Tuesday, June 07, 2011

RIP Macho Man Randy Savage 1952-2011



On May 20th, Randy "The Macho Man" Savage died after suffering a heart attack while driving, which caused him to crash into a tree. He was only 58 years old. The Macho Man was one of the most recognizable professional wrestlers ever, and next to Hulk Hogan, the biggest star of 1980s/early 90s wrestling. He was immensely popular among people my age and older, because many of us grew up watching the Saturday morning wrestling programs offered by the WWF. This was clearly evident by the mass outpouring of emotions over the weekend of Savage's death, where countless journalists, radio stations, websites and media outlets gave their own forms of tributes to him. Many of these people had long stopped watching wrestling, but they still had very fond memories of the resident of the Danger Zone, the Macho Man. The 1980s had a lot of colourful and entertaining wrestlers for a young boy to enjoy and cheer for, and the large majority chose Hulk Hogan to be their hero in wrestling, but Randy "Macho Man" Savage was my favourite. After I had grown out of Optimus Prime and He-Man, the Macho Man became my favourite television figure. At the time I was obsessed with wrestling, and the Macho Man was one of the major reasons that I was drawn to the pseudo sport (at least back then, it still tried to pretend to be one). Others could have their vitamin popping and prayer spouting Hulk Hogan, I preferred the cool guy with the shades and sparkly robe that was escorted everywhere by a hot lady.

I was such a big fan of the Macho Man that I decided to pass on the vampire and werewolf costumes and dress up as the ultra cool Macho Man for Halloween. Unfortunately, I couldn't convince any of the girls in my class to be my Elizabeth. To this day, I think my Macho Man costume is my all time favourite Halloween disguise. Even when I got older, it was still fun to try to impersonate the Macho Man and growl out an occasional, "Oh Yeah, Dig it!" (common Macho Man proclamation). The Macho Man was easily one of the best interviewees back in the day, because his style was so unique. He'd usually start off with a whisper then slowly raise his voice until it became a scream, but then knock it back down to a whisper. During the whole time, he sort of sounded like he was constipated. But you didn't dare to laugh at the man because he seemed to pull it off in such a tough guy way. Plus you always got the sense that he was just 3 seconds away from completely snapping and blowing everyone away. Besides, would you mess with a guy that always wore sunglasses inside buildings (and sometimes even during his matches)?

The Macho Man appealed to me so much as a kid, because he was so different than any other wrestler that was in the WWF. The WWF at the time was full of muscular monsters that were usually much better at grunting and flexing rather than performing actual wrestling moves. Savage in comparison was fairly small (though he was still really ripped and was well over 6 feet). The big difference was that the man was really fast and could fly all over the ring. He had classic moves like flying off the top rope and down to the outside of the ring where his opponent was often draped over the ringside barrier. His finishing move was the legendary elbow drop off the top rope, where he boasted really impressive hang time. During an era that appearance and showmanship was priority over actual quality wrestling, Macho Man always stole the show and was able to drag almost any buffoon into having an amazing match. He had mat classics that are still considered to be some of the all time best. The thing about Macho Man was that not only could he put on great wrestling matches, but he had a great look and an abundance of charisma. Actually, he probably had more charisma and showmanship than the majority of the wrestlers that were around (and even those around now). His interviews are still legendary today. He had such a distinct look and style that he ended up being a spokesman for Slim Jim (Snap into it!). When it came to wrestling promos, you knew a wrestler was in trouble when he finally threw off his sunglasses and had the camera zoom into those beady, crazed eyes. Besides, how could you not cheer for a guy that had the hottest woman in wrestling by his side? Having a hot female wrestling manager is far more common now, but back then, the Macho Man really was the only one. To this day, there has never been a wrestling relationship that carried the same type of magic.

Randy Savage debuted in the WWF in 1985, but he was already an established wrestling star from his time in other promotions. This would have been his first big national exposure, and he hit it big immediately. He was able to fly all over the ring, while also using power moves against guys much bigger than him and could even do some impressive mat wrestling. He also had the ability to make any opponent look good. Along with his unique charisma, he was a pretty easy hit among the fans. Though back in 1985, you weren't supposed to be cheering for the Macho Man, because he was an ego centric villain. The Macho Man character was clearly destined for big things, and the WWF made him a central part of storylines when every single evil wrestling manager was trying to recruit Macho Man to be part of their stable of wrestlers. This storyline went on for weeks with each manager scouting Macho Man during his matches and then trying to entice him to sign a contract. It all came to head when Macho Man gathered every manager in the ring, where he would announce who he decided to hire. That was the night that he revealed the lovely Miss Elizabeth. This created one of the most unique dynamics ever, where the lovely Miss Elizabeth was a beloved baby face (good 'guy') and the Macho Man continued to play the dastardly and conceited heel. It is probably one of the few times where there was a pairing where one person was a face and the other person was a heel and their relationship actually helped keep each strong in their roles.

The Macho Man played the perfect jealous boyfriend character. He wouldn't let other people interview or talk to Elizabeth. He forced Elizabeth to walk behind him, so the he got the good camera shots. He would get upset if Elizabeth moved away from her designated spot at ringside. During this whole time, Elizabeth would just quietly take his reprimands. He never hit Elizabeth, but you always got a feeling that she deserved so much better and that he was almost a borderline abusive boyfriend (in real life, there were actually married at the time). It was a dynamic that helped keep the Macho Man hated and Elizabeth a clear crowd favourite. It is a relationship that has been mimicked several times since but with little success. You just waited for the day that someone would step up and save Elizabeth.

Her saviour was in the form of an overweight, hairy, bald, green tongued wrestler known as George "The Animal" Steele. The storyline was that Steele had a huge crush on Elizabeth, though she seemed to be slightly frightened by the grotesque beast. The face announcers would also go on about how George would treat her so much better, even if he was a simpleton. The actions by Steele only made Savage more jealous, and it caused for a long and crazy feud between the two wrestlers. Steele was quite a bit older and at the twilight of his wrestling career, which meant he wasn’t overly mobile at the time. Savage was talented enough to still pull out some entertaining matches with him and it was a feud that the fans got behind. It may be one of the only times that people actually cheered a kidnapping, when the beastly George ran away with Elizabeth over his shoulder while Macho Man was distracted with a match.

In the 80s, title changes did not happen that often. Hulk Hogan was World Champion for 4 straight years. Usually, a wrestler had to be in the WWF for a few years before they got a crack at one of the championships. It was a sign of how big of a star Savage was becoming when in less than a year after debuting in the WWF, he defeated Tito Santana for the second biggest single championship at the time, the Intercontinental title. Now, someone who didn't watch wrestling then but is familiar with it now, may not think it was that big of a deal that Macho Man won the Intercontinental title. I realize now that belts don't mean as much, and the Intercontinental title is a joke now. But back in the 1980s, it was still a very prestigious championship that rarely changed hands and was held by someone that was breaking into the main event scene. Back then, the WWF had two or three house shows (non televised touring events) a night, and obviously, the World Champion (Hulk Hogan) could only be at one of them, so often the second show would be headlined by the Intercontinental champion. The Intercontinental title did mean something, and so it would draw crowds to arenas in hopes of a title change. It was a rather big deal when Savage became the champ in February of 1986, less than 12 months after his debut. This win firmly cemented him as one of the top guys in the company, and even earned him a few house show matches with World Champion Hulk Hogan. Macho Man would then go on to have one of the longest Intercontinental title reigns in the company history, when he defended the championship successfully for over a year.



In November of 1986, Macho Man took part in one of the most legendary wrestling angles, which was used to set up an even more legendary wrestling match. Macho Man was defending the championship against the immensely popular Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat. Many fans were hoping this was the moment Savage would finally lose the title and be put in his place. The match went around 10 minutes and was considered an instant classic, but the real point of the match was to set up a long term storyline. Steamboat was on the verge of winning the championship when Savage went into crazy man mode. Savage draped Steamboat’s throat over the ringside barrier and then climbed the top rope so he could drop an axhandle (a name of a move -- not the object) across Steamboat back thus crushing the throat into the steel (not the Animal). Steamboat played up the move perfectly and starting clutching at his throat, while announcer Vince McMahon started bellowing about how reprehensible this was. But Macho Man only got started. He then tossed Steamboat in the ring, then he grabbed the heavy ring bell from the time keeper. He scrambled up to the top rope and then leapt into the air to plunge the bell into Steamboat’s throat. Steamboat continued to gag and grasp at his throat, while the commentators surmised that this may be the end of a man's career. Savage being the noble character he was, would gloat for weeks about ending Steamboat's livelihood. This was done during a time that the majority of the television shows were devoted to actual wrestling and didn't fill the hour with silly sketches and antics. It meant that when an angle took place, it left a rather big impact. This is a wrestling moment that is still burnt into the mind of many old school wrestling fans (while today, I'm sure many fans don't even remember what happened last week). Savage cemented himself as the ultimate evil doer and fans everywhere were begging for Steamboat's return and subsequent revenge.

In January 1987, Steamboat made his surprise return and Savage played his part perfectly by acting as if he just saw a ghost (he'd been claiming for weeks that Steamboat was done). This lead to the signing of a championship match at Wrestlemania 3, where this time Steamboat would have the protection of George "The Animal" Steele in his corner. Wrestlemania 3 happened in 1987, but to this day, it is still remembered as one of the biggest and greatest wrestling shows of all time. It is considered the prototype of what a wrestling supercard should be. It was held at the Pontiac Silverdome and drew a WWF reported 93 000 plus fans. The big draw of the night was the long awaited Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant World title match (the first time the two met since WWF went national, and the first time they met where Hogan was a hero and Andre was a reviled villain). Though Hogan vs. Andre was the reason the place was packed, it was Savage vs. Steamboat that stole the show. To this day, it is considered one of the greatest WWF wrestling matches of all time. The match had the perfect storyline and both guys played their roles tremendously. You had a match between two of the most talented wrestlers ever and laid out an almost perfect match. It is one of those matches that I'd show to someone who never watched wrestling before and use it to explain why I watch. It also had the perfect ending, because The Dragon finally got his revenge and won the championship against the evil Macho Man (after some help from George Steele).

The night Macho Man lost to Ricky Steamboat, he was getting a fair bit of cheers from a portion of the fans. It started becoming clear that many people saw Macho Man as a pretty cool wrestler and wanted to cheer for him even if he was supposed to be a bad guy. The announcers usually just claimed the cheers were actually for Elizabeth and that no one actually liked Macho Man. They could only get away with that for so long, and so in the Fall of 1987 it was decided it was time to turn Macho Man into a good guy. They came up with another all time classic angle, in order to cement Savage as a new top face. By this time, an irritating and obnoxious Elvis impersonator known as the Honky Tonk Man was the new Intercontinental champion (alas the Dragon has a criminally short reign). The brilliance of the Honky character was that fans found him a joke and to be beyond annoying, but Honky would just keep on thanking the fans for being a beautiful audience and claimed to be the most popular wrestler around. He also annoyed the fans by trying to sing and do a really poor Elvis like dance. After only 3 months as Intercontinental champion, he started to declare himself the greatest Intercontinental champion of all time. You could probably see why this may annoy the Macho Man character who had been champion for over a year and didn't duck any challengers. The thing was, even though Savage was a bad guy, the fans knew he was a tough and capable wrestler, but the Honky Tonk Man was seen as a fluke champion (he defeated the Dragon in a cheap fashion and went on to keep his title by often getting disqualified or counted out since you could only lose the title by pinfall or submission -- so he was essentially keeping the title through losing). Finally, Savage had enough of Honky's bragging and so he roughed up his manager, Jimmy Hart, and demanded a match with Honky Tonk Man.

The much anticipated match happened on the October edition of Saturday Night's Main Event (an occasional wrestling special on NBC, that would replace Saturday Night Live). I'm pretty sure most fans where expecting Macho Man to tear Honky apart and quickly regain his championship. At this point, Savage wasn't officially a good guy, but they sure hated Honky way more. The match ended when Savage was about to gain the pinfall, but Honky's friends, the Hart Foundation, interfered for the disqualification. After the match, the three wrestlers continued to rough up Randy Savage. Honky decided he wanted to do something extra special for Macho Man, which was serenade him with his guitar -- or more specifically, smash the instrument over Savage's head. In one of the classic moments, Elizabeth got in the ring and begged Honky to not hit her man over the head and when Honky ignored her, she stepped in his way. Honky cemented himself as the most dastardly of villains by shoving the beautiful Elizabeth to the ground and proceeding to smash the guitar over the already beaten down Macho Man. Then Elizabeth responded by running away scared or so commentator Jesse "The Body" Venture wanted you to believe, but in actuality, she was going to the back to get Hulk Hogan to make the rescue (something she would go on to do several times over the next year). Hogan ran to the ring to clean house on Honky and the Hart Foundation and saved the battered Macho Man. This left the two wrestlers to be face to face with each other, which was a big deal since one was the top hero and the other was up to that point the top villain. Fans held their breath to see if Macho Man would attack Hogan or not. Then one of the biggest wrestling storyline of all time would begin when Macho Man and Hulk Hogan would shake hands and begin the legendary tag team, the Mega Powers. After this ringing endorsement from the World champion, the fans now had permission to cheer the Macho Man and he was the clearly established number two baby face in the company.



It was around this time, I started watching professional wrestling. My first time seeing the Macho Man, he was this tough as nails anti-hero (probably one of the first ever in wrestling -- long before "Stone Cold" Steve Austin came around with a similar character). Savage was loved by the fans, but he was far from a clean cut goody two shoes, and was never afraid to bend the rules in order to make a villain pay. I quickly gravitated towards this very different kind of good guy and cheered him on while he chased Honky Tonk Man for the Intercontinental title. I was convinced it was only a matter of time before he would regain his rightful championship.

I thought the moment would finally happen on February 5th 1988 at The Main Event, a live prime time wrestling special on NBC. To this day, it is still the most highly watched network television wrestling event in history. Of course, the main reason would be the main event that was the Wrestlemania rematch between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant for the World title, but I know there were many fans like me that were begging for Savage to finally defeat Honky Tonk Man for the IC title.

It wasn't meant to be, as Macho Man only won the match by count out and so Honky kept the title again despite losing. The more important event happened after the match when Honky attacked Savage and beat him into a corner. He once again threatened to smash the guitar over the head of Macho Man, and the brave Elizabeth once again got in the way of Honky. This time, it looked like Honky was going to hit Macho despite Elizabeth being in the way. But at the last second, Macho Man recovered and was able to stop the guitar was coming down on Elizabeth. The weapon was ripped out the villain’s hands and Macho Man chased Honky form the ring with his own guitar. Savage proceeded to smash the guitar much to the delight of fans in the arena and watching on television. Then the really big moment happened, because every wrestling fan knew that Savage wasn’t treating Elizabeth properly and never gave her the rightful acknowledgment. On that night, he finally did when he lifted her up on his shoulder and allowed her to soak up the cheers of the fans. To really show that Randy Savage was a gentleman after all, he stopped Elizabeth from her usual act of opening up the ropes for Savage and instead, Savage opened the ropes for Elizabeth and allowed her to leave the ring first. This was the night that I think many fans finally felt comfortable cheering for Macho Man and recognized he was deep down a good man and loved his manager, Elizabeth. Over the next few months he would continue to show his love for the Elizabeth and she would continue to help him by getting Hogan to come protect him when he needed it (Savage seemed to have a lot of bad guys double or triple team him back then). The Meg Powers continued to grow and Macho Man became a bigger star in wrestling.

It was Wrestlemania 4, when Macho Man was given the torch and became the number one baby face in the WWF (Hogan had to leave to make that cinematic masterpiece, No Holds Barred -- what!?! you never saw it!). The storyline set up was that there was immense controversy in the Hogan vs. Andre The Main Event title match, where Andre not only won the match after using a paid off referee but he also surrendered the title over the Million Dollar Man. If I try to explain this to the point where it makes sense then this already huge tribute will become a hard cover book, besides explaining convoluted wrestling stories isn't really a proper tribute to a fallen childhood hero. All you need to know is this set up a 14 man World title tournament at Wrestlemania 4 (Hogan and Andre as the former champions got a bye to the second round while everyone else would presumably needed to win 4 matches to become champion). For 10 year old Christopher, this tournament was bigger than the French Open or March Madness or any playoffs, because this was to the crown the most important championship in the world (according to a wrestling obsessed little boy -- that is). It really was a magical moment when I found out the next day that my wrestling hero defeated four top stars to become the undisputed WWF champion. It was even sweeter when I could rent the tape a few months later and actually see my hero do it. You see, back in 1988, Canada didn't have PPV capabilities and there wasn't anything called the internet or at least not in its current form, so a boy like me had to rely on tongue-in-cheek newspaper reports or 10 second 'sport' clips or the rundown from the lucky kid that owned a satellite dish to find out what happened (or wait until the next Saturday when the morning wrestling show recapped the event). Then you had to wait for the video store to get its special copy of the event and then you could relive the moment for hours and hours or until your mom asked if you finished your science project yet.

Looking back now, Wrestlemania 4 is an overly long and bloated wrestling card that isn't the most entertaining of viewings. It is a hugely historic event in wrestling terms as it kicked off some of the biggest storylines in WWF history. More importantly for me, it was the crowning moments for any diehard Macho Man fan. It was the night he became the WWF champion -- a title that actually meant something back then and was the symbol that the title holder was the top star of the promotion. The final match was integral in kicking off a year long story arc that would cause Wrestlemania 5 to be one of the biggest grossing wrestling events in the 80s.

Macho Man Randy Savage made it to the finals against the Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase. The problem was that Savage had to defeat three men before the final, while Dibiase only had two prior matches (he got a bye to the finals when Hogan and Andre both got disqualified when they played musical chairs against each other's head). Not only was Savage one tired man, but he also only had Elizabeth with him while Dibiase was accompanied by the much bigger and uglier Andre the Giant. Andre got himself involved in the match, as he constantly tripped and distracted the Macho Man. So, Elizabeth activated her super power of running to the back and bringing out Hulk Hogan. With the help of the Hulkster, Savage was able to vanquish the evil millionaire and win his first ever World Championship wrestling belt. Savage lifted his beautiful manager on his shoulder while Hogan passed him the title and the (symbolic) torch, thus declaring Macho Man the new top star (or at least, until filming was over). It really was a great moment in the crazy career of the Macho Man and still one of my favourite wrestling memories.

Macho Man got a decent one year run as World Champion, or as good as it can be when the company was set on Hulk Hogan remaining the top star. In the spring and summer, Savage got a shot at being the focal point of the company since Hogan was playing movie star and WWF had a plethora of Macho merchandise to peddle (all I ever ended up getting was a Macho Man and Elizabeth poster from a gas station -- which I demanded to be put up near the other fine art in the house). Eventually, Hogan has to come back, and this set up a huge tag team main event at the first ever SummerSlam, Mega Powers vs. Mega Buck (Million Dollar Man and Andre). I remember being so overly excited for that match and wanting to know if my hero could really overcome the awesome evil that was Andre and Dibiase. Alas, Canada still didn't know PPV and I was forced to re-enact, in my Grandma's backyard, what I thought was happening. A week later the good old Saturday morning wrestling reassured me that the Mega Powers earned the mega win and the evil doers finally got beat.

Savage proved to be a great world champions as he did something that Hogan could not, and that was perform the best match of the night. During the year he met several huge challengers such as Million Dollar Man. One Man Gang/Akeem, Andre the Giant (I got see them tangle live in Buffalo!), Bad News Brown, and the Big Bossman. Savage proved he could conquer the top villains just as well as Hogan, but do it in a much more entertaining way. Most of the stories usually revolved around the bad guys making some derogatory comments or gestures towards Elizabeth and thus Macho Man had to be her glittering robe wearing knight.

The Mega Powers tag team and Macho Man's overprotective nature of Elizabeth was the major long simmering storyline that built to the Wrestlemania 5 main event. Only in wrestling does a best friend pairing mean it has been designed for the express purpose of them being eventual hated enemies. By December, Macho Man's jealousy started to become more apparent, and most fans were aware of what direction this was leading to. The big blow up finally happened in February 1989 at the second edition of NBC's The Main Event, when the Mega Powers battled the Twin Towers (Akeem and the Big Bossman). During the match, Elizabeth had been knocked down and Lust Hogan (as Venture and a later heel Macho Man would call him during the feud) stopped paying attention to the match and tended to Elizabeth. He then carried her to the back, while Macho Man was beat down in the ring by the two evil blubber boys (the tag name I preferred for the obese heels). Eventually, Hogan returned to the match, and Savage tagged him -- via a hard slap across the face. Savage then decided it was his turn to tend to Elizabeth and left Hogan alone for the rest of the match. After Hogan overcame the odds all by himself (I always hated how he was the only one who could ever do that), he went to the back to find where Macho Man and Elizabeth were. Macho Man seemed to think the title wasn't shiny enough for Hogan to view, so he decided it had to be polished up a little -- via Hogan's bald head. I think one of the most replayed moments in my childhood, was the scene of Hogan coming into the locker room to ask Elizabeth what Savage's problem was and then Savage coming out of nowhere to smash the title (or polish the title) against Hogan's head. Partly because even at my young age the acting was unintentionally hilarious, but more so, it was fun seeing my hero knock out the big orange lug.

At this point, Macho Man was now the villain and Hogan was the virtuous hero ready to right a wrong. Except I didn't see it that way, and I still wanted to root for Savage. I knew Hogan was a spotlight hog. He always needed the attention on himself and his return had forced Savage to the background. I saw Savage's point about Hogan trying to steal Elizabeth -- I mean, who ever said she could start being his manager too? In my eyes, it was Savage's time for revenge and a chance to finally be rid of Hogan. Of course, even then, I knew that wasn't how it would play out. I knew Wrestlemania 5 meant the end of Savage's reign and time for Hogan to reclaim top spot. Just because I knew it, didn't mean I wanted it.

Despite the fact it was one of the most predictable Wrestlemania main events, it was also one of the most anticipated. The two were clearly the top stars in the company and the story had been built up over an entire year. The main event made Wrestlemania 5 an incredibly high grossing event, of course, I still couldn't see it until it came out on video. The day after the event, the kid with the satellite and a few newspapers informed me of the result I was dreading; Savage had been knocked out of the top spot as World champion. My consolation then, and even now, is that Savage was able to drag Hogan to the very best match he had in 1980s and still one of the best matches Hogan has ever had, Savage bounced around to make Hogan look like a million bucks, and pulled out a truly entertaining main event. Savage's reward was to constantly lose to Hogan on the house show tours throughout the spring and the summer. Worst of all, the evil Savage no longer had Elizabeth (she occasionally managed Hogan but mostly just stayed off the road for a while) and replaced her with the far less desirable Sensational Sherri (or as fans preferred to call her, Scary Sherri).

Wrestlemania 5 really did mark the end of the glory days for Macho Man, and really, even the glory days for professional wrestling (until it hit its next big boom in 1998 with Stone Cold Steve Austin). Macho Man got to play with Hogan in the main event scene until the second annual SummerSlam, where he teamed with Zeus (actor Tiny Lister in an effort to cross promote for the work of art, No Holds Barred) in a losing effort against Hogan and Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake (my other less impressive wrestling favourite). Savage was then moved out of the main event scene and defeated “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan for the wrestling crown (don't ask) to become the “Macho King” Randy Savage (seriously, don't ask). This is where Savage became a little less cool and started wavering away from the acclaimed top spot of favourite wrestler. Being carted around on a throne along with a screeching Queen Sherri while wearing a goofy crown, just isn't as cool as no nonsense bad ass with a hot lady manager. Even though he was becoming cartoony and no longer the top draw, he still always had a major storyline or feud. I think. that is one of the big proofs that Savage was a true superstar of the WWF. Many wrestlers had their chance at the main event but then fade and eventually get lost in the shuffle. Savage at his very lowest still was at least number 4 or 5 in the pecking order and was involved in one of the big stories (even if it wasn't the main event). So, for the next year or so he battled with the likes of “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan and “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, while I secretly wished he would get another shot at being on top (and get back together with Elizabeth -- in storyline because in real life they were still married at this point).

I was happy as anyone when in the fall of 1990, the Macho King was deemed the top contender for the Ultimate Warrior's WWF World title. At this point I was getting a little older and slightly wiser, and I had a good feeling of how wrestling worked. Though I was happy the man was back on top, I sensed he wouldn't win the title this time around (even if I really, really, really wanted him to so that he could drop that goofy crown). Alas, my instinct was right and when January came around Warrior was still champion and set to defend the title against the decrepit Sgt. Slaughter at the Royal Rumble (at this point, Slaughter was doing the rather tasteless Iraqi sympathiser gimmick in an attempt to draw attention due to the Gulf War). The night of the show, Savage's manager Sherri asked Warrior if he would grant Savage a title match if he defeated Slaughter. Or more exactly, she fondled Warrior's chest and did some PG rated innuendos disguised as a title request. But Sherri wasn't Warrior’s type and he turned down the request (via screaming "NOOOOOOOOOOOO" in her face). Savage being Savage, took the rejection like a Macho Man. Or more specifically, he smashed a scepter over Warrior's head during the title match, which caused Warrior to lose the title to the bloated senior citizen, Sgt. Slaughter. Now, according to storyline Slaughter had promised Savage a title match, but it never did happen. Instead, this incident set up yet another classic Wrestlemania match, “Macho King” Randy Savage vs. The Ultimate Warrior in a career vs. career match (loser agrees they will retire -- forever!!!).

By 1991, I had been watching wrestling long enough to know that a retirement match didn't really mean retirement but rather the wrestler was going to be taking a vacation. I also knew that Macho King was the one that losing. But what I didn't know was what actually was planned for after the match, and that one of the great moments in Macho Man history was about to take place. A moment that I've always claimed was one of the great "love story" moments in entertainment history.

First things first, Macho King was responsible for the Ultimate Warrior having the greatest match ever in his career. The Warrior had his fans, and he was ultra charismatic, but he wasn't known for having good matches. At Wrestlemania 7, he had the match that stole the show and is another match that is considered one of the best Wrestlemania matches ever. Savage just had the magic that made even poor wrestlers into great ones, and this was one of thos e classic times. In the end, Warrior had conquered Savage and it was now the end of Macho Man's career (FOREVER! or so).

Queen Sherri didn't like the idea of unemployment and let Savage know this via well placed kicks and slaps. Now, prior to the start of the match, the cameras revealed that Elizabeth had come to see the match. It wasn't clear why she was there, and it was actually almost exactly a year since she had last been on television (or even acknowledged). While Sherri was practicing her karate on Savage, it became clear why Elizabeth was there. She leaped over the barricade and ran down to the ring, and then got herself a nice handful of Sherri's hair and flung her right out of the ring. Then it was a moment that actually caused several fans in the arena (and probably some watching TV -- or on video 2 months later since they didn't have PPV in their country yet) to shed legitimate tears. Savage was picking himself off the ground and shaking off the cobwebs, when he turned around to notice it was Elizabeth standing there. He realized she had just saved him from Sherri's assault. He just realized she had come out to see him again. More importantly, he realized that after two years of abandonment, she still loved him. They allowed the proper amount of tensions and anticipation to mount, and then, after a 2 year long wait, they finally embraced in the most epic hug in wrestling history. The arena erupted and finally, wrestling’s greatest couple was reunited. Just like old times, Savage put her up on his shoulder and then after, he parted the ropes for her to exit the ring. It was the perfect ending to the love story that was Savage and Elizabeth. In some ways, it would have been nice if that really was the end of the Macho Man story (he magically stopped being the King after this match, at least). But like I predicted, Macho Man was not really retired.



Now that Macho Man was reunited with Elizabeth, it meant that all of Macho Man's stories would revolve around him protecting her again. The first happened at SummerSlam when the newly turned evil Jake “The Snake” Roberts crashed the wedding reception by tormenting the bride via shoving a cobra in her face (something I forget to do at my own wedding). Now, Macho Man and Elizabeth had actually been married since about 1984 or so, but it had not ever been acknowledged on television. So, WWF found the perfect chance to make money off a fake wedding plus use it to launch their next big storyline. For most of the fall, Savage would be tormented by Roberts, while the WWF refused to reinstate Savage as a wrestler (because he lost a retirement match). This storyline led to two really huge events that I still remember vividly today. The first happened when Savage was attacked by Jake and tied up in the ropes. While Savage hung their helplessly, Roberts pulled out a real life cobra and had the snake sink his teeth into Savage, and the camera filmed as the blood trickled down Savage's arm. I remember being very shocked that they allowed a snake to actually bite a man on national TV and it totally added a new layer to the feud. I realized that the snake didn't have venom (like the announcers claimed -- as Savage stumbled around like a drunken chimpanzee) but I couldn’t believe someone would allow themselves to be bit by a snake. This event wasn't even the most shocking in this feud. Savage finally was reinstated as an active wrestler and got a match against Jake “The Snake” Roberts at the PPV Tuesday In Texas (which I could watch because Canada had PPV!). Savage won the match and seemingly got his revenge until Jake attacked him from behind. Elizabeth then ran out to plead for Jake to leave Savage alone. This then lead the one of the most controversial and shocking things during the relatively kid friendly WWF era, Jake Roberts slapped Elizabeth. To her credit, she took the slap like a bullet and quickly crumpled to the ground. Roberts became even more hated and every fan was even more eager to see Macho get revenge. Nobody touches the beautiful Elizabeth.

Savage eventually got his definitive and decisive victory over Roberts. Immediately after, he was thrust into his next big program and boy, was it one that I had looked forward to for a long time. Savage was set up to challenge the WWF World Champion, "Nature Boy" Ric Flair at Wrestlemania 8. The two had never wrestled before on national television because for the previous years they had been in competing wrestling companies (Flair was the top dog in WCW). Finally, I had the chance to see two of all the time greats (and my favourites) meet in the main event of the biggest annual event of the year. The storyline was that Flair claimed that Elizabeth was 'mine before she was yours." He proved this by trotting out photos of Flair and Elizabeth spending time together in intimate locales and situations. In the end, you knew that the photos had to be doctored and it was all a ploy by Flair, but it was a pretty unique and risque storyline. It allowed for a pretty heated crowd when the two finally meet at Wrestlemania 8. Just as I expected, the match was spectacular and another all time Wrestlemania classic. To top it all off, after waiting for over 3 years, Savage finally regained his WWF World title. The match ended with Savage embracing his wife and yet another promise of a happy ending.

Unfortunately, life continued after Wrestlemania 8 . A few months later Flair regained the championship, and Savage would never again be WWF Champion. In real life, Savage and Elizabeth were experiencing marital problems and divorced by the end of 1992. Elizabeth wouldn't be mentioned again on WWF TV until she passed away in 2003. Savage played around in the main event scene for the remainder of 1992 (having main event matches with both the Ultimate Warrior and Ric Flair); this was essentially the end of his run on top in the WWF. By the time 1993 rolled around, he was basically just a commentator and he didn't even wrestle at Wrestlemania 9 (he was an announcer on the show, though). The WWF had lost a lot of momentum and wasn’t the draw it was a few years ago, and so their new strategy was to start elevating new talent, which meant the stars of the 80s were being shifted to the background. This meant that one of the biggest stars in WWF history, was now relegated to lowly commentator while lesser stars got to perform in front of apathetic audiences. Though the reality is, it did have to be done, because the current WWE shows the negative results when you don't allow new stars to rise and old stars to fade away.



"Macho Man" Randy Savage did get one last major storyline in the WWF. In the summer of 1993, WWF World Champion Yokozuna defeated Crush and proceeded to squash him several time with his fat ass (literally). When it was getting to be too much, Savage finally ran in the ring to protect his friend (or at least, it was revealed that night that apparently these two were good friends and remember what being friends means in wrestling?). Crush was gone for a few weeks to recover from his bum crushed ribs, and Savage constantly talked on television about how he is wishing his friend the best in his recovery. Savage a few times tried to call Crush to ask how he was doing, but every time Crush would hang up on him. Finally, Savage asked Crush to come live to Monday Night Raw (the show that replaced Saturday morning wrestling as the weekly staple) and explain what was going on between them (after all, Savage was lonely with Elizabeth gone and needed his sweet embrace). Crush appeared with the sinister Mr. Fuji, and revealed he was now aligned with him and Yokozuna. Apparently, nothing says bonding like a fat guy jumping on your chest. Crush said that Yokozuna and Fuji actually cared about him, while Savage wasn't around when he needed him. Savage tried to plead with Crush and explain he was making a mistake. In classic wrestling style, Crush agreed with Savage and then they shook hands and patched things up -- for 5 seconds until Crush blindsided Savage with a clothesline. It was a classic wrestling angle and immediately made Savage someone the fans wanted to see wrestle again.

Savage left as announcer and returned as a full time wrestler. The feud continued until Wrestlemania 10, where the two men wrestled in a falls count anywhere match. Savage proved that even in his older years, he could still drag less talented wrestlers to very good matches. This time a Savage match didn't steal the show, but it was still really good. It ended up being Savage's last major match in WWF, but at least his final big match was a victory.

Savage went back to commentary after Wrestlemania 10 but he occasionally participated in an angle. In November of 1994, Macho Man had rescued Bret "The Hitman" Hart from crazy man, Bob Backlund, which lead to Backlund attacking Savage. I knew that such an attack would force Savage out of the announcer position and allow for yet another Savage wrestling run. Except it didn't. A few weeks after the attack, a sombre Vince McMahon announced the WWF couldn't come to terms with Savage over a new contract and the company had parted ways. Now, you have to understand something in order to appreciate how big of a deal it was that Vince McMahon announced Savage was leaving the WWF. The year prior, Hulk Hogan had left the company and there was absolutely no mention of it. They just stopped mentioning his name one week, as if he never existed. That was just how WWF did business. Somebody left, he just disappeared to never be acknowledged again. It was a pretty big deal that Vince actually mentioned Savage was leaving, and it must have shown how special he was to the company.

Sadly, that night was one of the last times WWF acknowledged the Macho Man. I don't know what happened after that day, but for some reason, McMahon held some type of serious grudge towards Savage. After McMahon had forgiven 'WCW defectors' like Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, and Bret Hart and even honoured them by inducting them in his WWE Hall of Fame, Savage never got the same treatment and was largely ignored by the company. No one seems to know the reason except for Vince McMahon. I am at least happy to know that the Monday after Savage's death, the WWE did play a rather touching tribute to Macho Man. Though, it is sad that it took death to finally recognize a man that brought WWF lots and lots of money.

After Macho Man parted from WWF, he went to WCW where he wrestled until the fall of 1999. Savage was past his prime in WCW and only had a small handful of classic matches. His best remembered is a series with Ric Flair and another series with Diamond Dallas Page. The Page series is memorable because WCW was a place that was notorious for not elevating young stars and keeping all the old stars cemented on top. None of the top guys wanted to lose to those beneath them and made for a rather stale scene. Savage was one of the few that was even willing to work with the underneath guys, and on top of that, he was even willing to give them the much needed rub. At Spring Stampede ‘97, Savage gave DDP the greatest gift he could ask for, he allowed Page to win the match in a clean fashion. It elevated Page up to the main event and allowed the fans to see him as a legit star. It's great to know that not only was Savage an amazing wrestler but he could also be selfless and helpful to the younger generation.

I was moved when I heard about the death of Randy "Macho Man' Savage. I was brought to tears when I saw the WWE tribute video. I never knew the man personally. I don't even know if I would have liked him. He seemed to go into seclusion his last few years, with the occasional reappearance. In the 2000s, his biggest accomplishments were his cameo role in Spiderman and the release of his tongue in cheek rap album. The fact remains, he died way too young. He just remarried this past year and I feel deeply for his wife. I also feel deeply for all the friends and family that remained close to him, or used to be very close to him. As a fan, I still know I was connected to him. He was an important part of my life. I felt the Macho Madness and I sure did dig it.

I'll miss you Macho Man Randy Savage. I'll always be a fan, and I'll always have some very special memories.

15 comments:

  1. Mark Wierzbicki1:55 pm

    Wicked tribute Chris. I was too young to remember the prime Macho years, but I still loved the guy. About the vid though... Coldplay? Soft rock doesn't really seem to fit Savage.

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  2. I'm glad you appreciated it. The man will always be a wrestling icon.

    As for the video, this was the officially produced WWE version and so I didn't have much choice in the musical accompaniment. I completely agree that Coldplay is probably the most unSavage band ever.

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  3. Anonymous3:59 pm

    Shawn Erb via Facebook:

    That was a remarkable summary of one of the all time greats. Thanks Chris.

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  4. It was the best way to remember an all time favourite.

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  5. Anonymous9:17 pm

    This was my first visit to your site, and sir, that was a wonderful tribute. I'm a longtime fan myself (got hooked right before WM 3), and Savage was always my older sister's favorite. I was lucky enough to attend WM 8 in Indianapolis (90 minutes from home) for one of his biggest matches in the 90s, and like you, I loved the Savage-Crush angle from 93-94.
    Can't tell you how many good memories reading this brought. It was a little like reliving a part of my youth. Thanks man. (Outback James)

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  6. Anonymous9:36 pm

    Shawn Erb via Facebook:

    The one thing I missed in your recap (which was great) was the controversy of Hulk Hogan grabbing Miss Elizabeth's butt while she was perched on Randy's shoulder.

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  7. Good call. I'm impressed you remember that incident. Though I did mention "Lust" Hogan, which was the name Venture started calling him while insinuating Hogan wanted to steal Elizabeth.

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  8. Outback James: It was a cathartic experience writing this tribute and my way to pay homage to a guy who entertained me for years and years. It wasn't until I wrote this, that I started remembering how many classic angles Macho Man was in -- he really had some of the best storylines in all of wrestling.

    I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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  9. Anonymous12:55 pm

    Shawn Erb via Facebook:

    You sure did mention "Lust" Hogan. I had forgotten that monicker until your write up. Ahhh the memories!

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  10. NWA889:49 pm

    Fun article — and I agree with you in regards to WrestleMania IV. Actually, to this day, I’d rather watch WrestleMania IV from start to finish than WrestleMania V. It’s a nice little self-contained storyline, though lacking a match the quality of the WMV main event.

    How old were you in 1991?

    I was 9 when WrestleMania 7 happened and only about a year into my pro-wrestling fandom, so the stakes of a retirement match couldn’t have been higher for me. I was so bummed out that Savage lost, but so elated at the ending, which from a writing standpoint was perfect.

    You know the writing is amazing when, looking back, you can really appreciate how that match satisfied everyone:

    It satisfied the smarks (who knew the stip was bullshit) because it was a great match with a surprise ending.

    It satisfied the Warrior fans and the marks because justice prevailed — the Warrior crushes Savage and moves back into title contention (well, in theory).

    And it satisfied the Savage fans (like me) who weren’t smartened up (like me) because even though their favorite had to retire forever and ever, he got his lady back (and moved into a gig as a commentator on Superstars a few weeks later).

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  11. I was 13 when WM 7 went down, but I also had been watching wrestling since 1987. By that point, I had already seen a few 'retirement' stips not be honoured, such as when Ronnie Garvin lost to Greg Valentine leading to Garvin becoming a ref then a wrestler again. I was a little jaded.

    Plus as a Savage fan, I was just really hoping he'd come back to wrestle again at some point.

    As a storyline, WM7 definitely had one of the best pay offs for the Macho character, because he was finally reunited with the woman he should have never left. One of the few times wrestling really got an emotional response from me.

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  12. Anonymous4:01 pm

    David Wierzbicki via Facebook:

    summerslam!
    http://i.imgur.com/RMDLE.jpg

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  13. Classic photo. SummerSlam indeed.

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  14. Anonymous4:02 pm

    David Wierzbicki via Facebook:

    awesome writeup by the way!

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  15. Thanks. It was the best way for me to pay tribute to one of my 'childhood heroes.'

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