For the first time in 14 years, I did not watch WrestleMania live. After dreaming for years about having the big event so close to my hometown (New Orleans is two hours away from my house), I didn’t make a single attempt to go. Didn’t try to butter anybody up for free tickets, didn’t buy any on Stub Hub at the last minute, and didn’t even look for a way to squirm myself backstage, even though I worked at WWE for a little while.
Thursday night, Friday night, and all day Saturday I had the pleasure of working with Luke Hawx’s Wildkat Sports as he helped organize a lot of the independent wrestling activities in the area. WrestleCon, Ring of Honor, Dragon Gate, Shimmer, Evolve, and Wrestling Odyssey all ran events in the state of Louisiana and was it an experience! It was great to see a lot of old faces and meet a lot of new ones, too. But after attending 7 shows in 3 days, I didn’t feel the need to go to another. Even though from what I have read it will likely go down as one of the greatest WrestleManias of all time, I felt burned out on wrestling and wanted to spend my Sunday with a loved one instead. And I’m so glad that I did.
There’s going to be 10,000 reviews on WrestleMania XXX written, and I just didn’t feel the need to take that route (especially since I didn’t see it…though I will). I did watch RAW and the Hall of Fame however and thoroughly enjoyed the WWE product for the first time in a really long time. That, plus the announcement of Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force Wrestling project makes me feel like we could be heading into another boom period for professional wrestling. Hopefully, 25 years from now, there will be a GFW Hall of Fame aired on cable TV. But Saturday night, the WWE held their annual Hall of Fame ceremony, and man was it a class!
Razor Ramon, Lita, Carlos Colon, Jake “the Snake” Roberts, Mr. T, and my old friend Paul Bearer all took their rightful spots being immortalized in the Hall. Razor and Jake’s inspirational stories have touched a lot of people, and having known Paul Bearer ever since I broke into wrestling made it a very special Hall of Fame. Paul known to most of us down south as “Percy” or “Moody” left us just a little over a year ago, we knew that he was going to get inducted eventually. But undeniably, the biggest shocker of the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2014 was the induction of the headliner, The Ultimate Warrior. Most of us die hard wrestling fans and historians pretty much know his career pretty well. He broke in with Sting as a part of Rick Bassman’s PowerTeam USA, teaming with Sting as the Bladerunners in Mid-South, then a stint as the Dingo Warrior in World Class before landing in the WWF in late 1987. Then begins the quick ascension of the man renamed The Ultimate Warrior.
The memory of him beating the Honky Tonk Man, and ending his historic, record setting Intercontinental title reign at the first SummerSlam will forever be remembered as one of the WWF’s greatest moments. I was just beginning the 4rd grade when his second IC title reign began, and as I recall, right about this time the playground chatter began. “Ultimate Warrior could beat Hulk Hogan!” “No, he couldn’t!!!” Forget it, if that conversation was taking place in little old McComb, MS, then it was taking place in record numbers all over the country! And when the two collided in the Royal Rumble, we all knew that it was going to happen! I never understood why the WWF felt the need to have Hogan, who was already WWF World Champion, win the Royal Rumble instead of the Warrior that year. I think it would have added to the feud to have the Warrior eliminate Hogan, then go on to win it, and challenge Hogan for the championship at WrestleMania. But on the flip side, the Intercontinental title was red hot and was good enough of a reason to give him his shot. The WWF rarely (if they had ever) played the WWF Champion vs. IC Champion card, and certainly hadn’t at a major pay per view. Once the match was booked, the debate was on for weeks. I am proud to say that I called Ultimate Warrior even in the 4th grade! Hogan had been on the very top of the WWF since 1984 and it was time for a change. I also admit, that as much as I respect Hogan and his contributions to wrestling, I wasn’t a fan of his growing up. I guess I was a natural born heel. I loved “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. I didn’t understand why, if Hulk and Andre were such great friends, Hulk didn’t give his friend a title match! I wondered why Hulk was more interested in helping Elizabeth than he was saving “Macho Man” Randy Savage from an ass beating from Big Bossman and Akeem. And when Ultimate Warrior burst onto the scene, that was my guy there. I was an Ultimate Warrior Guy! I always liked the bad ass painted tag teams like the Road Warriors, Demoliton, and The Powers of Pain, and now, here comes a singles version of those guys!
The music, the colorfulness, the energy of the Warrior could be felt through your television screen. Plowing through opponents, winning championships, and then at WrestleMania VI, he ascends to the throne of the WWF by defeating Hulk Hogan and becoming the World Heavyweight Champion. But soon after, things apparently began to unravel between him and the WWF. Now, 10 year old Wes didn’t get the Wrestling Observer newsletter and dirtsheets didn’t exist then so I’m not sure what the tv ratings or the house attendances were. But in retrospect, the WWF didn’t feel that he was drawing well as champion.
As evident by the Self Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior DVD, they felt that he couldn’t “work”, was a prima donna and that his promos turned off the fans. Well since this is my column and I can say whatever the hell I want to, I’m going to publicly call BULLSHIT on that. Allow me to present my theory. When Hogan was the champion, the WWF continuously fed him monster heels. Not just heels that cheated, but heels that could crush your skull or downright beat your ass. Kamala, One Man Gang, King Kong Bundy, Andre, Big John Studd, Paul Orndorff, Hercules, and Big Bossman were just a few of the names of guys that worked house shows and tvs being fed to Hogan. Hogan would sell for them during matches, but eventually slam them, make his comeback and win. It was a successful formula. While Hogan was working a house show loop with say, Orndorff, then right behind him was One Man Gang squashing people left and right in order to build heat on him so people would pay to see him get beat by Hogan. Simple booking 101, right? Well at some point in between Hogan’s run and Warrior’s the higher ups forgot that simple formula. After Warrior defeated Hogan, President Jack Tunney declared that there would not be a rematch. Well, alrighty then. That’s ok right? Surely, the WWF had a giant monster heel lined up for Warrior to draw money with after winning the championship right, right? They had a giant monster heel named Earthquake, who had debuted in late 1989 (by attacking Warrior in a pushup contest with Dino Bravo nonetheless)and was squashing people left and right with his finisher, the Earthquake sit down splash. Earthquake was the hottest monster heel that the WWF had at the time, and what did they do? Feed him to the new champion? Have him attack the new champion, lay him out for a while, then build to a huge money drawing match at the next pay per view? Hell no, you dummy! They did it with HOGAN! Earthquake attacked Hogan on the Brother Love Show and essentially did the same angle with Hogan that King Kong Bundy had back in 1986. Hogan’s ribs were broke, he was out, and he made his triumphant return at SummerSlam 1990 to get his revenge. But where did that leave Warrior? With no fresh opponent to draw money with!
The WWF felt that the best idea for Warrior was to do yet another PPV match with “Ravishing” Rick Rude. The two had been feuding since the 1989 Royal Rumble, where Rude attacked Warrior from behind, setting up their WrestleMania V Intercontinental Title Match. This series is best remembered for Rude’s amazing bumping and selling for Warrior, and was the feud in which Warrior started developing into a future World champion. But in the process, Rude had to cheat to win the championship with Bobby Heenan’s assistance, and after Warrior disposed of Rude to regain the championship at SummerSlam 1989, there was no money in another Rude vs. Warrior match! It’s sad, but true that WWF did not do enough to establish the fact that Rude could beat Warrior. So when the match drew a lower buyrate (a 3.8 vs. 1989’s 4.8, in 80’s buyrate numbers), he receives the blame. Now, say the roles were reversed and the WWF had Warrior work a program with Earthquake, and Hogan had started a fresh new program with Rude, in which may be Rude could have injured Hogan’s neck with several Rude Awakenings, then WWF fans would have been treated to 2 new hot feuds, perhaps the buyrate would have been higher, perhaps not. But fact remains, that no matter what, I personally (and again it’s my column so send hate mail or online Starbucks giftcards to email@example.com) feel that Warrior can’t be held 100% to blame for the issue of him supposedly “not drawing”. However, I feel that his match with Randy Savage at WrestleMania 7 was the highlight of that PPV, due to the intense nature of the feud’s buildup. I’m not sure the WWF had promoted a retirement match before, and it really was a mystery as to who was going to win, unlike Hogan’s main event championship match with Sgt. Slaughter. After this, Warrior didn’t really have any more highly memorable WWF moments and then abruptly departed after SummerSlam 1991.
For years the WWF/WWE spun stories as to why he was released. I’m not going to sling 23 year old mud here because fact remains, none of us will probably ever really know the truth. I was interested to see the article that contained the SummerSlam 1991 payoff sheet, as well as the letter that Warrior wrote to Vince expressing his feelings about how he was being used, and some conditions that he wanted met. After the WWE released the Self Destruction DVD, it saddened me to see so many people speak so down about such a big part of their history. I’ve always been a fan of court tv shows and movies because I’ve always enjoyed hearing debates and two sides present their arguments in court and let a judge and jury make a decision. I was not a fan of the WWE presenting their side of their argument in DVD form.
I didn’t always read the Ultimate Warrior’s website or his writings, so I wasn’t aware if he presented his side of the issue or not. But fact remains, whether the WWE wanted him to or not, he was an important part of one of the biggest boom periods in wrestling history. So many years went by with lawsuits, wars of words, and other forms of litigation between the Warrior and the WWE that we always thought that he was going to receive the Randy Savage treatment when it came to the Hall of Fame induction. But the unthinkable happened. The bridge that was burned to the ground and the ashes thrown into the river and washed away was magically rebuilt sometime last year. A new Warrior DVD has been released, and he took his rightful place in the Hall of Fame, and got one more chance to walk on the big stage of WrestleMania, and one last chance to be seen by millions on RAW. A good friend of mine pointed out that the eeriness of Warrior’s promo on RAW almost came across like he was giving his own eulogy. I know it’s been printed countless times, but I’m going to include it again:
“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 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. Ultimate. You are the Ultimate Warrior fans. And the spirit of the Ultimate Warrior will run forever!”
Ultimately spoken. He was 100% correct. The fans make everybody. Not Vince McMahon, not the developmental systems, not the creative team. THE FANS. And I’m so proud to have been a part of the generation that made the Ultimate Warrior. I’ve been in professional wrestling for 14 years, and I’ve been fortunate to meet many, many, of my childhood heroes. I’ll never get to meet the Ultimate Warrior. I’ll never get to shake the hand of the Ultimate Warrior. I’ll never get to tell him how much of an inspiration he was to me. A lot of us won’t. But no matter what, we can never, ever forget, that the saddest part of this, is that children won’t get to hug their father ever again. A wife will never be able to tell her husband she loves him again. A mother will never be able to look at her son ever again. My final memory of the Ultimate Warrior is that on Tuesday night, my mother and I were watching his Hall of Fame induction ceremony. She has never been a huge wrestling fan but nonetheless still supports me. She sat there and watched Jim Hellwig, not the Ultimate Warrior, talk about his kids, his wife, and his mother. And she was genuinely moved and put over how good of a man he was to do that. He could have used that national cable TV time to put himself over, relive the good old days, bash the WWE, but he didn’t. He used time to that to tell his family just how much they meant to him. And no matter how much we will miss the Warrior, his family is going to miss him a million times more.
We lost the Ultimate Warrior, but the Hellwig family lost their father, son, and husband. And although the spirit of the Ultimate Warrior will live forever in us fans, the spirit of James Hellwig will live forever, in his family.
What do you think? Post your thoughts, opinions, feedback and comments below.
Thanks for reading.
About Wes Adams: Wes Adams is a former WWE official/referee. Adams signed a WWE developmental deal in early 2007, and was assigned to Deep South Wrestling. After working as a official/referee on WWE television, he opened his own wrestling promotion “PowerSlam Productions.”