Were the Road Warriors really that good?
As always we are taking a look into the careers of legends and asking that same question; Were they really that good?
The Road Warriors, The Legion of Doom, Animal and Hawk whatever name you know them by, you know these guys are legends! Easily one of, if not the greatest tag team in the history of tag teams. Their style was unique and iconic, from the leather clad look from AWA and Japan, to the iconic, always marketable spiked shoulder pads of the WWF. They were hard workers and even harder guys. Their tag team psychology was second to none and they even invented on of the most memorable and visually spectacular double team finishing manoeuvres of all time, the Doomsday Device. Safe to say that they had their share of problems, most notably Hawk, to the point where they had an Attitude Era storyline which played on his real-life demons. As ever we are looking solely at their careers from a work perspective and not their personal shortcomings. So, sit back, get comfortable and get ready as we once again the question we ask every week: Were they really that good?
Michael Hegstrand, better known as Hawk was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Joseph Laurinaitis (yep, he’s People Power’s brother, poor guy) better known as Animal was born in Philidelphia, Pennsylvania. Despite being billed as hailing from Chicago, Illinois the two met in 1977 in Northeast, Minneapolis at a gym owned by Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura. Both guys were into weight lifting and became fast friends. They both worked the doors as bouncer’s at Grandma B’s in the Twin Cities area. They caught the eye of legendary trainer Eddie Sharkey due to their sheer size and how they would manhandle people out of the bar when they had drunk too much or were getting too rowdy. Sharkey was known as ‘The Trainer of Champions’ and was responsible for training wrestling royalty such as Bob Backlund, Jesse Ventura, Rick Steiner and Nikita Koloff, he’s even trained some newer names like Austin Aries and Erik Rowan. Some people have an eye for talent, this guy had two. He convinced Animal and Hawk to train and took Rick Rude and Barry Darsow (Smash of Demolition and the Repo Man in the layter end of his WWF stint) with him. He wasn’t wrong about all four of these guys as all had successful careers, perhaps none more than the Road Warriors.
They made their debuts separately; Hawk was known as ‘Crusher Von Haig’ but Animal was wrestling as the Road Warrior. Hawk didn’t like traveling the road and got homesick so he headed back home with fellow Sharkey Trainee Rick Rude. Hawk would return to the ring not long after. Ole Anderson gave him a call after Animal's partner that night had landed himself in some legal trouble and asked him to tag with his friend, and he did. Ole billed them as the Road Warriors and neither man had any clue that on that night, they would create their own piece of wrestling history. Afterwards they we’re kept together and put with ‘Precious’ Paul Ellering as a replacement for Arn Anderson and Matt Borne after Borne was fired from GCW. Along with Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts and The Spoiler, they were to be named ‘The Legion of Doom’, that’s right, it wasn’t Vince that coined that name, it was Ellering. The stable didn’t live very long but had unexpected significance because of the name. The name would go on to be used to name Ellering with The Road Warriors or the Road Warriors on their own and was used interchangeably with the Road Warrior moniker.
They were a unique team; in those days it wasn’t often you saw two behemoths of their size as a tag team, they were absolute units and Hawk especially was deceptively quick for his size. They would maul their opponents with big power moves and brutal strikes and then Hawk would climb the ropes and dive like he was a hundred pounds lighter than he really was. They also had a very unique look, both guys had painted faces, big studded, leather dog collars around their necks and would wear spiked leather waistcoats. Being real life friends prior to wrestling gave them a chemistry you don’t see all that often, chemistry akin to Edge and Christian, The Dudley Boyz and the Hardy Boyz circa 2000 – 2001.
1984 was a significant year for the LOD trio, they left GCW and went to AWA. This is where they made their biggest impact as well as making a lot of enemies. On 25th August 1984 The Road Warriors defeated The Crusher and Baron von Raschke and capture the AWA Tag Team Championships. This was a dream come true for Hawk and Animal, but it wasn’t plain sailing for them at all. They were stiff and aggressive in the ring and they would often no sell their opponents moves, this was rubbing wrestlers backstage the wrong way, and they weren’t the only ones who were pissed off with them. Booker Verne Gagne wanted them to sell more for their opponents but the issue was they were always booked as the monster bad asses that were seemingly impervious to pain and they were selling the only way they knew how, and that was not to sell. To teach them a lesson in humility, Verne booked them against legitimate hardcases Larry Hennig and Crusher Blackwell because he knew they would give the Warriors a taste of their own medicine and during the match they served Hawk and Animal a nice fat slice of humble pie by no selling.
Their time in AWA wasn’t just pissing people off and eating humble pie, it got them attention from overseas promoters, specifically in Japan. They made their Japanese debut in 1985 and immediately squashed the mammoth team of Animal Hamaguchi and Killer Khan in just over 3 minutes. Talk about a debut! After a string of similar victories, they garnered media headline after media headline and their tour of AJPW between ‘85 - ’86 made them so popular, they would tour there anytime they were between contracts.
After they made a name for themselves in Japan, they ventured back stateside and joined Jim Crockett Promotions that would later become WCW, where they won the inaugural Jim Crockett Snr. Cup Tag Team Tournament, they beat Ron Gavin and Magnum T.A to me crowned the winners. They would go on to join Dusty Rhodes and Nikita Koloff in a bloody war against the Four Horsemen and they were also involved in the infamous firing of Dusty Rhodes from WCW after TBS outlawed blood in the product when Animal jabbed a spike into Dusty’s eye. During their stint in JCP/WCW they also had noteworthy feuds with the Steiner brothers, The Skyscrapers and the Samoan Swat Team. The Road Warriors made their last appearance for WCW at Capital Combat alongside Norman “The Lunatic” against Kevin Sullivan, Cactus Jack and Bam Bam Bigelow.
And then they were Vince-bound. Their time in WWF is what most people remember of the Road Warriors, known as The Legion of Doom. They had massive success with the dubs. They feuded with Demolition, a feud that fans had long salivated for as the two teams were often compared due to their similar images in the earlier days of their careers. However, Ax was battling health issues and he had reached an agreement to a phasing out and Crush being his replacement with Ax taking on a managerial role leading to an office position within the company (which fell through), with Darsow, LOD’s long-time friend, staying on as Smash. Due to the change in team mate, Demolitions team dynamic was gone and so was their intensity and it never lived up to the fan's expectations. After this disappointing outing, Hawk and Animal would set their sights on the WWF Tag Team Championships, which they captured at SummerSlam ‘91 at Maddison Square Garden in a no DQ street fight against the Nasty Boys. They became the only team to have held the top three promotions tag titles, those promotions being AWA, WCW and WWF.
They eventually lost the belts in February 1992 to Money Inc. Due to LOD leaving WWF briefly. They did return though at WrestleMaina VII, this time they returned with Paul Ellering. Their return wasn’t without controversy most notably SummerSlam 92. Hawk was loaded on sedatives and was freely popping them in front of his peers. Watching the match back, I wonder the f*ck Vince would let a dude spaced out of his head on sedatives ride a Harley to the ring with rows of people either side of him? Baffled.
This marked the end of LOD for a few years with both guys going their separate ways. Hawk went further down the dark path he was on without Animal’s level headedness keeping him straight. They would later reunite once again during the Attitude Era with a very controversial angle taking inspiration from Hawks well documented, real life addiction issues and playing them out onscreen. Another morally corrupt decision from Vinnie Mac. It was very uncomfortable to watch and still is to this day. It was certainly something that should not have been portrayed on TV. If it weren’t for people's fondness of the duo and the popularity that was still there from the early 90’s, this angle could very well have ruined the reputation they had built.
Luckily in his later years Hawk managed to get clean, found god, got married and settled down until his untimely death at the age of 46 due to a sudden heart attack. LOD’s legacy was cemented when they were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2011. Unfortunately, Animal passed away this year on 22nd September 2020.
So, the question that still remains to be answered is; were they really that good? Separately the answer is no, but together they were quite possibly the greatest tag team we have ever seen! They had the psychology down, they had physicality rarely seen as a tag team, they had an amazing look and were excellent workers when together and that was thier charm. When you split them up, they lose their shine. They well and truly are the definition of a tag team. OOOOOOOOOOOOOOH WHAT A RUSH!
And that’s just my two cents.
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