Definitive Video Anthology of the Ultimate Warrior, 1959-2014
Jim Hellwig was never an easy man to work with, and nobody knew this better than WWE chairman Vince McMahon.
Hellwig, whom all of you know better under his WWE moniker of the "Ultimate Warrior" (and who, going forward in this piece will be referred to as "Warrior," seeing as Hellwig legally changed his name to "Warrior" in the mid-90's in order to protect his gimmick), was probably best known for three things --
1. His superhero physical persona, which included face paint, arm tassels, and muscles the size of large briskets.
2. His meandering, rambling, nonsensical interview style.
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3. Leaving the wrestling business multiple times over various business disputes, most of them with McMahon.
Until the past year or so, that was the legacy that WWE was essentially painting of the man from "parts unknown," and with WWE as really the only artist left in the wrestling business to paint legacies, that was going to be it.
Finally, though, thankfully for the legions of Warrior fans out there (all once known as "little Warriors"), the two sides made peace in the past year and Warrior was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame at Wrestlemania this past weekend.
The two sides had even agreed to work together going forward, with Warrior signing a WWE Legends contract. After so many years and so much animosity, the hatchet was finally, unequivocally buried between Warrior and WWE.
And that's what makes Tuesday night's news that the Warrior died suddenly at age 54 in front of a restaurant in Arizona so simultaneously sad and eerie, like the wrestling gods chose Monday's episode of RAW, where Warrior made what now amounts to an in-character (again, meandering) eulogy, as his final, glorious chapter.
Prior to Monday night, Warrior had not been in a WWE ring since mid-1996. In fact, he had been repeatedly poked fun at on WWE programming through the years, and his relationship with McMahon was frosty to nonexistent. Hell, even when WWE took advantage of their ability to still make money off the Warrior brand through DVD sales, they entitled his anthology "The Self Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior."
Warrior entered WWE in late 1987, after a stint in World Class Championship Wrestling as the Dingo Warrior and several stops throughout the south, including a period where he was in a tag team called the Blade Runners with the performer (Steve Borden) who would eventually become known as Sting.
WWE immediately (and wisely) replaced "Dingo" with "Ultimate" and after several months of Warrior squashing jabroni after jabroni, his big break came at SummerSlam 1988, when he was announced as the surprise opponent for Intercontinental Champion Honky Tonk Man, replacing the "injured" Brutus Beefcake.
To younger fans who are like "Big deal, the Intercontinental Title, didn't Santino win that one time?", just know that there was actually a time where that title meant something, and at the time that Warrior won it, Honky Tonk Man was working on the longest reign in the history of the Intercontinental Title, over 15 months.
Warrior eventually lost the Intercontinental Title to Ravishing Rick Rude at Wrestlemania V, won it back from him at SummerSlam 1989, and then found himself in a feud with Andre the Giant where Andre was at the "pin me, pay me" juncture of his career, with the Warrior pinning Andre in a matter of seconds at arenas around the country.
Eventually, 1990 rolled around, and it was time for Warrior to take the next step, winning the WWE (then WWF) heavyweight title from Hulk Hogan so he could carry the company into the next decade. Through a series of dustups at the 1990 Royal Rumble and on various WWE programs, Hogan and Warrior were very carefully positioned as enemies of each other, yet both still babyfaces to the WWE audience, and it would be Wrestlemania VI at Skydome in Toronto where the epic "good guy vs good guy," "title vs title" match would take place.
First, the contract was signed...
....then, the promos were cut....
....and finally the match was on....
...and in perhaps the best Wrestlemania match of both men's careers, Warrior defeated Hogan and the new era was underway.
However, the "Warrior as heavyweight champion" era was good, not great, and eventually Hogan returned to the company to retake what was once his. The two never fought in a rematch in WWE, however. Instead, Sgt. Slaughter, positioned as a heel Iraqi sympathizer (I guess "heel Iraqi sympathizer" is a little redundant), had come back to WWE to stir up trouble in the summer of 1990. With outside interference from "Macho Man" Randy Savage (in the "Macho King" iteration of his character), Slaughter defeated Warrior at the 1991 Royal Rumble to win the title...
...and Hogan then defeated Slaughter at Wrestlemania VII to win the title back. Meanwhile, Warrior exacted his revenge on Savage, pinning him (standing up on his chest) at that same Wrestlemania in a retirement match...
Little did we all know at this time that the WWE title loss at the Rumble would be the last taste of gold Warrior would have in his WWE career. The year 1991 began the portion of Warrior's career that was marked with somewhat bizarre, decidedly dark feuds, starting with the Undertaker locking him in a casket....
...which begat Warrior's getting tricked by Jake Roberts' lessons from the dark side...
Warrior then left the company in August 1991 over a bitter contract dispute, but returned at Wrestlemania VIII to save Hulk Hogan from a double team beatdown by Sid Justice and Papa Shango. Warrior's new haircut and decidedly more slender physique led to rumors that this version of the Warrior was actually someone other than Hellwig and that Hellwig himself had died (not true, obviously)....
This led to the infamous Papa Shango feud which was marked by Shango's odd habit of making people excrete black fluid from various orifices of their body....
Warrior would leave the company again just before the 1992 Survivor Series, where he was slated to team up with Savage to take on Ric Flair and newcomer Razor Ramon. With McMahon on the verge of being indicted for steroid distribution, Warrior had become a bit of a walking red flag, and the company severed ties with him.
Nearly four years would go by until Warrior would surface again, this time at Wrestlemania 12 where he beat Hunter Hearst Helmsley in mere seconds (long before Helmsley became Triple H, and much longer before he became McMahon's son in law)....
For the sake of brevity, and to shield the eyes of young people from horrific programming, I'll leave it up to all of you to track down Warrior's WCW highlights from 1998. Instead, I'll skip to this past weekend, where Warrior finally had his day in the sun, rightfully being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame...
...and getting one final appearance on Monday Night RAW, the aforementioned eerie eulogy...
Warrior is survived by his wife, Dana, their two daughters Indiana Marin "Indy" Warrior (born 2000) and Mattigan Twain Warrior (born December 16, 2002), and thousands of YouTube videos of glorious promos like this...
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