Joe Laurinaitis has always had a quiet sense of confidence, and that expresses itself in the book “The Road Warriors: Danger, Death and the Rush of Wrestling,” which he wrote with Andrew William Wright for Medallion Press.
As “Animal” of the notorious Road Warriors tag team, it was he whose famous part of the promos was saying, “You tell ‘em, Hawk,” it was he whose standard component of the match was doing the heavy lifting and it was he who had the stronger wrestling skills.
All along, it was always Hawk being the boisterous one, while Animal stood there - determined, brimming with confidence and often more aware and more, well, capable in the ring. Hawk was the daredevil - both in and out of the ring, and Animal was the one who got it done.
But let’s not get too carried away. The Road Warriors were a package deal and despite some time apart (notably the Hell Raisers situation where Hawk teamed with “Kenzo” - Kensuke Sasaki) they complimented each other tremendously.
Where the Road Warriors stand in the pantheon of professional wrestling’s greatest tag teams is subject to conjecture. Anyone who was a fan in the 1980s and 1990s knows the team as a destructive force, an influential and very visual force, as well as a team that incorporated new ideas and drove the concept of professional wrestling into the modern era.
The Road Warriors can be listed among the greats for many reasons: they were champions, but fortunately they grew into championship status despite being relatively green when Ole Anderson made the controversial decision to simply hand them the Georgia version of the NWA’s National Tag Team title belts; once they established themselves, they did have longevity - even though interrupted by Hawk’s irresponsible actions; and of almost all tag teams, they retained a sense of being over no matter where they appeared, no matter how they were treated, and often despite the contempt shown for them by major players in the business - at least on this side of the Pacific Ocean.
Of course, the Road Warriors made use of the “Rock‘’n Roll” connection like few others. Once they appeared on the scene to the triumphant power of Back Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” their legend was cemented. The melding of one of Heavy Metal’s most endearing power tunes with the angry, powerful and unrelenting image of the Road Warriors was a decision that rarely was repeated.
Actually, it’s non-existent in a time when faux-music, elevator music and Muzak arrangements dominated the wrestling scene. Once upon a time the Freebirds made it fashionable for entrance music and Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” made a journeyman a hardcore icon, but “Iron Man” made the Road Warriors a mainstream machine.
But the Road Warriors being cutting edge wasn’t all that positive.
With the Warriors, their physical look and their chemically-enhanced bodies - for both power and “the look” - their arrival on the scene marked the beginning of the modern era. Sure, Billy Graham is more appropriate face of the steroids era of professional wrestling and a far more suitable symbol with his health issues, but once the Road Warriors crashed on the scene, there was no turning back.
While I can’t wholly agree with Animals attempt to call Rock and Sting (the Blade Runners) a knock-off, there is a connection. The Warriors opened the door for muscle-heads to stomp their way into the wrestling business. And Rick Bassman was quick to capitalize with the Blade Runners and later with the UPW. Yet Sting is rarely considered as a muscle-head since he established himself in the NWA/WCW, and The Ultimate Warrior (Warrior to us now), well, wellÉ. well.
But the teams that really did knock off the Road Warrior look kept coming. The Powers of Pain, Demolition and a dozen other teams on a dozen different levels. What’s funny is that the Legion of Doom, one of the early names for the team and more accurately the heel faction headed by Paul Ellering that included The Spoiler and almost included Arn Anderson, did involve a loose association with ‘King Kong’ Bundy until a classic moment of Georgia Championship Wrestling occurred - and it was severed in a dramatic fashion.
Certainly there was something about Hawk and Animal going to Stamford to get a sweeter deal and then within a year, seeing Demolition do their shtick on the stages of the World Wrestling Federation. Vince McMahon does have a habit of doing such things, but Randy Culley is credited with the concept, even though he conveniently was pushed out of the team in months.
Ironically, Road Warrior pal and Minnesotan Barry Darsow got the gig.
Even more ironically is that the Road Warriors became a rip-off of themselves when they finally appeared in the WWF as the Legion of Doom, and the book provides more insight into that era.
What is interesting in the realm of the Road Warriors is the connections to Ray Sharkey, Bouncers in Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Minnesota. Scott Simpson (Nikita Koloff), Rick Rood, Darsow, the man known as The Warlord and others came from the same area, and several from Irondale High School.
That part of the story is in there and the ongoing friendships are so noted.
One relationship that reads mostly between the lines, until the end, is the one between Joe and his brother John - who happens to be vice president of talent relations for the WWE. There’s a great commentary on the situation towards the end of the book, where Animal shows his true feelings about being let go from his very own brother, the one he helped immensely in getting into the business.
Strangely, that story isn’t exactly detailed, but one can readily understand why.
So what did Animal have to say? I’ve got three words for you: read the book!
Since a review is an overview and a commentary and not a retelling of the book, don’t expect me to regurgitate the obvious. Laurinaitis explains his part of the wrestling world, from training to his latter days, and explores a lot of avenues of his life, from the steroids to being “born again.”
Much of the book is what I would call a fun read. There’s not a lot of dodging the truth, even though it is convenient that Animal admits to steroid use - before the 1990 laws took effect and not a lot about using thereafter, even though by naming the names he runs with in the early 1990s - Warlord, Davey Boy Smith, etc.
One aspect of the book that seems confusing is the focus, or lack thereof, of the tag team as a whole. Sure, there’s a ton of stuff about Hawk and Animal and the two were mostly inseparable for much of their wrestling careers, but at some point, the talk about Hawk drifts away, and realistically, at the point where talking about Hawk should be a key part of this book.
There’s something about pro wrestling book publishing where guys are more than willing to break kayfabe about the business, but decidedly less forthcoming about their own personal lives. While Joe early on strikes a good balance about talking about his life, and his last chapter - detailing his finding of religion, ironically with his long time friendship with the man known as Nikita Koloff - is quite interesting, there’s so very little about Hawk and his demons other than acknowledging the situations and the loss of opportunities and the tangible frustration about it.
Equally glossed over is the injury to his back and the Lloyds of London settlement. It’s there, but it’s not detailed. We know Joe hurt his back and Hawk went to Japan to team with Sasaki and eventually returned and returned to the glory of the Road Warriors, but it almost felt like Larry Zbyszko was penning the thing considering all the stories and stuff that never made it to print.
One more staple of the modern wrestling book that annoyed me was the retelling of history.
I’m not saying that Animal told tales, but what I’m talking about is the almost compulsion for wrestlers to explain what happened in the 1980s and 1990s. No wrestling fan who knows the Road Warriors really needs to hear his interpretation of Hulkamania and the Cable TV wars. And aside from always having guys extol the virtues of Vince and Eric, what is the purpose?
Yet along the way, there is telling commentary on Vince and on Eric Bischoff. It’s rather obvious that Laurinaitis was well schooled in the business, likely more self-taught than anything, but he knew the politics and he knew the value of old-school vigilance of reputations above all.
And he also knew when a promoter or another wrestler was trying to torpedo his career.
That’s for certain after reading the book and the various “in your face” moments he relishes with those same promoters.
The Road Warriors were truly legends in the business. Whether or not you subscribe to the notion that they were great despite some flaws in their overall talent, you have to acknowledge that the Warriors had a presence and larger than life image that followed them even to the point where Animal’s last forays in the WWE still saw so many fans having expectations the grandeur could be revived.
Hawk - well Hawk was one of wrestling’s tragedies. I’d loved to have read more about him, but the book was a fitting tribute - enough substance even when respecting the fallen warrior by avoiding too many of his foibles.
Once again, Animal remains the silent and confident talent, reflecting upon his impact on the business, despite the mixed bag of benefits and detriments that were unleashed when the duo ran roughshod over jobbers and veterans alike, seemingly destroying the former and always seeming to no-sell the latter, to the point where they forged their legends without apology.
Which of course is how we all remember them. Which of course is why the book work. Like Hawk and Animal, it was the sum of the parts and the inherent power of their portrayals, not the scrutiny of the details, that made them live life large.