In memory of the man whom this article centres round, I’ll try to be brief and entertaining. You will have to imagine me shaking my laptop like a madman for the full effect.
As you may have read either online or in print (it made the top of the front page in The Irish Sun) Jim Hellwig – later changed to Warrior – aka WWE legend The Ultimate Warrior, passed away this week, just days after returning to the company to be inducted to its annual Hall Of Fame for Wrestlemania 30.
On the following episode of WWE Raw, Warrior came out to speak to the fans following his entrance into the Hall. While the words of the actual speech have become their own memorial and seem somewhat prophetic given the unexpected nature of his demise, in wrestling fan circles at least, the part of the promo speech that stuck with me most after hearing the news was at the very beginning.
If you watch the video, Warrior comes out dressed normally, walks to the ring, and steps in, after receiving a printed Ultimate Warrior coat from a stagehand. After a typical opening gambit, Hellwig/Warrior begins to speak, in a regular, normal tone, talking about how, in preparing his speech he found it “hard to find the words.” At this point, he reaches into his pocket, pulls out a mask in the shape of his iconic face-paint, puts it on and says:
“Well then…Warrior…why don’t you shut up and let ME do the talking?!”
From there, he launches into the promo I previously mentioned, an imagery-filled, meandering meditation of the kind he spouted regularly during his prime which illicited, a huge reaction from the attending audience, though not the same kind of reaction it would prompt shortly after.
Thinking about it, it illustrated to me a simple understanding that Hellwig/Warrior seemed to have about his career and his place in the annals of wrestling; whatever about the man himself, it was the character of The Ultimate Warrior that the fans really loved. The character that the fans wanted to hear. The character that they would want to see one last time.
I’m not suggesting the Warrior knew he was about to pass away when he cut the promo, early evidence seems to suggest something was noticeably wrong with his health, at least, but the importance of the distinction he made between the man and the character (I hesitate to say “legend”) during the promo is particularly telling..
Hellwig/Warrior’s reputation as a wrestler was one of being difficult to work with, and out of the ring, he had many of the problems associated with the business throughout history, as well as some particularly controversial opinions on politics and society which he expressed during a post-ring career doing spoken-word tours. Some of the more insensitive – and catastrophically ill-informed – journalists will choose, and in the case of Nancy Grace, have chosen, to use this time to pick over the many demons and idiosyncrasies that made up Jim Hellwig, and the influence his chosen career may or may not have had on his passing. I’m sure as further details come out about what happened and why, I’ll pick over them myself, and my view may change if something appears that would serve to distort and destroy his character in life to the extent that it destroys what the fans hold dear about his persona.
But until then, like Hellwig/Warrior did in his promo, I’m going to make that small, but very important distinction between the man and the character. Whatever he may have stood for outside of the ring or behind the curtain, between those ropes The Ultimate Warrior stood for power, for energy, for uniting against those that would seek to crush us, and about rising above ourselves to a cosmically ridiculous level for the brief time between when he ran to the ring, soundtracked by that ultra-iconic entrance theme, and when he Gorilla Press Slammed his opponent into the mat for victory. The character exceeded the man in those moments, and it’s that that will be remembered most.
Jim Hellwig was human. He was flawed. He was vulnerable. But, for those of us that remember him, The Ultimate Warrior is indestructible.