Wednesday, January 14, 2015

How I saw Randy Savage

If you were watching RAW Monday night you saw the announcement that Randy "Macho Man" Savage would be posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.  You saw several WWE wrestlers pay tribute by giving their version of Savage's trademark "Ohhh Yeahhh!"  And you may have seen Savage as a member of the NWO in the late 90s.  But if you weren't watching back during the 80s, you just have no idea how great he was.  So what did Randy Savage mean to people like me?  If you started watching wrestling during the Monday Night Wars and the Attitude Era, you really have no idea.  By that point Savage was living off his name more than his current in ring work.  If you really want to see what he was about you need to go back to 1985, when he first landed in the WWF after leaving Jerry Lawler’s Memphis territory.  In the ring he was captivating.  It was hard for 11 year old me to tell whether he was a good guy or bad guy because the reactions he got were that favorable.  His matches on the Saturday morning shows, which were chock full of squash matches against professional jobbers with promos for house shows in between, were the highlight of the show.  The top dogs at the time (Hulk Hogan, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Andre the Giant) did not wrestle on these shows so an appearance by someone with the in ring repertoire of Savage was must-see TV.  Vince McMahon and his top men knew they had something special because they put him in main events against Hogan for the title within months of his arrival and put the number two belt, the Intercontinental Title, on him after he’d been around for just eight months. 

The way he came out of those matches with Hogan was pretty telling.  Save Roddy Piper, Hogan’s opponents usually went out like action movie villains in that by the end of the program they were vanquished in such fashion that there wasn’t any real desire to see them challenge for the belt again.  Not so with Savage; he came out smelling like roses to such an extent that some fans actually preferred him as a performer.  And this was in 1986 at the height of Hulkamania, not 1991 when it was on its last legs.  It was like a guest rapper or duet partner outshining the main artist in a performance, and part of the audience wanting them to stay on while the star exited stage left.  For the next few months he carried George “The Animal” Steele, a comedy act and rudimentary performer at best, to some decent matches for the I-C title before striking gold in a program with another great in-ring worker, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat.  The two put on an epic series of matches culminating in a show stealer at WrestleMania III that outshone the once in a lifetime main event of Hogan vs Andre the Giant.  For fans of good technical wrestling, Savage was a breath of fresh air compared to the majority of the WWF roster. 

When Savage turned good guy in late 1987, he again brushed up against the threshold of being as popular as Hogan, and it was proven when he was chosen to win the WWF Championship at WrestleMania IV in order for the company to have a champion while Hogan was off shooting a movie.  But from there, it was largely downhill.  Unlike 11 year old me, 14 year old me was able to discern pretty quickly that Savage’s title win was a set up for Hogan to get the title back at WrestleMania V the following year.  For all intents and purposes he was a high level plot device in the ongoing Hogan story.  When the two formed the tag team the Mega Powers it was fairly obvious that Savage would turn on Hogan in time to set up a big match at WrestleMania V.  Once that was done, he would reach those heights again.  He spent the year after WrestleMania V losing rematches to Hogan while winning the Crown, a pseudo-title the company made up largely to have something else to have contested in matches that didn't involve the World or I-C titles.  Under the moniker Macho King he spent whatever days he wasn't busy jobbing to Hogan carrying limited and/or older workers like Hacksaw Duggan and Dusty Rhodes in the main event of B-level live shows.  A seemingly final program with the Ultimate Warrior saw him carry another limited worker to some great matches culminating in a loss in a retirement match at WrestleMania VII.  

There was a last WWF hurrah of sorts when he came out of retirement to take on Jake the Snake Roberts and work a program against Ric Flair that saw him capture the title again, this time without Hogan around to overshadow him.  But even with the Hulkster gone the company still would not make him the number one guy.  By this point, in 1992, the company was looking to move on so Savage's second run with the belt wouldn't last very long.  Flair would regain the title from him a few months later in order to transition it to the new big name, Bret Hart.  The less said about his time in WCW the better.  He spent those years living off his name and putting in the occasional good match here or there but was a shell of his former self.  It was too bad, really.  Had there been an internet in 1986 his career, as great as it was, may have been even greater.  With YouTube videos for the world to see his Memphis work before his WWF arrival, a schedule of live television and pay per view events (where he could have riffed his way through promos in a way that Hogan's cookie cutter act wouldn't allow), and fans that were willing to head to these events and rain boos down on any  events they didn't approve of, Savage very well could have shared or overtaken Hogan on the WWF totem pole.  The men compared the most to Savage, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, were able to ride all of those and force the company to give them the spotlight and victories over the Hogan of today, John Cena.  But Randy came of age about 25 years too early to capitalize.  

When you get a chance, if you have the WWE Network (still only $9.99!) go check out some of his best work.  You won't be disappointed.  He was truly one of the best ever. 

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