The sudden passing of “Road Warrior Hawk” Michael Hegstrand in October 2003 brought a close to one of wrestling’s greatest tag teams. This week’s “Dark Side of the Ring” went behind the curtain to take a look at the rise and fall of Hawk and Animal in The Last Ride of the Road Warriors.
This week’s episode essentially functions as a timeline of The Road Warriors in wrestling. Hawk and “Road Warrior Animal” Joe Laurinaitis meet through working out and bouncing together at a Minneapolis bar, where Eddie Sharkey picks them up to be train in wrestling. As The Road Warriors establish themselves in the NWA and Japan, Hawk falls deeper into alcohol and drug addiction. It comes to a head in their first WWF run as The Legion of Doom and it temporarily splits the team apart, sending Hawk to Japan and temporarily splitting up the team. Hawk and Animal reunited in the WWF in 1997, where a storyline exploiting Hawk’s battles with alcohol ends up with them objecting to the story and another exit from the promotion.
After health scares due to addiction taking their tool, Hawk becomes a born-again Christian in 2003 along with Animal after a conference invitation from Nikita Koloff. Despite getting clean and remarrying, Hegstrand passes away in October 2003 after a sudden heart attack.
Aside from a few words about the funeral of Hegstrand from Road Warriors manager Paul Ellering, the episode really doesn’t give much of a personal touch to a sad decline of one of wrestling’s most memorable tag teams. It plays like an hour-long Wikipedia page presentation of the tag team, but it turns out the Road Warriors page on the website had some context that the documentary even lacked, such as Hawk quitting the first WWF run after being pitched a ventriloquist dummy addition to L.O.D. and Animal’s back injury being the reason for the team’s hiatus from 1992 to 1996.
While Ellering and Laurinaitis provide some brief insights to how the Road Warriors came to be, all the other interviews here don’t end up adding to the story. Demolition member and “The Repo Man” Barry Darsow seems to merely mention working with The Road Warriors and training with them under Sharkey, while Hegstrand’s own brothers make an appearance or two to mention how tough their brother was growing up.
This could have been an interesting documentary to approach on multiple levels. Substance abuse in wrestling always deserves a deeper dive. Taking a look at how tag team wrestlers depend on each other for their livelihoods in wrestling would have been a unique angle. Even just personalizing Hawk’s story a little more than his addictions derailing the team over the years could have given the episode some warmth and emotion.
Playing it as a straight chronology made it perhaps the weakest episode in an uneven season of TV that is depending on bookending two of wrestling’s biggest tragedies as its biggest centerpieces.
Oh, what a rush of disappointment for this week’s show.