Immortalized by Mattel: Savage recently made amends with WWE, with several pieces of Macho merchandise hitting shelves for the first time in years. Here he's posed with the Memphis area's Southern title.
Stunned. That seems to be the reaction among the wrestling fraternity and fans today, when word spread quickly on the Internet that Randy “Macho Man” Savage, 58, died this morning after apparently suffering a heart attack behind the wheel of his vehicle and crashing into a tree in Tampa.
Almost immediately on receiving the word, I contacted Dutch Mantell on Facebook to break the news to him. During a four-part interview series I conducted with the Dutchman last year, he raved about the ability of a young Randy Savage during their 1978 feud in Nashville when the two young grapplers were just starting to headline. This morning, via IM, Dutch wrote to me: “I can’t believe it. Wow. I almost don’t know what to say. I had some classic matches with him; he will go down as one of the best of all time. He was Macho Man 25/7. Hard to tell if there was really a Randy inside him once Macho took over.”
During our talk last year, Dutch remembered the ’78 program that put them both on the map in Music City, working for promoter Nick Gulas: “I actually perfected that formula for getting into the psyche of Tennessee in my matches with Savage. Again, the fans were used to guys hitting each other with chairs and 2’ x 4’s, so Savage and I went out there and wrestled…with a lot of action and a lot of emotion. And we told a story. The deal with Savage started….see, business was horrible in Nashville…and we were both heels. I remember I looked at Savage in the dressing room one night and said, ‘We’re wasting our time, buddy. Heck, we ought to be wrestling each other.’ They had nobody else, in my mind, who could do anything. There weren’t many fans to begin with and those who were there had no emotion. There was nothing to sink your teeth into. So Savage and I got into it, and he’s got that wild crazy interview, and I’m kinda low key as a babyface—it worked perfect. …In probably a four-week period, from doing about 200 people in Nashville—the building wasn’t that big—to doing about 1200 to 1400 people. It was a big, big turnaround. When I first him, he was still developing the Macho Man character. But every time you saw Randy—I don’t care it was 6 o’clock in the morning—he was Macho Man. You saw him at midnight—he’s still Macho Man. He was always in full-blown, wide-open Macho Man mode. I think, really, Randy Poffo morphed into Randy Savage, who then morphed into Macho Man. So he had three distinct personalities.”
Memphis TV announcers Lance Russell and Dave Brown and promoter Jerry Jarrett remembered the Macho Man during the roundtable discussion I moderated at the 2009 NWA Fanfest in Charlotte:
With Jimmy Hart leaving for the WWF in January, Jerry Jarrett brought in Tex Newman (Jeff Walton) from California and turned Randy Savage heel to reignite a feud with Lawler for the Southern title. Savage had been a babyface for months after a memorable debut as a heel. Less than two years earlier, the first Lawler vs. Savage match drew more than 8,000 fans on Dec. 5, 1983, a match that was years in the making. Leading up to that first encounter, Savage and his family had been running opposition, the ICW, with a weekly show airing Saturday mornings since 1980 on local independent station WPTY an hour prior to Jarrett’s show. Savage and NWA outcasts like Ronnie Garvin, Bob Roop and Bob Orton Jr. devoted their interview time to running down Jarrett’s crew instead of promoting their own lineups at the Cook Convention Center in downtown Memphis.
“Randy, his dad, Angelo, and brother, Lanny, made the mistake of making promos for our talent. We were sitting in the dressing room, and I believe it was Bill Dundee who said, ‘Can you explain to me why Randy, and particularly, Angelo, who knows the business well, would spend all their interview time knocking us and challenging us. Why are they plugging us instead of their own matches?’ I said, ‘Well, Billy, I don’t know that. I can’t answer that because I don’t know how stupid people think.’ Sputnik Monroe was sitting near us, and he jumped up and said, ‘Well, by God, I can tell you how stupid people think!’ We all had a nice laugh. But after their organization folded, I called Randy Savage and said, ‘You have plugged a match against Lawler for years. I don’t know if you were really angry or what it was–but why don’t we make some money off it?’ And Randy was sort of emotional saying, ‘After all that I’ve done to try to put you out of business, you’re calling to give me a job?’ I said, “Yes. And I’ll take your whole family. We’ll do a deal where you show up on Memphis TV and carry right on with your challenge to Lawler, and we can pretend it’s a shoot until we have the match.”
Savage had made such an impression on announcers Russell and Brown during the promotional war, they were leery of the Macho Man when he finally debuted for Jarrett. In addition to their misguided attempt to bury Jarrett’s talent instead of building up their own, the ICW folded in part when Russell negotiated to get Memphis wrestling TV on in place of the Poffos’ show in Lexington.
“I didn’t quite know what to expect from Randy,” Brown admits. “The first night I met him, I had taken a night off [from the evening newscast] to ride to Rupp Arena in Lexington with Lance and his wife, Audrey, and my wife, Margaret. But as soon as we get there, there’s this guy in the parking lot yelling at us. Lance says to me, ‘That’s Randy Poffo.’
Russell recalls: “Hey, who could miss him?” I hear this ‘Russssellllll!’ in that raspy voice of Savage’s, and I’m thinking, ‘Uh-oh, he finally caught up with me!’ We had secured their time slot in Lexington, and Randy was really unhappy with all of us.”
Brown: “I remember thinking, ‘We haven’t even gotten to see wrestling or a Kentucky basketball game, and we’re gonna die right here in the parking lot at Rupp Arena!”
Russell: “We actually got back into the van and drove it down into the underground parking facility at Rupp Arena. I was legitimately a scared of him because we had in effect help put his family’s promotion out of business. Then at the end of the night, the cops had already arrested some of the other ICW wrestlers who’d showed up with Savage, so the police warned him not to even cough near us. So Savage said he was gonna wait for us on the Bluegrass Parkway. We walked back in the dressing room, and every wrestler who had made the trip from Memphis was carrying a piece. Dave and I appeared to be the only ones without a gun! I was thinking, ‘Are you kidding me?!’ So I’m thinking that Savage is going to try to jump us on the Bluegrass Parkway. But big ol’ Sonny King said, ‘Let me lead the way.’ Sonny was as tough outside the ring as he was inside it. Needless to say, we had no problems.”
Macho Madness hits the Mid-South Coliseum for the very first time, against Jerry Lawler before 8,000-plus fans.
Savage never forgot Jarrett’s willingness to put aside personal differences for the good of the business. When McMahon came calling for the Macho Man’s services in 1985, Savage asked Jarrett’s opinion.
“I told him he had to take it–WWF was the big time,” he says. “Vince later told me that Randy told him, ‘I’d like to have a chance to make the big money, but my honor is more important. I’d have to give Jerry at least a two- or three-week notice.’ And he did, which gave us enough time to promote a loser-leaves-town match with Lawler on his way out. Randy is a quality, class human being.”
On a personal note, having watched Randy from his ICW days, I can tell you he was an amazing performer at a young age who captivated the fans with his outrageous personality and incredible athletic ability. He was so naturally gifted for the business. Having watched that slow build on ICW TV, where he’d badmouth the Jarrett crew, and seeing the newspaper ads he placed challenging Jerry “the Queen” Lawler, I just had to be in the audience for his Memphis debut at the Mid-South Coliseum in December 1983. I had the pleasure of watching him develop over the next year and half with his bouts with Dutch, Austin Idol, Terry Taylor and teaming with his brother, Lanny, against the Rock ‘n’ Express. There was no doubt in my young mind he’d be a superstar in the WWF. Upon debuting in the Former Fed, he was groomed from the start to be unique with all the different managers clamoring for the free agent’s services before he revealed the lovely Miss Elizabeth, who passed away from a drug overdose in 2003.
He went on to have an incredible career with Vince, before he left for greener pastures in WCW and creating tremendous heat with McMahon in the process. McMahon only recently began to lift the tacit ban on anything Savage-related, including approval of the releases of a Savage DVD, action figures and a video game in the last year, In fact, I just picked up Mattel’s Savage action figure last week. Hard to believe that only 15 months after the death of his father, Angelo Poffo, Randy Savage is gone.
Details are sketchy at this time, but BayNews 9 is reporting the following:
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Savage, whose legal name is Randy Mario Poffo, was driving west on Park Boulevard near 113th Street North when his 2009 Jeep Wrangler went out of control just before 9:30 a.m. The vehicle went over the raised median in the road, crossed the eastbound lanes, jumped the curb and smashed head on into a tree. Savage was taken to Largo Medical Center where he later died. Officials said the passenger in the car, believed to be Savage’s wife, suffered only minor injuries. Authorities said he may have suffered a “medical event” before the accident, but they said they will need to perform an autopsy to be certain.