Former WWE star The Ultimate Warrior has died aged 54. His death came just one day after he gave an eerily prophetic speech on WWE’s April 7th RAW broadcast and just a few days after he had been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
One of the biggest stars in wrestling during the late 80’s and early 90’s, The Ultimate Warrior was noted for his energetic ring entrance, during which he would run at full speed down the entrance ramp and vigorously shake the ring ropes.
He was also well liked for his muscular physique, unique interview style and colourful face paint.
Warrior is perhaps best remembered for his victory over Hulk Hogan for the WWE (then WWF) Championship at WrestleMania VI in 1990. He also feuded with other notable stars like Andre The Giant, ‘Mr Perfect’ Curt Hennig, Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, ‘Ravishing’ Rick Rude and ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage, amongst others. Warrior was also a two-time WWF Intercontinental Champion.
The Ultimate Warrior had been at odds with the WWE management for a number of years. However, his appearance in the recent WWE 2K14 video game, followed by his induction into the Hall of Fame earlier in the month, seemed to announce that any/all burned bridges had been mended prior to his death.
WWE released a statement a short while after Warrior’s death, stating that, “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 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.”
Tributes poured in from all corners of the wrestling business, including many who had been previously critical of Warrior’s actions or career. Wrestling stars Hulk Hogan, Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart, Mick Foley, Iron Shiek, Triple H and (current WWE Champion) Daniel Bryan are just some of the marquee names that offered their heartfelt messages to Warrior, his family and his fans.
Born Jim Hellwig in 1959, the man who would become known around the word as The Ultimate Warrior originally wanted to become a chiropractor. He took up bodybuilding as a hobby, entering several contests in the process and eventually transitioned from bodybuilding to professional wrestling in the mid 1980’s.
In various regional promotions Hellwig wrestled under the names Jim ‘Justice’ Hellwig, ‘Justice’ and ‘Blade Runner Rock’ – forming one half of the team The Blade Runners with ‘Blade Runner Flash’ (AKA Steve Borden, who would go onto greater fame as Sting in WCW and later TNA).
Hellwig also wrestled as ‘Dingo Warrior’ before joining the WWF and being re-packaged as The Ultimate Warrior in 1987.
As The Ultimate Warrior, Jim Hellwig was an instant success, being promoted to the top of the card and becoming the WWF Intercontinental Champion in 1988. In 1990, he became WWF Champion for the first and only time in his career.
He departed WWF in 1991 after losing the championship to Sgt. Slaughter and following a series of contractual disputes. Warrior briefly returned to the WWF in 1992 and 1996, although neither stint matched the success of his first run with the company. Although The Ultimate Warrior surfaced in rival promotion WCW in 1998, his run only lasted for four matches.
His final match was in 2008, where he wrestled former WWE and TNA wrestler Orlando Jordan in Spain, winning the Nu-Wrestling Evolution (NWE) Championship from him.
In his final televised speech, Warrior addressed the WWE fans in the voice of his wrestling persona.
“No WWE talent becomes a legend on their own”. He began, “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 larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized by the storytellers, by the loyalty, by the memory. 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 Ultimate Warrior. You are the Ultimate Warrior fans. And the spirit of The Ultimate Warrior will run forever!”
‘Wrestling Observer’ founder and world-renowned wrestling expert Dave Meltzer said of Warrior that “Warrior and Hogan represented that period, the era of the big bodybuilders and he was a huge, muscular guy (…) He connected well with kids and was a massive superstar at the time”
Meltzer continued, making reference to Warrior’s daughters, aged 11 and 13, who joined their Dad onstage for the Hall of Fame ceremony. “I didn’t know him personally, but you could tell he lived for those kids (…) After the [induction ceremony], everybody got together and whatnot, but he disappeared to be with his kids.”
The Ultimate warrior left a unique imprint in the annals of professional wrestling and he will never be forgotten.