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LOOKING AT THE CAREER OF THE ONE AND ONLY MACHO MAN RANDY SAVAGE

By Mike Johnson on 2011-05-20 13:52:02

That voice. That twirling finger in the air. The sequined robes. The flying elbow drop. The sunglasses. The manic interview style. The threatening physicality. The Macho Man.

Randy Savage, one of the most colorful personalities in the history of pro wrestling, was a second generation star, the son of Angelo Poffo, who had been a notable star in the Chicago and Maritmes area before becoming a promoter.

Savage, who had tried his hand at a baseball career in the minor leagues, began wrestling as the Spider, a masked man, before morphing into "Macho Man" Randy Savage. Alongside his father and his brother, Lanny Poffo, Savage was a big part of ICW, the promotion his father ran in the Memphis area.

I don't need to tell anyone reading this that Memphis Wrestling means Jerry Lawler and ICW was a direct competitor to Lawler and Jerry Jarrett's promotion. ICW played up their outlaw status to the hilt, with Savage often issuing grandstand challenges to Lawler and other babyfaces to fight him, anytime, anywhere. It was as heated as you could imagine.

In the end, ICW closed and the Poffos came to Memphis. All the legitimate animosity was a huge box office attraction as Savage and Lawler had a hell of a feud.

Savage made the jump to the WWF in 1985 as a heel. The storyline was that every major manager was vying for his attention and Savage teased with signing with a number of them. In the end, however, he revealed his new manager, Elizabeth, who was already his real life wife and a former announcer for ICW.

It was beauty and the beast and their on screen coupling set the standard for all couples that came to follow in professional wrestling. With his rough voice and sequined robes, Savage was a huge contrast to the quiet, demure lady that walked him to the ring and stood in his corner. While he was an out and out scoundrel heel, Elizabeth was a pure babyface, making Savage even more hated when he pulled antics like hiding behind her during matches to prevent the heroes from getting to him.

Although Savage had done house show loops challenging Hulk Hogan for the WWF title, it was the Intercontinental belt that truly made him a star. It seems like a joke today when this is said, but in 1985, the IC belt literally meant you were the number two star behind the WWF champion as well as the "working" champion on the roster.

Savage defeated Tito Santana for the belt in Boston. During a time period where title changes never aired for free on television, Savage clocked Santana with a foreign object and threw it out of the ring as the referee counted three. The match was replayed a number of times and ended up becoming one of those immortal moments where you always remembered where you were when you saw it. It was iconic in that "star is born" sort of way.

Savage defended the belt against every babyface the WWF threw at him, from George Steele (who had "fallen in love" with Elizabeth and hated the way Savage roughly treated her) to Santana to even Bruno Sammartino. But it was Ricky Steamboat who was Savage's greatest opponent for the IC title.

In an angle that was played over and over and over on TV, Steamboat challenged Savage for the belt on WWF TV. There was a ref bump and Steamboat clearly had Savage beaten with no one to count the fall. Savage ended up draping Steamboat's throat over the guard rail and came off the top with one of his patented double axe-handles. Steamboat began choking but Savage wasn't done yet. He grabbed the ring bell and in one of the most repeated moments on WWF television that year, came off the top with it onto Steamboat's throat.

The angle was sold as if Steamboat might never speak again, much less wrestle. Announcer Bruno Sammartino attacked Savage while interviewing him afterward, upset with Savage gloating over the incident. In the end, the showdown was set as Steamboat and Savage faced off at Wrestlemania III in Pontiac, Michigan.

While it was Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant who sold the tickets that day, it was Savage and Steamboat who stole the show. The pair planned out a meticulous back and forth match that still stand up to the test of time today, memorizing their plans and numbering their sequences. In the weeks leading up to what would turn out to be one of the defining moments of the then-World Wrestling Federation, the pair would test each other by throwing out a number. They would then need to run the sequences from that point on.

When they entered the ring, it was epic. Steamboat won the belt and they had stolen the show. More than that, they had changed wrestling history. While Wrestlemania had always been a spectacle, it had never been about great wrestling matches. Savage and Steamboat changed that perception and in the decades that followed, as the kids who grew up mesmerized by the match became wrestlers themselves, they approached the biggest show of the year with the same pride and determination that Savage and Steamboat had - they wanted to steal the show. It can all be traced back to that match in March 1987.

Steamboat, taking time off to care for the impending arrival of his son (current WWE developmental talent Richie Steamboat), dropped the IC belt to the Honkytonk Man. With his coveted belt now in the hands of another heel, Savage was soon turning babyface to pursue it and did so during an incredible angle that aired on NBC's Saturday Night's Main Event. Savage found himself on the wrong side of a three on one beating from Honky and The Hart Foundation. Elizabeth entered the ring, trying to prevent Honky from nailing Savage with his guitar. Honky shoved her down and then drilled Savage with the instrument.

The beating continued as Elizabeth ran to the locker room. She re-emerged, pulling a confused Hulk Hogan out to the Arena. When Hogan saw what was going down, he made the save, setting the stage for one of the most famous handshakes in WWF history. The Mega-Powers were born and Savage was now a top babyface.

Savage's pursuit of the IC belt continued as the company headed into Wrestlemania IV. He was scheduled to win it back during a live special on NBC but Honky balked at dropping the belt. To soothe Savage, Vince McMahon changed plans and booked Savage to instead win a tournament for the vacant WWF championship at Wrestlemania originally earmarked for Ted DiBiase. Savage worked four matches over the course of that four hour PPV, naturally coming out in four different outfits (as did Elizabeth). Hogan and Savage celebrated together that night and anyone with half a brain could predict what was coming the following year - Hogan vs. Savage at Mania 5.

There was a long year before we would get there. With Hulk Hogan off filming his first movie, No Holds Barred, Savage was firmly entrenched as the top babyface in the company, having runs with Ted DiBiase, Bad News Brown and others as WWF champion. Savage showed the fans and WWF that there was indeed, life after Hogan, as the entire company had been built around the Hogan machine.

The inevitable issues began to heat up in the Fall of 1988. By the time WWF had their next live special in 1989, they ran an angle where Hogan and Savage were facing The Big Bossman and Akeem. Savage wiped out Elizabeth when being tossed from the ring. Hogan carried her to the back and cried over her, leaving Savage to take a beating in the ring. He returned to the ring but the damage was done and in a memorable performance, Savage turned heel and laid out Hogan backstage. For the first time ever, the reigning WWF champion had changed sides.

Savage claimed that Hogan had coveted Elizabeth and was jealous of him. With Elizabeth in a neutral corner, Hogan won the belt back at Mania 5. There were rematches. Sherri Martel was brought in as Savage's new heel manager while Elizabeth slipped into the night, quietly. Savage had memorable feuds with Dusty Rhodes and The Ultimate Warrior, among others, for the next several years before leading into a showdown with Warrior at Mania 7.

With the storyline being that the loser must retire, Savage and Warrior pulled out what was to date and probably always will be the best match Warrior was ever involved in. In the end, Savage fell to Warrior and was forced to retire. When Sherri turned on Savage for losing, Elizabeth, who was shown watching the bout concerned from the crowd over its duration, hit the ring and physically threw Martel out of the ring.

Savage and Elizabeth reunited in what was the pro wrestling equivalent of a soap wedding (but not an actual wedding, we'd get there later), celebrating in the crowd as Savage and Liz recreated their iconic pose of Liz on his shoulder after winning the belt at Mania IV. Without exaggeration, there were fans crying in the crowd that night.

Savage slid into an announcing position, building to his proposal and marriage to Elizabeth at Summerslam '91, which actually main evented the PPV. WWF ran an angle after the PPV where The Undertaker and Jake Roberts crashed the reception, releasing a cobra that was hidden in a gift box. Savage, who had been forced to retire, was soon petitioning to be allowed to return to the ring.

WWF did an extremely heavy angle where Roberts attacked Savage and actually had a cobra bite him on the arm, to set up that return in late November 1991 on PPV. Savage was back wrestling full-time, which would put him up against Ric Flair for the first time. With Flair delivering the immortal line, "She was mine before she was yours", alongside some doctored pictures, Savage was now going to defend his wife's honor en route to defeating Flair for the WWF title at Wrestlemania 8.

Savage held the belt for several months before dropping it back to Flair in September 1992 in Hershey, PA. It would prove to be the last time he held the title. Savage moved into more of a veteran's role, helping out backstage and announcing for the company. It looked like he would have a job for life.

Then the unthinkable happened. A year removed from his last WWF run, Hulk Hogan signed with WCW in the summer of 1994. He began acquiring other former WWF stars to join him as World Championship Wrestling, under the direction of Eric Bichoff, began to change shape and form into something more akin to the early days of the WWF than the promotion that was considered home to Sting and Lex Luger.

While stars from the 80s, including Brutus Beefcake and Honkytonk Man, had ended up in WCW, they were considered names that had completed their run on top and while WWF was hurting, primarily due to a steroid distribution indictment brought against Vince McMahon, it didn't seem that WCW was their primary concern.

Then Vince McMahon announced live on Monday Night Raw that Randy Savage had left for WCW. While Savage had been portrayed as an announcer in recent years (he did return to the ring for an angle against Crush, who he defeated in what would be his final Wrestlemania appearance at Mania X), the reality was that there was juice left in his battery as a performer. Whether Vince McMahon didn't see it or WCW was willing to pay WAY more than WWF, Savage was gone and was back main eventing, once again, against the likes of Hogan, Flair, Roddy Piper and the NWO.

Savage recreated himself somewhat in WCW to reflect the times. The frilly outfits and cowboy hats were replaced with t-shirts and a black leather jacket. Elizabeth, who was now estranged from her former husband, was there, but working against him as Flair's valet. Savage soon brought in a beautiful blonde named Gorgeous George, who worked as his own second.

During his run in WCW, Savage helped bring up a number of names to main event stardom, including Diamond Dallas Page, who owed that placement entirely to his feud with Savage. When Hulk Hogan turned heel and helped form the NWO, it was Savage who helped lead the charge, although down the line, like every other major star, he ended up a member of the heel group.

As WCW began to fall apart under regime changes, booking changes and plain bad booking decisions, Savage maintained his position as one of the top names in the company...until one day he was gone. Savage's deal expired in 1999 and he was just gone. He returned as a surprise during a Thunder taping but that was all it was, just a surprise.

Savage was done with pro wrestling. He made a hip hop album, challenging Hulk Hogan to a real fight. He did voiceover work, including Disney's "Bolt" animated film. He made charity appearances but when it came to wrestling, save for a few appearances for TNA where he showed up well beyond his peak condition and was extremely wary of everyone there, Savage was done with wrestling.

When WCW went under in early 2001, Savage disappeared from the business, starting a long cold war with WWE management. Whether it was the fact that Savage had been so close to Vince McMahon and left with no notice or one of the more salacious rumors that bounced around the Internet in recent years, WWE had no interest in bringing him back to the fold and vice versa. It wasn't until last year where relations began to thaw as WWE released a Best of Savage DVD set and Mattel unveiled a promo from Savage announcing his first action figure in over a decade.

Fans had their hopes for a Macho return to WWE, at least in the WWE Hall of Fame, but sadly, it will never come to pass.

Randy Savage was only 58.

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