With a mane of golden locks that would riddle a lion with jealousy and the flashiest face paint-speedo-bicep tassels getup to ever blast into the squared circle, The Ultimate Warrior was an unforgettable presence in the WWE. Although he only held the WWE Championship once, he took it from a legend and did so in legendary style, as well. As his official WWE bio notes, the energetic and enigmatic wrestler set himself apart from the competition by basically being somewhat of a roided-out madman. Whereas pro wrestlers tend to take their time entering the ring, soaking up every last drop of the excitement and adoration of the screaming fans, Warrior took a different approach. He bolted into the arena like a streak of lightning, circled the ring at a pell-mell sprint, then jumped up to the ropes to shake them like an absolute maniac.
His fighting style was equally high-speed. He liked to make mincemeat out of his opponents as quickly as possible. His 1988 victory over The Honky Tonk Man, which earned him his first Intercontinental Title and began his epic rise to stardom, was over in just 30 seconds. He also had bitter rivalries with such superstars as Hulk Hogan, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, Papa Shango, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, and others. The Ultimate Warrior left such a distinct mark on the world of pro wrestling that his life and legacy will be featured on Biography’s "WWE Legends" on Sunday, June 6, on A&E.
The Ultimate Warrior’s signature move: the Gorilla Press Slam
The Ultimate Warrior’s signature finishing move was as big and showy as the wrestler himself. As his Fandom wiki notes, Warrior liked to finish off his opponents with a move called the Gorilla Press Slam. After thrashing the other wrestler with his fast-paced fighting style, The Ultimate Warrior lifted him over his head, then drop him face down to the mat behind his back. Let’s all just take a second to ponder that: The Ultimate Warrior lifted men the size of Hulk Hogan over his head and held him there for longer than many of us can hold a flexed arm hang.
After mercilessly dropping his opponent to the mat like heap of garbage, The Ultimate Warrior then ricocheted a couple times off the ropes to gain some momentum for his flying splash, slamming the other wrestler with the full force of his comic book muscles before pinning him to the mat. Other wrestlers, such as Goldberg, also included the Gorilla Press Slam in their repertoires, but it was most popularly executed by The Ultimate Warrior. It was just one of several high-octane maneuvers the Warrior had up his sleeve, or rather, hot pink arm tassels.
The Ultimate Warrior’s epic championship victory over Hulk Hogan
1990 was a landmark year for The Ultimate Warrior. As The Sportster remembers, it all started at the Royal Rumble. The Ultimate Warrior fought like a rabid beast. He had just won the Intercontinental Title back from "Ravishing" Rick Rude the year before, and was out for blood. As the melee progressed, he dispatched Tito Santana and Shawn Michaels, while Hogan took out Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, Haku, and the Honky Tonk Man. The two musclebound speedo sporters quickly found themselves vying for the win. Although The Ultimate Warrior lost that bout with the WWE’s mega star, the Rumble set up an epic showdown for WrestleMania VI.
Three months later, the two were set to face off again at the WWE’s biggest event: the Championship match at WrestleMania. It was a rare pro wrestling occasion when both contenders entered the ring as champions. Hogan put his WWE World Title on the line, and Warrior his Intercontinental Title. This time Warrior didn’t let up and he pinned Hulk Hogan — also a rarity in the pro wrestling world — to take his WWE Championship belt from him. Although his spot at the top only lasted nine months, Warrior is one of very few wrestlers to hold both belts at the same time.
Papa Shango cast spells on The Ultimate Warrior
Although their feud was ultimately a dud, the rivalry between Warrior and Charles Wright‘s Papa Shango character at least had its moments. The Papa Shango character was a voodoo practicing witch doctor whose main role in the rivalry was in the interview segments, rather than in the ring. According to Wrestling Recaps, their feud began upon Warrior’s return to the WWE in 1992, after a brief hiatus from the promotion. Shango’s opening gambit was to put a curse on The Ultimate Warrior in order to tank his career and steal his soul in the process.
Papa Shango put spells on Warrior several times during their short and largely uneventful feud, causing a mysterious dark liquid to ooze from his head during an interview and making him double over and puke his guts out backstage. That year saw the two rivals combine their feud with that of The Undertaker and Berzerker, but they still couldn’t get enough fan attention to really have the rivalry take off. Although Papa Shango had black magic on his side, he still couldn’t pull out a win in the ring, and the feud petered out after The Ultimate Warrior was fired in November for steroid use (a weird rule in a sport where the wins and losses are predetermined, but whatever). Their feud may have gone nowhere, but it was still worth it for the weird theatrics.
He legally changed his name to ‘Warrior’
Several WWE superstars have gotten so into their characters that they actually changed their names, and the move kind of makes sense when it’s changing your name from Steve Williams to Steve Austin. It’s a whole ‘nother thing when your character name is The Ultimate Warrior. But that’s exactly what the wrestler who was born James Brian Hellwig did in 1993. According to SportKeeda, the WWE took umbrage when Hellwig legally changed his name to Warrior — just the one name, like only an absolute legend can. The promotion wanted to retain the rights to the character so it could take in the royalties for his flashy, neon-colored image.
Hellwig won out in the end, and thenceforth was known to all, even the U.S. government, as Warrior. In 1999, Warrior married former wrestler Dana Viale, and she and their kids all totally embraced the Warrior name. She changed her name to Dana Warrior, and they had two children: Indiana Warrior and Mattigan Warrior. Epic.
The Ultimate Warrior died just days after being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame
Like many wrestlers in the WWE, one of Warrior’s rivals was the big man himself, Vince McMahon. The two quarreled several times during Warrior’s career, mostly over money, but in 2014, they finally decided to bury the hatchet. According to Biography, The Ultimate Warrior mentioned the feud and his return to the promotion during his acceptance speech when was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on April 5. He also took on the role of WWE ambassador and even showed up at WrestleMania XXX the next night. He also gave a heartfelt speech on Monday Night Raw the night after that. "Every man’s heart one day beats its final beat, His lungs breathe their 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 in something that’s larger than life" he said before thanking the fans for making him a legend.
But Warrior’s return to the WWE family was sadly cut short the following day, and those words rang a hauntingly foreboding tone. On April 8, 2014, Warrior suffered a heart attack and died at the age of just 54. The tragic death of The Ultimate Warrior shocked the wrestling world, and he went on to the next life the absolute legend the fans made him out to be.