Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Road Warriors: Danger, Death and the Rush of Wrestling by Joe Laurinaitis

Why I read it: The Road Warriors hit the wrestling scene as I was coming of age, when wrestling was still all too real to me.

Summary: With Kay Fabian dead, Road Warrior Animal tells all. (Wrestlers used to get access backstage at their shows by saying that they knew a fictitious "Kay Fabian"; remaining in character in public and pushing the notion that the sport was real became known as "kayfabe." That wall was finally broken when the WWF (today's WWE) let the world know it was fake, or, at least, scripted, in the early 1990s. With "kayfabe" dead, once-sacred secrets were revealed, and suddenly thousands of behind-the-scenes stories could be told).

My Thoughts: They were as advertised, larger than life, both physically and as a box office draw. When the first strum of "Iron Man" hit, you knew mayhem was on its way. They were just so damned dominant. It seemed they would never be beaten.

As a young kid growing up in the northeast, the WWF (as it was then called) dominated my Saturday morning airwaves. Wrestling once worked in territories: the AWA in Minnesota, WCCW in Texas, etc. Owners and promoters respected boundaries, some even shared talent. And thus, at first, the Road Warriors were a magazine-based story for me, and not something I saw on television. That was Bob Backlund, the Wild Samoans, Chief Jay Strongbow, Sgt. Slaughter, the Moondogs, Hulk Hogan taking down the Iron Sheik, Roddy Piper smashing a coconut on Jimmy Snuka's head.

But then, we got cable, and Gordon Solie told us all about the new faces we were seeing from the south: Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Buzz Sawyer. Enter the Road Warriors. They crashed wrestling's party like nothing anyone had ever seen before. Today's wrestling scene is nothing but run-ins and unpredictability. Thank the Road Warriors for setting the trend. Today, heels (the bad guys) often get cheered for being counter-culture. Thank them for that, too. They were so badass, you had to root for them.

Animal keeps nothing in reserve in telling his tale. It starts with steroids, ends in the death of his partner, Hawk (Mike Hegstrand). He shares with us the personal side of his life, tales of his kids, his wife, his newfound religion. He turns from Animal, superhero in facepaint and spiked shoulder pads, to Joe, loving dad and husband.

If you were ever in a crowd awed by the Road Warriors; if you know your Nikita Koloff from your Ivan Koloff; if you watched wrestling at all in the 1980s and 1990s, you have to read this book. I came away from it with a touch of sadness at the loss of Hawk, and how it affected Animal. Their story shouldn't have ended the way it did. But Animal lives to tell the tale. And I'll bet you that if he walked through the curtain today in any stadium in America, he'd still get that Road Warrior pop from the crowd.

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