I had 3 heroes as a kid. In the land of make believe, I was either Steven Tyler, Cal Ripken Jr., or the Ultimate Warrior. When it came to play time for my brother and I, the WWE (then, the WWF) was usually our poison of choice. Pro wrestling was a fascinating world filled with larger than life characters battling it out in the “squared circle”. The feuds were monumental and the stories behind those feuds were award-worthy Greek tragedies. Like most kids, we were fascinated with the world that professional wrestling existed in. What would happen from week to week? Who would exit the ring the victor? We cheered on our favorite babyfaces (the good guys), while lambasting their opponents with boo’s.
Growing up when we did, no other wrestler had a greater impact on me than the Ultimate Warrior. He was a mad man, hailing form “Parts Unknown”. His face painted in a bold, colorful mask and his arms adorned with matching bands that flew behind him as he came bursting from the backstage toward the ring. The Warrior’s entrance was explosive. The minute his entrance music hit, BOOM! He didn’t saunter toward the ring, gloating all the way. He sprinted at top speed hellbent on destruction. Once he reached the ring, THAT’S when he got started. Bouncing from one side of the ring to the next, stopping only to violently shake the top rope. By the time the bell rang, his pulse was at its peak, and as a fan, so was ours! His presence was mesmerizing to a young pair of Allen brothers. There was nothing on the planet cooler than the Warrior. Hell, he even beat Hulk Hogan!
Warrior’s in ring ability was always something taken into question by his peers and by wrestling historians. But frankly speaking, I did not give a shit. Between his ability to cut an otherworldly promo and insane entrance into each match, the wrestling was just accompaniment. This man stood out among his fellow superstars. He was unique, even for a business who exists solely off of strange character gimmicks. When he would speak about his “Warriors”, it gave me chills. I was one of those Warriors! I fashioned bandanas around my biceps on multiple occasions, sporting the mask my parents had gotten us me Christmas. In those moments, I wasn’t the fat awkwardly sensitive kid who lived with fear of constant humiliation. I was a muscle bound freak who was prepared to tear my opponent limb from limb. I WAS the Ultimate Warrior.
As I grew older, pro wrestling would come & go in my life. There was a barren period in the 90’s where I lost a great deal of interest in wrestling and instead grew an affinity for groping every tit I could. I was a teenager aka walking boner. It happens. Yet if flipping through the channels I would come across WWF, chances are I stayed on the channel for the duration of that program. In the late 90’s the pro wrestling universe exploded into the pop culture lexicon once again. Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley, Degeneration X, NWO, Edge & Christian, the Monday Night Wars that was fought for ratings (between WWF and WCW), the public exposure of ECW…pro wrestling was everywhere! I was once again hooked. I fancied myself a Stone Cold/Mick Foley guy, but I also had quite a love affair going with the ECW lunatics Like RVD and Sabu. Not to mention, the incredible verbal skills of Paul Heyman, a man who I’m still shocked Hollywood hasn’t tapped into (seriously…one of you savvy directors needs to put that man in your movie!). I had a peer group who bit, too. We were all glued to our TV’s each Monday night. We would talk about it weekly. In that time period, I also headed off to college where it became increasingly harder to stay caught up on wrestling. I did my best, but eventually lost touch, particularly after the exit of Steve Austin. In that time period, the world did see a comeback of the almighty Warrior, that eventually just fizzled. Nonetheless, that held my attention as long as it possibly could. Wrestling was now in my past.
Cut to a a few years ago. I was aware of CM Punk. I would watch his videos online. When his “pipebomb” video went viral, I had to know more about this cat. So, in my true obsessive fashion, I ingested as much Punk info as possible. The dude was a phenom. And for a guy in his 30’s to be so taken with a fictitious character, this dude must be special. He is. Very special. Not just to me, but to a 7 year old boy who lives in my home. My son discovered the world of pro wrestling about a year ago. He pulled me back in, and with the help of CM Punk’s presence (and Roman Reigns’ looks) pulled my wife in as well. Since then, we’ve been fully emaciated in WWE. My son live and breathes WWE. It’s an obsession not unlike my own. I see the excitement it draws out of him and it makes my heart melt. I remember feeling what he feels when he watches it. An unabashed love for sports entertainment. We often discuss our various theories on where the stories will head from week to week. It’s something I see us bonding over for years to come.
This allowed me to share my hero with my son. He was instantly attracted, which is no surprise. How could he not be?! The maniacal behavior, the look, and those promos! Oh my, those promos! We had bridged a pro wrestling fan gap as father and son. It was pretty damn cool.
When the news hit that the Warrior would be inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame during Wrestlemania 30 week, I will admit to being completely shocked. I’ll spare you a ton of hearsay details, but it was public knowledge that his reputation for blowing up a locker room was legendary. He was a fringe guy. He didn’t worry about friendships. He was at a different level of intensity than most people. As a result, he was written off as a crazy person. Whether you believe any of it or not, he was a character who was deserving of recognition. His induction speech lived up to every expectation. He walked on stage, beaming with pride as he was escorted by his 2 young daughters. He addressed the WWE’s previous smear job in which they attempted to bury his legacy. They didn’t. He continued on without them. He was far too strong a presence to just go away. He addressed some of the past pains he endured in his 18 year absence, but through it all, he remained a positive force who refused to give up his fight. It was an incredibly gracious, earnest, and powerful speech for old wrestling fans like myself. As my wife and I would forego a screening of Phantom Of The Paradise to watch the HOF ceremony in our hotel room, I confess that I was choked up. This was my childhood hero getting vindication of sorts. During the speech, he also announced he would now be an ambassador for the WWE. The Ultimate Warrior had officially returned in a big way. He made an appearance the following evening on Wrestlemania 30, then on Monday Night Raw. My childhood hero was back and now I was seeing my son form his own fondness of The Wild Man. It was all coming full circle.
I woke up Wednesday morning to multiple text messages. I was kinda confused. I instantly started checking news sites, Twitter, Facebook, etc. They were all telling me the same thing…our hero was gone. The Ultimate Warrior had suddenly died outside of the hotel he and his wife were staying at in Arizona. My stomach bottomed out. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. He was returning to the public spotlight after all these years, then…gone. I got my son on his school bus, I came in the house and looked at the tributes piling up on social media. I was texting with my brother and 2 of our lifelong friends. To give you a brief back story, they’re also brothers and we all grew up together. We’ve been having an on & off conversation about pro wrestling for nearly 25 years. We were all devastated. As I texted with my wife about the situation, I couldn’t keep it together anymore. I sat on the corner of my bed and cried. In any instance, I would tell you to feel free to mock me. And let’s be honest; some of you probably are. “He was just some roided up wrestler! He blew up his own heart!” Maybe. Maybe past steroid use is to blame. I don’t fucking know. I’m not a doctor. Here’s what I do know: A dude who electrified my childhood, a guy who still got me jacked up when I saw him, was gone. He’d made his way off into the ether. As quickly as we’d gotten him back, he was leaving. It wasn’t fair. But I’m saying that as a selfish fan of pro wrestling. I was thinking about his wife and his two young daughters who were now without their husband & dad. It broke my heart. The abrupt pain that had been thrust upon them is something I cannot fathom. During one of the biggest weeks for professional wrestling, when one of the biggest names in the history of the sport makes his return, the idea of him leaving seemed impossible. Yet, it had happened.
James Hellwig, aka The Ultimate Warrior was a polarizing and fascinating individual. He was rock & roll. He was chaos. He was bombastic. He was intense. But most importantly, he was the real deal. Good or bad, he was who he was. There are plenty of people in his profession who have awful stories from the past. We all have those things that follow us. That’s not what this is about. The Warrior’s untimely passing is a loss for pro wrestling fans the world over. The Ultimate Warrior character is one of my favorite pieces of pop culture. At a time when I wasn’t confident as a kid, I had a lunatic hero who was. Not unlike the movies we discuss on this site, wrestling was another form of escape for me. The Warrior is who I instantly identify my love for wrestling with. So, more than anything, this incoherent ramble is my small way of saying thank you. Thank you for being the against the grain mad man who spoke and acting with a ferocity that some of your peers only dreamed of having. As prophetic as your final words were, they were also something your daughter’s can go through life being proud of. Whenever they may question what effect “the business” had on their dad, their hearts can rest with ease. Their dad inspired a lot kids who are now adults. Those adults have shared the Ultimate Warrior with their kids. He has crossed over multiple generations of wrestling fans who will remember him as one of the most entertaining figures to ever walk into the ring.
“No WWE talent become 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 that’s larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized by the storytellers — by the loyalty, by the memory of those who honor him, and make the running the man did live forever.
I am the Ultimate Warrior, you are the Ultimate Warrior fans and the spirit of the Ultimate Warrior will run forever.”-James “Warrior” Hellwig, 1959-2014