It was obvious from the first time that I saw Randy "Macho Man' Savage on WWF television in 1985 that he was a special talent.
With his lean and muscular physique, exceptional wrestling skills, colorful robes, intense demeanor and gravelly voice, he looked, walked and talked like a professional wrestling superstar.
Savage, who died today at 58 as the result of a car accident, did indeed go on to become one of the elite stars in the industry in the '80s and '90s, as well as one of the most recognizable wrestlers of all time. A six-time world champion, he became a household name, thanks in large part to his popular Slim Jim commercials.Perhaps no wrestler of his era possessed a better combination of speed, power, flying moves and charisma.
Savage (real name Randy Poffo), who was listed at 6 feet 2 and 237 pounds, was muscular enough that he looked like a legitimate threat to sculpted physical specimens such as Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior, but he also was a tremendously conditioned and skilled in-ring performer who could go hold for hold with the likes of Ricky Steamboat (whom Savage faced at WrestleMania III in 1987 in what is regarded as one of the best matches of all time), Ric Flair and Ted DiBiase.
When it came to talking on the microphone, Savage was truly one of a kind. His promos were often stream of consciousness and nonsensical, but the brilliance was in his delivery. He had the ability to be both funny and intense – sometimes simultaneously.
On a personal note, Savage was the first wrestler I ever interviewed for a story in The Baltimore Sun. The article, which I wrote in 1994, focused on Savage's minor-league baseball career. It was quite a thrill – and a bit surreal – to chat with "The Macho Man" face to face in the back room at a supermarket (he was doing an autograph signing at the store that day).
Savage – who had made a name for himself in the Memphis and Kentucky territories before coming to the WWF – was presented as a big deal from the very beginning in Vince McMahon's promotion. Unlike just about every other heel to come through the WWF, Savage did not have a manager.
A story line developed in which there was a bidding war for his services, as all the top managers of the day such as Bobby Heenan, Jimmy Hart and Freddie Blassie made their pitch top land wrestling's hottest free agent. In the end, Savage rejected them all and introduced a beautiful, young woman known as Miss Elizabeth – Savage's real-life wife – as his manager.
Savage and Elizabeth became one of the most compelling acts in WWF/WWE history. The maniacal, ultra-possessive Savage generated incredible heat for his verbal abuse of the classy, demure Elizabeth, but he eventually turned babyface and joined forces with former rival Hogan as The Mega-Powers. Thanks to an assist from "The Hulkster," Savage defeated DiBiase in the finals of a tournament to crown a new WWF champion at WrestleMania IV in 1988.
That led to one of my favorite wrestling angles of all time, which played out over the course of a year.
While all seemed well with the Savage-Hogan-Elizabeth alliance on the surface, Savage – through subtle facial expressions – began to show concern over the friendship that had developed between Hogan and Elizabeth.
The situation boiled over after a tag team match involving Savage and Hogan that was broadcast live on NBC, as "The Macho Man" flew into a jealous rage backstage. After accusing Hogan of having lust in his eyes for Elizabeth, Savage attacked Hogan and threw Elizabeth – who had been injured earlier during the match – down to the ground (see video below).
That scene is one of the greatest pieces of television I have ever seen on a wrestling broadcast.
The year-long story line culminated in Savage dropping the WWF title to Hogan at WrestleMania V.
Two years later, Savage and Elizabeth reunited in one of the most memorable moments in WrestleMania history. After Savage lost a retirement match to the Ultimate Warrior, Sensational Sherri – who was "The Macho Man's" manager at the time – began kicking him and screaming at him while he was down. At that point, Elizabeth charged into the ring and attacked Sherri.
When Savage got back on his feet, he saw Elizabeth, who had tears in her eyes. After a few tense moments of indecision, Savage and Elizabeth embraced and the crowd went wild as "Pomp and Circumstance," Savage's entrance music, played. The camera panned the crowd and showed a few women – and even one young man – crying.
Savage and Elizabeth were "married" in an elaborate ceremony at the SummerSlam pay-per-view five months later (the couple, which had actually been married for years, divorced in real life the following year). At the post-SummerSlam wedding reception, Jake "The Snake" Roberts placed a cobra in one of the gift boxes, which traumatized Elizabeth and led to Savage coming out of retirement to feud with Roberts.
In an infamous scene on the WWF's syndicated TV show, Roberts tied Savage up in the ropes and brought out a cobra, which bit Savage on the arm and actually drew blood.
Savage went on to feud with Flair, who had falsely proclaimed that he had been having an affair with Elizabeth. In Savage's final big WrestleMania match, he defeated Flair for the WWF title in 1992.
Savage subsequently transitioned into a role as a color commentator and part-time wrestler before leaving for WCW in 1994. There, he returned to being a full-time in-ring performer and was one of the company's top stars during his five-year run.
Except for a few appearances with TNA several years later, Savage – who had a cameo role as a pro wrestler in the 2002 blockbuster, "Spider-Man" – largely disappeared from the pro wrestling scene.
His exclusion from the WWE Hall of Fame has been a controversial topic among wrestling fans for years, although it appeared that the contentious relationship between Savage and McMahon had begun to thaw in recent years. In 2009, WWE released a Savage DVD, and earlier this year, Savage did a promotional video for the WWE All-Stars video game.
My guess is that Savage will take his rightful place into the WWE Hall of Fame next year. It's just a shame that it couldn't have happened while he was alive.
But just like Savage once said in a classic WWF promo (see video below), "the cream always rises to the top, and I am the cream.
"Oooh, yeah! Dig it!"
Baltimore Sun photo: Randy Savage poses with his father, former wrestler Angelo Poffo, at the WWF Hall of Fame banquet in Baltimore in 1994.