When I was a child I didn’t have many heroes. I liked football but I didn’t love it. I loved reading and writing but I was yet to discover the true greats of the craft. Everything was just okay, I found it hard to feel passionate about anything. British Bulldog, conkers, drama, they were all there, but they were just there. Then my world changed.
I’m six or seven years old and in front of my is a video cassette my brother has rented from the local video shop The front of it is practically glowing, with two muscular, larger than life men on the cover, each with a golden belt across their waists. WRESTLEMANIA, a ‘V’ and an ‘I’ illuminate.
I open the case, and am immediately struck by the blue lining of the tape. This is unique. This is special, it’s not like the tapes adorned all over the house with recordings of Stars In Their Eyes and old episodes of Eastenders. The tape is put in, and I’m mesmerised.
Wrestlemania VI wasn’t the best Wrestlemania of all time, but to me it was the most important. A forgettable undercard gave way to an outstanding main event between a bald chap in yellow called Hulk Hogan, and a colourful sensation called The Ultimate Warrior, whose interview before the match blew my mind.
Commentator Gorilla Monsoon calls this ‘The Irresistible Force against The Immovable Object.’ Which one is which I don’t know. The match seems to last hours, in that way that time doesn’t seem to matter, but it probably only lasts for 20 minutes. It ends with The Ultimate Warrior splashing his way to victory, his peach attire looking sensational as he celebrates with two belts as Hogan leaves the ring and watches the fireworks go off.
It’s amazing for me to think that already in 1996, that match was over six years old. However, that didn’t matter to me, because it was my Wrestlemania, it was my main event. Finding out later that the match had taken place in 1990 the year I was born made it even sweeter. This literally was my first Wrestlemania.
Over the next year or so I caught the majority of Warrior’s matches on those rented videotapes. Despite this being the mid-nineties, the shop only stocked WWF tapes up till Summerslam ‘92. I saw Warrior beat Rick Rude, and Randy Savage. I saw him beat Hercules to relative apathy at Wrestlemania 4. I even saw him lose the coveted WWF title to Sgt. Slaughter.
When 1998 rolled around, eight year old me was watching WCW Nitro on Cartoon Network, and WWF Raw on Sky Sports every Friday night. Although I loved the NWO, and Stone Cold Steve Austin, I didn’t understand where The Ultimate Warrior was. How could a man that powerful and colourful just disappear?
As I got older, and read up on the history of wrestling things began to fall into place a little. Perhaps he wasn’t the easiest man in the world to deal with. Perhaps he wasn’t a technically sound wrestler, or a perfectly worded interview, or an easy to deal with businessmen. Maybe he wasn’t this, or that. But did that matter in the long run?
The idea of the ‘Halo Effect’ in Psychology refers to the theory that “the perception of a particular trait is influenced by the perception of the former traits in a sequence of interpretations.” Simply put, this means that there is usually a central theme in something that affects the way we feel about that particular thing. An iPhone for example, is seen as a desirable, must have product despite the actual technology inside it being no different to other mobile phones on the market for similar or lower prices.
The legendary American psychologist Solomon Asch suggested that attractiveness is a central trait for the way in which we view anything (although he referred to people in his study), so thus we presume all the other traits of an attractive item (or person) are just as attractive and sought after. Hence, the iPhone, with its futuristic, clean arty look is so wanted by people, because they assume that everything must be incredible about it.
This relates to sports and entertainment, and those individuals that the public, the media, and other sportsmen are so fascinated by. People view these individuals as initially attractive, confident or different, or in the other extreme, as brash, undeserving and arrogant. Hence these initial perceptions we make shape the way we look at them forever. So, in a world of the same, the different are usually always remembered.
“How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart,” an article by David Foster Wallace in his book ‘Consider the Lobster’ examines how the great sportsman manage to make the difference. He asks:
“How can great athletes shut off the Iago-like voice of the self? How can they bypass the head and simply and superbly act? How, at the critical moment, can they invoke for themselves a cliché as trite as ‘One ball at a time’ or ‘Gotta concentrate here,’ and mean it and then do it?”
Perhaps the true icons of sports – the ones who seemed to turn up when it mattered, the Tiger Woods’, the Michael Jordan’s, the John Cena’s, took many benefits from all that emotional detachment from life that was a result of the sheer effort it took them to fully succeed in their respective sport.
Maybe it is just the simple fact that we, the normal humans who can’t achieve these feats of brilliance, love these people who almost achieve it, but don’t quite make it because of their personality flaws. Maybe, deep down we love these people because they remind of our shortcomings, but they also show that you can get over them and succeed at least in some ways.
It is quite possible that it is these so called heroes that are the ones that truly inspire us, as opposed to the robot like winners who we can’t relate to – because they too remind of our shortcomings, but the ones we try so hard to ignore. They remind us that no matter how hard we try, we’ll never be able to reach the heights that the superhero athletes do.
I recall an interview I read with the psychologist Phillip Zombardo where he talked about the idea of ‘heroism.’ It reminded me that there is a chance that it doesn’t really matter WHY we adore these people, but what is important that we do, and continue to.
Zombardo spoke about the idea that study on heroism is still quite limited, mainly due to acts of heroism being difficult to spot at the instant the heroic decision is actually made. This means most interviews or analysis of heroic deeds take place well after the matter in question.
The Ultimate Warrior was a hero to me because he mattered to me. His flaws didn’t exist when I was a child, and even when they became clear to me as an adult they only made me admire the man more. He wasn’t like all the others, he didn’t need the adoration, or the accolades, because he had the innate belief in himself that he was right, and that was all that mattered to him.
I disagreed with his politics, with his thought processes, with his crass statements, but the 45 year old Warrior’s actions didn’t mean that the 30 year old who ran down to the ring and shook those ropes and slammed those wrestlers was any less of a man to me.
With that in mind, I saw no reason to stop supporting people like Warrior who had something to say, because the winners will always get their pat on their back from the medal givers and their name in the history books.
What the likes of Warrior get though, is a pat on the back from every single person who has ever felt the shiver in the back of their necks when their team has scored that last minute equaliser, everyone who has ever fallen in love with the idea of sport, everyone who wants the world, but is too afraid to go and get it.
That’s why I was up at 4am on a Saturday night watching him inducted into the Hall of Fame. His speech was muted, not the explosion many had hoped, but it didn’t matter because it was him. I cheered him from my bedroom when he appeared at Wrestlemania, smiled when I saw photographs of him with Vince McMahon, delighted the hatchet had been broken after all those years.
Then the Raw appearance, the rope shaking, the mask on, and the words which read now like the profound wisdom of the darkness creeping in. I’ll leave you with the transcript of his last ever interview, which in the cold light of day read like he knew it was time.
“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, it makes them bleed deeper in something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized. By the storytellers, by the loyalty, by the memory of those who honor him and make the running the man did live forever. You, you, you, you, you, you are the legendmakers of Ultimate Warrior. In the back, I see many potential legends, some of them with Warrior spirits, and you will do the same for them. You will decide if they live with the passion and intensity. So much so that you will tell your stories and you will make them legends as well. I am Ultimate Warrior, you are Ultimate Warrior fans, and the spirit of Ultimate Warrior will live forever!”