The Road Warriors
Mike Hegstrand (Hawk)
Joe Laurindas (Animal)
Stats: Hawk: 6' 3" 275 lbs. Animal: 6'0" 295 lbs.
The Road Warriors
Pro wrestling has always had more than its share of wild, larger-than-life 'gimmick wrestlers' or men who are known more for their 'character' than for their ability to perform inside of the ring. In many cases, the result has been embarrassing for both the wrestler and the "sport." However, when the wrestler's talent level is equal to the gimmick's entertainment value, the result is almost always the emergence of a new wrestling superstar...
The Road Warriors first burst onto the wrestling scene in early 1983, on the NWA's World Championship Wrestling program, which, of course, was seen nationwide on Superstation TBS. The two gargantuan brawlers, clad in black ring wear, leather motorcycle gear and sporting crew cuts were, visually, quite unique, especially when compared to many of their contemporaries. Then, when (not long after their TBS debut) Hawk & Animal began wearing war-paint style makeup, the (in)famous Road Warrior look was complete. Success came quickly for the somewhat technically limited young brawlers (prior to forming their team, neither Road Warrior had even a year's worth of experience in the business) and they won their first championship -- the prestigious NWA National Tag team title -- in June of 1983.
While their incredible physiques, unique appearance and fresh, new gimmick were all unquestionably big elements of the Road Warrior's initial success, another equally important factor was their leader, former wrestler-turned-manager, "Precious" Paul Ellering (pictured, left). Prior to exploding onto national television via TBS, Ellering (who, like the men he would go on to manage, sported an impressive physique during the prime of his in-ring career) had been a rising star in various smaller territories throughout the AWA and parts of the NWA until injury forced the premature end of his budding wrestling career. As the manager of Hawk and Animal (and, later, other L.O.D. members such as Jake "The Snake" Roberts & King Kong Bundy) Ellering, the scheming, Wall Street Journal wielding mastermind behind his men's greatest triumphants, was a unique managerial figure and a key player in several of the legendary Georgia territory's most successful & entertaining storylines of the day.
Another aspect of the success of the trio known as the Legion of Doom that became evident early on was their interview ability, which, for the time, was exceptional. Individually, each performer was able to deliver a better-than-average promo (a primary component in the success of a pro wrestler) and, collectively, the ferocious yet intelligent, and at times, downright funny (in a very sarcastic, maniacal kind of way) musclemen always left their viewing public entertained...if not a bit frightened! Not since Andre the Giant had two wrestlers appeared as impervious to pain, as unshakable and unbeatable as Hawk & Animal (whose apocolyptic entrance theme, Iron Man by Black Sabbath, became synonomous with their team) and as a result, the ever-growing aura of the Road Warriors truly preceeded the mammoth duo; relatively speaking, they became one of the industry's top attractions almost overnight.
Following their stay in Georgia, the Warriors traveled to the multi-state territory known as the American Wrestling Association. As had been the case in Georgia, the L.O.D. made their Association debut as hated (but respected) 'bad guys' and then, eventually, made the transformation to incredibly popular 'good guy' bulldozers -- a formula that proved to be quite successful. Following their win over reigning AWA World Tag Team titleholders The Crusher & Baron Von Raschke in August of 1984, the Road Warriors went on the rule the competitve AWA tag division as champions for more than one (uninterupted) year. As the AWA World Tag Team titleholders in 1985, the Road Warriors (who were awarded four 'Tag Team of the Year' honors by Pro Wrestling Illustrated between 1983-88) represented their promotion in several AWA-NWA crossover 'dream matches' against NWA World Tag Team champions Ivan & Nikita Koloff, matches which helped draw some very large crowds for promoters Verne Gagne and Jim Crockett.
Eventually, the mighty Road Warriors were defeated for their AWA gold by the unlikely duo of "Gorgeous" Jimmy Garvin & "Mr. Electricity" Steve Regal. Garvin and Regal's win, however, was not without controversy; it was clear to all who witnessed the match that the LOD had been robbed of their AWA World championship. Still, the victory stood...
Following the loss of their AWA championship, Ellering and his men traveled to Jim Crockett's NWA promotion, which, by the time the Warriors arrived in 1986, was the home of some of the best tag teams in wrestling history, all of whom were in their career primes. Crockett's NWA showcased the likes of Jim Cornette and his highly talented Midnight Express, as well as the young and exciting Rock `N Roll Express. Meanwhile, the powerful Soviet triad of former WWF champion Ivan Koloff, his nephew "The Russian Nightmare" Nikita Koloff and U.S.-born 'turncoat' Krusher Kruschev were a devastating NWA force as well. Of course, the precision and power of Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard -- The Horsemen -- certainly cannot be forgotten. In fact, the over abundance of talent in the NWA's Tag Team division almost seemed to work against the LOD, though not in the way one might first think. The aura of power and invincability of The Road Warriors did not wane in light of the NWA's deeper talent base; in fact, it grew. However, with so many deserving, quality opponents to put the Warriors up against, NWA matchmakers were able to keep the team that virtually no one could defeat out of the NWA World Tag Team championship picture (at least in terms of them winning the titles) for more than two years. Granted, the Legion of Doom held the on-again-off-again NWA World Six Man Tag team championship for nearly twenty months between 1986-88, however, the 6-Man title was (rightfully) viewed by the fans as being several notches below the World Tag Team championship. Still, by having the Warriors battle, say, the Horsemen in a non-title grudge match while The Midnight Express challenged the Rock `N Roll Express (or vice versa, as the case may have been) for the Tag Team championship, fans were treated to an even better night of action with more meaningful matches while many NWA promoters were able to draw more fans due to the increased card depth.
In the meantime, overseas in Japan, the Warriors wore New Japan Pro Wrestling's highly respected NWA International Tag team championship from March of 1987 through June of 1988. As the International Tag Team champions, Hawk & Animal, despite the differences in US/Japan work styles, dominated the talented & deep Japanese tag ranks as overwhelmingly as they had in their homeland. As top attractions for both Antonio Inoki's New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) and Shohei "Giant" Baba's All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW), Hawk & Animal were clearly among the elite U.S. competitors to regularly tour Japan, and the Road Warriors team gained legendary status in the Land of the Rising Sun..
Eventually, back home in the States, the Road Warriors did get their previously ellusive NWA World Tag Team championship victory when -- following a dramatic, unexpected heel turn -- they defeated the Midnight Express on October 29, 1988. Yet, despite a vicious, bloody attack on Dusty Rhodes and a feud with the popular Midnight Express (who were, for the first time, being portrayed as babyfaces) the fans could not embrace the concept of booing the Road Warriors...so they didn't, even though they were supposed to. Not surprisingly, it wasn't long before the LOD was back to facing hated teams such as the Samoan Swat Team (Fatu & Sumu), Doom (Ron Simmons & Butch Reed) and/or The Skyskrapers (Sid Vicious & Dan Spivey). However, Animal & Hawk's run as the NWA World Tag Team champions ended some six months after it began, in the same city where they originally won the belts; New Orleans, LA. On April 2, 1989, The Road Warriors were defeated by The Varsity Club (Kevin Sullivan and Mike Rotundo) for the NWA tag belts, which ended their one reign as NWA World Tag team champions. Later, the Warriors engaged in a memorable feud with manager Paul Jones' equally strong duo of The Barbarian & The Warlord, the very LOD-ish team known as the Powers of Pain.
Following their nearly five-year tenure with the NWA, and after remaining one of the few NWA attractions that had not been lured to the WWF (despite the fact that Vince McMahon himself had reportedly wanted to sign the team for quite some time) the Road Warriors -- minus Paul Ellering and now known exclusively as The Legion of Doom -- finally entered the World Wrestling Federation in 1990. Upon their arrival, the LOD quickly settled into main event feuds with the Road Warrior-esque Demolition, as well the The Hart Foundation. Then, on August 26, 1991, the Legion of Doom made wrestling history by defeating the Nasty Boys and capturing the WWF Tag Team title, thus becoming the only team to have won versions of the World Tag Team championship in each of North America's "Big Three" promotions; the AWA, NWA and WWF.
Much like their previous run as World champions in the NWA, the Legion of Doom's reign as WWF Tag Team champions lasted for six months, and during that time they were highly successful. However, some within the WWF felt that something was missing, and that the 'something' was the LOD's articulate longtime manager, Paul Ellering. With WrestleMania as the stage, "Precious" Paul made his WWF debut, reuniting with Animal & Hawk and helping in their feud against the Genius' team of The Beverly Brothers. Going against their standard practice, WWF announcers even acknowledged Ellering's pre-WWF past with the LOD. Still, while the arrival of Ellering gave the team a needed boost, for whatever reasons the WWF version of the Legion of Doom lacked the fire and intensity of the LOD that had so impressively ruled the AWA, NWA & Japan, and the duo slowly but surely dropped a notch on the ladder in terms of their stature in the WWF. Then, inexplicably (from an LOD fan's point of view) the reunited trio suddenly became a quartet when Ellering began bringing Rocko, a leather-clad ventriloquist's puppet, out to the ring. Even worse, the once-anticipated Legion of Doom interviews now featured Ellering doing a so-bad-it's-still-bad voice for the LOD's childish new mascot.
Not surprisingly (and somewhat mercifully) the misguided addition to the LOD team didn't last for any great length of time. Unfortunately, following the debut of Rocko, neither did the Legion of Doom. Hawk was the first to defect; he returned to Japan, as well as competing in Europe, where he won the Catch Wrestling Association (CWA) World Heavyweight title in 1992. Meanwhile, back in the WWF, Animal formed a short-lived team with Crush (Brian Adams) that was relatively successful, although the "new" LOD never came close to reaching the level of the original team. Eventually, Animal left the promotion as well, taking several years off from the sport to rehabilitate a severely injured back.
With Animal out of the picture, Hawk continued focusing on his singles career, with a great deal of success. Eventually, though, he formed a new Road Warrior-ish team called The Hell Raisers with "The Power Warrior" Kensuke Sasake. The duo (clad in LOD-style war paint and ring attire) was an extremely popular team for New Japan Pro Wrestling, and The Hell Raisers wore the prestigious IWGP World Tag Team title twice; their first reign began on December 14, 1992 and lasted through August 5, 1993, while their second run with the IWGP tag straps began on January 4, 1994 and ended on November 24, 1994. While working for NJPW, Hawk also began wrestling occasionally for WCW as a singles competitor, feuding primarily with WCW International Champion "Ravishing" Rick Rude. Following his stint in WCW, Hawk appeared briefly in Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), where he feuded with ECW World champion "The Franchise" Shane Douglas. After competing in ECW, Hawk again returned to WCW as a singles competitor, although he did form an on-again, off-again "dream team" with Sting throughout much of 1995.
Then, as WCW Executive V.P. Eric Bischoff continued his all-out offensive against the promotion's chief competitor, Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation, the long awaited reformation of The Road Warriors finally took place. The newly reunited former Tag Team champions were major components in WCW's storylines as TNT's recently launched WCW Monday Nitro program battled it out with the WWF's Monday Night Raw. But, with opposition such as Sting & Luger, Harlem Heat and The Steiner Brothers (to name just a few) Animal & Hawk had all of the top-level competition they could hope for. Yet, after just a few months in WCW, the Warriors suddenly left the promotion, only to return the World Wrestling Federation as The Legion of Doom soon thereafter.
Back in the WWF, the LOD picked up where they left off, chasing the coveted WWF Tag Team championship. Yet, for whatever reasons, the once invincible Legion of Doom seemed to have lost a step or two once they returned to the Federation. In an attempt to reguvenate the their image, the LOD's look was updated and they were teamed with a (very scantily clad) new manager in the eye catching form of ex-Bodydonnas leader, the beautiful Sunny. Yet, shortly after the debut of the "LOD 2000," Sunny suddenly dropped out of the picture, and eventually, so too did the Legion of Doom. However, Hawk & Animal did return, though, and surprisingly, this time they did so with a new LOD member, the young and abrassive Droz. Now a trio, the Legion of Doom seemed to regain the edge they had lost and the team (which usually consisted of Animal teaming with Droz) quickly became a force within the WWF's tag ranks. Yet, over time, something appeared to quite wrong with Animal's brother Hawk, who seemed to start stumbling through his matches and began giving babbling, incoherent interviews. Clearly, Hawk was not himself. That became shockingly clear to WWF viewers when, during a controversial episode of Monday Night Raw, Hawk, obviously high on some sort of illegal drugs, climbed to the top of the 'Titan-Tron' and, after accusing Animal of abandoning him, 'fell' from the top of the scaffolding in what appeared to be a suicide attempt. Later, it was revealed that Hawk did, indeed, have a drug problem, and that the envious Droz had been his supplier. Months later, a clean & sober Hawk returned to WWF programming, and confronted Droz and then reunited with his estranged brother Animal. The Legion of Doom, it seemed, was finally back.
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