COLUMNISTâ€™S NOTE: I apologize for posting this column a few days late, but the final preparation for my move to Korea (Iâ€™m in the USAF) has been fairly time-consuming.
Last week I discussed the character Hulk Hogan and the actor who portrayed him for many years, Terry Bollea. This week Iâ€™ll take a look at another muscle-head who has been closely associated with Hogan at times, the Ultimate Warrior.
TODAYâ€™S ISSUE: What made the Warrior, the Warrior?
In the annals of pro wrestling history stand several freakish power lifter-types with bizarre looks and limited in-ring skills. The Powers of Pain spring quickly to mind, along with Adam Bomb, The KISS Demon, and more recently the Boogeyman and Rellik. But when the Ultimate Warrior exploded on the WWF scene in 1987, he had a little something extra that made him stand out from all the other muscled-up, odd looking maniacs.
It might have been his eye-catching arena arrivals, running full-throttle to the ring, shaking the ropes up and down to the strains of his explosive music that immediately lit a fire beneath the fans. It might have been his off-the-wall interviews in which he discussed all manner of bizarre spirits with whom he was apparently in communication. It might have been the face paint, the tassels on his boots and arms, the bright colors of his ring gear, or his Bon Jovi hairstyle. But whatever it was about the character portrayed by a man once known as Jim Helwig, the Ultimate Warrior took the WWF by storm and seemed poised to become the next big thing to replace the Hulkster himself when Bollea was set to retire in 1990.
Helwig was so immersed in his role that the line between Warrior and man became blurred to the point where Helwig legally changed his name to â€œWarriorâ€ in 1993 due to trademark issues. In fact, his children use it as their surname to this very day. Thatâ€™s method acting, to say the least. But it was this very commitment to the part that made the Ultimate Warrior special. Whatever he was ranting about, you believed it was important to him, even though you couldnâ€™t understand it. When he looked up to the rafters, you believed he was seeking guidance from someone or something not of this world. And when he smashed opponent after opponent on his way to the top of the WWE, you felt something special was happening. At least you did if you were a 15 year-old fan like I was back then.
Itâ€™s ironic that the same unbridled enthusiasm and over-the-top performance of the character led Helwig to his very real public meltdown. Besides a motivational speech at the University of Connecticut in which he delivered his infamous â€œqueering doesnâ€™t make the world workâ€ line, he also posted several incoherent rants on his website and created a concept for his comic book known as â€œDestrucityâ€ which is best described by the man himself:
In its design, Destrucity represents a constellation existing in the heavens which symbolizes the “Eight Disciplines” by which Warriors choose to live their lives. Brought to existence by the destinies of those willing to die for their Beliefs, brought to exist as a place where people live by Belief in the evolution of their Higher Selves-constantly evolving toward a completion of their chosen destiny-all with strength in the denial of “System Beliefs”-the very Beliefs that amplify differences in and create rights, wrongs, judgments, and opinions of people, places, and things.
Translation? I have no idea. It must have taken an entire bucket of crazy to dream that stuff up. Itâ€™s a shame that somebody whoâ€™s obviously quite creative is also a stark-raving lunatic, but I guess that could be said for a lot of creative people.
In 1990, Warrior received an amazingly huge push, defeating none other than Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI for the WWF Championship, something that shocked the world and seemed sure to cement his spot at the top of the business for years to come. This would be a pinnacle in any wrestling career, and seemingly a match made in Heaven between Warrior and WWF honcho Vince McMahon. But less than 18 months after Helwig was crowned the new king of McMahon-land, he found himself on the wrong end of a financial dispute with WWF and out of a job. While Warrior claims he quit, Vince maintains he fired Helwig. Clearly thatâ€™s not what the long term plan was the night Warrior defeated Hogan for the belt.
Warrior returned to the WWF twice after that, with neither stint setting the wrestling world on fire. He even got to return the job to Hogan, albeit in a WCW ring, some eight years later. Although he would achieve the lofty position as leader of the short-lived one Warrior nation, he was never was as relevant as heâ€™d been in the Toronto SkyDome on 1 April 1990.
Although he has since taken an overseas booking or two, the final nail in the coffin of Helwigâ€™s wrestling legacy was nailed by McMahon when WWE released the DVD documentary â€œThe Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warriorâ€, which buried Warrior and made him come across like a completely insane, mentally disconnected jackass.
While inside a wrestling ring, Helwig was entertaining but not skilled, impressive looking but not a ring general, and powerful in appearance but obviously blown up early in a match, which is why his average contest was a squash that lasted less than five minutes. Itâ€™s an odd phenomenon â€“ a baseball player with big muscles who makes errors and doesnâ€™t hit the ball would never be adored by a crowd of fans, but in wrestling, a wrestler who isnâ€™t very good at wrestling can wow a wrestling audience. Only in our favorite hybrid of athleticism and entertainment could such a thing come to pass.
For however briefly his star shone on the big stage, the Ultimate Warrior was one in a million, and there will never be another like him. Itâ€™s up to you to decide if thatâ€™s good news or not.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.
p.s. â€“ â€œSee things as you would have them be instead of as they are.â€ â€“ Robert Collier