The Ultimate Warrior: five career-defining moments
The pro wrestling star who died this week was celebrated for his outrageous look, his wild moves in the ring and some legendarily outspoken promos. Remember the good times here
The pounding 80s power rock theme music. The eye-melting ring attire and fluorescent facepaint. The monstrously large physique and the frenetic, breakneck-speed ring entrances. Even in the brilliantly bonkers world of professional wrestling, the Ultimate Warrior stood out from the crowd. The legendary performer, who was born James Brian Hellwig before legally changing his name to Warrior in 1993, has died aged 54, just three days after being inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame.
He may have later fallen out with the WWE and quit the ring for a career as a rightwing motivational speaker, but to millions of fans in the late 80s and early 90s he was a marquee star. Here are five of the Ultimate Warrior’s most memorable moments.
The Ultimate Challenge
1 April 1990. The SkyDome in Toronto. The Warrior, who at the time held the Intercontinental title, put his belt on the line against Hulk Hogan’s WWF Championship in an epic winner-takes-all encounter. Hogan at that point was the company’s biggest draw – and wrestling’s highest profile performer – but the Warrior’s triumph heralded a passing of the torch. Wrestling bible Pro Wrestling Ilustrated named it 1990’s Match of the Year.
WrestleMania VII’s career-ending match
Wrestling purists have a point when they say Warrior – notorious for his clumsy and awkward style – wasn’t much of a ring technician. But even the squared-circle cognoscenti regard his victory over Macho Man Randy Savage in a Loser-Must-Retire match at WrestleMania VII in 1991 as a classic. The bout swung back and forth, with Savage – regarded as one of the most technically gifted performers in pro-wrestling history – at one point dropping five flying elbow drops from the top rope on to his opponent.
The ability to talk the talk in promo interviews can make or break a wrestler’s career, and what Warrior lacked in technical ability he more than made up for in smack talk. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper may have once smashed a glass bottle over his own head in an interview, but even that couldn’t top the Ultimate Warrior’s intense and frankly baffling monologues. “Load the spaceship with the rocket fuel,” he demands in this clip; given the later steroid abuse allegations, we hope that’s not a euphemism.
Papa Shango’s curse
By 1992 the WWE was floundering. The mid-80s boom, which attracted celebrities such as Cyndi Lauper and Mr T, had fizzled out. Behind the scenes Vince McMahon’s company was mired in a steroid abuse scandal engulfing top stars including Warrior. McMahon was later found not guilty, but while the allegations loomed, storylines became increasingly absurd, and a new low point was reached when scriptwriters pitted the Warrior against Papa Shango, a mysterious witchdoctor character supposedly blessed with voodoo powers. Here, Shango places a spell on the Warrior, causing him to convulse and vomit green blood. “This is unfortunate,” comments McMahon, apparently without irony.
The name change – and his final appearance
A series of disputes with the WWE over the Ultimate Warrior name and image led to Hellwig legally changing his name to Warrior. This soured relations between Warrior and the company, and the WWE released a less-than-complimentary career retrospective DVD, The Self-Destruction Of The Ultimate Warrior. More recently, however, the two settled their differences, with the Warrior appearing at WrestleMania 30 and being inducted into its Hall Of Fame. He made his final appearance on WWE Raw on Monday night.