The Flight Of A Hawk

The Flight Of A Hawk, by Eric "The Big Gooch" Sperrazza

It was a long day for 45 year old Mike Hegstrand. He, and his wife Dale spent the entire day of October 19th moving into a new house in Pinellas County, Florida. Moving furniture is not something you would necessarily recommend to a man who suffered from a heart condition known as cardiomyopathy, but Mike was not your ordinary man. Mike was an innovator of extreme, a living legend amongst millions of wrestling fans, and an inspiration to everyone he talked to, and NOBODY told him what or what not to do! Mike Hegstrand was Hawk of The Road Warriors. But despite that, in the still of night, with his head on his pillow, Mike Hegstrand's heart beat its last beat.

By the age of 45, Hawk had lived a life more full than one could ever strive to achieve. A life filled with success, love, and spiritual enlightenment. Although the road he took was fruitful, it certainly was not an easy one to travel. But Hawk was not alone on his journey through life. Hawk had a life-long best friend and tag team partner in Joseph Laurinaitis, (Road Warrior Animal) who stayed by his side through full or flush. From one promotion to another and all the way through serious life choices the duo of Hawk & Animal could never truly be broken.

Unlike most tag team partners in the wrestling industry, Hawk & Animal's relationship to each other was not manufactured to fit a storyline or fill a spot. The two met when they were only 8 years old in the outskirts of Chicago, and quickly became childhood friends. But, before the two could become the scourge of the local playground, Animal's parents moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota due to his father's job. As fate would have it, Hawk's family followed right behind and a short time later the two were reunited. Like any two friends, they grew up sharing everything, including their mutual desire for body building. Professional wrestler and trainer, Eddie Sharkey, envisioned the two sharing something much bigger, though, while watching them pressing weights in Jesse Ventura's dank and musty Minnesota Gym, one day .......he saw them sharing the spotlight.

It did not take too much coursing by Eddie to build an interest with the two friends to consider a career in wrestling, and after extensive training the two friends were separated, as Hawk was sent to Vancouver to wrestle for All-Star Wrestling as Crusher Von Haig, while Animal was sent to Georgia under the Universal Wrestling Federation. Animal's character-name and gimmick, however, was based off the popular Mel Gibson Film, The Road Warrior. Animal was building momentum, and soon began working together with Hawk Georgia, both with the Road Warrior gimmick. The two started reeking havoc in the ring. Hawk was quoted as saying in an interview with Mike Parker from, "It was tough on the guys we were working with. Because we were so green, Ole (Anderson, who was booking) told us to just go out there and beat the hell out of people." Under the direction of their in-ring manager and out-ring booking agent, Paul Ellering, the pair grew quite successful, and was fast heading to a level of "in demand." From NWA to AWA and back again, Hawk & Animal racked up the Tag Team Championship belts and did not stop with just national fame...The tag team collected a series of victories in Japan, as well. After rubbing shoulders with legends like Ric Flair (Hawk & Animal in Mid South Wrestling;1984) and The Steiners in the ring, Hawk & Animal got the phone call in 1990 that would put them on the map. The call was from Vince McMahon at the World Wrestling Federation.
With Paul Ellering at their side, The Road Warriors took part in a stable that would include The Spoiler, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, and many others called the Legion Of Doom, but eventually would only be used by the fans in reference to them, specifically. Hawk praised Paul Ellering in a 1992 interview with Wade Keller of ProWrestling Torch Magazine by saying "We were hot from the beginning. It would have never happened without the guidance of Paul Ellering." Extremely popular, the crowd reaction that came from the arenas they performed in became dubbed as a "Road Warrior Pop" by the other WWF wrestlers, backstage. All the fans needed to hear was the phrase "What A Rush!" from the Titantron speakers, and the boom of thousands of fans was enough to shake the ground. Unfortunately, the (Paul Ellering and The Legion Of Doom) cheers and the adoration was not enough keep Hawk perched for too long, as he was constantly fatigued from the rigorous travel schedule of the WWF and pay issues he was never afraid to vocalize. In 1992, Hawk left for WCW. Once again, Animal did not tread too far behind. Flipping between WCW and ECW shows, the Road Warriors stayed busy and continued with the steam they built in WWF, and in March of 1997 all was forgiven, as they returned back to Stamford, Connecticut and signed new contracts with McMahon.

After a great run of storylines with The Headbangers and The Nation Of Domination, Hawk & Animal wrestled their last Pay Per View for WWF at Survivor Series in November of that same year. The last 10 years had awarded them accolades that no wrestler could match as Hawk, personally, saw rankings in PWI from #112 to #3 in the famous "Top 500" list, AND was voted with Animal as Tag Team of the Year,(7 out of 10 times)Tag Team of the Decade, and Tag Team of the Century within PWI publications, as well. And with over 12 Tag Team Championships in over 8 organizations, the spots they secured as "The Best" were well deserved. In the interview with in 2001, Mike Parker had asked him what the one thing would be that he would have changed from his exciting career. Hawk replied with "I would say, when we were getting pushed, I would have tried harder for a union. Piper tried too. The boys are in a bad position. You really have to make a lot of money to make it worth it. But there are no benefits. That's a big problem. I mean it's a billion dollar industry and there are no benefits. Why? Because it doesn't help the promoters any. They'd rather stuff their own pockets with money than do anything good for the boys. Imagine that, doing something good for the boys."

This was not the end of the line for Hawk, though. His signature spike-ridden shoulder pads might have been immortalized in a glass case at the WWF-New York theme restaurant like a relic of the past, but the ring would soon call the Road Warriors back with a new purpose. After bumping into WWF legend and friend Nikita Koloff, Hawk was given a book Nikita published called "Breaking The Chains." It was a story on Nikita's life, his problems he dealt with on the road as a professional wrestler and how finding God changed his path for the better. Hawk was quoted in saying "I knew I had to read it. When I went to put it in my bag, it stuck to my hand!" Reading the book set him on a new flight, as it truly moved him in the direction that Nikita and other wrestlers like Ted DiBiase and Sting were proudly on, and that was a path towards spiritual peace. Ted DiBiase, personally started a Christian wrestling organization called Power Wrestling Alliance which coincided with his ministry work and, once again, Animal stayed by his friend, as they climbed aboard, and wowed audiences one more time. The "edu-tainment" that PWA offered was a message of hope with old school family entertainment-style wrestling. This time around, The Road Warriors would see a new kind of gratitude from fans and up-and-coming wrestlers that they had never experienced before. It was the appreciation from a lesson of faith that they took part in. Many in the wrestling industry followed their lead to PWA with names like Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, Marcus "Buff" Bagwell, Hector Guerrero, and Nikita Koloff, himself. Up-and-comers who shared the same views and passion (like independent stars Lash Leroux, Johnny Ova and his manager Bobby Riedel) got the chance of a lifetime to share in the message and work with The Road Warriors, as well as other legends of the squared circle during PWA shows in a whole new forum from the normal independent scene that they were used to.

On May 12th of this year in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, fans got their chance to cheer for the Tag Team one last time in a WWE ring, as they made a final appearance against the tag team of Kane and Rob Van Dam. With a whopping splat from the "Doomsday Device" signature move they performed, the crowd at the First Union Center exploded with chants of "L-O-D!" The "Road Warrior Pop" was felt from the wrestlers in the back, once more, and for those in attendance, the one time spot will be a memory they will never let go of. Soon after, fans flooded the WWE Website when it offered up a poll to name the best tag team ever......The Road Warriors won by the highest percentage.

The news of Hawk's passing spread like wildfire, as the wrestling industry and the fans mourned the loss of a true legend. The fans that remember the brute force in the ring that was (definitively) Hawk, the wrestlers that had the pleasure of knowing him and the new friends he made in his mission of faith will all never forget the times they had and in their own special way have paid tribute to him whether it be on web-sites or in the ring, making it clear that they will feel a little bit more empty without him in their lives. The following Monday Night, after his passing had been announced, Bubba Ray Dudley came out on WWE Raw with his tag team partner, D'Von and proudly displayed "Hawk" written on his wrist tape to the fans and cameras. To pay homage to their favorite tag team, The Dudleys performed the signature "Doomsday Device." as their finishing move. After their tribute-style match Bubba Ray Dudley had this to say about Hawk, "One of my heroes has died. D-Von and I regret that we never got to actually get in the ring with them and have at least one match. I always thought that somewhere down the line there would be that possibility. I hope he's in a better place." Bubba Ray was not the only one to vocalize what Hawk meant to them in their lives, as fans and wrestlers came out in droves to shed a little piece of their history with Hawk. In an interview for "Smoke & Pyrotechnics" on, independent wrestling star Johnny Ova, shared a very emotional thought on his friend, Hawk. “Some things that happen in life make you realize how precious life can be. I haven't known Hawk for a long time (since June of last year), but in that short time we became pretty good friends. I will never forget the things he has said to me, and the time that he spent with me to teach me about the business. He also showed me how great God be. His last sentence in that conversation was, "John you stay close to God. He can take you and make all your dreams possible. Plus, if you don't I will find you and kick your butt!" He had such a great sense of humor and I am so blessed I got to know this amazing human being."

Finally, Hawk's life long friend and tag team champion partner, Joe "Animal" Laurinaitis, spoke out about the loss of his friend to Athletes In Ministry International, an organization that the both had become active in when embarking on their spiritual crusade. Animal touched on the continuation of the Road Warriors by saying, "I never will be able to replace Mike Hegstrand. I never will be able to replace Legion of Doom member, Hawk. I don't think...I know for a fact that I will never have another tag team partner as Road Warriors or Legion of Doom. It's just not feasible, it's not possible." Animal went on to express his positive thoughts on Hawk in that interview. "Hawk's looking down on us with Hennig, Pillman, Bulldog, Stu Hart, Owen Hart and they're laughing up there, they're all pain free, they're all happy and they're all having fun. The last couple of years he taught that with a-lot of good values, and good heart , good people can survive."

Animal will move forward without his best friend and continue Hawk's legacy in ministry. He is scheduled to address wrestling fans in another Christian wrestling organization called Freedom Championship Wrestling (based in Staten Island, NY) on November 15th and will continue to work with Ted DiBiase and PWA, but above all, will most certainly make sure that no one ever forgets the name Road Warrior Hawk. The rest of us can only imagine that, like heroes such as Owen Hart, Davey Boy Smith, Curt Hennig, Stu Hart, Anthony Durante, (of The Pitbulls) and Freddie Blassie, the bell has sounded, the heavens are booming and everyone better make way, because Hawk is coming out for the Battle Royale in the sky.

On behalf of myself and my readers, my condolences go out to the Hegstrand Family and all of Mike's friends. He will be missed by us all.

Hawk.....What a rush it truly has been.

*Article promoted by Bobby Riedel and Greg Tingle



Death Of Wrestling, by Lee Wilder: October 2003

Rock N Roll Wrestling: The Way It Was, by Bobby Riedel

What The Media Has Said About Professional Wrestling Over The Years


Bobby Riedel - 11th November 2003