“The Genius” Lanny Poffo recently took the time to answer questions from SLAM! Wrestling readers. In this second part, he talks about his time in the Poffo-run ICW, Mid-South and the WWF.
ICW & TENNESSEE
Q: How and why did your brother start ICW in 1979? [Courtney Marshall]
LANNY: Short version, it was not my idea. I came along as a favour to my dad and my brother. I was going to Los Angeles; Roddy Piper got me a great spot in Los Angeles. My dad called me up and asked if I would please come, and I said okay. I’m not the kind of a guy that likes to promote, and I don’t like going up and auditioning anybody. My idea was wrestle, get paid, put it in the bank and be happy.
Q: Why did your brother have it in for Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler’s promotion? Was it to get attention or did he really not like people at Jarrett Promotions? [Courtney Marshall]
LANNY: Yeah, there was some animosity there. Something about, Randy was Nick Gulas’ biggest star. … When we were in the Maritimes, Randy had carved himself out a deal to go on top for Jerry Jarrett. But what they did, they had, between Nick Gulas and Jerry Jarrett, they made a deal, that ‘if you do this, I’ll give Randy back to you.’ Because of that, Randy didn’t get his break with Jerry Jarrett, which was the better territory. That’s what started everything.
Q: Please talk about the match you had with your brother Randy in an empty arena. Why did it take place? When was it and who won? [Andy Metivier, Bloomington, Illinois]
LANNY: Bill Apter, it was his idea. Bill Apter and Jerry Lawler decided to do it. It was not an actual match. It was a lot of posed action shots, if you know what I mean. In other words, it was just a pretend article.
Q: What were your thoughts on wrestling Randy Savage in an Empty Arena match at the Mid South Coliseum with Jerry Lawler as special referee? [Brian Westcott, Meridian, Idaho]
LANNY: Listen, if it wasn’t a good article, he wouldn’t have remembered it.
Q: One of my top five tag teams of all time was Poffomania in Memphis. When your brother Randy piledrove Ricky Morton on the table that night at the Mid South Coliseum, did you think at that moment one or both might be seriously injured? [Chuck Morris, Marks, MS]
LANNY: First off all, he wasn’t injured, and I never thought that he would be injured because, I’ve wrestled Randy a thousand times, and Randy cannot possibly hurt you — he was too good. Even if it looked horrible, even if it looked deadly, Randy knew how to protect his opponent and there’s no question about it, he never made a mistake with another person. As a matter of fact, the whole thing was planned and Ricky Morton is one of the greatest babyfaces I’ve ever seen.
GREG: He sold it really well.
LANNY: You’re damn right he did. That’s why you thought he was dead.
Q: Do you think any of your father’s territory like those matches would ever get made into a DVD set? [Ryan Mitchell]
LANNY: He sold those rights years ago.
GREG: So will they see the light of day?
LANNY: No, they never will. To be honest with you, there’s some on YouTube, and there were some great highlights because they had some great workers — Bob Orton Jr., Ronnie Garvin, Bob Roop, different people, One Man Gang, people that finally made it, of course, Randy himself. That’s why it’s interesting. Other than that, some of the moments from TV were forgettable.
GREG: Who does own the rights?
LANNY: They sold it out to a group called Capitol Oil, which has now gone bankrupt, I think.
Q: Have you ever broken toes wrestling barefoot?
LANNY: I broke my ankle when I was 19. I wore boots from then on.
Q: Why didn’t your brother come with you to Mid South, he could have had feuds with Jim Duggan, Ted DiBiase, Terry Taylor, and others? Bill Watts would have loved him there. [Courtney Marshall]
LANNY: Actually, he almost did. I was trying to get him in there with me, and Bill Watts wanted to team us up. What happened was Randy went into Jerry Jarrett’s place and he wrestled Lawler, and they sold out, they had that kind of a match, and that popped the territory. So what happened was, I just went to Memphis.
Q: I hear workers bitch about how promoters take advantage and have it easy. You did commentary, you set up interviews, put up rings, and promoted for ICW, how hard is it to promote or run a wrestling promotion? [Courtney Marshall]
LANNY: Bill Watts used to say, ‘If you think it’s easy, buy your own territory, or start your own.’ It isn’t easy. Anybody who says it’s easy had better try it. It’s just not easy, and I refuse to criticize promoters.
Q: What was Bill Watts like as promoter to work for? [Courtney Marshall]
LANNY: I thought he was fantastic, and I consider him the second greatest promoter that I’ve ever worked for.
GREG: After Vince McMahon?
Q: I know you spent a while wrestling in the Maritimes, and I wanted to know if you enjoyed living in the area. [Pete Jarvis, Hamilton, Ontario]
LANNY: Yes I did very much. I love lobster, I loved the people. I wrestled in Digby with the scallops. I think the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen is the Cabot Trail, in Cape Breton. [EDITOR’S NOTE: See 2009’s Lanny Poffo’s Maritime memories]
Q: What is your greatest Curt Hennig memory? [Annie]
LANNY: His professionalism in the ring and his practical jokes in the locker room.
Q: I always liked the gimmick of “The Genius.” Who came up with the idea? You or Vince McMahon? [Lee]
LANNY: It was Randy’s idea. He always looked out for me!
Q: What was it like hosting Randy’s Coronation? In regards to none of us kids knew at the time they were brothers.
LANNY: It was one of the proudest moments in my life!
Q: Please thank him for all the memories. I’ve been watching for 30 years and Poffo was around for a good chunk, and The Genius character was very good. Rarely do gimmicks work so well and once combined with Mr. Perfect it was great. I met him in Ottawa a few years ago and my friends always laugh at how he kept watching his luggage like we were gonna take off with it (we had snuck backstage). Side story and here’s actually another question too – at the time we met him the police were searching all over the place for Abdullah The Butcher, it was crazy – you’d have thought he murdered someone. Maybe Lanny can inform us as to what actually happened that night. One last thing, Macho Man was one of the BEST. EVER. Make sure he knows this. 🙂
LANNY: I honestly don’t remember. I wrestled barefoot that night because I’d given my boots to a charity auction. I decided to buy new boots because of poor ankle support.
Q: Did you enjoy your big push in the WWE against Hulk Hogan in 1989, especially the Saturday Night’s Main Event match where you won by countout and Mr. Perfect smashed up the WWE World Heavyweight Championship belt with a hammer? [Brian Westcott, Meridian, Idaho]
LANNY: If he goes to my website, he’ll think I have selected memory. I don’t remember anything about being a jabroni, I just remember that. Out of my 21-year journeyman career, that’s the moment I want to remember. If you go in the video section, my appearance on Regis and that match are at the top, and everything else is less or missing.
Q: Saturday Night’s Main Event you had a few big moments including the battle royal headbutt from Andre the Giant — was that blading or was that supposed to happen? It looked brutal. [Ryan Mitchell]
LANNY: It was supposed to happen, and it was supposed to look brutal. I’m very proud of it. I was the sacrificial lamb and the guy that chose me was Gorilla Monsoon. He said, ‘Lanny, I just got out of a production meeting’ — I was already in a dark match, I wasn’t in this battle royal. So they promoted me to the battle royal and my job was to do that for Andre. He said, ‘Don’t make a monkey out of me. I trusted you to do this.’ I said, ‘I’d never make a monkey out of a Gorilla. Leave it to me.’ I’m going to say that Gorilla Monsoon would always help me every chance he had to help me.
Q: You and Mr. Perfect along with Ted DiBiase were some of the most important workers in that show, how was the SNME environment different from a pay per view or house show back in 1990 or 1991? [Ryan Mitchell]
LANNY: It felt like it had a lot more pressure on it. That’s when you started seeing writers, and now they have writers all the time, scripted interviews. That was the first time it had ever happened, on NBC. In fact, the night I wrestled Hogan, the guy from NBC wrote a poem for me to recite. I went up to Vince and I said, ‘This guy wrote a poem for me. I’ve already got one, and mine’s better.’ He said, ‘Oh no, don’t worry about it. Use yours. They just try to do these things.’ Of course, mine was better, because I was The Genius 24 hours a day. This guy, he gave it about a minute’s thought and wrote a poem.
Q: Could you feel the business was heading down or up at that point? [Ryan Mitchell]
LANNY: Oh, it was tremendous for the prestige, because there’s something about a network that makes people look at you a little differently.
Q: What was interesting about your match with Hogan and Perfect’s match was that you guys were not monster heels, so those matches must have made hogan feel vulnerable a bit… [Ryan Mitchell]
LANNY: Hogan, he was smart enough to know that he had to work with a variety of people, otherwise he’s just a one-dimensional champion. But he got to wrestle King Kong Bundy and he got to wrestle The Genius, and everybody in between, in order for him to be viable as the nucleus of a great organization. Every challenger brings something to the table. I brought comedy. Let me say this too, now that The Genius gimmick is done, the one influence, I only copied one person, well, I copied a lot of people, but the one person that I copied was Peter Sellers as the Pink Panther movies as Inspector Clouseau. Now in the fact that I was always trying to gain my dignity back, but always making an ass of myself.
Q: Whose marketing idea was the poetry Frisbee thing? Did they sell at live events? [Ryan Mitchell]
LANNY: Yes they did, and that was 100% my idea. The first time I was on TNT, remember that? I did a poem and Vince said, ‘That was great. From now on you do a poem before every match.’ So I remembered when I was a boy. Do you remember Al Costello and Roy Heffernam, the Fabulous Kangaroos? Well, they used to throw boomerangs, cardboard boomerangs. They brought a real boomerang into the ring, but threw cardboard ones, and on them were information about the Kangaroos, Heffernam, Costello and Red Berry. Al Costello thought of that. I decided to do scrolls, and I realized as soon as I did it the first time that they weren’t going anywhere. I couldn’t even throw it past the ringside cage. I said, ‘I can’t use a boomerang, because I’m not an Australian. What is it that I can do that soars? Ah, a Frisbee!’ That’s when I bought 500 Frisbees, and before I was out of Frisbees, the marketing guys came up and said, ‘Do you mind if we use these?’ I said, ‘Do I mind? I want you to!’ From then, I would get the Frisbees from them. I was the only wrestler that would go upstairs, after the matches were over, or before the matches, and sit there, talk to people, sign autographs, and my Frisbees sold out every night. Before I became The Genius, they sold out every night, 300,000 Frisbees at the venues, five dollars a piece, I got a nickel a Frisbee — and I didn’t do it for the nickel, I did it so that some day they would think I was marketable.
GREG: That’s surprising it was just a nickel.
LANNY: You have to think large. They had me underneath. I was there to prove that I didn’t belong there, and that’s what I tried to prove. It worked because I wound up as Hulk Hogan’s nemesis, so I’m definitely not ashamed of trying harder.
Q: I think its special you had those little narrative moments with Randy Savage. Can you remember the poem you wrote from SummerSlam 1989? [Ryan Mitchell]
LANNY: No, I don’t remember that much. I just remember that the end of it was … I think it’s on YouTube! I’ve written so many, that doesn’t stand out as one of my better ones either.
Q: Were there any other promotions you and Randy wanted to work for like Crockett Promotions, AWA, World Class, or Japan before considering the WWF in 1985? [Courtney Marshall]
LANNY: No, there wasn’t. Everybody was going out of business at that time, they were either dead or dying.
Q: What did you perceive WWF and Vince McMahon before you worked for them? And did it change after? [Courtney Marshall]
LANNY: I’ll tell you what, he didn’t disappoint me. It was the best I’ve ever been treated …
Q: What was the WWF schedule like in 1980s? [Courtney Marshall]
LANNY: The thing is, I never missed a shot and I always made sure I got my rest. See, a lot of these guys stay up all night drinking, partying, doing whatever they did, oxy continen, or whatever they take, that led to premature death all the time. I thought that the schedule wasn’t that bad. You fly to the town, you get to the gym, you get your rest, and you work. Trust me, one time I was in Manchester, Kentucky, and there was a coal miner with black on his face, and he says, ‘Isn’t wrestling a tough life?’ I said, ‘Holy! You’re a coal miner! I couldn’t last one day in a coal mine. Wrestling is cake.’
GREG: That concludes the questions.
LANNY: Can I mention one more thing? I go to these independent shows and I meet people that would have killed to get the break I got. They are actually just as qualified, or more sometimes, but they can’t get the break. But I always tell them, ‘Listen, the Macho Man was 32 when he made his debut into Madison Square Gardens. Well, how old are you?’ ‘I’m 21.’ ‘In 11 years, then get discouraged.’
- September 2, 2011: Lanny Poffo Q&A: Part 1
- Lanny Poffo, Randy Savage and Angelo Poffo story archive