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Thoughts on the Ultimate Warrior and deaths in professional wrestling

I spent most of this week thinking about what I wanted to say in this column.

But then I realized I honestly couldn’t say anything better than what the Ultimate Warrior said in his final appearance on WWE Raw on Monday, just 24 hours before his death.

For those who didn’t see the show, or don’t remember the words, here’s what he said:

“No WWE talent becomes a legend on their own. 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, than something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized by the storytellers, by the loyalty, by the memory of those who honor him and make the running the man did live forever.

“You, you, you, you, you, you are the legend makers of Ultimate Warrior. In the back, I see many potential legends, some of them with warrior spirits. And you will do the same for them. You will decide if they live with the passion and intensity. So much so that you will tell your stories and you will make them legends as well. I am Ultimate Warrior. You are the Ultimate Warrior fans. And the spirit of Ultimate Warrior will run forever.”

While it’s incredibly eerie that he delivered that speech right before his death, it also encapsulates everything about the man.

He was a man built by the fans. He wasn’t the most technically sound wrestler, or the most gifted on the microphone. But he was certainly unique, he was certainly larger than life, and as the years went on, the myth grew even bigger as the fans continued to hang onto the memories.

I was at Raw when he gave that speech Monday night. I can’t properly describe the energy that coursed through the building when his music hit, even 18 years after his last appearance on WWE Raw.

Even without the running to the ring, and the violent shaking of the ropes, he still had a presence that the crowd could feel. And his speech, as prophetic as it is now, and bizarre it was at the time, brought a smile to my face because it was so typical from the Ulitmate Warrior.

I’ve seen people, particularly those outside of professional wrestling, focus on the negatives that swirled around the Ultimate Warrior, particularly regarding his personal beliefs that came out over the past few years. 

And while I do disagree with those beliefs, I find it very easy to separate Warrior the person from the Ultimate Warrior the entertainer. In fact, he did that himself in that final segment, pulling out the mask and saying, “You shut up Warrior, and let me do the talking.”

It’s a sad fact, but as wrestling fans, we’ve been forced to become used to death, particularly deaths that come far too early.

This one is different though.

We’re not used to people dying the same week they’re seen on television. It happens so rarely: Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Owen Hart, Brian Pillman. That’s the list when it comes to WWE.

It’s why this one felt like such a punch to the gut. And it’s part of the reason why wrestling fans have gotten so defensive this time around.

For those who haven’t seen, Nancy Grace featured a segment about Warrior’s passing.

In it, either for shock value or sheer ignorance, she implied people like Owen Hart, Mark Curtis (who died of stomach cancer) and Chris Candido (who died of a blood clot following surgery) were wrestlers who have died due to drugs or steroids. 

It was a travesty of a segment, but one that most wrestling fans have come to accept whenever a high-profile death of a wrestler happens. But this one was different from when, say, Randy Savage died. This one was too fresh, Warrior had been right there.

Wrestlers and fans alike have come out in droves to call out Grace. Part of that is simply the social media age we live in, but it also shows how different this death is.

It will be interesting to see how Vince McMahon handles this death.

While the WWE throws up graphic cards at the beginning of shows for most deaths, with the Ultimate Warrior being on the show this week, I don’t think they can do it this time.

I expect a full tribute show, just as we got for the others who were active wrestlers at the time of their deaths. For those who weren’t fans until recently, that would involve a lot of speeches out of character from the wrestlers and staff, mixed with matches that don’t truly serve storyline purposes.

The Ultimate Warrior was truly unique. It’s safe to say that there will never be another quite like him. And, for that, wrestling fans are all worse off than they were a week ago.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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