Angelo Poffo, 84, passes away: Beloved father, wrestler, miser
The Wrestling Observer is reporting that Angelo Poffo, perhaps best known to many fans as the father of Randy “Macho Man” Savage, passed away this morning at the age of 84. Poffo was a wrestling star in his own right in the 1950s while working for promotor Jim Barnett, and he later made his own mark as a promoter with the infamous outlaw promotion ICW in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Excerpts from my previous article on Randy Savage and Poffo’s ICW:
For years as a young fan in Memphis in the 1970s, my only television exposure to professional wrestling was Jerry Jarrett’s “Championship Wrestling” program, which aired Saturday mornings at 11 a.m. on channel 5, WMC-TV, the local NBC affiliate. That all changed around 1980, when another wrestling promotion—led by outrageous ICW World heavyweight champion Randy “Macho Man” Savage—started appearing at 10 a.m. on channel 24, WPTY, the market’s first UHF outlet and independent station. I was intrigued from the get-go, as the show’s opening featured violent scenes of wrestling mayhem cut to the theme from “The Midnight Express,” which might have inspired a certain young photographer in Louisville.
International Championship Wrestling, an “outlaw” promotion operated by Poffo, ran some of the same towns as the Memphis territory in Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee, making them enemies of promoter Jarrett and his crew. Much like Vince McMahon Jr. upon taking over the World Wrestling Federation following his father’s death in 1984, Poffo and the ICW crossed traditional territorial boundaries, with the idea of providing direct competition in an area already red-hot for wrestling.
In spring 1984, Savage started eerily referring to Angelo as “Six-O-Three-Three.” I was clueless at first, until it was revealed that Macho Man Sr. was recognized by Ripley’s Believe It or Not for shattering the record for completing the most sit-ups: 6,033. The feat, which took more than four hours, an average of one sit-up every 2.5 seconds, was Poffo’s second attempt at the record. The first time, he completed more than 5,000 to apparently break the record; however, he was later told that he had used the wrong form. In Memphis, Poffo eventually took to wearing a black jumpsuit with large white numerals commemorating the accomplishment.
Although ICW was a low-budget production—even for studio wrestling of the time—Poffo had a solid crew of NWA outcasts like Ronnie Garvin, Bob Orton Jr., “Hustler” Rip Rogers, “Leaping” Lanny Poffo, Pez Whatley and Bob Roop. (Not to mention the legendary Izzy Slapowitz.) They even brought in the original Sheik (Ed Farhat) for appearances after he’d pretty much killed the Detroit territory. Angelo often worked a hood as The Miser, and many would say he lived his gimmick like no other.
As a young fan, I was quickly fascinated with Savage, who delivered some of the most unique, craziest promos I’d ever seen. With a shrieking, throaty delivery that almost sounded like he was speaking with a mouthful of barbed wire, Savage’s uncontrollable rage was evident in his quivering voice. His celebratory promos featured scantily clad women, snakes and confetti—a true wrestling champion in every sense of the word. In my eyes, he was a true psychopath, especially when he would “freak out.” Not only was his presence amazing, but he could also already work his ass off, with fantastic, wild, physical matches the norm.
With his brother Lanny, Savage briefly feuded with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, which was kicked off when the Macho Man piledrove Ricky Morton through the announcer’s table on June 25, 1984. At the time, that was one of the most devastating moves I’d ever seen. I was in the audience that night, and I swear I thought Savage had killed Ricky. Several guys in the audience roared their approval and traded high-fives—the “Holy Shit!” chant equivalent of the day. Here’s the clip, as 6033 looks on with approval:
But the ICW stars’ most scathing shoot comments were reserved for promoter Jarrett and his boys. Instead of building up their talent and airing promos related to upcoming cards, the ICW’s Roop, Garvin, Orton Jr. and especially Savage usually used their interview time to blast Memphis stars Jerry Lawler, Tojo Yamamoto, Bill Dundee and The Dream Machine repeatedly, challenging them to fights. Savage exposed Tojo as Harold Wantanabe during one promo, while Orton revealed the identity of the Dream Machine as Troy Graham. Roop, a legit bad ass, threatened to “stretch” Lawler, while Savage continually goaded “Jerry ‘the Queen’ Lawler.” To me, they came off like a bunch of bad-ass renegades. ICW even placed newspaper ads challenging Lawler and Dundee to show up on ICW cards to face Roop, offering thousands of dollars if they could last five or 10 minutes with the former amateur star. Wisely, the King and the Superstar followed the advice of Jarrett and ignored these threats, despite the fact they would only have to risk a turkey and a chicken vs. $5,000 of the Miser’s money.
Inside the ring, ICW TV was entertaining as hell, despite the overall minor-league feel to the show. The booking was creative yet camp (yes, even by Memphis standards). The stipulations were often silly, e.g., matches where the loser would have to wear a mop on his head or a T-shirt that read “Sissy.”
With ICW on its last legs by December 1983, Angelo and Savage went to work for Jarrett, who set aside his personal animosity toward the Poffos so he could abide by his booking philosophy that personal issues draw money. After all, for years in the area, nothing had been more personal than Savage’s verbal assaults on Lawler. For some reason, though, Jarrett didn’t acknowledge Savage’s past as ICW champ, and they didn’t portray the Macho Man as an outsider, which would have been ahead of its time back then.
Savage’s first appearance in the WMC-TV studio was actually a recreation of a classic Terry Funk angle from years back. Savage and Angelo stormed the set and took over the show. Eventually, Lance Russell got hot, threatening to call the police if father and son didn’t leave the premises. (My father and I used to get in similar scrapes all the time.)
Always a…uh…let’s say…shrewd businessman, Poffo in 1984 asked Jarrett for Memphis tapes to supply to TV stations where he still had ICW timeslots. Poffo kept the footage and eventually sold it to Kit Parker films, which were released as the part of the popluar “Wrestling Gold” VHS and DVD series.
Rest easy, Angelo.
File under Randy “Macho Man” Savage’s dad Angelo Poffo.