Early Life & Childhood
James Brian Hellwig was born on June 16, 1959, in Crawfordsville, Indiana, US as oldest child of his parents among five children. At age 11, he began training with weights. When he was 12 years old, his father left the family following which his mother raised him, first single-handedly and later along with his step-father.
He relocated with his family to Indiana later where he completed his graduation from Veedersburg's Fountain Central High School. He also studied for a year at the Indiana State University.
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Career in Bodybuilding
He got inspired to get into bodybuilding after seeing bodybuilder Robby Robinson. After taking up the sport, he participated in different contests including in several NPC contests.
He became winner of the Junior Atlanta contest while studying at Life University in Marietta, Georgia and finished 5th at the 1981 AAU Collegiate Mr. America. He won the AAU Coastal USA in 1983 and NPC Mr. Georgia crown in 1984.
Although initially he planned to become a chiropractor, following his six weeks training in California in 1985 for a bodybuilding contest, Hellwig accepted an invitation to join a group of bodybuilders to form a pro-wrestling team, marking commencement of his career in the sport.
Hellwig became part of the group of bodybuilders who forayed into professional wrestling as Powerteam USA. Eventually he formed a tag team called ‘The Blade Runners’ with Steve Borden, who later became popular as ‘Sting’. The tag team debuted with wrestling promotion Continental Wrestling Association (CWA) and then became part of Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF) before disbanding in 1986.
Hellwig joined WCCW in 1986 where he adopted the ring name ‘Dingo Warrior’. He along with Lance Von Erich formed a tag team and won the WCWA World Tag Team Championship on November 17, 1986. They lost the title to Al Madril and Brian Adias on December 1 same year.
His other feat with WCCW was winning the WCWA Texas Heavyweight Championship title beating Bob Bradley on February 2, 1987. He vacated the title and resigned from the promotion and joined World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in June 1987. In WWF he adopted the ring name ‘The Ultimate Warrior’.
For the first few months in WWF, he competed as Dingo Warrior on house shows and later on October 25, 1987, he made his TV debut in a Wrestling Challenge episode as ‘The Ultimate Warrior’. With time he garnered decent attention for his distinctive pattern of face paint, high-energy ring entrances and quasi-mystical interview style.
He featured in different television commercials of Westway Ford during 1987-89 and was many a times seen interacting with Westway's wacky character, ‘Mean Joe Greed’.
On August 29, 1988, he defeated The Honky Tonk Man in a 27-second squash match during the inaugural SummerSlam to emerge as the new Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion. He lost the title to Rick Rude on April 2, 1989, at WrestleMania V and later beat Rude to regain the title on August 28, that year at the SummerSlam. With this he became a two-time Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion.
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One of the most significant, classic and enthralling matches of his career was ‘The Ultimate Challenge’. It was the main event match of WrestleMania VI held on April 1, 1990, where Hulk Hogan’s WWF World Heavyweight Championship title and Hellwig's Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship title were on the line. Hellwig won the match to become the first wrestler to hold both the titles simultaneously. However as rules of the promotion restricted a wrestler to hold both titles, Hellwig vacated the Intercontinental Championship.
He lost the WWF World Heavyweight Championship title to Sgt. Slaughter at the Royal Rumble on January 19, 1991 amidst a sneak attack from "Macho King" Randy Savage, who had been feuding with him at the time.
In a turn of events that included a feud with WWF owner Vince McMahon on payment and other terms, Hellwig was suspended from the promotion in August 1991 and in return he sent his formal resignation letter to the promotion in October 1991, which was however not accepted by WWF as his contract with the promotion was till September 1992.
He returned to WWF at WrestleMania VIII on April 5, 1992 after McMahon contacted him. However his second stint with the promotion was short-lived as a crackdown of government on use of steroids in wrestling saw Hellwig, who heavily used steroids in his professional career as wrestler, being suspended from WWF. He on the other hand skipped dates and eventually quit the promotion on November 21, 1992.
After leaving WWF, he remained in a semi-retired state wrestling on and off till July 1995. He also launched a short-lived Scottsdale, Arizona based professional wrestling school called ‘Warrior University’.
His second return to WWF happened on March 31, 1996 during WrestleMania XII. The tenure was however brief as the promotion terminated his contract for not showing up on several house shows. He got into many lawsuits and legal actions with the promotion in 1996 and 1998 seeking declaration on owning the Warrior and Ultimate Warrior characters under both contract and copyright law. Hellwig had the last laugh on the issue after the court ruled in his favour giving him the right to use the gimmick, the trademark face paint, the mannerisms and costume of the ‘Warrior’ character.
Meanwhile in 1996, he came up with a comic book titled ‘Warrior’ co-written with Jim Callahan with illustrations by the Sharp Brothers. He also maintained a blog ‘Warrior's Machete’ on his personal website ultimatewarrior.com.
In 1998, he signed with WCW and appeared in three matches of the promotion before retiring from wrestling on November 9, 1998. Thereafter he had a brief career as a conservative speaker and commentator. His only match after retirement happened in 2008 when he emerged the Nu-Wrestling Evolution World Heavyweight Champion beating Orlando Jordan in Barcelona, Spain. He however vacated the title immediately.
He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2014 on April 5, 2014 and he appeared at WrestleMania XXX on the next day. He was seen delivering a promo on Raw in his ‘The Ultimate Warrior’ character on the night of April 7, 2014, which turned out to be his last public appearance.
Personal Life & Legacy
He was married to Shari Lynn Tyree from October 2, 1982 to March 22, 1991. On January 31, 1999 he married Dana Viale with whom he had two daughters Indiana born in 2000 and Mattigan born in 2002.
He changed his name legally to Warrior in 1993 and his children use it as their legal surname.
On April 8, 2014, he succumbed to a heart attack in Scottsdale, Arizona. On April 14 episode of Raw, WWE paid him a tribute with a ten bell salute and a video. A lineup named ‘Warrior Week’ was aired by the WWE Network in his memory. On December 8, that year, he was awarded a posthumous Slammy Award for Surprise Return of the Year.
Although the DVD titled ‘The Self-Destruction of The Ultimate Warrior’ (2005) that was released by WWE during his lifetime portrayed him in somewhat negative light, another DVD released by the promotion titled ‘Ultimate Warrior: The Ultimate Collection’ (2014) represented him in a much more positive way.
The March 10, 2015 released American direct-to-video animated film ‘The Flintstones & WWE: Stone Age SmackDown!’ starring The Flintstones was dedicated in his memory. That year a biography on Hellwig titled ‘Ultimate Warrior: A Life Lived Forever: The Legend of a WWE Hero’ sponsored by WWE was released. Same year the promotion introduced the Warrior Award.
WWE partnered with the Susan G. Komen Foundation in 2017 to start promoting the breast cancer awareness campaign called ‘Unleash Your Warrior’.