April 16, 2014

Direct Kick: Can’t believe the Ultimate Warrior is dead

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Last Wednesday morning my phone beeped and dinged with numerous text, tweets and emails, enough to wake me up to see what all the commotion was about.

There it was: Jim Hellwig, The Ultimate Warrior, who had just been on Monday Night Raw, died Tuesday at the age of 54. To say I was shocked was an understatement.

Warrior was just the latest of a long list of professional wrestlers who died way too soon. It’s no secret that wrestlers live a hard lifestyle, especially those who rose to fame in the 1980s. Drugs of various kinds have taken their toll.

But I’m not here to do a witch hunt on professional wrestling. The Warrior died of a heart attack. He was just inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on Saturday, appeared on Raw on Monday, then died on Tuesday after collapsing while walking to his car with his wife in Arizona outside of their hotel. He was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

During his appearance on Raw, he addressed the fans, and in hindsight, his speech was a foreshadowing of things to come. Here is what he said:

“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, than 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 makers 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 live with the passion and intensity. So much so that you will tell your stories and you will make them legends as well. I am Ultimate Warrior. You are the Ultimate Warrior fans. And the spirit of Ultimate Warrior will run forever.”

Those in the know said he didn’t look good backstage during Wrestlemania weekend. According to some, he looked to be in constant pain, looked sweaty and very uncomfortable. When he did his signature rope shake on Raw, he looked weak.

Now we know why.

I first saw the Ultimate Warrior when he, along with the wrestler who would become Sting, appeared on Memphis wrestling back in the 80s as Justice, a member of the Freedom Fighters. Sting at the time was called Flash. They debuted being managed by Dutch Mantel, who today is known as Zeb Colter to WWE fans. Soon they turned heel and started calling themselves The Blade Runners, and Hellwig started calling himself Rock. He would later venture into World Class Championship Wrestling in Dallas under the name The Dingo Warrior. From there he became The Ultimate Warrior when he debuted in the old WWF, and in later years, just plain Warrior, which is what he legally changed his name to.

In later years he would be known to go off on these rants on the Internet that had many questioning his mentality. Warrior was always an outspoken individual. Not the best worker or even the best on the mic, but fans loved him just the same. His match with Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania VI, “The Ultimate Challenge” was unique at the time as the WWF then hardly ever matched a good guy against another good guy. He beat Hogan and that win shot him to the upper echelon of professional wrestling.

Now he is gone. It’s still hard to wrap my mind around it. He was just a year older than I am. When someone close to your own age dies it’s scary and starts to make you question your own mortality.

Rest In Peace, Warrior. You brought joy to millions of fans around the world.

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