and well worked spectacle between two mega-stars from WWE’s past.

Warrior’s match against “Ravishing” Rick Rude in a steel cage at SummerSlam 1990 was another great contest. Rude, like Savage, was able to help Warrior to a great match. Warrior was a charismatic, energetic and super-over performer, but when it came to the pure wrestling aspect of the game, Warrior often fell flat. He didn’t here, with the assistance of Rick Rude, Warrior entered a wonderful performance and left this classic match with “The Ravishing One” to look back on.

Apart from these two classic matches, I always enjoyed Warrior’s appearances in Survivor Series tag matches. His star power and mass appeal added so much to the big tag matches, and his shortcomings in the ring could be hidden by the variety of partners and opponents that he shared the ring with. This is Pro-wrestling 101, hiding the flaws of a worker while promoting their positives to the maximum. The Survivor Series matches were a wonderful way of doing just that, and when I look back on my favourite Warrior matches, those in which he worked in large tag events stand out. His inclusion on a team would give a rub to the lesser names who shared the team with him, and his power moves and charisma in the ring would work wonderfully.

I don’t tend to look at Warrior’s 1996 WWF run, or messy late-90’s WCW run, when I look back on his career. They were mishandled and weird moments in Warrior’s career and do nothing to add to his story as a competitor.

In late-2013, WWE and The Ultimate Warrior made amends and fixed the bridges which had been burned by bad business decisions and personal conflict in the past, and the announcement was made that The Ultimate Warrior would be inducted into the 2014 Hall of Fame Class. Warrior would also work on a new DVD/Blu-ray release and other WWE productions.

The Ultimate Warrior was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on April 5th, 2014, among names like Jake Roberts and Scott Hall. The Warrior would take to the stage and talk to the fans and his peers for a number of minutes. He beamed with pride as he spoke about his young daughters and wife who sat in the front row. It was a wonderful moment for the man born James Brian Hellwig. Two nights later, The Ultimate Warrior returned to Monday Night Raw for the first time in 18 years and spoke to the fans in attendance while wearing a Warrior mask.

He said the following words;

“No WWE talent becomes a legend on their own. Every man’s heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe their final breath. And if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others and makes them believe deeper in something larger than life then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized. By the story tellers, 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 The Ultimate Warrior will run forever!”

One day later The Ultimate Warrior passed away after suffering a heart attack. It put his words a day earlier into a different light and fans across the World were shocked and saddened by the passing of one of professional wrestling’s true legends.

The following week on RAW, on April 14th, the WWE roster stood on the stage at the opening of the show as the bell tolled ten times in respect for their fallen brother.

Looking back on the career of The Ultimate Warrior I can only say that, though I wasn’t the biggest fan of his work, I understood his appeal and enjoyed many of his appearances alongside some of the great workers of his day. He joins his WrestleMania 7 opponent, Randy Savage and his SummerSlam 1990 opponent Rick Rude, who both passed away much too young as well. My thoughts are with his family, though after the mourning is over I am sure they will be happy that The Ultimate Warrior got to talk to his fans one last time after taking his rightful place in the Hall of Fame.

Through his fast paced entrance while the thundering blast of his music played to his gorilla press slam and shaking of the ring ropes, The Ultimate Warrior will always be remembered by wrestling fans the World over, and in this way, like he said in his final speech on RAW, “the spirit of The Ultimate Warrior will run forever”.

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