On September 22nd, the world lost one of the greatest legends in wrestling history. Joseph Michael Laurinaitis was better to millions of people across the globe as Animal, one half of the legendary Road Warriors/Legion of Doom tag team with his partner, the equally-legendary Hawk. The Road Warriors were one of wrestling’s most popular tag teams of all time, their post-apocalyptic Mad Max-inspired mohawk haircuts, spiked shoulder pads and face paint driving fear into the hearts of their opponents. They were massive draws in every territory they went to, meaning every promoter across America was clamouring to book them on their show. We will never see the likes of The Road Warriors again.
Animal grew up in Minnesota, where he found himself employed as a bouncer, what with his size and love for power lifting. He caught the eye of legendary wrestling trainer Eddie Sharkey, who convinced Animal he was made to be performing in a wrestling ring.
Making his debut as ‘The Road Warrior’ in late 1982, Animal wrestled a few weeks as a singles performer before Paul Ellering, who was looking to put together a stable in Georgia Championship Wrestling, struck upon the idea of putting Animal in a tag team with his good friend Mike Hegstrand a.k.a. Hawk. The stable became the ‘Legion of Doom’ (which also saw King Kong Bundy and Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts have membership card), and Hawk and Animal became The Road Warriors.
Audiences had seen nothing like the merciless, futuristic Road Warriors, dominating their opponents with complete power and viciousness, while their interviews were electrifying, featuring terrifying yet super-charismatic threats of violence. It was during these interviews that Animal became famous for shouting ‘tell ‘em, Hawk!’ after he had warmed the crowd up. This was a new breed of tag team, and their face paint and power move-set would be a major influence on the decade to come.
Picking up titles, audiences and accolades in Georgia, the AWA and All Japan Pro Wrestling, The Road Warriors signed lucrative contracts with Jim Crockett Promotions in 1986 and were immediately rewarded by winning the inaugural ‘Crockett Cup’ tag team tournament. Big feuds followed with the likes of The Midnight Express and The Russians, which saw the Warriors engage in big-time gimmick wars like scaffold matches and Chicago street fights. They were so popular that they were chosen to oppose the Four Horsemen in the very first War Games matches. In fact, the Road Warriors were so popular, they didn’t actually need the tag team championships—they were a massive draw even without them. When the Warriors did eventually win the belts, it was in late 1988, and although they didn’t hold the titles for long, they didn’t need them. They were that over.
Switching to the WWF in 1990, and changing their name to The Legion of Doom, their run started promisingly enough, taking the WWF tag team titles from The Nasty Boys, but Vince McMahon didn’t know when to leave well alone. Adding a returning Paul Ellering was fine, but adding a ventriloquist’s dummy named Rocco was ridiculous, and neither Hawk nor Animal were pleased. Hawk walked out of the company and Animal severely hurt his back shortly after during a handicap match in Japan. Out of action until late 1995, Animal made a triumphant return with Hawk by joining WCW and engaging in a hot feud with the Steiner Brothers over who the better tag team was. It was the team of the 80s against the team of the 90s and, although it was perhaps The Road Warriors last great feud, the fans never lost that love for one of the greatest tag teams wrestling had ever seen. Wherever Animal went afterwards, whether for a return both solo and with Hawk in WWE, in TNA, or even making recent appearances at All In and the NWA’s 70th Anniversary show, the fans always showed him love.
In the aftermath of the news of Animal’s passing, so many fans have shared stories of how much The Road Warriors and Animal meant to them, but so have so many wrestlers too. Stories told of how younger wrestler would approach Animal and ask him for critique on their matches, something that he was happy to do, are heart-warming. As are the testaments from his many contemporaries who do not have anything but love and respect to share for Animal. Ricky Morton has shared a heart-breaking story on social media about how he only spoke to Animal on the phone a few days prior to his passing and that they had planned to meet up. Death cares nothing for love.
But love and respect Animal has in copious amounts. Wrestling will never forget the impact and the gift of entertainment Animal, alongside Hawk, gave to so, so many of us.
Tell ‘em, Hawk!