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Road Warrior Animal, one half of The Road Warriors (also known at the Legion of Doom in WWE), died yesterday at age 60. TMZ reports that he died of natural causes in Osage Beach, Missouri while staying at a local resort.
The Road Warriors, Hawk and Animal, changed the face of professional wrestling in the mid-1980s in terms of their their appearance (unprecedented muscle mass achieved through weight-lifting and given a big boost by use of steroids), interview style, and ring style. Along with Hawk, real name Mike Hegstrand, they were among the most famous tag teams of the 1980s and into the 1990s.
In the NWA’s Georgia territory in 1984, booker Ole Anderson put together the team. In 1985 they became the top act in the AWA filling some of the void left after Hulk Hogan’s departure, feuding with Crusher & Baron Von Raschke, The Fabulous Ones, The Freebirds, “Gorgeous” Jimmy Garvin & “Mr. Electricity” Steve Regal, among others. They established their act in fast squash matches on TV where they’d charge to the ring, slide under the ropes, and destroy their foes in just seconds with power moves.
They concurrently wrestled for Jim Crockett Promotions in 1986 and eventually made that their homestead territory while splitting time in Japan as a top act. In Crockett Promotions, they had a top feud with Ivan & Nikita Koloff (and Krusher Kruschev), among other top teams.
Eventually, they made their way to the WWF in 1990 and were redubbed The Legion of Doom (that was originally the name of the larger faction they were part of in the NWA managed by Paul Ellering). They were past their prime as an act at that point, and followed in the footsteps of the copycat tag team Vince McMahon created when he couldn’t sign the Road Warriors earlier, Demoliton. Still, they were a popular and prominent act.
They would have various stints in Japan and WWE. When Animal suffered a back injury and temporarily retired in 1992, Hawk eventually wrestled in Japan with new partner Kensuke Sasaki in a team called the Hell Raisers. They re-teamed in 1996 for a brief stint in WCW.
After Hawk died in 2003, Animal made a return to WWE to team with Heidenreich as a short-lived reworked LOD tag team at a time when his brother, John Laurinaitis, was a top executive with WWE.
In their early years, The Road Warriors plowed through their opponents, which received criticism. Their gimmick was reliant on dominance, and their in-ring skills were centered around power moves rather than the give-and-take of selling for opponents. Although fans were enamored with them, and paid money to see them as a top drawing tag team, part of what made them draws was that they were booked to dominate and took advantage of that which ultimately marginalized prior top acts in the territories they worked. Not losing was part of their mystique, but it made booking them difficult without damaging the other teams in the territory.
Hawk and Animal had a chemistry on promos and in the ring, with Hawk presented more wit and flair on his promos and his in-ring style. During interviews, Hawk would talk and then turn to Animal, slap him hard on his chest, and say, “Tell him, big man.” Animal would then yell at the top of his lungs what he intended to do to his opponents. Their approach sold tickets, as fans flocked to see these larger-than-life, charismatic badass world beaters in person. Their theme song “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath was a key part of their act in the AWA. Along with Hulk Hogan, they were one of the most imitated acts among future wrestlers who looked up to them and wanted to be them as kids.
The wrestling industry is remembering the impact of the Road Warriors and their personal relationship with Animal over the years on Twitter.
— Lance Storm (@LanceStorm) September 23, 2020
MY ROAD WARRIOR ANIMAL BROTHER. YOU WERE MOST OVER TAG TEAM EVER. WE HAVE THE BEST TIME IN THE MINNESOTA FOREVER I LOVE YOU. RIP BUBBA pic.twitter.com/dLzAy2uRaa
— The Iron Sheik (@the_ironsheik) September 23, 2020
We're saddened to learn of the passing of Road Warrior Animal, a true legend of professional wrestling. Our thoughts, prayers, and condolences go out to his loved ones at the time. pic.twitter.com/QqwxGimSHR
— PWI (@OfficialPWI) September 23, 2020
It is with great sadness to say goodbye to a friend Joe Laurinaitis, WWE legend and Hall of Fame Animal, who was one half of the famed tag team known as the “Road Warriors” and “Legion of Doom.” He was truly one of the good guys! Going to miss you friend… pic.twitter.com/5Npp75876z
— Marc Mero (@MarcMero) September 23, 2020