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A Sweet Story About Phil Collins and the Ultimate Warrior (R.I.P.)

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Days after he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, Warrior, better known as the wrestling phenom the Ultimate Warrior, collapsed on the sidewalk outside his Arizona hotel room Wednesday. Despite being rushed to the hospital, he was pronounced dead on arrival of as yet unknown causes. The 54-year-old retired champion is survived by his wife Dana and two daughters.

At first I was having a hard time mourning the passing of the man born James Brian Hellwig. At one time the Ultimate Warrior was, bar none, my favorite wrestler. I was just nine years old when the Warrior managed to do the unthinkable and wrest the WWF Championship belt away from the legendary Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania VI. For me it was the greatest match ever, a meeting of two unstoppable yet benevolent titans in a contest of pure skill and power, not some ham-fisted storyline involving good and evil.

There are no words to describe Warrior's entrance. That simple rock theme, his sprint to the ring, the ropes-shaking -- no one had ever done anything like it before. He was a monster the likes of which wouldn't be seen again until Bill Goldberg.

Then, just like that, he was gone, and the man who replaced him was very different.

After changing his name to Warrior to maintain control of it, Hellwig began a strange career of painting, writing, motivational speaking and comic books that showed off right-wing insanity and a good deal of bitterness at the world. He was famously mocked after a 2005 appearance at the University of Connecticut where when questioned about his views on homosexuality he remarked "Queering don't make the world work." He also told an Iranian sociology and history major that he should "get a towel."

Shortly afterwards, Warrior drew heat from wrestling fans after he refused to appear on the WWE Internet show Byte This! to discuss the release of the The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior DVD. In his dismissal, he referred to host Darren Drozdov as "the cripple." Droz was paralyzed below the neck after an accident in the ring during a match with D-Lo Brown, but has subsequently recovered much of the use of his arms.

The fact that a man I admired so much as a child had become or was secretly always a cold, unsympathetic person with little regard for people outside the realm of white heterosexual America was hard for me to reconcile, and I quietly filed Warrior away from my thoughts until this week.

Then I found this...

That, friends and neighbors, is the other video for Phil Collins' No. 1 hit song "Two Hearts," and requires bit of explanation. In 1990, Collins was doing a CBS special filled with celebrity guests, and someone got the bright idea that the current champion of the WWF should be among them. This was still the Ultimate Warrior, holding strong after capturing the title from Hogan.

On the advice of Vanessa Williams and Gilbert Gottfried (a sentence that probably needs therapy), Collins agrees to take on the champ in a brief match. It starts well enough, with the Warrior and Collins actually dancing together, but of course the Warrior proceeds to pummel the singer mercilessly.

You know what? It's not bad.

Story continues on the next page.

Sure, the cuts from stunt double to Collins are obvious but not that awkward, all told. Collins himself is a gifted physical actor who, at the end of the day, sells Warrior's moves fairly well. It's way better than when WCW brought in Jay Leno, though not of course as awesome as David Arquette (Nothing is. NOTHING).

What makes the video really wonderful for me is how it reminds me of why I loved the Ultimate Warrior in the first place. He totally sees the project through at 100 percent. Most wrestlers would probably have phoned in this sort of thing, but not him. Oh no no no. If he was getting paid, you were getting every single inch of him delivered right to you. It's honestly beautiful.

The Warrior used to be famous for these rambling, cosmically themed monologues that read like Star Wars dialogue as written by Hunter S. Thompson, who for the sake of this analogy is also the dragon Smaug.

I remember in 1998 when it seemed like the Warrior of old would return to end the menace of Hollywood Hulk Hogan in WCW. His debut was a thing of beauty and majesty, and featured that same intensity that left nothing behind. Screw the matches that were failures in its wake, and the fact that all this was ultimately in vain. Click that link and witness a wrestler who believes in his character right down to the bottom of his soul. Whether you were Phil Collins or the entire nWo, the Warrior came at you with everything he had.

It's what I'll miss most about him. Thank you, Phil Collins, for reminding me of that.

Jef has a new story, a tale of headless strippers and The Rolling Stones, available now in Broken Mirrors, Fractured Minds. You can also connect with him on Facebook.


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