By DEREK RUTTLE – For SLAM! Wrestling
“Then we figured out we could park them in front of the TV. That’s how I was raised, and I turned out TV.”
— Homer Simpson, parenting poster boy
There are some people in this world who you have to give credit for helping to raise you in a way your parents never could. Sure, Mom and Dad took care of the necessities, but with all they did do, sometimes it was the work of complete strangers that got us through our day, that made us believe in something besides everyday right and wrong values and gave us that fantastical look in our eyes that said “This is unbelievable, and I will never be the same again.”
In short, we had other heroes and they were the ones on TV. Just as Homer said, they had a part in raising us and molding us into the people we became.
The “Macho Man” Randy Savage was one of those people.
I’ve been a pro wrestling fan damn near my entire life. If you know me, then you know that’s obvious. It’s been so many years that I can’t even remember exactly how I got into it. My oldest brother Jim must have something to do with it; maybe he was watching some episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event or Superstars of Wrestling at the turn of the ’90s and I just happened to be crawling around in my diaper or something. I honestly couldn’t tell you. Regardless of its origins, when I got the wrestling bug, it stayed with me.
The first of the WWF’s colorful, bigger than life stars that caught my eye was indeed Randy Savage — the Macho King, Macho Man, Macho EVERYthing who soared off the top rope with flying elbows, left us either scratching our heads or shaking them in disbelief with his interviews and ended up as the perfect anti-Hulk Hogan to get behind and watch with awe and admiration.
Nothing against Hogan personally; he ushered in the mainstream popularity of the WWF and helped create the big boom period of the ’80s, but he was a one-trick pony. He had his legions of fans, so be it. They didn’t care that he only had three or four moves and that every single match he had was the same. They bought into the same story time and time again; Hogan showing off some power moves, the heel finding a way to beat him down, Hogan busting out his Hulk-up routine, big boot + legdrop and SCENE. Fans needed someone else to hit the WWF in a big way, and Savage did just that.
It’s now been a month since Randy’s shocking and untimely death on May 20. He was out driving in his home state of Florida when he reportedly suffered a heart attack, causing him to lose control behind the wheel of his Jeep and crash into a tree. It’s now been reported that Randy did indeed suffer an attack and his wife, Lynn, took the wheel and swerved the Jeep out of the path of a motorcyclist and a bus. Randy’s brother, Lanny Poffo, confirmed this report online and stated that it was almost “a beautiful way to die,” as it was believed to be quick and painless for Savage and his wife managed to save the lives of more than one person in the midst of all the chaos. Lynn sustained only minor injuries in the crash. Though the two had been a couple for a long time, Randy and Lynn had only been married for one year. Savage was 58 years old.
What’s interesting about the legacy that Randy left behind is the fact that it may not have happened at all, if he had his way. After all, Randy’s first love was baseball and while growing up, he played and practiced religiously before he was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals as a catcher straight out of high school. He was sent to the minor leagues in order to develop his skills and mainly played as an outfielder in the farm systems of the Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox. Randy had dreams of making it as a pro, but sadly for him, he just wasn’t able to cross over into the big leagues and accomplish his goals.
Ultimately, wrestling called to him and the rest, of course, is history.
When it came to his career in the WWF, Savage enjoyed a position that from the very beginning was a fair share of the spotlight. Signing with the company in June of 1985 (two months before I was born — neat), Randy debuted on TV in a campaign to recruit a manager, which saw several top pros in the field throw their names into the hat, including Jimmy Hart, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and “Classy” Freddie Blassie. In the end, he said no to all their offers and went with Miss Elizabeth — a sweet, stunning and flawless-looking woman that in reality, and outside the surreal world of wrestling, was Randy’s wife.
This was new to wrestling at the time, bringing in a woman and having her manage a top-profile name, or any male wrestler, for that matter. Managers were supposed to be guys like Heenan and Hart, devious weasels who took a cheap shot at opponents or slid in a foreign object to seal the win. They weren’t supposed to be beautiful, elegant, wear lavish dresses and look as innocent as a baby deer. Yet that was Miss Elizabeth, and together with the Macho Man, they broke down barriers and created some magical and timeless moments on TV and PPV over the following few years.
Nothing was ever average about the career of Randy Savage (rhyme!); he was a star from the moment his presence hit TV screens across the world. A lot of times, and this is no more true than in today’s WWE, wrestlers would debut in the company and were almost looked at as … unfinished products, I guess would be the right words. They had to fine-tune their image, tweak their on-screen personalities here and there until they got the right fit and became bona fide superstars. When Bret Hart debuted, he was Buddy the Heartthrob, then just went by his real name and almost became a jobber for life before he was paired with Jim Neidhart and The Hart Foundation was born. When The Rock debuted as Rocky Maivia, fans turned on him within months and he desperately needed a change, so he turned heel, became “The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment” and made history as one of the top draws in pro wrestling.
Savage required nothing of the sort. There were no tweaks and no fine-tuning under the hood of his wild, unpredictable and egomaniacal persona that hooked viewers and fans from the start. He carried himself like he was Gorgeous George, worked the crowd into a frenzy like Muhammad Ali and used the ring like masters such as Ricky Steamboat, who, as it turned out, obviously became one of his greatest opponents.
And speaking of that, no tribute to Randy Savage would be complete without touching on his memorable Intercontinental Title bout with Steamboat at WrestleMania 3 in 1987. Many have argued that this match is overrated by today’s standards, but it can’t be denied that for its time, it ranks as one of the best. For nearly 15 minutes, the Macho Man and The Dragon fought in and out of the ring in a mesmerizing, high-flying and yet technical display that brought the colossal house to its feet for every near-fall, of which there were plenty. Known as a stickler for detail and perfection, it’s widely been reported over the years that the two practiced and rehearsed the entire match at Savage’s home in Florida prior to WrestleMania.
The extra effort paid off. Savage, the IC Champ, unloaded on Steamboat with his full arsenal and yet, amazingly, the Dragon just would not die. Finally, Steamboat was able to surprise Savage with a small package pin when Randy went for a body slam and the place damn near exploded when the ref hit the mat a third time. A new champion was crowned, the bad guy got his comeuppance and it was storytelling at its finest.
Most lifelong wrestling fans say the match outshined the main event that night, Hulk Hogan vs Andre the Giant for the WWF Title, and I agree. Hogan/Andre was what drew people to the event, but when it was over, it was the Savage/Steamboat contest that left an indelible mark.
This seemed to be par for the course in Randy’s WWF career — he may not have been the main event all the time, but he produced the better matches than a lot of what Hogan was doing in the top money spot. In my book, Savage outperformed and outshined the main events at WrestleManias 3, 7 and 8. That last one still perplexes me to this day; what the hell was Vince McMahon thinking putting on Hogan vs Sid Justice last, as compared to the brilliant story told in Savage vs Ric Flair for the WWF Title? Ridiculous!
The Macho Man enjoyed nine years in the WWF, amassing a legacy that has stayed with wrestling fans all their lives. Among the many highlights and matches:
- Winning the 1987 King of the Ring (hence the nickname Macho King)
- Going through four opponents to win the vacated WWF Title at WrestleMania 4
- Forming the Mega Powers with Hulk Hogan (including that awesome-looking handshake)
- Holding the Intercontinental Title for 14 months (try pulling that off in today’s WWE)
- Reuniting with Miss Elizabeth following his loss to the Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania 7
- The wedding to Elizabeth at Summerslam 1991
- Winning the WWF Title from Ric Flair at WrestleMania 8
And then, one day, the Macho Man had all but disappeared from WWF airwaves. Fans tuned in to Monday Night Raw or Saturday afternoon’s Superstars, Wrestling Challenge or Maple Leaf Wrestling (for us up North) and no longer was Savage standing at ringside and welcoming us to the action alongside Vince McMahon. Gone was the flamboyance and the charisma, gone was that unmistakable voice that commanded attention and, Hell, even gone were the garish sunglasses, outfits and cowboy hats.
Where did he go? Where was Our Macho King? What happened to The Savage One?
He went south and signed with Ted Turner’s WCW, that’s what.
Since the time Savage made the switch over to ‘Dubya C Dubya,’ the reasoning behind it has never been made clear. In response, fans have long debated the mystery surrounding Randy’s WWF departure in late 1994; he felt disrespected and misused when he was demoted to doing commentary, he had an argument that ended with McMahon slapping Savage (and vice versa has also been reported), and the other big rumor that many still refuse to live down — that Savage was intimate with an 18-year old Stephanie McMahon.
I, too, have heard that last one many times over the years. It’s definitely a shocker in a business where much more scandalous things have gone down both in the ring and outside it. I don’t believe it, though. Savage was by no means a perfect human being and I’m sure he would’ve been the first to tell you that he’d done some low-ball things in his life, but sleeping with the boss’s just-legal daughter isn’t one of them. Besides, even if he had, do you really think a guy like Randy would’ve tucked his tail between his legs and run for his life down to WCW for fear of what Vince would do?
No, I’m more inclined to believe the first reason stated, that Randy felt he was being misused and disrespected by being used mainly as a color commentator. I’m no insider expert, but if you’ve ever read Bret Hart’s autobiography, he says that Savage called McMahon in the middle of the night, drunk, and said he was signing with WCW. Vince apparently couldn’t talk him out of it and had no time to make Randy a counter offer. McMahon took it as a personal slap in the face and ever since then, Savage’s name was only brought up in the offices of the WWE a handful of times in the near 17 years until his death.
I don’t agree with the way he did it, but I see Savage’s viewpoint in the whole ordeal. In 1994, he may have been 42 years old, but he could still put on a great match and yet was being held by the short leash by his boss. The last ‘big’ thing the Macho Man did in the WWF was wrestle Crush (Brian Adams) at WrestleMania 10 in a mid-card bout — not exactly on par with matches against Steamboat and Flair. McMahon apparently saw an expiration date on Savage’s in-ring career and it had passed, though no one bothered to tell Randy. I can’t say I’d deal with the situation in the same way Savage did, but apparently, something drastic had to be done if he wanted to see the inside of a ring again and continue performing. I won’t say McMahon is entirely to blame for how it went down, but maybe if he sat down and listened to Savage vent his frustration instead of silently phasing him out, their relationship would’ve been much different than it turned out to be.
I was young at the time, so I didn’t really care whether the Macho Man was wrestling in the ring or on commentary, I just wanted him on my TV. So when he left the WWF, I checked out WCW from time to time, though it was difficult as it seemed to bounce around the Canadian TV schedules. For the most part, he seemed to be a big fish in a little pond and trading the WCW World Title with Flair until the big nWo angle started. Savage was key in that, since he was the one that suffered the “backstabbing legdrop” from Hogan in the first place that kicked the angle off in July 1996.
From that point, the focus went on Hogan, Eric Bischoff and the nWo stable, and although Savage ended up as a member of the heel group, he was more or less just a face in the faction. His WCW career from that point was pretty much situated in the mid and upper card position. I do remember one memorable feud that Savage had as part of the nWo; his rivalry with Diamond Dallas Page that spanned most of 1997 and elevated Page up the ranks as a top name in the company. The fact that Randy put him over immensely in that time is something that Page hasn’t forgotten since, and in the days following Savage’s death, Page uploaded a video tribute to him that many have put over as one of the best memorials done by someone in the business.
Savage’s last run with WCW following a return from knee surgery wasn’t all that memorable, but he was at the top of the food chain as he feuded with Kevin Nash over the World Title, winning it for all of one day at Bash at the Beach 1999. He was still a heel, and this time walked around with three valets in the form of Miss Madness (a.k.a. Molly Holly in WWE), Madusa (Alundra Blaze) and his girlfriend, Gorgeous George (Stephanie Bellars). But things didn’t last that long and Team Madness soon disbanded. Savage’s last appearance in WCW was on the May 3, 2000 edition of Thunder, where he took part in a battle royal for a World Title shot at the next PPV.
With his career in the ring seemingly over, the Macho Man moved on to other forms of showbiz that kept his name in the mainstream media. There was his standout appearance in the 2002 blockbuster, Spider-Man (“BONESAW IS RRREEEAADDY!!!”), and then a rap album (yup) released in 2003, of which included a tribute track dedicated to Curt Hennig, who had died in February that year. There was also the title track, “Be A Man,” which was a diss track aimed at Hulk Hogan, who Savage was rumored to have long-standing heat with. The album turned out to be a bust and Randy was definitely no rap artist.
At the end of 2004, Savage was summoned to the ring one more time in an angle with TNA Wrestling (NWA-TNA at the time) which saw him team up with Jeff Hardy and A.J. Styles in a six-man tag team match against the Kings of Wrestling: Jeff Jarrett, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. The match was at the Turning Point PPV in December, but was hardly a big affair; Savage’s only involvement was coming down in the final two minutes — having been kidnapped and stowed away by the heel trio — and handing out punches left and right before countering Jarrett’s sunset flip for the win. No double axehandle smashes, no flying elbows, and for some reason he was decked out in jet black from head to toe. It also turned out to be Savage’s very last match, as he and Jarrett couldn’t agree on the finish to a proposed title match at the following PPV and he left the organization.
From that point on, the Macho Man became a recluse as far as the wrestling radar goes. Aside from the odd interview here and there, and those were indeed rare, he was content to just live his life in Florida and enjoy being retired. Known as someone who’d been smart and invested wisely, Randy didn’t need the money and he’d had his time in the spotlight. He married girlfriend Lynn in May of last year and he seemed happy with how his life had turned out, a far cry from the darkness that has surrounded recent wrestling tragedies in the last few years.
And then, as we all know, that life sadly came to an end with a violent halt.
In the days following Savage’s death, tributes poured in from all over as fans, former colleagues and current stars of the ring remembered Randy and the impact he made in wrestling. Top heel CM Punk did a Savage-like flying elbow at WWE’s Over The Limit PPV two days after he’d died, and the following night on Raw donned ’80s-era Macho Man tights in tribute. The WWE aired an impressive memorial piece that did its best to highlight the endless flurry of matches, Title victories and epic moments that he’d created in his career. Even Vince McMahon wrote a piece for TIME Magazine that immortalized Savage, highlighting the colorful persona and charisma he carried himself with, labeling him “one of the building blocks of what is now WWE” and closing it by naming him as one of the greatest performers in wrestling.
Personally, I really liked the tribute piece that WWE aired and I got a real kick out of seeing CM Punk memorialize Savage in his own way, but in the end it leaves a small, bitter taste in my mouth. Sadly, I just feel it’s too little, too late. It certainly appears as though McMahon has eased up on his hard feelings toward Savage and that he’s brought some form of closure to the longtime bad blood between them, but it shouldn’t have taken one of them to die for that to happen. The Macho Man has deserved to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame for years (he entered the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2009), and McMahon knows that. One of the first thoughts I had when I heard that Randy had died was that fans would never see him take the stage to accept his place in wrestling history where he rightfully belongs. It’s something that I’ll personally hold against Vince McMahon for a long, long time.
So just what kind of impact did Savage leave in the WWE, WCW, pro wrestling in general and basically anywhere that he touched a top rope? I’d have to say that he was timeless. The Macho Man was the potent mix of wild persona and legitimate athlete that could be a superstar in today’s landscape if he had jumped in Doc Brown’s DeLorean and punched it to 88 mph. Describing Randy as being ahead of his time would be putting it lightly. He was a general inside the square circle and someone who, much like guys like Bret Hart and Curt Hennig, could have a four-star match with a wet mop. Probably 90% of the time, Savage’s matches were the most exciting bouts on the card on any given night because you never got the same match out of him twice. He could adapt, leave you wondering what he’d do next and brought out the best in his opponents every time he stepped into the ring.
Randy Savage was The Showstopper before the nickname ever found its way to Shawn Michaels.
It’s hard saying farewell to them, but it’s even harder to watch our heroes fall like the normal human beings that they were. The icons of our childhood are supposed to be immortal and indestructible; they aren’t supposed to die like everyday people do of a heart attack or a car crash. Seeing Randy Savage perish like anyone else just puts another nail in the coffin of my youthful memories, and it’s a harsh reminder that some stories don’t have happy endings.
It pains me to know that I’ll never meet the Macho Man, as he was one of only two people that would’ve left me absolutely starstruck and my hands likely trembling with shot nerves. (The other person being The Undertaker.) Sure, he lived all the way down in Florida and I’m up here in western Canada, but a dude could dream.
Savage left the ring nearly a decade before he passed, but there was always the slight possibility that he and the WWE could do business together somewhere down the line. A WWE Hall of Fame induction, some part-time role on TV or maybe a guest referee spot at WrestleMania. That won’t happen now, and if Randy does go into the WWE Hall of Fame next year in Miami, fans worldwide will be robbed of seeing Macho Madness reign supreme one last time. And that shouldn’t be the case.
The flying elbows have been grounded.
The wild, growling voice has been silenced.
The madness has come to an end.
Randy Mario Poffo,
Always to be remembered as…
“The Macho Man” Randy Savage
November 15, 1952 – May 20, 2011
Derek W. Ruttle is a weekly newspaper reporter and photographer in Outlook, SK, and lives in the nearby village of Conquest. He graduated from an eight-month film production course in Victoria, BC in 2006, and this summer is shooting a short film based on the work of renowned author, Stephen King. Growing up, he wasn’t struck with the fever of Hulkamania, but rather it was Macho Madness that ran through his veins.