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Road Warrior Joe "Animal" Laurinaitis talks wrestling, drugs, and Zubaz

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With his painted face, bad-ass mohawk, and signature spiked shoulder pads, Joe "Animal" Laurinaitis spent over 20 years wreaking havoc  all over the world as one half of the legendary pro wrestling tag team, the Road Warriors.

Now he's pulling back the curtain and giving fans the scoop on his legendary career in a new autobiography, The Road Warriors: Danger, Death and the Rush of Wrestling. To celebrate the book's release, he'll be stopping by the Mall of America tonight for a signing in the Sears Court (the most bad-ass of all mall courts) from 6 to 8 p.m.   

This past week, Minnesota's favorite Animal sat down to chat with City Pages about his early days wrestling in the AWA, drug use in the industry, and how he co-founded Zubaz (yeah, THOSE Zubaz).

[jump] There have been a lot of wrestling biographies released over the past several years. Why did you wait until now for yours?

To be honest, I wanted to wait until some of the garbage books were out of the way. I'd read some of them and it would just be guys trashing each other--shaming each other--and I just didn't want to do that. I wanted to give the fans a good, chronological timeline of my career, and just tell my story without all that other stuff. It's really the best thing I could have done, man.

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What is it about the Road Warriors story that makes this book stand out from the pack?

Well, we were the only tag team to have a career that lasted 20-plus years together. We were the only team to win the titles in every major organization. Plus, we had the opportunity to wrestle and do our thing all over the world. Like I was saying before, this book is different because I talk about the business a little bit, but I try not to weigh it down with too much detail or stuff that isn't about my career. I wrote this book with the fans in mind, and tried to think about what it is they want to know. After all, without the fans there wouldn't have been a Road Warriors.

You got your start here in Minnesota as a part of the old American Wrestling Association (AWA). What are your memories of the AWA and how it impacted the wrestling industry?

I remember all of the larger-than-life personas we had in that locker room. You had guys like Greg and Verne Gagne, who were huge stars. You had Hulk Hogan, and when he would wrestle it was like parting the Red Sea, you know? I mean, back then it was really nuts to me to be sharing a locker room with these guys. And then after a while, the Road Warriors became like the Hogan of tag teams; just bigger than life. The other thing about the AWA is that our locker room was old school, man. We were hard-nosed, physical guys.

Why do you suppose tag-team wrestling today isn't what it was in the earlier days?

The thing with tag-team wrestling is that after a while the team takes on this power and this life of its own. The promotion spends tons of money to build and promote these teams, and you really need both guys to be invested in it to work. If one guy starts falling into stuff like drugs and alcohol like my partner did, the promoter risks losing that entity. That's why I think you see a lot teams with just two singles wrestlers--which never works--because they don't need to count on both guys. If one doesn't work out, they split and you move on.

Speaking of drugs and alcohol, you talk pretty candidly in your book about your partner's (Mike "Road Warrior Hawk" Hegstrand, who passed away in 2003) issues as well as how drugs affected the industry. Do you think that substance abuse is as big a problem today as it was in your era?

I think that knowledge is power. Guys know a lot more now than they did back in the old days, and I think that has been the biggest thing. I think it's also improved because of respect. You have to respect the guys you're working with and you have to respect yourself. Back then, all I cared about was working out and the gimmick, so I really didn't care as much about that stuff. Other guys did. Again, that's kind of the hard part of being part of a team. Of course it also helps that they started testing, and the promoters are good about that, man.

Plus, I think things have changed a lot in terms of training. These days, guys have trainers to help keep them in shape. Sometimes I'll say that a lot of the guys look like clones, but that's because they're all on the same diet; same workouts. It makes sense.

Let's switch things up a little bit. I want talk about one of the biggest iconic fashion statements of all time: Zubaz. You're one of the co-founders, correct?

Yeah, I was. We were in Forbes, Fortune, and a bunch of other publications for it. Personally, I don't think we got enough credit for making those things popular. Every week the Road Warriors were on TV, and we would be sporting those things. We'd wear all sorts of crazy colors; black and white, blue and white--you name it. Plus, we were always the champs, so we were always being featured, which gave them even more exposure.

I think I saw them being sold online a little while ago. I wish I was still involved with that, because I'd never need to work again (laughs).

So now that the book is out, do you feel like people are connecting with it?

It's been really amazing. With the book coming out, I've kind of realized that the Road Warriors transcend time. They've got these classic wrestling channels these days, and anytime you turn it on you see us wrestling in the AWA or the NWA or WWF. We're the only team spanning three decades together, so there are a lot of different eras that people remember us from. It's been great and we'll just see where it goes from here.

IF YOU GO:

Road Warrior Animal Book Signing

March 17, 6-8 p.m.

Sears Court, Mall of America

More details here