Trouble in mind. Trouble is that little thing that so many professional wrestlers find themselves getting into. It seems like we are lucky to go a week without Hulk Hogan making some remark or one of the Hardy brothers doing something that just makes you shake your head. It can be perturbing at times. Is it something about the wrestling business that these guys are bound to run into trouble, or is it just that people in general have bad stuff going on and a segment of them happen to be pro wrestlers? Regardless, there are wrestlers out there who despite all of the noise going on around them, they keep their heads on their shoulders.
This week I finally had the opportunity to read The Road Warriors: Danger, Death, and the Rush of Wrestling by Joe “Animal” Laurinaitis. The book has only been out for a few months, but I always try to stay on top of wrestling books as they come out, and felt behind for having not read Animal’s autobiography yet. A lot of people know about the personal problems Animal’s partner Hawk ran into. I knew going into it that Animal was not going to have the track record for trouble Hawk had. However, I did feel after reading the opening pages about Animal’s time as a bouncer might mean he would run into his fair share of trouble himself once he entered the word of wrestling. I was wrong.
Animal was a guy I never knew that much about growing up, but had learned a bit more in recent years. Like many, I always preferred Hawk between the two. It seems most people had that favoritism they showed between tag team partners. With Jeff and Matt Hardy, most favoritism went to Jeff. In the case of the Rockers, Shawn Michaels was the preferred choice. Same goes for most tag teams. What I finally got my head around with this book was that Hawk and Animal, as the Road Warriors, are inseparable. Sure they had their splits and other partners they teamed with, but when it comes down to what the Warriors were all about, you realistically cannot have the Road Warriors without Hawk and Animal together. Tag teams come and tag teams go. Some of them are one-sided, with one of the members as the heart and soul of the team. Others have two men together who both contribute to the team, but one is obviously better than the other. With the Road Warriors, it isn’t like that. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that is part of what made them such a fantastic team.
As I read on I kept expecting something to happen. I kept waiting for that moment where he would fall into some sort of trouble and blame everyone but himself for it. It wasn’t that I thought so low of Animal; I think most of us are just that used to it at this point. A lot of wrestling books talk about how something happened or so and so did such and such, which cost him a big chance. What I found is that Animal didn’t do that. There was no rattling off of people who were on his list, or finding ways to glorify partying and cheating. Instead Animal spoke candidly about his issues with Hawk. He admits himself he took a long time to step in and say something. He watched his partner spiral out of control and it cost both men several times. Yet Animal doesn’t blame it on Hawk and try to put his ghost on trial. It was the things Animal didn’t do that spoke about his character and how deep his bond with Hawk really was.
I will never forget the first time I read Ric Flair’s book and how he praised his wife at the time – Beth. I wasn’t trying to pass judgment on the guy, but he so obviously fooled around on the road. When I read Bret Hart’s book, I was taken aback by how open he was that he cheated regularly on his wife and excused it by saying he was better off cheating then doing drugs. Going through the pages of Road Warriors, I couldn’t help but think about his family back at home. He had his kid from a previous relationship at home with his wife, along with the rest of the family. He always thought of them and spoke about them as his sanctuary. Animal wasn’t a guy who needed the inside of a wrestling ring to feel alive like many others. He has it together.
Earlier this week I came out of a meeting at work and was talking with a coworker on the way back down to our cubicles. He actually knew Animal and has worked out with him a few times. I mentioned to him that I had just finished Animal’s book and told him how impressed I was that he had his priorities set outside the ring. My coworker made a good point and told me that while Animal may have things set now, he lived in the wrestling world where everyone around him was falling down. He was right. Hawk and Rick Rude, two of the guys he started with, were dead long before they should have been. Animal was able to stay out trouble and he had a great family at home waiting for him. He knew that in the end they would be there for him. That’s not the case with wrestling; it doesn’t always love you back.
Most of us do not personally know professional wrestlers so it’s becomes hypocritical if us to judge them based on their personal lives when we really only know them as the characters they play on television. Being friends with them on Facebook or following them on Twitter doesn’t get us there. I have been guilty of crossing a line I shouldn’t have in that regard. Just as it becomes hard for some wrestlers to spate themselves from their characters, we as fans forget they are not the same person in a pair of jeans as they are in spandex. We want them to be good people outside the ring and are devastated when they have their flaws. Nobody is perfect, but we are lucky enough to see glimmers of hope every so often in our heroes.