The loss of Road Warrior Animal leaves a huge hole in my heart, and my adoration of pro wrestling.
Once invincible, we've now lost both Hawk and Animal, as it was revealed today that Animal had passed away at age 60.
I can't pretend to be a historian of wrestling, but I can tell you how I feel, and how the Road Warriors made me feel. I remember watching Clash of the Champions X, and finding wrestling with the night's main event. Yet, it was the colorful and powerful Legion of Doom that made me love pro wrestling for the next three decades.
Everything gets compared to the Road Warriors, for better or worse. If the Ascension wore face paint -- everyone says it was because of the Road Warriors. If AOP were two huge, musclebound powerhouses on a winning streak, well, that was akin to the Legion of Doom. Even acts when they were actively wrestling couldn't help but to draw the comparison. As cool as Demolition and Powers of Pain were, we all know they wouldn't exist if Hawk and Animal didn't exist.
The two adapted so well to a colorful era and fit right in when they moved to WWF. That's where I really found and discovered them, though I'd picked them in that terrible WCW NES game that preceded their New York run. The red spikes, the facepaint. Oddly, I don't remember Rocco the dummy from my childhood, but that's probably selective memory speaking. Five year old me had no clue they'd been on TV for eight years prior. I just saw a vivid, dominant new team showing up and destroying everyone.
It was a build unlike any I'd seen. Hawk and Animal came in and won 33 straight matches (we're not counting a battle royal) on TV over the course of 15 months before they even got a title shot. Today, I'd be scratching my head and wondering what took so long. Back then, I knew they had to take care of Demolition, and dozens of pesky jobbers, THEN they'd get the tag team titles...if they wanted to.
51 matches undefeated. Come to think of it, I don't remember them losing a tag team match straight up during their two-year WWF run. I do remember me losing my focus on wrestling when they were gone for three years, though.
Maybe it's coincidence that the two events coincided. They were gone (and the Ultimate Warrior...yeesh), and I wasn't "allowed" to watch wrestling at that stage of my childhood. That changed around late 1995, and when I saw a couple of welcome faces walk on to WCW programming to face Lex Luger & Sting, my world was whole again. Sting and Luger were two guys that had built up an equal rep with me, and the heel-face tag team dynamic played perfectly into the Road Warriors' "we don't care what you are, we're coming to beat you up and cash our checks" mentality. I wish that run were longer than three months, but at least we got matches with Steiners, Harlem Heat, and a few others.
I'm not going to pretend the guys we saw in WWF between 1997 and 1999 were the same, but they'd developed such good will with me at that point that I didn't care. Their return against the Headbangers in February 1997, their rebirth as LOD 2000, and an insane Titan Tron fall are moments I'll never forget in pro wrestling. You know what? I was a Droz fan, too. I loved the dude. I thought he fit right in with Hawk and Animal, and despite the horrible storyline, I think they could have done something good with him. A lot more than Heidenreich, at least.
Admittedly, by the time the forced Heidenreich and Animal team was hitting my television screen every Friday nights, I was over the act. Moreso because of Heidenreich, who couldn't even keep up with the 45 year old Animal. The late WCW run, the oddly short 2003 WWE match, a random TNA one-off and the 2005 disgrace to the LOD team name just left a sour taste in my mouth.
Then Heath Slater happened. The guy had been getting beaten up by legends for weeks on WWE programming, leading to the 1000th episode of Raw in 2012. Road Warrior Animal was one of his last opponents, and it was Animal's last WWE match ever. It might have been his last televised match ever, too. The reaction he gained was fitting of a legend, and a perfect homage to what his career was and the impact that he and Hawk left behind.
The Road Warrior pop lived until Animal's final WWE match pic.twitter.com/VkLOVQldVK— Sean Ross Sapp of Fightful.com (@SeanRossSapp) September 23, 2020
As I got into media, I stopped so many of the aspects of being a fan of pro wrestling that made me love it. I didn't have a "favorite," I wasn't collecting merchandise or memorabilia, I didn't wear any wrestling shirts..... well...except for several Road Warriors shirts. Exceptions can be made, right? Everything about the presentation of Hawk and Animal screamed out "cool" to me.
To me, the Road Warriors are the greatest tag team of all-time. The presentation, the execution, the protection and the booking all played a huge role in that. Everyone bought them as what they were portrayed to be -- two "sirloin beef sunsabitches" who existed to beat people up and win matches.
May Road Warrior Animal rest in peace.