Dot Net Book Review: "The Road Warriors: Danger, Death and the Rush of Wrestling" by Joe "Animal" Laurinaitis
By Will Pruett
Let me begin this review by saying that my expectations for this book were not high. Seeing as I wasn't alive for most of the 1980's, I was never exposed to the best parts of The Road Warrior's work. After reading this book, I regret that lack of exposure and am working to correct it. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading and how much I learned from this book.
The book is by Road Warrior Animal, Joe Laurinaitis. Although there is a second writer attached to the book, the voice of Animal clearly rings through. It works on multiple levels and will appeal to many fans who enjoy wrestling history, tag team wrestling or just want to know more about one of the best tag teams in history.
First, there is the historical context of the book. Because of when Hawk and Animal broke into the business, they saw the rise and fall of many wrestling companies. They also saw firsthand the effects of national expansion on the territories and the wrestling world as a whole. They were in the AWA as it went downhill. They were in Mid-South Wrestling, Georgia Championship Wrestling and Jim Crocket Promotions as they all folded. They worked in the early days of WCW and faced the devastation caused by Jim Herd. If it was a major wrestling event in the lifetime of the Road Warriors tag team, it is profiled in this book.
On top of just offering a great history of the '80s and early '90s, this book offers a version of it that hasn't been approved by WWE. So often there is a criticism that WWE has revised the history of the business, and this story comes free of WWE revisions. All of the gritty details are brought to light, some that would probably anger Vince McMahon and WWE.
As the Road Warriors began their careers, they had almost no experience. Upon being signed and put together in a tag team by Ole Anderson, they were instantly made champions. They had the world handed to them and had a large number of wrestlers lay down for them. Animal discusses the challenges they faced in learning how to wrestle on the road. To think they started in this fashion and eventually became one of the greatest teams in history is amazing.
One of the biggest stories in the book is that of steroids and drug use in professional wrestling. Both Hawk and Animal began using steroids in their powerlifting days in the early '80s. Joe Laurinaitis is nothing but honest when he admits to using them. He mentions that they were completely legal and not frowned upon at all at the time. In one moment, he sees a portrait of a skinny Vince McMahon and jokes that it was of the "pre-Deca Vince" which drew a laugh from Vince McMahon himself.
The saddest story that stems from that honesty is that of Mike "Hawk" Hegstrand and his death and demons along the way. Many times in the book, Animal mentions that Hawk's life was spinning out of control with his constant cocaine use. He talks about being the responsible partner to Hawk's crazy lifestyle. There were many shows that Hawk was late to, or didn't show up at. It's an all too familiar story in the wrestling business that ends in tragedy. It is reminiscent of Eddie Guerrero's sad story where he got himself cleaned up and was recovering, when his years of abusing his heart caught up with him.
Perhaps this book seems more poignant because of the tragedies that the last decade has brought in the wrestling business. Joe "Animal" Laurinaitis was trained with Rick Rude. He shared a hometown and a friendship with Curt Hennig. His own partner passed away. He knew so many men who died far early than they should have with unnatural causes to blame. Animal never shies away from or tries to make excuses for his fallen brethren.
The writing style sometimes leaves a little bit to be desired. In the descriptions of matches, it seems like Animal wrote with a mix of reality and the story they were telling in the match. This can be confusing for a reader. He also does not describe matches with the ease that is shown by Mick Foley and Chris Jericho in their books. I found these portions of the book to be the least satisfying.
The story as a whole had me riveted. As I mentioned before, this book did not excite me when I first saw it. It quickly engrossed me and grew on me. The story of arguably the greatest tag team of all time is one that begs to be read.
If you are interested in learning about the history of wrestling in the 1980's and early 1990's this book is a great resource. If you simply want to know more about The Road Warriors and Joe Laurinaitis in general, this book will impress you. It is not the tightest writing, but the storytelling is there. I give it a moderate recommendation. It's not for everyone, but wrestling fans with a mind towards history will be satisfied.
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