Despite being one of the most controversial figures in professional wrestling history, The Ultimate Warrior is undoubtedly one of the most popular superstars of all time. At one point in time, he had just as much drawing power as the legendary Hulk Hogan in WWE, which put the two on a collision course that culminated in a champion vs. champion match at WrestleMania VI.
But he became extremely difficult to work with and Vince McMahon suspended and/or fired him on numerous occasions. He later appeared in WCW, again battling Hogan in what turned out to be one of the worst matches in history. After close to two decades away from WWE, The Ultimate Warrior finally reunited with the company that made him a household name as an inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame before tragically passing away just a few days later.
This is the story of The Ultimate Warrior.
The Ultimate Warrior quickly became one of the biggest stars in WWE upon his arrival in 1987
After a successful bodybuilding career, The Ultimate Warrior (born James Hellwig) began his pro wrestling career in 1985, training alongside fellow future WWE Hall of Famer, Sting. The two formed a tag team and worked in various promotions before going their separate ways the following year. After spending about a year in WCCW, he signed with WWE in 1987 and became a huge star almost immediately.
The Ultimate Warrior made his WWE debut in June 1987 and was an instant hit with fans. Less than a year after his debut, he ended the Honky Tonk Man’s record 454-day reign as Intercontinental Champion at the first edition of SummerSlam in 1988, squashing him in just under 30 seconds for his biggest win to date. In 1989, he engaged in a phenomenal feud with Ravishing Rick Rude, losing the IC title to him at WrestleMania V due to outside interference from legendary manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, only to regain it later that year at SummerSlam. After a short feud with Andre the Giant, whom he beat on numerous occasions in quick fashion, he found himself face to face with Hulk Hogan.
In just two short years, The Ultimate Warrior had become just about as big of a star as the Hulkster and Hogan knew it. Wanting to take some time off, he agreed to drop his WWE Championship to Warrior at WrestleMania VI in Toronto in April 1990. And he agreed to lose cleanly, a pretty rare move for Hogan. The match certainly wasn’t the prettiest in the world but it did exactly what it was supposed to do. The Ultimate Warrior was now king of the mountain in WWE. But his reign at the top wouldn’t last very long.
The Warrior’s downfall
The Ultimate Warrior’s run with the WWE title simply wasn’t what Vince McMahon was hoping for. It seemed he had peaked at WrestleMania VI and he was defeated at the 1991 Royal Rumble for the strap by Sgt. Slaughter, who then lost it to Hogan at WrestleMania VII. Meanwhile, the Warrior engaged in a fantastic feud with “Macho Man” Randy Savage, which led to their epic “retirement match ” at the same WrestleMania, with the Warrior emerging victorious. But he was an afterthought in that match as the story became more about the reunion of Savage and Miss Elizabeth.
The downfall of The Ultimate Warrior continued in one of the most controversial moments in WWE history at the 1991 edition of SummerSlam. Warrior was set to team with Hogan in a 2-on-3 handicap match but refused to perform unless he was given more money, believing he was worth just as much as the Hulkster. He wanted a bigger cut of merchandise sales, a limited number of dates, and travel expenses. Vince McMahon agreed to his terms to get him to work SummerSlam but immediately suspended him following the pay-per-view. The Ultimate Warrior attempted to quit WWE in October but McMahon refused his resignation as he was under contract.
Warrior finally returned to the company at WrestleMania VIII in the spring of 1992 but was gone from WWE by November. He returned briefly in 1996, squashing a young Triple H at WrestleMania XII. But a few months later, he was again let go after missing a number of dates. His controversies were later documented in “The Self-Destruction of The Ultimate Warrior,” a WWE-produced DVD in 2005.
His WCW run was an absolute disaster
The Ultimate Warrior returned to the spotlight in 1998 in WCW but wrestled just three matches, the final being a rematch with Hulk Hogan at the 1998 edition of Halloween Havoc. Hogan had two years earlier formed the famed nWo faction and the Warrior came in and formed the One Warrior Nation, or the oWn. Clever, right? No, not really.
The feud was a disaster and was only put together for Hogan to avenge his loss from eight years earlier. The match itself was dreadful and is considered by most to be one of the worst matches of all time. Hogan got the win and the Warrior retired soon after. He only wrestled one more match in his career, a bout against Orlando Jordan for Nu-Wrestling Evolution in 2008.
The Ultimate Warrior eerily passed away just days after being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame
The Ultimate Warrior was content to stay out of the spotlight with his in-ring days behind him. He married Dana Viale in 1999 and had two daughters, Indiana and Mattigan. Having legally changed his name to Warrior in 1993, his wife and children use it as their legal surname.
In 2014, 18 years after his last appearance with the company, Warrior returned to WWE to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. All parties involved had put the past behind them and it was time for him to take his place among the all-time greats. Following his induction, he appeared the following night at WrestleMania XXX and again on “Monday Night RAW.” In what would turn out to be a haunting prediction, he gave a passionate speech to the WWE Universe. (h/t ProWrestling.com)
“No WWE talent becomes a legend on their own. Every man’s heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe a 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 and something 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. 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. Ultimate. You are the Ultimate Warrior fans. And the spirit of the Ultimate Warrior will run forever!”The Ultimate Warrior
The very next day, on April 8, 2014, The Ultimate Warrior suffered a heart attack outside of a hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona, and died at a nearby hospital a short time later at the age of 54. The following year, WWE established the Warrior Award, which is given out annually at the Hall of Fame ceremony to an individual who embodies the spirit of The Ultimate Warrior, cementing his legacy in WWE forever.