World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) announced on last night's (Jan. 13) edition of Monday Night RAW that Jim Hellwig -- who competed under "The Ultimate Warrior" moniker and later changed his name to just "Warrior" -- will be inducted into the organization's pro wrestling hall of fame (watch it).
Better late than never.
I knew this day would come, eventually, because I was around to watch Vince McMahon and Eric Bischoff hug on live television. As if that wasn't crazy enough, I also witnessed the legendary Bruno Sammartino take the stage in 2013 to accept his hall-of-fame nod.
That said, Warrior is no Bruno Sammartino.
Still, having him rejoin the WWE "Universe" under a "Legends" contract was important to me, as a fan, because no matter how Warrior ended up, there was a time when he was very special. Was he a great wrestler? No, but you can say that about a lot of guys who make the hallowed hall.
But he was over. Way over.
More importantly, he raised the expectations of the fans. Stars of the late 80s were not necessarily slow, but they were more deliberate in their approach, with a methodical and sometimes paint-by-numbers delivery. Warrior flipped the script, and raised the energy not just in the ring, but in the crowd, as well.
Fans reacted to him differently than any other wrestler before him.
I had a chance to see both Warrior and Hulk Hogan in the months between 1990's Royal Rumble and WrestleMania 6, back at the old Brendan Byrne Arena (now IZOD Center) and as a Hulkamaniac, I was appalled at how many little "Warriors" were in the crowd.
"The Ultimate Challenge" had the fan base divided.
Hogan came out and squashed Honky Tonk Man (there was no RAW back in those days) and proceeded to hit all his poses. We stood, we cheered, we sat back down. But it was a far cry from the 15 minutes of deafening noise that showered the Warrior, when the referee accidentally disqualified him and got gorilla-pressed for his efforts.
I bought a yellow foam finger in defiance.
Point being, Warrior was the next big thing and WWE knew it, which is why Hogan was turning over the strap in the biggest show of the year. Much like Goldberg had taken hold of WCW in later years, you couldn't watch any programming from 1988-1991 without talking about Warrior.
That's why part of me was so disappointed with the release of the "Self Destruction" DVD.
I understand that his relationship with Vince McMahon ended poorly, thanks to an ugly contract dispute. And Warrior didn't help himself with his forgettable run in WCW. But I hated the fact that most fans would talk so enthusiastically about the "Ultimate" era, only to end it with "Eh, what a shame."
There was nothing to be ashamed about.
He had a great look, but people often laugh at his old promos, which admittedly, were completely insane (even more so in hindsight). For me, that was part of the appeal. It would make zero sense to have a guy run to the ring at 100 mph, shake the ropes and scream like a lunatic, only to grab the stick and cut a promo like Jake Roberts.
Warrior had pure energy (and a great song) ... and that shit was contagious.
What he didn't have, was longevity, and it's unfair to lump him in with the greatest of all time, because he clearly isn't. But the hall of fame was not established to rank the best ever. Instead, it was designed to recognize those performers who captivated, cultivated or otherwise transformed the pro wrestling business.
During his short run at the top, Warrior did all three.