Friday, May 20, 2011

A Tribute to "The Macho Man" Randy Savage: Dig It!


- "Oooooohhh yeeeeahhh! Dig it!"

Such was the memorable catchphrase of "The Macho Man" Randy Savage, who tragically passed away today at the age of 58. A true legend of the squared circle, Savage was unique in that he was one of the most colorful and entertaining personalities the wrestling world has ever seen, but also one of the most gifted athletes and accomplished in-ring technicians - a participant in some of the all-time great matches in wrestling history.

As a kid, I was a certifiable member of Team Madness. Even though I was really young at the time, I vividly remember when Savage truly made an impact on my conciousness. I was watching Hulk Hogan on WWF Superstars reveal his mystery tag-team partner for his upcoming match against the combined forces of Andre the Giant and "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase - aka "The Mega-Bucks." As the crowd - and interviewer "Mean" Gene Okerlund waited in anticipation, Hogan revealed that his partner would be none other than ... "The Macho Man" Randy Savage! The crowd exploded, Mean Gene looked shocked, and I sat in awe in front of the TV. At the time, such a dream team of superstars was unprecedented. This was like Superman teaming with Batman, Michael Jordan on the same team as Larry Bird. Fittingly, this new super-team was dubbed "The Mega-Powers", and at that mere thought, the delicate minds of young wrestling fans around the world collectively exploded.

While some WWF fans of the 80's and 90's were Hulkamaniacs or Ultimate Warrior fans, my favorite superstar was always The Macho Man. While his persona was colorful and over-the-top, there was also a crazy intensity to him. He always seemed on the verge of full-blown insanity, with the one thing keeping him in check being his angelic manager / girlfriend Ms. Elizabeth, "The First Lady of Wrestling." Elizabeth's presence helped make every Macho Man match feel like an epic battle. Macho was fighting for her, and, it seemed, for his very survival. Savage would walk down to the ring in sparkling capes and crazy costumes, to the sounds of "Pomp and Circumstance," a theme song that set the stage for the epic battle sure to come. Today, you see many high-flying wrestlers take some damage, but then pop right back up as if they'd never been hurt. Not Savage - he would move around the ring like a man in the middle of a warzone. He looked like a guy who had been battered, bruised, and hobbled. He had a crazy look in his eye - to him, every match was literally life and death. Some wrestlers seem like they are having fun in the ring. Not Savage. He scraped, clawed, and scratched his way to each victory. That's why his top-rope flying elbow drop finisher was so climactic and epic - he didn't just hop up to the top rope and dive off. No, Savage would methodically climb each turnbuckle one by one, grasping at each rope rung, climbing that proverbial ladder with determination and a pained, desperate look in his eye. And then, finally, perched on the top turnbuckle, he'd raise his arms to the heavens in regal victory, swing, jump, and then deliver that patented elbow right to the heart of his prone opponent in dramatic fashion. It wasn't anything fancy or complicated, but the sheer epicness of that finishing maneuver will likely never be replicated.

Because of his association with Ms. Elizabeth, The Macho Man was able to participate in some of the most emotion-packed and personal storylines and feuds in wrestling history. At a time when many of the WWF's top storylines were of the generic "superhero vs. supervillain," face vs. heel variety, Savage's edgy, complex character gave his storylines an added layer of depth. When he eventually turned against the Hulkster, in a feud that would culminate at Wrestlemania V ("Mega-Powers Collide!"), sure, the rank and file fans rooted for Hogan, who was the good guy in the feud, but you also sort of understood Savage's beef. Afterall, Hogan *did* seem to get a little too cozy with Liz during his tag-team days with Savage. And Hogan *was* sort of a glory hound, an "egomaniac" as Bobby Heenan often called him. With the badass wrestler-turned commentator Jesse "The Body" Ventura constantly sticking up for Savage and bashing Hogan, it was easy to wonder if maybe all the "humanoids" rooting for Hogan might in fact be ignorant sheep who would turn on a true champion like Savage in the blink of an eye. And so, Savage was perhaps the first wrestling bad guy that I sort of rooted for even though I was "supposed" to hate him.

And that lingering appreciation for The Macho Man made fans follow and root for him for years to come. Even when he ditched Liz for the wicked Sensational Sherri and become "The Macho King," we still liked him and his awesome promos and crazy attire, and followed him as he fought the likes of Hogan, Dusty Rhodes, and The Ultimate Warrior. And it was in one of those matches with The Warrior that Savage pulled off the ultimate "face turn," in one of the most gripping, epic matches of all time. Savage went into the match as the bad guy, aligned with the evil Sherri and fighting the fan-favorite Warrior, in a match whose stipulation was heretofore unheard of: the loser would be forced to retire forever. Nowadays, us grizzled wrestling fans know that such retirement talk rarely sticks, but back then, this was serious business. The match itself ... was epic. The entire affair was heightened once it was revealed that Elizabeth herself was in the audience. Out of the limelight for a few years, this reminder of Savage's days as a popular people's champion was shocking and mysterious. As the match went on, we saw Liz looking on with worry and concern. Eventually, after grueling back-and-forth action, Savage had the Warrior down, and hit him with the patented big elbow. But instead of pinning his foe, The Macho Man went back up to the top rope for a SECOND elbow drop! Then - a third! A fourth! And finally ... a fifth! But that fifth elbow drop was one too many, in that it somehow, magically, *revived* the Warrior and caused him to pop up, filled with energy and ready to whup Savage's ass. This legendary incident of the "reviving elbow" would go down in wrestling lore forever after. Anyways, The Warrior eventually won the match, leaving a beaten Savage lying on the mat. Sherri entered the ring and berated him - she only stuck with winners, and now that Savage was a loser, she was finished. At once, the crowd began to turn back to Savage's side and channeled their hate towards Sherri. Sherri moved to strike Macho, but was stopped by an unlikely presence - Ms. Elizabeth! Elizabeth saved her old flame from the wrath of "Scary Sherri," and when Savage realized what had happened, he was in disbelief. At this point, the crowd was on their feet. Savage pointed and gestured at Elizabeth, questioning her intentions. Liz looked at Macho with love in her heart and tears in her eyes. The two approached each other, and in a dramatic moment, they embraced. "What a woman!" bellowed Bobby "The Brain" Heenan on commentary. "And what a man!" echoed the late great "Gorilla" Monsoon. Women in the audience wept. Boys' lips quivered in joyous emotion. Grown men choked back the tears. This was a true Moment for the Ages, when the typically cartoonish storylines of professional wrestling gave way to Epic Romance - Good, Evil, Love, Destiny - this was all of that, and by God, it was awesome.

In the storylines, Savage went off to have his epic marriage to Elizabeth, and, though history is quite fuzzy on the matter, he and Liz were actually a couple in real life as well (when the two actually became one in reality, and when things ended, is a bit murky). But on the air, the "Match Made In Heaven" was interrupted when, in a rather shocking storyline for the time (or any time), Macho's post-wedding celebration was interrupted by a "gift" from Jake the Snake Roberts - a bite from a poisonous snake! As a kid, this whole angle was incredibly disturbing, with the implication being that the devious Roberts had actually tried to *kill* Savage via snake venom! After a recovery period, the WWF of course had no choice but to reinstate Macho so that he could wreak unholy vengeance on The Snake. And so those two went on to have a pretty epic series of matches, in a feud that saw a young Undertaker align himself with Roberts. At this point, fan support for Savage was at an all-time high - and why not? While Hulk Hogan was fighting in lame feuds against cartoonish badguys, Macho Man was fighting for his very life against a sadistic, would-be murderer who hung with snakes! Eventually, Macho ended his feud with Jake the Snake and found himself back in title contention - and that meant squaring off against the then-champion, "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair.

Once again, though, this was no ordinary feud. The stylin' and profilin' Flair claimed to have had an affair with Ms. Elizabeth, and claimed that Liz secretly lusted after the Nature Boy. Once again, Savage fought not just for the world heavyweight title, but for his very honor - in an epic battle that culminated at Wrestlemania. In the ring, Flair and Savage were two of the best of all time, and Flair's cockiness mixed with Savage's intensity made for an awesome series of matches. The two would wrestle many times over the years in WWF and WCW, and they always put on a great show.

Eventually, Savage did actually semi-retire from active competition, becoming a commentator alongside Vince McMahon and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper in the mid-90's. Savage would wrestle the occasional match (almost winning the Royal Rumble one year before being squashed by the massive Yokozuna) and had a couple of decent feuds with the likes of Crush, but the Macho Man seemed unfairly relegated to the announcer's booth - when all indications were that he could still go in the ring and wanted to keep wrestling. Lots of rumors sprung up during this time - some said that Savage was in the doghouse with Vince McMahon for various reasons. But whatever the case, Savage eventually left the WWF for WCW in 1995, following the defection of Hulk Hogan and several other 80's-era veterans. But while many of those veterans seemed old and washed up in WCW, Savage was still on top of his game even at this late stage of his career. He resumed his old feud with Ric Flair and tore the house down. Eventually, he joined the nWo - the red-hot supergroup of villanous former WWF stars that helped propel WCW to overtake the WWF in the mid to late 90's. Savage had more memorable matches with the likes of Diamond Dallas Page and others - and even reunited with a glammed-up Ms. Elizabeth - until, eventually, age and injuries got the better of him.

Savage disappeared from the scene for a while. He was always visible to pop-culture fans though even when he wasn't wrestling. He was the enthusiastic pitchman for Slim-Jim for years, and everyone remembers his "Snap Into a a Slim-Jim" tagline. He appeared in various TV shows and movies. He was hilarious and self-deprecating on Space Ghost: Coast to Coast (as Space Ghost's wrasslin' grandpa) and also made an impact in the Spiderman movie, as Peter Parker's imposing wrestling opponent Bonesaw McGraw.

Savage had one last run in WCW in 1999 and 2000, reemerging on the scene with a new, bulked-up look, new entrance music, and an entourage of attractive valets - a hot blonde calling herself Gorgeous George, and "Miss Madness '99." Macho had a couple more decent matches at the time, but his mobility was clearly limited - even if he was, of course, as charismatic and colorful as ever. Macho disappeared again for a while, then made one final appearance on WCW Monday Nitro, kicking off an angle that never went anywhere about him becoming a mentor to the next great superstar. It turned out to be a one-shot appearance, and after that, one of the all-time greats just sort of vanished.

Clearly, he was on poor terms with the WWE, because he was rarely mentioned at all, never brought in for any appearances, and was inexplicably never inducted into the WWE's Hall of Fame, despite clearly being one of the all-time top superstars and an integral part of the company's rise in the 80's. And yet ... after years of radio silence (not counting his puzzling rap album from several years back, and his occasional online pot-shots at his eternal rival Hulk Hogan) ... Savage resurfaced last year to help promote the new WWE All-Stars videogame, in which he was a playable character. Just prior to that, WWE released a retrospective DVD on his career, although it was made without any participation from The Macho Man. Still, it seemed as though Savage may have made some amends with the WWE, and for that reason, I think fans were eager to see what might come next. Would Savage reappear, finally, on WWE TV? Would he at long last get his due and get a Hall of Fame induction. Might he reappear in more movies, TV shows, perhaps rival wrestling organization TNA?

Now, we shall never know what the future held for the legendary "Macho Man." But what we do know is that Savage leaves behind a legacy of incredible matches, promos, and feuds, from a pro-wrestling career that is nearly without equal in terms of memorable moments. One of those came for me sometime circa 1994, when I got to meet the man himself backstage at a WWE live event in Hartford, CT. Earlier that night, Savage had fought Yokozuna in an epic battle for the WWF title - one I still maintain he would have won if not for the dastardly interference of one Doink the Clown. Suffice it to say, I was totally star-struck, beyond psyched to meet this larger-than-life wrestling hero - a man who had provided me with so many great childhood memories. From his classic matches with Ricky Steamboat, Hulk Hogan, and Ric Flair, to his star-crossed romance with Ms. Elizabeth - from his awesomely insane promos, to his unique combination of brawling and high-flying maneuvers in the ring ... Savage was truly one of a kind - "a Tower of Power, Too Sweet To Be Sour." Sadly, he joins the late Ms. Elizabeth in that great wrestling ring in the sky, already overfilled with too many greats of the 80's and 90's to mention. People may wonder why so many of us are paying tribute to this admittedly unique character today, but in all seriousness, his persona was that of an epic hero, a larger-than-life gladiator who taught a generation - us children of the 80's and 90's - about pride, life, love, and fighting the good fight. So long live "The Macho Man" Randy Savage ........ OOOOOOOOOOOOH YEAAAH, DIG IT!

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