In tribute to Road Warrior Animal, here's to 'Iron Man,' the greatest-ever wrestling entrance song

In tribute to Road Warrior Animal, here's to 'Iron Man,' the greatest-ever wrestling entrance song

Black Sabbath’s 1970 metal dirge “Iron Man,” a song about a fellow traveler through bleak dystopias, wasn’t written as the definitive pro-wrestling entrance music, but for fans of the “sport,” its ominous tones will forever be linked with the two-man wrecking crew known as the Road Warriors.

Made up of Joseph “Animal” Laurinaitis, whose death at age 60 was announced on Wednesday, and his late partner Michael “Hawk” Hegstrand, the Road Warriors boasted an impressive heft, a killer tandem move-set capped off by a high-flying double-team called the Doomsday Device and an outrageous look (inspired by the 1981 post-apocalyptic epic “The Road Warrior,” a.k.a. “Mad Max 2"). It all made them big-money draws and crowd favorites the world over, even, and maybe especially, when they were playing the heels.

“We were the guys you loved to hate,” Laurinaitis wrote in his 2010 autobiography, “The Road Warriors: Danger, Death, and the Rush of Wrestling.”

The Road Warriors and “Iron Man” would prove to be a masterful conceptual pairing — escapees from a hellish imagined future, focused on vengeance — that came about because of a car radio being turned on at the right time, Laurinaitis wrote. “Hey, we need music, you know?” he said to Hegstrand and the duo’s manager, Paul Ellering, during a fast-food run in the days before the duo’s 1984 debut in the American Wrestling Association. The first song that Laurinaitis thought of was Paper Lace’s chirpy yet sinister 1974 hit “The Night Chicago Died” — but even though the Road Warriors were billed as being from the Windy City, the Paper Lace track didn’t seem to be an appropriate match for the 21st century menace they were going for. Then the radio took over, as Laurinaitis wrote:

“All of a sudden, we heard a familiar song that immediately grabbed our attention. It started with an unmistakable kicking bass drum: Doomp, doomp, doomp, doomp! Then that hanging power guitar chord came crunching in. Hawk and I looked right at each other and knew it was ‘Iron Man’ by Black Sabbath. It was perfect, almost as if it had been written specifically for us… if Ozzy [Osbourne] was Iron Man, Hawk and I were definitely the tag team equivalent.”

Defined by Osbourne’s wall-eyed vocals, Tony Iommi’s grinding guitars, Geezer Butler’s depths-plumbing bass and Bill Ward’s thudding drums, “Iron Man” still sounds like a dispatch from a lost future 50 years after the release of its parent album, “Paranoid.” The song was an ideal harbinger for the Road Warriors and their dual-pronged attack: Hawk and Animal would walk to the ring a bit more briskly than the deliberate pacing of “Iron Man,” but when paired with the duo’s next-level look — they wore massive spiked collars and painted their faces, and their size and demeanor implied imminent destruction — the song was an effective way to threaten all comers, to let them know that their immediate future would involve a not-insignificant dose of pain.

Its use resonates with wrestling fans and people in the business today. “The Road Warriors’ use of ‘Iron Man’ was gripping,” says Mikey Rukus, music production coordinator for WWE competitor All Elite Wrestling. “The first time I heard that song as a young boy was actually the first time I saw The Road Warriors on TV. The raw edginess, energy and the decisiveness of the opening riffs was essentially the backbone of their persona.”

These days, because of licensing costs, it’s less likely for wrestlers in major promotions to come out to already-existing songs, and more common for them to come out to songs produced by in-house musicians like Rukus. Similarly, the Road Warriors would go on to use other music as they traveled to various promotions over their lengthy wrestling career, including songs that would pay copyright-law-skirting tribute to “Iron Man” as well as Osbourne’s solo track “Hellraiser,” from his 1991 album “No More Tears.”

But despite that, “Iron Man” and the Road Warriors make for a perfect pairing 50 years after the song’s release, and decades after the world-demolishing duo first emerged to its earth-swallowing riffs.

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