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Remembering Warrior

Posted by Achilles Heel On April 9

(Eric Fisher has turned over his column space this week to PhillyPhanatics.com’s wrestling columnist, Achilles Heel)

One moment he was back. The next moment he was gone.

On Saturday, the Ultimate Warrior was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

On Sunday, he was honored during WrestleMania XXX for his induction.

On Monday, he made his first appearance on RAW since 1996.

On Tuesday, he was dead.

Jim Hellwig, who legally changed his name to Warrior, collapsed while walking to his car with his wife on Tuesday evening in Scottsdale, Ariz. Local authorities say that, pending an autopsy, his death was due to a catastrophic medical condition.

Warrior was 54. That’s yet another ring warrior who has left this world too young.

Rather than turn this column into a macabre recital of wrestlers who have died at a relatively young age, I want to focus on the bittersweet final days of the Warrior. (Due to the solemn nature of this column, I’m not even going to insult those of you who don’t know what macabre means.)

Warrior was popular among the fans, but he wasn’t popular among the boys in the locker room. I don’t have a personal axe to grind here. I’m just stating facts.

As Linda McMahon said while introducing Warrior at Saturday’s Hall of Fame ceremony, he was a bit of a loner. Again, that’s not a criticism. It’s an accurate characterization of Warrior’s standing among his peers.

The Ultimate Warrior made a rapid rise to the top of the WWF, as it was known in those days. He won the Intercontinental Championship at SummerSlam in 1988 from the Honkytonk Man, the longest reigning Intercontinental champion in history.

The pinnacle of the Ultimate Warrior’s career came on April 1, 1990, when he defeated Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI at Toronto’s SkyDome. That match, in which Hogan seemed to pass the torch to the Ultimate Warrior, ranks No. 19 on Eric Fisher’s list of the greatest matches in WrestleMania history.  The following year, Ultimate Warrior “retired” Macho Man Randy Savage by winning their bout at WrestleMania VII, a match Fisher ranks 26th on the greatest WrestleMania matches list.

But Warrior’s meteoric rise was followed by a rapid fall from favor. An infamous contract dispute that came to a head at that year’s SummerSlam led to his departure from WWE, but the Ultimate Warrior made a surprising return at WrestleMania VIII, charging down the aisle to save Hogan from the duo of Sid Vicious and Papa Shango.

Warrior didn’t even last a year before he was gone again. He returned in 1996, defeating Triple H at WrestleMania XII, but his stay once again was brief.

Warrior’s estrangement from WWE was punctuated by the 2005 release of a DVD entitled “The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior.” The DVD buried the Ultimate Warrior, telling tales of wrestlers and managers who didn’t like him, mocking his insane (yet entertaining) interviews and minimizing his skills.

During his Hall of Fame speech Saturday, Warrior said the DVD made him angry. He also admitted to feeling hurt.

Yes, underneath all the bluster and bravado, the Warrior was human.

Warrior was hurt because he longed for the respect of his peers. We all love the adulation of the fans, but the greatest reward is the respect of your fellow wrestlers.

During his rambling 40-minute speech Saturday – his speech was pure Warrior, only without the face paint and tassles around his bulging biceps – Warrior went out of his way to thank Jose Estrada, Terry Gibbs and Steve Lombardi, “enhancement” talent who helped make him look good when he first arrived in WWE. He also thanked the behind-the-scenes “talent,” even proposing WWE create the “Jimmy Miranda Award,” named after a longtime merchandise vender at live events, to annually honor one of the unsung individuals who make the wrestlers look so good.

Warrior’s raw emotions were on display during his speech. To counter some of the past criticism, he insisted he’s not a bad guy – and he never was a bad guy.

As I watched Warrior’s speech Saturday in New Orleans, I was thrilled Warrior and WWE were able to reconcile their differences so he could take his rightful place in the Hall of Fame. As the shocking news of Warrior’s death spread like wildfire late Tuesday night, there was the bittersweet satisfaction that Warrior got his day in the WWE sun before he left this earth.

Last week, WWE released a DVD entitled “Ultimate Warrior: The Ultimate Collection.” This DVD is not a hatchet job. Instead, it honors the Warrior’s incredible career.

There are many memorable matches on the three-DVD set. In fact, after writing this column, I’m going to watch the Ultimate Warrior’s match with Hogan at WrestleMania VI.

But, more than his matches, I think I’m going to remember Warrior’s speech at Saturday’s Hall of Fame ceremony.

I’m going to remember Warrior receiving the respect he craved with his overdue induction into the WWE Hall of Fame.

I’m going to remember Warrior going into the Hall of Fame his way. He made peace with WWE, but he never compromised his principles.

His Hall of Fame speech revealed that being detached from WWE, some would say being at war with WWE, bothered the Warrior. I hope that his Hall of Fame induction and warm welcome back allowed his soul to find peace before his untimely death.

At the end of his Hall of Fame speech, Warrior spoke about how, even when he was estranged from WWE, the fans kept the spirit of the Warrior alive. On Monday’s RAW, one day before he died, Warrior suggested the fans will keep the spirit of the Ultimate Warrior alive forever.

After seeing him the past few days in New Orleans, it’s difficult to believe that Warrior is dead.

But his spirit will live on, both through his matches and the poignant memories of Warrior’s redemption added to his legacy during his final few days.

Although Warrior is gone, he may have been correct about the Ultimate Warrior’s spirit continuing to live.



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