Tuesday, July 19, 2011

(Road Warrior) Coyote's Book Review #1: The Road Warriors: Danger, Death, and the Rush of Wrestling

(Coyote's note: Not unlike drawing, painting, cooking or making music, writing is truly an art. Read on for my inaugural book review ART-icle featuring The Road Warriors: Danger, Death, and the Rush of Wrestling. I couldn't think of a better tome to kick off this new feature as these guys changed this wanna-be Road Warrior's life, making it truly OK to be bigger than life. I even have a Road Warrior-style first name!)

Boxing had Muhammad Ali. Basketball had Michael Jordan. Pop music had Michael Jackson and Hollywood has Robert De Niro. Professional wrestling had the Road Warriors. If you were a child of the ‘80s, you were fully aware of the impact the latter form of entertainment had on the decade- fan or not. It was during the ‘80s when the WWE’s (then known as the WWF, the World Wrestling Federation) “Hulkamania,” “Rock ‘n’ Wrestling” and “Wrestlemania” brought in scores of new fans, many of the much younger set. Hawk and Animal, the Road Warriors (also known as the “Legion of Doom”), not only worked against the kid-friendly formulas the WWE had to offer; they preceded them. For fans of the fearsome twosome, billed from Chicago, Illinois, the history provided by Animal himself, Joe Laurinaitis, is laid out in heartfelt grandeur in his autobiography, The Road Warriors: Danger, Death, and the Rush of Wrestling (Medallion Press, 2011, 368 pages, $24.95 USA, $27.95 Canada, hardcover, $9.95, e-book available in Kindle, PDF, ePub and NookBook) and is a look back you simply can’t miss. Especially if you’re a lapsed fan like me, who stopped watching wrestling altogether around 1993 or so (with scattered pay-per-view look-sees here and there when I had a hot box between ’98 and 2000).

The book, co-authored by Andrew William Wright, isn’t just an autobiography; it’s a labor of love spanning 20 years, beginning with an origin story borne of pure necessity (Joe becoming a father for the first time) and ending with the death of friend/tag-team partner/brother-in-paint Mike Hegstrand (AKA Hawk) and an update on Animal’s greatest achievements- his three children. Mainly, it’s a view of an unpredictable life through the eyes of a truly gentle giant- gentler than you would’ve ever believed if you were a Warriors fan.

From his brief solo gig in Georgia Championship Wrestling as “The Road Warrior” and the duo’s first run as crudely painted prototypes to their last hurrah in the WWE, Joe describes life on the road with a combination of respect and wide-eyed, childlike joy. Adventures to Japan and exposure to the country’s fans, whose reverence to professional wrestling nearly takes on a national pride, are also remembered and detailed fondly. It’s during these stories where we get a sense that “Road Warriors” wasn’t just a gimmick name inspired by the “Mad Max” sequel but an earned distinction inspired by their need to travel.

The stories behind some of the storylines of the Warriors’ classic conflicts were awesome to revisit and some were refreshingly new to me. In fact, this might make me less of a “Legionnerd” (despite Animal and Hawk grabbing hold of this suburban Chicago nerd at age 13 and never letting go) but when I read that the $1,000,000 check the team earned by defeating Ron Garvin and Magnum T.A. in the inaugural Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Cup Tag team Tournament (on my 15th birthday!) was “kayfabe” (industry speak for not real), I couldn’t help but feel a teeny bit disappointed…just a little. It just goes to show how not-so-well-to-do these men were despite their grueling schedules and what their bodies went through.

Joe mentions in the book that the most important rule in wrestling was to “protect each other at all times” and hammers home that notion with his recollections of in-the-ring injuries sustained by Jim Cornette, JJ Dillon and Animal himself, showing genuine remorse when discussing Cornette’s and Dillon’s injuries (suffered during “Starrcade ‘86’s” scaffold match and the “Great American Bash’s” “War Games: The Match Beyond,” respectively). This fondness for enemies and allies alike was abundant throughout the book as was the concern for the well-beings of all involved, as indicated when the Warriors spared Paul Roma a “Doomsday Device” (their finishing maneuver), simply because he was in fear for his health.

The anecdotes throughout the book were hot and heavy, providing plenty of laughs and moments that could bring you to tears but some of the best stories were the ones that meant the most to Joe, those of his family back home, whose lives he often missed out on while on the road. For a 290-some-odd-pound, mohawked monster, sons Joe and James, daughter Jessica, and his truest tag-team partner, Julie, sure could weaken the guy into a defenseless mess. It’s that kind of heart and conscience that made Joe the go-to guy when Mike wasn’t always at his personal (read: private) best.

This isn’t to say Animal used this book as a soapbox to expose his longtime partner’s weaknesses and excesses. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. From as early as their salad days as bouncers at Grandma B’s in the Twin Cities, vignettes of Hawk’s heart and hilarity far outweighed tales of his poor, impulsive decisions. Make no mistake; Mike Hegstrand was a good, good man whose redemption would eventually find him.

True Road Warriors fans know Joe and Mike embraced Christianity but this book pulls you into the exact moment when Animal’s dear friend (and best man at his wedding), Nikita Koloff, took two explosive bruisers who “snacked on danger” and “dined on death” and gave them (and their loved ones) new leases on life.

The Road Warriors: Danger, Death, and the Rush of Wrestling reintroduced us to people we thought we knew- whether by expounding the true managerial genius of “Precious” Paul Ellering or a quick razz from Fabulous Freebird Michael Hayes prior to their “SuperClash 1985” match against the Warriors at Comiskey Park- while providing the ultimate insider’s view on not just how to be successful in sports entertainment but how to start at the top and stay there.

If I had something close to a complaint about this book, it would be its seemingly abrupt end, relating to the true impact of Hawk’s death on Joe and Paul. With as much of an emotional open book (no pun intended) as Joe Laurinaitis is, I would’ve loved to have experienced his true feelings (if they weren’t painful enough to relive, naturally). Luckily (and I mean this sincerely. Getting to know the Animal means getting to know his family), we got the skinny on the Laurinaitis children’s own exploits and successes.

Long review short, The Road Warriors: Danger, Death, and the Rush of Wrestling is worth your money and time- and that time will be short because you’ll have a hell of a hard time putting it down. Complete with three kickass photo sections, a foreword by Ellering and reflections from 11 pro wrestling greats, in the immortal words of Hawk…OH, WHAAAAAT A RUSSSSSSSHHHHHHH…

Contact Coyote at artofthepaw@yahoo.com.

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