The year was 1986. I was ten years old and my best friend in the world was kid even shorter and skinnier than I was – his name was Robbie Hughes. It seems like Robbie and I spent every Saturday night sleeping over at one of our houses (it was at his house that I learned the wonder and beauty of putting butter on hot, chocolate Pop-Tarts). The reason Saturday night was the night of choice was simple: Saturday Night’s Main Event.
Saturday Night’s Main Event was the first “weekly” wrestling program that placed all the huge superstars together and established long time feuds. This wasn’t the super lame high school gym wrestling program where you might know one wrestler and the rest were hired 10 minutes before the show so they could get pounded into the mat. This was the real deal and I instantly fell in love with a huge, larger than life wrestler named Hulk Hogan. I would sit in the floor at Robbie’s house and together we would patiently wait for the greatest entrance music of all time to hit the television speakers; I Am A Real American. I get pumped up even today when I hear this music and just now I had to pause this blog in order to throw a quick “big boot” and “leg drop” on Callie’s stuffed animal in honor of the Immortal Hulk Hogan.
One night Robbie and I decide we would dress up as wrestlers and play a pseudo game of charades. I would stay outside his bedroom door and when I heard “ready!” I would open the door and Robbie would be doing his best to pose as a wrestler. Then, he would go outside the room and it would be my turn. We did this for about 5 hours. One of those times I heard the word “Ready!” and I opened the door to hear Robbie yell this at me:
I was stunned. I had no idea who it was. Robbie informed me that he was posing as his new favorite wrestler, the “Macho Man” Randy Savage. I wasn’t sure how I had missed this new wrestler, but I was excited to see him. So, I ran over to the computer and pulled up YouTube to check him out – oh wait a minute, this was before we even had a VHS recorder and we didn’t even know what a computer was. No, I would have to wait an entire week before I would be able to see the “Macho Man” wrestle.
That’s exactly what I did. Next week Robbie and I sat in front of the television. I was excited about seeing Hulk Hogan, but I was curious to check out this Macho Man guy. Sure enough, his match was announced; he would be wrestling George “The Animal” Steele in what would become a classic rivalry. When I heard Macho Man’s entrance music, I knew this was going to be someone special. It was Pomp and Circumstance. Apart from “Real American”, Macho Man’s choice of entrance music remains, by far, the greatest choice of any wrestler. It is a perfect juxtaposition of the insanity of Savage’s behavior mixed with the elegant formalism of what is usually heard at a high school graduation. Simply brilliant.
The way I first saw Savage is the way I will always remember him. Some may think of Macho Man in his famous, custom made cowboy hats, but that came later. For that first year I watched him, he would be adorned in colorful, glitter-filled handbands and the best capes of all time; even better than Ric Flair. His sunglasses were not so much glasses as they were huge ski glasses with dark lenses. His hair was long but thinning, which created an unmistakable look when he got sweaty during a wrestling match. I couldn’t believe what I was watching – having been in love with Hulk Hogan, I had become accustomed to Hogan’s wrestling style, or lack thereof. Savage was fast, dangerous, creative, talented, and was freaking jumping off the top rope to the outside of the ring with a “double-ax handle”, something I had never seen before. But it was his finishing move that made me freak out. Savage would climb to the top rope and leap halfway across the ring with an elbow drop that would cripple his opponent for the quick 1-2-3 count. His famous elbow drop was nothing short of spectacular. It seemed like he stayed in the air for 2 minutes and the impact was jarring. Savage has really hurt more than one wrestler with the move, although he has said more than once that the elbow drop hurt him more than his opponent because he would have to absorb so much of the fall in order to prevent his opponent from being seriously injured. If you watch the video of his classic move here, you will notice how carefully timed the jump is so that his legs and bottom portion of his body absorbs the impact just prior to the elbow making contact. If Hogan tried to pull this off, every wrestler he faced would be dead.
It was early in 1987 that my love for wrestling came at its zenith when Wrestlemania 3 was announced. It was and remains the greatest wrestling show of all time. Andre the Giant had turned heel (that means became a bad guy) and Hogan was going to face him the final match of the night for the heavyweight championship. I will admit, that was the match that I, and every other kid in the world, was waiting to see. But little did I know that it would be Randy Savage vs. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat that would be the highlight of Wrestlemania 3. Savage was the Intercontinental Champion at this point and he had started a feud with Steamboat. Prior to WM 3, Savage had “crushed” Steamboat’s larynx with a ring bell, leaving Ricky literally speechless. Just before the match at WM 3 began, Savage cut a promo that without a doubt remains the iconic promo for me in wrestling history. It isn’t particularly funny like many of Savage’s promos and it isn’t particularly long. But it is Savage. It shows him in all his glory, looking just the way I remember him, and delivering the best wrestling line of all time, a line I still deliver to this day on occasion when the situation calls for it (substituting my own words for “mach man”). He says:
“History Beckons the Macho Man!”
Oh my goodness. That is a stand up on your feet and throw your arms in the air moment. Immediately after he says that, Pomp and Circumstance pounds through the speakers (you can just catch the beginning of his music on the video above). What ensued was 15 minutes of wrestling at its best. Savage and Steamboat meticulously planned the match and it was a talent-fest, complete with 19 two counts, multiple trips to the top rope, well executed moves, and a stunning finish where Steamboat (with the help of George Steele) defeats Savage. To this day, with all the talent and advancement in pro wrestling, critics and wrestlers agree that Savage vs. Steamboat is one, if not the greatest wrestling match of all time. If you have never seen it, even if you don’t like wrestling, you should watch it.
There was another aspect of Savage that left me, and virtually every other boy in the world, in complete fascination. His manager, Miss Elizabeth. All I can say about Elizabeth is that at the tender age of 10 years old, she was by far the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, and looking back now at the age of 35, I think I was right. In 1987, there was no one more beautiful than Miss Elizabeth. It was her mannerisms, her faithfulness to Savage even when he was being a jerk, and her stunning looks that made her the perfect manager. Unfortunately, the class and style of Elizabeth was turned into women being used by the WWF (now WWE) as sex objects to sell a product. Elizabeth never used that angle; she didn’t have too. Her expressions of loving concern for Savage was enough to drive every 10 year old in the world absolutely crazy. It did me.
To a large degree, the Macho Man was overshadowed by the phenomena known as Hulkamania and I think he never got over it. The famous “Mega Powers” explosion as Miss Elizabeth watches Savage throw down on Hulk Hogan was only half-pretend – I believe Savage really did have some animosity toward Hogan’s fame. Unfortunately, this took a turn for the worse later in Savage’s life when he attempted to record a rap album with the track “Be A Man” directed at Hulk Hogan. It was embarrassing.
But the truth is that Savage was as important as Hogan was for the sport of wrestling. He took the talent of wrestling to a new level, ushering in a whole new generation of wrestling stars who could actually do something besides a body slam and clothesline. He set the precedent for the powerful inclusion of women in the sport of wrestling. He paved the way for the now normal use of the interview to establish a character. And he simply made the WWF even bigger than it already was.
For me, Savage represents one of those key figures who defined an era in my life, an era that is filled with only fond memories and loving relationships. It just seems like those days in Kingsport, TN lasted a lifetime and my poor “Baxter the Bear” stuffed animal took serious abuse as he was the recipient of about 10,000 elbow drops off the top of my chest down onto the bed. Losing someone who was important to you not only brings back so many wonderful memories, but it also brings to mind James 4:14 – “What is your life? You are a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
Goodbye Macho Man. Thank you.