In Memoriam: An Ultimate Story

No WWE talent becomes a legend on their own. Every man’s heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe their final breath. And if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others and makes them bleed 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.

This post will have nothing to do with law. If you don’t like that, move on. There’s plenty to read in other posts. This is my chance to tell the story of someone larger than life, and to make sure he’s immortalized in my own way. This is my shot at immortalizing one of my childhood heroes–The Ultimate Warrior.

I’ve loved the ridiculous, over-the-top nature of pro wrestling since I was a kid. When everyone else I knew turned into Hulk Hogan fans, I was the guy who picked The Ultimate Warrior as my favorite wrestler growing up. Every time I’d hear the chugging guitar riff of his theme music I’d get excited. Then almost as suddenly as the music started, this face-painted lunatic with long hair and arm tassels would sprint to the ring, start shaking the ropes violently, and snarling. Warrior (his legal name at the time of his passing) would spout garbled promos outside the ring full of inane mysticism and made up words like “destrucity.” His finisher–the Gorilla Press Body Slam–was just as over the top as he was.

I remember Wrestlemania 6, and the storied battle between two of the biggest faces (“good guys” in wrestling parlance) the world had ever seen. The Ultimate Warrior faced Hulk Hogan at the Toronto Skydome in a title vs. title match. It was something I’d never seen before, and I had a hard time picking someone as my favorite to win that match. I remember Warrior winning that contest, and I remember him holding both belts at the end of the main event. I remember the need for an Intercontinental Title Tournament after WM6, because WWF President Jack Tunney declared one man couldn’t hold both belts.

I remember Warrior’s feuds with the Undertaker, with Jake Roberts, and with Papa Shango. Each was marked by its own brand of ridiculousness, from Warrior getting trapped in a room full of snakes and being bitten by a cobra on one occasion, Warrior getting locked in an “airtight casket” in another, and on a third occasion getting “cursed” with voodoo magic to the point where he vomited and black goo oozed from his head. All of it was delightful theatre of the absurd, and the kid in me ate every bit of it up.

Then Warrior disappeared from the WWE, and I remember him showing up next in WCW to feud with Hulk Hogan (who had since turned into “Hollywood” Hulk of the New World Order). I remember the Warrior wearing long trench coats with O.W.N. (One Warrior Nation) airbrushed on them. I remember the smoke filled appearances and disappearances of Warrior, and the “Warrior Signal” that would shine at the end of his appearances in the ring.

I grew up, I got educated, and I got a little “smarter” about the business of professional wrestling. I learned that Wayne “The Honky Tonk Man” Farris had to have a thirty second match with the Warrior to drop the Intercontinental Belt because taking it one second longer would have exposed Warrior’s terrible in-ring ability. I learned about his ridiculous behavior in and out of the ring, and his inability to make anyone look good in a match other than himself. Apparently the guy would get blown out running to the ring in a full sprint and barely had enough breath in him to carry on the rest of the match.

Sometime after the WCW stint, I think, Warrior went a little nutty. He started writing lengthy blog posts–I think they were called “Warrior Writings” on his website dealing with all manner of strangeness. I can remember one distinctly where Warrior claimed Abraham Lincoln was a traitor to our nation and should have been executed for treason by not respecting the slave states’ rights during the Civil War. Warrior re-branded himself as an ultra conservative talking head, and in 2005 his politics caught up with him at a UConn speech where he told an Iranian girl to “get a towel” for her head, and uttered the phrase “Queering doesn’t make the world work” during his rambling talk. The Young Republicans of UConn apologized heavily, but Warrior stood by his convictions. He never once said “sorry” for what he did.

WWE distanced themselves from Warrior heavily in the years following his departure. Vince McMahon and company put together a DVD release called “The Self Destruction of The Ultimate Warrior,” a hatchet job that buried Warrior as an egomaniacal nutcase who only looked out for himself. Many WWE talents were paid to say the Warrior was a loony, and many went down that route. Warrior took all the criticisms and persevered, living his life on his terms despite the mounds of crap heaped upon him by his former employers.

Then, last year, something changed. Warrior signed a deal with WWE to appear as a special playable character in the company’s “WWE2k14” video game. The response was so overwhelming that WWE approached Warrior about signing one of their “Legends” contracts, which guarantees appearances and some measure of income. Ever the master of revisionist history, the WWE production team began preparing a new DVD/Blu-Ray release highlighting Warrior’s career. And Warrior got the “Ultimate” honor this year as he was inducted this past Saturday into the WWE Hall of Fame, joining Hulk Hogan, Mick Foley, Carlos Colon, Ric Flair, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and other legends of professional wrestling.

Warrior’s induction speech was rambling, and long, but there was something different. The hate from his political days was gone. He looked at peace, and happy to be where he was. He thanked everyone, and said there was more to come. Sunday he joined the 2014 WWE Hall of Fame class on the ramp, with featured honors no less. Monday, Warrior came to Raw in New Orleans, put on one of his trench coats, slapped on a Warrior face paint mask, and cut one final Warrior promo in which he said the very words quoted above. Then he walked to the back.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014, Warrior passed from this earth and made his way back to parts unknown. I’m still kind of shaken up by it, as I’d just seen the man on TV during Monday’s RAW broadcast. It’s a reminder of just how fleeting life really is. More depressing than Warrior’s death is that his wife Dana and Warrior’s two daughters are now without a husband and a father, respectively. They will have memories and stories–and that’s it.

Warrior was right. If what you do in life makes someone feel a little deeper, if it evokes emotion in something larger than the self, then you do become a legend. People will tell stories about you, and you will live forever. You will be immortal. Warrior, despite all his shortcomings, and all his faults, will live on in the eyes of little kids–and grown kids like me–who remember his ferocity, his intensity, and his snarls.

Godspeed, Warrior. May your journey to Parts Unknown be swift. You will live on in the minds of others, and your story will be told for decades to come. Rest in peace.

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