They popularized the use of power moves in wrestling. They popularized the use of face paint. They invented the famous double team finishing maneuver known as the ‘Doomsday Device’. They thrived as a tag team in five major promotions and several countless smaller independent promotions for nearly twenty years. They won several tag team titles that spawned over two decades, winning titles in GCW, NWA, NJPW, WCW and the WWE. They have been named the Pro Wrestling Illustrated (PWI) Team of the Year on three occasions and in 2003, they were voted as the greatest tag team in the history of professional wrestling by the PWI.
They are the Road Warriors, the most iconic tag team in the rich history of professional wrestling.
The single most dominant tag team in the sport’s rich history, the Road Warriors revolutionized the very concept of tag team wrestling. Road Warrior Hawk and Road Warrior Animal were two of the most imposing wrestlers the world has ever seen. Their gargantuan size, use of spiked shoulder blades, intimidating face paint, and unique haircuts sent chills down the bones of their opponents.
The Road Warriors were formed in the now-defunct promotion Georgia Championship Wrestling by Paul Ellering, who would serve as the team’s manager, caretaker, booker etc. for nearly 15 years. Wrestling in several territories, the unique aura of the Warriors won over the fans. Long before the likes of Goldberg and Ryback used squash matches and power moves to get ‘over’, the Road Warriors were doing it all over the country in the 1980s.
Part of their aura was based on their scary entrance music. Picture this: how would YOU react if you were standing in the middle of the ring, and two big spiked shouldered behemoths came out to ‘Iron Man’ by Black Sabbath, of all bands? You knew that you were in for the beating of your life. It didn’t help that the Road Warriors seemed almost impervious to any kind of physical pain.
The Road Warriors were to tag team wrestling what the Beatles were to rock music, what Guns N’Roses were to the revival of hard rock music; all three well ahead of their times. They feuded with the legendary Fabulous Ones and Fabulous Freebirds throughout 1984 and 1985, with both teams becoming the American Wrestling Association’s (AWA) biggest draws and most popular wrestlers of the period, a complete rarity for a tag team.
The Road Warriors would leave the AWA the following year, and would join the National Wrestling Alliance, which would later become the WCW. Upon arriving in the NWA, the Road Warriors started dominating the division, clipping the feathers of their rivals with practiced ease. They would then embark in their most memorable rivalry of all time, as they teamed with WCW legend Dusty Rhodes and Nikita Koloff to face the rampaging iconic stable of the Four Horsemen led by the legendary Ric Flair. The bloody and grisly rivalry would win the 1987 PWI Feud of the Year award, and secured their status as immortals in the vast and uncompromising pages of history.
The hard-hitting, no mercy, and no nonsense style of the Warriors was revolutionary in the 1980s, as the wrestling audience was only used to the technical style promoted by the various organizations, especially the AWA, where the Road Warriors made their name. The fans refused to boo the duo, even if they were billed as heel characters, showing that they had become the ‘cool heels’ long before the NWO, or Stone Cold Steve Austin. Always a generation ahead of their time.
It wasn’t long before other wrestlers and tag teams started mimicking the Road Warriors usage of face paint and attire, coupled with their intense attitude. In 1988, in the NWA, the Road Warriors would encounter the team, The Powers of Pain, a team that comprised of The Warlord and The Barbarian. They were the first team to physically, and mentally challenge the Warriors, going as far as injuring Animal’s eye, and putting him out of action for several weeks. The feud would ultimately end abruptly, as the Powers of Pain would depart to the WWF.
Some of the most famous imitators of the Road Warriors have been wrestling legends Sting, the Ultimate Warrior, the Powers of Pain, and Demolition. While the Warriors were tearing up the competition in the WCW in the late 80s, Demolition was dominating the scene in the WWF, a scene that consisted of uber-talented teams such as the British Bulldogs, the Rockers, and the Hart Foundation.
Wrestling fans longed for a dream match between the two behemoths, and that finally came to fruition in 1990, when the Road Warriors joined the WWF. Now rechristened as the Legion of Doom, they immediately placed a bulls-eye on the back of Demolition, a team which now consisted of three members – Ax, Smash and Crash. However, due to the ailing health of Ax, and Crash’s inability to recreate the magic of the duo, the feud would fall flat on its head, disappointing scores of wrestling fans all over the country.
During the LOD’s initial run in the WWF, they would become WWF Tag Team champions on one occasion, before Hawk left the promotion due to disgust with the WWF, at the portrayal of some of their opponents, while Animal stuck around to finish the contract with former Demolition member Crush.
Animal would suffer a back injury that would keep him out for an extended period of time, and it would mark the end of the glorious period of domination by LOD. Spread over four major promotions and several smaller ones, including their work in Japan, LOD were the best tag team in wrestling from 1983 to 1992, setting a completely unrivalled benchmark, which in all probability will never be surpassed nor replicated efficiently, as the likes of Powers of Pain and Demolition found out.
Hawk would continue the Road Warrior moniker in Japan and form the Hell Raisers with the Japanese wrestling icon Kensuke Sasaki, and helped elevate the young Japanese performer to main event status. When Animal returned in 1996, the three would team together under the Hell Raisers gimmick, but now went by Road Warriors again. The duo would then re-join WCW the same year for a short ill-fated spell, before rejoining the WWF in 1997.
Now without their iconic manager Paul Ellering, LOD experienced mild success, and primarily put over the new top dogs, The New Age Outlaws. They were also managed by the ‘first Diva’ Sunny for a period, and feuded with Paul Ellering and his new side. Even after being renamed as LOD 2000, they didn’t experience much success.
Road Warrior Hawk, real name Michael Hegstrand, passed away due to a heart attack in 2003, finally closing the curtains on the greatest tag team of the last twenty years. The legacy lives on through Animal and Paul Ellering, and was promptly displayed by Animal when he returned to the WWE in 2005 and reformed the Road Warriors with Heidenreich, and would defeat MNM to win the WWE Tag Team Championship, a victory Animal personally dedicated to Hawk.
The Road Warriors were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame along with long-time manager Ellering by Dusty Rhodes in 2011, and remain to be the only team to have held the AWA, the NWA/WCW and WWF tag team titles. Named as the No. 1 team of the PWI Years by Pro Wrestling Illustrated in 2003, the Road Warriors will forever have a lasting legacy in the tag team division, and even, one day, fifty years from now, they will be the benchmark for all upcoming tag teams.