Remembering the Ultimate Warrior: From parts unknown to parts well-defined

 

jvarsallone@miamiherald.com

From Parts Unknown, we finally got to know those parts, the make-up of the Ultimate Warrior as a man during the three days before his shocking death.

If there’s a time for a pro wrestler to be celebrated, it’s during WrestleMania Week, where tens of thousands of fans from around the world invade the host city and hundreds of thousands more keep a watchful eye from home. The Ultimate Warrior learned that firsthand.

Thanks to Paul Triple H Levesque, the Jimmy Carter of the wrestling business, hatchets have been buried between the company and wrestling legends like Bruno Sammartino, Jake the Snake Roberts and the Ultimate Warrior.

For Warrior, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

With the Warrior rift quelled, older fans got to see their hero honored as a WWE Hall of Famer on Saturday, April 5, just three days before he died. Fans, new and old, listened to his words, a voice discussing his legacy in this industry.

The next generation of WWE superstars, learning and honing their skills in NXT, WWE’s developmental program, based in Orlando, heard with open ears. They took to Twitter on the passing of the Warrior. Like Triple H, they were wrestling fans growing up.

And they were inspired by the Ultimate Warrior.

WWE NXT superstar Corey Graves: “When I was in first grade, I was Ultimate Warrior for Halloween. I just watched his HOF speech two hours ago. I don't even have words.”

WWE NXT superstar Scott Dawson: “My very first Hasbro action figure was the 'Gorilla Press' Ultimate Warrior. Sincere thoughts & prayers to his family #RIPUltimateWarrior”

WWE NXT superstar Brian Reed: “I can see the #UltimateWarrior running down the ramp into Heaven right now. I'm sure he's at peace.”

Triple H, a future WWE Hall of Famer, understands that no matter what has been said, done in the past, it’s in the past. Nobody is perfect, and we all make mistakes. We’re not robots. We’re human beings with real life emotions, and we all grow old.

WWE Hall of Famer Rowdy Roddy Piper tweeted: “Tomorrow is promised to know one!! Enjoy every second, with a tool called love!! My love to The Warrior and family. RIP.”

To keep wrestlers like the Ultimate Warrior from a WWE Hall of Fame induction is really a disservice to the fans -- the fans who made the heroes, the villains, the attitude, the fam friendly -- the fans who made the legends and the legacies.

The war of words between the Ultimate Warrior and Vince McMahon, wrestlers including Hulk Hogan and Triple H and backstage personnel are well documented. It’s part of the history. Can’t change that. Warrior said mean-spirited things about them. The company produced a DVD “The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior,” released in 2005, which was an ultimate ripfest solely on him, the first time I can remember WWE ever doing that.

In hindsight, it made his return even more special.

WWE posted a statement about his death on its web site.

“WWE is shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the passing of one of the most iconic WWE Superstars ever, The Ultimate Warrior. Warrior began his WWE career in 1987 and quickly went on to become one of the biggest stars in WWE history. Warrior became WWE Champion at WrestleMania VI, defeating Hulk Hogan in an epic encounter. We are grateful that just days ago, Warrior had the opportunity to take his rightful place in the WWE Hall of Fame and was also able to appear at WrestleMania 30 and Monday Night Raw to address his legions of fans. WWE sends its sincere condolences to Warrior’s family, friends and fans. Warrior was 54 and is survived by his wife, Dana, and his two daughters.

WWE has a tribute to the Ultimate Warrior on that web site. Click

http://www.wwe.com/inside/ultimate-warrior-passes-away-26223975

What we enjoyed

The energy, the facepaint, the long ‘80s locks, the colorful tassels, the airbrushed trench coat and strength made the Ultimate Warrior like a comic book superhero, resonating with many fans including kids, dubbed Warriors. Once his super charged instrumental entrance music played, fans cheered wildly as he ran at warp speed toward the ring, cleared it and then shook the ropes with reckless abandon.

WWE superstar Batista tweeted: “After all these years I finally got 2 tell him that me shaking the ropes was an homage 2 him. Blessed to have had that moment. #onelife”

Warrior’s signature snarl. The promos cut, from out of this world. That’s because the Ultimate Warrior persona stemmed from out of this world -- from the Heavens above, mythical, a descendent of the Greek Gods. What did you expect?

No matter what he said or how he said it, fans loved it. In the short term, his Warriors could rival the Hulk-a-Maniacs. OK, some the same, but I think you get the point. That’s why when the time came for Hulk Hogan to pass the torch, the Ultimate Warrior was the chosen one.

Born James Brian Hellwig, he starred in the WWF (now WWE) from 1987-92 and 1996. He worked for WCW, WCCW, CWA, Mid-South Wrestling and UWF. During his early days in 1985-86, he teamed with Sting as the Blade Runners (Rock and Flash) with manager Dirty Dutch Mantell and later Hot Stuff Eddie Gilbert, before becoming the Dingo Warrior in World Class Championship Wrestling. It didn’t take long for him to get the call from the WWF.

Circa 1990, the Warrior heralded as the wrestler to become the biggest star of the 1990s and the successor to Hulk Hogan, who had remained wrestling's biggest star throughout the 1980s. Following a few confrontations with Hogan, most notably at the 1990 Royal Rumble, the Warrior and Hogan met in the main event of WrestleMania VI at the SkyDome in Toronto.

Rather than turn either heel, it was superhero vs. superhero, Hulk-a-Maniacs vs. Warriors. The match was billed as “The Ultimate Challenge” with Hogan's WWF championship and Warrior's Intercontinental championship on the line.

After each legend kicked out of the other’s finisher, Warrior finally pinned Hogan with a Warrior Splash to become the first and only wrestler to hold the WWF Intercontinental and World championships simultaneously.

Former WWE superstar Chris Jericho tweeted: “Devastated to hear of the passing of @UltimateWarrior. He was a childhood hero of mine & he vs @HulkHogan WM6 is still one of the best ever”

A winner of WWF’s two top belts, Warrior vacated the Intercontinental title as WWF rules prohibited a wrestler from holding both.

WWE Hall of Famer Edge attended WrestleMania VI as a teen wearing a Hogan T-shirt in his homeland. A lifelong fan, he was inspired by those times.

After WrestleMania VI, Warrior successfully defended the title against the likes of Haku, Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig and Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase. At SummerSlam 1990, he retained the title over his old nemesis Ravishing Rick Rude in a steel cage match. Macho King Randy Savage was also introduced as a potential rival after interfering in a Saturday Night's Main Event title match at the behest of DiBiase.

In January 1991 at the Miami Arena, which no longer exists, Warrior faced Sgt. Slaughter at the Royal Rumble. Slaughter's gimmick then was a traitor who had betrayed America by aligning himself with Iraqi General Adnan and later Colonel Mustafa (the Iron Sheik). Doing this during the Gulf War made Slaughter one of the most hated heels all-time, setting the stage for a battle with a returning Real American Hulk Hogan.

After rejecting an earlier request at the Rumble to grant a title shot to Savage, Macho Queen Sensational Sherri interjected herself in the Warrior's championship match against Slaughter to distract him. Her interference eventually led to a Savage sneak attack where he struck Warrior over the head with his royal scepter, and Slaughter pinned Warrior to win the title.

Miami plays a significant part in WWF/WWE history. From the night Sgt. Slaughter beat the Ultimate Warrior for the belt and Hogan winning the Rumble to Rey Mysterio winning the Rumble, John Cena winning the WWE title, Gregory Helms winning the cruiserweight title, The Rock’s birthday bash, the debuting NEXUS attacking Cena, The Rock returning to SmackDown, Rock beats Cena at WrestleMania 28, Brock Lesnar returning and destroying Cena the night after on Raw, the “Yes Movement” takes off, Alberto Del Rio winning the World title outlasting Big Show in a Last Man Standing match, John Cena beating Del Rio for it, special guest referee Shawn Michaels sweet chin musicing his protege Daniel Bryan, costing him the WWE title in Hell in a Cell.

At the Miami Arena that night, I recall a hush throughout the sold-out crowd when Slaughter pinned Warrior. Fans looked in disbelief as Slaughter grabbed the WWF title, celebrating backstage with General Adnan.

All part of Vince McMahon’s master plan. Hogan later won the Royal Rumble to become the No.1 contender to Slaughter’s title.

Warrior feuded with Savage, and the rivalry culminated in a classic 'Career Ending' match at WrestleMania VII at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena with the Warrior victorious, forcing Savage to retire. Behind a chorus of USA chants and holding Old Glory, Hogan main evented that WrestleMania, defeating the Iraqi sympathizer Slaughter (with Adnan and Mustafa) for the WWF belt, but the Savage/Warrior match stole the show.

Three of the biggest times of Ultimate Warrior’s career.

Post WWF

He legally changed his name to Warrior in 1993. Ego? I thought more for business. A businessman looking out for himself, pro wrestling is a profession for independent contractors. Actually, money, plain and simple, was the core of his disputes with the WWF.

After retiring from the business in 1999, he tried motivational speaking as a conservative speaker and commentator, partnering with conservative spokesman Daniel Pinheiro, denouncing left-wing politics. Controversy arose nationally from a speech he gave at the University of Connecticut.

Prior in 1996, he published a comic book titled Warrior, featuring himself as the main character. The series was co-written with Jim Callahan and illustrated by the Sharp Brothers.

Honoring him

The Ultimate Warrior was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on Saturday, April 5 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans. He was acknowledged for the honor during WrestleMania 30 the following night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

During WWE Monday Night Raw live on the USA Network on April 7, Warrior returned to the Smoothie King Center where he addressed fans, thanking them for making him a WWE Hall of Famer and making him someone who will always be remembered -- via YouTube, social media, WWE Network and our minds.

Remembering the Ultimate Warrior always and forever.

Wrestling writer responds

Wrestling writer Scott Fishman attended the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony on Saturday, April 5, WrestleMania 30 on Sunday, April 6 and WWE Raw on Monday, April 7. In August, he attended WWE SummerSlam Weekend in Los Angeles where the Ultimate Warrior was promoting the WWE 2K14 video game.

Fishman wrote.

“When news broke on social media of the Ultimate Warrior’s death, memories of WrestleMania Weekend started flooding back to me. I thought about how awesome it was to see one of the most colorful figures in pro wrestling history back in the fold. During his WWE Hall of Fame induction speech you could hear how hurt he was that the company decided to produce a DVD called “The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior” in 2005.

“However, he and the company had put the past behind them. So much in fact the WWE legend announced he had just signed a multi-year contract to serve as an ambassador for the company. The company had also just released a new DVD, this time celebrating his career.

“Warrrior has been seen by many as a loose cannon with somewhat controversial views on topics that go beyond the squared circle. There are the stories of him being a loner and a little out there. I didn’t see any of that when I had the honor to meet him last summer at a special event for the ‘WWE 2K14’ video game. Warrior took the stage, reflecting on his character and what it stood for. Above all that he was motivating and empowering. Following the presentation he spent time shaking the hands of those in attendance. As he met each person, he came off as what he said he was in his WWE Hall of Fame speech, ‘a good guy.’

“There are so many classic Warrior moments going form unseating Honky Tonk Man for the Intercontinetnal championship at SummerSlam in 1988 to his classic rivalry with Ravishing Rick Rude. Warrior had his best matches with Macho Man Randy Savage with memorable clashes at WrestleMania VII and SummerSlam 1992. Though the one night the WWE Universe will never forget is when he stepped into Toronto’s SkyDome to defeat Hulk Hogan for the WWE championship at WrestleMania VI. Warrior’s last in-ring outing at the grand event was in 1996 squashing Triple H.

“It was almost 18 years since Warrior has been involved in anything related to WWE. He had finally returned home and made amends with WWE Chairman Vince McMahon after a strained business relationship. We can take some solace in knowing he got to vent his frustrations and take his rightful place in the WWE Hall of Fame. At the same time, he got to appear at WrestleMania and Raw the next night one more time, accepting the love and adulation he so richly deserved.

“He put on the trademark jacket and dawned a mask to represent his iconic face paint. Warrior even shook the ropes. His time on the microphone almost came off like he sensed the end was near. He ended with the words ‘and the spirit of the Ultimate Warrior will run forever!’

“Thanks to the indelible mark he left on fans around the world and on outlets such as the WWE Network, it’s hard not to believe him.”

Twitter @smFISHMAN.

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