|Intro||American professional wrestler|
|A.K.A.||Joe Laurinaitis, Joseph Laurinaitis|
|From||United States of America|
|Birth||12 September 1960, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA|
|Death||22 September 2020, Osage Beach, Camden County, Missouri, USA (aged 60 years)|
Joseph Michael Laurinaitis (September 12, 1960 – September 22, 2020) better known by his ring name, Road Warrior Animal (or simply Animal), was an American professional wrestler. Along with Road Warrior Hawk, he was one half of the tag team The Road Warriors/The Legion of Doom. He headlined multiple pay-per-view events for the WWF and WCW, competing for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship at 2001's Sin.
Animal was inducted with Hawk and their manager Paul Ellering into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2011 by Ryan Kennedy and David Murray.
Laurinaitis grew up in Minnesota, having to work for a living from a very early age. He attended Irondale High School. Because of his size and love of power lifting, Laurinaitis was an imposing figure and thus a very effective bouncer. He worked as a bouncer at Grandma B's in the Twin Cities where he caught the eye of Eddie Sharkey, a well-known wrestling trainer. Sharkey thought that Laurinaitis and Mike Hegstrand, Richard Rood, and Barry Darsow could make it big in professional wrestling, and trained all four of them.
Professional wrestling career
Early career (1982–1983)
Laurinaitis made his debut in November 1982, competing as The Road Warrior using a biker gimmick. After only a few matches as a singles competitor, his career and life would change thanks to an idea by Paul Ellering.
American and Japanese territories (1983–1986)
When Paul Ellering was looking to put together a stable of heels in Georgia Championship Wrestling (GCW) called "The Legion of Doom", it was decided to put Laurinaitis together with his good friend Mike Hegstrand and change their names to "Animal" and "Hawk" respectively. Thus, the Road Warriors were born. They first started out as biker gimmicks; on The Road Warriors DVD, Animal said he felt like one of the Village People. To look more intimidating, the two shaved their heads into Mohawks and started wearing studded dog collars, spiked shoulder pads, and face paint. The look and name were taken from The Road Warrior, helping to paint the two as no-mercy monsters. Their interview style was vicious, yet charismatic and a bit humorous.
The team was an instant hit, revolutionizing the tag-team scene with their power moves, no mercy attitudes, and innovative face paint that would spawn many future imitators in wrestling. In Georgia, they won the NWA National Tag Team Championship four times before moving on to bigger promotions, such as the American Wrestling Association in the US and All Japan Pro Wrestling, winning more tag team titles.
Jim Crockett Promotions (1986–1990)
Their hard hitting style, no nonsense attitude, and winning ways made the Road Warriors fan favorites. Even when they were booked as heels, the fans refused to boo them. They started to split their time between the AWA and the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) until finally leaving the AWA for big money contracts with the NWA and a huge push for the monster duo. The move paid off instantly as they won the inaugural Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Cup Tag Team Tournament and feuded with the top stars of the NWA such as The Four Horsemen and The Russian Team (which included the Road Warriors' old training buddy Barry Darsow). During their initial run in the NWA, they helped popularize the WarGames match, the Scaffold match, and their trademark Chicago Street Fight.
In 1988, the Road Warriors engaged in a violent feud with The Powers of Pain (The Barbarian and The Warlord) the first team that could truly match the Road Warriors in power (and who were one of the most well known Road Warrior clones). The Powers of Pain even went so far as to injure Animal's eye (kayfabe) during a weightlifting competition. When Animal returned, he initially wore a hockey goalie mask to protect his eye. The angle abruptly ended when the Powers of Pain left the NWA after finding out they were booked against the Road Warriors in a series of Scaffold Matches and they did not want to get hurt by falling off the scaffold.
Near the end of 1988, the Road Warriors captured the NWA World Tag Team Championship from The Midnight Express whom they mauled in short order to win the titles. After being the "Uncrowned champions" for a long time the Road Warriors' run with the tag team titles was short lived. Teddy Long used a fast count to cheat the Road Warriors out of their titles. In their last year with the NWA, the Warriors feuded mainly with The Varsity Club, The Samoan Swat Team, and The Skyscrapers before leaving the NWA in the summer of 1990, due to conflicts with Jim Herd.
World Wrestling Federation (1990–1992)
The Road Warriors immediately signed with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in 1990 and were pushed into a feud with the most famous of all "Road Warrior Clones", Demolition, a group which included their old training partner Barry Darsow. Due to the ailing health of one of Demolition (Ax) he was replaced by Crush but the magic of the original Demolition was gone and the feud did not live up to the high hopes of the fans.
Just over a year after signing with the WWF, the Legion of Doom won the WWF Tag Team Championship and held it for about eight months. When they lost the titles, they briefly left the WWF, only to return with longtime manager Paul Ellering by their side, as well as a wooden ventriloquist dummy called "Rocco". Both members of the L.O.D. thought the Rocco gimmick was stupid, and it led to Hegstrand walking out of the WWF immediately following SummerSlam 1992, leaving Laurinaitis on his own for the first time in nine years. Animal went ahead and finished his contractual obligations with the WWF, as a singles wrestler and occasionally teaming with former rival Crush, formerly of Demolition. During a handicap match in Japan against the Beverly Brothers in September 1992, Laurinaitis legitimately injured his back from a botched double suplex and had to take a lengthy hiatus. His last match was a victory over Papa Shango in San Francisco, California on October 16. After this his back was too injured to allow him to wrestle.
World Championship Wrestling (1993, 1996)
Laurinaitis made some non-wrestling appearances in WCW in 1993. On August 18, at the Clash of the Champions XXIV, Animal made his appearance, getting out of a black Camaro Z28 indicating his partner Hawk was Dustin Rhodes' mystery partner against Rick Rude and The Equalizer. On September 19, at Fall Brawl, Animal was the advisor for Sting's team, consisting of Sting, Davey Boy Smith, Dustin Rhodes, and The Shockmaster for WarGames, defeating Big Van Vader, Sid Vicious, and Harlem Heat. On January 4, 1995, Animal seconded Hawk in his match against Scott Norton in New Japan Pro Wrestling's annual Tokyo Dome show.
For the next couple of years, Laurinaitis stayed out of the wrestling ring, collecting on an insurance policy from Lloyd's of London while Hegstrand competed all over the world. Near the end of 1995, Laurinaitis' back had finally recovered enough for him to return to active competition. Three years after everyone thought the Road Warriors had ended, they reunited and signed a contract with World Championship Wrestling. Upon their return in January 1996, they immediately started a feud with the Steiner Brothers, who returned in March, and Harlem Heat, before moving on to challenge the WCW Tag Team Champions Sting and Lex Luger. The Road Warriors had several shots at the champions but never won the title in the six months they were with the company. The Steiner Brothers also arrived shortly after the Warriors did, and feuded with them to try to prove who the best team of all time was. The Steiners got the better of the feud and the Warriors left WCW in June 1996.
Return to WWF (1997–1999)
After leaving WCW they returned to the WWF where the Legion of Doom took part in the Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. the Hart Foundation feud, siding with Austin against the Harts. The Legion of Doom also became two-time tag team champions on October 7, 1997, when they defeated The Godwinns. In November 1997, the Legion of Doom faced the newly formed New Age Outlaws (Road Dogg and Billy Gunn) and lost the titles to the upstart team.
After several unsuccessful challenges the L.O.D. were repackaged as Legion of Doom 2000 with manager Sunny, although she did not stay with the team for long. At the same time, Paul Ellering returned, but sided with D.O.A., whom L.O.D. were feuding with at the time; Ellering and Animal explained on the Road Warriors DVD that it was hard for Ellering to work with another team against the Road Warriors and difficult to rip on his former team on promos.
In 1998, the Legion of Doom became involved in their most controversial angle; playing off Hegstrand's real life drug and alcohol problems. Hawk started to show up drunk or "unable to perform" on TV. As Hawk proved more and more erratic and unreliable, a third L.O.D. member, Puke, was introduced to team with Animal while Hawk dealt with his personal issues. The storyline ended with accusations that Puke had been the "enabler" of Hawk's problems, exploiting them to take Hawk's place in the team. During the controversial segment, Hawk was shown to have fallen off the Titan Tron. Neither Hegstrand nor Laurinaitis approved of the WWF exploiting Hegstrand's personal problems, which caused them to subsequently leave the WWF.
While the Road Warriors never officially broke up, Animal started making an increasing number of solo appearances after they left the WWF as Hegstrand struggled with drug and alcohol addiction.
Return to Japan, Australia and Independent Circuit (1999-2000)
After his release from WWF, the Road Warriors wrestled at the AJPW Giant Baba Memorial Show defeating Jun Akiyama and Kenta Kobashi in Tokyo, Japan on May 2, 1999. In 2000, the Road Warriors worked for i-Generation Superstars of Wrestling in Australia feuding with The Public Enemy over the i-Generation Tag Titles. They also worked in the independent circuit.
Later that year, Animal wrestled for Battlearts in Japan as Animal Warrior teaming with Alexander Otsuka.
Return to WCW (2001)
In January 2001 Animal returned with a prominent position in WCW as the "enforcer" of the stable known as The Magnificent Seven with the objective to protect WCW World Champion Scott Steiner. The Magnificent Seven split up shortly before Vince McMahon purchased WCW in March 2001; Animal's contract was not one of the contracts the WWF picked up.
Later career (2001–2008)
After WCW folded; Animal reunited with Hawk at Jersey Championship Wrestling defeating the Moondogs 2000 in Lodi, New Jersey on September 8, 2001. The Road Warriors mainly continued working in the independent circuit.
In 2002, Animal once again returned to All Japan Pro Wrestling as Animal Warrior teaming with Keiji Muto. In 2003, The Road Warriors last stint was for Fighting of World Japan Pro Wrestling feuding with the Shane Twins. Hawk would die on October 19, 2003.
After Hawk's death, Animal returned to the ring nearly a year later focusing on his singles career. On May 11, 2008, Animal teamed with Power Warrior to defeat Damián 666 and El Terrible to win the UWA Tag titles for Toryumon Mexico Dragonmania III in Mexico City, Mexico. Animal would then retire from wrestling.
Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (2002–2003, 2007, 2016)
The Road Warriors appeared in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling in late 2002 to early 2003 as part of a group that opposed Vince Russo's faction Sports Entertainment Xtreme, but would only wrestle one actual match for the promotion.
On June 17, 2007, Road Warrior Animal returned to Total Nonstop Action Wrestling on the pay-per-view, Slammiversary, with Rick Steiner; he replaced Scott Steiner, who was out with an injury. They ended up losing to Team 3D.
On December 15, 2016, Animal returned to TNA for a guest appearance on the Impact Wrestling special, "Total Nonstop Deletion".
Second return to WWE (2003, 2005–2006, 2011–2012)
Animal made a return to WWE on the July 14 episode of SmackDown! in 2005, where he was challenged by the then-WWE Tag Team Champions MNM to a title match at The Great American Bash. Finding a new tag team partner in Heidenreich, Animal went on to defeat MNM for the titles, dedicating the win to Hawk by saying, "Hawk, this one was for you, brother!" The two would team up for a few months in a new chapter of the Legion of Doom, with Heidenreich adopting the L.O.D.'s shoulder pads, face paint, and mohawk haircut. However, this came to an end with Heidenreich's release from WWE on January 17, 2006.
On the March 3, 2006, episode of SmackDown!, Animal teamed up with Matt Hardy to face MNM. After he and Hardy lost the match, Animal turned heel for the second time in his career by attacking and injuring Hardy's knee. Animal reasoned that he had realized that Hardy and Heidenreich were screw-ups and that Road Warrior Hawk was the only tag team legend and partner for him. After the heel turn, Animal, once again known simply as The Road Warrior, would drop many aspects of the well-known Road Warrior gimmick, losing the face paint, and shoulder pads. Animal's look at this time was similar to his old Road Warrior gimmick in the early 1980s he had prior to teaming up with Hawk. On the March 17 episode of SmackDown!, Animal lost to Hardy in a Money in the Bank qualifying match. Animal was defeated by United States Champion Chris Benoit on the March 31 episode of SmackDown!.
In his final WWE match, Animal defeated Paul Burchill on the May 6, 2006, episode of Velocity. On June 26, 2006, Animal was released from his WWE contract.
WWE announced on March 28, 2011, on WWE Raw that the Road Warriors would be inducted into the 2011 Hall of Fame. Animal also spoke openly about his future induction on Right After Wrestling just minutes after the announcement on WWE Raw. Animal told hosts, Arda Ocal and Jim Korderas that the WWE was going to create a physical Hall of Fame in Tampa and he was going to donate his trademarked 'spiked-shoulder pads' to that Hall.
On the July 20, 2012, episode of WWE SmackDown on Syfy, Animal returned to face Heath Slater in honor of Raw's 1,000th episode. He went on to squash Slater. He then reappeared on the actual 1,000th episode on July 23 with other WWE Legends to help Lita take down Slater.
All In (2018)
On September 1, 2018, Animal made a surprise appearance at All In to open the event.
Laurinaitis released an autobiography with William Andrew Wright titled The Road Warriors: Danger, Death, and the Rush of Wrestling on March 1, 2011 published by Medallion Press, Inc. The book talks about the rise of The Road Warriors, shares funny stories of life on the road, and offers behind-the-scenes accounts of professional wrestling.
Laurinaitis and his former wife Julie, a former powerlifter and bodybuilder, have two children, son James (born 1986) and daughter Jessica (born 1989). Laurinaitis also has a son named Joseph (born 1981) from a previous marriage. He had since remarried to his current wife, Kim Turman. Outside of wrestling, he coached youth football for Wayzata, the school his son played.
Laurinaitis' brothers have both been involved in professional wrestling over the years. John Laurinaitis (Johnny Ace) is the former Executive Vice President of Talent Relations for World Wrestling Entertainment and a former wrestler. Marcus Laurinaitis is a former wrestler, mainly known as one half of the tag team The Wrecking Crew (Terminator / Fury).
Laurinaitis and his tag team partner, Hegstrand, became born again Christians in 2001.
Laurinaitis' son, James Laurinaitis, played linebacker for Ohio State University. As a sophomore, James won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, given to the best defensive player in the country, and was a finalist for the Butkus Award, which is awarded to the best linebacker in the country. In 2007, James won the Butkus Award. In fact, Sports Illustrated made a joke about borrowing his father's shoulder pads and later did an interview with him that included a picture of him wearing them. He was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the second round as the 35th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, and played with the Rams through the team's final season in St. Louis in 2015, after which he moved to the New Orleans Saints.
In July 2016, Laurinaitis was named part of a class action lawsuit filed against WWE which alleged that wrestlers incurred traumatic brain injuries during their tenure and that the company concealed the risks of injury. The suit was litigated by attorney Konstantine Kyros, who had been involved in a number of other lawsuits against WWE. US District Judge Vanessa Lynne Bryant dismissed the lawsuit in September 2018. An appeal was filed on July 7, 2019, for the case, currently known as William Albert Haynes III, Joseph M. Laurinaitis, Russ McCollough, et al, v. World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., et al..
Laurinaitis died at the age of 60 on September 22, 2020 at the Tan-Tar-A Resort in Osage Beach, Missouri.
The WWE released the following statement regarding his passing:
“WWE is saddened to learn that Joe Laurinaitis, known to WWE fans as Road Warrior Animal, has passed away at the age of 60. One of the most intense Superstars to ever step into the squared circle, the 6-foot-2, 300-pound Animal spent the majority of his career alongside his tag team partner, Hawk. Together, they formed what was arguably the most successful, popular and feared tandem of all time — The Road Warriors. With their intimidating face paint, outfits covered in metal spikes and impressive array of power moves, the duo captured titles and destroyed opponents wherever they roamed. Their dominance made them so popular that the phrase “Road Warrior pop” has been used in locker rooms to describe particularly deafening reactions from the crowd ever since. The Road Warriors thrived in multiple stints with WWE, where they were known as The Legion of Doom. The team won the World Tag Team Titles on two occasions and were eventually enshrined in the WWE Hall of Fame. WWE extends its condolences to Laurinaitis’ family, friends and fans.”
Championships and accomplishments
- All Japan Pro Wrestling
- NWA International Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Road Warrior Hawk
- American Wrestling Association
- AWA World Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Road Warrior Hawk
- Cauliflower Alley Club
- Tag Team Award (2020)
- Fighting World of Japan Pro Wrestling
- World Japan Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Road Warrior Hawk
- George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame
- Frank Gotch Award (2012)
- Georgia Championship Wrestling
- NWA National Tag Team Championship (4 times) – with Road Warrior Hawk
- i-Generation Superstars of Wrestling
- i-Generation Tag Team Championship (3 times) – with Road Warrior Hawk
- Independent Pro Wrestling
- IPW Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Road Warrior Hawk
- International Wrestling Superstars
- IWS World Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Road Warrior Hawk
- Jim Crockett Promotions / World Championship Wrestling
- NWA World Six-Man Tag Team Championship (3 times) – with Road Warrior Hawk and Dusty Rhodes (2) and Road Warrior Hawk and Genichiro Tenryu (1)
- NWA World Tag Team Championship (Mid-Atlantic version) (1 time) – with Road Warrior Hawk
- Iron Team Tournament (1989) – with Road Warrior Hawk
- Jim Crockett, Sr. Memorial Cup (1986) – with Road Warrior Hawk
- Minnesota Wrestling Hall of Fame
- Class of 2019
- National Wrestling Alliance
- NWA Hall of Fame (Class of 2012)
- NWA Legends Hall of Heroes (2016)
- Professional Championship Wrestling (Texas)
- PCW Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Road Warrior Hawk
- Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum
- (Class of 2011) (As a member of The Road Warriors)
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- PWI Comeback of the Year (2005)
- PWI Feud of the Year (1987)
- PWI Tag Team of the Year (1983–1985, 1988)
- PWI ranked him #64 of the 500 best singles wrestlers of the "PWI Years" in 2003
- PWI ranked him #1 of the 100 best tag teams of the "PWI Years" with Road Warrior Hawk in 2003
- Quebec Wrestling Hall of Fame
- Class of 2015 - with Road Warrior Hawk
- Super World of Sports
- One Night Tag Team Tournament (1991) – with Hawk
- Toryumon Mexico
- UWA World Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Power Warrior
- Tokyo Sports
- Best Foreigner Award (1985)
- World Wrestling Federation/Entertainment/WWE
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards
- Rookies of the Year (1983)
- Tag Team of the Year (1984)
- Strongest Wrestler (1985,1986)
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (Class of 1996)