Most people I know are likely aware, but for those that aren’t, Jim Hellwig was not only a native Hoosier, but from my particular patch of Indiana. Despite being billed from Parts Unknown and Queens, NY, he was born in Crawfordsville. You might recognize this as the home of Wabash College. He went to high school at Fountain Central, just outside of Veedersburg. That, along with Attica and Covington, make up the bulk of Fountain County’s population. He also spent a year at Indiana State, down in Terre Haute. Which, as a piece of trivia, is where the Ultimate Warrior made his WWF debut.
There is a lot about the Ultimate Warrior that was a bit nuts, but purely in knowing where he was from, I had to keep a sense of awe about him. Making it big in the world is impressive enough when talking about the state of Indiana, as I talked about yesterday. To do coming from Fountain County? Well, don’t ever let it be said that you can’t make it because you come from a county with all of 18,000 people in it. The odds might be long, but play your cards right and catch the right breaks, it can happened.
All that said, it was a bit of a shame that Warrior* was the pride of Fountain County, because he was absolutely crazy. Go through and read the stories about him today and in the past several years. As crazy as he was in the ring, it seems it was worse out of it. Go read his TV Tropes page for further confirmation. The dude was off his rocker pretty well from day one. His time living the life of a bodybuilder and a wrestler surely didn’t help that.
*As Hellwig somewhat famously legally changed his name.
His brand of wrestling was rather limited, too. He was every bit as strong as the puffed up physique would suggest, but that was about his only attribute. Most of his matches were over and done with pretty quickly. For one, he couldn’t keep the pace of the character up for very long. Not many could, but most could have probably drug it out longer than Hellwig did. Secondly, his wrestling arsenal was limited at best. So he was more or less stuck with squash matches. Those certainly have their place, but those are going to get boring after so long, and certainly don’t lend themselves to the type of bigger storytelling you would like to see from the face of your company. And make no mistake, Ultimate Warrior was supposed to take over as the top dog after Wrestlemania VI. His crazed mic skills and distinctive get-up was good enough to get him that over with crowds. Unfortunately, his limited wrestling skill set and limited people skills ultimately* doomed his time in the WWF. And WCW, for that matter.
*No pun intended.
As has also been recounted everywhere, it can’t be any surprise that all these wrestlers keep dying. It’s a bit of a risky profession as it is. Taking all the different bumps and jumps without any pads can’t be good for anybody’s health. Just because the winner is planned doesn’t mean the pain is fake. Or the concussions. Take the whole “concussion crisis” of football and imagine it without the pads and no offseason. And then add (even more) drugs, both of recreational and performance-enhancing types. It’s really more of a wonder that any wrestlers get to enjoy old age at all.
How do you fix it without blowing up the “sport?”* I don’t know. Just as I’m not entirely sure what you do about football and its problems. I’m sure having some sort of off-season would help. Not, necessarily, that all of wrestling would have to take a few months off, but have some sort of rolling “inactive list.” Just some way to manage the amount of time wrestlers put in the ring to limit, as best you can, their exposure to injury. It would seem that wrestling, along with baseball,** has done about all it can to filter out the steroids from their scene. And other drugs, for that matter. Jeff Hardy, for example, did not lose his WWE spot because of a lack of talent.
*I put this in quotation marks solely because of the predetermined outcomes. I don’t really watch wrestling. I might watch a little bit if I stumble on it, but I wouldn’t count myself as a fan. But, for whatever reason, reading the storylines and the metagaming of it fascinates me. Also, I absolutely respect these guys as athletes, even if what they’re doing is more athletic (and violent) ballet than legitimate competition.
**The NFL and NBA just seem to kind of put their head in the sand about PEDs for the most part. It’ll catch up with them eventually, I’m sure.
I don’t know what more professional wrestling can really do. I’m sure they can offer better healthcare and benefits and that sort of thing, but that seems to be more about managing symptoms than it does with avoiding the injuries in the first place. Which seems like the better goal. But maybe an impossible one. As it is, the Warrior will take his place, along with Macho Man Randy Savage, as childhood heroes taking their rest a little earlier than planned. I don’t imagine we’ve seen the last of these sorts of deaths. I just hope the WWE can get around to honoring them all before it’s too late.