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OOLD SCHOOL CIRCA  
Snacking on Danger, Dining on Death,
and Redefining Tag Team Wrestling 

October 23, 2003

by Denny Burkholder  
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com

 

[Note from the Present: With the loss of Mike Hegstrand on Oct. 19, 2003, pro wrestling lost yet another trailblazer. Road Warrior Hawk - along side partner Animal nearly every step of the way - helped change the wrestling landscape in the 1980s.

On the Oct. 20 edition of WWE RAW, The Dudley Boys paid tribute to Hawk. Bubba Ray wore a black armband to eulogize him, while he and D-Von bypassed their 3-D finisher for the Road Warriors' patented Doomsday Device. Bubba Ray and D-Von understand that Hawk - along with his contemporaries in a red- hot 1980s tag team scene - made all of this possible. Hawk and Animal popularized tag team wrestling like nobody else before them. Teams like The Dudleys exist today because the business followed the Road Warriors' lead.

As a wrestling fan, I was proud to watch The Dudleys acknowledge Hawk's passing with the Doomsday Device. And yet, I couldn't help thinking - and something tells me the Dudleys would agree - that it's just not the same without Hawk flying off the top rope.

Below is a Circa column I wrote for WrestleLine.com on Jan. 9, 2001, about The Road Warriors and manager Paul Ellering, remembering what made them so legendary. Rest in peace, Hawk.]


The Road Warriors & Paul Ellering 
Originally Published on WrestleLine.com, January 9, 2001

"Ain't nobody EVER, in the STINKIN' WORLD gonna beat us. Tell 'em, Animal!" 
        - Road Warrior Hawk, AWA promo, circa 1984

They snacked on danger. They dined on death. They dominated tag team wrestling in the 1980s and remained a top draw through the end of the millennium. They were the kings of the tag team universe, in an era where the bulk of wrestling's most revolutionary teams were doing their best work. But Hawk and Animal outlived the others, and have become the single most recognizable duo in tag history worldwide.

The Road Warriors epitomized the term "badass" and carried enough influence to spawn numerous copycat wrestlers and tag teams. Naturally heels, the Warriors so enthralled the fans that they were forced to turn babyface more than once. They simply won over more fans with their bad attitudes than the traditional babyfaces could with their righteous behavior.

At the helm of it all was manager (and occasional wrestler) "Precious" Paul Ellering, who seconded Hawk and Animal from the first time they teamed up in Georgia in 1983.

Animal (Joe Laurinatis) came first, debuting as simply "The Road Warrior" in Georgia Championship Wrestling in 1982. Befitting his character name, The Road Warrior was a biker type, decked out in denim and black leather. Within a few months, he would gain a partner in Mike Hegstrand. Hegstrand competed briefly in Canada as a stereotypical German heel named Crusher Von Haig. But upon his arrival in Georgia, he too would dress in biker garb and join his new partner as the Road Warriors. Laurinatis became Animal. Hegstrand became Hawk. And under Ellering's watch, they would set tag team wrestling on its proverbial ear in very short order.

Ellering added the new team to his "Legion of Doom" heel stable, which also consisted of King Kong Bundy, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, The Spoiler and Buzz Sawyer. Four Horsemen pioneer Arn Anderson was also member of the LOD for a brief time in 1983.

Neither Hawk nor Animal had strong amateur skills, but they were nonetheless one of toughest and most athletically gifted tag teams on the scene. Animal played Division II college football before getting into pro wrestling, while Hawk is said to have competed in toughman contests for a few years leading into his wrestling career.

At close to 300 pounds apiece, the Warriors were a definite power team. But they weren't as one-dimensional as most big teams. Hawk was deceivingly agile and fast, and as the Warriors polished their game, he became just as famous for flying off the top rope and for well-executed dropkicks as he was for brutal powerslams and lariats. Animal himself, the stockier of the two, could get some nice air on a standing dropkick with little effort in his prime.

The Warriors' look and ability were two big factors in the huge push they would enjoy in Georgia. And their timing was perfect - GCW had been losing established tag teams like the Freebirds to other territories. Arn Anderson and Matt Borne were supposedly next in line for the Georgia National tag titles until Borne ran into problems with the law, and was soon gone from the territory. Georgia needed a solid team to push. With Hawk and Animal, they got their wish, and then some. Immediately upon their debut, the Hawk and Animal set about dismantling every team in their path while bookers pushed them to the moon. Meanwhile, the ranks of Ellering's Legion of Doom dwindled to the point where that, too, consisted of just Hawk and Animal. By that time, the monsters were sporting shaved heads and painted faces, and had gained a reputation for violence.

Within a year, Hawk and Animal held the Georgia National tag titles on three occasions, betrayed and attacked Paul Ellering for being too weak, feuded with teams which included old LOD members Sawyer and Bundy, and reconciled with Ellering. Pro Wrestling Illustrated awarded them Tag Team of the Year honors for 1983 - an award they would earn in 1984 and 1985 as well. By this time, the Warriors had buried all existing competition in Georgia. With Ellering, the pair moved on to Verne Gagne's AWA in the summer of 1984.

Before autumn, they would wrest that company's tag team titles from Reggie "Crusher" Lisowski and Baron Von Raschke. Their reputation for violence and chaos snowballed even further in the AWA, and in one famous match against Von Raschke and a young Curt Hennig in 1984, the Warriors enraged fans to the point of attacking the team as they headed for the dressing room. While Larry "The Ax" Hennig tended to his bloodied son in the ring, Animal was fist-fighting in the aisle, and Hawk was ducking flying chairs.

They had very quickly become the premiere heel tag team in the business. The entered the arena to the tune of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" and boasted loudly about the carnage they helped create.

"What's Larry Hennig so hot about?" Hawk would growl in an AWA promo directly after the chaotic ending to the match with Von Raschke and the younger Hennig. "Just because we beat the living HELL out of his son? Just 'cause he was gushing blood everywhere to be seen? What are YOU so hot about?" Then a "Tell 'em, Animal," and Animal would launch into a hyper tirade against their enemy. "Tell 'em, Hawk," and Hawk reiterates what bad muthas they are, while Ellering's evil cackle works up to a final word from the brains behind the brawn. Road Warrior promos were predictable, but entertaining.

The Warriors were getting more and more polished, and seemed stronger by the match. Animal could now powerslam a 400-plus-pound Jerry Blackwell just as easily as if he were Ricky Morton. They held the AWA titles for over a year before jumping back to the NWA.

Before dropping the AWA straps in one of the least plausible upsets in tag history - a loss to Jimmy Garvin and Steve Regal (NOT the same person as the WWF's William Regal) due to Freebird interference - the Warriors squared off against NWA tag champs Ivan and Nikita Koloff in a series of champion vs. champion bouts. There was never a clear victor, which naturally meant the feud would resume when the Warriors entered the NWA full-time. After a successful tour of Japan, the Warriors returned to NWA territory.

Besides the veteran Ivan and young "Russian Nightmare" Nikita Koloff, the "Russian" team added a third, interchangeable member known as Krusher Khrushchev (played by Barry Darsow, who would feud with the Warriors in the WWF years later as Demolition Smash). The Warriors won the first Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Cup Tag Team Tournament in April 1986, then teamed with Dusty Rhodes to win the NWA Six-Man tag titles from the Koloffs and Von Raschke (no post-match riot this time). As babyfaces, their stock rose to the point where both Hawk and Animal got world title matches against NWA World Champion Ric Flair on the Great American Bash circuit that summer. As there was no need to break up the successful Warriors in favor of singles glory, they eventually resumed the hunt for the NWA tag titles, which were property of the Midnight Express.

That feud culminated in one of the most famous gimmick matches of the decade - a scaffold match at Starrcade 1986 pitting the Warriors against the Midnights (Bobby Eaton and Dennis Condrey) and manager Jim Cornette. The Warriors won the match convincingly and sent Cornette plummeting from the scaffold.

The other big NWA gimmick match of that era was Dusty Rhodes' "War Games: The Match Beyond," which took place in a huge steel cage surrounding two adjacent rings. And yes, the Road Warriors showed their menacing mugs in that one, too. They teamed with manager Ellering, Dusty and a babyface Nikita Koloff against the original Four Horsemen - Flair, Tully Blanchard, and Arn and Ole Anderson, and their manager J.J. Dillon. War Games had two men start the match and one member from each team enters the cage at timed intervals until everyone was called upon. The Warriors didn't mop the mat with the wily Horsemen like they had previous opponents, but they further cemented their status as major players. There would be no turning back.

Throughout their NWA romp, the Warriors made regular trips to Japan, where they scored the All-Japan International tag straps from Genichiro Tenryu and Jumbo Tsuruta on March 12, 1987. A month later, they would lose by DQ to the Midnight Express - now comprised of Eaton and Stan Lane - in the semifinals of the second annual Crockett Cup tourney. They continued defense and pursuit of the NWA Six-Man tag straps with Rhodes all the while. In a tip of the hat to the Warrior's influence, even the well- established Rhodes would sometimes don face paint when teaming up with the LOD.

In 1987, Paul Jones began managing the Warlord and (Konga the) Barbarian in the NWA. The pair was physically impressive, and many observers touted Warlord as a future singles star. Talented as they were, it quickly became apparent that the duo - called the Powers of Pain - were cut straight from the Warriors mould, and were headed for a showdown with Ellering and the LOD. Barbarian even painted his face like the Warriors, and Warlord would adopt the same practice eventually. The imminent feud between the teams began during a weightlifting display were Animal would attempt to bench press 600 lbs on the SuperStation. The Powers attacked, leaving Animal with a "crushed eye socket." It was the Warriors first real brush with their own legacy - a confrontation with a big power team that drew their style directly from the Warrior's own. That same year, the WWF debuted Demolition, Ax and Smash (Bill Eadie and Randy Culley, later Barry Darsow). They entered the arena to an ominous electric guitar riff, wore studded leather to the ring, painted their faces, and battered their opponents into a fine powder. Sound familiar?

The Road Warriors went over the Powers of Pain in that feud, which ended when Warlord and Barbarian fled for the WWF. Their first opponents? You guessed it - Demolition. Consider it a "Best of the Rest" feud.

It was a surprisingly long time before the Warriors won the NWA world tag titles, considering how dominant they were during that period. The NWA certainly didn't keep the Warriors from the gold due to any lack of fan interest or ability. The Warriors were right up there with the biggest names in the business by the mid-80s and weren't slowing down a bit. But the NWA also had teams like the Rock N' Roll Express, the Midnights, Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson, and superstar duos like Lex Luger and Barry Windham occupying the scene. It's arguable that the Warriors were kept away from the belts because they simply didn't need them as much as the other teams did. The Warriors drew fans regardless. If they were out of favor with bookers, it certainly wasn't evident, since the powerful Rhodes was willing to mooch off the Warriors success for his own benefit. It would take another Warriors heel turn before they would win their first and only NWA tag team titles in 1988, defeating Eaton and Lane.

Hawk and Animal's 1988 heel turn was at the expense of Rhodes, who took a spike to the eye from the LOD. Dusty enlisted the aid of up-and-coming Sting to feud with the Warriors, and when Rhodes eventually left the NWA for the WWF, Luger filled his void. The Warriors dropped the tag titles to Mike Rotundo and Steve "Dr. Death" Williams in early 1989. After another babyface turn, the Warriors feuded with the Skyscrapers - Dan Spivey and Sid Vicious. That feud was sidelined briefly when Sid suffered a punctured lung during a match with the Warriors but restarted when Spivey was joined by "Mean" Mark Callous (the future Undertaker) as the new Skyscrapers. The Warriors also crossed paths with teams like the Samoan Swat Team (the future Headshrinkers, Samu and "Rikishi" Fatu), Doom (Ron "Farooq" Simmons and Butch Reed), and new incarnations of the Horsemen before heading north themselves in May 1990.

When Hawk and Animal left for the WWF, they left behind Paul Ellering. Ellering would see the LOD off on their journey to the WWF and exit the business for a couple years, entering the famous Iditarod dogsled race in Alaska. Ellering has since competed in the grueling contest many times with moderate success. But he would return to the LOD's side later.

Like the Powers of Pain before them, the Warriors were brought in as babyfaces and immediately entered a feud with Demolition, who by this time had been over for years as the major tag team in the WWF. When the LOD showed up (now simply called the Legion of Doom, for fear of confusing Hawk and Animal with the Ultimate Warrior), Demolition had acquired a third member, Crush (Brian Adams), who would gradually take the place of the aging Ax in the team. Demolition's best days were far behind them, and after helping the Hart Foundation win the WWF tag titles from the Demos at Summerslam 1990, the LOD commenced to dominating a feud with their brothers in paint. When the real deal showed up, it proved to be the final nail in the coffin of Demolition. The team soon disbanded, Smash morphed into "Repo Man," and the LOD assumed the position of the WWF's primary babyface badass tag team.

As with most WWF wrestlers in that period, the LOD became watered-down caricatures of their former selves in the WWF. Their faces, logo, and names appeared on all kinds of WWF merchandise, and they had necessarily lost their killer edge in order to fit the standards of early-1990s WWF babyfaces. They were now concerned with their "Little Doomers" in the crowd. They swapped their leather and chrome spiked shoulder pads for bright red ones with black, plastic spikes - which looked like toys in comparison. In exchange for marketability and mainstream success, they swapped their bad attitudes and killer instinct. They still had the athletic tools and charisma. But they were using their powers for good rather than evil. And they'd never turn back.

Despite the major difference in their persona, the LOD remained two of wrestling's most enjoyable performers during their WWF run. When they defeated the Nasty Boys for the WWF tag team titles at Summerslam 1991, they reached the milestone of becoming the only duo to ever win the AWA, NWA and WWF world belts. Add their title reigns in both All Japan and New Japan, and there was no doubt Hawk and Animal were the standard bearers for worldwide success in their era. Still, the "sports entertainment" factor continued to catch up with them. The WWF was responsible for the biggest blemished on the LOD's legacy, one of which was the introduction of "Rocco," a leather jacket- wearing hand puppet the LOD (now reunited with Ellering) carried to the ring for every match. When the LOD began playing with toys, it became obvious they needed to get out of the WWF, and renew themselves.

Around the time they left the WWF in 1992, Animal needed a little time off to heal his injured back. Hawk returned to a place where he could reclaim some of his lost reputation, a place where people still remembered the Warriors of old - Japan. Hawk teamed up with Kensuke Sasaki, who began painting his face and took on the moniker "Power Warrior." Known as the Hellraisers, Hawk and Sasaki scored the IWGP tag titles twice between 1992 and 1994. Hawk then returned to NWA territory - now World Championship Wrestling - and briefly joined Dustin Rhodes and other babyfaces in a few forgettable angles. That same year, Hawk made some appearances for a small independent in the northeast called ECW.

While Animal continued to heal, people feared the Road Warriors would never team again. But Animal eventually came back, and the Warriors made a big comeback in WCW in 1995, during the formative years of WCW Monday Nitro. They mixed it up with old rivals the Steiner Brothers and the Nasty Boys and acquainted themselves with new challengers Harlem Heat and Public Enemy. The Warriors had obviously lost a step, but they were still able to work a decent match. However, there was a flurry of new talent and activity in WCW at that time, and the veteran Warriors were quickly lost in the shuffle. They would leave WCW, and show up as a special surprise on WWF Monday Night Raw on February 24, 1997, defeating the newly arrived Headbangers in Manhattan.

The LOD's second WWF tenure also spawned a tag title reign, and was highlighted by a feud with Owen Hart and Davey Boy Smith. The LOD were still getting big pops from fans, though their age was catching up with them. The WWF pushed them for a while, but fumbled again when they tried to repackage the LOD as "LOD 2000." Hawk and Animal now had Tammy "Sunny" Sytch managing them (for no particular reason), and wore goofy space-age helmets to the ring (again, for no particular reason). They had grown out their Mohawks into buzz cuts. Changing the image of a timeless classic like the Road Warriors might have looked good on paper, but it failed to revive the team's WWF stint. The last impression the WWF gave fans of the LOD would be a sour one.

Hawk and Animal had entered a feud with the Disciples of Apocalypse, a trio known as Skull, 8-Ball and Chainz (played by the Harris twins and Brian Lee, respectively). The WWF even staged a swerve where Paul Ellering again returned to the side of the LOD, only to turn on them and manage DOA. While dabbling in the DOA feud, a side angle was created where the LOD introduced Darren "Droz" Drosdov to the WWF. Hawk began making clumsy errors, tripping over the ropes while entering the ring and such. He began appearing on WWF TV, apparently visibly drunk. In one of the least tasteful gimmicks of the Vince Russo-booked "Attitude" era, Hawk was on Raw every week embarrassing himself, pretending to be inebriated.

On a November 1998 edition of Raw, Droz and Animal - "The New Legion of Doom" - wrestled Edge and Gangrel of the Brood, but left the ring when they noticed Hawk ascending to the top of the Titan Tron, apparently ready to attempt suicide. After Ellering (supposedly breaking kayfabe), Animal and Droz tried to talk him down, Droz climbed up and shoved Hawk backward, and the others scrambled to the back to help their friend. On top of all that, the angle went further to imply that Droz had dealt Hawk the drugs which had ruined his life, and only did so because he wanted his spot in the LOD. The WWF informed fans that Hawk was OK, but nonetheless, the LOD was pretty much done with the WWF after the angle.

And so one of the best teams in wrestling history spent their last months in the mighty WWF carrying out an embarrassing angle that ultimately didn't even get over. Hawk and Animal are still working on the independent circuit. They appeared on a summer 2000 tour of Australia, from which one match was taken for the iGeneration pay- per-view that aired last month. They are older. They're heavier. Their best days are certainly behind them. But for true aficionados of tag team wrestling, Hawk and Animal will always remain one of the true classics of this business. For their influence, ability, and for the solid matches they gave fans for years, the Road Warriors will always get a pop from the crowd.

Or, as Hawk might say: "Good for us. Bad for you. We win. You lose. Same old story. Uuuuuuggghhhhhhh what a ruussshhhh!"

E-MAIL DENNY  
BROWSE THE CIRCA ARCHIVES


  
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