Days after the sudden and tragic passing of one of the profession's most colorful figures, the wrestling community is still coming to grips with the loss of The Ultimate Warrior.
It's a loss made even more painful due to the events preceding his death at age 54.
His final week was a script right out of a Shakespearean play. It had been a glorious week - the returning hero being hailed by an adoring audience that never stopped loving him.
But there was something much more significant about that week. It really was all about redemption.
At odds for nearly 18 years with the company that had put him on the map, Warrior returned after months of negotiations, mostly with Paul "Triple H" Levesque. From all accounts, his time spent with his former compatriots at WWE was nothing less than amazing. Old grudges were put to rest, fences were mended.
Warrior (he legally changed his name to his ring moniker in 1993) was looking forward to an upcoming gig as a goodwill ambassador for WWE, along with a brand new DVD that WWE had produced.
It was a long-overdue catharsis for both sides. The old guard that was still around during Warrior's glory days welcomed him back with open arms. The fans who came to New Orleans to see him take what would be his final bow greeted him the way his legion of Warrior followers did years ago - with the same energy and passion that Warrior displayed in the ring.
How cruel, it might seem, that the returning hero would be struck down, less than 24 hours after making his final live appearance on WWE's live flagship show.
Could he have possibly known that he was nearing the finish line? Listen to his prophetic words from that final speech, one that eerily resembled a eulogy.
"No WWE talent becomes a legend on their own. Every man's heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe their final breath. And if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others and makes them believe deeper in something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized."
It was as though Warrior had come to terms with his life and his fame, but very publicly, in front of millions of fans. He finally got the chance to talk about his special legacy in the industry. In the process, he was able to confront those demons that had surely haunted him.
It was a melodrama that only pro wrestling could produce.
For a few fleeting minutes, the phenom from Parts Unknown was back home in the wrestling ring. And Warrior Nation, like in the old days, was clinging to every word.
Warrior went through some of his old spots, but many observed that something felt wrong. He seemed to have a hitch in his gait. When he shook the ropes, it wasn't like the wild man of yesteryear who shook them with reckless abandon. He appeared sweaty and uncomfortable, and his breathing seemed to be heavy.
And when he looked to the heavens, in his familiar otherworldly stare, it was as if he was cursing the fate that would befall him.
Hero's last stand
Chiseled out of granite, his face masked in war paint and tassels hanging from his super-sized biceps, Warrior was a larger-than-life character whose followers elevated him to hero status. He was a real-life action figure who lived out in the ring the story of good triumphing over evil.
But, like most heroes, he had his flaws. It was an era of big men and steroids, and that combination - for better or worse - helped fuel the wrestling industry.
The autopsy findings, authorities said, will be released later. It was reported that he clutched his chest before collapsing on Tuesday. Officials believe Warrior suffered a "catastrophic medical event," and all signs point to massive heart attack.
Warrior was known as a health enthusiast in later years, but never hid from his steroid usage during his career.
It's premature to speculate, but it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility that his early use of the muscle-building drug played some role in his death.
No one, however, can deny the fact that the enigmatic Warrior occupied a special place in American culture. One - like those of contemporaries Hulk Hogan and the late "Macho Man" Randy Savage - that transcended the wrestling business and resonated among the masses.
Not all heroes get to go out on their terms. Warrior did.
And before he did, he was able to give his wife, two daughters, and the mother who alone raised him and his siblings, a glimpse of a world that adored him.
Professional wrestling was a special part of The Ultimate Warrior's life. It brought him money, fame, glory. But, as he eloquently pointed out this past week, it could never come close to the joy his family provided.
"You stuck with me, we got married, we built an incredible life, we have beautiful children, you look absolutely awesome and I love you," he told his wife at ringside.
His two daughters - Mattigan Twain Warrior, 11, and Indiana Marin Warrior, 14 - beamed as they watched their dad on the stage.
"I want to let you know here tonight that ... the most awesome thing I will ever do is be your father."
All about respect
What I admired most about the man known as The Warrior was his respect for those who had come before.
It was something he reiterated Monday night on Raw when he said: "No WWE talent becomes a legend on their own."
He drove that point home during one of our last conversations.
Warrior called regarding a column I had done on the late Bronko Lubich. The veteran had been a star back in the '50s and '60s, but had spent the latter part of his career working in Fritz Von Erich's Dallas-based office and refereeing for World Class Championship Wrestling.
Warrior wanted to let me know that Lubich had been a wonderful mentor to him early in his career. He took a youngster making $50 a night wrestling as The Dingo Warrior and taught him some valuable life lessons.
"I loved that guy," said Warrior. "He gave me advice that I have never forgotten. Not just about saving my money, but wisdom like he gave his daughters ... that their actions would follow them throughout their life. It never left my mind that outside my career, my actions would define me as a man."
Warrior spent several years following the end of his wrestling career as a conservative speaker on the political lecture circuit. No doubt the teachings of Lubich and other grizzled vets helped shape his views and opinions.
"The path I've followed in my life has lot to do with the mentoring he, and others with genuine character and integrity, provided," Warrior continued. "And it is why, today as a father of young children, I am so harsh in my criticism about what is not only going on in sports entertainment, but overall in our culture today. There is nothing inspiring, positive, mature or even civilized about it."
Bronko, recalled Warrior, loved the simple things in life.
"Your article at this time of his birthday reminds me of my own story. Bronko loved pencils. I found some with little graphic images of wrestlers on them around the holiday one time and gave them to him. He was like a little kid. He appreciated them so much. I'll never forget the look on his face."
He also credited Lubich with helping him get his big break with WWE (then WWF).
"He was the first one at WCCW offices to inform me that George Scott had talked to Vince about me and the incredible raw potential I had to be one of the major superstars in pro wrestling. 'We'll keep it our secret,' he told me. I'll never forget that."
Big week for Bryan
It's been a great week for new WWE heavyweight champion Daniel Bryan (Bryan Danielson).
First he enjoys the biggest night of his career when he defeats Randy Orton and Batista in a three-way match at Wrestlemania to win the WWE world title. Five days later, he weds WWE diva Brie Bella (Brianna Garcia-Colace).
The couple exchanged vows in a beautiful spring wedding at L'Auberge Resort and Spa in Sedona, Calif., surrounded by their closest friends, family members and WWE colleagues including John Cena, Tyson Kidd, Antonio Cesaro, Jimmy Uso, Cameron, Naomi, Eva Marie and Natalya.
Brie's sister Nikki Bella (Nicole Garcia-Colace), Cena's date, served as maid of honor.
The wedding was filmed for a future episode of "Total Divas."
End of the streak
Lost in the news of the past week was the end of one of pro wrestling's most coveted records.
Brock Lesnar defeated The Undertaker to end The Dead Man's win streak at Wrestlemania at 21.
The decision stirred waves of criticism throughout the wrestling world, with many WWE fans upset that a "part-timer" such as Lesnar got the distinction of ending the streak, while other longtime stars such as Shawn Michaels and Triple H all fell short.
The widely held belief was that a rising star would eventually be the beneficiary of ending Taker's streak.
Not since the Bret Hart-Shawn Michaels match at Survivors Series in 1997 has there been as much controversy over the finish of a bout.
Some close to the situation, however, contend that wasn't the planned finish - or winner.
Even referee Chad Patton reportedly was unaware of the finish - a third F-5 by Lesnar.
Taker was injured during the match and was later was accompanied to the hospital by Vince McMahon, who didn't get to watch Bryan's main-event win.
The loss certainly takes away some luster from a possible bout between Sting, who recently signed with WWE, and The Undertaker at next year's Wrestlemania.
Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.
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