Hall of Fame Profiles: The Ultimate Warrior
The first inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame, Class of 2014 is the Ultimate Warrior. Warrior is a former World and Intercontinental Champion. As part one of my series on this year’s Hall of Fame Class, I present a look at one of the most memorable figures in recent wrestling history.
The Early Years:
The man now known, legally, as Warrior, began life as James Brian Hellwig. Hellwig was the eldest of five children and attended college at Indiana State University. He had been interested in bodybuilding from an early age and began to compete while in college. He would eventually leave Indiana State to pursue an amateur bodybuilding career.
Hellwig relocated to the Southern United States. In 1984, he won the title of “Mr. Georgia”. Eventually, Warrior moved to California. It was there that he encountered Robby Robinson and decided to turn pro, in the world of bodybuilding. Warrior made appearances at a few bodybuilding competitions during his 6 month pro career. At one event, he was noticed by Rick Bassman. Bassman approached Warrior and introduced himself and several other bodybuilders that Bassman had been working with. They explained to Warrior that they were trying to bridge between bodybuilding and professional wrestling. Bassman had been working with the legendary Red Bastien and needed a 4th man to flesh out his “Powerteam USA” group. After some thought, Warrior agreed to join the group. The other members were: Garland Donoho, Mark Miller and Steve Borden (who would later become Sting).
The Blade Runners
Warrior was given the ring name of Jim “Justice” Hellwig. He was trained by Bassman, Bastien and Bill Anderson (father of Cheerleader Melissa). Donoho and Miller left Powerteam USA shortly after its creation and Hellwig and Borden were teamed up. At first, they took the name of the Freedom Fighters and continued in a similar vein as Powerteam U.S.A. The Freedom Fighters were known as Justice (Hellwig) and Flash (Borden). The duo would later move to the Memphis area and be managed by Dutch Mantel (now known as Zeb Colter). The team got an identity change into Steampunk character similar to those in the futuristic film, Blade Runners. The film even inspired the team’s name. Hellwig was re-christened as “Blade Runner Rock”, while Borden kept his Flash character name. The team moved from Memphis to the Bixby, Oklahoma-based Mid-South (later the UWF). They were managed by the late Eddie Gilbert. In 1986, Hellwig got a call from Fritz Von Erich. Fritz wanted to bring Hellwig into the Dallas area. After discussions with Borden and Bill Watts, Hellwig agreed to take the position with World Class. He had a friendly split with Borden, who was then renamed Sting.
The Dingo Warrior
Hellwig was still looking for his new character when someone in the locker room made the comment that he looked like a warrior. It was never made clear where the Dingo part came in, but speculation was that one of the Simpson brothers had been talking about the wild dingos of Australia and one of Fritz’s top guys added the Dingo to the Warrior name. That has never been confirmed, though.
Dingo was partnered with Von Erich “Cousin”, Lance Von Erich. The duo clicked and eventually they captured the World Class Tag Championships from “Master Gee” George Wells and Matt Borne. They would drop the titles, two weeks later, to Al Madrill and Brian Adias.
After the departure of Lance Von Erich, Dingo turned his focus to the WCWA Texas Heavyweight title. While he would lose to Bob Bradley in a January tournament final, he would rebound to capture the title from Bradley on February 2, 1987. Dingo would hold the title until vacating it to join the World Wrestling Federation.
The Ultimate Warrior
There has always been some speculation as to where the name Ultimate Warrior came from. Initially, the WWF kept the Dingo Warrior name. As I understand it, Vince McMahon felt the Dingo Warrior name would not separate Hellwig from the Road Warriors or the Modern-Day Warrior (Kerry Von Erich). Vince approached Allen Coage (Bad News Brown/Allen) about allowing Hellwig to take on the name Ultimate Warrior. The name had been used by Coage, in the Stampede area. The name originally belonged to a film starring Yul Brynner (1975).
As Hellwig’s character was being created, Hellwig worked “Dark Matches” (non-televised) from June to October, 1987. As mentioned above, he first competed as Dingo Warrior. Warrior worked with the Who’s Who of Talent Enhancers. He made his television debut, as Ultimate Warrior, on the October 25, 1987 episode of Wrestling Challenge. He squashed Terry Gibbs. Warrior’s first loss came in December, 1987, when he lost to Rick Rude.
Warrior had his first true WWF feud, starting in early 1988, against Hercules (Hernandez). They had a huge match at Wrestlemania IV, which Warrior won. Warrior won the majority of his matches but did lose a clean pinfall loss to Andre the Giant. He also lost a controversial match, in Montreal, to Dino Bravo. (Bravo had his feet on the ropes).
Due to his work ethic and popularity, it was decided to give Warrior his first championship push. Ultimate Warrior was placed in the Intercontinenal Championship match against Honky Tonk Man at SummerSlam ’89. after Brutus Beefcake was injured. Honky Tonk Man was bragging about lack of competition and how he would face anyone. Ultimate Warrior rushed out and destroyed Honky Tonk Man in under 30 seconds, ending the longest I-C title reign in WWF/E history. Warrior would hold the title until Wrestlemania V, where he dropped the strap to Rick Rude. Warrior would regain the title at SummerSlam ’89. He would hold the belt until Wrestlemania VI.
In 1990, Vince McMahon and Creative decided to try some risky, at the time. Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior were the top two “Faces” in the company, at that time. It was almost unheard of to have two Faces square off, especially on something as huge as a Wrestlemania main event. Vince rolled the dice and set Hogan vs Ultimate Warrior as the main event. The match turned out to be one of the top 10 Wrestlemania matches of all time. In the end, Warrior kicked out of Hogan’s “Legdrop o’ Doom” and cleanly pinned Hogan after hitting a Big Splash. The entire arena went into an eerie hush as the reality set in that Warrior had defeated the almost-superhuman Hogan. Hogan showed his respect to his opponent by shaking his hand and holding the new champion’s arm high in victory.
Warrior would feud with numerous heels during his approximately 9 month reign as champ. The end came at Royal Rumble 1991. Warrior was facing Sgt. Slaughter, who had “turned his back” on the United States and joined General Adnan (Al-Kaissey) and Col. Mustafa (Iron Sheik). Randy Savage, then known as the “Macho King”) used his jeweled scepter to bash Warrior in the skull. Slaughter pinned the knocked-out Warrior to take the title. Slaughter would drop the belt to Hogan at Wreestlemania VII.
Warrior then went into a brutal feud with Savage. The feud climaxed with a “Retirement Match” at Wrestlemania VII. Warrior would survive a series of Ax Bombers to eventually hit the Big Splash to end Savage’s career (for the moment). From there, Warrior went into a short feud with Undertaker. When the WWF decided to push Undertaker and have him focus on Hulk Hogan, Warrior was set to go into a feud with Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Roberts put Warrior through several “Tests”, including being bitten by a King Cobra. The entire feud ended up scrapped after initial feedback was lukewarm. Warrior was shifted into teaming with Hulk Hogan to face Slaughter, Adnan and Mustafa. During this time, Warrior was in the midst of renegotiating his new contract with the WWF. Warrior’s final appearance was at SummerSlam 1991. He left, shortly thereafter, due to disagreement concerning the new contract. Warrior tried to resign from the WWF but his resignation was refused as Warrior was still under contract until September of 1992.
Vince would approach Warrior about making an appearance at Wrestlemania VIII. He did a “Run In” to save Hulk Hogan from an attack by Sid Justice and Papa Shango. After an admirable performance at Mania, Warrior did short feuds with Papa Shango and Randy Savage. Warrior was originally scheduled to team with Randy Savage (as the Ultimate Maniacs) at Survivor Series. However, he was released shortly after his original contract expired in September, 1992.
After the WWE
Warrior went into semi-retirement, after his release. He opened a wrestling school in Arizona, while working some indy shows. He returned to using his old “Dingo Warrior” name, as the WWF owned the rights (at that time) to the name “Ultimate Warrior”. Warrior also did some acting, in his “down time”.
The Return of The Warrior
Ultimate Warrior returned to the WWF, at the 1996 edition of Wrestlemania (XII). He defeated Hunter Hearst Helmsley in a monster squash. Warrior had a short feud with Goldust before being released by the WWE.
WCW and the One Warrior Nation
WCW signed Warrior to a contract in 1998. Warrior created an alternative to the rising New World Order (n.W.o.) in his rather unusual One Warrior Nation (o.W.n.). He recruited The Discipline (Brutus Beefcake) to join his cause, which was to eliminate the n.W.o.. Warrior did a more “magical” character, which utilized a trapdoor, set in the ring. That idea was put aside when Davey Boy Smith was nearly paralyzed after landing on the door, during a match.
During his short stay in WCW< Warrior would actually re-team with his old partner, Steve “Sting” Borden to face Hollywood Hogan and Bret Hart. Warrior also had his long-awaited rematch against Hogan. Warrior would leave WCW shortly after losing to Hogan at Halloween Havoc 1998.
Warrior took a 10-year hiatus from wrestling, following his stint in WCW. During this time, he legally changed his name to “Warrior”. During his “retirement”, Warrior became a motivational speaker and fathered two young daughters. He returned to the ring in 2008. His first appearance was at a Nu-Wrestling Evolution show in Madrid, Spain. Warrior had a heated exchange with then-N.W.E. champion, Orlando Jordan. The two would square off on June 25, 2008. Despite a decade away from the business, Warrior surprised the fans with one of the best matches of his career. He soundly defeated Orlando Jordan to win the N.W.E. Championship. Immediately after winning the title, Warrior thanked the fans and promptly vacated the title that he had just won.
The Hall of Fame:
Warrior made his return, so to speak, to the WWE by way of a promo for the WWE 2K14 video game. He cut a fun promo about his role in the game. Speculation began to rise that Ultimate Warrior might be on his way to the Hall of Fame, though he had turned down the honor, once before. The rumors were laid to rest on January 13, 2014, when the Ultimate Warrior was named the first inductee into the Class of 2014.
The Ultimate Warrior has been a high-intensity powerhouse that ended a legendary title run by Honky Tonk Man and defeated the “Unbeatable” Hulk Hogan (cleanly). He was the idol of millions of young fans, the world over. Ultimate Warrior takes his rightful place in the pantheon of the immortals…the WWE Hall of Fame.