Top Secret Savage Bio
Top Secret Savage Bio
May 27 2011, 10:36 AM
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Joined: 9-April 08
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You inspired me more than this world will ever know. Enjoy.
You were a tower of power that was too sweet to be sour.
You were funky like a monkey every minute of every hour.
For you, space was the place and time distortion had to be.
And your fans here on Earth wanted the madness for eternity.
You met every challenge with fists clenched and face-to-face.
You ever fought and defeated dragons and snakes.
Flying off the ropes with an elbow drop.
There was no way you could ever be stopped.
Identifiable by your voice alone.
Even being dubbed the Macho King when you sat on your throne.
We hung on your words with interviews memorable and classic.
And we knew it was serious when you took off your glasses.
I promise not to lose you in the sands of time.
For you will always be that all-time hero of mine.
Jamar “Jay Lethal” Shipman, who paid tribute to Randy Savage by imitating him as a TNA wrestler from 2006 to 2008.
Randy “Macho Man” Savage, a pro wrestling icon whose fame reached far past the wrestling ring as a television pitchman with the phrase, “Snap into a Slim Jim, Oooh yeah!,” passed away on 5/20 after reportedly suffering a heart attack while driving, leading to an auto accident.
Savage, born Randall Mario Poffo, was 58. While perhaps best known for his pro wrestling battles as Hulk Hogan’s major rival in the late 80s, Savage was, besides being the man who brought Slim Jim’s to prominence, an actor and a one-time major league baseball prospect.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Savage was driving with his wife, Barbara Lynn Poffo, 56, a 2009 Jeep Wrangler west on State Route 694 in Seminole, FL, at 9:25 a.m. After what was called a medical event by police, believed to have been a heart attack, Savage lost control of the Jeep. The vehicle traveled over the raised concrete median divider, crossed over the eastbound lanes, over the outside curb, and collided head-on with a tree.
The Seminole Fire Department responded to the scene and provided medical care before Savage was transported to the Largo Medical Center, where he passed away. His wife was taken to Bayfront Medical Center with minor injuries and released that afternoon.
No cause of death has been established for Savage, as there was not extensive trauma to his body and they are now waiting for toxicology reports, which could take four to six weeks. Based on the lack of physical trauma to the body, and awaiting toxicology and histology reports, it would appear the belief right now is more in the direction that it was the medical issue and not injuries from the accident that caused the death. The toxicology reports will look for any substances and the histology reports will look for any organ diseases.
Bill Pellan, the director of investigations for the Pinellas-Pasco medical examiner’s office said the tests are routine for this type of a vehicle accident.
“We have to go through everything thoroughly to see if there is an explanation as to why that occurred and if there (are) any other contributing factors,” said Pellan. “We have to rule that out.”
He noted they also want to make sure that any allegations regarding what someone may have been taking prior to the accident will be answered.
The amount of fanfare the story of his death received was unbelievable, dwarfing that of any wrestler death aside from major news tragedy deaths of Owen Hart and the Chris Benoit story. Even household names like Andre the Giant, or the death of a current superstar like Eddy Guerrero got only a minute fraction of the coverage this death got from every major news service in North America, for at least five straight days. Because of being on top during a period of wrestling that a lot of people now in the media grew up, he had gone from being just a pro wrestler as he was in his 80s heyday, to a cultural icon of that period because of his distinctive look, voice, and mannerisms.
“It reminded me of when Stevie Ray Vaughn passed away,” said Chris Jericho, who grew up idolizing, learning and sometimes copying him. “He was out of the spotlight for a while and you didn’t think of him. As soon as he passed way, everyone remembered how awesome he was, and so many people that he was such an influence on. He was totally a cultural icon from that era, such a beloved time for the business. Everyone knows Hogan, and everyone knew Macho Man just as much.”
A source at ESPN said that the interest in Savage was staggering. The article on his death on 5/20 was the most read story on the site for the entire weekend. On the Yahoo! site, I was told the stories did numbers like crazy. Follow up stories continued several days later. Most likely, the Raw rating increase on 5/23 from a 3.09 to 3.40 was because of curiosity as to what would have been said and how it would be covered, as noted by a 3.6 first quarter.
Scores of wrestlers, athletes from other sports (most notably from the UFC organization) and celebrities paid tribute to him on twitter and it was mentioned on baseball and MMA telecasts over the weekend. It was also covered all over the world, from Australia, to Japan, to Europe, even in the Zimbabwe Standard.
He had just celebrated his first wedding anniversary with his wife, who went by her middle name Lynn, ten days earlier. The two first dated when both were teenagers, in the early 70s when he was playing minor league baseball in Sarasota, FL, the city he used as his home town during his entire pro wrestling career, several years before he met his more famous first wife, Elizabeth Hulette. The two had lost touch, and got back together nearly 35 years after breaking up.
He was best known in wrestling for one of the great angles of all-time. It was a one-year storyline which started at WrestleMania IV, in Atlantic City, on March 27, 1988, when Hogan, who was taking time off wrestling for a movie role in real life, helped Savage win the finals of a tournament for the World Wrestling Federation (now WWE) championship beating Ted “Million Dollar Man” DiBiase. The tournament was set up on a live prime time main event where Hogan faced Andre the Giant in a rematch in Indianapolis, a show that did a 15.2 rating and 33 million viewers, the largest audience by far ever to see pro wrestling in the U.S. Andre won when Earl Hebner, who had been signed by the promotion, played the evil twin of referee Dave Hebner, and counted the fall even though Hogan kicked out. The title was then sold by Andre to Ted DiBiase, but storyline president Jack Tunney ruled that you couldn’t sell the title. The scene was funny because on live television, Andre mistakenly said he was selling DiBiase the tag team title and not the heavyweight title. This set up a tournament at WrestleMania with Hogan vs. Andre as a guaranteed first round match and the prime drawing match.
Since Hogan was taking time off to do the movie “No Holds Barred,” he was eliminated with Andre in a no contest in the first round. Savage wrestled four times on the show, going to the finals against DiBiase. It should be noted that this greatest of all angles in WWF history was actually a plan B. The original plan was for Savage to win the Intercontinental title from the Honky Tonk Man on the live special, but Honky Tonk Man refused to do the job. At the time, DiBiase was supposed to win the tournament, and be a heel champion, with Savage as IC champion being his main challenger for the summer. The plan was for Hogan to then return and get the title from DiBiase.
Hogan helped Savage win the title, and the two celebrated by holding Elizabeth in the air, almost portraying it as if she was the real star. It was the first step of a number of teases which started as a tag team and then broke up. At first the Megapowers were born, a name uncharacteristically ripped off by WWF because the rival Jim Crockett Promotions had named Dusty Rhodes & Nikita Koloff the “Superpowers.”
With Hogan gone, Savage and Elizabeth became the company’s top stars, and Savage’s title defenses against Ted DiBiase did the biggest post-WrestleMania business in the history of the company, at a time when the prevailing belief is the normal post-Mania decline would be greater than usual with Hogan not around.
The Megapowers were formed on November 11, 1987, at Saturday Night’s Main Event in Seattle, Savage did one of his only two WWF matches ever with Bret Hart. At the time, Hart was considered one of the company’s best workers, but he was still in a tag team with Jim Neidhart. Hart and Savage found out well ahead of time they were doing the match and both were excited.
Hart noted that the two got together and came up with all kinds of ideas for a match. For Hart, this was going to be his big career break working with the heavyweight champion. They were two of the fastest guys in the company inside the ring, and built a match based on speed and spectacular spots. But when they got to Seattle, they were told, because of the storyline they were working, that the match story was to be Hart just working over Savage’s ankle before Savage beat him, and the two were forced to throw out the entire match. As it turned out, they never got to do the match.
Hart remembered that he was supposed to take Savage’s boot off and ram his ankle into the post. Hart had never done that spot before, and as soon as he did it, he heard a bad sounding crack. He’d hurt Savage, who was limping for real, although for the match, that was the idea. Then Hart, jumping off the apron, injured his heel. After Savage won, Hart, Honky Tonk Man and Jim Neidhart all attacked Savage. Elizabeth ran to the back and basically dragged Hogan out to make the save. It ended with Hogan and Savage shaking hands.
They only had one other singles match, that was when Hart was champion in 1994 in Japan. Once again, they worked out a big match. Hart had the idea that since it was a one-time match of legends, it should be something special and Savage was on board. But that night, agent Jack Lanza quickly brought them down to Earth that this was just another house show.
Lanza’s entire instructions were, “Give me 10 or 12 minutes, and you (Bret) slip over.” They ended up going a little over time, but weren’t able to do the classic they wanted. Hart remembered a spot where Savage charged in and Hart kicked him in the head, busting his eye. Savage bled and he wasn’t mad about it, joking that it only made the match better.
Hart said when he was champion he always wanted to do a program with Savage, noting that both of them went to McMahon and asked for it when Hart thought he was working with people who were not of main event caliber. Probably because face vs. face matches weren’t done often those days, they never considered it, but Hart said he was always told they would do it later, but later never came, as Savage left the company.
During the post-match celebration at the first SummerSlam event on August 29, 1988, at The Meadowlands (now the Izod Center) in East Rutherford, NJ, after Hogan & Savage were to headline against Andre & DiBiase with Jesse Ventura as referee. Most of the pre-match build-up centered around Elizabeth, who at this point was at the peak of her popularity. Elizabeth did pose with Savage doing a bikini poster that was a big seller, but other than that, she never showed much skin because of how her character evolved. The tease for the match was if things got bad, Elizabeth, billed as their secret weapon, under her fancy clothes, was going to wear a bikini. As it turned out, whether she didn’t want to go that far, or Savage didn’t want her to, when the heels were in control, Elizabeth got on the apron, and took off her skirt. The heels were mesmerized by her legs in a bikini bottom. Hogan and Savage shook hands like in a cartoon, which wrestling more was more like in those days anyway, made their comeback and won the match.
During the celebration, as Hogan held Elizabeth up in the air, his hand was on her BUTT and Savage gave a nasty glare. From that point on, Savage started acting more and more jealous of Hogan’s purported business relationship with Elizabeth, since Elizabeth was at this point both of their managers.
This climaxed on a live NBC prime time TV special on February 3, 1989, from the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. Savage went insane with jealousy on a live NBC special, made famous for the cameras coming back from a commercial early while Hogan was asking for a countdown as Savage accidentally injured Elizabeth, and blamed Hogan.
The Megapowers, in only their second match as a team, wrestled Big Bossman & Akeem, the latter being the former One Man Gang, doing a gimmick where he thought he was black. At the time, Hogan was working a house show program against Bossman, while Savage was defending the title against Akeem.
It wasn’t so much a match, but a key few spots. The first spot was Akeem through the ropes. He flew out, almost like doing a tope, wiping out Elizabeth. Elizabeth had never been involved physically involved in any action during her WWE days, and in this case, took a wild bump. She got more involved in WCW, which led to some embarrassing looking situations. She was “out cold” and Hogan, all distraught, picked her up and carried her to the back.
The next scene was in a makeshift hospital room. Most of the next 15 minutes on television consisted of Savage being pounded by both men while Elizabeth was unconscious, with the idea that she was seriously injured. Hogan was crying in the room, begging the doctors to save her life.
The skit had one of the most unintentionally funny moments ever. Elizabeth was no actress, even by wrestling standards. Hogan was campy on his best days. And this was shot live. It’s one thing on PPV with no commercials, but this was a live network show and they came back and Hogan didn’t realize in the middle of this angle that they were on the air, was calm, asked for a “tizime” (time) countdown before they would go on with the whole country watching. When he was told it was live, he reverted to overacting, crying, and saying, “Doc, please don’t let her die,” and “Randy didn’t mean to do it.”
Finally, Elizabeth woke up and her first words were, “Go help Randy.” Hogan ran to the ring, and Hogan running was a sight even then. Savage was fighting Gang and Akeem by himself, supposedly didn’t know Elizabeth was hurt bad, and thought Hogan deserted him as a partner. When Hogan got to the ring, Savage slapped him and then walked out on Hogan, doing his heel turn.
He wound up back in the hospital room while Hogan was left in the ring with both huge heels. While the camera showed hardly any of the match when Savage was in with both heels, concentrating on Hogan and Elizabeth, they showed Hogan with both men. Hogan made a superman comeback and pinned Akeem after a legdrop. He then handcuffed Bossman to manager Slick, and then ran back to the “hospital” room.
The segment thus far had been beyond horrible, but Savage not only saved it, but made it from there. Savage, with his crazy intensity and that distinctive voice pattern, accused Hogan of being jealous that he was world champion and that Hogan also has been lusting after Elizabeth. Savage ended up hitting Hogan from behind with the title belt. Elizabeth, now largely recovered, screamed and hovered over Hogan to comfort him. Then, in what was a shocking remark at the time, Savage told Elizabeth to get up or he’d splatter her all over the floor, just like Hogan. But that sentence took him from just being a heel who turned on Hogan, to an incredibly hot heel about to break business records. They teased that Savage was going to hit Elizabeth with the belt, but instead, just grabbed her and threw her down hard and went after Hogan. Brutus Beefcake, Hogan’s other tag team partner at the time, came in for the save, but Savage laid him out as well, before storming out.
The show did an 11.6 rating and 21 million viewers, making it the second most-watched pro wrestling television show in U.S. history.
This led to a match at WrestleMania V, on April 2, 1989, in Atlantic City, where Hogan defeated Savage and won the championship. Ticket prices were jacked up to the highest level in U.S. pro wrestling history, and even though it was an arena setting, it did a larger gate then any of the previous stadium shows, including the Pontiac Silverdome show of two years earlier, with a sellout 18,946 fans at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City paying $1,628,000. It was also he biggest pay-per-view wrestling event in history, doing more than 760,000 buys, a record that would stand until 2000.
The gimmick was that Elizabeth would be at ringside, but in a neutral corner, and would make her decision of which guy she was going with at the end of the match. Even though everyone saw Savage as the company’s top heel, once again, Elizabeth saw some good in him. Savage took a bad bump on the outside, but when Elizabeth went to help him up, he yelled at her. Later, Hogan tried to post Savage, but Elizabeth got in the way and blocked it. This allowed Savage to post Hogan, but Elizabeth then jumped in front of Hogan, stopping Savage from attacking him. Savage then ordered Elizabeth to leave ringside. The match ended with Hogan regaining the title with a legdrop.
The business was different at the time, but Savage was so hot as a heel that he as champion could have done big numbers on one tour, and Hogan headlining the other tour would have done business just because it was Hogan, for a long time. They really didn’t need to end the reign when Savage was so hot as a heel, but in those days, WWF was about having a babyface champion. Elizabeth managed Hogan for a while after Mania, but that wasn’t going to work for all kinds of obvious reasons. Elizabeth left wrestling for nearly two years, resurfacing at WrestleMania VII in Los Angeles.
While the two had been married since 1984, a year before Savage joined the WWF, in 1991, the WWF promoted a storyline reconciliation between Savage and Elizabeth moments after Savage had lost a retirement match to The Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VII in Los Angeles. During the period Elizabeth was gone, Savage became the Macho King Randy Savage, managed by Queen Sherri (Sherri Martel).
It was telegraphed Savage was turning babyface at that show at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, as he came out wearing a white hat, something he hadn’t done as a heel. He was also out there to steal the card. Now, it’s one thing to steal the show when you’re wrestling Ricky Steamboat in 1987. It’s quite another to do it when you’re wrestling the Ultimate Warrior, arguably the worst working headliner of that era. Plus, Savage was not 100%, as he came back early from thumb surgery to do the match. They did show Elizabeth in the crowd during the match. After Savage lost, in what was the best match of Warrior’s career, probably by a significant margin, Sherri attacked Savage and put the boots to him. Elizabeth hit the ring for the save. It was awkward, but nobody remembers that. It led to the closing Savage and Elizabeth hugging and kissing spot. This was so well done that probably more people were in tears watching this moment than any moment scripted in company history, until probably the Ric Flair retirement.
“I even tweeted as classic and great as Steamboat-Savage was, the best example of how incredible a worker he was is the Ultimate Warrior match by far,” said Jericho. “Watch it back. It still kicks ass. And he did it with Warrior, not a great wrestler and not someone who seemed to really care all that much.”
At the time retired, Savage was a babyface on the announcing team, which consisted of himself, Vince McMahon and Roddy Piper. Most of the summer was spent with McMahon and Piper urging Savage to ask Elizabeth the question and Savage kept getting cold feet, but finally asked, and she responded, “Oooh yeah!”
A storyline wedding between the two at the SummerSlam PPV on August 26, 1991, in Madison Square Garden, billed as “The Match Made in Heaven and The Match Made in Hell,” a double bill with the wedding and a Hogan & Warrior vs. Sgt. Slaughter & Col. Mustafa (Iron Sheik) & General Adnan (Adnan Al-Kaissie) match. It was a weird deal, because the wedding came across much better on television than live in MSG. Most of the guys in the crowd were not into the wedding at all. But there were some women fans who were treating this like the biggest event in wrestling history, crying like it was a real wedding of people they knew. The big angle was shot after the ceremony where Jake “The Snake” Roberts put a snake in a gift box that scared Elizabeth half to death. This led to Savage coming back to wrestling full-time.
But shortly after that mock wedding, the couple separated and Elizabeth left wrestling for many years. They officially divorced in late 1992.
She passed away on May 1, 2003, at the age of 42, while living in an Atlanta suburb with wrestling star Larry “Lex Luger” Pfohl, of an accidental overdose from a combination of drugs and alcohol.
But even though that was Savage’s biggest career angle, what is widely remembered as his most famous match would have been on March 29, 1987, at WrestleMania III, before a then-pro wrestling record crowd of 78,000 at the Pontiac, Mich., Silverdome. While Hogan vs. Andre the Giant was the main event, Savage’s match with Ricky Steamboat for the Intercontinental title was generally considered the best WWF match of that era, winning a number of Match of the Year honors, including from the Wrestling Observer.
“I flew home Friday morning and when I landed it was 11:30ish, my son Richie called me and he told me that Randy had passed away,” said Steamboat. “That was the first I heard of it. I didn’t say anything for a long time, 15-20 seconds. I got almost nauseous and sick to my stomach when I found out. For some strange reason I started sobbing, I almost started throwing up. I walked around for hours in a daze, in a glassy-eyed type of wonderment.
“I took it harder than any person who’s died and here’s a guy I haven’t seen in 15 years. He made a very impressionable mark on my career. Him and I are the same age”
Steamboat noted it hit him harder than even the death of his most famous tag team partner, Jay Youngblood, who passed away in 1984 at the age of 27. While Steamboat and Savage had a famous angle and an even more famous match, they were not social friends, and after the angle was over, they never said more than “Hi, how are you doing,” to each other.
“That (Youngblood) was a flavor that soured the last year together. We were together for five years. I got very angry with him, tried to teach him to stay away from bad things and nothing was working. There was a constant negativity that last year we had to bear. I didn’t get that feeling when I heard Jay passed. I never got that feeling with anyone else, really deep gut check nauseous. I just felt terrible.”
The entire day was a blur to Steamboat as WWE officials tried to get in touch with him. Right after hearing the news, he was so stunned that he dropped his cell phone in ice water. Then he picked it up and brought it to a hair dryer to try and blow dry it to save it. He would get it working for a second, and tons of texts would come up about Savage dying. He would go to make calls and it would quit. He spent two hours trying to get it to work until finally deciding to get a new one at the Verizon store, which was 40 minutes away from his house. But then he got stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic and was feeling desperate.
Steamboat has noted in the past that the Silverdome match was laid out move-for-move in advance by Savage, who was intent on having a show stealing match. Steamboat wasn’t used to working like that.
“We wanted to go out there and do something different, more Randy than me,” he said. “We understood Hogan and Andre were going to sell the show. They sold it. But we can steal it.”
“I get more talk about that match than the matches I had with Flair, and Flair and I, we had a lot of great matches. A lot of our best stuff was not taped, nights and matches in places like Greenville and Columbia number of times we wrestled, it still can’t touch the magic that Savage and I had in Detroit.”
“Steamboat-Savage was my favorite match,” remembered Jericho, who was 16 when the match took place. “My friend and I used to reenact it on couch cushions in the basement. He’d be Savage. I’d be Steamboat, then we’d switch and I’d be Savage and he’d be Steamboat. It was such an amazing match. My first wrestling T-shirt was the violet pinkish purple hideous Macho Man shirt. I liked Steamboat better, but Savage was more interesting because of the character. With his workrate, he was the prototype of a great worker you see now. He was a pretty big guy, he worked harder than anyone else, just a natural way of doing things.”
“So many years have gone by and so many people talk about that 16:00 match,” said Steamboat. “He was a pro. He was a stickler. Sometimes he was hard to get along with. He did what he felt was right, with me at least. When I left in 1988 and went to WCW, and came back in 1991, I was there for 10-11 months and finished up with WCW. A lot of people are surprised that Randy and I were not close friends. It was more respect for each other. I don’t know if he had any real close wrestling friends.”
Steamboat started in WWF in December 1984, a few months before Savage. Steamboat was the company’s best working babyface at the time, and Savage was the top heel, so it was a natural match-up for the Intercontinental title. They did an angle where Savage supposedly crushed Steamboat’s voice box with the timekeepers bell, and they acted as if Steamboat would be unable to speak. They showed Steamboat supposed re-learning to talk in segments that there’s no way could get over now. And then Steamboat returned for the match, and won the title. Surprisingly, considering how the match was almost universally referred to as the best match in WWF history at the time, and at least through 1994 or 1997, and still talked about in the top echelon today, the two had few matches after Pontiac.
They did a house show run, which actually didn’t draw well, another example of the idea of an all-time legendary match coming back not drawing, although the truth is Steamboat vs. Savage was one of those matches that seemed to grow in legend with time. But after those few rematches, they never worked again.
“I would have thought we would have another run one or two years later,” Steamboat said. “The very next year they had WrestleMania in Atlantic City with the tournament that Savage went on to win. I had Greg Valentine in the first round. Not knowing who was going over, I’m looking at the brackets and thinking, okay, I’ve got Greg Valentine, I’ll squeak over Greg. The only reason I’m thinking I’m beating Greg is the match that Savage and I had. Fans buying the show were going to be wondering about doing it again. Then Jay Strongbow came up to me and said, `Greg’s going over.’ I told him, `Because of what we did last year, people want to see some semblance of it. But we never got to hook up again. Never ever.”
An interesting piece of trivia is that Savage vs. Steamboat for WrestleMania III was not the original plan. Steamboat was first told he was going to start a program with Bret Hart, who at the time was a tag team wrestler they wanted to branch out as a singles heel. But two weeks later, the plans were changed to keep Hart in his tag team with Jim Neidhart, and at that point, he was told he would be working a program with Savage.
“What a difference our lives would have been if I had the matches with Bret.”
He remembered that after the show in Pontiac, that all the wrestlers and office people were coming up to him and Savage, and not Hogan and Andre.
“Can you believe the reaction we got from the people in the business,” said Steamboat looking back at that night. “Old-timers like Arnold Skaaland and Gorilla Monsoon wanting to shake our hands, saying, `Congratulations, that was a match of all matches.’ A line started to form. Over there in the corner I’m seeing Hogan with his wife Linda, and I looked at Savage, and said, `I don’t think this is going to turn out too good. And then we had a few more matches at the house shows and it was done.”
“It seemed as the years would go by, even when I was down there (in WCW), it (the legend of the Savage match) would gain momentum. And then it didn’t matter where I was or who I’d meet, the match would come into discussion, more than anyone I ever worked with.
“I never realized how much that man put my name in the thoughts of so many fans for so many years.”
From the late 1970s until the early 90s, Savage was considered one of the great in-ring workers in the business. He was in his prime, a quick and fearless daredevil known for his intensity, which bordered on scary at times. His unique interviews were among the most recognizable, imitated by people in and out of wrestling to this day.
However, his national fame didn’t come until 1985 with WWF because his family ran a renegade wrestling promotion and were unofficially blacklisted from the mainstream.
“I remember in 1981 when we were talking about new talent in St. Louis, and (booker) Pat O’Connor told me, the best young talent in the business is Randy Savage, but we can’t use him,” remembered Larry Matysik, a longtime wrestling announcer and promoter out of St. Louis, who first met Savage right out of high school, and was friends with Savage, having worked with him before he hit it big, and was the local promoter for World Wrestling Federation events in the city during his heyday.
Savage, who was in his early 40s, was being phased out of in-ring competition by Vince McMahon Jr. in the early 90s, and in 1994, signed with rival World Championship Wrestling, following the lead of Hogan, who had signed there a few months earlier. He was back in the ring as one of the major stars in that organization through 2000, including a period from the spring of 1996 through the spring of 1998 when it was the leading promotion and he was one of its biggest stars. By that point he had suffered a number of serious injuries from his years of wrestling high-flying, physical style. Savage made a brief comeback in 2004 with Total Nonstop Action, but clearly could no longer perform as he was only in a match for seconds and then left the company.
“I hadn’t seen him since TNA in 2004,” said Dusty Rhodes, who was booking TNA when Jeff Jarrett made the deal to sign Savage and feud with him. Savage had pinned Jarrett, the NWA champion at the time, in a trios match a few weeks earlier to set up the title match. Even though he had not wrestled in nearly five years and due to injuries, couldn’t do much, he was scheduled to win the title, and then drop it back to Jarrett at a later date.
“The last words he said to me was, `I can’t do this. I don’t want people to see me looking like this. Jerry Jarrett called Keith Mitchell in, and I told him change the main event. I don’t even remember what we did (Monty Brown won a three-way over Diamond Dallas Page and Kevin Nash to earn the title shot, and Jeff Jarrett beat Brown). I said, `Randy, just go home. It’s okay with me.”
“He just said he wanted to be Macho Man Randy Savage, he didn’t want to hang on and hang on like many of us have done. He wanted to be remembered in a different way.”
The whole Savage situation in TNA was strange. He debuted on November 7, 2004, at a TV taping, signing for a number of appearances. He did an interview, and felt double-crossed because Jarrett invited Hulk Hogan, who brought Ed Leslie, to the show. Savage at the time hated Hogan. Savage had many times on Tampa radio challenged Hogan to a fight for charity, and when Hogan showed up, he told Savage they could go right there if he wanted and Savage, 52 and broken down by that time, did not want to go. While normally this type of story would be dismissed as Hogan-inspired hyperbole, there were enough witnesses in TNA with no dog in the fight that have confirmed that was how it went down.
After the taping, Savage called TNA and said he was pulling out of his deal, citing an unsafe working environment. But ten days later, he was back, and appeared on the next few weeks of TNA television doing interviews. This led to what turned out to be the final match of his career on December 5, 2004, where Savage & Jeff Hardy & A.J. Styles were to face Jarrett & Kevin Nash & Scott Hall. Savage ended up not wrestling the match, which was three-on-two until Savage showed up late, worked about ten seconds and pinned Jarrett after a punch. The entire angle was shot this way because Savage, who had not done a regular match in years, was afraid that he couldn’t do anything. He then quit again a few days later.
“I could see it in his eyes,” said Rhodes. “It wasn’t worth the old era stuff (giving him a speech on being advertised and owing it to the fans, or even trying to threaten him). He didn’t want to do it. If you find out why, let me know. Obviously, he was financially set. Maybe the secret of walking away he should have given to Flair, Hogan, Andre, myself, of the stars of my era. How many of us walked away? One.”
“He was one of those guys who wanted it perfect,” said Rhodes about his in-ring program with Savage in the WWF. “If you had a spot, you didn’t have a lot of ad libbing. He was one of the five stiffest guys I ever worked with, which I liked and that was cool. He wasn’t one of the top guys I worked with, but he was higher than the middle. Maybe a seven. He was more of an entertainer and a showman and that made him successful at drawing money. He had timing and psychology which sometimes overrides the kind of a match a guy like Seth Rollins (Tyler Black) or even a Ricky Steamboat would do. As far as technicians, halfway up the top.
“But he was a player, Terrell Owens, Brett Favre, there are a few people who are players and you can’t knock them, and he was one of them. In our industry, he was like Brett Favre, T.O., as far as our industry and our fans, he was one of the biggest stars.
“He was an acquaintance. We weren’t close. We had different agendas. We went different ways. He said, `I can’t do this and thank you brother’ and he walked away, and I never talked to him again, and he lived 20 miles from here. He became the Howard Hughes of our business.”
Rhodes said that when he met Savage in the WWF, as their paths never crossed until 1989. When they met, Savage told him that he remembered going to matches in Tampa when he was playing minor league baseball. Savage had already done some pro wrestling. When the Tampa Tarpons of the Florida State League, a Class A minor league team, had a home game on Tuesday, as soon as the game was over, Savage would lead a group of players, who would rush from the game, still in uniform, to the Armory, where they would get in hoping to see the main event. That was during the summer that Rhodes first turned babyface, usually wrestling against Pak Song and manager Gary Hart, and the territory was setting attendance records.
“I noticed a couple of times at ringside guys wearing baseball uniforms, from the Reds, at ringside,” said Rhodes. “I remembered a group of guys in uniforms and he told me the story later on. I remember Cincinnati Reds uniforms, but I don’t remember him”
“I saw his tryout with the (St. Louis) Cardinals in 1971,” remembered Matysik. “Sam (Muchnick, a legendary wrestling promoter who was friends with Randy’s father, Angelo, a pro wrestler, as well as close to those in the Cardinals organization), helped him get the tryout at the old Busch Stadium. Man, he could hit. He was a little squirt, I don’t think he was more than 165 pounds at the time.”
Matysik also remembered 20 years later, when WWF decided to promote a major outdoor show at Busch Stadium, the same place Savage got his tryout. At the time Savage was “retired,” having lost a retirement match to Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VII. At the time he wanted time off because he and Elizabeth wanted to start a family, but that never happened. That summer saw Savage work as an announcer and while not wrestling, was in a program building to him getting up the guts to ask Elizabeth to marry him in storyline. That marriage was promoted as half of a double main event of that year’s SummerSlam in Madison Square Garden.
But in promotion of the show, where Savage was going to referee a Hulk Hogan vs. Sgt. Slaughter main event, Savage was sent in early to promote it with the baseball team. Matysik noted how it was clear how much Savage loved baseball, even more than wrestling. Savage would have done anything, and did, to make it as a baseball player but he just wasn’t talented enough to make the majors. While his athletic skills and speed in the ring made him one of the best athletes inside a ring of the past 35 years, those traits didn’t translate as well to his first love. Surprisingly, Savage as a baseball player only had average speed. And while wrestling fans remember him for his lithe, bodybuilder-like physique, before he discovered steroids in wrestling, Savage was a skinny guy, even though he did weight work and conditioning that most in baseball in that era didn’t do. Matysik’s appraisal mirrored that of nearly everyone who grew up with him in Downers Grove, that Randy Poffo was obsessed 24/7 with making it in baseball.
He idolized Pete Rose for his endless energy. Pete was known as Charlie Hustle in those days, and his other favorite player was Johnny Bench, then the game’s best catcher, his position.
Randy was born November 15, 1952, in Columbus, OH, when his father, Angelo Poffo, a solid star but not a superstar in wrestling, was working the Ohio territory. In recent years, Randy had spent a great deal of his time with his parents, helping take care of them. Angelo passed away last year. Angelo Poffo was best known by the wrestlers for the gimmick name he used under a mask late in his career, “The Miser.” He spent little. And he saved a lot. Every week he put something away and invested in AT&T stock, which in those days provided strong growth. In Randy’s early years, the family moved often. Lanny was born in Calgary when Angelo was working for Stu Hart, and Randy, a baby, used to play with the older Hart children. But as the kids got older, Angelo largely stayed put, living in Downers Grove, a Chicago suburb. He worked the Chicago territory mostly, sometimes Indianapolis.
Angelo Poffo was a headliner in the late 50s in the area, even holding the United States Television championship, at the time one of the major titles in wrestling since it was the same belt Verne Gagne held a few years earlier as the top belt on the national show out of Chicago on the Dumont Network. There were trips to other territories. The kids even missed a year of school in 1968-69, when Angelo did a run for Ed Francis in Hawaii. During that year, Randy and Lanny did nothing but play baseball.
Savage was intense and driven in everything he did. He played minor league baseball from 1971 through 1974 in the Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox farm systems, and was once managed by noted baseball star Jimmy Piersall. He took after his father, who was a star high school baseball player as a catcher and played at DePaul University.
He loved baseball for as long as anyone could remember, going to White Sox and Cubs games with his father and younger brother. Someone who played American Legion ball with him as a teenager remembered that Savage, then 140 pounds, was one of the smallest guys on the team. He remembered Randy Poffo as being soft-spoken, and just remembered him always insisting to the other kids that wrestling was real when they would ask about his father, who always attended his games. The Poffos were known among the kids as the nicest parents, but also thought to be a little eccentric. Angelo would come to the games wearing nothing but his wrestling trunks, while Judy dressed provocatively at the games by the standards of those days.
Randy Poffo was inducted into the Downers Grove North High School Sports Hall of Fame in 1994. He was the team Most Valuable Player in 1970 and 1971 on teams that won the West Suburban Conference title. He was then a catcher, like his father, hitting .500 as a junior and .525 as a senior, before moving to the outfield as a minor leaguer. He attracted the attention of some major league scouts, and on the day of the high school draft, he waited by the phone. He didn’t get a call on the first day, nor the second.
So he headed to St. Louis for an open tryout camp. Matysik remembered Randy being the best player at the tryout, most notably connecting with a shot that hit the outfield wall. He was the only player offered a minor league deal, being offered $500 per month to go to the Cardinals rookie league team in Florida.
He played two seasons with the Gulf Coast League Sarasota Cardinals in the Rookie League. He moved to being an outfielder, and was a teammate of Larry Herndon, who had a substantial major league career. He met his second wife that season when he was 18 and she was 16.
“I have memories of him as a great teammate and a great man,” Herndon told ESPN. “He was a pure-hearted individual. He really cared a lot about others.”
He hit .286 as a backup outfielder with two home runs in 35 games in 1971. In 1972, he hit .274 with three home runs in 52 games as a starting outfielder on the same team, where he made the Gulf Coast League All-Star team.
Players remember him exercising endlessly. Jethro Mills, a pitcher on the team, remembered Poffo would wake up every morning and do 1,500 sit-ups. The team was renamed the Redbirds in 1973, and he played 25 games for them, and was hitting .344 when he was moved up to the Class A Orangeburg Cardinals, managed by Piersall, where he hit .250 with two home runs in 46 games as a sometimes starter. He separated his right shoulder after a collision with a catcher at home plate. It was disastrous, because the only aspect of his game that was considered of major league caliber was his throwing arm.
Poffo and girlfriend Lynn Boyd split up when he was called up to Orangeburg. They somehow found each other 35 years later, and got married on May 10, 2010. Randy Savage, after his first marriage to Hulette broke up, was always dating younger women, most notably stripper Stephanie Bellars, known as Gorgeous George in WCW and George Frankenstein later on the stripping circuit. Savage was a recluse from almost everyone, never being seen or photographed. He looked so different that when Bret Hart and Chris Jericho had a conversation with him at the funeral of mutual friend Brian “Crush” Adams in 2007, neither Hart nor Jericho immediately knew who this gray-haired guy was standing next to them and talking like he knew them. Whether allowing himself to go gray and marrying a woman who was his own age was a sign that he was no longer in a mid-life crisis, which was the joke always said behind his back in the WCW days, or an attempt to somehow transform back to the innocence of something that represented his teenage years and chasing his childhood dream playing baseball.
The injury left him unable to throw with any force with his right arm. While in junior high school, one year when Savage thought he was going to be a pitcher, he spent several months teaching himself to throw left handed. He believed at the time that his future was not as a pitcher, but didn’t want to ruin his prize arm young, so figured he’d pitch left handed to save his right arm when he’d need it in the big leagues. He essentially taught himself to be ambidextrous. That came in handy after the injury, as Savage spent the fall and winter of 1973, hour after hour, re-teaching himself to throw left handed in an attempt to continue his career.
But he was cut by the Cardinals after his shoulder injury, but was signed by the Reds and sent to their Class A farm team, the Tampa Tarpons of the Florida State League, where he played both outfield and first base, but was mostly a designated hitter. But he only hit .232 with nine home runs, and was cut by the Reds after the season. He signed with the White Sox, but ended up being cut before the 1975 season, and went full-time into pro wrestling.
He had started his wrestling career to make money during the baseball off season, working usually as The Spider, under a mask, just in case someone from the Cardinals organization would discover him appearing on television and recognize him as Randy Poffo.
“My thoughts about Randy are different,” said Ric Flair. “I think he was such a competitive guy. Randy had a really hard time relaxing and I feel bad. I think about the times I used to say to him, `Hey, man, just calm down and don’t worry about this and this, whatever happens is going to happen.’ If you go to sleep at night worry about what’s going to happen the next day, it’s just too hard.”
“I never had personal differences with him, nothing about lifestyle. It was just about business and it doesn’t stop my opinion, he always did favors for me. He came in and opened some of my Gold’s Gyms. We were great friends. He and I clashed in business but outside of the ring, we were great. He could drink beer and have a good time. And I made him laugh and helped him take his mind off things that bothered him. We got along great and had a lot of fun together.
“I used to say to him all the time, he probably died with $300 million in the bank, I’m being facetious, but Randy was very thrifty. He used to say to me all the time, because he would stay at hotels that were less cost effective than where I stayed, you can criticize it all you want but I’m going to enjoy the moment because you never know. The irony is that Randy was only 58 years old. That’s sad because I guarantee you he’s got enough money to live 200 more years.
“He worked very hard to earn it. He deserved it. But I always used to say to him, `Man, you live for the day.’ Today’s another example of why you have to live for today. You never know.”
During the Monday Night Wars period, McMahon often said he would welcome Savage back, but would never welcome Hogan back. Savage, along with Sting and Ric Flair, and later Bill Goldberg were consistently the biggest ratings movers for WCW during the Monday Night Wars, with Savage averaging moving quarter hour ratings 0.3 to 0.4 points per appearance. But after WCW folded in 2001, McMahon for the past decade had refused to listen to any ideas regarding bringing Savage back, even for guest appearance roles that didn’t require him wrestling, even though a short-term Savage return would have strong nostalgia value.
All sorts of rumors spread about why McMahon, who brought back men who had sued him and tried to bury the company, was adamant about never doing business with Savage. Whatever the reason, it regarded a change of mind by McMahon after the heat of the Monday Night Wars was over and not dating back to Savage leaving the company in 1994. Savage, along with Bruno Sammartino, who had refused induction, remain arguably the two biggest stars in company history that McMahon never put into his Hall of Fame.
“I don’t know why Savage isn’t in,” said Jericho. “He deserves it more than anyone. Maybe not more than Bruno, but more than Backlund. He carried that company from WrestleMania V to WrestleMania VII or VIII. You don’t realize until he’s gone how amazing he is. He is to me one of the top five total packages of all-time. For my personal taste, Bret, Shawn, Flair and Savage. Austin was not as good. He was better than Rock, too.”
Few know it, but after Rock retired in 2004, the two names he said he wanted to work with at WrestleMania in 2005 before he had the contract situation fall through with WWE were Sting and Savage, although by that time, Savage really wasn’t a viable option.
Bret Hart remembered when Savage left for WCW, the wrestlers were all told how Savage had called Vince, drunk, at 6 a.m., and started yelling at him. He remembered when he got to WCW, asking Savage about it, and Savage was stunned, saying nothing like that ever happened. Others said McMahon felt Savage was too old to be in his old top position, and had to focus on younger talent. While this had nothing to do with him not being invited back, there was bitterness of Savage taking the WCW offer without at least coming to Vince and asking for a counter offer.
Savage may have been Hulk Hogan’s all-time best opponent, when Hogan got into WCW, he made the play to bring Savage in. Savage had tried to ambush Hogan a year earlier on a radio interview. Hogan was invited on the Jim Ross WWF radio show, and the idea was Savage, who hated Hogan because of his role in Elizabeth divorcing him, would bury him for among other things ironically enough, lying about steroid use, but Hogan decided against doing the show. Savage still went on and buried Hogan. But Hogan was always about business, and in the long ups and downs between Hogan and Savage, Savage was able to look past whatever his personal feelings may have been if it was the best way to make money. With WCW, he was offered more money, and a chance to be the headliner that in his mind, he felt he should have still been.
WCW made at least one earlier play for Savage, in 1991. Matysik remembers a discussion he had with Savage and Elizabeth that year, where Savage was talking about wanting to stay in WCW, while it was, surprisingly enough, Elizabeth who said this was a business and you go to whoever makes you the best offer. It ended up being a moot point, because in his meeting with WCW, they offered him significantly less than he was earning in WWF at the time.
While Randy Savage and Elizabeth were a television fairy-tale relationship, and a part of 80s pop culture, real life was often very different.
The two met when he was 26 or 27, and she was 19. Hulette, from Frankfort, KY, was a teenage wrestling fan who developed a crush on Savage, who was billed as the ICW world heavyweight champion for his father’s promotion based out of Lexington. She grew up without a father, and according to friends of hers, seemed drawn to controlling men. While nobody who knew her had anything negative to say about her personally, it was noted that if her real life story was ever told, it would make for a fascinating television movie. But the friend who she confided with felt out of respect for her memory she didn’t want to elaborate. Randy at the time was dating woman wrestler Debbie Szotecki (second generation woman wrestler Debbie Combs). As the story goes, when he first met her, she was heavy. Feeling she needed to lose weight to get him, she went on a strict diet, became a knockout and the two hooked up. In such a small operation, she quickly became part of the family business. She would sell programs at the shows and help out doing office work. By 1983, she was the pretty face appearing in front of he camera who hosted the television show and introduced the video clips.
They were married on December 30, 1984. But she was always with him, traveling to all the shows well before that. In 1985, while working for Jerry Jarrett in Memphis, Savage got a call from Jimmy Hart telling him the WWF was interested as booker George Scott had seen a tape of Savage, and wanted to bring him in for a major run as an opponent for Hogan. Hart didn’t have Savage’s number, but called the TV studio on a Saturday morning when they were taping. Guy Coffey answered the phone, and Hart asked if he could talk with Savage. Given that there was a promotional war going on, and Coffey worked for Jerry Jarrett, Hart had to make up a story and say that he knew someone who wanted to buy $500 worth of Amway products, since Coffey knew Savage was selling Amway on the side at that time. Hart then told Savage that WWF was interested, and Savage went into the parking lot to talk. Even though Savage was among the most talented men in the business, and had been since the late 70s, because of him spending so many years as an “outlaw,” which was what wrestlers and promoters who worked against the establishment at the time were called, he had never made big money.
At first there was a concern that Savage was too small, then 6-1 and 220 pounds, to get over as an opponent for Hogan, who the feeling was needed big powerful heels to work with. He got a little bigger leaving Memphis with the bigger paychecks, but was probably never more than 230-235 pounds in that era. But he became Hogan’s all-time greatest long-term drawing opponent.
Vince McMahon asked around to a number of people that knew Savage, because only a few years earlier Savage had a terrible reputation in the business among mainstream promoters due to the antics in those ICW years, most notably the physical threats made against the Jarrett wrestlers both on television and in person at live events. Savage had long since apologized and been involved in a lucrative program with Lawler, then turned babyface and teamed with Lawler, and then turned on him again.
“When Howard Finkel, Vince’s right-hand man called me and asked me what I thought of him, I told Howard to tell Vince that Savage would set the WWF on fire, which he did,” said Jeff Walton, who managed Savage using the name Tux Newman, in Tennessee in 1985 before Savage signed with WWF.
Matysik remembered McMahon calling him and asking him about Savage, and Matysik, who used Savage when he ran opposition to the St. Louis Wrestling Club in 1983, gave similar reviews. McMahon later asked him what he thought of Elizabeth, as he was considering making her his manager, but wanted to know what she was like, because he said he didn’t want a woman around the dressing room every night who would cause drama or sleep around with the other boys. Elizabeth would sit with Matysik’s wife, Pat, a high school teacher, at the shows when Savage worked in St. Louis, and she described her at the time as being like one of the popular seniors in her class.
Elizabeth was not necessarily the only choice for the role. The word going around wrestling in 1985 was that George Scott, who was then the booker for WWF, was looking for a beautiful woman to manage the Macho Man. The role was not described as being the one it turned out to be. A few women, including Missy Hyatt, who was at the time not yet in the business, sent in photos, and she remembered she did get a call from either Scott or Lanny Poffo about it, but never a follow-up. But when David Manning heard that WWF was interested in her, he hired her in World Class.
“It just dawned on me a few minutes ago, I owe my whole wrestling career in some manner to Randy Savage,” said Hyatt a few hours after his death.
McMahon went with Hulette, who became for the next few years, the biggest female star wrestling ever had. It was like a typical movie, the kind-hearted good girl, Elizabeth was the portrayal of the homecoming queen, or movie princess, who was nice to everyone, even if they weren’t popular, with the idea of her always being nice to the neanderthal like George “The Animal” Steele, who Randy would pick on. He finally went good. But then he went bad again, blaming her and they split up. One day, when he was down on his luck, she reappeared. They got married. But instead of two hours, this played out over six years, so was far more memorable. But it wasn’t a fairy tale, and didn’t have a happy ending.
At the time, all the major WWF heels had managers. To set Savage apart as being special, they did an angle where all of the managers in the promotion were scouting him and bidding for his services. While Savage’s in-ring ability and unique charisma made him stand out the first time you saw him, this angle made Savage come across like a cut above the usual run of the mill larger but less athletic heels. When the angle played out after several weeks, Savage introduced his manager, and everyone was shocked when an unknown 100-pound woman, all decked out, came out of the curtain. Nobody knew who she was. Announcer Bruno Sammartino was fed the line to surmise, “She must be some sort of a movie star.”
The original idea of Savage’s manager was to create a new role. They wanted a beautiful woman who would be like a bitch in a soap opera. The idea was she would be a hard-nosed business shark. While some will credit Elizabeth for paving the way for the women characters in wrestling, the reality was the modern role started and was copied to death after the success of women valets in World Class Wrestling in 1983. Soon, there were women everywhere working in that role, and some promotions copied World Class with the women feuding with each other. WWF was actually one of the last to jump on the bandwagon. But she became the biggest star because WWF decided to change direction. The women in wrestling always dressed as revealing as possible, but with Elizabeth, they went for the classy approach, beautiful dresses, the hair done like she was a beauty pageant queen and not a stripper.
She was the beautiful, elegant woman, a pro wrestling version of Lady Di, with a heelish, jealous, obsessive and overbearing boyfriend.
Savage debuted in Madison Square Garden on June 21, 1985, in a mid-card match against Rick McGraw. His agent told him to go 4:00 and win with his finish, the elbow off the top. He went closer to 13:00, saying that it was his first match in Madison Square Garden after so many years working on small shows and he wanted to have time to enjoy it. He got yelled at for it, because it messed up the time for the show.
Very quickly, the Savage/Elizabeth act became the company’s second hottest, behind only Hogan.
But the relationship also wasn’t storybook in real life. Randy was insanely jealous and possessive. The joke was that he would keep her under lock and key, constantly paranoid that one of the other wrestlers would make the moves on her. And given her portrayal and how she looked, he probably wasn’t wrong to have those concerns. He would get mad if she would even engage in lengthy conversation with other men. When the cameras were off, and Savage would have to be away from her, he would have an older road agent or referee that he trusted be with her at all times to make sure none of the other wrestlers got near her. Savage, on occasion, chased down and hit fans who tried to touch her as she was walking to and from the ring. Lesser stars were let go for lesser actions involving fans.
Later, when she was no longer a character and he was still wrestling, he never wanted her to leave the house. He would come back from the road and check the miles on her car to see if she had gone anywhere and constantly check on her. She wanted out of the marriage badly by the time they were married in storyline. In the WCW days, whenever Elizabeth would come up to talk with him, Bobby Heenan would start singing the tune from an old TV commercial, “How do you handle a hungry man?,” from a company that marketed TV dinners. Elizabeth had confided in Heenan that when Randy was on the road, he’d buy a TV dinner for every night he was gone, because he wanted her to never leave the house. Another story was when Elizabeth, Savage, Davey Boy Smith and Diana Hart Smith were at a hotel swimming pool on the road, two very obviously gay men came up to talk to the two women. They just saw her and asked if she was Elizabeth from television, and she said, “Yes,” and started talking with them. Savage, who was in the pool at the time, saw it, gave her a look, and screamed in his promo voice, “Liz, in the pool!” She owned a convertible, but Randy would never allow her to drive with the top down and would constantly check to see if she had driven while he was gone.
Hulette walked out of the relationship in the summer, and, with no fanfare, was gone for WWF television until the company plastered news stories for a few weeks about her after her death because the segments were doing boffo quarter hours. Savage always blamed Hogan and Linda for talking Hulette into the divorce, whether that was true or not, which was where the Savage hatred for Hogan came from. She ended up spending time at their home hiding out when she left him. When she and Linda accompanied Hogan to South Florida for the filming of Mr. Nanny, she met Miami attorney Cary Lubetsky, who was her second husband.
She wanted out so bad that she told Alex Marvez in 1994 that she left with zero money, when it was discovered that the one time queen of WWF television was working in a sales job at a retail clothes store at the Aventura Mall in South Florida, as she became a living trivia question about “Whatever Happened To...?”
She married Lubetsky, and then, for him, converted to Judaism. Then she ended up with Luger and became a fitness freak, until both went into a scary decline.
Bret Hart felt he was never the same after the divorce, siding that there was this feeling of sadness around him that he saw in WWF, as well as in WCW, even when he was with Gorgeous George. He said little at the time of her death, positioning himself as very distant from her and having moved on a long time ago.
But Lance Storm, who really didn’t know Savage at all, recounted probably the only meaningful conversation he had with him back in 1994 when Savage came in for a weekend for Smoky Mountain Wrestling. Storm noted that he met Savage 17 years to the day of his death, at a May 20, 1994, show in Knoxville. It was the next night, in Morristown, TN, at a high school gym, when Savage pulled him aside and asked if he would mind if he gave him some personal advice.
“I said, no please do,” Storm recalled in an article on his web site. “So he proceeded to say, `I see they’re doing an angle with you and your wife. Well, I did an angle with my wife one time, and I ain’t got a wife no more.”
It was apparently a case of mistaken identity and Savage getting stories crossed. Storm had gotten married two weeks earlier so Savage probably in a roundabout way may have heard about it in the dressing room. But it was Chris Candido and Tammy Sytch who were doing the angle.
Finding Elizabeth working at a mall led to Zane Bresloff, who worked for WCW as their promoter at the time, and knew her from the WWF days, getting in touch with her and asking her if she was interested in coming back. She was, and Eric Bischoff signed her on for a $156,000 per year deal as a valet. She told people that it was uncomfortable at times working in the same company as Savage, particularly since early on they did so many angles together based on their relationship, but both were professional about it. She was in her late 30s, still very pretty, but couldn’t play the role she did in WWF by that point, so was used as a typical woman character as a heel. She really was never much of a performer, more the right look, almost a perfect face, for a time, now older and transported to someplace where really she was a bit player. It was during that period where she met Lex Luger, who was married. The two started a relationship in 1998, and were together in public all the time, never hiding it even though he was married and had teenage children. A few years later, Luger left his family, and had a falling out with them so deep that when his son, Brian, played college basketball, in the programs and media guides, he never wanted his father’s name mentioned.
At her peak, Elizabeth was, with the possible exception of Rena Mero as Sable, the most popular female performer in the history of the business in North America. She was the role model to virtually every young girl who watched wrestling between 1985 and 1992, and a first crush of a generation of young boys. It was a role not originally planned for her. Nor did anyone ever expect it to take off the way it did. And ironically, despite its success, no woman in wrestling has ever been portrayed in a similar fashion, including herself when she returned for her WCW run.
After Elizabeth’s contract wasn’t renewed shortly before WCW folded, she started working at the front desk at Main Event Fitness, a gym in Marietta, GA that Luger and Sting opened during their wrestling heyday, although stopped working there a few months before her death.
A real bad warning sign came on a December, 2002, tour of Australia for the World Wrestling All-Stars promotion run by Andrew McManus. Luger’s health was bad. And as for Elizabeth, even though she was booked and advertised for the tour, and went to Australia, once she got there, she never left her hotel room, except to get on the bus or plane to the next show. Those on the tour said she looked bloated and her behavior worried people, but it wasn’t a major topic of conversation, because several others on the tour, Luger most notably, appeared to be a lot worse off than she was.
When Jimmy Hart tried to form the XWF, he contacted her to come in. She at first agreed, but then Luger shamed her into turning down the offer because they hadn’t asked him to come in.
Exactly what happened was unknown. But then she and Luger both stopped going to the gym. On April 19, 2003, police responded to a call about a fight in the garage of the couple’s home. When police arrived, Hulette had two black eyes, knots on her forehead and a split lip. She told police she had fallen down when trying to control the family dog. Police didn’t buy it and arrested Luger for misdemeanor battery, and he was released on $2,500 bond. He was arrested again and charged with a DUI, with Hulette with him in the car, two days later when his Porsche rear-ended another car near his home. According to the police report, he had slurred speech, bloodshot eyes and couldn’t find his drivers license. Police also found a handgun in his car. She was sent home in a taxi by police.
On May 1, 2003, she died of an accidental overdose of pills and alcohol in the couple’s town house just outside of Marietta, GA. When police came to check out the scene, they found large quantities of drugs and Luger was charged with 13 felonies and one misdemeanor drug charge.
If Savage did die of a heart attack, some people will likely point the finger at steroids. Savage admitted to the old use when they were legal. The first time I saw Randy Poffo, around 1976 as a jobber on WWWF television, he was similar to a younger guy John McChesney, a guy you could see was a really great bump taker and worker, but far too skinny to be pushed. He continued to look that way in photos in 1977, when in February of that year, in coming to work for Georgia Championship Wrestling, booker Ole Anderson renamed him Randy Savage, saying he wrestled like a Savage. By 1979, he had one of the best physiques in the sport, and remained muscular until the WWF established steroid testing in 1992. That led to the period he switched from regular trunks to long tights, and wrestled wearing a shirt. Once he left for WCW, he was back to working shirtless. Vince McMahon even did a spoof on television of The Huckster and Nacho Man, basically saying they were both old men on steroids.
Savage got even bigger after WCW folded and he wasn’t wrestling, probably 250 to 260 pounds, absolutely monstrous when he filmed the Spider-man movie and an episode of Walker: Texas Ranger. But a few years later, he got small and then disappeared. Rumors around the Tampa wrestling scene abounded, usually saying there must have been a health scare, but nobody knew.
Anderson used him as an underneath heel against Raymond Rougeau and Bob Backlund. He must have liked him a little, because on March 25, 1977, at the Atlanta City Auditorium, when Abdullah the Butcher no-showed a main event against Thunderbolt Patterson, Anderson put Savage in the spot to lose. But he remained working prelims against the likes of Don Kernodle, a young Tony Atlas, Tiger Conway Jr., Roberto Soto, a young Tito Santana as Richard Blood and Tommy Rich. For an Omni show on October 14, 1977, he worked with a 19-year-old David Von Erich, brought in as an outside attraction. He remained in the territory until early 1978, and moved to work for Nick Gulas in Nashville, where he started headlining against the likes of Dutch Mantel and Bobby Eaton.
By that point he was developing the entire package, because he and Eaton had some of the best matches in the country at that point.
Then his father bought into Emile Dupre’s Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling promotion in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, which allowed both Randy and brother Lanny to be work as main eventers over the International title. They used the history of that title with Randy as champion to establish International Championship Wrestling in 1979.
The ICW started in Paducah, KY, with Randy Savage and Leaping Lanny as the two top stars. At about the same time, Bob Roop, Bob Orton Jr., Boris Malenko and Ronnie Garvin had started opposition to the Fullers in the Knoxville area after a tournament for a boat that Garvin won. The boat was purchased by one of the Fullers, and whenever Ron Fuller bought an expensive car or boat, he’d use it to draw a house, have a tournament for it, which he’d invariably win, so it would make sense that people would always see him with the car or boat they saw on TV. Well, after doing that a few times, he was afraid it was getting predictable, so put Garvin over. Garvin then left the territory, with the boat, wouldn’t give it back and started opposition. This led to Fuller’s legal attempts to get it back, which made the local papers and exposed the business.
Both groups of talent migrated to Lexington and formed the most notorious wrestling promotion of its time.
If the Randy Savage of 1977 was a great worker who was too small to headline in some places, the Randy “Macho Man” Savage, the ICW world heavyweight champion in 1979 could have gone anywhere and been on top. He was a good 30 pounds heavier, and was one of the first wrestlers who looked almost like a competition bodybuilder, and had the entire character that he showed nationally six years later. It is believed the Macho Man name came from his mother, Judy, likely from the “Village People” song of that era. He was one of the first wrestlers in the country to use entrance music, probably copying it from seeing The Freebirds. He came out to the song, “Fame,” twirling, with the same hand gestures, the headband, the flashy robes, and the unique interview voice, saying, “Freak out, freak out, Macho Man Randy Savage here,” repeating interview lines and rhymes made famous in other territories by Superstar Billy Graham. He had the entire character down long before WWF, and the only real change was “Fame” was replaced by “Pomp and Circumstance.” Really, Savage was a cross between Flair, who he’d have crossed paths with when he was undercard wrestler Randy Poffo in the Carolinas in 1976 and 1977, and Graham, who pretty much every heel in the business who played bodybuilder patterned himself after.
For reasons unknown to me, ICW Wrestling started airing on a San Francisco UHF station. While I knew Leaping Lanny was Lanny Poffo, and Roop, Orton Jr. and Garvin were all established stars, and I also knew Randy Poffo as the family member who played baseball and then went into wrestling, I had no idea who this Randy “Macho Man” Savage was. Suffice to say, having grown up on legendary workers like Ray Stevens and Pat Patterson, when seeing this guy do all his flying moves, particularly the elbow drop, which as a young man he did higher and farther across the ring then when he was famous, it was “this does not compute.” Nobody except maybe Bobby Eaton would get as much height and distance on top rope moves. Savage would also routinely do the double sledge off the top rope to the floor. Orton Jr. was doing the superplex before anyone in the major territories had discovered it.
Savage had everything, the look, the promos and was more of a high flyer than anyone I’d ever seen up to that point, plus his speed, his punches, everything about him was there. At the time, few wrestlers had the bodybuilding physique, and with the exception of a guy like Ricky Steamboat and Jimmy Snuka, most of the ones who did, like Graham, Austin Idol, or a young Hulk Hogan or Jesse Ventura, had a physique, or maybe a mouth, but you didn’t expect them to be able to be a top worker. I couldn’t understand why this guy wasn’t headlining Madison Square Garden or working one of the top territories at the time.
But even more were things they said on television. They would do interviews where they would rip on other territories, usually the Fullers in Knoxville, but mainly Jerry Jarrett’s wrestlers in Memphis. Roop, who was a very good articulate promo guy, like a Nick Bockwinkel, would talk about how in other territories, the promoters would ask you to lose matches, but of course, that doesn’t happen here. Rip Rogers would show a high school yearbook photo of Jerry Lawler, and note that Lawler never played any sports and wasn’t a real athlete. Others would talk about how the Fullers real last name was Welch, and how they owned the territory they headlined in. Tojo Yamamoto, a Memphis legend, was outed as being Harold Watanabe and not even being Japanese. And they made fun of guys selling for the 5-foot-2, aging Yamamoto’s chops, laughing at how silly it was.
But Savage, as the world champion, was the king. He would constantly challenge Lawler and Bill Dundee to matches. They took out ads in the paper for their card, and would advertise things like Randy Savage offers $100,000 if Dundee, Jerry Jarrett and Yamamoto can beat him, three-on-one, or other amounts to Lawler.
A lot of the Memphis wrestlers wanted to respond on television, but Jarrett forbid it. He would constantly tell them, ignore them, because eventually they are going to go away. He said spending any time talking about them would take away from the angles they are doing and trying to draw money with. Jarrett impressed on Jimmy Hart that advice, and Jimmy Hart years later gave the same advice to Hogan when Savage was doing his grandstand challenges for a real fight for charity on Tampa area radio. So the ICW guys kept it up, looking for a response, and not getting it.
Things threatened to become physical. Jimmy Hart notes about a night he’ll never remember. Lawler had just broken his leg playing touch football, and was out of action, but in those days, word traveled slowly. A few days later, the Jarrett crew went to Lexington for their regular show. As they pulled up, Savage, in front of fans, saw Hart and started talking about how tonight, he’s taking out Lawler, and apparently he really meant it. Hart told him that Lawler broke his leg and wasn’t going to be there.
Savage paused, collected his thoughts, and told Hart, “Okay, tonight, I’m taking out Dundee.”
Not just Savage, but the entire ICW roster bought tickets and came into the building, apparently waiting to cause a scene in the main event that involved Dundee. However, in the semifinal, a fan attacked Hart and a riot started, not involving the ICW crew, and the police had to come to quell things down. The show continued, but with officers everywhere, the ICW guys never made a move.
Even though Savage wasn’t a big guy, he was intense, people thought he was crazy, and had a rep for being a tough guy. So did Orton Jr., and Garvin, while Roop wrestled in the Olympics. They were plenty intimidating. Lance Russell noted that when the crew traveled north to Lexington or sometimes Louisville, every car would have a gun because things had gotten so heated.
Dundee (Bill Crookshanks), was Jarrett’s long-time No. 2 babyface behind Lawler. Savage was routinely making fun of him on television because he was about 5-foot-4 and would grandstand challenge him and make fun of the Jarrett guys for failing to show up with so much money at stake. It was the same gimmick Savage did in his 50s with Hogan. At one point, there was a confrontation, and Savage went after Dundee. Dundee ran back to his car and pulled out a gun. Savage then wrestled the gun away from Dundee and pistol-whipped him, breaking his jaw and putting him out of action. When Dundee finally returned, he did an interview and sort of acknowledged the rumors of what happened, just saying there was a story going around about him getting in a fight and breaking his jaw, but what really happened was he was thrown off a horse and broke his jaw.
The perennial world title feud in ICW was Macho Man against Leaping Lanny. While Poffo may downplay his ability, he was quite the wrestler himself when he was young. He may have been the first wrestler to do a moonsault, years before Keiji Muto made it famous and it had a name. Their matches were much better than those that were on top in Madison Square Garden, except they were wrestling in front of 100 or so people and flying all over the place. After a few years of feuding, they did an angle where Lanny was beaten senseless, and another babyface was there, and heard him utter the shocking words. Randy Savage was really Randy Poffo, his older brother. You have to understand that no wrestling magazines touched the ICW, which made the whole idea of this Randy Savage being maybe the best guy in the business so perplexing. At least then I knew who Randy Savage was. Savage freaked out on television over his identity being exposed, tried to claim they were really half brothers and Lanny’s mother was a whore, and did a Cain and Abel type feud.
Even though they didn’t draw, Angelo Poffo was the expert on saving money. They would cram ten wrestlers in a van to drive to the cities, and if they had to stay overnight, they would rent one hotel room with most of the guys sleeping on the floor.
Besides running down the established promotions on television and in newspaper ads, the Poffo family filed a $2.4 million lawsuit against nine promotions and 13 promoters, Jim Barnett, Eddie Graham, Nick Gulas, George Gulas, Tom Renesto, Jerry Jarrett, Jerry Lawler, Wilbur Snyder, Dick “The Bruiser” Afflis, Ed “The Sheik” Farhat, Verne Gagne, Edward “Buddy Fuller” Welch and Bob Geigel. The lawsuit claimed the promoters had established an illegal monopoly on the business and had blacklisted the family from appearing with any major promotions. The lawsuit was thrown out of court when Roop and Garvin, who had been hired back by establishment promoters, Roop by Bill Watts and Garvin by Ole Anderson, recanted their original depositions where they claimed they had been told by Barnett when working in Georgia to hurt the Poffo family and the case fell apart. In all, nine of the ten key witnesses that worked for ICW left the promotion, killing the case.
In 1983, Watts, who worked with the National Wrestling Alliance but was not a member, and was going to book who he wanted and didn’t care about establishment blacklists, hired Lanny Poffo and was about to hire Randy Savage. An angle was started where Mr. Wrestling II was mentoring Magnum T.A. Magnum and Poffo did some teaming. Wrestling II, who was about to do a heel turn that played off great on television because the storyline was excellent, but actually didn’t work because fans wouldn’t boo him, told Magnum that he’s been around he knows the Poffo family, and they’re bad news. He would show tapes of Randy Savage, as a heel, and note Lanny was his brother. Magnum would say that Lanny, who worked as a face, had never done anything to him and he didn’t judge him based on his brother. The idea was to build to Magnum vs. Savage as a feud but it never happened. Savage never ended up coming in. However, in their conversations, Watts told him he was wasting his career, as he was already 30, and there was money to be made working against Lawler. Savage wrote a letter to Lawler apologizing for everything he had said and was looking to work together to do business. Years later, when Savage was on top, he called Watts, by this point out of the business, to thank him for the advice, noting that if he had stayed independent and not gone to Memphis, he wouldn’t have been seen by Scott on a tape, and never gotten the opportunity. Realistically, at some point, the opportunity would have come. It’s also possible it may have come at a different time where he may not have gotten the same opportunity.
Jimmy Hart remembered Lawler calling him up and telling him about the letter and asking him for advice. Hart told him it would be great.
“Lawler said to me, `What if it turns into a real fight.’” said Hart. “I told him, `Don’t worry, I’ve got your back.’”
His attempt at humor notwithstanding, they actually tested the match out in Lexington, putting it on cold with no angle and no television, and it drew more than 8,000 fans at Rupp Arena, ending without a decision in a long match described as tremendous. It was, up to that point in time, the largest crowd and gate ever for wrestling in that city.
With the trust issue seemingly put to bed, Savage and Angelo Poffo showed up on Memphis television, acting like they were barging in on a live television show. Savage demanded Lawler. Eddie Marlin, who played the role of promoter, tried to reason with Savage about leaving during the live show. Eventually Lawler said he was tired with all the talk for all those years and wanted the match.
The match took place on December 5, 1983, at the Mid South Coliseum, with Lawler retaining his Southern title and winning via DQ, before 8,012 fans, about double what they had been doing. It wasn’t a sellout, but it was the fourth largest crowd of the year for the promotion that ran every Monday night, trailing two appearances by Andy Kaufman in handicap matches against Lawler, and a Lawler challenge of Nick Bockwinkel for the AWA title. Week two, a cage match with Lawler once again winning via DQ, was down to 4,500 fans, just above normal. Week three, on a traditional bad week given it was right before Christmas, they were down to 2,480, with Lawler & Austin Idol beating Savage & Jos LeDuc via DQ. From that point, Savage was moved down the cards.
Eventually he turned face in a feud with Rick Rude in September, 1984. The second week after the turn, Lawler & Savage teamed up for the first time losing to Rude & King Kong Bundy. Savage, often teaming with his brother, was not as successful as a face, and by March, 1985, was turned heel against Lawler again.
“Randy was a babyface when I came in and had been switched so many times they didn’t believe I could get him back as a heel,” said Jeff Walton. “Randy had to know and like you. He was a loner. He never traveled with the boys, always going up and down the road with Elizabeth, his wife at the time.”
“I remember one night at the Nashville Fairgrounds we were working a hot match with Lawler,” said Walton. “I jumped into the ring to save Randy after a lot of interference on my part. That was all it took and a riot broke out. As I was stomping Lawler, I saw a big, burly biker coming into the ring with a chain wrapped around his fist. He was coming straight at me. It was like in slow motion. All of a sudden, Randy tackles this big guy and saves my neck, and my other body parts. He always had my back. He was a tremendous athlete dedicated to the wrestling business sand I was shocked and saddened at his all too soon passing. He was just the best.”
Savage’s 1985 feud with Lawler was actually hotter than the first one, probably because they gave him credibility and had him beat Lawler for the Southern title on March 18, 1985. On April 15, Savage even retained the title pinning Bockwinkel in what was likely their only meeting. That win meant a lot for his credibility, as Lawler vs. Savage the next Monday drew 9,000 fans, the biggest crowd thus far of the year. May 6 was a unique match with Lawler & Bruiser Brody going to a double count out with Savage & David Shults.
In a trivia note, Savage and Brody were actually supposed to do a big program in the ICW in 1983. After working on the same shows in St. Louis for Matysik, Brody agreed to come to the ICW and was going to beat Savage for the title on October 30, 1983, in Cape Girardeau. Brody was such a name at the time in the sense he had credibility and it likely would have been a shot in the arm for the promotion. But politics entered the fray.
Before the match, Matysik, in attempting to get the Wrestling with the Chase time slot on KPLR-TV, came face-to-face with his adversary for the slot, Vince McMahon, who was about to start his national expansion. Matysik was an independent promoter, although had a good name in St. Louis. McMahon was running a major promotion with big name stars, and selling out Madison Square Garden. The station essentially asked the two to work together, which led to Matysik as the St. Louis promoter for WWF shows and WWF getting the time slot. Matysik kept it quiet, only telling Brody that he was folding his promotion to go with WWF. Brody then called Bob Geigel, who was running the established NWA promotion in the city, and acted like he was going to bail on Matysik and destroy him, to get a strong guaranteed deal with Geigel, who saw dollar signs because Brody, the big star with the opposition, against Ric Flair or Harley Race meant big business. But in doing so, one of his dates was on October 30, and Brody did not even call Savage to let him know he wasn’t coming on the night the title was supposed to change hands.
Savage gave notice after getting the phone call from Jimmy Hart and immediately agreeing to go to WWF. This built to a loser leaves town match on June 3, 1985, which drew 9,000 fans, with Lawler pinning Savage in 30:09 of a great match. In those days, most wrestlers when getting the WWF offer bailed without giving notice, which is how Vince wanted it since they were at war and in those days, it wasn’t like Vince would have wanted a guy he was building to face Hogan to have done a high profile job for Lawler, even if it was just in Memphis and a few other cities. But Savage felt grateful enough that after all he did, that Jarrett and Lawler gave him his chance, and did the right thing for them on the way out, losing in every city.
“I learned a major lesson from him,” said Jericho. “I’d first come to WCW in 1996, when the NWO arrived. Hall & Nash were very much prima donnas, basically assholes in a lot of ways. As an impressionable guy, but also coming from Calgary, and spending so much time in Japan, I was taught respect. There guys were the opposite. Savage was a lot nicer because he came in like I did.
“One night the music didn’t work. It was Sting & Savage vs. Hall & Nash. So Hall & Nash refused to go to the ring. They are complaining, saying, `This is bush league, Vince always had music.’ They were supposed to go out first and wouldn’t go out. Savage was backstage and said, `Enough of this bullshit, let’s go out.’ Sting didn’t want to go out either. Savage just went out with no music. He did a promo about the music not being there. Then Sting had to go out since he was Savage’s partner, and finally Hall & Nash went out. Savage did the professional thing. Savage in my opinion at that time was a bigger star than all three of those guys. To see that, it was a pretty professional thing. They all should have done it. He may never have even remembered it, but I’d never forget it.”
Savage had debuted in late 1994 with the storyline of whether he was going to shake Hogan’s hand or slap his face. He saved Hogan from an attack, shook his hand, and started out as a face.
Savage worked most notably with Flair in 1995. WCW had been doing terrible house show business, even with Hogan, in 1994 and 1995. The turnaround in WCW business can be traced to early 1996, and the Flair vs. Savage feud, with Elizabeth thrown in. Elizabeth returned as Savage’s valet, only to turn on him and go with Flair, turning on more heat with a storyline of how Flair, now with Elizabeth, was spending all the money Savage gave her in the divorce settlement.
They feuded until the NWO angle, which came in a match with Savage & Sting & Luger as the top faces against Hall & Nash and their mystery partner, who ended up being Hogan. Savage feuded with the NWO, and later joined them. He had a long feud with Diamond Dallas Page which Page credits, and rightly so, for making him a legit main eventer.
“I couldn’t believe when I met him that was really his voice,” said Konnan. “I could have sworn it was a gimmick. He was very paranoid, always worried what people might be saying or thinking about him. If he thought you were making fun of him, which most of the time we were, shit was on.
“Remember when he had that dry hair, before he met Gorgeous George and she sort of hipped him up, and he had the hair plugs with the hair slick back and looked pretty pimp and he was wearing all black?
“Well, before that, his hair looked terrible and Hall and Nash would tell him to cut off his hair, and he wouldn’t. So they said they would if he would. He would ask me if they were fucking with him. But Hall told me he would, just to see Macho shave that freeze dried straw hair off. This went on for quite a while and he was always paranoid. I would always tell him, call them out and if they cut their hair first, they obviously aren’t fucking with you. But I really think he was more worried about what he would look like bald. He was very paranoid about his looks and about how people perceived him. This went on for months and it was great.”
In those days, the top guys didn’t put anyone over who wasn’t a star, so it was a huge deal to Page when Savage agreed to put him over clean with the diamond cutter on PPV, making him a player. Later Savage was back as a babyface after being turned on by Hogan and Bret Hart. In June, 1998, he underwent two major knee operations, putting him out for the rest of the year.
He returned with the slick back hair and Gorgeous George as his valet in 1999. Eventually he added Miss Madness Mona (Nora Greenwald, who became better known years later in WWF as Molly Holly) and Madusa to Team Madness. Savage stayed with the company through May, 2000, before his contract expired, and due to WCW being so deep in the red, it wasn’t renewed.
Savage had four WCW title runs between 1995 and 1999. And although pro wrestling was far more popular in 1998 and 1999 than at any time previously, when Savage passed away, almost nobody spoke of his WCW tenure except in passing. Almost everything written was either sports people bringing up his baseball career, or the WWF run, mostly the period with Elizabeth.
“I don’t really get that star struck in the business, but when the Wolfpac was me, Nash, Luger, Sting and Mach, I was very star struck and honored to have been able to chill and talk and work with one of the greatest performers this industry has ever seen,” said Konnan.
“Macho Man and Elizabeth is part of our cultural fabric,” said Jericho. “People remember that more than most movies from those years. Everybody knew Miss Elizabeth and what happened. It really struck a chord. It was the first modern age of modern day wrestling. That first time it really caught fire. The stories were so good. And it’s part of your childhood, and that becomes beloved, like watching Batman & Robin. I thought it was the best show ever. Now, I realize it’s God awful terrible.”
After wrestling, Savage promoted a rap album, which was a joke, built around a song called, “Be A Man,” where he challenged Hogan to a real fight. After Savage got small, he disappeared, and didn’t seem to want to be in contact with anyone. He went gray, cut his hair and totally changed his look.
About the only person he stayed in contact was with Brian “Crush” Adams. Bret Hart, who was very close friends with Adams, asked Adams if he could get Savage’s phone number. Adams said that Savage told him not to give his number to anyone, so Hart told him to give Savage his number and to ask him to call. Savage never called.
In 2007, at the funeral for Adams, Hart and Jericho were talking.
“He came up, nobody knew who he was, this guy with white hair and a big beard,” said Jericho. “It was Randy. Eventually I recognized the voice. Bret didn’t recognize him. I asked, `Randy, is that you?’ He looked so different. Like a Santa Claus.”
“He told me, Bret, it’s me,” said Hart. After the funeral, Hart again tried to get in contact with him and never heard back.
Hogan, on twitter, after his death, said that Savage hated him for the last decade but they recently had made amends. Most people were skeptical, since it was Hogan, and knowing Savage was avoiding friends, let alone the person he hated more than anyone.
Still, last year, Mattel proposed a list of talent they wanted for a Legends action figure line, which included Savage. WWE did not block them from pursuing a deal with Savage. They came to an agreement and the first new action figure of him in years, wearing the outfit he wore at WrestleMania VII for the match with Warrior, came out in January. Another figure was schedule to hit retail now.
The Mattel people went to Florida to get Savage to cut an interview for the San Diego Comic Con for the announcement. The room broke out in applause when Savage appeared on screen with his action figure–the first Savage product under the WWE banner since 1994. Those involved said that while he hadn’t been around wrestling, he seemed to enjoy cutting the promo.
After WCW folded, Savage never appeared on WWE television, nor was he even interviewed for a DVD the company put out on him after years of McMahon refusing to okay one, the company did not block either THQ, which produced its video games, or Mattel, which produced its action figures, from using the Savage character over the past year. Those close to the company said they believed McMahon was going to relent and allow Savage in the Hall of Fame, which would mean a return to company television at least for one appearance, for the first time since 1994, perhaps as early as next year. But others said that was wishful thinking and McMahon was still in the absolutely no way Savage is on TV mind set to the end.
Savage also appeared as an actor in a number of television shows, often playing himself, as well as playing the role of wrestler Bonesaw McGraw in the 2002 “Spider-Man” movie.
Savage had told his family he wanted a private funeral with only family invited. He asked to be cremated, with his ashes spread next to his favorite tree, the same as he did with his dog’s ashes when his dog died a few years ago.
RANDY “MACHO MAN” SAVAGE
CAREER TITLE HISTORY
WORLD WRESTLING FEDERATION WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT: def. Ted DiBiase in tournament final for vacant title March 27, 1988 Atlantic City; lost to Hulk Hogan April 2, 1989 Atlantic City; def. Ric Flair April 5, 1992 Indianapolis; lost to Ric Flair September 1, 1992 Hershey, PA
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT: won Battle Royal to win vacant title November 26, 1995, Norfolk; lost to Ric Flair December 27, 1995 Nashville; def. Ric Flair January 22, 1996 Las Vegas; lost to Ric Flair February 11, 1996 St. Petersburg; def. Sting April 19, 1998 Denver; lost to Hulk Hogan April 20, 1998 Colorado Springs; def. Kevin Nash July 11, 1999 Fort Lauderdale in tag match of Savage & Sid Vicious beating Nash & Sting; lost to Hulk Hogan July 12, 1999 Jacksonville
WORLD WRESTLING FEDERATION INTERCONTINENTAL: def. Tito Santana February 8, 1986 Boston; lost to Ricky Steamboat March 29, 1987 Pontiac
KING OF WWF: def. Jim Duggan August 30, 1989 Portland, ME; title dropped when Savage retired in 1991
UNITED STATES WRESTLING ASSOCIATION WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT: def. Jerry Lawler October 11, 1993 Memphis; Vacated title when WWF and USWA business relationship ended November 1993
WORLD WRESTLING COUNCIL NORTH AMERICAN HEAVYWEIGHT: def. Pedro Morales September 15, 1984 San Juan; lost to Hercules Ayala Mach 10, 1985 Ponce
NWA SOUTHERN HEAVYWEIGHT: def. Jerry Lawler March 17, 1985 Memphis; lost to Jerry Oski May 7, 1985 Louisville; def. Jerry Oski May 13, 1985 Memphis; lost to Jerry Lawler June 3, 1985 Memphis
NWA MID AMERICAN HEAVYWEIGHT: def. Don Kent January 3 1978 Birmingham; lost to Dutch Mantel March 26, 1978 Chattanooga; def. Dutch Mantel November 11, 1978 Nashville; lost to Bobby Eaton February 1979; def. Terry Taylor December 28, 1983 Memphis; lost to Jerry Lawler April 12, 1984 Lexington
NWA INTERNATIONAL HEAVYWEIGHT: def. Austin Idol April 23, 1984 Memphis; lost to Austin Idol May 14, 1984 Memphis
INTERNATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT: def. Lanny Poffo March 13, 1979 Halifax, Nova Scotia; lost to Lanny Poffo 1979; def. Lanny Poffo July 21, 1979 Lexington; lost to Lanny Poffo 1981; def. Lanny Poffo 1981; lost to Paul Christy November 13, 1983 Springfield, IL
GRAND PRIX INTERNATIONAL HEAVYWEIGHT: def. Lanny Poffo July 18, 1978 New Brunswick; lost to Lanny Poffo 1979; def. Lanny Poffo March 13, 1979 Halifax; lost to Killer Karl Krupp July 1979
GULF COAST TAG TEAM: w/Lanny Poffo def. Edward Heath & John Foley January 20, 1976 Mobile; titles vacated February 17, 1976 when the Poffos were fired after an altercation with booker Rip Tyler
WRESTLING OBSERVER AWARDS
MATCH OF THE YEAR - March 29, 1987 vs. Ricky Steamboat, Pontiac
WORST MATCH OF THE YEAR - Hulk Hogan & Randy Savage vs. Arn Anderson & Meng & Barbarian & Ric Flair & Kevin Sullivan & Z Gangsta & Ultimate Solution March 10, 1996 Tupelo
HALL OF FAME - 1996
BEST PRO WRESTLING DVD - 2009 Macho Madness: The Randy Savage Ultimate Collection
PRO WRESTLING HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE - 2009
Jun 11 2011, 03:47 AM
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According to brother Lanny Poffo, the death of Randy Savage was due to heart problems.
Poffo in an interview on 6/7 on the Bright House Network in Tampa labeled the death as due to ventricular fibrillation, a type of diseased heart that can lead to a sudden heart attack. It was not made clear if that was the final verdict of the county medical examiner, who was going to do a number of tests of both internal organs and for drugs before releasing a cause of death.
Randy Mario Poffo, 58, received a full page in Sports Illustrated, a few paragraphs that Time magazine asked Vince McMahon to write and he was honored at a number of sporting events, including by at least two major league baseball teams, the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals.
In 2007, Time did little if any coverage of the Chris Benoit story believing it was beneath it to cover something related to pro wrestling.
According to his mother Judy, when Lanny told her about the honor at Yankees Stadium, she said, “Thank goodness, he finally made it to the majors.”: While Savage’s name was made as one of the biggest stars in pro wrestling history, many who knew him still believe he would have rather been a major league baseball player.
“I really believe, even after he became so big in wrestling, Randy would have traded it all to have made the big leagues,” said Doug Flynn in the Lexington Herald-Leader, a teammate of his with the 1974 Tampa Tarpons, who moved up to the Cincinnati Reds the next season, and played on the World Series winning teams with Savage’s hero, Johnny Bench, in 1975 and 1976. Flynn went on to have an 11-year-major league career, with the New York Mets, Montreal Expos, Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers. In 1981, Savage even worked a wrestling angle with Flynn.
“Randy loved baseball,” said Flynn, who said he and his wife, Olga, both broke down in tears when they heard the news.
Judy Poffo, Randy’s mother, told Ch. 10 news in Tampa that Randy had told her that this past year, as the he and wife Lynn (Barbara Lynn Boyd, his girlfriend from his baseball days in the early 70s) who he reconnected with a few years ago, had just celebrated their first anniversary, was the best year of his life. Lanny, however, said that Randy had gone into a deep depression last year when their father, Angelo, passed away.
Lanny Poffo categorized Randy’s wife as a hero, saying that his brother’s foot was on the accelerator of the Jeep Wrangler when he had the fatal heart attack and she grabbed the wheel, sending the jeep into a tree to serve out of he way of a motorcyclist coming in the other direction that they would have hit head-on because he had veered across the median onto the other side of the road.
There is at least one medical journal that showed a link between long-term heavy usage of anabolic steroids with ventricular fibrillation, but that would not necessarily make it the cause, or rule it out as the cause in this case.
A private funeral was held at his home, with his ashes spread next to his favorite tree, intermixed with those of his pet dog. He had requested this before his death. He also made it clear that he didn’t want “Pomp and Circumstance,” the song most widely associated with him, playing at his funeral. The song was his entrance music during most of his career as a national, starting in 1985. But he later felt guilty for using it, thinking he had stolen it from Gorgeous George, who used the same song as his entrance music, believed to be the first wrestler to have entrance music, more than 35 years before Savage’s heyday. For whatever reason, Randy ended up with an affinity for the name. Randy had purchased the rights to the Gorgeous George name in the 90s from independent wrestler Robbie Kellum (who, as part of the deal, got a job in WCW as The Maestro). Originally, Lanny was going to use the name, but he instead gave it to his then-girlfriend, Stephanie Bellars. At the time of his father’s death, Savage told Lanny that giving Bellars that name was one of the biggest regrets of his life. Bellars, for her part, after the breakup, did interviews saying said she was upset over Randy suggesting the two do a three-way with her 17-year-old sister. She also told people after the break-up that her two years with Randy were the worst years of her life.
Lanny Poffo appeared on the radio with Hillbilly Jim after the funeral and talked about how horrible it was for his mother, now 84, to witness the funeral of her oldest son. He said the ceremony was beautiful and it created closure. He said Randy’s wife said that Randy stated he did not want his remains in an urn and that he wanted his family there to sprinkle the ashes immediately. Randy said that he didn’t want to be in an urn because he didn’t want people seeing the urn and getting sad and moping around, saying life is too precious for any moments of negativity. Lanny noted that Randy was in tremendous pain, with his body breaking down and he was aging prematurely, likely due to the various abuses he did to it with his hard style during his wrestling career, noting he was suffering from neck problems (from doing the movie “Spider-Man,” knee problems (which for the most part ended his career) and back problems.
Lanny also noted an incident when David Sammartino felt that his father’s falling out with Vince McMahon ruined his career. Lanny said he told David that was stupid. Lanny said if David’s father wasn’t Bruno Sammartino and if his brother wasn’t Randy Savage, neither of them wouldn’t have even had jobs carrying jackets back to the dressing room.
But to most, Randy was a tough person to know. After the August 2007 death of Brian Adams, it isn’t believed he was in contact with anyone in wrestling aside from his brother. He never did conventions, and while he was never welcomed back to WWE, there would have been numerous opportunities for him, whether in TNA or elsewhere, had he had any interest.
Whatever the issues were between Randy and Vince McMahon, it was something Vince McMahon found out after 1999. When Savage’s first contract with WCW expired in 1996, he was in talks with both sides, and renewed with WCW because they gave the best offer. The same thing happened in 1999, when his second deal with WCW expired. At that point, Savage was asking for a multi-million dollar per year contract, figuring that if Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and Sting were earning more than seven figures guaranteed, that he should be in the same category. Neither WCW nor WWF would meet his demands, and for the most part he left WCW in 1999 after a match with Dennis Rodman on the August Road Wild PPV show. At that point there was a house show run with Savage & Sid Vicious vs. Hulk Hogan & Sting, but Savage, who had already worked more than the allotted maximum number of dates for 1999 on his contract even though it was only August, was able to legally leave before his contract was up. This actually led to some Hogan vs. Bret Hart house show matches in California.
He came back for two appearances in 2000, once he got paid a huge amount of money to work a house show as an emergency replacement when so many headliners were injured. Weeks later, he showed up out of nowhere in a Battle Royal on Thunder where he attacked members of the New Blood, a WCW heel group at the time.
After 2001, Vince McMahon would not even entertain any ideas regarding Savage, whether it be television appearances or angles, the Hall of Fame, or merchandise ideas. Eventually, after the idea being tabled nearly every year, McMahon did agree to do a DVD in 2009. “Macho Madness,” which had no documentary, no involvement of Savage, and was just a series of matches, but still won the Observer’s DVD of the year award that year. He did not block THQ and Mattel’s ideas to merchandise Savage in the WWE All-Stars video game this year, and in a nostalgia action figure line, but it was in both cases, his business partners ideas, not his. Savage didn’t say much publicly, but did say on a number of occasions he would like to be in the WWE Hall of Fame.
Whatever the true reason was, the only thing for sure is the attempts by those to give other explanations held no water. Roddy Piper saying it was because Savage slapped Vince makes no sense because there is no way a story like that could have ever stayed under wraps, plus Vince would hardly hold a grudge over that, and the two never met after 2001 and McMahon and WWF at two points were in talks of bringing him back. The story that he was so heartbroken about how Savage left without giving notice also makes no sense given he had the best sendoff of any wrestler who left the promotion of that era, was negotiated with after the fact, and that every major name who he believed had wronged him in business at one point or another he brought back, even those he swore he never would, such as Hulk Hogan, on multiple occasions.
In the 6/6 issue of Time, Vince’s article consisted of two paragraphs. Whether this was written by him or by the P.R. department, it was notable because he used the word wrestling and sports, or at least gave the okay for those words to be used:
“It’s important in sports and it’s important in entertainment to stand out. Randy knew that. Right away, he wanted to leave his mark, and to do that he was aware he had to make himself different from everyone else. One way he did this was concentrating on his outfits, those brightly colored costumes with foot-long fringe that became his trademark. He brought to wrestling a unique look and style.
“Randy, who died in a car crash May 20 at age 58, was one of the building blocks of what is now WWE (previously known as the World Wrestling Federation). He had a very unusual voice–remember his `Snap into a Slim Jim. Oh yeah!’ commercials?, and was extremely charismatic. Perception is very important in this business, and he also had a very high opinion of himself, something he needed in a locker room full of performers who had been around for a while and had big personalities and followings–like Hulk Hogan. Today, Randy is remembered as one of the wrestling’s all-time greats. No question about it–he certainly was.”
Over the past decade, there were a few teases of him coming back, but he only did one more match, working about ten seconds in a trios match on a TNA PPV show before quitting prior to a scheduled title match PPV run with Jeff Jarrett. He had been in talks with Jerry Jarrett to be one of the major stars when TNA started in 2002, only to change his mind about returning at the last minute. He was also booked and advertised for a tour of Australia in 2002 for Andrew McManus, which included a tape delayed PPV to North America. Once again, Savage pulled out at the last minute.
There was a lot of publicity in Lexington, where Savage lived in the ICW years, working in a small family promotion that was the bridge between him being a skinny, but strong in-ring performer, and becoming one of the most muscular and best all-around talents in the industry, even though he was largely a secret to most fans.
Flynn settled in Lexington, and Keith Madison, who was the head baseball coach at the time at the University of Kentucky during the ICW days, were both friends of Savage while on the 1974 Tampa Tarpons, but had lost touch over the next several years, and Savage had changed so much between the crazy hair and all the steroids and the new voice that when they finally met up again after what was only about six-and–a-half years, they didn’t recognize him.
Madison described Savage as having some power at the plate, but the one thing major league about him was his throwing arm, which was ruined in the home plate collision the year before when he suffered a badly separated right shoulder, and taught himself in the off-season to throw left-handed, but never had the arm to play outfield or catcher as a lefty.
“Randy was a good ballplayer, not a great one,” said Madison. “He was an incredibly hard worker, the kind of guy who got to the ballpark early and stayed late.”
“I don’t remember Randy saying all that much,” said Flynn. “We found out his dad was a pro wrestler. We gave him a hard time, how fake it was. Even then, we couldn’t really get him to talk a lot. He was just a very quiet guy.”
Madison said Poffo may have been able to move up as a catcher, a position where a player wasn’t expected to necessarily be a big hitter. But as a first baseman, you had to be a big hitter, and he wasn’t that good.
During the 1981 baseball strike, Flynn was singing at a Lexington club when Savage walked into the club, as he always did in those days, dressing to be the center of attention. He was wearing a bandanna, a leather jacket and his jeans had “Macho Man” written down the sides. He approached Flynn, who saw the muscular guy and thought he must have crossed a biker gang.
“I was thinking, `What have I done to him?’ I thought I was dead.”
Flynn and Madison, had remained friends, and Flynn called Madison, saying he and his wife wanted to go out with him and his wife to a local steak house, and he said he had a guest.
“We’re in the back seat with the windows down,” said Madison to Mark Story of the Herald-Leader. “We stop, and here comes this huge guy with long hair, wearing kind of wild clothes, and I’m like, `What in the world is this?’”
Savage recognized Madison immediately but Madison had no idea this guy was his former teammate.
Madison ended up doing an interview on the ICW television show, due to his notoriety as the local college coach.
Savage would always claim on television to have been a minor league baseball star, playing in Sarasota, his then-billed home town, which was true, although would also claim to have led the rookie league in home runs, which wasn’t true.
“Randy said nobody (who watched wrestling on TV) believed he had really played minor league baseball. So I did an interview in which I talked about playing with him in Tampa and that he had been a good player.”
Flynn also did some wrestling, as a special referee, a babyface who had a grudge against Savage. He would say how baseball was a team sport, but Savage wasn’t a team player which he would say was why he never made to the majors in baseball.
Savage started in wrestling after the 1973 baseball season. His father had already crossed the establishment running a non-NWA promotion with famed manager Gentleman Saul Weingeroff out of Paducah, KY. To make sure it wasn’t discovered by baseball officials, he worked under a mask as The Graduate. Before the season started, he also worked for Championship Wrestling from Florida, an NWA office, under a mask as The Spider. He used that name after the 1974 baseball season working for Ann Gunkel’s “outlaw” All South Wrestling as well as back for Championship Wrestling from Florida, as a skinny job guy. On February 13, 1975, in Punta Gorda, FL, under a mask, he lost a prelim match to former Olympic wrestler Mitsuo Yoshida, who was also just starting out and in Florida to train under Karl Gotch. This was a few years before Yoshida became Riki Choshu.
When he was cut in the 1975 training camp by the White Sox, he followed his father and brother to working for The Sheik in Detroit, with his first match under his own name on March 15, 1975, at Cobo Arena in Detroit, with Randy & Angelo Poffo beating the father-and-son duo of Wild Bull & Flying Fred Curry via count out. Since Lanny had more experience, Angelo & Lanny were the tag team title match version of the Poffos, while Randy worked underneath tag matches with Mike Thomas, including wrestling Afa & Sika, who were early in their careers, as well as the famed Von Brauners, Kurt & Karl, who were ending their careers as most decorated world tag team champions in history. He debuted at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto as a prelim wrestler, losing to Kurt Von Brauner and Waldo Von Erich.
In early 1976, he and Lanny got their first push as a brother tag team working in Alabama, feuding with the original British Bulldogs, Ted Heath & John Foley, over the Gulf Coast tag team championship. In a match on February 17, 1976, in Mobile, a match got out of control and turned into a shoot with Randy not doing the planned finish. In the dressing room, Rip Tyler, the booker, according to one version of the story, knocked Randy, who he believed had been the unprofessional one, across the dressing room. Lanny had a very different story, saying Tyler never knocked Randy across the room, but the two were fired on the spot. They returned to Detroit to work for The Sheik. In July, Randy moved to the Carolinas, where his father had already been working, as a brother combination with Lanny. His first week in, working in Richmond, Randy & Lanny beat Danny Miller & future superstar Tatsumi Fujinami.
They were a secondary-level mid-card heel team, occasionally challenging Mr. Wrestling (Tim Woods) & Dino Bravo when the latter were Mid Atlantic tag team champions.
After that run ended at the end of February with Randy Poffo losing to Red Bastien at the Greensboro Coliseum, Randy Savage, pre-Macho Man, was born on March 1, 1977, when he debuted for Georgia Championship Wrestling in Augusta, GA. Ole Anderson, who saw him in the Carolinas and thought his style was like that of a savage, changed his ring name.
In his first match under that name, he did a prelim draw with Don Kernodle, so it wasn’t as if Anderson saw his potential as a big-time player as much as just came up with a ring name for a guy figured to be a prelim heel. Savage did a lot of draws with Bob Backlund, who wasn’t being pushed hard even though Backlund was being pushed asa superstar on WWWF television and being groomed to replace Bruno Sammartino as the territory’s top babyface star. He worked up-and-down the card, mostly in prelims and in the middle. On an October 14, 1977, show at the Omni, he put over a 19-year-old David Von Erich. He remained in the territory until mid-January of 1978, when he moved to the Chattanooga promotion, where he got his first shot at being a headliner.
The debut of Randy “Macho Man” Savage was on January 3, 1978, at Boutwell Auditorium in Birmingham, where he was brought in by promoter Nick Gulas to be a main event heel. In his first night in the territory, he beat Bulldog Don Kent to win the Mid American heavyweight title.
Savage returned to Georgia for his final two weeks, putting people over, until starting full-time for Gulas on January 19. His main opponent for the next few months was Dutch Mantel, doing all kinds of stipulation matches. There was an angle where he attacked Tom Renesto Jr., the son of television announcer and booker Tom Renesto Sr., which led to Renesto first being a referee in Savage vs. Mantel matches, and the coming out of retirement for matches with Savage. This led to Savage & The Masked Carpetbagger (one of the many masked aliases Angelo used) facing Mantel & Renesto Sr. At the end of March, since he was leaving the territory, he dropped the title to Mantel.
It was in May of that year when Angelo bought into Emil Dupre’s territory in the Maritimes and brought his sons in, with Lanny and Randy feuding that summer over the International heavyweight title, the belt they brought to the U.S. that became the ICW title.
The Maritimes were a strong summer territory, which paid far better than most promotions did in those days, but it closed down during the winter because every arena in the winter housed ice hockey.
So in October, Savage returned to work for Gulas, and in late October, he and Bobby Eaton worked 60 minute draws every night of the week to build for 90 minute time limit rematches. This is where his reputation as a worker really hit because the two were having some of the best matches in the country. In week three, they were back to doing 60 minute draws and came back with double disqualifications with Mantel as referee. He then beat Mantel to win back the Mid American title and was defending against Eaton and Mantel. He then moved on to work programs with The Mexican Angel, and the former Cleveland Browns NFL all-star lineman, Walter Johnson, who was a poor pro wrestler but a name from football. At some point in this period he also had a 60:00 draw with world champion Harley Race in what was remembered as one of the area’s classic matches. He was also brought up to Detroit to headline against The Sheik, but that territory was on its last legs by the spring of 1979, with crowds at the Olympia (now Joe Louis Arena) hovering around 2,000. The Poffo family formed the ICW in Kentucky in March 1979.
At that point he was on top for the ICW in Kentucky and for its sister promotion, All-Star Wrestling out of Knoxville. The two groups shared talent and would do television tapings together, before All-Star Wrestling closed up it became ICW across the board.
The ICW lasted from March 1979 before sputtering to its death in 1984, after Randy, it’s biggest star, went to work for Jerry Jarrett and did his matches with Jerry Lawler and the like.
It was a unique promotion, both from using its television to call out wrestlers from other promotions, whether they be from the Jarrett promotion, the Nick Gulas group (which some found in bad taste since Gulas was struggling for survival after Jarrett and Jerry Lawler broke off from him, and Gulas was the first promoter to give Randy a break as a star), or the Fuller promotion, at least until the Fullers closed up. Their using TV time to embarrass people wasn’t limited to rival promotions. They also would talk about the management of Rupp Arena, the major arena in town, saying they were in the pocket of Jarrett and the NWA, since they would not allow the ICW a date. Eventually, after putting pressure on for long enough, using a powerful local politician, Edgar Wallace, as a television announcer for a time, they were able to get into the city’s biggest arena. But after only being able to draw about 2,000 fans, they gave up after a few shows.
The promotion started in Georgetown, KY, just outside of Lexington, and the original newspaper ads were based on a $20,000 challenge where it was announced that Savage & Rip Rogers would put up the money if Danny Fargo & Bulldog Cliff Lily (the tag team champions of the group running the city at the time) could beat them, which was actually their first grandstand challenge.
Randy, Lanny and Angelo Poffo (under the mask as The Miser), Hustler Rip Rogers and George Weingeroff (the son of legendary manager Saul Weingeroff, George was a top college wrestler even though he is legally blind) were the stars when the promotion started. While Savage was a top star for Nick Gulas’ promotion out of Nashville, he was frustrated the legendarily bad Gulas payoffs. The ICW kicked into high gear in May 1980, when the top stars of All-Star Wrestling out of Knoxville, the group that broke off from The Fullers, led by Ronnie Garvin, Bob Orton Jr., Bob Roop and Pez Whatley among others joined in.
For most of the promotion, Savage was, first the International champion (the belt brought into the territory from the Maritimes Promotion that Angelo bought into to give Randy and Lanny pushes as main eventers), and the belt was later called the ICW world champion. Leaping Lanny was the original ICW International champion, losing to Savage at the TV tapings on July 21, 1979, in Lexington, in a match that lasted for the entire one hour television show before Savage emerged as champion.
While there are reports of Savage losing and winning it back from Lanny in 1981, this was never acknowledged on television, where by 1983, Savage would give promos saying, “Four years, two months, 13 days, Ooh Yeeah!” giving the amount of time he had been world champion. When he barged into the Memphis TV studio on December 3, 1983, for the angle signifying peace was made with the Jarrett promotion, in going crazy, he mentioned “Four years, four months, 12 days,” in the middle of his intense stream-of-conscious promos.
Garvin was his babyface rival, billed as the Southeastern champion, the title that was the main singles belt of the Fullers promotion that Garvin left with. They would wrestle with every stipulation imaginable, with Garvin never winning the title. What was also unique is the open of the show, to the song “Midnight Express,” (before there was a tag team of that name that used the same entrance music), would show all kinds of crazy clips with fire, Savage with a python snake (long before Jake Roberts did it, although The Sheik had done it before Savage) and a clip from the Southeastern territory where Garvin was putting the boots to Andre the Giant.
At first, Savage was part of the heel group, the Slapowitz Syndicate, named after manager Izzy Slapowitz, doing a stereotypical Orthodox Jewish character, even more stereotypical, coming off the huge success of Gentleman Saul Weingeroff as the heel Jewish manager of Germans with the Von Brauners. Savage was with Rip Rogers, Bob Orton Jr., Superstar Berry O (Randall Barry Orton), and Tony Peters. After Slapowitz left to work for Ric Flair and Blackjack Mulligan’s attempt to run a promotion out of Knoxville in 1981, Savage was managed by Steve Cooper (who would often accompany him prior to that to house since they were running two shows per night and Slapowitz often worked the other city). The promotion started to go downhill at that point as Orton Jr. and Roop went to work for Mid South Wrestling, and Savage scared television announcer John Beck out of the business when he found out Beck had gone around town telling people wrestling was fake, and the people he would tell it to got word through the local strippers back to Randy.
His departure was unique, as at the next television taping after Savage had gotten the word, Bob Roop, by this point a babyface, presented Beck with a framed plaque as the pro wrestling announcer of the year. Later in the show, Savage, apparently unknown to Beck ahead of time, grabbed the plaque and broke it over his own head. The glass was real and Savage was bleeding from the forehead. Savage stated threatening Beck in a maniacal tone, and Beck left. When they came back from a commercial break, Beck was gone, and Roop announced the rest of the show. The next week, Tim Tyler took over as announcer. In 1982, Liz Hulette (Elizabeth) worked as lead announcer.
The television show was taped every other Thursday in Lexington at the WTVQ studios, in 1982 moved to Ch. 27 in Lexington. An interesting note is that the sportscaster on that station’s news was current Inside MMA host Kenny Rice.
Maybe 25 fans would be in the stands at the studio while Savage and Orton Jr. were doing things in the ring far ahead of their time. Savage was younger and less banged up, and went higher and farther with kneedrops and elbow drops off the top than anyone I’d ever seen in my life, before or after. He also did a high jumping piledriver. Cooper, as a manager, was unique in that Savage was the whole show, did all the talking, and got all the heat. They ran against established promoters as the most hated outlaw promotion, running small arenas in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, parts of Illinois and Missouri. An interesting note is when they would go on television and bad mouth the various promoters and star wrestlers, whether it would be give real names, laugh about how fake their big moves were, they never once said anything about Sam Muchnick or St. Louis wrestling.
Among the wrestlers who got their first break in the promotion included Rip Rogers, Crusher Broomfield (who later became the One Man Gang, a name he could never use in ICW since Ronnie Garvin’s nickname at the time was “The One Man Gang,”) and a dark-haired Buddy Landel.
They also billed a prelim masked job guy as The Tennessee Stud, which was the nickname of Ron Fuller, who owned the Knoxville promotion they were at war with in the early years.
According to ICW historian Eric Westlund, who has a web site for the promotion, the challenges to the other promotions started about six months into the run. At first, Savage would go on television and challenge Lawler. As legend had it, the night he was going to confront Lawler, Lawler had gotten injured, suffering a broken leg. Savage then directed his challenges to Jarrett, the skinny promoter who was probably 175 pounds, Tojo Yamamoto, the aging area legend who was maybe 5-foot-2 but was over because all the heels would go flying from his chops, and Bill Dundee, who was about 5-foot-4. They would go on television in particular and make fun of all the Jarrett heels taking this big bumps for the chops, as they would chop each other hard on the interviews, not sell it, and basically all but tell everyone it was a fake spot. Once Savage came on television with a legitimate $100,000 in cash–his father had saved his money--and offered it to the three if they could beat him three-on-one. Despite people believing different, in those days very few people in the area believed wrestling was real. But for those who did, the idea that the Jarrett guys wouldn’t challenge Savage when he put all that cash up, for a three-on-one fight, did get Savage over and made some fans question the other three. They wanted to answer back, but Jarrett would have none of it, saying that any time you spent answering challenges and talking about people you aren’t facing would dilute the matches you were trying to build-up. When his guys would want to answer back, Jarrett would always say, “If we ignore them, eventually they will go away.”
They would issue challenges for money, but once it went awry. Bob Roop would offer $1,000 to any fan who could break his sugar hold. Fans would come and he’d lock the hold on and nobody could get out. But one night in a small town, a little guy who must have been unusually flexible escaped the hold, and then Angelo Poffo tried to renege on paying the $1,000, which caused bad local press.
Most fans in Lexington, the home of ICW, and the city where Jarrett’s crew worked the first Thursday of every month, usually drawing about 3,000 fans to Rupp Arena, understood they were separate promotions and nobody believed Jarrett, Yamamoto or Dundee would show up. The ICW was stuck running the smaller Henry Clay High School Gym, where they would have about 1,100 fans each time. Both sides had their fans. When Lawler and Savage finally had their first meeting in Lexington, which actually drew 11,000 fans, almost four times the usual monthly crowd and the city’s all-time record, which held up until the Steve Austin era, the crowd was wild but was split. The rematches also did well.
Savage was considered an intense, short-tempered guy, some say high strung in that era because he was so heavily into steroids, which he and the others in the promotion who used them reportedly got from University of Kentucky football players. Wrestling and the university’s football team had a long sordid history. In another era, when Jim Barnett lived in town, he would spend big money for lavish parties for the players, he and his partners would use those parties to get homosexual favors from the players, as described in the book, “The Thin Thirty,” about the football program of the early 60s.
The first time the ICW wrestlers went to Rupp Arena, bought tickets and sat at ringside, was in May 1980. Their plan to cause a scene during the main event was thwarted when a fan hit the ring, there was a disturbance on the undercard, and police came. With police in the arena, the wrestlers were smart enough not to make a move.
At a subsequent show, the ICW wrestlers were in the parking lot waiting for the Jarrett wrestlers. Police told the ICW wrestlers if they so much as crossed the street, they would be arrested. One performer, Steve Cooper, the manager of Savage at the time, did cross the street and was taken in. Later they were told that if anything happened again, the ICW wrestlers would be taken in and put in jail for two years. Exactly what charge and how you could justify that was another question, but it did end the confrontations.
The incident with Dundee and Savage took place in Knoxville in 1982. Dundee was coming out of the gym and was confronted by Savage. As the story goes, the two had words, and Dundee ran to his car, and tried to unlock the trunk, to get the gun he carried. Savage wrestled the gun away from Dundee, pistol whipped him and broke his jaw. The incident may not have been known, except the next week on the ICW television show, Savage described the incident, and then used a catch phrase, playing off the lyrics from a famous song of the early 70s by Jim Croce called “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim,” saying, “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit in the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger and you don’t pull a gun on the Macho Man Randy Savage.”
Among wrestlers, Savage in that era had a reputation, possibly because of the Dundee fight. Those who grew up in Lexington said that Savage was a guy nobody wanted to cross in those days, and was known for sucker punching those who did. There were wrestlers in that era who when talking about the tough guys in the business did have Savage on the short list, but others who said the reputation was unwarranted, noting a fight he had with another wrestler which ended up being little more than hair pulling. Still, Savage himself said that in 1988, when he was supposed to win the Intercontinental title on a live NBC special from Honky Tonk Man, and Honky Tonk Man refused to do the job, that Vince approached him to take Honky out (beat him for real), and he refused to do so, saying that he wasn’t that tough of a guy. In 1996, while in Japan, he was knocked out by Road Warrior Hawk in a fight. Three years later, at a Kid Rock concert in Tampa, Savage sucker punched Hawk when Hawk stuck he hand out to shake Savage’s hand, while then-girlfriend Stephanie Bellars and another woman gave Dale Hegstrand, his wife, a bad beating.
While wrestlers are prone to exaggerate how many matches they worked, the ICW guys, like a lot of the territorial guys, worked virtually every day. Even though they had a limited roster, they split the crew up and worked two shows per day, and often did weekend afternoon and evening shots. The company did roughly 17 house shows per week, mostly in small towns around Kentucky with Savage honing his craft.
But things started to go downhill in 1982. Roop and Orton Jr. left to work for Mid South Wrestling. To save the $500 per week they spent to produce the television show, Angelo Poffo purchased two cameras for $10,000 and would tape matches at house shows. He shot the opens and lead-ins and outs for the show in his garage, saving money by having Lanny be the lead announcer, and later, Randy’s girlfriend Elizabeth hosted. But the quality of the show once they were out of the studio was awful.
Garvin was Randy’s main opponent during that era, wrestling each other about 400 times over three years. Lanny and Randy worked some. The angle where Randy was revealed as Randy Poffo was actually first done in Knoxville, and at the time they claimed Randy and Lanny were first cousins. Nobody in Lexington was aware of this, and when they did the angle in Knoxville, they claimed that the two were half-brothers, with Randy claiming that Lanny’s mother was a whore. Still, Lanny, the babyface, had a short program with Randy before saying that as much as he doesn’t agree with his brother’s tactics, he would never wrestle him. A few big names were brought in, but it was difficult to get opponents because anyone working for the Poffos was crossing NWA boundaries. Still, after The Sheik’s promotion in Detroit went down, he was brought in. Ray Urbano, the original Great Kabooki, was brought in when Akihisa Mera and Gary Hart had gotten the second Great Kabuki hot on national television. But Urbano was old and his matches with Savage by that point were said to be embarrassing.
By 1982, Savage as world champion was wrestling both faces and heels. Veteran prelim wrestler Bill Howard was named Ratamyus, a fire throwing face-painted heel was Savage’s big opponent as he was brought in with the biggest push imaginable, destroying everyone working up the card. Ratamyus was billed as the only man ever to beat The Sheik in a cage match and even beat Savage in a non-title match when he moved out of the way as Savage dropped the elbow off the top of the cage.
But they also had Ernie Ladd, who like The Sheik, was well past his prime by that point but a well-known name. Thunderbolt Patterson came in at one point, during the period he was at odds with the wrestling establishment. Ox Baker, also well past his prime and a poor in-ring worker, had a run with Savage. Bruiser Brody had agreed to come in and Savage agreed to drop te title to him but he no-showed the night he was supposed to win, after making a deal with Bob Geigel to work for him for a big guarantee.
Savage used to tell the story about how he had so much heat that his career nearly ended before he was discovered. After a show, an elderly woman came up to him, and Savage thought she was going to ask for an autograph, but instead, she hit him over the head as hard as she could with a tire iron. He was hospitalized overnight and the incident led to just one of his many scars.
Even before the ICW, Savage was a wild man. In his book, “The World According to Dutch,” Dutch Mantel, who was Savage’s top rival in 1978 working the Nashville promotion for Nick Gulas, feuding over the Mid American heavyweight title, talked about a well known Savage story known as “The Waffle House incident.”
Savage had gone from the Nashville Fairgrounds, where he had wrestled a 40 minute main event, to the Waffle House, with the wrestler The Disco Kid (who later became ICW star Hustler Rip Rogers, now a wrestling trainer in Louisville). Savage at that point in time was hungry, and also feeling no pain as he was giving the waitress their order when a skinny cowboy, a regular at the place, walked through the door and yelled that he had just gotten married.
The waitress stopped taking Savage’s order and started celebrating, giving the cowboy a high-five. Savage was hungry and in a bad mood. As all the waitresses were congratulating the guy, and as Savage was sitting there hungry, the cowboy was going on-and-on about how in love he was and Savage, loud enough for everyone to hear, said, “Who gives a fuck?”
The place went quiet. The cowboy asked Savage what he said. Savage, slowly, putting more emphasis on the words, said, “I said, Who gives a fuck?”
At this point in his life, Savage was someone who seemed to like this type of confrontation. The cowboy, much smaller then Savage, asked if he had a problem. Savage got up and looked at him and said, in the same voice that became his trademark,“In don’t know, do we?”:
Savage’s version was the cowboy threw the first punch. They ended up on the ground punching and kicking and screaming in front of this old school giant juke box. The police were called, being told by the employees that their friend was in a fight with the crazy wrestler Randy Savage. It should be noted that wrestling was huge on television in the city, and everyone knew Savage, and most people in town thought he was crazy. The cowboy then pulled a knife on Savage.
Savage saw the knife, leap frogged over the counter, and grabbed a kitchen knife. At about this point, sirens were blazing signaling the police being about to arrive. The cowboy, hearing the sirens and seeing Savage with a knife of his own, ran out the door. Two police officers, who recognized him immediately, came into the Waffle House and Savage started cutting a promo, complete with “Oooh yeah, can you dig it.” The staff said that Savage started it. They tried to arrest Savage, but Savage started yelling how the other guy started it and he was the victim. They tried to arrest him, but he wasn’t being cooperative. At this point Savage started fighting the police officers while a crowd gathered. They couldn’t overpower him and get the handcuffs on. So they decided to pepper spray him. One officer pulled out the spray, as another officer held Savage. If you’ve ever seen a wrestling spot, well, Savage ducked and you can predict what happened next.
The officer then pulled out his club, and Savage, quickly pulled the club from belt of the officer who had been mace’d in the face. It was more of a standoff as more sirens sounded and more officers showed up. Savage backed off, but wouldn’t give himself up. At that point, another officer, who worked security for Gulas at the matches earlier that night, showed up, and since he knew him, told him to drop the club and turn around. But Savage wouldn’t put down the club. More officers arrived.
At this point a German Shepherd police dog charged into the Waffle House being held back by his officer/owner. He warned Savage to surrender or the dog would be let loose. Savage refused, even when being pleaded with, and the dog was let loose. Savage kicked the dog as hard as he could, but the dog, even more than Savage, was feeling no pain. The dog started biting and mauling Savage, taking a big chomp out of his right glute, while the officers handcuffed him and the dog was pulled off. Savage was taken in. His father came in to bail him out and get him to the hospital.
Savage was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and battery on a police officer. Gulas, well connected after promoting wrestling in the city for decades, called the department, donated some money to charity, made a deal where the charges were reduced and Savage pleaded out to lesser charges, paid a small fine and was put on probation.
“Randy was tough to know,” wrote Mark Madden, who worked with WCW doing the Hotline, Internet radio and announcing television during the glory days of the company. “I worked with him for seven years, and we had maybe three conversations.:
“One of my favorite stories: We were on a charter from Sturgis after Road Wild. The whole company was in one plane, I mean, everybody. We hit the worst turbulence ever. (Stacy) Keibler was crying. I hear one of the guys reciting the Lord’s prayer. It was like that scene in `Almost Famous.’ That bad. Suddenly Randy says, `Don’t worry, boys, just think about the rating the memorial show’s gonna pop next Monday! Oooh Yeah!”
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