Ultimate Warrior's death strikes chord for wrestling fans young and old
I am about to admit something I am not entirely proud of.
It is a secret that only my very close friends know, or those who also are trying to keep their same shameful secret in the closet. But with recent events that have come to pass, I feel it is time to share my secret with the world. Or with the Midcoast at least.
I am, and have been for a long time, a fan of professional wrestling.
It is not the coolest thing to be, a wrestling fan. But hey, Courier Publications' news editor Dan Dunkle is one of the most dedicated Star Wars fans I know. Courier Publications sports editor Ken Waltz will talk about seeing the Lord of the Rings movies in IMAX 3D and getting lost in Middle Earth for hours on end. So to each his own I say.
What brought about this column for the uninitiated, is that The Ultimate Warrior, one of my all-time favorite childhood wrestlers, died Tuesday night, April 8. He was 54 years old.
The Warrior's story (he was born Jim Hellwig, but legally changed his name to Warrior years later), and by his story I mean his professional career, was marred with ups and downs. His story was one of success, of one having too much too fast, of self-destruction and ultimately, redemption.
The final four days of his life, while they ended tragically, were oddly poetic. Almost as if it was scripted by the show writers themselves (Spoiler alert: Professional wrestling is scripted and matches are predetermined).
I was eight years old when I first started watching pro wrestling. Hulk Hogan, of course, was champion at the time and the mega fan-favorite, while the Ultimate Warrior was the Intercontinental Champion and nearly rivaled Hogan in popularity.
The two eventually would square off at Wrestlemania VI in Toronto in a match that at the time was unprecedented. Two baby faces (good guys) fighting each other? That had never happened before.
Later that night the Ultimate Warrior went on to shock the world and win the then World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) title.
I remember the pay-per-view vividly. I have seen it several times. I did not watch it live, however, as the only way back then you could watch a pay-per-view event was if you had a satellite dish, which were, at the time, hard to come by.
And anyone under 20 years old reading this column, I don't mean Dish Network, I mean you had to have a gigantic satellite dish on top of your house.
Anyway, I remember it vividly because it was the first Wrestlemania that had transpired as I was a card-carrying wrestling fan.
And because wrestling was not something that appeared in the sports pages, and the internet had not yet arrived, the only way you could find out who won the night before was to wait 24 hours and watch the 9 p.m. showing of Prime Time Wrestling Monday night and watch for yourself.
Actually that is not true. There was another way. There was a hotline you could call the next morning for a modest $2.99 a minute to find out who won all the matches. Nearly 30 dollars later I found out The Warrior had beaten Hogan and ran to school to tell all my friends.
I seem to recall getting grounded weeks later when my mother got the phone bill. I regret nothing.
The Ultimate Warrior was a ball of energy. He would run to the ring at full speed, shake the ring ropes so hard it is a wonder they did not snap in half, demolish his opponent, shake the ring ropes once again and run full-tilt back to the dressing room.
As a youngster, there was little not to like about him. I remember wrestling with my childhood friends and there was always an argument on who got to be The Ultimate Warrior. I would tie tube socks around my arms in an attempt to emulate his vibrant arm tassels, which he used to accentuate his biceps.
His career continued to soar for the next year or so before he was fired for demanding more money and threatening to no-show advertised events. He was later rehired and fired again, spent some time in World Championship Wrestling (then WWE's biggest competitor) before disappearing from the realm of professional wrestling. Much of this was chronicled in the DVD “The Self -Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior.”
But time heals all wounds as they say and 18 years later the WWE and The Ultimate Warrior reconciled and he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, along with six others. The induction ceremony took place Saturday night, April 5, where the Warrior gave about a half-hour acceptance speech.
Two nights later following Wrestlemania 30, the Warrior appeared on Monday Night Raw, where he came out to the ring and cut a promo with a mask on, which depicted the iconic face paint he wore for his entire career.
And less than 24 hours later, he collapsed outside a hotel in Arizona and was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
Going back and watching the promo he cut in the ring, less than 24 hours prior to his death, seemed to allude to the fact he felt maybe the end was near. Many of his promos over the years had a similar feel, but seeing his much older, grizzled face on that night made the moment's tone that much more cryptic.
"Every man's heart one day beats its final beat,” he screamed into the microphone. “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."
He then shook the ropes one final time for the fans, and left the ring forever.
And as he returns to Parts Unknown, where he hailed from (at least in the wrestling world), it became all the more clear that as he said, his memory will live even longer.
Associate Sports Director
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Mark has been covering local sports throughout Knox, Waldo and part of Lincoln county since 2007. Haskell has a bachelor's degree in Mass Communication from the University of Maine and is also a 2000 graduate of Rockland District High School. He has won multiple Maine Press Association awards for writing and photography.
Mark loves the Boston Red Sox, iced coffee, cargo shorts and time with friends and family.
He resides in Thomaston with his wife Jenn, his sons Beckett and Austin and daughter Lila.
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