Writing on the deaths of people you like in the entertainment industry fucking sucks. Plain and simple. Be that as it may, I couldn’t not do one for Randy “Macho Man” Savage, who died today at the age of 58 in a car crash in Tampa, Florida. Savage was my all-time favorite wrestler and a true entertainer, in the ring and out. There were very few people in an industry that thrives on larger-than-life personalities who were on Savage’s level as a performer, both in the ring and on the mic. The guy was a gifted physical specimen and a delightful cornucopia of frequently incoherent awesomeness when someone – usually Mean Gene Okerlund – put a microphone in his face.
I’ve only been two two live wrestling events, but one of them was at the Louisville Gardens in 1991, to see Randy Savage wrestle Sgt. Slaughter. This was back when Savage had been “retired” by the Ultimate Warrior in WrestleMania VII. But at the time, I believe Hulk Hogan was scheduled to wrestle Slaughter, who was working a storyline where he became an Iraqi sympathizer after the Gulf War (don’t overthink it, it’s wrestling). Hogan missed the event, and Savage filled in for him on a one-time basis (so the story went at the event). I was a huge Savage mark and was thrilled to get to see him live. Memories of the event now are pretty hazy, but I’m glad I got the chance to see him in person. It’s not an experience I do often enough for performers whom I admire.
And I did – and still do – admire Randy Savage’s legacy as a wrestler. He’s the main reason I came to enjoy wrestling. Fans know that he’s had some truly memorable matches, and probably none more than with Ricky Steamboat at WrestleMania III. I watched it again not too long ago and it’s still just an awesome display of physical prowess and ability from two of the all-time best. But for a career, Savage’s main time to shine (at least as much as he could with Hulk Hogan around and still at the height of his popularity) was Wrestlemania IV. I wrote on it back in January for a change of pace from the typical Movie of the Day for the site. And now, with this news that’s devastating to his many fans (just check out Twitter if you doubt that), there’s no film that I can think of that I want to have up for the MOD today.
I look at the last picture in this article and can’t help but reflect on the terrible outcomes for that couple whom I enjoyed every week at a time when it was really fun to be a kid and enjoying this industry which often has more negative buzz around it than positive, particularly for occurrences such as today’s. Savage was a complicated and enigmatic guy, particularly after he was done in the squared circle. A quick perusal of YouTube will confirm that. But you can’t say that for everything he did, he didn’t do it with a shitload of style.
So all I can say to Randall Poffo aka Randy Savage aka Macho Man is, thanks for the memories, brother.
The Film:Wrestlemania IV (1988)
The Principals: Hulk Hogan, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, Miss Elizabeth, Andre The Giant, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, Gorilla Monsoon, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, “Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, “Mean Gene” Okerlund, Bob Uecker, Vanna White, The Ultimate Warrior, Hercules Hernandez, The Honky Tonk Man, Demolition, Strike Force, Bad News Brown, The Bolsheviks (Nikolai Volkoff and Boris Zhukov), The Hart Foundation (Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart), The Killer Bees (B. Brian Blair and Jim Brunzell), Danny Davis, George Steele, Harley Race, Hillbilly Jim, The Rougeau Brothers (Jacques and Raymond), The Young Stallions (Paul Roma and Jim Powers), Junkyard Dog, Ken Patera, Ron Bass, Sam Houston, and Sika, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, “Ravishing” Rick Rude, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, Ricky” The Dragon” Steamboat, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, “The Natural” Butch Reed, One Man Gang, Bam Bam Bigelow, Don Muraco, Dino Bravo, Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake et al.
The Premise: After the titanic Wrestlemania III, the 1988 rematch of Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant saw one of the biggest screw jobs in wrestling history as Andre won in WWF Championship from Hogan in extremely controversial fashion. What’s more, villain Ted DiBiase, “The “Million Dollar Man,” had previously tried to buy the championship from Hogan, who politely refused (“Hellll, NOOOOOOO“). So DiBiase hired Andre to win the title for him, who promptly turned it over to DiBiase when he did. But since the title couldn’t be sold, it was vacated and a 14-man tournament was to be held at Wrestlemania IV, the first and since only time that’s happened. The other championships (Tag Team and Intercontinental) were also defended, a 20-man battle royal and other grudge matches were held. In the end, “Macho Man” Randy Savage won the title over the scheming DiBiase and, along with his valet and girlfriend, Miss Elizabeth, and friend, Hogan, celebrated the huge win at the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City.
Is It Good: That depends on if you’re a wrestling fan or not. Me, yeah, I have to cop to it. I’ve been watching wrestling for over 25 years. I could lament how it’s tougher these days in the era of the PG product the WWE is putting out, or the complete mess that TNA always is, but I prefer to remember the good old days. For me, whose favorite all-time wrestler is Randy Savage, this Wrestlemania was his best showcase. Wrestlemania III was undoubtedly his best match, but wrestling is equal amounts of drama and athleticism. And Wrestlemania IV started off a year-long soap opera where Savage was champion, and methodically built a pending clash between him and former champ, Hogan, at Wrestlemania V, almost a year to the day after IV. That storyline might be one of the best plotted in wrestling ever, as it had started the year before at III, carried over all through the next two years, culminating at Wrestlemania V. It was really a fun time to be a wrestling fan.
As mentioned, Savage is my favorite wrestler. He had everything: impressive physical ability, flamboyance, the very rare ability to truly dominate a crowd as either a face or a heel, and ridiculously obscure mic skills. He also had the hottest valet (his real-life wife, the late Miss Elizabeth) in wrestling history. Watching a Randy Savage interview was like taking a journey through The Twilight Zone. I wonder what Savage is like in reality when just hanging out, because when he was on the mic, he could be like Paul Winfield in the ST:TNG episode, “Darmok.” 80% of the time you were wondering what the hell he was talking about. It was great; the only guys on his level in that department of cutting promos that vexed the mind were Hogan himself and The Ultimate Warrior. And there have been plenty of hot valets in wrestling, especially over the last 20 years, but there was a legit air of class between Savage and Elizabeth that has never been repeated.
As for IV itself, it didn’t feature any singular matches on the level of Savage/Steamboat In III or Bret Hart/Shawn Michaels in Wrestlemania XII, but it was rich with drama as Savage made his way through the tournament with Elizabeth at his side. Enough credit also can’t be given to DiBiase, one of the best villains the WWF/E has ever put out there. IV was a monster event, featuring the most matches and, I’d be willing to bet, the most wrestlers participating at any one Wrestlemania or WWF event for that matter. Sixteen matches featuring 14 wrestlers in the tournament, a 20 man battle royal, two other championship matches and a couple of grudge matches. The Hogan-Andre rematch was fairly disappointing, but at that point in his life, it was amazing Andre could still get around. He appeared until Wrestlemania VII where, by that time he didn’t even tag into the tag team match he was in.
The Tag Team Championship match was pretty good, featuring a nice screw job by Demolition on Rick Martel and Tito Santana. I laugh at that match now, though, because the thought of the current WWE having two monster guys in S&M gear today is unimaginable. Notable tournament matches were Savage vs. Valentine, DiBiase vs. Don Muraco and the Jake Roberts vs. Rick Rude time limit draw. Not-so-notable matches included One Man gang vs. Bam Bam Bigelow and Bobby Heenan and The Islanders vs. The British Bulldogs and Koko B. Ware. There was a bulldog, a parrot and chain mail. It wasn’t pretty. Bob Uecker was mugging for four hours, looking for Vanna White and getting choked by Andre. And the entire event was called by Gorilla Monsoon, whom I miss hearing do play-by-play, and Jesse Ventura, wearing enough reptile clothing to devastate a wetland.
The final match between Savage and DiBiase, including the screw job on DiBiase by Hogan was the perfect capper and the ending celebration with Pomp and Circumstance just takes me back to when wrestling was really fun to watch. And it was really just the beginning in a yearlong story between Hogan and Savage and the Mega Powers.
Is It Worth A Look: Getting through the entire four hours is a chore now. I tried about a year ago and couldn’t make it. Fast forward the matches I mentioned, most of the Bob Uecker shtick and hit the Savage matches, DiBiase matches, the tag team and Andre-Hogan matches and you’ll be good. But you have got to watch that Hogan promo before the Andre match. It is epically out there:
Random Anecdotes: As fun as IV was, it’s nonetheless sobering looking at all the names on this card that died early, and sometimes violently. Yet another reminder of the ridiculously grim mortality rate of wrestlers and even those associated with wrestling: Miss Elizabeth, Andre, Dino Bravo, Bam Bigelow, Hercules, Davey Boy Smith, Bad News Brown, referee Joey Marella, JYD, Rick Rude…. Monsoon has also passed, but at least he didn’t die of a heart attack or drug overdoes or some other premature shit.
Cinematic Soulmates: Wrestlemanias III and V, SummerSlam ’88, 1988 Survivor Series, 1989 Royal Rumble.