Those outside wrestling fandom have probably never heard the name James Brian Hellwig, but they would know his in-ring persona, the Ultimate Warrior. 1987 was the year the Warrior sprang into the World Wrestling Federation (now know as the WWE). This reporter's first memories of the wrestler are of his feud with Ravishing Rick Rude from the spark that ignited the feud in a "pose-off" at Royal Rumble to their epic clash in Wrestlemania V to it's conclusion with the Warrior regaining his Intercontinental Championship at Summerslam '89. The feud brings to mind why I'll always remember both wrestlers, along with my father, who to this very day only refers to the Warrior as "the Ultimate Puke" (he was such a mark for Rick Rude, and later the Macho Man).
A year later, the Warrior would beat Hulk Hogan for the Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania IV. Just a year later, he'd lose the belt to Sgt. Slaughter at the Royal Rumble, and then at Wrestlemania VII he'd beat Randy Savage. After that, I lost track of wrestling until the "Attitude Era" in the late 90s erupted in the WWF.
The Warrior was barely to be found save an infamous stint in WCW as the "Renegade". [Editor's Note: Dammit, Zechs! The Renegade was a clone of the Warrior. The real Warrior joined WCW a few years later where he had the magic power of appearing in Hulk Hogan's mirror and losing to Hulk Hogan to give Hogan his win back.]
As always, the things this reporter will always remember about the Warrior were his insane promos which always made you lean against your chair, wondering, "What the hell is he saying?", and his memorable entrance music.
The Warrior went on to become a motivational speaker, change his name legally to Warrior, and raise a family. After years of estrangement from the company following the release of a DVD called The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior, Warrior signed a three year deal to act as an ambassador of the WWE and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as the "headliner" this weekend. He just appeared on RAW last night, live in front of the New Orleans post-Wrestlemania crowd, and gave the following speech:
It seemed that Warrior had achieved vindication for the DVD and his treatment by the company, and was getting the recognition he deserved as a legend in the sport. Tonight, WWE confirms that he passed away. TMZ reports:
9:52 PM PT -- Officials tell TMZ ... Warrior collapsed outside an Arizona hotel at 5:50 PM on April 8th ... while walking to his car with his wife.
Warrior was transported to a nearby hospital ... where he was pronounced dead.
It certainly makes watching the speech, thanking his supporters and talking of fans cheering new stars and creating new legends, eerie and final. All we can say is our hearts go out to his family, who must be devastated.
But that was the Ultimate Warrior for you. Unpredictable to the very end. At least he went out on top.