It’s surreal that the Ultimate Warrior is gone. Just days ago, at his appearances in the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony and Monday Night Raw, the man who had legally changed his name to “Warrior” in 1993 seemed to be in reasonably fine health. And it really was a heartwarming sight to behold James Hellwig back in the good graces of the company that had allowed him to attain so much success and adulation; the Warrior was finally back home. Of course, it cannot be denied that there’s a lot that can be criticized about the man. Vince McMahon was so outraged by Hellwig’s demands and behavior that he decided it was better to run the company without the Warrior’s superstar power than to suffer from the headaches he caused. However, to the wrestling fan, all of that can be ignored given the unparalleled raw energy and excitement that the Ultimate Warrior brought to the wresting scene in the late 80s up to the mid-90s. As a tribute to our fallen champion, here are ten of the many moments that wrestling fans will fondly remember of the Ultimate Warrior:
10. The Ultimate Warrior’s WWE Debut
Before James Hellwig came to the WWE, he had languished as a mid-level star in his stay with Powerteam USA, as one-half of the Blade Runners (with Sting), and as the Dingo Warrior. While the Australian-themed Dingo already had the facepaint and tassels that Hellwig eventually became known for, it was really when James debuted in the WWE as the Ultimate Warrior that his career took off. As the Warrior beat up on poor Terry Gibbs, commentator Gorilla Monsoon repeatedly but justifiably remarked on the physique and the power that the newcomer brandished. It was clear at the outset that a wrestling superstar had been born.
9. Bodyslamming Andre the Giant
The Ultimate Warrior and Andre the Giant faced each other at Madison Square Garden in September of 1989, but the match wasn’t telecast. Truth be told, despite the fireworks expected when the two clashed, the encounter (as well as their many other duels) was by no means a classic because of its clumsiness. However, the match is still an important moment in Warrior history as through it, he joined the exclusive list of wrestlers who were able to bodyslam the 7-foot, 4-inch behemoth. It should be noted that it’s well-known in wrestling circles how Andre the Giant greatly disliked the Warrior; Andre felt that the tasselled wrestler had never shown enough appreciation for the superstar status that he enjoyed.
8. Unexpected Return at WrestleMania VIII
As was characteristic of the Ultimate Warrior’s tenure in the WWE, he walked out on the promotion in 1991, and fans wondered if they would ever get to see the Warrior again. Well, he did come back, and he did so as an ultimate face by coming to the aid of his WrestleMania VI nemesis. Hogan faced Sid Justice at WrestleMania VIII, and the Hulkster won by disqualification after Sid’s manager, Harvey Wippleman, interfered just as Justice was about to be pinned. That was followed by Papa Shango entering the ring to try and punish Hogan. However, the Ultimate Warrior heroically appeared to clothesline Shango out of the ring and shrug off a chair shot from Sid. Fans lost their minds as Hogan and Warrior shared the spotlight to end the night.
7. Reclaiming the Intercontinental Championship at SummerSlam 1989
The Ultimate Warrior lost his Intercontinental Championship to Rick Rude at WrestleMania V, and SummerSlam 1989 was the Warrior’s chance to take his title back. Even more style-conscious wrestling fans looked forward to the encounter because the Warrior and Rude had proven through their last match that they enjoyed good fighting chemistry with one another. Fortunately, their SummerSlam 1989 duel also featured many exciting spots, including Rick hitting the Warrior with several punishing moves but failing to get a three count each time he attempted a pin. Eventually, Rowdy Roddy Piper appeared on ringside and distracted Rude to allow the Warrior to regroup and eventually reclaim his title.
6. First Steel Cage Match at SummerSlam 1990
The match between the Ultimate Warrior and Rick Rude at SummerSlam 1990 was the culmination of a feud between the two that began comedically in 1989. At the Royal Rumble that year, Rude attacked the Warrior with a steel pipe to end their ridiculous posedown. The rivalry continued at WrestleMania V and SummerSlam 1989 where the title switched hands both times. Come SummerSlam 1990, it was the Warrior’s WWF Championship that Rude was after, and he got his chance in a 15-foot steel cage. The match turned out to be a captivating one with Rude nearly escaping the cage several times. (The Warrior even exposed Rick’s rear at one point by pulling on Rude’s tights to stop his exit.) However, the end came with the Warrior mimicking Rick’s gyrations before cementing the win by exiting the cage.
5. Return at WrestleMania XII
After the Ultimate Warrior first came back in 1992, he was absent from the WWE for four years. When he returned once more, it was at WrestleMania XII against future WWE executive Triple H, then known as the highbrowed snob Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Early into the match, Helmsley delivered his finishing move “The Pedigree” but the Warrior completely no-sold it and stood up as if nothing had happened. Shortly after that, the Warrior went on to win by kneeling on a stunned Helmsley for the pin.
4. Answering the Honky Tonk Man’s Challenge
This match at SummerSlam 1988 meant a lot to fans because when it happened, most everyone was fed up having the Honky Tonk Man as Intercontinental Champion. Honky Tonk had taken the title from Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat through questionable means. The Elvis impersonator then retained the title several times by getting himself deliberately counted out or disqualified. All in all, by the time SummerSlam 1988 came around, the Honky Tonk Man had held the title for a record 64 weeks. Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake should have gotten a title shot against Honky Tonk for SummerSlam that year, but Brutus was instead embroiled in a feud against “Outlaw” Ron Bass. Thus, the Honky Tonk Man was instead scheduled to face a mystery opponent. While waiting in the ring, Honky Tonk boasted, “Give me somebody out here to wrestle; I don’t care who it is!” Well, it turned out to be the Ultimate Warrior, who took only thirty seconds to end the longest Intercontinental Championship reign in history.
3. WrestleMania VI “Crash the Plane” Promo Speech
A promo speech as the third best Ultimate Warrior moment? While that might seem to devalue his other memorable appearances, Warrior promo spots are so much more than just the conventional superstar monologue. When the Warrior speaks, everyone listens. Of course, most everyone doesn’t really understand what he’s saying, but it’s to the Warrior’s credit that despite his intelligibility, he’s able to capture everyone’s attention; he makes audiences believe they’re listening to a genuine warrior. In this particular promo speech before his historic match against Hogan, the Warrior strangely talks about the Hulkster crashing his airplane into the SkyDome. It’s highly likely that no one really understood what that meant, but all the same, it effectively pumped up wresting fans for WrestleMania VI in a way only a true warrior could.
2. Retiring Randy Savage at WrestleMania VII
This Warrior moment was memorable not only because of its exciting action, but also because of the engaging storyline that it involved. There was supposedly a lot of bad blood between the Warrior and Savage because the Warrior chose Sgt. Slaughter to defend his WWE Championship against instead of the Macho King. In retaliation, Savage and his queen, Sherri, interfered in the Slaughter match to cost Warrior the title. Thus the retirement match at WrestleMania VII. For a while, it seemed that wrestling fans were going to see Warrior for the last time as the Macho King hit five flying elbow drops, which would’ve been enough to put anyone away. But not the Ultimate Warrior. He recovered and went on to execute three jumping shoulder blocks, which paved the way for the King’s eventual loss and retirement.
1. Defeating Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI
It’s almost impossible to imagine any other Warrior moment being more memorable than the WrestleMania VI main event that pitted Intercontinental Champion the Ultimate Warrior against WWE Champion Hulk Hogan. It was during the 1990 Royal Rumble when the two crossed paths as they were the only men left in the ring at one point. While the encounter was only brief, it eventually led Hogan to put forth “The Ultimate Challenge” which would determine who between the two was truly the dominant force in the WWE. It was under these circumstances that the Intercontinental and WWE Championships were set to be unified for the first time ever at WrestleMania VI. The resulting battle featured momentum shifting many times during the match. Near its conclusion, the Warrior pulled off his signature gorilla press drop and running splash, but Hogan was amazingly able to kick out of the pin. That led to the Hulkster regaining control and carrying out the all-too-familiar big boot and leg drop… but no! The Warrior unexpectedly moved out of the way, delivered another splash, and pinned Hogan to become the first and only joint Intercontinental and WWE Champion in history.