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!”