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April 18, 2014 - Zach Baker
Pro wrestling is not like anything else.
Professional wrestlers usually have at least two names — the one they were born with and the one the fans know them by.
No one knows who Terry Bollea is.
Most know who Hulk Hogan is.
Lex Luger was born Lawrence Pfohl.
But, more than a decade removed from his last match, he released a book under his wrestling name.
There are exceptions, of course. Steve Williams, Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle were among those who all had legitimate athletic backgrounds, so they used their real names. Some guys without such credentials were lucky and got to use their real name, which came in handy when you left a promotion and didn't have to change your gimmick.
Jim Hellwig was better known by another name.
He was the Ultimate Warrior. In order to use the name that made him popular when he did things outside of the World Wrestling Federation, he legally changed his name to “Warrior.” Warrior was never the greatest wrestler, and he only was one of the most popular for a relatively short time. But when he died last week, it was big news. It was on ESPN's front page and got plenty of mainstream coverage.
And the man usually was referred to as “The Ultimate Warrior.” A number of years ago, the WWE (renamed from WWF, as it was called when Warrior worked there) put out a DVD called “The Self Destruction of The Ultimate Warrior.”
As the title indicates, relations between the man and the company were often frigid. The DVD featured a documentary that blasted The Warrior as a wrestler, a man, and pretty much every other way the company could think of (OK, the DVD didn't touch on some of Warrior's most controversial comments, which included inflammatory remarks about homosexuals, among others. The comments remain the most troubling aspect of the man, in my opinion).
While much of it was seen by many as fair comment, the intention certainly wasn't to provide a balanced perspective on his career. Warrior was angered and hurt by the DVD.
At the time, it seemed there'd never be any reconciliation between the two.
But wrestling has an unbelievable knack for getting two sides to come together.
Warrior and WWE reached an agreement which put him into its Hall of Fame. Warrior delivered a speech at the induction, and went on to to appear at this year's Wrestlemania, and then again on the company's flagship show, Raw, the following night.
And then, less than 24 hours later, he was dead. Gone from a heart attack, like so many of his peers.
Ultimate Warrior wasn't a favorite of mine growing up. I was a Hulk Hogan fan, and Warrior beat Hogan in what was Warrior's biggest match. A kid tends to hold a grudge when he only halfway believes wrestling is fake.
But Warrior had a spark, a wild charisma. His interviews were like Nirvana lyrics, in that they sounded deep but generally were indecipherable. His matches were quick, and usually involved him destroying some unlucky bad guy.
He was popular, and when he was booked to beat Hogan at Wrestlemania VI in Toronto, he was supposed to be the man to carry WWF into the '90s.
It didn't happen. In fact, Warrior was out of work a year and a half later, and despite a few comebacks, never was able to recapture what he had during his first run.
In the DVD WWE put out, the talking heads told a story of how Warrior was unable to different between the man and the character. But watching his induction and the speech that followed it, I came away thinking he had a better sense of who he was than almost any wrestler I had seen.
“In wrestling,” Warrior said, “there are very few tough guys. The rest of us just get to pretend we are.”
Sure, he rambled and went off course (and, most disturbingly in retrospect) sweat profusely. But he made some very important comments. He told the wrestlers to understand that one day, their careers would be over, and they'd need to be ready for it.
When the fans chanted “one more match” at him, he didn't bask in the chant or play along. He simply told the fans it wasn't happening and moved on.
Of course, Warrior's biggest message may not have been felt until after he was gone. Warrior was 54 when he died. In the past, he'd admitted using steroids. The fact that he died young of a heart attack, just like so many others of his era (and, frankly, beyond his era) is troubling.
Of course, there will be those who will argue that steroids had nothing to do with his death, and hey, I'm not a doctor or a researcher. I just know that there have been a ridiculous amount of deaths in this industry in the last 20 years, and enlarged hearts often play a role.
WWE has steroid testing now, but I have a hard time believing the roster is 100 percent clean. I saw this year's Wrestlemania. Just like any sport, there always will be cheaters and usually, the cheaters are ahead of the tests.
Guys want to be stars, and having a great body in wrestling will help them get there. Plus, so many are young, and when you're young, the future is unimportant.
I don't doubt Warrior may have felt the same way when he was 25.
But at 54, he had young daughters, and it was clear he adored them.
Now he won't see them grow up.
I hope when Warrior, talked about a life after the business, the men and women on the WWE roster were listening.
I hope that when he died, it caused some to step back and think about the future.
But there have been so many things that have occurred that should have caused that, and yet, we still read stories like this one.
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