N.C. Harrison reflects on the Ultimate Warrior’s death and the Undertaker’s Wrestlemania defeat.
It has been a weird, interesting and sad few days for wrestling fans. Wrestlemania, as it usually does, managed to capture the imagination and—as it sometimes can, though all too rarely—catapulted a new star into the WWE stratosphere. Daniel Bryan is the new champion and I watched a packed Superdome (not, as some legends of the sport would have it, Silverdome) chanting “Yes! Yes! Yes!” along with him, just like I watched Seattle fans doing during the NFC playoffs. Bryan is like the Seahawks, Portlandia, fried egg on hamburgers and my old friend Kay… a slightly offbeat import from the Pacific Northwest that might just take the country by storm. He defeated Triple H in a good, solid match from two of my favorite in-ring storytellers, and then survived a few truly nasty spots (I truly thought Orton might be paralyzed, at least for awhile, after getting draped spine first across that monitor) in a triple-threat match for the title with Randy Orton and Batista. This championship match was emblematic of the night, in my opinion. New guys, like Antonio Cesaro and the Shield, seemed to dominate the card. The madman Bray Wyatt, wonderful even in defeat, took John Cena to the limit and seemed to sway the crowd to his weird ways. The “let’s go Cena/Cena sucks” chants of the last few years weren’t as evident as the new, “let’s go creepy” chant dedicated to Wyatt. It may not be the best accolade in the world, but when you’re trying to get us to follow the buzzards then I guess you take what you can get.
The night’s big news, however, happened during Brock Lesnar’s match with the Undertaker, during which the Dead Man’s legendary Wrestlemania victory streak was on the line. Lesnar isn’t exactly new talent, like the rest of those who rose on this night, but he is a tough, legitimately scary guy and I wouldn’t want to fight him unless he was asleep and I was armed. The match, like most of ‘Taker’s streak matches, dragged a little bit. It took them geological time to get to the ring—it always does with Undertaker—and neither man seemed to be working a very fast pace. I barely paid attention, deciding that I could do a little bit of school work before the main event.
I’m glad I looked up after that last F-5 from Lesnar.
The streak, nearly as old as the first time I ever watched wrestling, was over with no ceremony and little warning. The crowd, truly shocked for the first time that I have seen in a long time on a professional wrestling program, stared gobsmacked at the 21-1 infographic displayed. I stared, too, and wondered if there had been a botch… had the ref been too quick? ‘Taker too slow?
The more I thought about it, though, the more it made sense. The man in black, in the ring, was a shadow of his former self. I remembered watching him all my life and, generally, had seen the Undertaker through the rosy lenses of nostalgia. He was the guy, when I was a little kid and even in middle school and beyond, that would always carry a tail whipping along with him for whoever was in the ring. Even the legendarily tough Stone Cold Steve Austin couldn’t just run over the ‘Taker like a speed bump. He had slowed down, sure, but warm memories convinced me that he still looked pretty good, even a couple of years ago in a match which mostly consisted of Triple H wrestling himself. I couldn’t see it until the other night, while the Dead Man sagged against the ropes like a rangy, pallid gunslinger at his last shootout. What my dad said at a house show, all the way back in 2009, rang terribly true. “Geez, guys,” he said. “The Undertaker is really starting to look like a tired, broken down old man.” Maybe I didn’t want to believe because a part of my childhood would have seemed gone. It seemed more than a little like the end of an era.
The Ultimate Warrior addresses his fans for the last time.
Today I learned that another part of my childhood really is gone. The Ultimate Warrior, after finally making amends with the McMahons and signing on for a two year stint as WWE’s ambassador, fell dead outside of his hotel. I truly can’t believe this. I watched him rant like a madman during the Hall of Fame ceremony—even outdoing Lita’s far too long speech—and he looked like a sturdy, robust man in his middle fifties. Heck, Warrior seemed even fitter than some of the guys who would be wrestling the next night! He surely looked better than Carlos Colon (his forehead looks like a topographical map, from all the blading scars) and Jake the Snake who… well, let’s face it… most folks look in better shape than poor old Jake.
Warrior reflects on his WWE legacy.
I heard the Warrior, felt the power of the Warrior as he was wont to say, and watched some old matches of his on DVD, that night, in all of the rope shaking, foot stomping, big splashing glory of Destrucity. I listened to his spiel on RAW, wearing his mask and long trenchcoat—I jokingly told my sister that it was his high priest’s costume—but didn’t pay much attention to it. Hearing it again, this morning, is downright creepy. His message, that we the fans were the legend makers, and that the power of the Warrior would always live in us, seemed to presage his death. I do know that the loss of such a towering figure—the man who took Hulk Hogan’s multi-year title reign and Wrestlemania streak, who no sold a Pedigree in Triple H’s first Wrestlemania appearance as the Blue Blood—reflects on the passing of that era. Though there have been great heroes in wrestling since then—Steve Austin, Goldberg, Shawn Michaels, the Rock, even Bryan, John Cena and CM Punk, now—they didn’t seem as enormous, as powerful or as amazing as men like ‘Taker, Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant and the Ultimate Warrior. They were larger than life figures, like Superman, and touched lives in the same magical way.
Warrior’s words, I think, can put it better than I could ever hope to. He said, on Monday night:
“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 believe deeper in something that’s larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized by the storytellers — 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 Ultimate Warrior. You are the Ultimate Warrior fans. And the spirit of the Ultimate Warrior will run forever!”
He charges the ring like a madman in heaven now, and shakes the ropes of the universe itself.