Last week the wrestling world was hit by the news that Hall of Fame wrestler Road Warrior Animal (real name Joe Laurinaitis) had passed away aged 60.
My first introduction to Animal and the Road Warriors came in 2005, when he came out on an episode of SmackDown to challenge Joey Mercury & Johnny Nitro to a tag team title match at the Great American Bash a week or so later. Partnered by the inimitable Heidenreich, Animal would go on to win the match at the Bash and tag team gold once more. I remember being utterly fascinated by the face paint and the shoulder pads and his dedication of the match to his fallen partner Hawk.
Those shoulder pads were a key element for all ‘Create-A-Wrestler’ characters developed by yours truly in future WWE video games, and googling who Road Warrior Hawk was eventually led me down a bit of a Wikipedia rabbit hole. However, it was only in more recent years that I followed through on that initial interest and really looked into their history and legacy as a tag team.
Following his passing, I thought I’d take a look into Animal’s handful of appearances in Impact Wrestling over the years. They’re nothing massive, but it was a nice way to tap into a probably less well-remembered part of the man’s lengthy career for this week’s column.
Act #1 – NWA TNA
Animal’s first appearances for the promotion came in late 2002 and early 2003 when the company was known as NWA-TNA. Alongside Hawk, Animal made his debut on December 18, 2002, hitting the ring during a three-way tag team match involving America’s Most Wanted (James Storm & Chris Harris), The Harris Brothers (Ron & Don Harris) and The Disciples of the New Church (Brian Lee and Slash). Animal and Hawk cleared house, much to the audience’s delight, hitting a Doomsday Device and a powerslam/splash combination before leaving the ring, allowing Chris Harris to pick up the win.
About a month later, Animal and Hawk featured in their only match with the promotion during this stint. It was in an eight-man tag team match alongside Jeff Jarrett and Dusty Rhodes against Vince Russo’s Sports Entertainment Xtreme faction, comprising the booker man and Triple X (Low Ki, Elix Skipper and Christopher Daniels).
Interestingly in this match, the Road Warriors came out to the music later used by Abyss, with the iconic ‘Oh What a Rush’ riff dubbed over the top. Jarrett and Daniels got us started in the ring, with double JJ having the upper hand before tagging out to Animal. The reaction for the big man was great, with a clear chorus of ‘L.O.D., L.O.D.’ chants. Animal’s first involvement was to throw off Ki with a front suplex before catching his attempt at a hurricanrana and dumping him with a massive powerbomb.
Animal started putting the boots to Ki but he was cut off by Skipper and the Triple X boys proceeded to work over him with double-team maneuvers. He fought them off with a double suplex and tagged out to Hawk, who hit a dropkick on Skipper for a nearfall. After a serious of moves, Hawk tagged in Jarrett. Jarrett immediately jaw-jacked with Russo and despite wiping all three members of Triple X off the apron, his pursuit of Russo ended with him getting beaten down. Triple X worked over Jarrett in the corner, with Russo choking him with the towel any time referee Rudy Charles turned his back.
A double clothesline spot in the middle of the ring between Jarrett and Daniels set up the hot tag to Dusty Rhodes, who cleaned house with a series of bionic elbows. After dealing with Triple X, the ‘American Dream’ beckoned Russo into the ring. Just as it looked as though Russo would enter the ring and actually fight him, Mr Wrestling IV (later revealed as Nikita Koloff) hit Dusty on the back of the head with a chain. With Mike Tenay losing his mind on commentary, Skipper pinned Rhodes for the win. ***
Act #2 – Slammiversary 2007
Following that eight-man tag match, which gave Russo the right to pick all the title challengers for the next weekly PPV, Animal disappeared from the promotion and only returned in 2007, partnering Rick Steiner in a World Tag Team title match against Team 3D.
Unsurprisingly, that wasn’t the originally planned match. Scott Steiner had been expected to partner his brother but he had to have surgery on his trachea after a match in Puerto Rico, ruling him out of the show. On the night, Bubba Ray cut a promo backstage about Scott not turning up and questioning who Rick could actually manage to convince to team with him.
I know it was for the pop, but it really irritated me that Team 3D, as champions, came out first for this one. The Dog-Faced Gremlin Steiner made his way to the ring, soon joined by Road Warrior Animal. The pop here is a little mixed because the music is indistinct and the layout of the Impact Zone meant that those who saw him coming up the ramp popped big, but the rest of the arena popped a little later.
The match started with Steiner and Devon Dudley in a collar-and-elbow tie-up, with Devon getting the upper hand and hitting the corkscrew elbow before tagging in Bully Ray. When Rick eventually fought out of the 3D corner and tagged in Animal, the pop was great and we got another chorus of ‘L.O.D., L.O.D.’ chants. Animal hit a big shoulder tackle on Ray and no sold a piledriver before went down in a double clothesline spot.
Rick Steiner was soon back in the ring and again was being worked over in the corner, Team 3D using quick tags and double team moves to ground the veteran. Don West on commentary was superb in this match, selling the lack of chemistry between Animal and Steiner and talking about them both suffering from ring rust. They’re only little things but they help explain why it’s a relatively easy night’s work for the champs.
Animal got back in the ring and ran wild, hitting a big powerslam on Ray before grounding both members of Team 3D with back body drops. He takes took both down with a double clothesline and tagged in Steiner, teasing a Doomsday Device. 3D had none of it though, knocking Animal down with a double back suplex and then nailing Steiner with the 3D. **1/2
The finish was a bit abrupt but it was a fun little match for what it was. Animal and Steiner made for an interesting visual, they got the right amount of stuff in before gassing out and it allowed TNA to proceed with the Steiners/3D feud later in the year.
Act #3 – Total Nonstop Deletion
I’m not even sure this really counts, but Animal was featured in Matt Hardy’s wacky Total Nonstop Deletion at the back end of 2016. He didn’t wrestle in the match, instead just appearing and laughing at Ricky Morton, who had been lifted up in a cherry picker by Hardy. As I say, a nothing moment but I remember popping for it at the time and going ‘Oh my, that’s Animal!”.
In total, Road Warrior Animal was only probably on Impact/TNA television for about 30 minutes over the years, appearing on just four separate occasions. I don’t claim to have any tremendous knowledge of his work and this is a relatively insignificant part of his lengthy time as an in-ring competitor. Still, he has a part in the company’s canon and it was fun to look back on over the last week.
The Week in Review
- Impact was good this week. Tightly paced with simple, effective storytelling. The wrestling wasn’t bad either.
- I’ve been doing a bit of an Xplosion catchup recently and I have to say, Matt Striker and Don Callis should be the commentary pairing every week. Sorry Josh.
- Bound for Glory gained another title match this week, while the card for Victory Road was filled out nicely. Not a massive show on paper but I’ll have a review for you on Voices of Wrestling.