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AN IDOL WITH A SHOCKING END

As a WWE hero, the Ultimate Warrior captivated millions of fans, but beyond the ring his reputation was tarnished. He died tragically shortly after one last great performance

When he opened his mouth, that’s when it started. The Ultimate Warrior usually grunted first – there’s no more diplomatic way to describe his standard sound.

Then he would talk, usually about rather strange things, such as how his supernatural power was spreading through WWE like a virus, but that Hulk Hogan was unfortunately forming antibodies against his poison.

His mind waves, the Warrior noted, transmitted on an unknown frequency, his blood, his bone marrow, everything was different from that of normal mortals.

No wonder, though, as he was not from Earth, but from the planet “Unknown Place”, to which he still had to catch his spaceship: “I’ll be on the next spaceship to Parts Unknown.”

The promo speeches of the Ultimate Warrior – who would have turned 65 on Sunday – were certainly some of the strangest in wrestling history. But were they just terribly stupid babble? Or gloriously ingenious nonsense?

Fans and pundits are still arguing about it today, ten years after his death in shocking circumstances. They generally do so about everything the brightly colored, show-fighting star embodied.

ULTIMATE WARRIOR – PHENOMENON OR CHARLATAN?

For some, Warrior, born James Brian Hellwig in Crawfordsville (Indiana) on June 16, 1959, was a ring charlatan with no technical or technical quality.

Never, ever should he have played a major role in the former WWF – and certainly not as champion, as the heir to Hulk Hogan that he should have become. Ultimately, he was a phoney who built his career on a handful of promotions.

The latter is undeniable – but it doesn’t matter, say others: What does a wrestler need five-star qualities when he has explosiveness, charisma and aura? If he has the gift of being able to bring a hall of tens of thousands of fans to the boil with what he does, captivating millions and millions of fans worldwide? If he has managed to make little kids yell “You’re Hulk Hogan, so what?” during (rightly banned) school trip catcalling on the distant planet of Bavaria? I’m Ulti-mow War-johr!”

To this day, the Warrior is revered by fans of the nineties as a childhood hero – in 2016, LeBron James even celebrated one of his NBA titles in a Warrior shirt. However, not all of them know that he has also done many less heroic things in his life

LEGEND STING WAS HIS FIRST PARTNER

The Warrior was a fairly successful bodybuilder in the mid-eighties before he was discovered by a wrestling training team in California.

He briefly formed a tag team with his training partner Steve Borden, competing as the “Freedom Fighters” and “Blade Runners”. Around two years after his ring debut, he landed in the then WWF (while Sting, who had only emotionally retired that year, became a pillar of the rival league WCW).

In the shadow of the then top star Hogan, the Warrior completed the creation of his comic hero character in the WWF, running to the ring, shaking himself and the ropes wildly and usually dispatching opponents quickly with his power moves.

Most WWF fans were thrilled, after successful feuds against villains such as the Honky Tonk Man, “Ravishing” Rick Rude and the mythical André the Giant, league boss Vince McMahon decided to send the Warrior into a duel with Hogan.

THE VICTORY OVER HULK HOGAN WAS FOLLOWED BY THE BIG FIGHT

At WrestleMania VI in 1990, the Warrior was allowed to defeat Hogan fair and square – the first since Hogan’s rise to torchbearer six years earlier. The Warrior became the new, unmistakable and heavily marketed figurehead. Among other things, he increased his fame with a bizarre cross-promo show in which he spun music icon Phil Collins around the ring – to promote a tour of the USA by the Genesis singer and drummer at the time.

The Warrior era was ultimately a short one, however, partly because there was a spectacular break behind the scenes a year after it began: In a dispute over better pay and an alleged lack of appreciation, the Warrior threatened McMahon in writing with a strike; McMahon initially responded to the demands with a friendly letter in an attempt to mend the rift before his second biggest event, SummerSlam 1991.

After the slam had gone according to plan, the promoter sent a very sour letter afterwards – tenor: Who do you think you are? McMahon – who resigned as WWE boss this year following disturbing allegations – suspended the Warrior. He resigned

JIM HELLWIG ALSO CHANGED HIS CIVIL NAME TO WARRIOR

Warrior and the WWF got together two more times after that (rumors circulating among fans at the time that the league had filled the role with a new performer were nonsense). However, the two comebacks in 1992 and 1996 – with a victory over the young Triple H at WrestleMania XII – ended in conflict again. The same was true for a last big engagement with rival WCW in 1998 with a trashy second feud against Hogan and his New World Order (nWo).

After that, the Warrior only returned to the ring for a self-marketed nostalgia return in Italy in 2008, but he remained a controversial figure in many respects.

He fought a years-long legal battle with his former employer WWE over the trademark rights to his character, which reached a bizarre climax when he dropped his birth name Jim Hellwig and made “Warrior” his civil surname, which his wife and children now also bear.

WWE was so permanently disgusted that it even produced an angry documentary DVD entitled “The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior” in 2005. The Warrior wanted to respond with a self-produced positive documentary – but then fell out with its director because he didn’t just want to show the Warrior in a flattering light either.

CANCEROUS BOBBY HEENAN BADLY INSULTED

The dispute with his ex-employer was one thing, but the Warrior was also irritating with his comments on other topics: He revealed homophobic and other questionable views in online comments and at appearances as a right-wing conservative speaker. His widow Dana reported in a WWE documentary that her husband had been heavily influenced by Fox News, the home channel of the American right.

Among other things, the Warrior also mocked the – mainly African-American – victims of the deadly Hurricane Katrina (“This hurricane was like a furniture rearrangement for them”) and insulted WWF companion Bobby Heenan, who was suffering from a serious cancer (“Not even Vince could have thought it up nicer, karma is a beautiful thing”).

The legend seemed to be at odds with everyone, hopelessly drifting into his own, ugly and egocentric Warrior world, before surprising everyone again at the beginning of 2013.

On his YouTube channel, the Warrior announced his reconciliation with WWE and his first appearance at a WWE fan event since the seemingly final break in the nineties. The following year, he was inducted into the league’s Hall of Fame with an emotional speech in which, for once, he didn’t settle any unfinished business, but instead formulated a sincere declaration of love for wrestling and his old colleagues.

Three days later, the Warrior was dead

DEATH SHORTLY AFTER WRESTLEMANIA APPEARANCE

On April 8, 2014, one day after a final appearance on the post-WrestleMania TV show RAW, he collapsed on the way from his hotel room to his car, suffering an ultimately fatal heart attack.

Following the drama, various WWE stars let it be known that he appeared to be in poor condition as early as WrestleMania weekend. It was speculated that the Warrior was anticipating his death and may have suddenly mellowed because of it. In his final appearance on RAW, he also spoke about death and legacy (“At some point, every heart takes its last beat, every lung takes its last breath”).

The Warrior himself also contributed to his health problems: He made no secret of the fact that he massively overdosed on steroids while building his muscular body (this was another reason why he became a liability in the nineties, when the WWF was rocked by a major doping trial).

CONTROVERSY OVER THE “WARRIOR AWARD “

After his death, there was no more talk of the disputes and controversies of the past at WWE, the league incorporated the hero myth, presented an annual “Warrior Award” and also used the name for a campaign against breast cancer.

Criticism that WWE blurred the darker side of the Warrior by omitting him from such tributes was dismissed by the former company management under his friend and enemy McMahon. This year, however, it was noticeable that the new people in charge – creative director “Triple H” Paul Levesque, boss Nick Khan and parent company boss Ari Emmanuel – had not presented a Warrior Award for the first time in nine years.

Has WWE quietly distanced itself not only from McMahon, but also from its controversial former star? Even 10 years after her death, opinions are still divided on how to deal with the most controversial of all WWE legends

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