Have you ever had a moment when you’re watching television and something or someone does something that grabs your attention and refuses to let go? That’s what happened to me while watching an NWA show one Saturday afternoon in the 80s. Ric Flair and the Four Horsemen were in the ring challenging some team I didn’t know at the time. In answer, the opening riff of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man cut through the arena and pulled my attention from what I was doing. Two of the biggest and awesomest wrestlers of all time ran to the ring and the brawl started. That was my introduction to the legendary Road Warriors.
The Legendary Road Warriors (Hawk and Animal)
While this was the beginning of my infatuation with them, the Road Warriors had been wrestling a few years already. Some of their best feuds had been with the Four Horsemen and the Midnight Express. The latter even involved a scaffold match (seriously one of the most dangerous things in the world) where Jim Cornette let himself fall to avoid them and broke both of his ankles (accidentally).In many ways, they were the opposite of their longtime manager, Paul Ellering, appearance-wise as he was dressed smartly, but was known to unleash on anyone he needed to. They were known to brutalize their opponents, to beat the crap out of them in the ring without mercy. They were intimidating from their entrance music to their mohawks and face paint. But they were also kind and gracious to those they liked.
Rough exteriors, hearts of gold
With the constant heel turns and vitriol that flows in many wrestling promos, we rarely get to see the real side of these performers. We’re not there to see them play with their kids, or help their wives with something. Or even reward their opponents for absorbing a beating.
The latter is one that caught my eye on Instagram the other day. Awrestlinghistorian shared a story about how Hawk and Animal used to give their TV pay to the jobbers they just finished destroying.
Let’s think about that for a second. It’s easy to look at jobbers as not being worth anything yet as they’re paying their dues in the hope to be on the other side of the beating one day. We dismiss them regularly as they’re fed to wrestlers like Rowen, the Viking Raiders, or any inspiring talent. It’s a common way to build hype about a wrestler (Perfect example, how many of Goldberg’s streak were jobbers?). But for someone to hand over the money they earned to someone trying to figure things out is more than kindness, it’s respect. It shows appreciate for having to go through the same thing at one point, for knowing that earning your stripes can be a difficult task.
Another story that comes to mind was when Hawk (Michael Hegstrand) passed away. According to Animal (Joseph Michael Laurinaitis), Hawk and his wife were moving into a new condominium and had been packing when he said he felt tired and wanted to take a nap. He suffered a heart attack and died without waking.
Animal said that it was like Hawk wanted to get the heavy stuff his wife couldn’t do out of the way before leaving.
In every endeavor, it’s about the size of someone’s heart that determines who we are. As vicious as they could be, the Road Warriors showed it was possible to be dolphins in a sea of sharks (borrowed this line from awrestlinghistorian.
Darren Drozdov — a Road Warrior at heart
Droz, or Puke as McMahon originally dubbed him, were L.O.D.’s (Legion of Doom as they were known in the WWE) unofficial third member until Hawk’s real life alcohol abuse became center stage and forced Droz to take over his spot. It was a tried and true method McMahon had used with Demolition to help Ax phase out by bringing in Crush. The effort here was mixed storyline-wise as Droz was eventually labeled the enabler of Hawk’s alcoholism in an effort to push him out. They even went so far as to show him to be the one that pushed Hawk off the titantron.
While Hawk was rehabbing, Droz and Animal teamed up until their eventual split. Droz embarked on a singles career that had gotten a boost from his time with the L.O.D., but it was short lived as he was paralyzed from the neck down in a botched maneuver with D-Lo Brown.
The height of fame
The Road Warriors success and look led to others trying to create their own team in their image. Some of those were the Blade Runners (A young Sting and Ultimate Warrior), Powers of Pain (Warlord and Barbarian), and most notable being Demolition (Ax and Smash).
Each iteration had a level of success, with Demolition being the most successful of the copycat teams. They may have started out as copies, but they eventually carved their own path before the Road Warriors joined the WWE and became known as the Legion of Doom.
While Demolition saw their fortunes reverse at this time because the originals were in the house. The Legion of Doom’s dominance quickly established itself and the rest of the tag team division was shoved aside as they took their rightful place. This is one of the greatest WWE failures as the feud between Demotion and L.O.D. was one-sided and robbed the fans of seeing what could’ve been a feud of the ages.
The power of the Road Warriors allowed them to dominate wherever they went, capturing fans’ hearts along the way. Their story has everything the greatest tales have from achieving the highest point, to falling to the lowest. They were beloved and hated, feared and worshipped. In the end, they gave us everything they had, and while this article nowhere near defines or encompasses their careers, I wanted to touch on some of the memorable moments and convey how much they meant to fans and the wrestling community at large. With any luck, I piqued your interest to watch some of their old matches if you haven’t already. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
For many, the legendary Road Warriors defined an era of wrestling that has yet to be matched. In the end, legends come and go, but the special ones are eternal.