I’m not even sure what to say about the sudden death of the Ultimate Warrior at 54 and how creepy it is that this guy had just been on Monday Night Raw the day before and had been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame after years of estrangement from Vince McMahon.
Warrior, whose real name was Jim Hellwig, was among the most memorable stars of the 1980s and 1990s. Longtime fans will remember he started out with a young Sting as the Blade Runners before he became Dingo Warrior in World Class Championship Wrestling. He switched his name to Ultimate Warrior upon arriving in the WWF in 1988.
He portrayed an animated, out-of-control character who ran through opponents with punches, kicks, and force.
“Every man’s heart one day beats its final beat,” Warrior said this week on Raw. Ultimate Warrior’s final promo is haunting me.
In fact, more than his matches, most fans probably remember Warrior’s promos, which were spaced-out, often incomprehensible rants that seem to pull from fantasy and science fiction. The interviews remain unique even by today’s standards. When he retired in the late 1990s, he started a website that continued with his off-the-wall commentary on politics and society.
In the ring, he wasn’t a scientific wrestler and not gifted as a worker, but put with the right opponent, he could have memorable matches.
Lightning struck for the Warrior and Hulk Hogan in 1990 when they main-evented WrestleMania VI in Toronto. Anyone who saw that show live will remember the build-up of what was, at the time, a rare babyface vs. babyface match in the WWF. It was classic bout that the crowd brought to life, as the audience was into everything those two did in the ring that night. I just watched this match last week on the WWE Network and after all these years, it is still an entertaining spectacle.
In 1988, Warrior stormed into SummerSlam at Madison Square Garden and squashed Intercontinental Champion Honky Tonk Man in a matter of seconds, ending what is the still the longest Intercontinental reign ever.
His face paint and tassels were often imitated in and out of wrestling. I remember when I attended the monthly house shows at the old Boston Garden, my friend Diamond Dave used to dress up like Warrior, and we’d even occasionally have matches after the cards on the Orange Line platform waiting for the subway home. Dave was a big guy, so there was no mistaking who this kid in face paint and wig was trying to be.
It is depressing to watch the 1980s scene that so many of us grew up on continue to collapse with death after death. To think that Warrior and Randy Savage both died in their 50s blows my mind.
Wrestling is a dirty, ugly profession — and we keep getting reminded of it.