Ultimate Warrior was a professional wrestling champion and WWE Hall of Famer who thrilled fans with his immense strength and high-energy performances.
Who Was Ultimate Warrior?
Ultimate Warrior enjoyed early success as a bodybuilder before transitioning to professional wrestling. He became an immediate star after his 1987 arrival to WWE, his rapid ascent punctuated by a win over champion Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI in April 1990. Warrior saw his career dwindle to a close following multiple suspensions, though he later mended fences with WWE and earned induction into its Hall of Fame shortly before his death in 2014.
Early Years and Bodybuilding Career
Ultimate Warrior was born James Brian Hellwig on June 16, 1959, and raised in Crawfordsville, Indiana. The oldest of five children, Warrior endured financial and emotional difficulties after his father left the family, and turned to football and weightlifting at Fountain Central High School to fill the void.
Quickly packing on muscle, Warrior relocated to Georgia in pursuit of a bodybuilding career and won multiple events, including the 1984 Mr. Georgia crown. He then moved across the country to train at the renowned Gold’s Gym of Venice Beach, California, where he joined a fledging wrestling team that also featured fellow future WWE superstar Steve Borden, aka Sting.
Early Pro Wrestling Career
In late 1985 Warrior and Borden turned professional together with the Championship Wrestling promotion of Memphis, Tennessee. Initially billed as the Freedom Fighters, the fresh-faced duo soon embraced a bad-guy image and overpowered competitors as the Blade Runners.
Warrior eventually went solo and jumped to the Texas-based World Class Championship Wrestling promotion, where he amassed a sizeable following as the Dingo Warrior.
WWE Superstar and Champion
Getting his shot on the big stage of World Wrestling Entertainment in 1987, Warrior completed his transformation into the tasseled, face-painted Ultimate Warrior, and quickly became a fan favorite with his cartoonishly chiseled physique, high-energy performances and intense, cryptic interviews.
Warrior’s emergence as a superstar came at the inaugural WWE SummerSlam of 1988, where he demolished The Honky Tonk Man in 30 seconds to claim the intercontinental championship. He later defended his title against Andre the Giant, cementing his status as a top draw by hoisting and body-slamming his 520-pound opponent.
Warrior’s rapid ascent climaxed with “The Ultimate Challenge” match against heavyweight champ Hogan at WrestleMania VI in April 1990. The upstart scored a clean win by way of his patented “Warrior Splash,” the passing of the torch marked by Hogan presenting him with the championship belt and the two embracing in the middle of the ring.
Suspensions and Move to WCW
Ultimate Warrior’s title reign was short-lived, as he was upended by “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Sgt. Slaughter at the January 1991 Royal Rumble. Although he exacted revenge on Savage a few months later at WrestleMania VII, a contract dispute with WWE chief Vince McMahon led to his suspension from the organization in summer 1991.
Warrior enjoyed a grand return to the spotlight at April 1992’s WrestleMania VII, where he rescued his old rival Hogan from a beating by Sid Justice. However, WWE was then facing federal scrutiny over the proliferation of steroids in the sport, and the wrestler was again suspended that November after allegedly failing multiple drug tests.
After making another dazzling return with a victory over Triple H at 1996’s WrestleMania XII, Warrior again ran afoul of McMahon when he began missing events, resulting in his outright termination from WWE. He resurfaced on the roster of World Championship Wrestling in 1998, though his brief stint with the organization ended following a loss to Hogan at that year’s Halloween Havoc.
Name Change and Post-Wrestling Career
He legally changed his name to “Warrior” in the early 1990s and sought to capitalize on the brand by way of a comic book and the launch of the Warrior University gym and wrestling school in Scottsdale, Arizona.
He found a post-wrestling niche as a conservative blogger and speaker, though he was criticized for a 2005 engagement at the University of Connecticut that dissolved into a shouting match with several students, an episode that fueled the WWE-produced documentary The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior.
Warrior continued to film motivational videos, and later found another constructive outlet for his passions through painting.
After divorcing his first wife, Shari, Warrior met his second wife, Dana, at his Arizona gym. They went on to have two daughters, Indiana and Mattigan.
WWE Hall of Fame and Death
Following a near two-decade estrangement from his former employers, Warrior agreed to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame and to assume an ambassador role for the organization in 2014.
Taking the stage with his daughters at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony of April 5, 2014, Warrior acknowledged his run-ins with McMahon and his peers and the long journey back into the WWE family. He attended WrestleMania XXX the following night and then appeared at Monday Night Raw on April 7, the occasion highlighted by another emotional speech from the former champion.
Shortly after his family arrived in Scottsdale on April 8, Warrior collapsed from a fatal heart attack, ending the life of the WWE legend at age 54.