The pro wrestling world woke up Wednesday to a shocker. Days after returning to the WWE and being inducted into the Hall of Fame, The Ultimate Warrior passed away leaving a wife and two children behind.
“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.”
The timing of this is nothing less than bizarre. After being on the outs with the WWE for years, Warrior returned over the weekend first being inducted into the Hall of Fame, then appearing at WrestleMania 30, and later cutting a promo on RAW. One thing I should note is that I remember thinking that Warrior looked like he had some trouble on RAW while getting inside of the ring. Of course nobody could have predicted the next 24 hours for Hellwig.
Warrior at least had enough time to make amends with the WWE. I am sure that was a big deal for him. Warrior and Vince McMahon had been at odds in and out of court for years. Out of nowhere Warrior started appearing last year in WWE 2K14 ads and quickly thereafter Vince McMahon publicly welcomed Warrior back into the family. Several months later Warrior not only get inducted into the Hall of Fame but more importantly for him, he got a brand new DVD. The new WWE DVD gave him an opportunity to rebut the hatchet job the WWE did on him a couple of years back.
One of the big questions today is whether Warrior knew his time was up or this was an unfortunate random tragedy. A lot of fans and media are citing Warrior’s speech on RAW and the eerie coincidences that would surface a few days later.
“No WWE talent becomes 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 what makes the blood pulse through the body of others and makes them bleed deeper and something larger than life then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized. By the story tellers, by the loyalty, by the memory of those who honor him and make the running the man did live forever. You, you, you, you, you, you are the legend makers of Ultimate Warrior. In the back I see many potential legends. Some of them with warrior spirits. And you will do the same for them. You will decide if they lived with the passion and intensity. So much so that you will tell your stories and you will make them legends, as well. I am The Ultimate Warrior. You are the Ultimate Warrior fans and the spirit of Ultimate Warrior will run forever.”
My first memories of Warrior as a wrestling fan were from Mid-South/UWF as one half of the Blade Runners. I was able to follow him next to World Class thanks to syndication. I thought he had a cool look but never anticipated how big of a star he would become. I do recall one of my friends had attended a WWE house show in Wildwood when Warrior came in. He wasn’t on television yet but he was doing live events. He was in one of the openers and my buddy remarked how great he was and how he thought he was going to be a future WWE champion.
I grew up in Warrior’s era so I have probably seen just about every match he had during that run and plenty live at the Philadelphia Spectrum. It’s funny because Warrior has a terrible reputation as a “working” but I think some people have fuzzy memories of that time period. It’s easy to rag on Warrior but when he had the right opponent he was very good. He had great matches with Curt Hennig, Rick Rude and a classic with Hulk Hogan. Expecting the same or more with Honkytonk Man and Andre the Giant is just unfair.
Yet it was his series with Randy Savage that was magical. Their SummerSlam and WrestleMania matches are classics. However, he had a house show series with Savage when Savage was WWE champion and Warrior was I-C champ that was fantastic. Savage had just started to turn heel and the crowd was red hot for this. The matches were all tremendous during this run.
Warrior is a polarizing guy among his peers. Most of his peers don’t like or respect him. Again I think he was unfairly criticized. For one, there is a ton of jealousy that come out in these shoot interviews. Two, he was one of the few who stood up to Vince McMahon and for that, he should be applauded. You can absolutely question his business tactics such as holding Vince up right before SummerSlam. I think we can all agree that was unprofessional. However, most of the guys in that era just went with the flow. A lot of them will proudly say they worked on handshake agreements with Vince. That is all well and good but you have to give Warrior some credit for standing up for what he thought was right and going toe to toe with the most powerful man in the business.
One of the things I do respect about Warrior is that he never seemed to look back. He came and went in the WWE but he wasn’t a guy out there hanging on. I think it was clear from the start that to Hellwig, this was a business. How many legends and icons have we seen in our lifetime hang on way too long in the wrestling business only to embarrass themselves past their primes? Almost every single one of those guys have taken shots at Warrior over the years. Maybe there is resentment in the fact that he had the willpower to walk away while they couldn’t?
An interesting thing I learned about Warrior lately is that he was negotiating to come back to the WWE before he went to WCW in 1998. It is interesting to think about how the Warrior would have done in 1998. The business had changed and the era Warrior represented was public enemy #1 by the Attitude Era fans. Could a Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Ultimate Warrior feud have worked or would it have been a car wreck? I can almost guarantee you that in 1998 that Vince McMahon and crew would have booked him better than WCW did.
In closing I can’t stress enough how much my heart goes out to his daughters. Like Warrior, I had children later in my life and one of the biggest fears I have is not being around to see their circle of life. I can’t imagine the heartbreak and sadness that his girls are waking up today after losing their daddy. He brought his family out at the Hall of Fame and was obviously a very proud family man. My condolences go out today to his family who have lost their warrior.
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