Hawk and Animal, The Road Warriors, are known as ‘The’ tag team of professional wrestling. Often standing above all other tag teams past and present due to their presentation, physically imposing wrestling style, and their global success. The pair are also arguably the greatest representation of wrestling in the 80s. In an era where promoters and fans marvelled at high concept characters coming to life in the ring, Road Warriors were exactly that. However, in addition to their look and charisma, Hawk was also caught up in the rock and roll lifestyle that wrestling in the 80s is known for. This is the story of this week’s episode of Dark Side of the Ring, the rise and the unfortunate fall of wrestling’s biggest tag team.
Like all Dark Side episodes, this episode is full of fantastic and insightful interviews, in this case, from the two men that were right by Hawk’s side, Animal and the team’s manager Paul Ellering. Also, a few clips of old Hawk interviews too. Plus, insight from close friends like Scott Norton, Barry Darsow (Repo Man, Demolition Smash), and Hawk’s two brothers. But while the usual standard of interviews is present, the Road Warriors focused episode is a slight departure from the series’ usual focus on a singular event. This episode is as close to telling an A to Z story as Dark Side will likely ever get, as this episode seemingly focuses on Animal and Hawk’s journey as a whole.
The story flows very well, from discussing Hawk and Animal’s macho meeting at the gym, and clearly establishing their personalities and opposites attract type relationship. With Hawk being a wild character and Animal a much calmer presence. Also, while entering the chapter of their wrestling career and eventual success, the story effectively establishes the inevitable “Dark Side” that is about to come with the description of Hawk’s wild antics, and well-delivered lines by narrator Chris Jericho, such as: “the pressures of performing in the WWF will soon set the stage for their downfall.” Simple storytelling devices, but it keeps a sense of anticipation for audiences, particularly those that are unfamiliar with Hawk and Animal’s story.
While the episode focuses a lot on Hawk’s personal demons of partying, even showing somewhat shocking footage of Hawk openly doing cocaine with a large group of people in a room. The story doesn’t veer off into the darker territory of storytelling as much as past episodes. They often remind viewers Hawk was a good man with demons and sometimes intertwine the bad moments with good. Going from Hawk’s bad lifestyle to showing his courageous efforts for the team and fans by wrestling in a Scaffold Match with a broken bone in his leg.
What’s also evident in this particular episode is the clear admiration and fanfare that producer Evan Husney and director Jason Eisener have for The Road Warriors. Much like Jason did in his interview with SteelChair, the episode largely marvels and celebrates what the Road Warriors were. It breaks down the various elements, in detail, that captured the imagination of fans from their face paint that was inspired by the Mad Max films, the mohawk hairstyles, and their legendary spike shoulder pads. What often works so well for Evan and Jason is that they are lifelong wrestling fans first, and that’s clear and effective in their breaking down of the features that made The Road Warriors so special to millions of fans around the world for so many years.
Also, for those that did not grow up watching Hawk and Animal and experience that “Road Warrior pop,” the show does a brilliant job of recreating that mystique and aura of the team through their now trademark flamboyant reenactments. The surreal and fantastical element of Dark Side’s reenactments goes hand in hand with The Road Warriors look and colourful gear, so when the likes of Animal and Ellering told various stories, the excellent shots of actors playing Animal and Hawk merged beautifully to help paint the picture of these larger than life characters.
What’s lacking in The Last Ride of The Road Warriors, however, is the support of more interesting external footage. Of course, that’s a criticism that’s not particularly in the creator’s control per se, but there are moments where you wish you could see more of the pair beyond the wrestling footage. To their credit, Dark Side of the Ring has spoilt audiences with so much unique and sometimes previously unseen footage, that the episodes lacking this can feel like they lack in quality as well.
The episode wraps up the whole approach beautifully with the poetic words uttered by Ellering that he first said during Hawk’s funeral: “Hawk, it is good that men like us met in the struggle of life.” It then once again highlights the remarkable and unmatched legacy of Hawk and Animal. It’s an emotional ending, but one that leaves you with a nostalgic and joyful feeling in an episode that is a welcome break to the usual Dark Side of the Ring formula.
The Last Ride of The Road Warriors airs on Vice TV UK tonight at 10 PM.
All images courtesy of Dark Side of the Ring Facebook, Vice, and video is courtesy of VICE YouTube