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Mike Pankow

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Chicago’s Road Warrior Animal fueled by adrenaline

Chicago’s Road Warrior Animal fueled by adrenaline

By Mike Pankow

September 14, 2018

When talking about wrestlers who are billed from Chicago, the legendary Road Warriors are probably the most synonymous with the Windy City.

Animal and Hawk were arguably the most celebrated, if not the most dominant, tag team in professional wrestling history. Two real-life hulks, jacked to the gills, complete with face paint and spiked shoulder pads. They were the epitome of adrenaline-filled ass kickers.

While the Warriors were both billed from Chicago, only Animal was born and raised there. Animal (real name, Joe Laurinaitis) said he and his family lived on the South side of the city.

“We’ve got roots here,” said Animal during an appearance at Wizard World Chicago last month. “We’ve got family here. It’s a great place. Some of the greatest fans in all of sports. I spent a lot of time down on Rush and Division Street, got myself in a lot of trouble.”

Animal’s father was transferred to Minnesota while working for Honeywell, so the family was uprooted to the Twin Cities area.

“Gotta go where the old man goes,” Animal said. “He’s my bread and butter.”

Animal spent his teenage years at Irondale High School in New Brighton, Minn., about 10 miles from the Twin Cities.

Then he met his future tag team partner Hawk (Mike Hegstrand) while bouncing at Gramma B’s in Minneapolis.

“Eddie Sharkey was a bartender of the bar we worked at,” Animal said. “You’ve got to see this bar. You had Hawk, me, Ravishing Rick Rude, Smash of Demolition and Scott Norton of the NWO.”

Sharkey, who was a renowned trainer, asked the guys if they were interested in attending his wrestling camp.

Animal replied, “Ahhh, we’ll see.”

Animal’s ex-college football coach pointed him toward a tryout for the USFL, the short-lived pro football league in the mid-80s.

“I’m training for that anyway,” Animal said. “Training for wrestling camp couldn’t hurt. So, it all worked out.”

All five of the bouncers eventually had long, productive careers in pro wrestling. Rude held the NWA Tag Team titles, the WCW International title and the WWE Intercontinental title. Smash (aka Barry Darsow) was a former WWE tag team champion and portrayed several characters during his career. Norton was a powerhouse in Japan, who came back to the states to part of WCW’s rise in the mid-90s.

But Animal and Hawk were the most notable of that group, becoming the only duo to win the AWA, NWA and WWE Tag Team Championships.

“Hawk and I won like 22 world titles. I don’t think any tag team has come close to that,” said Animal adding that the Road Warriors won championships in South Korea, Australia, Mexico and “about six different companies in Japan.”

The chemistry was perfect.

“Hawk and I just clicked, right place, right time,” Animal said. “There’s a thing in the wrestling business I call the ‘it factor.’ Hulk Hogan had the ‘it factor,’ The Rock’s got it, Stone Cold (Steve Austin)’s got it, Undertaker’s got it, Bruno Sammartino had it. I think the Road Warriors were the only tag team to have that ‘it factor.’ ”

Animal’s brothers, John and Marcus, were also wrestlers, but neither was as successful in the ring. John, who wrestled as Johnny Ace as part of the Dynamic Dudes with Shane Douglas in WCW, is most known for being a WWE executive and working backstage as a producer.

“I text my brother all time,” Animal said. “He’s so busy with his new family and everything else.”

John recently married Kathy Colace, matriarch of WWE’s Bella Twins family, and frequently makes appearances on the reality shows “Total Divas” and “Total Bellas.”

Many believed that Animal’s son, James Laurinaitis, would be a natural for the wrestling business. James was a standout linebacker at Ohio State during the mid-2000s before becoming the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams’ all-time leading tackler. He was recently inducted into the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame and now works as an analyst at the Big Ten Network.

“He doesn’t need (wrestling),” Animal said. “He’s like the Hulk Hogan of linebackers. He made so much money, he doesn’t need wrestling.”

Animal and Hawk left a legacy in professional wrestling as they were inducted, along with their longtime manager Paul Ellering, into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2011.

The Road Warriors were a well-oiled machine with their power moves and over-the-top personalities.

For Animal, once he and Hawk applied the face paint, the mood changed.

“You put the face paint on and another person comes out,” Animal said. “It just exemplified our feelings. We go out there, we’re indestructible. We clicked together. I put the spider on all the time, I say ‘don’t get caught in my web.’ The web of the Warriors.”

Oh, what a rush!

 Road Warrior Animal was part of a wrestling Q&A panel along with Tommy Dreamer and Christian at Wizard World Chicago at Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Ill. on Saturday, August 25, 2018.  (Photo by Mike Pankow)

Road Warrior Animal was part of a wrestling Q&A panel along with Tommy Dreamer and Christian at Wizard World Chicago at Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Ill. on Saturday, August 25, 2018. (Photo by Mike Pankow)

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