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    Wednesday, September 23, 2020

    Road Warrior Animal (1960-2020)

    Professional wrestling is almost always about outsized characters, intimidating figures, and physical representations of power. That fiction is told in many ways: from technical wrestling ability to sculpted physiques, from supernatural powers to freakish heights and weights. But few wrestlers are able to capture the intangibles of power until you combine them all in one package. Until you take all factors of intimidation and sheer unnerving terror, with spikes and face paint and the roar of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. That aspect of wrestling's fiction was at the root of everything about the single most successful tag team in all of professional wrestling: The Road Warriors.

    Specifically, the "power" of that team, Road Warrior Animal.

    Joseph Laurinaitis began his career in the "Territory Era" of the 1980s, when he was paired with his good friend Michael "Hawk" Hegstrand to form The Road Warriors. Alongside Paul Ellering and his Legion of Doom, The Road Warriors ran roughshod in America and Japan, winning tag team titles in every promotion they competed in. Their smash-mouth offensive style—often punctuated by brutal displays of power from Animal and the natural charisma of Hawk—made the team popular all over the world. The Road Warriors pretty much set a template for intimidating, Mad Max-esque characters that have become a staple of professional wrestling: from Demolition, to The Ascension, and even The Viking Raiders.

    "What A Rush," indeed: to say that The Road Warriors dominated the tag team scene in the 1980s through the 1990s is an understatement. As a Road Warrior, Animal did not have the same ferocious fervor as Hawk on the mic, but let his in-ring work do the talking. When Animal got the hot tag, he literally squashed the competition with vicious, ruthless attacks: he won't score points in technical wrestling, but the sheer brutality of every move he made to clear the ring for the Doomsday Device struck awe—and fear—for generations of wrestling fans. No tag team was as good in telling that wrestling story as The Road Warriors did for two decades.

    Upon Hawk's untimely passing in 2003, Animal carried on with the legacy of The Road Warriors. While his tag team with Heidenreich and his solo run as The Road Warrior are not as memorable, the times that he did come back in face paint and the spiked armor brought an almost feral rush to fans young and old alike. That rush is most certainly deafening: "The Road Warrior Pop" is a defining characteristic of what it's like to truly connect with fans. Animal cleaned house in his long career in the ring: with over 20 titles, countless accolades, and being enshrined in multiple Halls of Fame.

    Animal passed away today at the age of 60, leaving behind an indelible legacy in professional wrestling. As the world grapples with the silence of a pandemic—for no Thunderdome or socially-distanced wrestling venue can probably come close to the roar of the crowd when Hawk and Animal march to the ring—the rush lives on in all of us.

    Rest in power, Animal. Oh, what a rush.

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    Item Reviewed: Road Warrior Animal (1960-2020) Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Marck Rimorin
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