If I could describe the Road Warriors, one word comes to mind.
Long before Goldberg went through opponents right and left en route to becoming one of the most intimidating men in professional wrestling, the Road Warriors pretty much beat everyone in their sight.
When tag teams went into the ring to face this formidable duo, they knew the task that was ahead of them. Not only would a loss be on the menu, but also lots of pain and anguish. Because not only were Hawk and Animal rough looking, but their ring style was very much, well, stiff.
“You’d see the guys coming to the TBS studios looking at the sheet, seeing who were they working with that day”, said wrestling legend Jim Cornette. “And then, you’d just see their heart sink”.
Usually, when a wrestler breaks into the business, they have to pay their dues. It would take a couple of years for them to learn the ropes, and take a few lumps on the road to success.
When the Road Warriors debuted on Georgia Championship Wrestling on TBS in 1983, they didn’t need to pay their dues. They immediately won the Georgia Tag Team Championship, and preceded to destroy anyone who crossed their path. They made NWA mainstays like The Sawyer Brothers, Ole Anderson, and Jack & Jerry Brisco look feeble in comparison to their brute strength and undisputed toughness.
After about a year in Atlanta, they moved to the AWA in Minneapolis, where they continued their path of destruction. In a short amount of time, they beat longtime AWA mainstays Baron Von Raschke and The Crusher for the World Tag Team Championship in Las Vegas in 1984. You could tell that these guys were on a different level than the rest of the talent in Minnesota.
One main ingredient that made the Warriors special was that both Hawk and Animal talked a good game, and backed it up. They made everything they did in the ring look believable and exciting. They also had another great piece to their championship puzzle.
“Precious” Paul Ellering.
When Paul Ellering broke into the business in the late 1970’s, he followed the mold of “Superstar” Billy Graham, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, and Hulk Hogan of guys who lifted weights, and had unbelievable charisma. An unfortunate injury to his knee in match against “Rock and Roll Express” member Robert Gibson ended his career, but fortunately, he found his footing as a manager.
Many people will say without Paul Ellering, the group would have broken up early in their careers. He acted not only as their on-screen manager, but he also served as sort of a agent/business manager of the team behind the scenes. You could say he was the Jerry Maguire of the Road Warriors.
This might not be a popular opinion among most fans, but I think the Road Warriors were at their best in the AWA. One time, they did an angle on television were they beat up Curt Hennig pretty bad. He got hooked up in the ropes, and they preceded to bash his head in with a chair. This led to Curt’s dad, Larry “The Ax” Hennig to get involved, and set up a series of matches between the Warriors and the Hennig family.
One feud that drew a lot of money during that time was the war between the Road Warriors and the Fabulous Freebirds. Were they the greatest technical matches ever? No, but they were brutal brawls that people still talk about today. I wanted for Hawk and Animal to show Michael Hayes, Terry Gordy and Buddy Roberts a lesson, and they most certainly did.
As soon as the Warriors seemed to reach their zenith in the AWA, it all came to an end. For some reason, in late 1985, they dropped the tag team titles to “Gorgeous” Jimmy Garvin and “Mr. Electricity” Steve Regal. Although I enjoyed Garvin and Regal’s work, and certainly no disrespect to them as wrestlers, but the Warriors should have never dropped the belts. With the AWA having some good teams at that time like The Midnight Rockers, Scott Hall and Curt Hennig, and “Playboy” Buddy Rose and Doug Somers, the possible matches they would have had with those teams would sell out everywhere. But obviously, Verne Gagne didn’t think they were worth big money deals, so they bolted for the NWA in 1986.
When the Warriors went to the NWA, they exploded. The feud with the Russians was magic. Ivan Koloff was great. Nikita Koloff was still learning, but I thought he did a tremendous job as essentially the Russian version of the Road Warriors. And Krusher Kruschev added a lot as the third man in the group.
At this time, is when I really discovered how great the NWA was. I had been more of a fan of AWA and WWE, but it seemed like the guys in the NWA really went out there to make the matches as real as possible. The NWA and UWF (Mid-South Wrestling) quickly captured my imagination. It’s also where I discovered how great Ric Flair was.
And it was Ric Flair, Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson who made the Road Warriors really shine. With Flair as the World Champion, & Blanchard and Anderson as tag champions, they certainly didn’t have to go out on a limb and get beat up by the Warriors every night, but they really went out of their way to solidify them as big leaguers. In my opinion, at that time, they were certainly in the same discussion as Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and Flair in terms of main event stars.
One incident that I remember clearly was when I was seven, and staying the weekend at my grandma’s house and watching NWA on TBS. It was something that I had never seen the Warriors do as long as I had been watching wrestling.
They turned heel.
Sure, they had been bad guys before, but I had never seen it. After a falling out with fellow War Games teammate Dusty Rhodes, they Warriors attacked him in the ring.
“Oh my god, they took his eye out!” NWA announcer Jim Ross yelled in only the voice Jim Ross could do.
Hawk and Animal took one of the spikes off their trademark shoulder pads and preceded to stick one of the spikes in Dusty’s eye. Blood started flowing out of his socket and all over his clothes. I was mad, but not too mad.
Despite the attempt to turn bad, the fans would have none of it. It was like when Steve Austin turned heel at Wrestlemania 17 and joined up with Vince McMahon. The fans laughed at it. Plus, at the time, Dusty Rhodes had kind of run his course as a top tier talent, and to be honest, the fans were sick of him. This led to Rhodes’ firing from NWA/WCW in 1989, and his move to the WWE that same year.
In 1990, Vince McMahon finally got his wish and signed the Road Warriors. But something weird happened.
He changed their name.
For years, the nickname of the team had been The Legion of Doom. In interviews, David Crockett always referred to them as “The Legion of Doom-the Road Warriors”. But Vince decided that the Road Warriors weren’t the name he wanted, so Legion of Doom it was.
Almost immediately after their arrival, they made an impact in WWE. They cost Demolition the tag team titles at Summerslam ’90 against the Hart Foundation, and started feuding with their face-painted counterparts. After years of domination in WWE, Demolition basically were used to put over the new guys.
After this time, Hawk kinda drifted off into an abyss of drug use. They left the WWE soon after, and broke up for a short while. They went to different areas like New Japan, WCW and eventually back to WWE, where they once again won the tag belts in 1997.
It was around this time that I met them. They had done an appearance at a car dealership, and I really wanted to meet them. I was kind of afraid they were going to be pompous jerks, but they couldn’t have been nicer. I mean, they really took the time to talk to me, and were very polite, especially Hawk.
They stayed on with WWE for a few years. They did an angle with Hawk where he was suffering from his demons and contemplating suicide. I absolutely hated seeing him in this position. In one word, you could describe it as a tasteless.
WWE tried to re-package them as “LOD 2000” with Sunny as their manager, but I didn’t think it was as great as their past. They even took on Darren Drozdov as a third member, and while he did the best he could, the magic just wasn’t there.
Then, reality hit.
In 2003, while moving his family into a new home, Hawk died. He had suffered a heart attack. The wrestling business was in shock. The Road Warriors to me seemed immortal, and there was no way a guy like Hawk could die.
For their achievements, the Road Warriors should be recognized as not just the greatest tag teams ever, but as one of the greatest acts in wrestling history. The paint. The shoulder pads. The non-stop action packed moves. It made them so entertaining to watch.
In the words of Hawk, to describe the Road Warriors, “Oh, what a Rush!”