All of us who grew up as WWF fans have grown accustomed to hearing about wrestlers dying. But the death of Randy “Macho Man” Savage on May 20 was different and took the wind out of us.
Behind Hulk Hogan, Savage was among the the most well-known pro wrestlers to come out the 1980s WWF expansion (along with Roddy Piper, Jesse Ventura, and Andre the Giant). Thanks to Savage’s in-ring abilties, his matches with Hogan elevated Hogan’s status as WWF Champion.
But he also transcended wrestling. His Slim Jim commercials, appearance in the 2002 Spider-Man movie with Tobey Maguire, and being named the Harvard Lampoon’s spoof Real Man of the Year in 1998 all point to his pop culture grip on people. The fact that his death briefly garnered front page news on most of the major news and sports websites was testament to how well people remembered him.
All of this amplifies the glaring hole in the WWE Hall of Fame with Savage’s absence. There have long been rumors over exactly why Vince McMahon has kept his distance from Savage, but based on ability and drawing power, it is a joke that hall doesn’t have Savage in it. But I don’t want to be silly – we of course needed to make sure Mr. Fuji, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, and James Dudley all got their Hall of Fame spots first.
I first saw Savage wrestle live in the old Boston Garden in December 1985, about six months into his WWF run. He defeated Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat in a match I don’t remember much about, although ironically Steamboat and Savage would have one of the greatest WWF/WWE matches of all time less than two years later at WrestleMania III.
No doubt Savage’s most famous Boston Garden bout was when he beat Tito Santana for the Intercontinental Title in February 1986. That Boston win put Savage in the top tier, and he became synonymous with the title in 1986 and 1987 because that belt was often held by the top heels (Magnificent Muraco also comes to mind) while the top babyfaces reigned as the main champion.
At different points, Savage was accompanied by Miss Elizabeth and Sensational Sherri Martel, two completely different women who nonetheless performed their roles to perfection and helped bolster Savage’s effectiveness. Elizabethwas the first real female valet the WWF ever had, and she got more out of almost never talking than just about any other star. Martel, on the other hand, was wild as Savage’s manager, and they fed off each other’s personalities. I distinctly recall Hogan giving an atomic kneedrop to Martel after a June 1989 countout loss to Savage, and the crowd in Boston went nuts.
It’s really sad to see this chapter of WWF history close unexpectedly with Savage’s sudden death.