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History Beckons The Macho Man

Pro Wrestling - by - May 22, 2011 - 18:24 UTC - Be first to Comment!

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Photo courtesy of the awesome guys over at “Where’s Randy Savage?”

For the longest time, people equated Randy Savage with Slim Jims.

Not saying there wasn’t anything wrong with that. It’s obvious that because of those commercials, it turned Savage into more of a recognized face all over the United States. Even being arguably the 2nd biggest name in the WWF during the 80’s behind Hulk Hogan isn’t enough some times. But for fans who grew up during the biggest pro wrestling boom in the country, Savage represented a rarity in the sport: He was as immensely entertaining outside of the ring as he was in it.

Randy Poffo died this past Friday after a car crash in Seminole, Florida, 20 minutes from where I spent two years with the Dunedin Blue Jays. He was 58 years old and was one of the greatest professional wrestlers ever, and arguably the greatest all-around performer in the history of the WWF.

It didn’t hurt that he was a world class athlete: He was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds out of high school to play catcher, but a combination of breaks not going his way, injuries and the looming presence at the Major League level of some guy named Johnny Bench left Savage to leave baseball after four seasons, and he moved on to professional wrestling, getting his full-time start in 1975 (he had previously done part-time work with his dad during baseball offseasons). Being a second-generation wrestler after his father Angelo Poffo, Savage was given his ring name by Ole Anderson because he didn’t think the last name “Poffo” sounded like a tough guy.

So after a few years of Savage developing and not getting the pushes that his dad thought he deserved, him and his brother (“Leaping” Lanny Poffo, also dubbed “The Genius”) soon made their way to Memphis in 1984, catching on with Jerry Lawler’s CWA promotion. Savage immediately made a local name for himself with an infamous angle that saw him piledrive perennial fan favorite Ricky Morton through a ringside table (something that would become almost commonplace years later), and from there, he was inserted into a program with Memphis legend Jerry “The King” Lawler after turning on him, as well. His work in Memphis led to a memorable “Loser Leaves Town” match, one that was subsequently rated as a Top 15 match during the recent Death Valley Driver Video Review Memphis 80’s project.

His work with Lawler made him appealing to Vince McMahon, whose WWF had just had their first WrestleMania and were looking to expand their talent base. Although he wasn’t a big name on the territorial scene coming in, Savage was booked as a wanted client for many managers before making a choice that would define the rest of his career. Savage chose the then-unknown Miss Elizabeth to be his manager, and from there, his ascension to stardom began. Playing an egotistical maniac with jealousy issues stemming from anyone who looked at Elizabeth (something that would permeate their personal relationship together, as well), Savage quickly shot up through the ranks and defeated Tito Santana in a nefarious manner in February 1986 to win the WWF Intercontinental Title. He would then hold the belt for over a year, feuding with Jake “The Snake” Roberts, George “The Animal” Steele and, most famously, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat.

After crushing Steamboat’s larynx with a ring bell shot from the top rope as he was laid across the guardrail at ringside, Savage put in a huge amount of preparation for what became known as WrestleMania’s greatest match at the time: The WrestleMania III match that saw Savage and Steamboat put on a clinic for the packed Pontiac Silverdome crowd in Detroit. After some help from Steele, Steamboat rolled up Savage on a bodyslam attempt to end the match in a triumphant manner with good defeating evil. Notably, the match was so great that Hulk Hogan was extremely mad that the two of them had that type of match just before his much-anticipated showdown with Andre The Giant (although if anything, it just kept the crowd rabid for the main event). As a sidenote, the match, as great as it was, ultimately led to the demise of Steamboat in the WWF. Hogan, still mad about being upstaged, used political pull to get his friend The Honky Tonk Man booked to beat Steamboat for the WWF title, leading Steamboat to head back to the NWA and have the feud of his career with “Nature Boy” Ric Flair.

For Savage, it meant that he had to start up his rise again, but his match against Steamboat opened up the possibilities of an incredible future, and with that, he actually started gaining some fans. He eventually became the #2 babyface in the WWF, feuding with Honky Tonk Man to try and win back his IC title. After The Hart Foundation jumped him after an IC title challenge, Elizabeth pleaded with Hogan to come out and save Savage in one of the more memorable angles in the history of WWF’s Saturday Night’s Main Event. Hogan ran out, helped destroy the Foundation and Honky, and formed “The MegaPowers” with Savage, a duo that would run roughshod over the rest of the WWF heels for the duration of 1987 and into 1988.

From there, Savage would have the pinnacle of his career at WrestleMania IV during a tournament for the vacant WWF Championship. After Hogan and Andre went out early, Savage fought through three hard matches on his way to a final with Ted DiBiase, who was wrongly given the title after Andre gave it to him. In another memorable match, Savage dropped the elbow for his first title, rejuvenating a fan base that had seen Hogan as champion for much of the past four years and might have been getting burned out. Savage would have an awesome summer feud with DiBiase that ended up seeing the two pair off with their respective tag team partners in Hogan and Andre. This would carry the WWF through the majority of 1988.

At the 1989 Royal Rumble, Hogan would accidentally knock Savage out of the match, building tension between the superteam. Hogan had also enlisted Elizabeth’s service as a manager, pushing Savage over the edge with jealous, culminating in their battle at WrestleMania V, where Savage gave Hogan his best match in the WWF, although Hogan won out in the end. Savage’s 1 year, 6 day title reign would be the longest the WWF would see for almost two decades. After Savage teamed with Zeus (“Tiny” Lister, most notably from the “Friday” movies) against Hogan and his crony Brutus “The Barber” Beefacke, he went on to adopt the moniker of the “Macho King” after beating “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan for the “King of the Ring” title.

This led to Savage taking a downturn from his spot at the top for a while, only getting his shot at the top after The Ultimate Warrior won the title at WrestleMania VI in 1990. Savage got in Warrior’s face numerous times and wanted his shot at the title after the 1991 Royal Rumble, but after Warrior didn’t grant him his shot, he viciously attacked him and left him for dead before his match with Sgt. Slaughter, who had then become an Iraqi sympathizer. That shot led to yet another famous Savage WrestleMania moment, as after a couple of months of bickering back and forth with the Warrior, Savage put his career on the line in a match with the Warrior at WrestleMania VII. Much like his match with Hogan at WrestleMania V, Savage was widely considered to have worked a miracle with Warrior in their match, and after three epic tackles, took the fall and went off into the sunset.

But it was after the match that turned him back into one of the biggest faces the company had ever seen. After drifting away from Elizabeth after becoming “The Macho King” and taking on “Sensational” Sherri Martel as his manager, Savage came face to face with Elizabeth in the ring after Sherri attacked him. After Elizabeth pulled Sherri off of him, the two embraced in one of the most loving moment seen in a wrestling ring. Soon after, Savage proposed to Elizabeth during his time as a color commentator, and at SummerSlam at that year, they were famously married in of the cooler moments in WWF history.

Even though the two had made their “Match Made in Heaven,” old foe Jake Roberts stood lurking in the shadows, taunting both Savage and Elizabeth and trying to lure Savage out of retirement with the help of The Undertaker. Because of this, Savage kept going to WWF management to try and get reinstated, but to no avail. Soon after, in one of the most memorable angles in WWF history, Roberts viciously attacked Savage on an episode of WWF Superstars, and instead of pulling out his trusted python Damien to assist him in the humiliation, Roberts produced a friggin cobra out of his bag, which bit Savage in the arm deeply (although it was devenomized). With this despicable act, Savage soon would be reinstated by WWF President Jack Tunney and Savage would continue to feud with Roberts. Roberts even went so far as to slap Elizabeth after she begged for Roberts to stop the beatdown on Savage after their match at that year’s special pay-per-view “Tuesday in Texas.”

Savage would go on to take down Roberts in 1992, but he would once again have to fight off someone that had his eye on Elizabeth. This time, it was “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, who had won the belt at the Royal Rumble that year and talked about an earlier tryst between himself and Elizabeth. After producing doctored photos to enrage Savage, the two went on to have yet another awesome Savage WrestleMania match at WrestleMania VIII at the Hoosier Dome. Savage had his knee destroyed by Flair, but found enough presence of mind to roll him to win his second WWF title.

Savage would then go on to hold the title for a few months before the Ultimate Warrior was named as the #1 contender for the title, leading to a heated match at the first ever international SummerSlam in London. Savage would be attacked by Flair and Mr. Perfect during the match, leading to him losing the match by countout. He wouldn’t lose the title, but a few weeks later, he lost it to Flair after interference from Razor Ramon. This was supposed to lead to Savage and Warrior teaming up to face Flair and Ramon, but Warrior was fired before the feud got going, and Savage enlisted Perfect’s help as a way of getting back at Flair for holding him down. Their match together ended in a disqualification. Once Monday Night RAW started in January of 1993, Savage went back to his role as a color commentator, sometimes leaving his post to wrestle, primarily against Yokozuna and in Royal Rumbles. He would have a feud against Crush in 1994 that led to their WrestleMania X match in a famous Falls Count Anywhere match.

After Savage was unhappy with him not being used that much, he would then go on to WCW after a huge rush of talent switched over once Hogan moved in 1994. He would continue in his role as that #2 face, actually winning the WCW title four times and feuding with the likes of Flair, Lex Luger, Diamond Dallas Page and others. He would also join the nWo with Hogan in 1997, but his WCW time was not nearly as good as his WWF time. He eventually left WCW for good in 1999, returning in a cameo appearance in 2000 in a battle royal for one final chance at a WCW title shot. After that, he made a two-shot appearance for Total Nonstop Action in 2004, but left after he was unhappy with his standing.

Once Savage left professional wrestling, there was a long while where many didn’t exactly know what he was up to. Miss Elizabeth had died due to an overdose earlier in the decade at the age of 43, bringing up memories of their times together back in the WWF. Savage would marry a woman known as his high school sweetheart, Lynn Payne, in 2009. Lynn would be in the car with him two years later when their car crashed in Largo.

When Savage died, I got a text message from my friend Cole Garner asking me to rattle off my Top 5 all-around performers in WWF history. Savage immediately sprang to the top of the list, which coincided with notable DVDVR message board poster Dylan Waco asking if Savage was indeed the best all-around performer in WWF history. While guys like Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and others are noted for all-around ability, nobody quite had that combination of impressive physical abilities and incredible talking skills that made Savage who he was. He had one of the most graceful and devastating finishers of all time, he was equally as great as either a face or a heel, and he could command the crowd with a wave of his finger.

I’ll remember most what Savage did towards the end of his WWF career, as I was a bit young when he was neck-and-neck with Hogan to be at the top of the WWF. His program with the Ultimate Warrior and his feud with Jake Roberts were some of the more notable memories of mine, and I still remember that glaring red “X” on Superstars when he got bit by the cobra. Later on, I would look back on Savage’s career in other ways. He was a damn good color commentator (his riffs on Hogan and Warrior were great, as was his adoration for Hart and Perfect in their great King of the Ring 1993 match, where Savage was so impressed that he actually got in the ring and hugged Bret after his victory) and he took his job as seriously as anyone else, with his extensive attention to detail allowing him to shine like few others did.

He had an incredible run in the 80’s, and as far as pro wrestling superstars go, the only people who could be considered bigger than him in the United States were Hogan, Flair and Lawler, with him being better than Dusty Rhodes in the ring, but a sliver behind him on the mike outside of it. His style was incredible, and his use of “Pomp and Circumstance,” much like Flair’s use of “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” became synonymous with his entrances. He was intense, gifted, hard-working and driven to succeed more than probably anyone else of his time. He knew what his gifts were and did everything he could to bring them out in himself, and because of it, he amplified each program he was a part of.

Probably the sourest part of the story was that since the inception of the WWF/E Hall of Fame, Savage was never inducted, supposedly stemming from bad blood between himself and Vince McMahon due to his departure from the WWF in 1994 and various other rumors (including him supposedly hitting on and/or hooking up with Vince’s daughter Stephanie, a rumor later found to be without merit), and now, with WrestleMania coming to Miami,Florida in 2012, there is probably no other place better than his home state to have his long overdue induction, even with The Rock being noted as the headliner and possibly overshadowing his accomplishments.

For me, I’ll remember Savage as one of the most gifted performers of a sport that I had followed ever since WrestleMania III, when I saw Hogan slam Andre and thought anything was possible. I watched Savage/Steamboat on that same VHS tape and didn’t remember it much at the time, but even with the numerous replays of Hogan slamming Andre, the fan in me appreciates the Savage/Steamboat match more and more each time I watch it: Two of the best wrestlers ever locking up in an epic feud-ender that had a crowd supposedly ready for Hogan go crazy for The Macho Man and The Dragon.

Before that match, he famously quipped that “History beckons The Macho Man, yeah!” Looking back on Savage’s own history, his career is something to be revered by myself and others. Another piece of proof that speaks to his greatness: In 2006, TNA wrestler Jay Lethal took on the moniker “Black Machismo” and did Savage’s mannerisms and voice to a T, even going so far as to take his elbow drop as his finish. When Savage was asked about it, he reportedly gave Lethal his blessing, having been flattered that someone went to those lengths to pay homage to his hero. Out of all the posthumous Savage remembrances, Lethal’s was the most poignant, writing a poem that touched on some of Savage’s most memorable catchphrases and revealing that Savage was his wrestling hero growing up.

While Lethal got to live out his worship of Savage, he was hardly the only one who loved him, and over the coming weeks and months, I will be happy to look at other people’s memories of the Macho Man, bringing back memories of my childhood and theirs. The professional wrestling community lost a true legend, and as his fans, we remember him as one of the best of all time.

Rest in Peace to the “Macho Man” Randy Savage, 1952-2011. We will miss you very much, but we will never forget you.

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