Friday, November 16, 2007

Road Warrior Animal, Joe Laurinaitis, part 1

Joseph "Joe" Laurinaitis (born January 26, 1960) is an American professional wrestler, better known by his ring name, Road Warrior Animal. Along with Road Warrior Hawk, Laurinaitis was one-half of the tag team known as the Road Warriors

Joe Laurinaitis grew up in Minnesota, having to work for a living from a very early age. Because of his size and love of power lifting, Joe was an imposing figure and thus a very effective bouncer. He worked as a bouncer at Grandma B's in the Twin Cities where he caught the eye of Eddie Sharkey, a well known wrestling trainer. Sharkey thought that Joe along with Mike Hegstrand, Richard Rood, and Barry Darsow could make it big in professional wrestling. He believed in them so much that he trained all four of them personally.

Joe made his debut in November 1982, competing as The Road Warrior using a biker gimmick. After only a few matches as a singles competitor, Joe’s career and life would change forever thanks to an idea by Paul Ellering.

When Paul Ellering was looking to put together a stable of heels in Georgia Championship Wrestling called The Legion of Doom, it was decided to put Joe together with his good friend Mike Hegstrand and change their names to Animal and Hawk respectively. Thus, the Road Warriors were born. 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 was taken from Mad Max 2, 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 in Japan, and winning more tag team titles.

Their hard hitting style, no nonsense attitude, and winning ways made the Road Warriors fan favorites. 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 until finally leaving the AWA for big money contracts with the NWA and a huge push for the monster duo. The move paid off instantly as they won the inaugural Jim Crocket Sr. Memorial Cup Tag-Team Tournament and feuded with the top stars of the NWA such as The Four Horsemen and the Russian Team (which included the Road Warriors’ old training buddy Barry Darsow). 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 (and who were one of the most well known Road Warrior clones). The Powers of Pain even went so far as to injure Animal’s eye (kayfabe) during a weightlifting competition. When Animal returned, he initially wore a hockey goalie mask to protect his eye. The angle abruptly ended when the Powers of Pain left the NWA after finding out they were booked against the Road Warriors in a series of Scaffold Matches and they did not want to get hurt by falling off the scaffold.

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.

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