Examining Ultimate Warrior's WWE Legacy and Top Career Moments

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistApril 9, 2014

FILE - In this April 5, 2014 file photo provided by the WWE, James Hellwig, aka The Ultimate Warrior, speaks during the WWE Hall of Fame Induction at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans. The WWE said Hellwig, one of pro wrestling's biggest stars in the late 1980s, died Tuesday, April 8, 2014. He was 54. (Jonathan Bachman/AP Images for WWE, File)
Jonathan Bachman

The Ultimate Warrior was unquestionably one of the most polarizing figures in the history of professional wrestling, but he made a lasting impact that will live on forever.   

Warrior made his triumphant return to WWE at the 2014 Hall of Fame ceremony in New Orleans on April 5. He hadn't been seen at a WWE event since 1996, but his popularity hadn't waned one bit.

After appearing on Raw for the first time in nearly two decades on April 7, tragedy struck. The Ultimate Warrior shockingly passed away at the age of 54 Tuesday, according to WWE.com.

The professional wrestling community is deeply saddened by Warrior's sudden passing, but he built such a strong legacy that he will never be forgotten.

Here is a look at some of Warrior's greatest accomplishments over the course of his storied career as the WWE Universe mourns his loss and remembers his indelible impact on the business.

WrestleMania VI Ultimate Challenge vs. Hulk Hogan

Hulkamania was born in 1984 when Hulk Hogan defeated The Iron Sheik for the WWE championship. Hogan was the driving force behind WWE's entry into mainstream consciousness, as he helped make WrestleMania an incredible success. It was difficult to imagine anyone ever matching Hogan's popularity, but Warrior did precisely that.

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The Ultimate Warrior will never be remembered as a great in-ring worker, but there have been few better characters in the history of wrestling. With his extraordinary physique, bright face paint and flashy attire, fans were forced to take notice when The Ultimate Warrior came through the curtain.

Of course, the most frenetic entrance in wrestling history helped in that regard as well. Nobody expended more energy prior to his match than Warrior, as he would sprint to the ring, run around it several times and shake the ropes vigorously, much to the delight of the fans.

All of that made Warrior a mega face, and it led to one of the biggest rivalries and matches that WWE has ever put together. Warrior entered WrestleMania VI as the Intercontinental champion, while Hogan held the WWE championship. Warrior and Hogan had an entertaining interaction during the 1990 Royal Rumble that eventually led to "The Ultimate Challenge."

Warrior and Hogan main-evented WrestleMania VI at the SkyDome in Toronto, and it was a match that was full of firsts. Never before had the IC and WWE championships been put on the line in the same bout, never before had two faces gone head-to-head to close WrestleMania and never before had Hogan lost at The Showcase of The Immortals.

All of that changed at WrestleMania VI, and it made for one of the most meaningful and entertaining contests of all time. No wrestling student will ever look toward The Ultimate Challenge as a blueprint for technical excellence, but both Warrior and Hogan worked well within their means and put forth a great psychological battle.

Warrior ultimately came out on top in what appeared to be a pass-the-torch moment. While The Ultimate Warrior was unable to maintain the sustained success that Hogan had, there is no question that he was atop the wrestling world on that night.

Hogan and Warrior were never known as the best of friends over the years, but Hogan was nothing but respectful upon hearing of Warrior's passing:

As the host of WrestleMania XXX, Hogan was in the front row during Warrior's Hall of Fame speech. He revealed on Twitter that they embraced and buried the hatchet on that night:

It is fitting that Warrior and Hogan ended things on a high note since that is precisely what they did at WrestleMania VI.

WrestleMania VII Career Match vs. Randy Savage

From an in-ring perspective, most probably figured that Warrior could never top what he was able to do against Hogan at WrestleMania VI. Perhaps Warrior's WrestleMania VII match against "Macho King" Randy Savage didn't have the same historical magnitude, but it was undoubtedly the best-worked bout of Warrior's career.

Maybe that shouldn't come as a huge surprise considering that Savage had a penchant for shining brightest on the big stage, but it takes two to tango. Warrior and Savage were embroiled in a huge feud after Savage cost Warrior the WWE championship against Sgt. Slaughter at Royal Rumble 1991.

It led to a career-threatening match at WrestleMania VII in which the loser would have to retire. The Ultimate Warrior was known for "blowing up" during his matches and getting tired early, but that wasn't the case in this contest, as he went step for step with Savage.

Even though Savage played the lead role, Warrior acquitted himself well and didn't look out of place whatsoever. In terms of drama, it's difficult to put many matches in WWE history above this one.

At one point, Savage hit Warrior with his signature flying elbow five times in a row. Few men had ever gotten up after one, but Warrior managed to kick out, and he went on to win the match. The aftermath didn't involve Warrior, but it was classic in its own right, as Sensational Sherri attacked Savage only for Miss Elizabeth to make the save and reunite with her husband.

As pointed out by Mike Killam of WrestleZone.com, it is sad to consider that all four people involved in that match are no longer with us:

Savage passed away a couple of years ago, which is unfortunate for many reasons. He wasn't there for Warrior's Hall of Fame induction, and he wasn't able to receive one of his own either. It would have been interesting to see Warrior and Savage interact so many years after their famous match since they were two of the biggest personalities wrestling has ever seen.

Warrior was known for pretty much everything other than his in-ring ability, but at WrestleMania VII, he proved that he could lock horns with a legend in that regard.

Induction Into WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2014

As great as Warrior's wrestling career was, there is no question that it didn't reach its fullest potential due to his backstage spats with Vince McMahon and WWE as a whole. Warrior came and went from WWE on a number of occasions, but after his departure in 1996, it seemed likely that he would never be seen at a WWE event again.

WWE has made a habit of making peace with disgruntled legends in recent years, though, and it managed to get on the same page with Warrior, which led to his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Warrior clearly had his finger on the pulse of the WWE Universe after he was announced as an inductee, as he tweeted about the anticipation surrounding his speech:

Not only do wrestling fans relate Warrior to his entrance and appearance, but he will also be remembered for his unique promo style. Even if he didn't always make sense on the mic, his energy was apparent, and it led to some entertaining moments.

Although Warrior didn't channel his gimmick to the fullest extent during his Hall of Fame speech, the live audience was hanging on his every word, and he delivered a memorable performance.

The Hall of Fame speech was far from Warrior's last hurrah in WWE, though. He also made his first WrestleMania appearance since WrestleMania XII when he was honored alongside the other Class of 2014 inductees during the show.

In addition to that, Warrior took part in a segment on Raw the following night. He pleased the fans by donning one of his signature entrance jackets, and he even engaged in a bit of rope shaking. The Ultimate Warrior put on a mask reminiscent of his face paint and cut a promo about the important role that the fans play in a wrestler's legacy.

Nobody knew it at the time, but they proved to be prophetic and meaningful words just a day prior to his tragic passing.

An enduring legacy is something that every professional wrestler strives to achieve. Many are never able to reach that point, but Warrior knew that he did enough for his memory to live on forever.

As heartbreaking as it is that he won't have an opportunity to build even further upon that legacy in another capacity with WWE, the fact that he was back on good terms with WWE ensures that fans were left with positive thoughts about his career.

There will be many more stars over the course of wrestling history, but there will never be another Ultimate Warrior.   

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