It’s been 24 hours since I heard the news of the passing of The Ultimate Warrior, and it is still no less shocking and surreal.
I, as I am sure many others did, went through the same thing everyone does when something like this happens. You immediately believe it is a mistake, that someone has got it horribly wrong. And then that moment comes, that realisation, that it is not wrong and that it is not a mistake. That moment, that realisation, has come. But I still can’t believe it.
Growing up in the late 80s, The Warrior was wrestling. He was big, he was colourful, larger than life. You had your Hogans and your Savages, and then you had your Warrior. Undoubtedly the three biggest stars of that time, and none of them no less a star than the others. With wrestling still a growing fad here in the UK, we got whatever WWF action we could get, courtesy of a still-burgeoning Sky Sports and rental videotapes. I saw WrestleMania VII, when Warrior ‘retired’ Randy Savage, and cheered that the devious and villainous Macho Man had finally received what he deserved from the heroic Warrior. And the conclusion of WrestleMania 8, when Ultimate Warrior made his shocking and triumphant return to the company to help Hulk Hogan, was in my mind the greatest moment ever.
Little did I know that 22 years later I would be writing this.
The Ultimate Warrior was away from WWE for 18 years. 18 years since his latest acrimonious split from a company that he really never saw eye-to-eye with. 18 years away from the mainstream spotlight. And yet they remained; his Warriors remained. Through the internet, and later social media, The Warrior continued to have a presence, continued to send his message. Sometimes you wouldn’t agree with what he said, but you had to respect him as he believed it. He believed everything he said, every single message he conveyed to his Warriors. And those Warriors continued to make themselves heard; they had seen major names from WWE’s past cross over that once-burned bridge and return home, and they asked when it would be The Warrior’s turn?
I watched the Hall of Fame ceremony to see The Ultimate Warrior, to see what he would say, how he would be after 18 years ‘exiled’ from WWE. After the years of defamation and ridicule – primarily from the childish and needless Self-Destruction of DVD – Warrior was home where he belonged. And from the moment he started his speech with a patented Warrior grunt – which I popped for – I and everyone else was hooked. He spoke with passion and belief and heart. He had heard all the scorn and the accusations. The DVD hurt him greatly, he did not want to be remembered in this way. He would not have wanted his two young daughters to have these accusations be the only public record of their father. So Saturday April 5 was the day when all that was wiped clean.
He admitted the DVD broke his heart, and this was clear in every word he spoke about it. And the stories about his attitude and demeanour, that he was a bad guy. He wasn’t. He was a good guy, he is a good guy. He spoke about breaking through in the business and the respect he had for the business and the people inside it. I was captivated, hooked on every word. I was 7 years old again, marking out for the larger-than-life superhero. The Ultimate Warrior was back to take his place in history and immortality.
24 hours later The Warrior stood front and centre on the stage at WrestleMania 30. He was back where he belonged, on the biggest stage of all. After all that had happened, and all that had been said, this was a moment I never expected to see. And I was so happy to see it. He was not a legend that is put into a cheap backstage cameo segment – no disrespect to the legends who did appear backstage that night – he is a legend that stands front and centre in front of the world and proclaims that he has returned and that his message would continue to be said. Through his voice and the voices of all the Warriors worldwide, the mission statement of The Ultimate Warrior would continue to be broadcast
The next night Warrior stood in the ring on Raw – his first Raw appearance in 18 years – and spoke what would be his final words to the WWE Universe;
“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 what makes the blood pulse through the body of others and makes them bleed deeper and something larger than life then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized. By the story tellers, 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 lived with the passion and intensity. So much so that you will tell your stories and you will make them legends, as well. I am The Ultimate Warrior. You are the Ultimate Warrior fans and the spirit of Ultimate Warrior will run forever.”
When the words were spoke they were haunting enough. Twenty four hours later they became almost prophetic, when Warrior was rushed to a hospital in Arizona and pronounced dead shortly after. Four days after being inducted into the Hall of Fame and immortalising himself in WWE history forever, The Ultimate Warrior was gone.
But truly, he will never be gone. Just as he was never gone even when he was virtually blacklisted by WWE, he will never be gone even though he is no longer on this Earth with us. His magnetism, his personality, his presence, his aura will never be replaced and never be duplicated. He was truly one of a kind, and his name and spirit will forever live on. He made his peace with Vince McMahon and WWE, and they will ensue that the name of The Ultimate Warrior will never be forgotten.
I was struggling to find the words to suitably end this piece, and then I looked back a few paragraphs and saw it. In the words of the man himself, only he can say it best;
“I am The Ultimate Warrior. You are the Ultimate Warrior fans and the spirit of Ultimate Warrior will run forever.”