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RIP Randy Savage

When my wife called me at work, saying something about Randy Savage dying, I was confused. My workday is pretty busy on Fridays, but I was surprised this info hadn't hit my radar yet. As I always do, I check twitter, and had a barrage of replies asking me about it - it was real. Earlier today, the legend known as the Macho Man died today - word is he had a heart attack while at the wheel and met a tree head-on. The wrestling world lost a true talent, and the Earth lost a great man. I got asked to put down some words on his career, and came up with this...

Growing up as a kid, you had your Hulk Hogans, your Ric Flairs, your Ultimate Warriors – during that heyday of the Professional Wrestling industry, you had your pick of larger-than-life figures. None were as agile both in the squared cirle and behind the mic as Savage, though. He had the agility of Spider-Man (which not only gave him his first pro wrestling name, “The Spider Friend"), and the charisma to sustain lengthy feuds with Hogan, Flair and Jake Roberts, just in the WWF alone. His match with Ricky Steamboat at Wrestlemania III is a bonafide classic, with two true professionals putting on a wrestling clinic for the largest recorded crowd for a live, indoor sporting event in North America. He’s held 20 championships during his pro wrestling career, including seven runs as world champion, and has been revered by many for his natural ability in the ring, as well as the character he cultivated, which brought him tons of success (which included his famous role as the spokesman for Slim Jim during the 1990s, as well as cameos in movies like 2002’s Spider-Man, and TV shows like Arliss, Baywatch, Walker, Texas Ranger, Mad About You and more), and some low periods (do you remember his 2003 Rap album, Be A Man? We don’t want to, either).

Randall Mario Poffo was born in Columbus, Ohio, the son of the legendary professional wrestler Angelo Poffo, who was not only popular for his bouts throughout the 1950s and 1960s, but held the World Sit-Up record, even being featured in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!. Before embarking on a career in pro wrestling, Randy was a gifted baseball player, having worked the minor leagues with the Cardinals, Reds and White Sox; he started wrestling during the baseball off-seasons in 1973, and must have taken a liking to it, as he left baseball full-time in 1974, pursuing what ended up being the family trade, following in his father’s footsteps alongside his brother Lanny Poffo (whom many wrestling fans might remember most for his time spent in the WWF as “The Genius”), wrestling throughout the different territories that were in place back then. It was future Four Horsemen member Ole Anderson who’s credited with giving Randy his name, quoted as saying that Poffo didn’t fit someone who wrestled like a savage. While he spent a lot of time throughout the Mid-West and Southern federations, it wasn’t until 1985 that Savage signed with Vince McMahon’s WWF, with his classic headbands, shades and capes setting him apart from the rest of the competition, as well as his awesome in-ring work (watching Randy spring from the inside of the ring, over the top rope, and land on the outside was always a thing of beauty).

Back then, the heels were courted by the popular managers of that time, with segments of weekly TV devoted to them trying to woo the incoming talent to their stable. Savage, however, shocked everyone and chose the lovely Miss Elizabeth as his manager. Her beauty was unmatched by any female manager or valet of the time, and has hardly been met since (interesting fact: while their storyline wedding didn’t happen until Summerslam 1991, Savage and Elizabeth had actually been married since December of 1984). Savage beat Tito Santana to in 1985 to win the WWF Intercontinental Title, and with that, his golden journey began. Many of his defenses afterwards occurred with George “The Animal” Steele, who took a liking to Miss Elizabeth, and Savage’s obvious disapproval lead to some memorable matches, including a successful title defense for Savage at Wrestlemania II. Speaking of Wrestlemania, Savage’s angle with Ricky Steamboat was not only a thing of beauty, but it culminated in hands-down one of the most definitive matches in ANY ring. Steamboat and Savage had natural talents that they honed and perfected, and their attention to detail meant a lot of practice, which paid off at the Pontiac Silverdome on at Wrestlemania III in 1987. Fans legitimately paid to see Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant battle, but the real treat was seeing Savage and Steamboat truly showcase everything that’s great about professional wrestling, from seamless strings of holds to proper storytelling in a match. If you’re a fan of professional wrestling and haven’t seen this match, PLEASE do yourself a favor and set aside some time to take that bout in. You will NOT be disappointed.

Following this match, Savage’s heel ways started to lessen, and a battle with Jimmy Hart’s stable ended up creating The Mega Powers, the allegiance of Savage with Hulk Hogan. While a lot has been said about their backstage beef, whether it was true or not, their chemistry was gold for the fans. Following their epic battles standing next to each other, by the time Wrestlemania IV came, Randy had his eyes on the WWF World Heavyweight Title. With a tournament for the vacant title being held in Atlantic City, Savage overcame the odds and captured the WWF’s biggest achievement, holding the belt for over a year. Unfortunately, Savage’s old streak of jealousy reared its ugly head, and he turned heel on Hogan, accusing him of attempting to steal Elizabeth from him. This was unfortunate, as when Wrestlemania V came around, Savage ended his 371 day-reign as WWF Champion with a loss to Hogan. Going into the 1990s, Savage’s win at the King Of The Ring brought out a new piece of his in-ring persona: the Macho King. This heel turn had its moments, with highlights including Sensational Sherri’s position as Randy’s valet being properly utilized for many underhanded victories. This incarnation lead to Randy Savage’s in-ring retirement after losing to The Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania VII, but a new phase had begun.

Randy never left WWF TV, as he became the true definition of a color commentator (do you remember how he accented his attire with cowboy hats, LOUD jackets, all with tassels and other strings hanging from him?); this was also the phase where the babyface Savage’s marriage to Elizabeth occurred at Summerslam 1991. The constant antagonizing with master (ring) psychologist Jake “The Snake” Roberts (alongside a young Undertaker) were directed at Randy, as his wedding gift to the couple included a live snake. Savage even got bit in a truly terrifying segment of Superstars. Many of us remember Savage running in to attack Jake after many a harsh word was sent Randy’s way, all for him to be attacked and tied to the ropes, while Jake got one of his snakes to bite Savage – oh, the horror. Chilling stuff, and the point where Savage was reinstated, to avenge his woman. This pattern continued, as Ric Flair’s doctoring of pictures of Elizabeth, inserting himself in the photos, lead to another dream-meeting of the two legends. In a time when WCW was bringing a lot of WWF talent to Atlanta to raise the level of competition between the brands (Hogan had left the WWF in 1993, and entered the WCW in 1994), Savage followed suit, and debuted in World Championship Wrestling at the end of 1994.

While he had success in the WCW (he was a multi-World Heavyweight Title winner, as well as a member of the nWo), the move wasn’t as great as it could’ve been. Yes, he feuded with Hogan, had a length feud with Ric Flair, who now had Miss Elizabeth in his corner. Maybe it was due to the sheer amount of stars on the WCW roster (everyone from Steve Austin to Big Show had, at one time, battled Randy Savage during his WCW tenure), or just the staleness of some of the angles and his use as a whole. Part of that could be with the turn the Professional Wrestling industry was taking, as well, as the format shifted in a number of ways, making guys who adapted to that style (or aligned themselves with the powers that be), which let Randy stay on the roster, but not use his many talents in the ring. His time in the WCW ended in 2000, and many fans didn’t see him until a number of awkward appearances in Total Nonstop Action in 2004.

For whatever indiscretions Randy Savage met in life, his talent and charisma took him many places. Within the Pro Wrestling lexicon, you cannot deny his accolades. His talents within the squared circle were second to none, and when you paired that with his larger-than-life persona? You had money in the bank. And fans not only got treated to some unforgettable angles, but some truly epic encounters in the ring. It’s a shame that the Macho Madness DVD collection that the WWE released in 2009 didn’t have a biography or documentary, but the eight (!) hours of matches and promos on that set is essential for any of you who are fans of the sport, or want to become professional wrestlers yourselves. Losing him in such a sudden, tragic way is a blow to the real performers out there, in any field. Being able to wow a crowd that’s filled the Silverdome to capacity is no small feat, especially when your match outshines a battle between Hogan and Andre The Giant. In the history of well-rounded wrestlers, Randy’s name has to be near the top of that list. A legend in the ring, and a great loss for the art of professional wrestling.

Rest in peace, Macho. OOOOOH YEEEAH!

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