The world of professional wrestling has lost yet another icon. The Ultimate Warrior passed away on Tuesday, April 8. Just three days after he was inducted into the WWE’s hall of fame.
Warrior, born James Brian Helwig, made a name for himself in the world of wrestling in the 1980s. He would float around the southern territories for a couple of years before finding his way to the WWF in 1987. It was there that he would take on the persona that would take over his life (in 1993 he would even legally change his name to Warrior).
The Ultimate Warrior made his television debut that same year and would almost immediately captivate audiences with his unique brand of high energy entertainment. His entrance saw him sprint to the ring at top speed before grabbing and shaking the ropes as if he were trying to dismantle the ring. It was like nothing wrestling had ever seen before and the fans loved it.
He would quickly rise through the ranks and attain championship gold, winning the company’s second most important title, the Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship in 1988. He would capture that title once more in 1989 on his way to participating in one of the biggest moments in wrestling history.
In 1990, his popularity and success would peak when he met Hulk Hogan in a champion versus champion match to headline WrestleMania VI in front of a sold out Skydome in Toronto, Canada. Warrior would win that match and become the first man in the history of the company to hold both the Intercontinental and World Heavyweight Championships at the same time, a feat that remains unmatched to this day.
Sadly, Warrior’s fall from grace would come almost as quickly as his rise to stardom. By 1991 he was out of the WWF. A contractual dispute between him and the company led to him being suspended. Eventually he would return, at WrestleMania VIII, in 1992. That return would prove to be short lived as well, as he was released from the company in early November 1992.
He would return to wrestling in 1996 after a semi-retirement. He briefly returned to the WWF and later signed with WCW. During this return to wrestling, something appeared to be missing, and the connection to fans never quite returned to what it was during his heyday in the WWF.
Formally retiring in 1999, Warrior wore many hats, including comic book author and motivational speaker. Embracing the age of the internet, Warrior maintained a blog where he both wrote and vlogged on a variety of topics. He also used this platform to respond to fan mail.
Warrior was a unique individual who always marched to the beat of his own drum. It’s appropriate that one of his legacies in the wrestling business was the incoherent interviews he would give, in which he seemed to be the only person who truly knew what he was talking about. Despite the wild antics, he was quite intelligent, and a shrewd business man. He set precedents in the wrestling business with some of his contract negotiations and surely helped pave the way for the huge paydays wrestlers were receiving during the boom period in the late 90s.
His death comes as a surprise as he had no known health issues. In fact, he took a great amount of pride in being one of the guys who got out of the business with his body still intact and without any financial straits. I’m sure anyone who has ever stepped foot in a ring shares the same goal.
Warrior taught people that if they were going to do something, they should do it to the max. His legacy will forever lie in his strict adherence to his personal principle. That, and the seemingly limitless energy he was able to portray on the screen. His Hall of Fame induction speech, as well as in character speech the following night on Monday Night Raw both capsulized who Warrior was as both a man and a performer perfectly. It’s beautiful that he was able to share that with his children before passing on.
He may not have been the most loved figure in the locker room, but there is no denying that he was definitely one of the most important. One of the most recognizable names and faces in the history of wrestling The Ultimate Warrior, Jim Helwig. Rest in peace.
Excerpt of Warrior’s last speech on Monday Night Raw:
No WWE talent becomes a legend on their own. Every man’s heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe a final breath. And if what that man did in his life 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. Ultimate. You are the Ultimate Warrior fans. And the spirit of Ultimate Warriors will run forever!