411 Special Roundtable: Remembering Warrior
Posted by Larry Csonka on 04.11.2014
The 411 staff gathers to look back on the career of the man born James Brian Helwig; the man we know as the Ultimate Warrior…
The week of WrestleMania 30 appeared to be the holiday week many of us make it out to be. Fans were discussing their trip to the host city, people anticipating the Hall of Fame and big show on the Network as well as AXXESS and the other shows being offered. All week I heard reports of fun shows, autograph signings and the great matches that were witnessed by these passionate fans; people were happy and it was a fun time. But for some the preparation for the celebration started back in July…
On July 15th, 2013 it was announced that Warrior would be part of the WWE 2k14 video game. That made Warrior fans excited, but during this time, the big news was that Warrior met with Triple H regarding a possible return to the company. The meeting with Triple H was the first meeting between the two sides in several years. Over the Summerslam weekend, Warrior then had a meeting with Vince McMahon. They met for over two hours, hammering out details for a possible return. The rumors were out there, the excitement grew.
In late December, the two sides agreed to a deal for Warrior to come back to the WWE family. On January 13th, WWE announced that the Warrior was being inducted into their Hall of Fame. On April 5th, Warrior was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. The following night, April 6th, he appeared at WrestleMania with the rest of the Hall of Fame class. On April 7th, Warrior made an appearance on Raw, speaking to his Warriors. The fences were mended, the fans were pleased and it appeared that the bad feelings were left in the past.
And then on April 8th, WWE.com announced that the Ultimate Warrior had died. A tidal wave of shock ran through the world of wrestling as fans and performers alike were taken by surprise. Lets be real for a minute, the Warrior was one of the most controversial figures in wrestling history. Due partly to how he did things during his a career, and due to his "speeches" post wrestling. Both loved and hated, everyone had an opinion on Warrior. He was a man that did things his way, the Warrior way; he was loved by many, despised by others, and maybe even misunderstood. He was a man that was a superstar to fans and modern performers alike. But more importantly, he was a husband and a father. Today, the 411 staff gathers to look back on the career of the man born James Brian Helwig; the man we knew as the Ultimate Warrior…
Dino Zucconi: I feel like a fraud. I also feel like a hypocrite. See, I worked everyone- and even worked myself- into thinking that I hate the Ultimate Warrior. I've long maintained that at WrestleMania 6, Warrior didn't beat Hulk Hogan- Hogan kicked out at two. Hell, just a couple weeks ago, I did a write-up for that very match in the Top 30 WM Matches feature we here at 411 put together. My entire entry was tongue in cheek about how Hogan kicked out at two and was robbed. We then had a Top 5 Disappointing WM Matches where I listed Hogan/Warrior as #1, because the disappointment I felt from that match still lives on to this day. I always made fun of Warrior to my friends who loved him, and always made it seem like I would never let the hate die.
And now, here I am, pretty devastated upon learning of his passing just last night. Twenty-four hours before I got the call, he was on Raw, sporting the Warrior logo in mask form, telling us all how WE are the reason that he- and anyone else- can truly be immortal. He was back. He looked great. He said his piece, and seemed to be truly at peace. It was a wonderful return. And now it's just another bittersweet memory for us as fans to recall.
The truth is, I was a fan of the Ultimate Warrior. While I always said it was unfair that he "stole" Brutus Beefcake's title shot against Honky Tonk Man at SummerSlam 88, the fact is that I went NUTS when Warrior stormed the ring and obliterated HTM. I remember being SHOCKED when Rick Rude took the IC title off him at Mania 5, and relieved when he won it back at SummerSlam 89. Sure, Mania 6 was a rough night for us Hulkamaniacs, but Warrior was still an awesome presence. His match with Randy Savage is one of my personal favorites, and his return at Mania 8 is another fantastic moment.
I loved that he was going to return to WrestleMania 12, and I thought he'd easily win some gold in a feud with Goldust. Sadly, the 1996 return ended as abruptly as it began. Why, exactly, is still argued. Regardless, it was nice to have him back, for however short a time.
Sure, his WCW run was more or less atrocious, but I still remember stopping everything I was doing that August night that he returned to Monday Nitro. Maybe his speech went too long that night, but Warrior returning to wrestling was HUGE.
These last 18 years, something has felt like it was missing. Sure, Warrior might get thrown in the random video game here or there, but he was still basically not allowed back. This year, that wrong was corrected. The weekend of WrestleMania 30 was fantastic for me as a fan. Jake Roberts, Scott Hall, and Warrior were all welcomed back to the fold. While Roberts and Hall had been out due to demons, Warrior had been held out because of what he had to say and other personal issues. As I watched his Hall of Fame speech, it became clear that Warrior wanted to let go of all the hate, of all the bitterness. Sure, he attempted to set the record straight and clear his name, but this felt less like a liar trying to sell you on a story, and more like a guy who felt genuinely hurt about the things his peers had said about him.
Monday Night was the perfect culmination of it all. The speech was perfect, his thanking of the fans was perfect, and now, in retrospect, it feels like he almost knew he was not long for this world. I don't think he did, but that doesn't diminish the eerie feelings I now associate with that speech.
In the end, his return acts a small representation for what he knew of him his entire career: a brilliant entrance, wonderful moments, and then, just like that, he's gone.
My entire life, I've considered the Warrior as two things: the guy that beat Hulk Hogan, and My Brother's Favorite Wrestler. I'll now add a third: Wrestling Legend. Somehow, that doesn't make this hurt any less. And, all jokes aside, let me just say it: He pinned Hogan fair and square at Mania 6. No two count.
Rest in Peace, Warrior.
MIKE HAMMERLOCK: This isn't going to sound like a compliment at first, but rest assured it is: Ultimate Warrior was the king of what I call the Cartoon Era. In the late 1980s, on the heels of Hulk Hogan's popularity, the wrestling business in general (and the WWF in particular) became an increasingly cartoonish, kid-centered product. When Hogan started his title run he mostly faced traditional hard men (Mr. Wonderful, Dr. D, Ken Patera) and guys with amped up characters (Roddy Piper, Jesse Ventura). Macho Man and the Million Dollar Man cranked up the Saturday Morning funhouse aspect of the product, but they were still Randy Savage and Ted DiBiase mixed in with their alter egos. What put it over the top was the wave of Jake the Snake, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Earthquake, Ravishing Rick Rude, Honkeytonk Man, Demolition, Big Bossman, Hercules, Bam Bam Bigelow, One Man Gang, the Bushwackers, Tugboat/Typhoon and the Barbarian. Mr. Perfect, Bad News Brown and the Rockers - all of them over-the-top caricatures - were what passed for normal people in that era. Yet the guy with the most straight-from-the-pages-of-a-comic-book feel was the Ultimate Warrior. He behaved like a superhero dreamed up in the fevered imaginings of a five year-old on a candy bender. Hell, he'd fit right into Axe Cop today. The man was a walking, breathing cartoon, which nailed the WWF's target demographic at the time. For a few years he managed to be bigger than life, and that's no small trick.
To his credit, despite a reputation as delivering more flash than substance in the ring, he strung together a run of memorable WrestleMania performances. He and Rude put on one of the better matches at WM5. At WM6 Warrior drew out what I consider to be the finest in-ring WrestleMania performance of Hogan's career. That match was also all kinds of huge in terms of hype, arguably only behind Hogan-Andre in that measure. Then at WM7 Warrior put on a true classic in every sense of the word against Savage. There's a lot of workrate darlings who'd kill to have a WrestleMania run like that. Warrior deserved every ounce of that Hall of Fame induction on Saturday. What's shocking is that we're reminded again so soon afterward that he actually was a human.
Todd Vote: When I was a youngster, there was only WWF, and then that occasional program you would be able to catch on TBS, WCW Saturday Night. The reason I mention this is because it means that the Warrior's career was essentially a five-year stint in the WWE, not counting his brief return in 96, or his stuff in WCW later on. The fact that a career that short can have such a profound effect on a young child (I was seven when he debuted on WWF Wrestling Challenge), should speak volumes to the ability of the man to grab, and hold your attention. You can say what you will about his in ring ability, many have. But, the man had a charisma and an intensity in the ring that has never been rivaled to this day. Warrior will always go down as one of my favorites of all time.
MICHAEL WEYER: I've always been bugged how people trash that "Self Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior" DVD as a terrible burial job by WWE when I have seen SO many guys online saying so much worse. It's as if they're annoyed WWE just has their guys confirming their own opinions. I agree, that doc was harsh but again, guys like Wrestlecrap have had gleeful fun at Warrior over the years and suddenly acting like he's an innocent victim is odd. That sort of plays now as too many guys I've seen who have mocked Warrior over the years are suddenly turning around to talk of him not getting a fair shake for stuff. But it does show how controversial a performer he was and thus harder to judge.
Newer fans may not get the appeal, especially given how so much has been written about him in a negative light (me included). But as someone who grew up on '80's WWF, the Warrior was a huge part of my fandom. The guy was a real-life superhero for that era, jacked up like hell with a terrific entrance theme, charging out to the ring with tassles and hair flying, makeup making him look like a true warrior and demolishing opponents with ease. Sure, he wasn't a good worker but he had that special something, that huge spark that just can't be copied and that charisma erupted in droves on screen to pull you in. That was his power, his ability to succeed so well and you could overlook his poor ring work because he just exploded with such star power that you couldn't help but be enthralled by him.
Yes, his promos were insane even by wrestling standards. He'd snort, rant, rave to the heavens about his Gods and such. But that fit his act as his whole persona was not being a normal guy so why would he talk like one? It did sell him as a truly amazing guy, you knew you were in for something different when he talked and he could turn in some really big ones. Jericho summed it up on that DVD: "I don't understand exactly what he said but it sounded cool so yaaaay!" Again, that stunning charisma of his, something so few could replicate, is why he remains an icon of his time.
There's a lot that can be said of him personally, his ego, his bizarre opinions and behavior and atrocities like the Halloween Havoc '98 match (although a good part on that DVD is Hogan taking much of the blame for how bad that was). But we're here to praise Warrior, not bury him and the fact remains that very few people can ever be able to say they got a crowd going like he did. Watch videos of WWF in late '80's/early '90's and when that music hits, arenas just erupt, folks on their feet and going wild as Warrior would charge down to the ring. He had crowds in the palm of his hand for his bouts, carrying their cheers and feeding off their energy. Yes, some of his big bouts had to be helped by planning (Mania VI and VII) but without the aura the Warrior had, they wouldn't have been as notable.
I'll miss this man. For all the crap thrown at him by guys online, he knew the business was entertainment and he always did his best to provide that for fans. And he succeeded, a face and act that will always be remembered and no better legacy to leave behind than a larger-than-life persona whose death just enhances a legend.
Koeddy Laemmle: Ultimate Warrior will forever be revered by wrestling fans as one of the most larger than life characters of all time. Warrior wasn't the most technically gifted in-ring wrestler, and to be quite honest you either absolutely loved his promos for their pure insanity or didn't understand them but he more than made up for it with an overwhelming intensity that captivated fans throughout the early 90's. The Warrior was the most popular choice when my elementary school wrestling buddies and I would get together and beat up on each other in what I can assure readers were better matches than 90% of the stuff we currently get from the WWE Divas. To us children at the time, Ultimate Warrior was the equivalent of a real life super hero and I will always remember drawing his insignia on my chest in orange and pink, tying some colorful ribbon around my arms and running around like a crazy man looking to clothesline and shoulder tackle everybody in sight. The Ultimate Warrior is one of the most enduring wrestling characters of all time and will live on forever.
Alex Crowder: The Ultimate Warrior was actually returning to wrestling the first time I ever saw pro wrestling. I was still in elementary school when it happened. I remember an older friend of mine turned the television to a show called Monday Nitro eagerly awaiting the return of the Warrior. As a kid, he captivated my interest. The fact that older kids liked him too made him seem even more awesome. I remember immediately Warrior was one of my two favorite WCW wrestlers. Ironically enough, the other WCW wrestler I came to cheer for was Sting. Without Warrior, I probably would have never gotten into pro wrestling. I really got into wrestling weeks later learning everything I could, but that's a different story. Warrior was the one who exposed me to it as fate would have it.
I remember I ordered Fall Brawl and as a kid thought it was awesome when Warrior broke through the cage. As I got older and expanded my pro wrestling knowledge, I learned more about the Warrior. Warrior was truly a larger than life figure. When I came across Warrior's old work, I realized just how good he could be. To this day his matches with Randy Savage are some of the best pieces of story telling in wrestling. The career match with Savage is one of my favorite matches ever.
Warrior was an incredible entertainer who put on some great matches with Hogan, Rick Rude, and even an underrated match with Sgt. Slaughter. Warrior had an awesome career and got some of the biggest pops of anyone I have ever heard. Plus, he always had feuds that were very different. His feuds with Papa Shango, The Undertaker, and Jake Roberts brought about some entertaining moments. Another thing is that I truly believe that Warrior respects the business. Warrior may not have always been one of the boys, but he certainly tried his best. Warrior loved the fans and his character showed that.
Mike Chin: It's tough to strike a balance between idolizing The Ultimate Warrior as a six-year-old kid, mocking him as a twenty-something smark, and now, in my thirties reflecting on a unique personality and an incredible physical specimen—if not a tremendous in-ring worker. I don't put Warrior on a pedestal today, and the man's tragic passing doesn't mean that we should retroactively look at him through rose-colored glasses. Just the same, in a business that I love in large part for its escapist qualities, I don't know that any wrestling superstar has ever more readily, skillfully, or completely rescued fans from the confines of reality than The Ultimate Warrior. He wasn't perfect. No one is. But I'll be darned if his performances didn't allow me to have a lot of fun when I was kid and for that I'll always appreciate him.
Justin Watry: Energy. From the beginning of his career all the way to his final Raw appearance this past week, there was just one word to sum up The Ultimate Warrior. Whether he was in the ring, backstage cutting a promo, online ranting and raving, giving public speeches, accepting his much deserved WWE Hall of Fame induction on Saturday night, or thanking his fan on Monday night, he was full of energy. That is what I will take away from him. Love him, like him, hate him, despise him whatever - the guy did everything 100 percent.
Ryan Byers: Honestly, the Warrior has never really meant that much to me as a performer. I was fairly young and was not a fan during his first WWF run including the WrestleMania VI match. I did catch him a few times during his second stint with the company, by which point I had started watching and was just getting familiar with the pro wrestling landscape. However, he was canned by the promotion before I could really build up all that much of a Warrior fandom. By the time he returned to the promotion in 1996, I was a hardcore wrestling fan but also a teenager who was just old enough to realize that the Ultimate Warrior was just sort of . . . weird. I didn't like the fact that he wasn't as athletic as some of the other wrestlers of the era, and I found this mystical B.S. he was spewing about his pseudo-religion of "Destrucity" to be really off-putting. Then I actually received a free copy of the Ultimate Warrior comic book with my monthly WWF Magazine, and my conclusion was that this man was totally insane. From there, he was off to WCW, and every human being who saw any portion of his WCW run thought that it was atrocious. I was no different. So, unlike the majority of the people who are contributing to this column, I can honestly say that I was never really a Warrior fan. Obviously the man did reach the pinnacle of the industry and was a massive star, and he deserves kudos for reach that level . . . but I could take him or leave him as a wrestler.
If I'm going to be honest with myself and with the readers of this site, I have to say that, during the time between the end of his WCW run and his return to WWE this past weekend, I completely lost any respect that I had for the Ultimate Warrior/Jim Hellwig as a person, let alone as a wrestler. He made numerous bigoted statements regarding the LGBT community, and the comments that he made about New Orleans and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina cannot be described with any word other than "appalling." He spent several years being an outright embarrassment to the professional wrestling industry, and it got to the point that I had no desire to see him return to the sport and no desire to watch any of his back catalog. He just bothered me that much.
Wyatt Beougher: I'm one of those weird kids that never really dug the Warrior all that much, in spite of being a huge Hulkamaniac for a brief period in my youth. By the time Warrior became a thing, I had already moved on to guys like Savage, Steamboat, and Flair. With all of that being said, I still can appreciate just how popular the Warrior was (and to a certain extent, is). Between his unique entrance that got the fans pumped up for his matches (and, to an extent, made it possible to overlook his limitations in the ring), a high impact, mostly high speed style that kept them pumped up, and face paint that endeared him to millions of kids, it's pretty clear what well the WWE went to for inspiration for the Usos (obviously, it's a hybrid with their Samoan heritage as well).
And the promos, oh the glorious, glorious promos...there's literally nothing that I can say that hasn't been said better by the likes of Edge, Chris Jericho, and others in the less-than-flattering original Ultimate Warrior collection, but there's something inherently awesome about a guy just cutting loose with a whole slew of nonsense just thrown together and alternately yelled or whispered. The fact that he later legally changed his name and tried to start a comic book about the belief system that he created out of those nonsense promos is just the icing on the cake.
Gavin Napier: With apologies to Rob Van Adam's awful theme music, Warrior was truly one of a kind. My first memories of him are actually as The Dingo Warrior down in World Class, and I was immediately captivated by him as a 7 year old. When he transitioned to the then-WWF, he fit right in. He was everything Vince wanted - young, full of energy, jacked to the moon, and a ridiculous gimmick guaranteed to get over with younger fans.
That's always been the rub with Warrior. Regardless of how many people within the industry felt about him, or how directly he swam against the current of tradition, he always had the most important thing needed to be a star in the world of professional wrestling. He had "it," the intangible magnetism needed to hold people's attention. In the ring, on the mic, or screaming down the aisle like his head was on fire, it was impossible to look away when he was on the screen.
54 is young. It's hard to believe that Warrior's breakthrough moments were almost 25 years ago. Barely a week removed from the 24th anniversary of becoming the first man to cleanly pin Hulk Hogan in the better part of a decade, he's gone. As someone who lost his father recently, my heart goes out to his children. We mourn the loss of a childhood hero, of a wrestling legend, and a topic of discussion. They are mourning their father; few things are more difficult to process.
Regardless of your opinion of the man, Warrior was a true Hall of Famer. There are indelible images from his career that will endure through the ages - especially since he made up with Vince. From ending the Honky Tonk Man's legendary run with the IC title (to one of the loudest pops ever) to that iconic moment in Toronto at WrestleMania VI, Warrior's last promo will ring true. If you give people something to remember, your spirit will live forever.
Favorite Warrior Moment, Promo and or Match
Dino Zucconi: I mentioned some of them above, but this is no easy pick. As far as a promo goes, that's nearly impossible to pick. We all know about the rocket fuel in the spaceship. We know about HOKE HOGAN. We do. I honestly can't narrow it down to just one promo. The man was insane every time out. Match and moment, though? Both are easy:
Moment: When Hulk Hogan and Sid Justice's WM 8 match ended in a DQ, with Papa Shango later running in and making it a two on one attack on Hogan, things looked dire. And then, that music hit. Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan knew who it was, and played it up perfectly. The Warrior came streaking down the aisle, leveled Shango and Sid with clotheslines, and stood tall with Hogan. Warrior hadn't been seen since running through the curtain at SummerSlam 91, and this return was absolutely surprising. One of my favorite endings to a WrestleMania, at my favorite WrestleMania of all time.
Match: A bit more difficult. While Hogan/Warrior is a great match, I don't particularly love the ending. Warrior/Savage is a classic. Warrior/HTM is historic. For me, though? My favorite Warrior match took place at Survivor Series 1990. Taking on "The Perfect Team" of Mr. Perfect and all three members of Demolition, Warrior put together "The Warriors" with Road Warriors Hawk and Animal, and the Modern Day Warrior Kerry Von Erich. This team, along with the Hogan/Jake/Demolition Survivor Series team the year before, are my two all time favorite Survivor Series teams. In the end, Warrior got the victory, but it was the teaming of all of wrestling's "warriors" together that really makes this stand out for me. He had better matches, of this there is no doubt. I just always love this match.
MIKE HAMMERLOCK: Warrior's promos are the stuff of legend. It came across as bad acid poetry from someone who just read a whole bunch of Conan novels. He would say the most ridiculous, nonsensical crap and then came the best part ... the crowd would absolutely mark out. He could not feed them enough word salad. They gobbled up every bit of it. Someone really ought to release a book of collected Ultimate Warrior promos and then do an audio book of British actors (Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Ralph Fiennes) reading the entries. His appearance on the Arsenio Hall Show also deserves enshrinement.
As for matches, Warrior-Savage at WM7 was pure gold. They threw the kitchen sink at each other. The intensity coming from both guys and from the crowd comes across as genuine no matter how jaded and cynical you may be. It's pro wrestling done just about perfectly. Savage historically gets most of the credit for that match, but it takes two guys in the ring to make that happen. Tragic that 23 years later we've lost them both.
Todd Vote: My absolute favorite Warrior match was, of course, seeing him wrestle the WWE Championship away from The Immortal Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI. I was always a Warrior guy over Hogan once they were both around. Seeing my hero dethrone Hogan still stands as one of my favorite moments as a fan of this pseudo-sport. Also, while I am talking about the Warrior, the stuff between him and Papa Shango, that was something I always wish I would have seen play out. It was extremely creepy, and I was totally into the story. The match may not have been any good, but Shango was growing on me about as much as a Supernatural character not named The Undertaker could.
Michael Weyer: So many to pick. Most will go for Savage at Mania VII or the Hogan battle or his surprise return at WrestleMania VIII. But my pick for best Warrior moment is easy: SummerSlam '88. After watching the Honky Tonk Man keep hold of the Intercontinental title for over a year with various cheating ways, fans were dying for him to lose it. When Beefcake was injured, HTM took to the mic and declared anyone could come out. That music hit and the crowd were on their feet as the Warrior charged out for a 30 second slaughter to win the title. It was beautiful, the longest IC title reign ending in record time and the pop from Madison Square Garden when the pin was made is one of the loudest you can hear, marks and smarks alike united in joy seeing it end. It remains my all-time biggest mark-out moment and the match that made Warrior a mega-star, his contribution to wrestling history that remains magical 25 years later.
Koeddy Laemmle: The first Ultimate Warrior/Randy Savage match from WrestleMania VII is my personal favorite WrestleMania match of all time. When I first watched the match I remember it blowing my mind when Warrior managed to kick out of FIVE elbow drops and the crowd was absolutely electric. Every few years it has gotten harder and harder to watch, and now all the members involved: Warrior, Savage, Elizabeth and Sherri Martel have all passed on making my favorite WrestleMania matches and moments one of the most depressing to watch. The rematch at SummerSlam 1992 is also an amazing match. It goes without saying that his WrestleMania VI match with Hulk Hogan was the crowning achievement of his career and really is quite impressive given neither wrestler is known for their technical ability. Warrior also had quite possibly the greatest ring music and entrance of all time. They worked together to create a energetic environment, and were so distinguishable to him that I remember legitimately feeling irritated years ago when Batista started shaking the ring ropes to set up his own finisher. The simplicity of him running down would have looked weird had it not been for his iconic image and style. As for favorite promo:
"How must I prepare? You must ask yourself.
Should I jump off the tallest building in the world?
Should I lay in the lawn and let it run over me with lawn mowers?
Should I go to Africa and let it trample me with raging elephants?"
Alex Crowder: I actually loved the majority of Warrior's promos especially the one with Hulk Hogan. I'm an aspiring writer and even write poetry at times, and Warrior has used some creative metaphors in his promos. The way he sold a match was unlike anyone else except for maybe Randy Savage. Warrior channeled an intelligent insanity in his promos and few characters will ever be as memorable or creative. If anything wrestling could use more characters like him.
For a few moments to list: I loved when he was trapped with the snakes, and when he ran down to save Hulk Hogan. I also love when he broke through the cage at Fall Brawl 98. I loved the build to the feud with Lawler. Now, I have one last moment to add which is this Monday night. It was great to see the Warrior one last time on Raw.
My favorite matches are the usual suspects. I already mentioned the career match with Randy Savage, but I like the Summerslam match a lot too. That's not all though, the cage match between the two is memorable! I think they may have had another match too. I know many cite others as Savage's best opponent, but I'll take Warrior as Savage's true rival. Of course, I always loved the Sgt Slaughter match due to the story line. That match just made the fans hate Savage and want Warrior to overcome the odds making for excellent story telling. Another favorite of mine is the passing of the torch. Hulk Hogan as we know never puts on his working boots in America, but with Warrior they really put on a great match. Think about this Warrior and Hogan had a better match than Ric Flair and Hogan. Warrior may have been underrated as a worker at times. I was also pulling for Warrior all the way, when I did get around to watching the passing of the torch. Pat Patterson said Warrior cried in the back after he beat Hogan, so I don't think his passion for wrestling can really be questioned. Also, as a child I loved the Hogan and Bret Hart vs. Sting and Warrior match from Nitro. It is very rare to see those four in the same ring at once, so it holds a special place in my mind.
Mike Chin: Easy pick for me. I picked Warrior-Savage from WrestleMania 7 as my all-time favorite WrestleMania encounter in my countdown of all 287 matches prior to WrestleMania 30. I picked it because, bar none, it marks my favorite match and favorite moment in all of wrestling—a beginning of the end for my childhood era of late 80s-early 90s WWF, a titanic clash between two icons, and the climax of wrestling's greatest love story between The Macho Man and Miss Elizabeth.
Yes, a lot of this match's greatness is rooted in Savage's awesome psychology and athleticism, but Warrior also held up his end of the bargain. He sold the gravity of the situation by walking to the ring instead of his trademark sprint down the aisle. He demonstrated his humanity in the late stages of the match when he almost walks away because he questions if he can pin Savage. Then he proved himself to be indestructible when survived five flying elbow drops and fights on to victory. In a career full of far more highlights than most smarks would care to admit, this is the match I'll always remember best.
Justin Watry: This is pretty simple. In this business, the top goal is to main event WWE WrestleMania with the main prize on the line against whoever is the main star at the time...and win. At WMVI, that opponent was Hulk Hogan in front of a jam-packed Skydome with both the IC and World Titles on the line. No bigger marquee than that. There is no bigger 'peak' on top of the mountain. Warrior was able to not only defeat Hulk Hogan for the WWE Title that night, he was able to do so following a great promo and great match. Nothing in this entire industry can top a WM main event, beating the main star clean in the middle of the ring and doing so for the top title. Warrior did just that. Also, it bears mentioning that his theme music/entrance presentation was amazing. Absolutely perfect for the character. Just a few months ago, I put together a list of Top 5 Wrestler Entrances. Coming in at #3 for me was The Ultimate Warrior.
Ryan Byers: As noted above, I was not a big Warrior fan, and I did not watch any of his first and biggest national run while it was happening. Of the Warrior matches and moments that I saw live as they were happening, the one that stood out to me the most was probably his feud with Papa Shango. I know that sounds insane, given that it is typically considered to be one of the most Wrestlecrap-tastic rivalries in history, but the visual of Shango "inducing vomiting" in the Warrior through his supposed magical powers was hilarious to me at the time. As a ten year old, it was probably one of the first times in my life that I started to derive entertainment from the concept of "so bad that it's good."
In terms of things that I missed the first time around but went back and watched later in life, I think that Warrior's best "pure" series of matches were the ones that he had against Rick Rude. Nobody would mistake Warrior for being a good hand in the ring, but there was something about his chemistry with the Ravishing One that drew out the absolute best in the Warrior. In fact, Rude probably did a better job with him on a consistent basis than even the Randy Savages of the world, despite the fact that Savage would typically be considered on the whole a better wrestler than Rude.
Wyatt Beougher: The obvious answer here would be "Ho Kogan" promos, but for me, the sentimental choice is his match against "Connecticut Blueblood" Hunter Hearst Helmsley at WrestleMania XII. Sure, it's probably the reason HHH spent a decade putting himself over the best performers on the roster, but that squash match was the epitome of awesome, especially when you look at what a selfish dick Triple H has been since then. It was like Warrior was preemptively trying to bury Triple H before he could go on to bury guys like Jericho and Booker T, and while it was ultimately unsuccessful, I'll remain forever grateful, especially if Daniel Bryan busts out the full match footage the next time Triple H puts together an "I'm the coolest and greatest iron-fisted ruler of the Attitude Era" video package.
Gavin Napier: My favorite Warrior match isn't one that gets a mentioned much. It wasn't a great match at all. On WCW Monday Nitro's 12.10.98 edition, Sting and Warrior teamed up to take on Bret Hart and Hulk Hogan. It was the type of match you only read about in Wrestling Superstars. It was surreal to see the Blade Runners reunite 15 years later. His promos were always an adventure, and none but his final words on Raw stand out to me. Admittedly, after having a conversation with the Honky Tonk Man, seeing him lose to the Warrior in 30 seconds is a lot more satisfying than it used to be.
Thoughts on the timing of his WWE return and passing...
Dino Zucconi: One on hand, part of me is relieved that we don't put Warrior in the Macho Man Randy Savage group of "He really should have been inducted while we had the chance". Lots of us are still sad that when Macho Man is finally inducted, someone else will speak for him. We'll get videos showing us what he did, and people will talk about how cool he was. With Warrior, we were able to hear from him directly. He spoke to us, both at the Hall of Fame, and again on Raw. It was personal, and I'm relieved that an 18-year beef was set aside to make it happen.
On the other, this hurts me more than when Eddy Guerrero passed. Part of the pain with Eddy dying was that he had abused his body, but made the changes he needed to, only his body was already shot at that point. It felt like the second chance he was seemingly granted had been taken away. Still, Eddy was beloved when he passed. Warrior, on the other hand, was only back for roughly 3 days. He had his moment, sure, but he never fully got to enjoy being "back" in the fold. As soon as we got him back, he was taken from us again.
Like I said at the start, from the way I've always presented my feelings of Warrior, I feel like a fraud. Sometimes I stay a bit too devoted to my jokes. Losing Warrior, however, is a pain I'm not really happy to have inside right now. It just doesn't seem fair. In fact, it isn't fair at all. He earned a second chance.
MIKE HAMMERLOCK: No one should die at age 54. No one should leave behind two young daughters. That's the real tragedy here. James Brian Hellwig had a lot of life in front of him. I am glad he got his due recognition from the WWE before this tragedy. People make a sport of running down Triple H, but honoring Bruno Sammartino and the Ultimate Warrior is an extremely important act of fence mending. I only wish the same had happened with Randy Savage. Life's too short to allow that kind of pointless animosity to fester. Warrior went way too soon, but I hope he at least went with a sense of happiness and fulfillment over what he had achieved in the wrestling business.
Todd Vote: There are no words... I was blown away to wake up this morning, and see the news of Warrior's demise. A truly sad day that puts a dark cloud on an otherwise fantastic week for us wrestling fans. Like many others in this roundtable will say, I am glad that Warrior was able to mend fences with so many within the business and within the WWE itself before he was taken from this Earth. Thoughts go out to his family.
MICHAEL WEYER: I'm glad he managed to mend fences with WWE in the end. His speech at the Hall of Fame made it clear that he was still going on his own terms, always doing things his own way and that played into his character well. That last in-ring promo just a day before his death is truly haunting to watch, as if he knew what was going to happen, almost like he had a vision from those Gods he always talked about. Regardless, it certainly has ended up changing how people view him more than if this had happened a year ago. It's gotten him respect long lost and folks realizing they may have judged him too harshly over the years. Maybe some go a bit too far but at least his legacy can be enjoyed more now.
I was a fan of this man before my exposure to the backstage stories turned me a bit more bitter with his backstage antics. Few performers before or since are able to command the fans' attention like he did and you could overlook bad matches because of that sheer animal charisma. Going out like this, just after his HOF speech and such shows that Warrior ended his life just as he always did in wrestling, on his own terms and standing proud by his success. I will miss him as this was a man who always got you talking no matter what, a gift so many wrestlers would kill for and a legacy many IWC favorites can only dream of. Farewell, Warrior and thank you so much for the great times and memories and a reminder of why pro wrestling still holds us well. Goodbye and may your legacy always be remembered as truly Ultimate.
Koeddy Laemmle: Given the outrageous personality he was it's almost fitting in a morbid manner that Warrior would have such surreal circumstances surrounding his death. His, now chilling, final words to the wrestling fans less than 24 hours before almost seem to foreshadow his untimely death. It is so hard to believe after finally burying the hatchet after 18 years and returning to television that something like this would happen but repercussions from the crazy time period Warrior wrestled in have never been kind to it's victims. It was almost as though he was hanging on to dear life to get the recognition he truly deserved before moving on to a better place. I couldn't be happier for him to have finally got his moment of glory and the fact he was able to share that weekend with his loving family makes it even more special. The loss of Warrior is another blow to longtime fans who are quickly running out of childhood favorites but the loss is even more devastating for his young family who will be effected by the loss of a father and husband every day of their lives. My condolences go to them and I hope they can take some comfort in their dad living long enough to see his legacy immortalized and you could tell how proud he was to finally get his time to reflect and thank the fans for all their support.
Alex Crowder: I'm so happy that Warrior got a chance to tell his side of the story on a new dvd. Also, he seems like a great family man who wanted to leave things behind for his daughters, which is beyond admirable. Warrior had an incredible speech that I'm sure motivated some of the talents who have yet to break out. When you listen to his hall of fame speech, you can really tell that he was a motivational speaker and how much he loved his fans. Warrior inspired many talents whether it was RVD, Chris Jericho, Edge, or Christian. Warrior deserved his place in the hall of fame. His passing leaves me a little speechless. I just don't really know what to say. I think it really sucks when you see someone on television in such good spirits and a day later they're gone. I'm just glad Warrior found peace, and the timing is just unbelievable. I hate that we lose so many of our childhood or even adulthood favorites so soon. My thoughts go out to his family, and I'll just say the Warrior will never be forgotten.
Mike Chin: I hope I won't be misunderstood in saying this, but I find this story , as tragic as it may be, to also be poetic and sort of beautiful. For a decade or so, Warrior was something of a fallen idol in WWE lore—a one-time legit superstar whose limitations as an in-ring performer and backstage clashes demonized him, getting the guy roasted in the Self-Destruction DVD and earning him unflattering commentary in any number of wrestling memoirs and shoot interviews.
Warrior had the opportunity to come back, make amends with people backstage, tell his side of the story to the world and confirm that, without a doubt, he did love wrestling. Best of all, he did so with energy, but without lunacy, delivering a Hall of Fame speech and promo on Raw that may ultimately be remembered as the man getting to say goodbye on his own terms, almost as though he gave his own eulogy. Like far too many wrestling stars, Warrior has passed on too young, too early—but at least we do, collectively, get the feeling we got to say goodbye.
Justin Watry: Surreal. Shocking. Stunning. He FINALLY makes up with WWE after a long history of back and forth. He has a great induction ceremony with his loved ones and fans watching. Then he gets one last "WrestleMania Moment" on Sunday, followed up by a return to Raw after a long hiatus. All the while, his 'own' DVD was being released by WWE. Unbelievable. Who would have ever predicted that? The Ultimate Warrior, for all his faults, was officially back in the WWE family, made amends with all of the wrestlers, including Vince McMahon and looked to be in great spirits. A day later, I am reading about his death. Shocking! It read like a movie script but was unfortunately very, very real.
Ryan Byers: The timing is nothing short of eerie. In fact, given some of his more "out there" personal beliefs and the bizarre vendettas he held against WWE and Vince McMahon throughout his life, when I first heard that the Warrior had died just three days after being inducted into the Hall of Fame, there was part of my mind that immediately wondered if he had committed suicide because there was nothing left for him to accomplish personally or professionally. Obviously that is NOT what happened, but the fact that is where part of my mind went demonstrates just how odd the connection between Warrior's return and his death truly is.
I would like to be able to say that I'm glad the Ultimate Warrior had the opportunity to return to WWE and get some closure on his career before he bit the big one. I know that's the politically correct thing to say. Again, though, I just honestly cannot say it. My memories of the Warrior as a wrestler are not particularly great and, for the reasons discussed above, my opinions of him as a man are very, very low. I was actually somewhat disappointed that he got inducted into the Hall of Fame because I knew that it would result in a lot of fans putting on rose colored glasses and trying to pretend that he wasn't a homophobe, that he wasn't a massive hypocrite when discussing Heath Ledger's drug use, and that he didn't file multiple frivolous lawsuits against the WWF. Those things are part of who he was, and I cannot forget them just because Warrior was inducted into the Hall of Fame and I cannot forget them just because the Warrior as passed away.
I do realize that the Ultimate Warrior was a human being and that he had friends and had family who loved him, and I am truly sympathetic to those individuals who have lost him from their personal lives, particularly his young daughters. However, I was asked to give my opinion as part of this column and felt that I needed to give it honestly, even if it is not a positive one. I hope that I've managed to do that in as respectful a manner as possible.
Wyatt Beougher: Any time a prodigal son like the Warrior returns to the WWE, it gives me hope that they'll eventually enshrine Randy Savage in the Hall of Fame and start treating his legacy with the respect that it deserves (rather than cash-grab DVDs and token video game appearances). And, if we're being honest, even a guy who was never a huge Warrior fan like me can certainly admit that he's deserving of the honor of being a Hall of Famer.
And while I'm sad that Warrior wasn't able to continue to play a part in the new WWE (I would've loved to have seen him mentor Mojo Rawley, passing on his press slam just to break up the monotony of Mojo's arsenal of entirely ass-based offense), I'm thankful that he at least was able to receive his Hall of Fame induction while alive, give a moving speech at the Hall of Fame ceremony, and also cut that eerily prophetic promo on RAW. It is my sincere hope that his wife and daughters find some small measure of comfort in the fact that his WWE legacy has been restored and that they won't have to worry about his name being dragged through the mud at some point in the future, and while I hope he didn't pass on his more bigoted views to his daughters, here's wishing that his legacy from here on out is more concerned with the good things that he's done, rather than focusing on potential steroid abuse and a wrong-headed statement that he made in a speech to a classroom full of college students several years ago.
Gavin Napier: I'm happy as a fan and a person that the hatchet was buried between he and Vince. We should all be so fortunate to be able to deliver our own eulogy and settle old grudges before we pass. Love him or hate him, the man stuck to his principles. Regardless of whether or not you agreed with him, he didn't compromise anything for anyone. If someone says the same thing about me when I'm gone, I'll have lived a good life.
"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 breathe deeper and something 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 markers 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 the Ultimate Warrior will run forever!" – Warrior (James Brian Helwig)