A Marriage Made in Hell: The Road Warriors Tumultuous Tenure in the AWA

Brian Damage

The Road Warriors of Hawk and Animal are widely considered one if not the greatest tag teams in the history of professional wrestling. While beloved by countless fans, the same could not be said by many wrestlers and bookers during their era. Perhaps the team’s most rocky relationship occurred in the one place Hawk and Animal always dreamed being in, the American Wrestling Association (AWA). Today, we take a look back at the Road Warriors stop in that promotion. What went wrong and how did it all end?

Michael “Hawk” Hegstrand and Joseph “Animal” Laurinaitis grew up in the great state of Minnesota. Like New York was the WWF’s prime area and Jim Crockett Promotions had the Carolinas, Minnesota was the AWA’s hub. Hawk and Animal grew up watching all the greats of the AWA including stars like Verne Gagne, Larry ‘the Ax’ Hennig, Dick the Bruiser, the Crusher and Baron Von Raschke. When Hegstrand and Laurinaitis became professional wrestlers themselves, one of their dream goals was to wrestle in their hometown territory of the AWA.

In 1984, the duo’s dream became a reality as The Road Warriors made their way home to work for Verne Gagne’s promotion. The tag team initially debuted as heels but the fans quickly gravitated to their unique look and devastating squashes of jobbers. Soon, the Road Warriors would defeat a couple of their childhood heroes in Baron Von Raschke and the Crusher to win the AWA world tag team titles. It was seemingly a dream come true but not for everybody involved.

The Road Warriors aggressive and stiff working style began to irritate and even infuriate several of the wrestlers backstage. Not only that, but the Road Warriors were not exactly the best at selling their opponents move sets. Wrestlers began refusing to work with Hawk and Animal for all of those reasons. So while fans were in absolute awe of the Road Warriors, many members of the other AWA roster were not.

The wrestlers weren’t the only ones growing tired of the Road Warriors act, so was the promoter, Verne Gagne. Verne had an “old school” philosophy and believed that Hawk and Animal shouldn’t appear as dominant as they were. He grew tired of their gimmick and demanded that Hawk and Animal sell a lot more in their matches. The problem was, they were always booked in other territories as these unmovable, unbeatable monsters and didn’t know any other style than the one they were taught.

To teach the Road Warriors a lesson, Verne booked the Road Warriors against two of his most trusted soldiers at the time in Crusher Blackwell and Larry Hennig. Not only were these two tough as nails both in and out of the ring, Verne felt that if anything was to go down, they could handle them in a fight. The match went on and sure enough, Blackwell and Hennig “no sold” much of the Road Warriors offense. It was a valuable lesson to teach both Hawk and Animal not to be so greedy in the ring.

Verne wanted to get the AWA tag team titles off the Road Warriors so he booked Steve Keirn and Stan Lane, known collectively as the Fabulous Ones, to win the belts. The Fabulous Ones had tremendous success almost every territory they had been into. Despite Verne’s decision, the Road Warriors refused to lose the tag team titles to a team they felt were not superior to them. That created an enormous amount of animosity between the two teams and the Fabulous Ones wound up quitting the promotion.

Verne Gagne was still not done with the Roadies and started planning to put a legit Olympic wrestler named Brad Rheingans into matches against them to “stretch them out” and make the Road Warriors look soft. Eventually, Hawk and Animal dropped the tag team titles to Jimmy Garvin and ‘Mr. Electricity’ Steve Regal (No not THAT Steve Regal) due to outside interference from the Freebirds. Despite losing the titles, the Road Warriors were still very bankable stars for the AWA.

The Road Warriors were still the Road Warriors and continued to obliterate their opponents in the ring. In one such instance in Las Vegas, Hawk and Animal took on the team of Zulu and Ken Lucas. Lucas for whatever reason began no-selling some of the Warriors power moves. While Ken Lucas was a well traveled veteran who trained future star Ricky Morton, he was no Larry Hennig. After the match ended and both teams went backstage, Hawk punched Lucas and broke his nose as a message not to mess with him or Animal in the ring.

By the time 1986 rolled in, the Road Warriors were growing frustrated with Verne Gagne and the way he conducted business. Seeing the writing on the wall, the Road Warriors started making it known that they were looking elsewhere for work. Reportedly, both Jim Crockett Jr and Vince McMahon were hot on their tails to sign with their respective organizations but Crockett who was absolutely desperate to thwart McMahon and his national expansion threw a large amount of money at Hawk and Animal and the team decided to leave the AWA and wrestle for the NWA and Jim Crockett Jr.

The Road Warriors final AWA match occurred at the super card known as ‘Wrestle Rock’ where the Road Warriors defeated the team of Jimmy Garvin and Michael Hayes inside of a steel cage. Even thrugh hostility and resentment, the Road Warriors were still who they were and that were stars. Even Verne Gagne couldn’t change them and sent them off to the NWA with a win.

6 thoughts on “A Marriage Made in Hell: The Road Warriors Tumultuous Tenure in the AWA

    • ^Agreed. I’d even throw in Doom, Ron Simmons and Butch Reed and the Colossal Connection of Andre and Haku for a legit fight to help tame and humble the Road Warriors back then.

      Liked by 1 person

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