Animal, one half of pro wrestling's greatest tag team, talks about the new WWE video game, his longtime partner, Hawk, and being one of the strongest men in sports entertainment
They were the original wrestling bad-asses—two street kids with gargantuan upper bodies, war paint, and outfits straight out of a post-apocalyptic nightmare. The Road Warriors (aka The Legion of Doom), comprising Animal and Hawk (real names Joe Laurinaitis and Mike Hegstrand), helped usher in the era of super-sized wrestlers, off-the-wall promos, and Hollywood theatrics, changing the sports entertainment biz forever.
Animal—whose son, James Laurinaitis, was a standout linebacker at Ohio State and expects to be drafted to the NFL this year—recently opened up to MF about life in wrestling and deviating the septums of his hapless opponents.
MF: Let's talk about the new game from THQ, Legends of Wrestlemania, in which you and Hawk appear along with over 40 other classic WWE superstars. How do you like the way you were represented?
Animal: I've always been happy with the way the action was and how the wrestlers were depicted in games. The one thing I'll tell you I was disappointed about was that we weren't on the front cover of this game! Here you're trying to depict tag-team wrestling and, I'm not being bragadocious, but we worked hard in our business and we were the top tag team in the history of professional wrestling.
Without question. Let's talk about the origin of The Road Warriors. You were a bouncer when you got discovered by Minnesota wrestling trainer Eddie Sharkey, right?
Yeah. Myself and Hawk, Ravishing Rick Rude, Barry Darsow—who was Smash in Demolition—were all bouncers at the same bar. Eddie was a bartender there. He was good at picking people out. Hawk could hit like a mule and he looked great. Rick Rude had an arm wrestling background. I used to be a diver, and could literally do a backflip standing—at 300 pounds. He said we should try wrestling camp. Hawk and I got recruited by Georgia Championship Wrestling and the Road Warriors came to life. Our very first day on TV, we won the tag team titles [laughs].
Your gimmick didn't change much over the years, but you started out looking like bikers.
They wanted us to look different. We said let's look like bikers or something from [the movie] Mad Max, which had just come out. So we had our first look with the leather gloves and the hats and the chaps, and as I look back on it now, I think we looked too much like The Village People [laughs]. The promoters wanted to spice it up, so Hawk's brilliant idea was for me to have a Mohawk, and [imitating Hawk's voice] "Then I'll have the double Mohawk, so I have hair where he doesn't, and it will look like we can plug our heads into each other! Ha ha ha."
Then they said, "We want you to experiment with some facial paint." Now The Road Warrior movie had just come out with Mel Gibson. Some of the guys in that movie had face paint on. So we started with just a few lines and then we experimented more. Finally I came up with the spider in the middle of my forehead, as if to say, "Don't get caught in my web," and Hawk came up with the joker look, with the spiral on one side of his face and the red triangle under the other eye.
This costume girl who worked on the movie [Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome] made us our first vest outfits with chains and mesh. I watched the movie and saw some guys had one shoulder pad on and I thought we should do that. I made the football pads with the spikes myself. And that look transcended everywhere. The WWE sold those shoulder pads to kids . . . .
A big part of your team's success was due to the physiques you guys had. There had never been such a powerful-looking team before. How did you get started training?
I was training for football and then I got into powerlifting. I just wanted to see how big and strong I could get. That was just a hobby of mine. I was one of those freak strong kids.
Did you and Hawk train together?
We did on the road, but our training styles were different. I was a more disciplined trainer. I never missed workouts and I wanted to put my time in at the gym. Hawk was fast and furious and just wanted to get in and get out. We had opposite training styles and you can see that in our two body types. He was more sculpted and ripped and I was thicker because I did heavier lifts. He did a lot of supersetting and giant setting and I did more powerlifting. Six years into my wrestling career I was still doing behind-the-neck seated military presses with 405. That was unheard of. That's why one of my fortes in the wrestling business was doing press slams. It takes a certain bone structure to be able to handle a lot of weight.
Did you guys compete on any exercises?
Not really. Hawk never trained legs. I was wrestling and doing squats with 750 for triples. That's why my waist and midsection were thicker. I wore a size 63 tux to Nikita Koloff's wedding. I always liked to be strong. I won a bench-press and cheat-curl meet one time and I cheat curled 315. I was 20 years old. There was an article in Pro Wrestling Illustrated that showed Hawk and I shrugging 980 pounds.
A great example of your strength, and a very memorable point in your career was when you were in the NWA and faced another popular tag team, The Warlord and The Barbarian, in a bench-press contest.
That was legit weight. We never used wooden plates or anything. We wanted it to be real. The night before, Warlord landed on my head in a match and my eye literally popped out of my head and went back in too far and ended up blowing out my sinus. I had a skull and cheekbone fracture. But the bench press contest was scheduled in Greensboro, North Carolina, the next day. So here I was the night before with a broken eye. I painted over my swollen face and did the bench-press contest. I did a 565 bench with my eye all messed up. Imagine that, with all the pressure building up in my head with that lift. If my eye wasn't messed up, I'd have done 610. We beat them in the contest . . . When you have 18,000 people screaming and cheering for you, your body does things that your mind doesn't understand. Guys were genuinely afraid of us.
So what were some of your best lifts of all time?
I did a 610 bench. I deadlifted 740. I got 765 on the squat. And I didn't have any of the equipment that the powerlifters have today. Just wraps and a belt.
So how big were you in those days?
I was 6'2". At my heaviest, I was 320. At one time, the WWE wanted records on everybody. Vince McMahon wanted everybody's measurements. I had 24-inch arms. I had the biggest arms in the territory, and that drove Warlord crazy because he was a big guy. He was like 340. My arm was a half-inch bigger than his.
What were you eating?
I used to bring a bag of fruit with me to the gym and eat grapefruits and oranges and bananas. I'd eat three or four pieces of fruit between body parts just to keep my energy up. Everybody's got their newfangled drinks now, but eating a couple of pieces of fruit will get in your system just as quick.
Your promos were also legendary. Did you have any strategy before interviews, or were you just riffing?
We always just went off the cuff. Hawk was the guy who just said off-the-wall stuff. I did the business part of the interview—who we're fighting, where we're fighting. And our manager Paul Ellering would kind of wrap it all up in one nice, neat package and we'd send it off.
Do you remember some of the lines you had back then? Such as "We're gonna deviate some septums and rip out some goozles."
[laughs] Oh yeah. "We snack on danger, and dine on death!"
So many wrestlers, including your partner, have died much too soon. What do you think has kept you healthy and successful all these years.
I had my family. A lot of guys didn't have a family, and mine kept me grounded. My partner didn't have that for a lot of years. In the end, he was a loving uncle to my kids, but it was too late. He already had heart problems. I also wasn't a big drug guy. It's great that the WWE has a wellness program now. I only wish they had one back when Hawk had all his problems, because then he'd be here today. But these guys are big boys and they make their own choices in their lives.
You guys were also entrepreneurs. You started Zubaz, the company that made those trendy workout pants. What happened with that?
Yeah, we started that company with two other business partners and we couldn't keep up with the demand. We were relying on people to keep their word with their contract and it just got to a point where we had to sell it. We each had 25% ownership worth $14 million.
What does the future hold for Animal?
I just inked a deal for an autobiography that will come out in a little over a year from now. It's going to be about the matches. What it's like to be in a match with this guy. To ride on a bus for eight hours with these guys. To be in a hotel and keep yourself amused. Fans are going to be able to hear from me what it was like. I still love the wrestling business, and I'd love to work behind the scenes and help the new teams.
What a ruuuuush!
Watch the 25th Anniversary of Wrestlemania on Sunday, April 5 at 7 p.m. ET on pay-per-view. Legends of Wrestlemania is available for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, and is in stores now.