The Ultimate Warrior Dead at 54 – Who Was Your Favorite Wrestler?
I could remember watching wrestling on Saturday nights with my dad. The bouts would be on Channel 5, and the emcee of the show always looked like a guy under siege, since his was the ignoble task of having to interview some of the wrestlers either before they’d take the ring or afterward.
And if it was afterward, laden with testosterone and adrenaline, the fighters would verbally beat the guy to a pulp.
Obviously a guy who didn’t make enough money for the job he was doing.
Back then, and this was before wrestling became big business – fighters like Johnny Valentine, BoBo Brazil and Gorilla Monsoon were some of my favorites.
That was then.
That was followed by the “Golden Age” of wrestling with the galaxy of names most folks know.
So it came as a shock when ABC News last night ann0unced the passing of The Ultimate Warrior, James Brian Hellwig, at the tender age of 54.
More poignant still was the fact that he’d just been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame the night before.
The speech he gave following his induction seemed prophetic – as though he knew the end was near.
According to this from USA Today:
A cause of death was not released.
The news, posted late Tuesday night, led to a flood of tributes from fans and WWE performers and officials.
In the statement, the company said, "WWE is shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the passing of one of the most iconic WWE superstars ever, The Ultimate Warrior. …
"We are grateful just days ago, Warrior had the opportunity to take his rightful place in the WWE Hall of Fame and was 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 born James Brian Hellwig, but legally changed his name to Warrior in 1993. He is survived by his wife Dana and daughters Indiana and Mattigan, who had accompanied him to the podium at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony Saturday night in New Orleans.
Warrior began his wrestling career as part of a group of bodybuilders-turned-wrestlers in Southern California. His early career was marked by his work in a tag team known as the Blade Runners with Steve Borden, who would later become Sting. Warrior was known as Blade Runner Rock and Borden as Blade Runner Flash.
His use of the Warrior name came in the Texas-based World Class Championship Wrestling where he worked as the Dingo Warrior and was billed as being from Queens, N.Y.
Warrior came to the then-WWF in 1987 and was re-branded as The Ultimate Warrior. He won his first Intercontinental title from the Honky Tonk Man in a match that lasted less than a minute at the first Summer Slam in 1988. He would lose the title to Ravishing Rick Rude and then regain it at Summer Slam in 1989.
He was still the champion leading into the main event match at WrestleMania VI in Toronto in 1990, which might be the highlight of his career. The bout against Hulk Hogan -- billed as "The Ultimate Challenge" -- was for Hogan's WWF title and Warrior's Intercontinental title.
Warrior won the match and was embraced and presented with the WWF title belt by Hogan afterward, in a passing of the torch from the biggest star of the 1980s to one of the biggest stars of the 1990s.
"RIP WARRIOR. only love. HH," Hogan tweeted Tuesday night. Hogan had said over the weekend that he hoped to mend some fences with the Warrior and lauded the Warrior's Hall of Fame speech.
Warrior would leave the WWE twice and then return before an ill-fated and brief stint in World Championship Wrestling in the late 1990s.
After retirement, he worked as a motivational speaker.
There’s something very sad about this tale; and that’s how a good many of these fighters sacrifice their bodies for their craft.
And for every Warrior, there are probably dozens who've never achieved the acclaim nor the financial rewards.
But then again, isn’t that pretty much what we see in all of professional sports?
Who were the wrestling heroes you admired from back in the day. Feel free to tell your story of the one or ones that inspired you the most – or share your memories of The Ultimate Warrior below.