WWE is saddened to learn that Joe Laurinaitis, known to WWE fans as Road Warrior Animal, has passed away at the age of 60.
One of the most intense Superstars to ever step into the squared circle, the 6-foot-2, 300-pound Animal spent the majority of his career alongside his tag team partner, Hawk. Together, they formed what was arguably the most successful, popular and feared tandem of all time — The Road Warriors.
With their intimidating face paint, outfits covered in metal spikes and an impressive array of power moves, the duo captured titles and destroyed opponents wherever they roamed. Their dominance made them so popular that the phrase “Road Warrior pop” has been used in locker rooms to describe particularly deafening reactions from the crowd ever since.
The Road Warriors thrived in multiple stints with WWE, where they were known as The Legion of Doom. The team won the World Tag Team Titles on two occasions and were eventually enshrined in the WWE Hall of Fame.
WWE extends its condolences to Laurinaitis’ family, friends and fans.
Just 10 days after celebrating his 60th birthday, Road Warrior Animal, one half of the legendary team The Road Warriors/The Legion of Doom passes away, despite appearing on the Legion of Raw podcast earlier the same day. His unique character and charisma have never left the memory of the 80s and 90s wrestling fans. The Minnesota-born Joe had to work for a living from a very early age. Because of his size and love of powerlifting, Laurinaitis was an imposing figure and thus a very effective bouncer. He caught the eye of Eddie Sharkey, a well-known wrestling trainer. His brothers John and Marcus would also become professional wrestlers, respectively as Johnny Ace and The Terminator.
Laurinaitis made his debut in November 1982, competing as The Road Warrior using a biker gimmick. After only a few matches as a singles competitor, his career and life would change thanks to an idea by Paul Ellering who was looking to put together a stable of heels in Georgia Championship Wrestling (GCW) called “The Legion of Doom.” It was decided to put Laurinaitis together with his good friend Mike Hegstrand and change their names to “Animal” and “Hawk” respectively. The Road Warriors were born.
They first started out as biker gimmicks but, to look more intimidating, the two shaved their heads into Mohawks and started wearing studded dog collars, spiked shoulder pads, and face paint. The look and name were taken from The Road Warrior, helping to paint the two as no-mercy monsters. Their interview style was vicious, yet charismatic and a bit humorous.
The team was an instant hit, revolutionizing the tag-team scene with their power moves, no mercy attitudes, and innovative face paint that would spawn many future imitators in wrestling. In Georgia, they won the NWA National Tag Team Championship four times before moving on to bigger promotions, such as the American Wrestling Association in the US and All Japan Pro Wrestling, winning more tag team titles.
Their hard-hitting style, no-nonsense attitude, and winning ways made the Road Warriors fan favourites. Even when they were booked as heels, the fans refused to boo them. They started to split their time between the AWA and the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) until finally leaving the AWA for big money contracts. The move paid off instantly as they won the inaugural Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Cup Tag Team Tournament and feuded with the top stars of the NWA such as The Four Horsemen and The Russian Team. During their initial run in the NWA, they helped popularize the WarGames match, the Scaffold match, and their trademark Chicago Street Fight.
In 1988, the Road Warriors engaged in a violent feud with The Powers of Pain (The Barbarian and The Warlord) the first team that could truly match the Road Warriors in power. Near the end of 1988, the Road Warriors captured the NWA World Tag Team Championship from The Midnight Express whom they mauled in short order to win the titles. After being the “Uncrowned champions” for a long time the Road Warriors’ run with the tag team titles was short-lived. Teddy Long used a fast count to cheat the Road Warriors out of their titles. In their last year with the NWA, the Warriors feuded mainly with The Varsity Club, The Samoan Swat Team, and The Skyscrapers before leaving the NWA in the summer of 1990.
The Road Warriors immediately signed with the WWF in 1990 and were pushed into a feud with the most famous of all “Road Warrior Clones”, Demolition. Just over a year after signing with the WWF, the Legion of Doom won the WWF Tag Team Championship and held it for about eight months. When they lost the titles, they briefly left the WWF, only to return with longtime manager Paul Ellering by their side. Hawk would walk out of the WWF immediately following SummerSlam 1992, leaving Laurinaitis on his own for the first time in nine years.
Animal went ahead and finished his contractual obligations with the WWF, as a singles wrestler and occasionally teaming with former rival Crush, formerly of Demolition. During a handicap match in Japan against the Beverly Brothers in September 1992, Laurinaitis legitimately injured his back from a botched double suplex and had to take a lengthy hiatus. His last match was a victory over Papa Shango in San Francisco, California on October 16. After this, his back was too injured to allow him to wrestle.
Laurinaitis made some non-wrestling appearances in WCW in 1993. On January 4, 1995, Animal seconded Hawk in his match against Scott Norton in New Japan Pro Wrestling’s annual Tokyo Dome show. Near the end of 1995, Laurinaitis’ back had finally recovered enough for him to return to active competition. The Road Warriors reunited and signed a contract with WCW. They had several shots at the champions but never won the title in the six months they were with the company. The Steiner Brothers also arrived shortly after the Warriors did, and feuded with them to try to prove who the best team of all time was. The Steiners got the better of the feud and the Warriors left WCW in June 1996.
After leaving WCW, they returned to the WWF where the Legion of Doom took part in the Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. the Hart Foundation feud, siding with Austin against the Harts. The Legion of Doom also became two-time tag team champions on October 7, 1997, when they defeated The Godwinns. In 1998, the Legion of Doom became involved in their most controversial angle; playing off Hegstrand’s real-life drug and alcohol problems. Hawk started to show up drunk or “unable to perform” on TV.
As Hawk proved more and more erratic and unreliable, a third L.O.D. member, Puke, was introduced to team with Animal while Hawk dealt with his personal issues. The storyline ended with accusations that Puke had been the “enabler” of Hawk’s problems, exploiting them to take Hawk’s place in the team. During the controversial segment, Hawk was shown to have fallen off the Titan Tron. Neither Hegstrand nor Laurinaitis approved of the WWF exploiting Hegstrand’s personal problems, which caused them to subsequently leave the WWF.
While the Road Warriors never officially broke up, Animal started making an increasing number of solo appearances after they left the WWF as Hawkstruggled with drug and alcohol addiction. After his release from WWF, the Road Warriors wrestled at the AJPW Giant Baba Memorial Show defeating Jun Akiyama and Kenta Kobashi in Tokyo, Japan on May 2, 1999. In 2000, the Road Warriors worked for i-Generation Superstars of Wrestling in Australia feuding with The Public Enemy over the i-Generation Tag Titles. They also worked in the independent circuit.
Animal would return to WCW in 2001 as the “enforcer” of the stable known as The Magnificent Seven with the objective to protect WCW World Champion Scott Steiner. After WCW folded, Animal reunited with Hawk at Jersey Championship Wrestling defeating the Moondogs 2000 in Lodi, New Jersey on September 8, 2001. The Road Warriors mainly continued working in the independent circuit. In 2002, Animal once again returned to All Japan Pro Wrestling as Animal Warrior teaming with Keiji Muto.
The Road Warriors appeared in TNA Wrestling in late 2002 to early 2003 as part of a group that opposed Vince Russo’s faction Sports Entertainment Xtreme but would only wrestle one actual match for the promotion. On June 17, 2007, Road Warrior Animal returned to TNA at Slammiversary, with Rick Steiner, he replaced Scott Steiner, who was out with an injury. They ended up losing to Team 3D. On December 15, 2016, Animal returned to TNA for a guest appearance on the Impact Wrestling special, Total Nonstop Deletion.
After Hawk’s death in 2003, Animal returned to the ring nearly a year later focusing on his singles career. He would come back to WWE from 2003 to 2006, then make sporadic appearances with the company. On May 11, 2008, Animal teamed with Power Warrior to defeat Damián 666 and El Terrible to win the UWA Tag titles for Toryumon Mexico Dragonmania III in Mexico City, Mexico. Animal would then retire from wrestling.
The Road Warriors were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2011. If Hawk was the wilder of the two, Animal was the powerhouse, so their styles perfectly complimented one another. After Hawk’s unfortunate passing, Animal did his best to keep the Road Warriors name alive. Today, this name became eternal.
All pics and videos courtesy of WWF/WWE