Macho Man: Wild road from baseball washout to WWE Hall of Famer
It was just after 9 p.m. on March 20, 1994, and the greatest ladder match in pro wrestling history had just concluded. The two combatants, Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon (née Scott Hall), limped backstage after 25 minutes in the ring. There hadn’t been many ladder matches—in which an item (in this case a championship belt) is suspended above the ring and the winner is the wrestler who climbs a ladder and retrieves it—up to that point. “Extreme” wrestling was in its infancy and jumping off the top rope was still considered a big deal. Not only had Michaels and Ramon used the ladder in ways never before seen, but they had also done so at WrestleMania, the biggest event of the year. One by one, wrestlers in the locker room approached the duo to congratulate them on the match. All except one, that is.
Randy (Macho Man) Savage was furious. Yes, Savage agreed, it had been a great match. But Ramon and Michaels had also used more time than they were supposed to. This meant that the next match—a 10-man tag—had to be cut from the card. It also meant that the 10 wrestlers who had been scheduled to fight would not receive a check on the biggest payday of the year. This was too much for Savage to take.
“First of all,” Savage told Ramon as he walked backstage through the curtain, “I want to say that was a great match. Second of all, I want to say you’re both very selfish.”
“ ‘Mach’ told his truth,” Ramon says. “He wouldn’t say it behind your back. He’d walk up and say it right to you. Shawn and I were both nodding the whole time he spoke. All I could say was, ‘You’re right.’ ”
Whether he was sticking up for his fellow wrestlers or stealing the show in front of 93,000 fans, Savage was one of the most important pro wrestling figures of the last 50 years. But personal feuds and a promise to his family had prevented him from receiving wrestling’s highest honor—induction into the WWE Hall of Fame. That will change on Saturday when Savage, who died at age 58 of cardiac arrhythmia in May 2011, finally gets his place among the top stars of all time. But now that the Macho Man is set to be enshrined, two pressing questions still linger: Who, exactly, was he? And why did it take so long for wrestling to honor him?
The Early Years
Randall Mario Poffo was born in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 15, 1952, and raised by his parents, Angelo and Judy. Angelo played collegiate baseball and wrestled as an amateur. He also did a short stint in the Navy, setting the world record for consecutive sit-ups by doing 6,033 in four hours and ten minutes. He wanted to play professional baseball, but couldn’t cut it. A friend recommended that he try pro wrestling, a vocation Angelo pursued for the next three decades. The two Poffo boys fell in love with their dad’s line of work. Like Randy, Lanny Poffo also wrestled in the WWE, under the moniker of "the Genius."
“The boys always wanted to be part of wrestling,” says Judy, who’s now 88. “They used to practice as if they were being interviewed on TV when they were kids. After all those years of practicing, the first time Randy was interviewed he was so nervous. All he could say to the announcer was, ‘Thank you very much.’ ”
Though only 25 months older than Lanny, Randy embraced his role as a big brother, especially when the boys’ dad was off wrestling.
“Randy was like having a second father,” Lanny says. “Our parents were products of the Great Depression. They made their own way in this world. Our dad used to always say, ‘Success is not an accident.’ Randy believed in that.”
Savage's first love was baseball—he worked his way into the minor league systems of the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox between 1971 and ’75—but never rose above Class A ball. He started as an outfielder before finding his niche as a catcher. His career was nearly derailed after a home plate collision in ’73 left his right shoulder badly damaged. The righthander could barely throw after the injury, so Savage trained himself to throw lefty by hurling a baseball against a wall a thousand times a day. While his dedication did not translate to a big-league call up, it did catch the eye of a baseball legend.
“Randy was a super athlete,” says Pete Rose, a spring-training teammate of Savage’s in 1974. “He was very limber, flexible, so it didn’t surprise me he was a pretty good baseball player.”
Despite Savage’s desire, the truth was unavoidable—Class A ballplayers with a lifetime batting average of .254 don’t play in the major leagues.
“Randy had put his whole life into baseball,” Judy says. “When he got released for the last time, he was devastated. He broke all his bats and his equipment.”
With his baseball career behind him, the 6'1", 195-pound Savage turned to the family business. The only problem was his size, or lack of it.
“Wrestlers in the 1970s consisted of some very horrible looking men,” Lanny says. “Randy was a muscle man in baseball, but considered very skinny as a wrestler.”
While Savage worked on his physique, he learned the nuances of pro wrestling from veteran grappler Harley Race.
“I knew Randy right from day one when he started wrestling,” says Race, a longtime friend of Savage’s father. “I helped him put together that image of the Macho Man. He had a way about him. He grabbed your attention through his voice. That allowed him to present himself as a type of a character. He and Angelo were both great, but his dad couldn’t talk like him. That got Randy over with the people.”
After training with Race for a few years, the former baseball player had the skills and the body to be successful in the ring. He still needed a strong identity.
“His name was conjured up by some promoter,” says longtime wrestling broadcaster “Mean” Gene Okerlund. “Poffo sounded a little soft. But he thought Randy fought like a savage. Hence ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage.”
And with that, a star was born.
Introduction To Pro Wrestling
In 1978, three years after Savage retired from baseball, Angelo started a new wrestling circuit in Lexington, Ky., called International Championship Wrestling. Unlike rival organizations, however, ICW was not a member of the powerful National Wrestling Alliance. Therefore, the group was dubbed an “outlaw” promotion within the industry.
“The Poffos had a promotion that was going against the one run by Jerry (the King) Lawler and Jerry Jarrett ... known as the Continental Wrestling Association,” says Jimmy (Mouth of the South) Hart. “When [ICW wrestlers] came into [the CWA’s hometown of] Memphis, they would do their interviews challenging us. But Jarrett’s motto was always, ‘Don’t say anything about our opposition. If we don’t talk about them, pretty soon they’ll go out of business.’ ”
The ICW folded in 1984 and a frustrated Savage needed work. His time in ICW had angered many promoters and his future looked bleak. He penned an apology letter to Lawler, saying: “In all due respect, you have a great product. We tried to come in and do something that was unethical at the time and it didn’t work. If you could ever use us, we’re available.”
Hart still remembers sitting in Lawler’s kitchen reading Savage’s apology.
“Lawler had originally planned a main event for the next week between the Road Warriors and The Fabulous Ones,” he said. “But we just had to change that. I said, ‘King, with you and Savage main-eventing, this card will be a sell-out.’ Jerry agreed and reached out to Randy.”
Savage’s migration to Lawler’s CWA culminated with a grudge match between the two at Kentucky’s Rupp Arena.
“The first time we worked together, when it was ‘promotion against promotion,’ we sold out at the arena with 23,000 people,” Lawler says. “That was unheard of in wrestling. But Randy was so cool. He was a great athlete, and he was a little bit out there. He had a bit of a temper, and he was moody at times, but he was his own guy. I really grew to respect him.”
Savage’s work with Lawler still resonates within the wrestling community, particularly with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
“Macho Man, that guy’s stuff back when he was in Tennessee, was incredible,” Austin says. “His intensity, his promo style—he was the Macho Man 24/7, 365—and he was that before he got to the WWF. Vince [McMahon] didn’t make him, he made himself. Vince then made him a superstar all over the world.”
By the time Savage was 32, McMahon and his front office asked Hart—whom they had recently poached from the CWA—to bring the Macho Man to the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment).
“I managed Randy and his father Angelo in Memphis,” Hart says. “Then I left to go to New York. [Author’s note: Signing with the Connecticut-based WWE is referred to in wrestling circles as going to New York.] I had only been working for Vince for about three months and I was heading for a short trip back home to Memphis. The office said to me, ‘Jimmy, do us a favor. We saw these tapes on Randy Savage. Can you call him when you’re back home?’ When I called Lawler’s promotion and asked to speak with Randy, they needed to know why I was calling.”
The call needed to be handled delicately. McMahon had been pilfering the best talent from wrestling territories all over the nation and promoters had stopped accepting calls from his office. But Hart, one of the greatest wrestling managers of all time, knew how to handle the situation. Wrestling managers constantly bend rules and cheat to win, and this instance was no different. So, naturally, he lied.
“Randy was selling some kind of vitamin,” Hart says. “I called and told them I had somebody who wanted to buy $150 worth of [the stuff], so they put Randy on the phone right away.”
As soon as Savage answered, Hart explained the real reason behind the call.
“I said, ‘I got to be honest with you—Vince saw your tapes and wants to know if you want to come to New York,’ ” Hart says. “Randy said to me, ‘Brother, I’ll meet you over on Summer Avenue in 15 minutes.’ He jumped in his car to meet me, I gave him the [WWF] phone number and the rest was history.”
The First Lady of Wrestling
No story of Randy Savage is complete without Elizabeth Hulette.
The beautiful “Miss Elizabeth” was brought in to be Savage’s first manager in the WWF, and fans later learned that the two were married. More than just a valet, she played a major role in every Savage story line from the second WrestleMania to the eighth.
Savage first met Hulette, fittingly, at a gym in Lexington, Ky., in 1982. He and Lanny were getting ready for a workout when the young, soft-voiced beauty caught Randy’s eye.
Savage and Elizabeth famously tied the knot in 1991 on pay-per-view. Billed as the “Match Made in Heaven,” the two said, “I do,” at SummerSlam. Their real wedding, however, was in stark contrast to the one held in the middle of the ring at Madison Square Garden. They had actually gotten married seven years earlier, at the home of Hulette’s mother in Frankfurt, Ky., on Dec. 30, 1984.
“Randy wanted to elope,” Judy says. “But Elizabeth’s mother said no. She wanted to have the wedding in her house. Randy agreed to that, but he didn’t want anyone to be there, so he only invited the two of us, his mother and father.”
Lanny skipped the ceremony. He was booked to wrestle and Savage would have been furious if his brother canceled. Hulette’s mother and grandparents were present, and a friend of Elizabeth’s mother—who wasn’t wearing a collar—performed the ceremony.
“It was very quiet,” Judy says. “But that was Randy. He didn’t want anyone around, and the wedding was very quick. He didn’t want anybody to know that it was so special to him, so he was quiet about the whole thing.”
“On the night of the wedding, they had some refreshments,” she says. “That was it. They got their own place in Kentucky. And, when Randy needed a manager, the WWF was going to give him some pretty girl. Randy said, ‘Well, how about my wife?’ ”
At Savage’s request, McMahon hired the 24-year-old Elizabeth Poffo in 1985. The couple enjoyed a “wrestling” honeymoon.
“For a while, they were living with Angelo and I in Florida,” Judy says. “They moved into a quiet complex and then they bought a house, but that was the end of the romance.”
From the time Hulette became his manager, Savage guarded her every move on the road. The nomadic world of pro wrestling is not known for long romantic relationships. Fidelity is a big problem, and Savage was known to keep his wife in her own locker room, and to limit her access to the other wrestlers.
“If you even looked at Elizabeth the wrong way, then, Holy s---,” says Hulk Hogan. “Randy would freak out. If you ever wanted to get him lit up, you’d just have to look at Liz.”
Wrestlers criticized the way Savage treated Hulette, grumbling that they did not see her until she appeared in the ring, and that she was then whisked away after every match.
“I would never consider having my wife around a bunch of wrestlers,” says “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. “Randy tried to protect Elizabeth, but that created some tension between the two of them.”
McMahon, a genius at turning real-life events into wrestling angles, masterfully worked the love story into an in-ring proposal and an on-air wedding ceremony.
“Randy was a loose cannon,” says Okerlund. “In the early days, Randy was very protective of Elizabeth to the point where it bothered a lot of the boys. But what could you do, take it to Vince McMahon and make yourself look like a powder puff? You just ignored it and worked with it.”
The stress of working together became too much for Savage and Hulette. Wrestling’s most famous couple divorced just months after their SummerSlam nuptials, failing to reach their eighth wedding anniversary.
The Perfect Match
Savage wanted to improve his interviews, improve his look and deliver moments that no one had ever before seen. There was no piece of his repertoire that he did not micromanage.
“Absolutely everything had to be perfect,” says George (the Animal) Steele. “At one point, I went to Japan and came back with zippers on my boots. Randy saw that the boots actually zipped up, and he couldn’t believe it. He said, ‘What are you, a lazy wrestler? You need to zip up your boots?’ With Randy, everything had to be precise.”
Savage’s best match took place against Ricky (the Dragon) Steamboat in front of 93,000 fans in the Pontiac Silverdome at WrestleMania III.
“On paper, Randy and I were a great matchup,” Steamboat says. “That’s why the company put us together. He was so edgy, even from the way he talked with his hands and his fingers. Then you had me—I wasn’t edgy, and I didn’t scream and holler. But I did do a couple interviews with Savage where I talked about how the Dragon was going to be breathing fire. I only tried to do that at times when it was needed, and the moment was right.”
Jesse (The Body) Ventura called the match alongside Gorilla Monsoon.
“That was the greatest match I’ve ever seen in my life,” Ventura says. “It was as perfect as you would ever get for a match. Now granted, Hogan and the Giant were the headliners, but for pure wrestling excitement and what happened in the ring, Macho Man and Steamboat is the greatest match I ever saw.”
Two opponents should never be seen together planning out a match. That was usually no problem for Steamboat. He always called his matches in the ring, usually after having reviewed the big moments with his opponents in the dressing room beforehand. Unbeknownst to Steamboat, however, Savage worked—and planned—much differently.
“It was probably around mid-January, early February when we started putting this match together,” Steamboat says. “To be upfront with you, my old-school nature allowed me to call 90% of the match in the ring. But Savage, unlike anyone I’ve ever worked with in my career, wanted to have every step—A-B-C-D-E-F-G—planned out.
“We fought on house shows to prepare for WrestleMania, and we talked about things that worked and didn’t work in the ring. We both had those yellow legal tablets, and we started making notes. Randy would have his set of notes and I would have mine. Then we got everything addressed—number 1, number 2, number 3—and we went up to number 157. Randy would say, ‘OK, here is up to spot 90, now you tell me the rest.’ I would have to go through the rest, then I would quiz him. I’d never planned out a match that way, so it was very stressful to remember everything.”
Ventura did not mind that Savage meticulously planned out his matches. He was more focused on the way Savage harnessed his Macho Man character.
“Randy knew his persona and he exploited it the best of anyone,” said Ventura. “Macho Man was one of the greatest performers I ever witnessed. From a professional standpoint, just from the things he could do, and his knowledge and psychology in the ring, I just had great admiration for him. His work in the ring matched up to everything he did.”
If one match could go in the wrestling time capsule, Steamboat–Savage would be the one. In Bret (the Hitman) Hart’s opinion, that was the match that forever changed wrestling.
“Macho Man and Steamboat raised the bar,” Hart says. “It was the first really great wrestling match, and it was between two good wrestlers. You look at that whole card and it had a lot of cartoon kind of matches, but this was a real wrestling match. Savage raised the bar for everybody in the dressing room.”
Savage’s wanted to keep fans enthralled in a match with a seemingly never-ending array of false finishes. It was another of his enduring legacies in the business.
“Guys were asking us after the match, ‘How did you remember all that?’ ” Steamboat says with a laugh. “But what really put the icing on the cake was after, when Vince had his WrestleMania party. Randy and I were sitting at a table in the Silverdome, and all the guys were congratulating us. I’m even talking about the legends, like Arnold Skaaland and Gorilla Monsoon, just tapping us on the back and shaking our hands, congratulating us on what we did for the company. It was the Who’s Who of wrestling, and it was nonstop, all night long. Now I’d thought we put something together that was good, but people were telling us it was off the hook.”
The bout between Hogan and Andre the Giant had sold out the Silverdome, but it was the match between Savage and Steamboat that everybody remembers.
“We stole the show in the biggest live event arena in the world,” Steamboat says. “I always wanted to give the fans their money’s worth, and Savage would bring it all to the ring. I remember the finish of that match, when he picked me up for a slam and I just hooked him in a small package. I finally got the 1-2-3. There must have been a two-second lull in the audience, wondering if—after all those false finishes—they heard the count reach three. Then there [were] 93,000 people erupting, and that memory will stay with me forever.”
An Accidental Star
“I’d love to be this era’s Macho Man,” says WWE superstar Daniel Bryan. “There are a lot of similarities between the two of us. He was so good and just had that connection with the crowd. You can watch him to this day, he’s so entertaining.”
Bryan and Savage share more in common than scruffy beards. Both men needed an assist to win their first WWE championship. Bryan received help from a rabid fan base ready to riot had Dave Bautista won the belt at WrestleMania XXX. And Savage, who was also extremely popular with the fans, would not have won his first title if not for some insubordination from Wayne Ferris, aka the Honky Tonk Man.
On Feb. 5, 1988, nearly a year after Hogan and Andre the Giant had first hooked up, over 30 million viewers tuned in to watch their rematch on NBC’s The Main Event. But the real main event that night occurred backstage at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, where the decision was made for Savage to defeat Ferris and win his second Intercontinental title. But the Honky Tonk Man felt otherwise.
“I was finally in a situation where my character had finally come to life,” Ferris says. “All of a sudden, the company wanted to go in another direction, but I just did not feel like losing the belt was the best thing for me on a personal or professional level.”
Ferris refused to drop the belt. Savage won their match, but on a count-out with Ferris outside the ring, not on a pin, a technicality that allowed Ferris to keep his Intercontinental championship.
With Savage's popularity rivaling that of Hogan, McMahon had Savage finally win the WWF heavyweight title at WrestleMania IV. The Macho Man won the championship by fighting his way through a 14-man tournament.
On March 27, 1988, after 13 years in the sport and at the age of 35, Savage was finally on top of the pro wrestling world. His peers, however, weren't so thrilled.
“Randy was the coolest character in wrestling,” Hart says, “but there was a lot of jealousy and resentment. He got to travel first-class with his wife, and they got treated like royalty. I remember the sentiment in the dressing room when he became champion was, Watch now—Randy’s not the guy. He won’t be able to carry the load. You’ll all find out Randy can’t draw.
“Everyone was surprised that attendance never dropped. I remember when he lost the belt, I told him how proud I was of him. He proved he was the rightful king of the company at that time.”
Savage had another huge fan in Hogan, who had one of his finest wrestling matches against the Macho Man at WrestleMania V.
“The cool thing about Macho was that he lived the gimmick,” Hogan says. “Some wrestlers I could go with one time, or if it was something really special I could get a return match out of it, but I could go four times in the same building with Randy. The fans knew he was the real deal.”
Jake (The Snake) Roberts was another fan. Savage abruptly retired after he lost the Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VII, but Roberts forced the Macho Man back into the ring. Roberts goaded Savage, who was then in the broadcast booth, by insulting his manhood and even his wife. The climax came when Roberts tied Savage up in the ropes and let his cobra loose to attack the Macho Man.
“The favorite moment in my career was when that damn cobra chewed on his arm,” Roberts says. “That was awesome. We worked our asses off to build that storyline. Randy and I were just naturals. He was a good listener out there in the ring, and he would let me lead him. Randy was never boring. He was a ball of raw energy.”
Though the pair seemed destined for a grudge match at WrestleMania VIII, the program was cut short and both men were placed in separate feuds.
“The WWE rushed the whole thing because it was just too powerful,” Roberts says. “Sometimes Vince got in a hurry because he would try to get ready for something else, but sometimes something explodes that is so good that you could get many more months out of it. It didn’t fit their timeline, and that was stunning because we could have wrestled each other for years. It was supposed to lead into WrestleMania, but it didn’t. That really pissed me off. I felt like I got robbed.”
Savage’s last great WrestleMania moment occurred in 1992 when he defeated “Nature Boy” Ric Flair for the world championship.
“We brought the best out in each other,” Flair says. “When you have that kind of chemistry and respect for each other, it doesn’t take a lot of thought-process to go out there and make music in the ring. Randy was still playing minor league baseball when I first met him. I was there in his corner during his infancy in the business, saw him blossom and become so much better. I was proud of him, and wrestling him at WrestleMania was awesome.”
The Hoosier Dome, packed to the rafters with over 62,000 fans, watched as Savage pinned Flair—the self-proclaimed “dirtiest player in the game”—to regain the championship. The win, in theory, allowed the Macho Man to restore order to his life. Not only did he reclaim his place as the face of the company, he also defended the honor of Miss Elizabeth. As part of the storyline, Flair had claimed that he and Hulette had been in a relationship before she married Savage.
“Wrestling him in that spotlight was awesome,” Flair says. “But it was a difficult point in time on a personal level for Randy. Emotions are difficult, and personal lives are difficult to deal with on a lot of levels.”
Marriage and wrestling did not mix for the first couple of the WWF. Savage was intensely private and overly protective of his gorgeous wife. The pressure of working together—and the stress from constantly being around one another—caused their bond to break. When Savage wrestled Flair for the title, he and Hulette had already separated.
While Savage was savoring victory inside the ring, his life was unraveling outside of it. It was time for a change. Ted Turner was offering massive salaries to wrestling stars for his own promotion, World Championship Wrestling, and there was no bigger star than the Macho Man. WCW president Eric Bischoff reached out to Savage’s attorney. Savage accepted an offer from WCW. On Dec. 4, 1994, Savage made his debut on WCW Saturday Night.
Outside of his family, Savage’s true love was wrestling. His marriage had failed and he had lost some friends, the ring had always been there for him.
The WCW Years
As Savage entered a new locker room for the first time in a decade, a familiar figure was pushing for him behind the scenes.
“Hulk Hogan was really the one to convince me Randy was a good asset,” Bischoff says. “Hulk and Randy had—for the longest time, even right up until the end—a very on-again, off-again, hot-and-cold relationship. But when Hulk came to WCW, he wanted to bring in some of the biggest names he could. Despite what was then a relatively tense relationship between the two of them, Hulk was the one who kept after me to reach out to Randy.”
Hogan lobbied for Savage from the moment he arrived in WCW. Hogan knew that, despite their differences, acquiring Savage would be good for business.
“Randy’s deal was one of the best deals I ever made,” said Bischoff. “It literally paid for itself the first couple years because of the Slim Jim sponsorship.”
In 1995 Omaha-based conglomerate ConAgra Foods ended its sponsorship deal with McMahon, but stayed with Savage as the spokesman for Slim Jim beef jerky snacks. Bischoff was ecstatic not only because Savage was able to come to WCW, but also because he brought a very sizable piece of business along with him.
Money, however, was never the deciding factor in any of Savage’s decisions while working with Bischoff.
“Randy was making good money at WWF,” said Bischoff. “It’s not that we paid him substantially more than he was making. Randy was a smart guy and he knew the dynamic was changing. WCW [which was formed in 1988] was growing, had a network and we had Ted Turner behind [us]. This was his opportunity for a fresh start and new opportunity.”
Savage’s knack for bringing out the best in others throughout his career left an enduring mark on “Diamond” Dallas Page.
“Randy wanted to put me over,” Page says. “He knew that would elevate me to the next level. We’re out in South Carolina in the months leading up to Spring Stampede in ’97, and [WCW wrestler] Arn Anderson came in and asked Randy what he wanted to do that night. Randy was putting on his boots, looked over at me, and said, ‘I think I want to take the diamond cutter.’ Arn almost fell over, and so did I. Arn looked at me and said, ‘Dallas, I hope you know what an honor this is.’ ”
Page did not need a reminder. Savage had creative control over his character and could choose whether Page won or lost. The Page–Savage feud became one of the top draws of the year.
“Our whole feud had started in March, and our program went strong all the way to Halloween Havoc,” Page says. “Thanksgiving came around, and I was thinking about who I was thankful to that wouldn’t have known it, and I thought Randy wouldn’t have known. So I called him, but he never answered his phone, so I left a message.
“I know I’m not in the position today without you doing what you did for me,” Page told Savage. “And I just want to thank you.”
By the time the two men reconnected, Page had forgotten the phone call. But Savage remembered.
“Randy was an intense guy who talked exactly the way you saw him on TV,” Page says. “When he saw me later, he said, ‘Diamond, Diamond, get over here.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Wow, this doesn’t sound good.’ When I got close to him, he grabbed me and pulled me in close. With the same intensity he [had when he] beat up guys in the ring, Randy said, ‘I got your message and I’ve got to tell ya—I called my dad and played it for him. I said, “Dad, have you ever had anyone in the business ever do this for you?” And he said no. He’d never heard of anyone doing that before.... I just want to let you know, it meant a lot to me.’ ”
The Macho Man’s impact in WCW left lasting impressions on even the biggest of wrestling superstars, including Steve Borden, aka Sting.
“Randy Savage, ironically, is one of the guys I looked up to,” says the former WCW World Heavyweight Champion. “I loved him. He was so out far out there with his character. There was something about it I could identify with.
“I used to tease him a little bit in the dressing room in front of all the guys, and say, ‘Come on, just talk in your normal voice,’ ” Borden says. “ ‘This is my normal voice, what are you talking about?,’ he’d say. It was funny. We’d always try to get him, but I never heard him talk any other way than just like this, brother! Living the character helped him, absolutely it did.”
Another thing that helped Savage were the size of the rings in WCW.
“The rings in the WWE were really stiff boards without a lot of give,” says Razor Ramon. “You had to attack the mat or else it really hurt. So I attacked the mat one time in WCW, and I literally almost bounced back to my feet. I remember telling Kevin Nash, ‘Oh my God, wait until you take a bump. It’s unbelievable....’ The rings were 18 by 18, but Vince’s were 20 by 20. I wanted to make the rings bigger, and I remember that making ‘Mach’ upset. He told me, ‘Brother, these rings are fine just the way they are.’ ”
“ ‘Mach, what are you talking about?’ I asked him. ‘Those extra two feet make a difference.’ ”
“ ‘They make me look faster,’ he said.”
“I had mad respect for Mach. So I said, ‘You know what, Mach? You’re right.’ Though I’d preferred them bigger, I’d yield to Mach.”
Savage reconnected with Hulette in WCW.
“Their issues were behind them,” said Bischoff. “They were friends. Randy still cared an awful lot for her and was a little protective of her. It wasn’t anything romantic, but he respected her and wanted to make sure she wasn’t taken advantage of.”
But Savage couldn’t save Hulette from herself. She had messy affair with WCW superstar Lex Luger, whose wife subsequently filed for divorce. She died at age 42 on May 1, 2003, from an overdose of painkillers and vodka.
Living the Macho Man persona
Savage’s success was far from accidental. It was the result of pouring his whole life into his character.
Bischoff still fondly recalls his time with Savage. He knows with full certainty that one of his encounters with the Macho Man could not have occurred in any other walk of life.
“It goes back to a Halloween Havoc when we were in Las Vegas,” Bischoff says. “Randy’s contract was coming up within a couple weeks. MGM Garden was sold out and we were at the peak of our success at that point. I got to Las Vegas late on a Friday evening, and there’s already a message waiting for me.”
It was from Savage. “Brother, I gotta see ya. Come to my room eight o’clock tomorrow morning.”
“Now, I’m in Vegas,” Bischoff says. “Nothing good happens at eight in the morning. But I ended up, half hungover, there in Randy’s room that next morning. This was the part with negotiations where Randy was a little more defensive, where his armor came out.”
Savage’s armor may have been out, but he was otherwise completely naked.
“He’s in the bathroom,” Bischoff says. “He’s half talking to me, he’s trimming and dying his beard, doing all the things he did in preparation for his match 12 hours later. I’m sitting on his bed and he’s in the bathroom, and we’re negotiating across the room. It’s getting a little bit more intense because there was a certain finish involved that, if you knew Randy, Oh brother, what are we doing here? So I’m trying to address the issues and calm everything down.
“I hear a knock on the door, so I’m thinking, ‘Who could this be?’ The way the room was situated, the bathroom was right next to the door, and I opened up the door to see room service with two big plates of food and about 30 beers in a cooler. The room service guy comes into the room. He stops about halfway and looks over to his left, and there’s Randy standing there just stark-ass naked. This guy looks at Randy, he looks at me, he looks at Randy again, and he looks at me. I thought, ‘Oh my God. The next thing I know, I’ll be reading about what’s going on with Randy Savage and Eric Bischoff behind closed doors.’ ”
Those in the business agree that the Macho Man lived his gimmick better than any other wrestler.
“Whether it was personal or it was business, he remained that character all the time,” says wrestler Kurt Angle. “I thought that was really intriguing. The voice, the way he moved, the mannerisms, he just never broke character. I believe he started thinking he was the Macho Man. That’s pro wrestling, and he did it better than anyone else.”
“Sometimes I thought I was talking to the character instead of my brother,” Lanny says. “He’d call me up and say, Heeeeeeey, how ya doin? Here’s the thing.... But that is the way he talked. So does art imitate life or vice versa? We just don’t know.”
Hogan says that for Savage, art was life.
“There’s two people with me,” Hogan says. “There is Hulk Hogan in the ring, and then there’s Terry Bollea when I get home. I take the bandana off and I’m not wearing red and yellow. But Randy was special. He lived and breathed the business, just like I did. The business was in his blood. But what was so different about Randy was that voice that he had, that talk that he had, his attitude. That was Randy 24 hours a day.
“It was just so weird that such a character in the ring was the same way in the ring as he was at home. That made it harder for Elizabeth, but being around him so much, she got used to it. For the rest of us, he was the perfect guy to do business with. He never wavered. You knew he was the Macho Man 24 hours a day. Whether you were walking down the street with him or you were in the ring with him, he was nothing but money. As far as business goes, that’s the perfect dancing partner to have. When you have someone who lives their gimmick 24/7, you know he’s always on. Wherever he goes, whether he was at the mall and someone asked [him] a question about Hulk Hogan, Oh yeah, that Hulk Hogan, I can’t wait to beat him, brother. He was always in that business mode and always drawing money. He was a very special person.”
Life After Wrestling
By 2000, Savage had finished up his tenure with WCW and all but disappeared from the spotlight. He appeared in the ’02 film, Spider-Man, as the wrestler Bonesaw McGraw, and he briefly wrestled for TNA two years later. He also reconnected with Barbara Lynn Payne, who had been his sweetheart in 1971. The couple wed on May 10, 2010. Once Savage retired from the ring, he was at peace away from it. Unlike so many other wrestlers who struggle to leave the mat behind, Savage was at peace outside of the business.
Tragically, Savage’s life ended on the morning of May 20, 2011. He was driving with his wife near Tampa Bay when he suffered a heart attack and his Jeep Wrangler crashed into a tree. An autopsy revealed an enlarged heart and advanced coronary artery disease. The WWE honored Savage with a video tribute on its May 23, 2011, edition of Monday Night Raw. It seemed a no-brainer that the Macho Man would be part of the ’12 WWE Hall of Fame class. But it wasn't that easy.
No stats are involved in a wrestler’s induction into the Hall of Fame, and the decision ultimately comes down to the popularity of a potential inductee with a handful of people at WWE. The issue regarding Savage and the Hall of Fame is complicated.
McMahon lost money when Slim Jim spurned him for Savage after the wrestler jumped to the WCW in 1994. The WWE responded by spoofing its departed superstars with vignettes featuring characters called the Nacho Man and the Huckster. The series of skits played up how Hogan and Savage were old and past their prime. Years later, there was another incident that considerably lessened any chance for reconciliation.
“A reporter asked [WWE heavyweight champion] Triple H what he thought of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage,” Lanny says. “Triple H responded with, ‘They were great, but they’re dinosaurs.’ Randy saw this as a deliberate attempt to hurt his brand.”
“Randy insinuated he [wanted] to take Triple H, slap him in the face, take his girl, Stephanie McMahon [the daughter of Vince McMahon and the wife of Triple H], and drive her around the block, then give her back to him,” Lanny says. “It wasn’t right, but Randy was provoked.”
That interview led to the nasty rumor that Savage had had an affair with Stephanie before leaving for WCW—the reason why he was never welcomed back. The rumor has “no truth whatsover,” Lanny says.
The final issue with the Hall of Fame was that Savage had promised his father that the three Poffo men—Angelo, Randy and Lanny—would be inducted together for the family’s contributions to the wrestling business.
Savage was intensely loyal to his family. He never second-guessed his father for starting an outlaw promotion, supporting him every step of the way. Savage would not work with Lawler unless his father and brother were also hired. And he had made sure to bring his brother to the WWE, too.
McMahon actually reached out to Savage in 2010, but neither man had been willing to bend. McMahon wanted to induct only the Macho Man into the Hall of Fame, while Savage refused to go in without his father and his brother.
“But ultimately, the Hall of Fame is for the fans,” says Lanny, explaining why he recently accepted the WWE’s offer to induct only his brother. “Randy wanted all the Poffo’s in, but I felt I had an obligation to all of the fans who wanted Randy inducted. They deserve a little respect, too.”
Savage’s exclusion from the WWE Hall of Fame stirred much debate. Ultimately, the Hall of Fame needed Savage’s presence far more than he ever needed the honor. And on Sunday, he will finally earns his place among pro wrestling's all-time greats.