The Ultimate Warrior. Such is a name that rings through the very fibres of pop culture. In the mid- to late ’80s professional wrestling created a number of iconic characters that still resonate with the mainstream today. Hulk Hogan, ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage, and The Ultimate Warrior were, and continue to be, household names akin to the likes of Mr. T, ALF, or The Ghostbusters. Unfortunately, two of those names are no longer with us, and perhaps none more shocking than The Ultimate Warrior’s passing on April 8, 2014.
The Ultimate Warrior’s career was as contentious as it was successful. As popular as he was with fans, he was as equally unpopular in many locker room circles. World Wrestling Entertainment actually put out a DVD documenting his “self destruction,” and unpopularity with co-workers, and were later sued. But however difficult he was to work with, it is tough to deny his lasting effect on audiences worldwide.
The Ultimate Warrior’s first, and arguably most successful main event run came against Hulk Hogan, at WrestleMania VI in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on April 1st, 1990. I fondly remember watching WrestleMania VI at the ripe age of seven and a half. My family was about as far from well off as you could be. Often we struggled to make ends meet, and I was learning at a very young age that the world can be a very difficult place to live in. But World Wrestling Federation programming was my solace, and something that both my dad and I could watch together on Saturday afternoons to momentarily escape from what were often difficult times surrounding us. It was sitting on my couch with my dad, sharing a bond drawn together by the likes of guys like The Ultimate Warrior, that created the lifelong wrestling fan that stands before you today. A character like the Ultimate Warrior was so much larger than life that he literally became a real-life superhero to me.
It was difficult for me, as a youngster, to choose between Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior. For me, it was like picking your favourite between your mom or your dad. Hulk Hogan represented everything good in the world (my mom), and The Ultimate Warrior had an edge to him that was hard not to be drawn to (my dad). But, as we watched the event that day, I had chosen my side. I was firmly behind the Ultimate Warrior (although secretly, I would have been just as happy to see Hulk Hogan win).
It is a memory like this that I will most fondly remember The Ultimate Warrior for. Much has been said about his difficulty to be around, or work with, but those are not issues I have ever encountered first hand. Instead I have these wonderful, vivid memories of a mad-man superhero in bright neon colours racing 107 miles per hour to the ring, only to lay waste to his opponent in mere seconds before shaking the ropes so hard I was sure he’d tear the ring down before running another 108 miles back to the locker room.
The Ultimate Warrior is said to have made peace with most of those who he had contentious relationships with in the past over this past weekend. WrestleMania XXX was to be the reintroduction of the Ultimate Warrior to a younger fanbase, and the beginning of a multi-year deal with World Wrestling Entertainment to work as an ambassador to its product. Beginning with the Hall of Fame, this weekend was to be a celebration of both Ultimate Warrior the character, and Ultimate Warrior the man. Instead, we sit in shock as Ultimate Warrior, the man, has tragically passed away suddenly, leaving behind a wife, two children and millions of fans.
I wrote this column as a way of gaining closure from losing a childhood superhero. Many children grow up loving Batman, or Spider-Man, or Superman. But my superheros were (and continue to be) WWF Superstars, perhaps none more powerful than the Ultimate Warrior. A loss like this is difficult for me to comprehend. How can a man so powerful be taken from us so suddenly? How can a superhero die?
It is with a loss like this that I am reminded that tomorrow isn’t promised to anybody. Often we take for granted that tomorrow is a new day, and a new chance. But with this loss I am reminded that every day I should be trying to make a positive difference in this world, and to cherish every single moment I have. At any moment, it could be taken away.
I am comforted by the fact, however, that the Warrior was afforded the opportunity to bury the hatchet with many of his co-workers, and given the opportunity to speak to his legions of fans just one last time. Goodbye, Warrior. You are loved and missed.