Tall, well-built, well-spoken, a powerful athlete who was dedicated to the sport, and a wrestler who ran to the ring at the beginning of his matches, then violently shook the ropes to get the fans hyped for his matches. These descriptive words and phrases reflect the legend, Jim Hellwig, better known to wrestling fans as the Ultimate Warrior.
Making his debut on WWE television in October 1987, the Warrior was placed in his first major rivalry against another strong man, Hercules. The feud culminated in a match at Wrestlemania 4, which was won by the Warrior. While the victory was a big moment for him, he went on to accomplish something very significant the next year.
At the first Summerslam event in August 1988, the Honky Tonk Man was scheduled to defend his Intercontinental title against Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake. But, due to an unfortunate injury, the challenger could not compete. The champion then took the ring announcer’s microphone, and challenged any wrestler to fight him. Familiar music blared over the speakers at Madison Square Garden, which signalled the arrival of the Ultimate Warrior. He ran down the aisle to the ring, bodyslammed, clotheslined and executed his big splash. He then pinned the Honky Tonk Man to win his first major WWE title in around 30 seconds. The fans at MSG were beyond thrilled with this surprise outcome. But, for the Warrior, the best was yet to come.
At Wrestlemania 6, on April 1, 1990, the Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan battled with the winner receiving both the Intercontinental and World Titles. Since the event was at the Skydome, in Toronto, I had the pleasure of attending with my family, and what a match it was! Fans went crazy when the Warrior defeated Hogan to become the World Champion. It was also a very classy gesture when Hogan handed the title to the Warrior. The two legends embraced to close the show. Unfortunately, the new champion had to surrender the Intercontinental title, because back then, a wrestler could not hold two singles championships. The new Intercontinental champion was decided in an eight-man tournament, which was won by the late Mr. Perfect, Curt Hennig.
As the WWE Champion, The Warrior fought off the challenges of Rick Rude, Haku, Curt Hennig, and Ted Dibiase. But, at the 1991 Royal Rumble event, his luck ran out, when he lost the title to Sgt. Slaughter, with interference by Randy Savage. Later in the year, he was in a feud with the Undertaker. Many great matches were held – there were casket matches (where a wrestler placed his opponent in a casket and closed the lid to win) and body bag matches (where a wrestler fitted his opponent in a body bag and zipped it up to win.) The Warrior quickly learned about the dark side, as Jake “The Snake” Roberts decided to help him. However, it led to Jake turning on the Warrior, and revealing himself to be aligned with the Undertaker. This was supposed to lead to a rivalry between Jake Roberts and the Warrior. But, the Warrior left the company for a while because of a disagreement with Vince McMahon about his contract and money.
World Championship Wrestling (WCW) signed the Warrior in 1998, where he spent almost the entire year. A storyline was created where he formed a group called One Warrior Nation (OWN) to counter the New World Order (NWO,) led by Hulk Hogan. The rivalry between the two groups led to a match at the Halloween Havoc event between Hogan and the Warrior. Hogan won through underhanded means, but the match was not as good as the one at Wrestlemania 6, eight years earlier. In a November episode of WCW Monday Nitro, the Disciple (Brutus Beefcake) was attacked by the Hogan-led NWO. But, he was rescued by the Warrior, to the delight of the crowd. Unfortunately, that was the last time fans saw Hellwig in a professional wrestling ring, as he retired from in-ring competition.
Over the years, McMahon and Hellwig settled their differences, and the Warrior came back in time for Wrestlemania 30. He was never involved in a match, but the WWE decided that the time was right to induct him into their Hall of Fame, the night before the event, and it was a great moment for him, as well as his family. I am sure the former wrestler felt appreciated.
Hellwig made his final appearance in the WWE, on April 7, 2014 – the night after Wrestlemania. He walked to the ring to the cheers and adulation of those in attendance. When he entered the ring, he took out his Warrior mask from his coat pocket and put it on his face, bringing the Ultimate Warrior character back to life one last time. Holding the microphone firmly in hand, he delivered a memorable promo about the wrestlers making their own history, with fans helping them to become either popular or unpopular. He ended by saying “Every man’s heart one day beats its final beat.” It was a very powerful quote, and it seemed to me that he may have known his end was near. It was a tremendous, deep, inspiring and thought-provoking promo.
That night was the last time we would see Jim Hellwig in a wrestling ring because the day after his appearance on Monday Night Raw, he passed away at the age of
I was away on vacation when I heard the news. Shocked and saddened, I reflected on the Warrior’s wrestling career. The profound, now eerie promo he gave on Raw, the night after Wrestlemania, confirmed to me that he might have known his time was near. I believe he had his signs. The dedicated and charismatic athlete left the wrestling world a hero. Rest in peace – you will always be remembered by wrestling fans worldwide.