On Tuesday night, my tag-team partner in radioland, Jason Smith, and I were discussing the 2014 NCAA Women’s Championship Game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the University of Connecticut Huskies. I had likened the coaches’ press conference comments to the “house show” rants of professional wrestlers from my youth. For the uninitiated, the weekly wrestling programs included bits as they headed into commercial breaks to hype a forthcoming local event.
Wrestler: “On Saturday night in
Announcer: “That’s right, fans. Come on out on Saturday, when the superstars take to the ring. Get your tickets at …”
Well, I had done my best “Mean” Gene Okerlund while talking up the audio clip we had procured and was prepping for the next segment of the show while scrolling through my Twitter account. I stumbled across a Tweet from Triple H, COO of WWE, that announced the death of The Ultimate Warrior (see the Tweet below).
I must have read the Tweet three or four times to myself before I blurted out the text to Jason during the commercial break. After all, the long rift between the WWE and The Ultimate Warrior had just been mended ahead of WrestleMania XXX in New Orleans. The Ultimate Warrior was inducted as a member of the Hall of Fame and appeared on Monday’s episode of RAW (see his comments in the video clip from WWE and a transcript that was posted). Just as soon as The Warrior reappeared, smiling from ear-to-ear and basking in the roar of the crowd and the return to the locker room, we were told that he was gone.
This WrestleMania event was important to the company, not just for the anniversary of that fabled night in Madison Square Garden thirty years ago. Additionally, the dawning of the WWE Network last month, a product that allows fans to revisit the rich history, storylines and superstars of “sports entertainment,” received a boost. The WrestleMania XXX weekend included the Hall of Fame ceremony and induction speeches on Saturday night, a program that boasted reunions with several of the legends of my youth and teenage years, including The Ultimate Warrior. WrestleMania XXX was hosted by Hulk Hogan, who had long been separated from the organization. Razor Ramon (Scott Hall of nWo) and Jake “The Snake” Roberts, both of whom have battled addictions and injuries, were part of the Class of ’14 along with Mr. T.
I had seen the speeches and celebrated the bright lights of Sunday’s action from New Orleans, but the words and presence of The Ultimate Warrior captivated me most of all. His rift with Vince McMahon and the WWE had gone on for a long period, and he had been active on YouTube with WarriorUniversity.com, sometimes discussing the situation and fallout with Hulk Hogan and the organization.
But, all of the acrimony and bad blood melted away in the weeks leading toward WrestleMania XXX. This was a homecoming, an embrace from the WWE and its rabid fans. As an incoming member of the Hall of Fame, those classic Warrior interviews and matches were introduced to young fans and The Warrior’s legacy was secured. For years, he had spoken of “immortality” and “spirits living forever.” He’d reportedly signed a WWE Legends contract to promote the organization and to appear on its televised and PPV events in the future, and a page on WWE.com referred to a May autograph appearance that had been scheduled.
The news of James Hellwig’s passing brought back a flood to memories to “Saturday Night’s Main Event,” PPV and classic TV matches, long and perplexing rants during interviews, and the shaking of the ropes to fire up the crowd. Hellwig joins a long list of wrestling greats, great entertainers, gone way too soon.
The Twitterverse and social media world receives tremendous scrutiny and derision and, at times, rates as a miserable place to share and receive information. On Tuesday night, the Twitterverse was at its best following the announcement of Hellwig’s death, as wrestling greats, actors, comedians, sports figures, fans and my fellow sportswriting and ranting brethren chimed in to pay their respects. Many spoke of classic matches. Others quoted interviews from his heyday or linked to YouTube or WWE.com clips. Still others included the transcript of Hellwig’s appearance on RAW, an electrifying bit that occurred just 24 hours before his death.
Based on his words and video/photos from his weekend in New Orleans, I can only presume that James Hellwig died at peace and still hearing the cheers.