- Michael Rickard II
"The Second Golden Age of Tag Team Wrestling. Part Three of Three."
After deciding to leave the American Wrestling Association (AWA), the Road Warriors and manager Paul Ellering weighed their options as to which promotion they would work for. Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation (WWF) was clearly the top national promotion but Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP) was a contender as well. Both promotions boasted an excellent tag team roster which would give the Road Warriors a variety of opponents to work against.
In the end, the Road Warriors went to JCP. The team were no strangers to JCP, having worked against the promotion’s top heel team the Russians (Ivan and Nikita Koloff) on interpromotional shows featuring both AWA and JCP stars. Promoter Jim Crockett Jr. pushed the Warriors to the moon, establishing them as the top team in all of wrestling when they won the company’s inaugural tag team tournament, the Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Cup Tag Team Tournament. The tournament featured 24 teams from several territories and Japan. Hawk and Animal faced the formidable team of “Hands of Stone” Ronnie Garvin and “Magnum” T.A. (Terry Allen). However Garvin wrestled injured (kayfabe) with a broken hand. This cost him in the end when he punched one of the Road Warriors and winced in pain, making him easy prey to the Legion of Doom.
If anyone in JCP didn’t know who the Road Warriors were, the Crockett Cup established them as the real deal. They soon reignited their feud with the powerhouse team of the Russians before moving on to feuds with the Midnight Express and the Four Horsemen. The feud with the Horsemen led to the Road Warriors teaming up with the Super Powers (“American Dream” Dusty Rhodes and Nikita Koloff) to square off in the two ring steel cage specialty match known as “War Games”.
Just as the Fabulous Ones had spawned copycat teams, so did the Road Warriors. Promoters felt that they could throw together a couple of bodybuilders, throw face paint on them, and wait to cash in. While no one would come close to duplicating the Warriors’ success, these imitators ended up having considerable success and one short-lived team went on to greatness albeit as singles stars. One Road Warriors clone that found success was the Powers of Pain. Made up of the Warlord (Terry Scott Szopinski) and the Barbarian (Sione Havea Vailahi), these two muscular wrestlers had makeup and outfits similar to the Road Warriors. The Powers of Pain power-based offense made them look like credible opponents to the Road Warriors, especially with the team being aided by Ivan Koloff and manager Paul Jones. JCP ran a weight-lifting contest angle where the Road Warriors and manager Paul Ellering were beat up, setting up a feud. However the Powers of Pain reportedly jumped ship to the WWF when they refused to finish the feud with a series of scaffold matches (which are known for being legitimately dangerous-just ask manager Jim Cornette).
After the Road Warriors refused to sign with the WWF, Vince McMahon decided to create his Road Warriors, creating the team of Ax (Bill Eadie) and Smash (Barry Darsow), Demolition. With their faces painted up and their spiked leather attire (which looked like something out of an S&M film), the two were bulky but lacked Hawk and Animal’s solid physiques. What Demolition lacked in muscle, they made up with in wrestling ability. Eadie had worked for years as the Masked Superstar, achieving success in the WWF and various NWA territories. Darsow had previously worked in JCP as Krusher Krushchev, an American traitor who allied with the Russians against the Road Warriors. While fans initially dismissed Demolition as a poor man’s Road Warriors, the team eventually won over WWF fans and would go on to become the longest reigning WWF Tag Team champions. Ironically, Demolition would feud with the Powers of Pain after they jumped from JCP to WWF.
Another team that emulated Hawk and Animal was the Freedom Fighters. The Freedom Fighters were originally four would be wrestlers assembled as Power Team USA. They caught the eye of promoter Jerry Jarrett but Jarrett only needed two so he picked the wrestlers named Justice (aka Jim Hellwig) and Flash (aka Steve Borden), christening them the Freedom Fighters. They began working in Memphis but were as green as grass, so green that they made the Road Warriors’ early work look like a tag team of Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar. The Freedom Fighters didn’t last long. They were just awful in the ring and they were quickly turned heel but even that couldn’t save them. They moved to Bill Watts’ Mid-South Wrestling where they became known as the Blade Runners, Rock and Sting. The team, while short-lived, found incredible success in singles competition with Rock eventually becoming the Ultimate Warrior and Sting becoming the franchise player of JCP and World Championship Wrestling (WCW).
While the two Road Warrior copycat teams of Demolition and the Powers of Pain battled each other in the WWF, the Road Warriors finally won the NWA World Tag Team Titles, defeating the Midnight Express. This time around, the Roadies were heels and the Midnight Express faces. However no matter how much mayhem the Warriors caused (such as trying to take out Dusty Rhodes’ eye with one of their shoulderpad spikes), the fans cheered the Road Warriors. They were quickly turned back to faces.
After Ted Turner bought out JCP and rechristened the company WCW, the Road Warriors found themselves battling new teams who wanted to make a name for themselves by beating the Legion of Doom. These teams ranged from scientific rulebreakers like the Varsity Club (Mike Rotunda and Rick Steiner), the wild Samoan Swat Team, the gigantic Skyscrapers (Danny Spivey and Sid Vicious), and the brother duo of Rick and Scott Steiner. The Steiner Brothers would go on to become one of the top tag teams of the 1990’s and work programs with the Road Warriors in North America and Japan.
In 1990, the Road Warriors jumped to the WWF after a lowball offer from WCW to renew their contracts. The Road Warriors faced the team Vince McMahon had created as his own version of the Road Warriors, Demolition. While this could have been a dream match, Bill Eadie’s health had become problematic and wrestler Bryan Adams began wrestling as Crush, the third member of Demolition. The Road Warriors versus Smash and Crush just wasn’t the same as it would have been with Demolition’s original members.
By 1992, the Road Warriors had hit their peak. After Vince McMahon decided to add a ventriloquist’s dummy to the Legion of Doom, Hawk left the company and headed for Japan. Animal took time off to heal a back injury. Hawk and Animal reunited during the Monday Night Wars but they just weren’t the same. The two men who had steamrolled over their competition were now used mainly to get new teams over. The Road Warriors were certainly not jobbers to the stars but they were no longer the biggest team in the business.
Looking back at the Road Warriors’ success, it’s easy to say that anyone would have been as successful as they were given their push. There is no question that they had the benefit of a monster push. Promoters and wrestlers graciously allowed these two very green rookies to dominate their matches which is even more impressive given that they first wrestled as heels (usually babyfaces dominate a match until the underhanded tactics of their heel opponents gives them the advantage and the match then becomes a story of how the weakened babyface will make it to tag in his fresh opponent). While the Road Warriors unquestionably had a huge push, they used their exotic look, charisma, and mic skills to take advantage of said push. The Road Warriors became box office draws wherever they went and this would not have happened without the efforts of the Road Warriors. One prime example is their growth in the ring. While Animal and Hawk had started off as green wrestlers, they developed a variety of moves and extended the length of their matches. While the Warriors’ initial short and explosive matches helped get them over, it was difficult to imagine the fans wanting to see a two minute match with them night after night. It was a difficult balancing act, stretching out the Road Warriors’ matches and making them look somewhat vulnerable without them losing their aura of awesomeness. However the Road Warriors did this.
Fans will forever debate who the greatest tag team of all time is. While there were bigger teams, faster, teams, and more technically skilled teams, the team of the Road Warriors unique look and style won over countless fans, making them top draws wherever they went. While they were not the first tag team to main event shows, their box office success led to many a promoter courting them. They left a lasting impression wherever they went and their legend continues to grow.