The tower of power, too sweet to be sour, funky like monkey, ooooooh YEAH!”
Randall Poffo, better known as “Macho Man” Randy Savage, passed away early Friday (May 20, 2011), while driving. It’s believed that he had a heart attack while driving and he may have passed away as the result of the heart attack, preceding the actual car wreck. His wife of one year was also in the car and is believed to be fine.
Savage was one of the most iconic professional wrestlers in the history of the business. He was in so many memorable feuds and had moments that were big parts of the childhoods of those of us who followed the WWF closely (or even casually) in the mid-80s to early-90s. If you need proof, search Twitter. Even though the WWE today is a bigger business, during the time Savage was in his prime, pro wrestling and wrestlers seemed bigger than life and much more important than today. Just look at what those in the business and in the media are saying about him.
The Rock tweeted today: “RIP Randy “Macho Man” Savage – you were one of my childhood inspirations and heroes. Strength, love and prayers to the Savage/Poffo family.”
ESPN sportswriter Bill Simmons also tweeted:“RIP, Randy Poffo aka Randy “Macho Man” Savage aka one of the greatest pro wrestlers who ever lived.”
Stone Cold Steve Austin also tweeted: “Just heard about Macho Man Randy Savage…unmatched intensity in the ring. A hellacious performer and terrific promo. A real bad ass. RIP.”
While Savage’s most famous moments as a performer were things that everyone remembers, like his one-year storyline with Hulk Hogan in which the Mega Powers exploded on NBC, there are some very interesting tidbits about his life and career that fall under the radar. Savage was a minor league baseball player in three different organizations from 1971-1974. He played in the outfield, caught a little bit, and also played some first base, and when his shoulder gave out on him, it pretty much signaled the end of his career. So he turned to the family business, which was professional wrestling.
His father, Angelo Poffo, ran a Kentucky based renegade wrestling promotion that was blacklisted from the NWA, the National Wrestling Alliance. Being a renegade promotion meant that they infringed on territorial boundaries that weren’t theirs according to the NWA. Randy’s brother, Lanny Poffo, (better known by his two wrestling names Leaping Lanny Poffo and The Genius) also wrestled with him. He eventually made his way to the WWF in 1985 and was introduced like the next big thing. All of the heel (bad guy) managers wanted to manage him, but he chose a woman instead to be his valet, who was his real life wife, Elizabeth Hulette. Miss Elizabeth was such a fantastic character, even though she barely said a word. She was beautiful and memorable without having to be sassy or even sexual. And she was a hit with young female fans. My sister, who watched on and off, but wasn’t a huge fan, but the one wrestling poster she had in her bedroom was a Miss Elizabeth poster.
Savage’s career is remembered best by four storylines. His first big WWF storyline was with Ricky The Dragon Steamboat. Already the Intercontinental Champion, Savage attacked The Dragon, draping his throat over the outside rail and dropped a double axe handle on the back of his head, causing his throat to crash against the rail. He then threw him into the ring and came off the top rope with the ring bell, hitting Steamboat’s throat again. Even though I was 10-years old and knew that it was all part of the act, I was still mesmerized because Savage made everything seem so hateful. Jesse Ventura’s, “Whoa!” made it seem more real, though Vince McMahon’s description of Steamboat swallowing his tongue kind of brought it back down to earth. That memorable storyline climaxed at WrestleMania III, which was one of the key wrestling events of all-time. Underneath Hulk Hogan vs. Andre The Giant, Steamboat vs. Savage was the steak to their sizzle. At the time, it was the best wrestling match I’d ever seen in my life, and if you watch it today, it still holds up.
Savage would eventually turn babyface (good guy) and win the WWF championship in a tournament at WrestleMania IV. The aftermath of his win was the start of what is probably the greatest angle in WWF history. After Elizabeth summoned Hogan to even the sides against Ted DiBiase and Andre The Giant, Savage beat DiBiase to win the title and also solidified the Hogan and Savage tandem known as The Mega Powers. At SummerSlam that same year, Hogan and Savage would beat Ted DiBiase and Andre The Giant in a tag team match and after the match, Hogan embraced Elizabeth a little too closely for Savage’s comfort and the seed for Savage’s heel turn was planted. They’d both be the sole survivors in their Survivor Series tag team match, though Hogan took all the glory, further giving Savage reasons to be jealous of him, thinking that even though he was the champion, Hogan was stealing his spotlight. Hogan also eliminated him at the Royal Rumble in January of 1989 and finally, it looked like they were most definitely ready to feud. At The Main Event in February of 1989, the Mega Powers exploded.
It was Savage and Hogan vs. The Big Bossman and Akeem and Savage was whipped out of the ring, taking out Elizabeth during his fall. Hogan picked up the “unconscious” Elizabeth and took her to the back while Savage was in the ring, which infuriated Savage. The key to the entire angle was that Savage was a jealous man, and Hogan had become too close to his wife. It was a simple conflict. Savage slapped Hogan in the face and claimed that Hogan had “jealous eyes” for his wife and hit him in the face with the belt. It was masterful and led to WrestleMania V with Savage defending against Hogan, doing the biggest PPV buyrate in WWF history at the time.
Savage’s other two big memorable angles both also featured Elizabeth. In 1991, he put his career on the line against The Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VII and had one of the few watchable matches in Warrior’s career. It was a brilliant performance by Savage and after losing the match and thus, having to retire, his new valet Scary Sherri started beating him. Elizabeth, who had been off WWF TV for a while, showed up, tossed Sherri away and Savage and Liz were back together again. This led to their WWF wedding (even though they’d already been married in real-life for seven years by then) at SummerSlam of that year. If you ask any sisters of male wrestling fans what they remember about wrestling, they’ll probably say when Savage and Elizabeth were married in the ring.
Even though Savage lost the career match vs. The Ultimate Warrior, he was back in the ring in an angle with Jake “The Snake Roberts” which didn’t pay off as well as it probably should’ve considering Savage let a snake bite his bicep to build it up. His next big angle was against newly acquired Ric Flair, whose career was synonymous with the NWA until he was basically forced out and handed to Vince McMahon on a silver platter. The angle started with doctored photos of Ric Flair and Elizabeth together with Flair uttering the famous line, “She was mine before she was yours,” insinuating that Flair “had” Elizabeth before Savage did. Flair, Bobby Heenan, and Mr. Perfect actually promised nude photos of Elizabeth at WrestleMania VIII, but that was soon forgotten. Flair and Savage had a superb match at WrestleMania VIII, which was right on par with his famous match with Steamboat five years earlier. Savage surprisingly won the match, and the WWF title for the second time.
Though he wrestled in top programs at for the rest of 1992 and some of 1993, the rest of his WWF career was as a commentator and he was seemingly frustrated with his role and left in 1994 for WCW. In 1995 he rekindled his feud with Ric Flair and that feud helped jump start WCW’s rise to becoming the top promotion in wrestling, eclipsing WWF from 1996-1998. In WCW, he was part of many different storylines including being part of the nWo, not part of nWo, and by 1999, WCW was in shambles and Savage was sitting on the sidelines.
He made his return to wrestling in 2004 with TNA, but he was nowhere near his old self and it was actually sad to watch. By that point, he was in his early 50s and a shadow of the wrestler who wrestling fans all remembered. He couldn’t even do all his trademark moves and it was a time in his career that I’ve chosen to forget about.
Many wrestlers have died because of drug overdoses and damage to their hearts from the trials of the wrestling business. It’s become an epidemic, but not one that even receives a 1/10th of the attention that it should. We’re not sure yet what happened with Savage that caused his ailment behind the wheel, and really it doesn’t matter. The wrestling business lost another great one, and far too soon.