Chances are if you ask a wrestling fan to name any tag team, The Road Warriors (or The Legion Of Doom, if you prefer) will be one of the first responses. Although never Bret Hart or Ricky Steamboat between the ropes, the roughhousing duo of Hawk and Animal had the look, the moves, and the intensity This helped them to become the only team to win the tag titles in the AWA, NWA, and WWF. Hard-hitting and donning face paint, it would be hard to take too many steps wrong with the deadly duo yet their return to the WWF during the late 1990s left fans proclaiming: “Ooooh, What A Crush…ing Disappointment!”
First Match Back
To give a brief summary, The Road Warriors were a hugely successful and popular NWA tag team that first jumped to the WWF in 1990 and had an underwhelming two-year stint in which they won the World Tag Team titles once but held them for five months before losing them at a house show. Also, Rocco the doll happened, which was very bad.
In February 1997, The Legion Of Doom returned after a five-year absence, during which time the duo worked New Japan Pro Wrestling and World Championship Wrestling.
The match was against The Headbangers. Hawk and Animal received a warm reaction, as much as possible from the small crowd in the Manhattan Center. Although the former Road Warriors should have obviously squashed the unorthodox grungeheads, the match ended in a double count-out. Even a post-match Doomsday Device could not wash away the taste of a stilted return.
The Legion soon got back on track, earning a big win at WrestleMania 13 in a fun brawl when teaming with Ahmed Johnson to defeat The Nation Of Domination in a Chicago Street Fight semi-main event.
The team further saw success, main eventing In Your House: Canadian Stampede when the bizarre all-American team of Steve Austin, Goldust, Ken Shamrock, and The Road Warriors fought the extended Hart Foundation (Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Jim Neidhart, The British Bulldog, Brian Pillman); they lost when Owen pinned Austin.
Although the group had the chance to make it big in the WWF, they were dragged into the tag scene, obviously, the right choice but the lame division at the time significantly devalued the team.
Tag Team Scene
An accidental slopping at the hands of The Godwinns created a feud between Henry O. Godwinn and Phineas I. Godwinn over the farmers’ tag belts.
The October 13th, 1997 Raw episode was devoted to the history of LOD. The stipulation was if they did not win the tag belts, they would be forcibly disbanded. After an awry horseshoe shot and diving clothesline, Hawk won the tag belts for the team in the show’s main event, ending a multi-year title drought.
To give you an indication of how strong the tag scene was at the time: The Headbangers had won the belts, two teams of top solo stars had held the titles, and they had been vacated twice. Even The Godwinns, who the LOD beat for the belts, had them for just two days.
The storyline soon became that LOD were under fire for being too old, a claim they dismissed whilst pointing at WCW stars “like Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage” were.
Out with the old, in with the new as after a few defenses and eliminations from their Survivor Series tag match (Hawk eliminated after just two minutes), the duo lost the straps to The New Age Outlaws. A huge switch in the tide of tag wrestling was taking place. D-Generation-X beat up The LOD not too long after, shaving off Hawk’s iconic mohawk.
On Raw, LOD nearly won the tag belts but an accidental Hawk distraction averted the referee’s attention. A teased breakup took place, as the men brawled, but never occurred.
The opening match of WrestleMania 14 saw a #1 contenders tag team battle royal, with a surprise return of the Legion of Doom as LOD 2000. The group, now managed by Sunny, won the battle royal but it was all for nowt as they did not win the titles. What a waste.
Sunn’s addition was odd but she quickly left the WWF. As Wrestling With Wregret’s Brian Zane put it:
“the WWF was not done removing the lustre from this good team’s name yet”
as Darren Droztov was added. The former NFL player, sometimes shortened to Droz, was known as “Puke” due to his ability to do so on demand. The ex-ECW star’s addition was in part to replace Hawk, who had been battling substance abuse issues.
Old manager Paul Ellering returned only to turn on Animal and Hawk, joining The Disciples Of Apocalypse.
The Sharp Decline Of The Legion of Doom
If there is certainly one thing you could say the Attitude Era was not, it was tasteful, and what more proof is needed than the case of alcoholic Hawk. Hawk’s intoxication, which exploited real-life issues, led to the team losing, and he was eventually replaced by Droz. Got to love Vince Russo: purevoyer of good taste(!)
This got so far as an angle in which a non-face-painted, casual-clothed Hawk became suicidal, climbing the TitanTron in order to jump off and kill himself. Droz climbed up, seemingly to consult with Hawk, dissuading the jump but instead pushed him to his off-camera doom.
Now without an aura and ruined, the storyline had tarnished the duo’s name in many fans’ eyes and how could it not, really?
It was eventually revealed Droz had deliberately got Hawk more and more into the depths of his alcoholism and personal demons to take his place in LOD. “Puke” would soon form his own group.
Leaving the previous events in the dust, the original Hawk/Animal iteration performed on TV a few more times but nothing notable outside of losing a pre-show WrestleMania 15 battle royal. The most destructive team of all time was not just competing in a pre-show match, they could not even win it.
They lasted competed in a sub-three-minute tag title match loss to Jeff Jarett and Owen Hart.
Final Days Of The Legion Of Doom
The groups had a try-out match return in 2003, challenging tag champions Rob Van Dam and Kane. The duo failed, with Hawk getting up instantly from a killer Chokeslam/Five Star Frog Splash combination. Hawk died later that year.
LOD 2005 also happened, but we don’t talk about that!
Animal became a solo star afterward, wrestling on C-shows, and returned in 2012 for a one-off victory over Heath Slater.
Reasons For Failure
There are many reasons LOD failed in their Attitude Era return.
Firstly, they were simply outdated. The team had been breaking bones and taking names for over a decade already and their look, wrestling ability, and presentation were passe for a company that had at that time revolutionary and groundbreaking gimmicks such as Steve Austin, DX, and Mankind.
Secondly and on a related note, the WWF tag scene had changed drastically. Around about 1987-’88 was the peak of tag team wrestling in WWF, which The Road Warriors just missed – 2001 was the next peak for tag wrestling with LOD too just missed. Even by the 1990s when in the WWF, the tag division was stacked but by 1997-’98, the tag team had very few teams as illustrated by the tag titleholders: either two singles stars or undeserved gimmick teams.
Moreover, Vince Russo cared more for gimmicks for a trash TV product. The LOD did not fit this mold and thus failed to connect with fans.
Booking too was an issue. The group could not even win a debut throwaway Raw match, for god’s sake.
An issue that followed the duo throughout their wrestling career was reputation. Few wanted to work with the legitimately stiff workers, with their tag win being with a diving single-man clothesline. Many workers were scared – and rightfully so – to take the Doomsday Device.
To paraphrase the film that inspired the group, Mad Max, about The Legion Of Doom run, I ask:
“Do you really expect anybody to go for that crap?”