I, like most kids who attended grade school in the early 90s, have already had to deal with the death of the Ultimate Warrior on more than one occasion. Unfortunately, this time no amount of knowledge cribbed from the newsprint wrestling magazines at the local drug store will silence that smartass from down the street who thinks he knows everything. Because finally his time has come. That little smartass is right—the Ultimate Warrior died.
I heard it said somewhere that the best era of Mad Magazine is the one you grew up with and I think that’s true of professional wrestling as well. The best era of wrestling is from when you’re young enough that your suspension of disbelief does not require a pulley system.
If you don’t understand the appeal of wrestling, I’m not sure I can explain it, but I’ll try. It’s theater where the actors literally give their all. It takes the unpredictable ups and downs of professional sports and engineers those moments for maximum drama. Back when I was watching the WWF, it would then graft those moments onto a comic book opera so ridiculous, it would occasionally touch genius. That’s my favorite kind of entertainment; so insane that it must be brilliant.
Though the wrestling of my youth had a strict black and white moral code, in reality it lived in that gray area where Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny made their homes. And even if part of me knew better, I was happy to pretend that the Ultimate Warrior was real.
One can only outrun reality for so long though and as I grew up, wrestling changed (I hesitate to use the phrase “grew up”, mostly because I think that’s offensive to the product). It moved out of that gray area and became more of a knowing soap opera or reality TV show. Not quite indicative of the reality, but a close enough facsimile that it was easier to believe than Hulkamania running wild. I still watched and I still loved it, but for different reasons.
It was in this period that the now WWE released The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior, a feature length hit piece. The DVD is endlessly entertaining–even if it is one sided—and sent me down a wrestling research rabbit hole that I still haven’t recovered from. Even though it’s been more than 12 years since I’ve actively watched wrestling, I’m still fascinated by the business and the behind the scenes machinations that played out behind the larger than life facade.
But still, a part of me does miss the days when I could really believe that Papa Shango had inflicted a voodoo curse on the Warrior. But I didn’t have time to suspend that disbelief anymore, as I was too busy trying to come to terms with the fact that the Ultimate Warrior was a real person, with political and social beliefs completely opposite of mine. In fact, I found some of his beliefs abhorrent.
But I’m wrong. Not about Jim Hellwig’s beliefs, but that the Ultimate Warrior was a real person. Even when Jim Hellwig legally changed his name to Warrior, that didn’t make him the Ultimate Warrior, any more than Micheal Keaton is Batman or that guy from Police Academy is an actual cop. I didn’t know Jim Hellwig. But I knew the Ultimate Warrior, the man tied with Paul Stanley for the title of “Greatest Public Speaker of All Time.” I grew up with him. Knowing that he died is kind of like knowing that they tore down your childhood home. You don’t live there anymore, but part of you misses it just the same*.
*I almost wrote, “you don’t think about it very often” there, but that’s not applicable here. The WWE accidentally charged me for the WWE Network even though I canceled during the free trial. They must’ve known it was a half-hearted, penny pinching effort on my part and I never bothered to fix their mistake. Therefore, I’ve spent a lot of time relieving those old matches and Saturday mornings have long been reserved for watching wrestling promos.