“Macho Man” Randy Savage
2014 LOP Hall of Fame Inductee: "Macho Man" Randy Savage
By The Doc
Apr 4, 2014 - 8:00:00 AM
Class of 2014
Randy Mario Poffo was born in Columbus, Ohio in 1952. Though his dad was professional wrestler, Angelo Poffo, Randy did not initially follow in his father’s footsteps, instead opting to start his professional sports career in minor league baseball in the early 1970s. When an injury to his throwing shoulder left him unable to achieve Major League status, it was then that he opted to ply his athletic gifts in the world of sports entertainment. He was a natural with a uniquely intense style. Ole Anderson, of the original Four Horsemen and booker of Georgia Championship Wrestling during Randy’s stint, took notice and suggested that the name “Poffo” was not suitable for someone who wrestled “like a savage.” Hence, “Randy Savage” was created.
After bouncing around several different territories, as was customary back in the 1970s and early 1980s, Savage landed in the World Wrestling Federation. He was immediately billed as a top tier star, with several Hall of Fame managers in Bobby Heenan, Freddie Blassie, and Jimmy Hart vying to make him their client. He surprisingly chose his real life spouse, Miss Elizabeth, allowing his own charisma to shine.
And the rest, as they say, is history…
The Macho Man was Mr. WrestleMania before such a title was ever dreamt, earned, or stated by Shawn Michaels. Using his magnetic personality to quickly achieve great heights, Savage won the Intercontinental Championship and went onto become one of the longest reigning champions in the title’s history. He basically built its stature. Though prestigious before his reign, his matches with the likes of Tito Santana and Ricky Steamboat elevated the belt to a place it had never been before. By mid-1986, only two championships meant more in the wrestling world than the IC title – the WWF Championship and the NWA World title. Of course, Savage’s match with The Dragon at WrestleMania III played a major part in that. While enhancing the way that people thought about the Intercontinental Championship, Savage vs. Steamboat simultaneously changed the perception of WrestleMania.
Critical acclaim – workrate, you might call it – was not what Mania was originally about. It was glitz and glam, it was pop culture, and it was reasonably fun. It was, as a later tagline would suggest, about showcasing the WWE’s immortals. Comparing it Hollywood, Mania in its infancy was like a blockbuster action movie. Its principle characters splashed onto the screen and WWE’s tip top production values turned them into larger than life personalities. On the contrary, it was not about winning the pro wrestling equivalents of an Oscar or a Golden Globe. Success was measured through dollars and cents and rightfully so, but at the expense of (rather than in addition to) critical achievement. Savage-Steamboat changed that dynamic for the WWE, giving WrestleMania its first true classic match equal to or better than some of the marvelous encounters seen at the first four NWA Starrcades.
Savage parlayed his masterful WrestleMania III performance into a babyface turn that gave him an incredible amount of momentum while chasing Honky Tonk Man in efforts to regain the IC title. By the time WrestleMania IV rolled around, his place in the mainstream – he was becoming an iconic 1980s TV character - warranted that he step up to the next level. On a tremendous night in Atlantic City, Savage won the WWE Championship in the famous 14-man title tournament. He wrestled four times and donned four different outfits. His was an underrated moment in launching the wrestling dreams of several future superstars. He became such a huge star in the year that followed that he and Hulk Hogan split their memorable tag team in one of the biggest drawing matches in pro wrestling history. The Mega Powers Exploded to the tune of 6% of the potential pay-per-view audience tuning in for WrestleMania V, a figure made even more impressive when considering that the top drawing Mania in history, in terms of the number of buys, earned just 3% of the potential audience.
Bear in mind that he was no Herculean figure. Very well sculpted he may have been, but Macho Man was not blessed with “the largest arms in the world” nor could he have been billed as its “8th Wonder.” Essentially, Savage was the first superstar in the WrestleMania Era to outperform his way to the top prize in the company. Nobody could match him on the microphone; his inflection guaranteed that. Nobody could touch him in the ring with the exception of Steamboat, but not even the Steamer brought the intangible in-ring qualities to the table that did Macho Man. He was a perfectionist. He was so meticulous about his matches that he wanted them practiced down to the nearest detail to ensure maximum success. How such a trait has ever drawn criticism is beyond me. That attention to detail and intensity translated well to his performances.
Match quality is in a category of importance to certain parts of the fan base that goes beyond what it likely means to WWE officials, but one aspect of a great match that cannot be denied by fans (of any type), management, or the wrestlers, themselves, is the impression that it is capable of leaving. Not every audience member may be cognitively aware of it, but there is a mark left by a fantastic, dramatic battle in the ring that matches of lesser quality do not. Savage vs. Steamboat left an indelible mark on WWE history. It wrote the book on “How to Steal the Show.” Such a concept had probably been talked about prior to, but Macho Man vs. The Dragon gave it a label and made it a tangible x-factor that added an all-important talking point amongst the people during the hype for every super card thereafter. Look at all the top tier superstars who followed Savage’s lead in using a great match as a springboard to main-event success. From Bret Hart to Shawn Michaels to Steve Austin, that list is long and distinguished.
Savage and Steamboat deserve equal credit for what is still regarded today as one of the finest matches in wrestling history, but it is Macho Man that deserves the accolade of having established the WWE style as we know it. To be fully appreciated, matches before WrestleMania III in all major promotions had adhered to a certain formula. The NWA Champion, for instance, was celebrated for his endurance – for his ability to wrestle for an hour if required. Epic tales, again as in the movies, simply required a longer length of time. Such is why WWE, with its “flash over substance” approach to the in-ring product, rarely produced many legitimate challengers for American publications’ “Match of the Year” awards. There is a reason why movies such “The Godfather” and “The Dark Knight” needed over two hours to play out on the big screen. No brilliant mind in film editing has the ability to take an incredible 152-175 minute movie, cram it into 75-90 minutes, and produce the same great result. Wrestling had, typically, been the same, making it all the more impressive that Savage found a way to do it. Macho Man created a modus operandi for WWE wrestling matches still used today, featuring a quicker pace, loads of intensity, and numerous high spots compacted into a shorter duration. He found a way to tell a story that it would take Ric Flair 30-minutes to execute in half the time. It was just as emotionally gripping (if not more so), displayed just as much athleticism, and actually had a more satisfying conclusion.
Later on, once Savage had reached consistent headlining status as the WWE expanded their PPV market, he created yet another popular design for WWE matches. At WrestleMania VII, Macho Man’s “Career Match” with Ultimate Warrior established the WWE main-event match format. Just as he had educated the wrestling world on how to steal the show, he taught it what to do with 5 or more extra minutes to work with. People often celebrate Bret Hart’s matches at back-to-back Summerslams with Mr. Perfect and British Bulldog, respectively, as bouts that took WWE wrestling to another level. That is not altogether accurate. Those matches, while excellent, were merely extensions of the recipe written by Savage vs. Steamboat. Macho King vs. Warrior provided the blueprint – again, still in use in modern times – for how WWE main-eventers tell epic stories. When Savage connected with five consecutive flying elbow drops, but Warrior managed to kick out, we saw something that had been seen before. Yet, when Warrior proceeded to hit his finishing combo of the gorilla press slam and the running splash, only for Macho Man to kick out, it was something new altogether. The Rock and Austin kicking out of the Stunner and the Rock Bottom, Angle and Lesnar kicking out of the F5 and the Olympic Slam, and Shawn Michaels and Undertaker kicking out of the Tombstone and Sweet Chin Music have become iconic WrestleMania moments. The trend was started by Randy Savage against The Ultimate Warrior.
Macho Man also wrote the book on how to properly execute a romance angle. When Savage lost to Warrior, his highly entertaining partnership with “Sensational” Sherri Martel came to an end, but the aftermath reunited him with the lovely Miss Elizabeth. Not a single moment feel good moment between a male and female character has ever been able to touch the pure emotion elicited by Savage and Elizabeth’s mid-ring embrace. Minutes earlier, Macho was a hated King. Yet, he had such command of the audience that he turned them on a dime. People were literally crying in the crowd. Just as he had pushed all the right psychological buttons in his brilliant match with Warrior, he knew just what expressions to show and when to show them when gauging the crowd’s investment in his relationship with Elizabeth. “What a woman…and what a man,” indeed. They captured the hearts of the fanbase and rode that Mania VII moment into a classic feud with Jake Roberts and incredible WrestleMania match with Ric Flair.
Take inventory, for just a moment, of the top WrestleMania matches of all-time. In the minds of many, Savage vs. Steamboat and Savage vs. Warrior have stayed put in the greatest ten ever wrestled at “The Show of Shows.” That is certainly the case for me. They were the first two truly amazing matches on the grandest stage and their respective legacies have made them critical immoveable objects withstanding the onslaught of irrestible forces in the forms of so many other classics that have taken place at WrestleMania since. Some consider Savage vs. Flair at WrestleMania VIII to be even better. While I do not share that opinion, I do believe that it was an awesome match and that it stamped Macho Man’s resume as untouchable when compared to the other superstars that performed from the original WrestleMania to WrestleMania X and on-par with Bret, Rock, Austin, HBK, and Taker.
What Macho Man did was prove that the wrestler who has the greatest match trumps the wrestler who sells the most tickets. A sold out arena or stadium is a fleeting accomplishment. It looks good in record books and is undoubtedly an important component in assessing a wrestler’s place in history, but a great match has staying power. There is a difference between important and unforgettable. Hulk Hogan may have been more important to WrestleMania’s bottom line, but nobody was as unforgettable as Macho Man in those early years of the WrestleMania Era. In the first ten WrestleManias, Macho Man owned his peers with his performances. It is why the moniker of “Mr. WrestleMania,” while belonging to Shawn Michaels, could also apply to Savage. Frankly, it is time that we gave Macho Man credit for his WrestleMania accomplishments by creating a nickname for him with a WrestleMania association. Henceforth, I shall refer to Randy Savage as “The Developer of WrestleMania.” Granted, it may not possess the “Pomp and Circumstance” of a nickname like “Macho Man,” but it is a title rooted in absolute truth. Hogan built WrestleMania. Savage developed it.
I think that, perhaps, WWE’s disassociation with Savage in the second half of the WrestleMania Era has given people the wrong impression about his impact on the history of the business. That was the primary reason why I did not ask anybody else – even bigger Macho Man fans than I – to induct him into the LOP Hall of Fame. I wanted the responsibility of putting his career into the proper perspective…and it has been my pleasure. The bottom line is that Randy Savage was everything that you could ever hope for a WWE star to be. He was the complete package, blessed with extraordinary charisma and the drive and passion to outperform his peers in the ring. His matches with Tito Santana, Ricky Steamboat, Honky Tonk Man, The Million Dollar Man, Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Jake Roberts, Ric Flair, and Diamond Dallas Page are all must-see viewing material for diehard wrestling fans that want to see superlative work. The fact that the mainstream covered his death three years ago as if he were still a modern, top level WWE star proves how big an impression he left from the mid-80s to the late 90s.
On the night that Larry Bird retired, Magic Johnson was on hand to commemorate the occasion. He said that, while there will probably be another Magic Johnson, there will “never, ever be another Larry Bird.” As I sit here and look out across the LOP Hall of Fame landscape at the stars already inducted and those that someday will be, I can tell you that there will probably be another one of each of them, but that there will never, ever be another “Macho Man” Randy Savage. He was, hands down, the most unique wrestler of all-time.