The Shelf Is Half Full

An optimistic geek's blog on comic books, movies and professional wrestling.

Archive for the category “Randy Savage”

“We Clash Like Two Titans” – Savage vs. Steamboat

When I choose to introduce my friends to this particular hobby of mine, there is always one match that I start out with: the WrestleMania III classic between “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. It’s no coincidence that my first two “Superstar Spotlights” were on these two men; I wanted to talk about this match sooner rather than later and it helps to have a frame of reference for who each participant is.

There are many reasons I choose this match over others. One is the epic scale of the event at which it takes place; the crowd at WrestleMania III is enormous and I feel helps to legitimize wrestling to new viewers who may not realize just how popular the sports drama really is. Another key reason is that in 1980’s it was still customary for every wrestler (or his manager) to give a brief interview explaining why a match was taking place, and this match is no exception. Randy Savage’s interview is excellent as it puts over his arrogant and intense character, his flying elbow finish, the athleticism of the two wrestlers, his intent to put Steamboat out of the business, and the match’s prize: the Intercontinental Championship.

Savage

Ricky Steamboat will never be considered a great interview, but there is a good deal of passion in his interview, and he explains how long he has been waiting for this match making it seem more important. It’s a good babyface promo and it also establishes his character with the classic line “This Dragon is breathing fire! This Dragon will scorch your back!” It may not be one of my favorite interviews ever like Savage’s is, but it works nicely.

Another key addition to the pre-match proceedings is a short video package highlighting Savage’s brutal attack on Steamboat’s throat with a ring bell, including a great shot of the Dragon holding his throat as he’s carried off on a stretcher. This succinctly explains why the match is happening and establishes that the contest is a grudge match, as personal as it gets. I find that a match with a simple but meaningful story behind it works best to get a new audience engaged.

And of course, as any wrestling fan knows, the match itself is just a magnificent display of athleticism and intensity. Savage and Steamboat are tremendous performers in their own rights, but they had been working on house shows up to this trying new ideas and Savage carefully plotted out the entire match so that himself and Ricky could commit it to memory and get the best crowd reaction possible. While some feel that this extreme level of choreography takes away from the art of a match (including Steamboat who preferred to call matches on the fly), I would argue that Savage had such an uncanny understanding of how crowds react that it doesn’t matter. All that matter is that the crowd is engaged for the whole match.

Enraged

The opening is surprisingly tentative; Savage tries to sneak attack his challenger but Steamboat knows he is coming and keeps his eyes on the Macho Man. The Champion also takes a moment to jump outside the ring to pull his manager Miss Elizabeth away from George “The Animal” Steel, a friend of Steamboat’s and longtime adversary of Savage’s. Steele is a character that’s enamored with Miss Elizabeth and it’s clear that his mere presence has Savage unsettled.

One of the key elements of this match is that Ricky Steamboat, usually a squeaky clean good guy, is enraged at Savage because of the injury he’s returned from. He starts with what he is best at; technical wrestling, and specifically his magnificent armdrag takedowns. Still, there is a level of intensity to these armdrags that isn’t always there and Savage takes them beautifully, making them seem like more than simple takedowns. But there’s an uncharacteristic moment where the Dragon lifts Savage off the ground by his throat before returning his focus to Savage’s arm. He also takes a moment during his assault on Savage’s limb to snap it against the top rope, which for those not in the know is a taut steel cable with some decorative tape and is not fun to come into contact with.

Rage is a double edged sword of course; while Steamboat’s anger allows him to control the opening minutes, it also leads to him making small mistakes that the champion is all too willing to capitalize on. Savage rushes out of the ring and baits Steamboat into following him, then goes back in the ring and attacks the Dragon as he comes back in. He throws the Dragon out of the ring over and over again to try and catch his breath and also goes after Dragon’s throat, but this only fires up Steamboat even more, as he starts hitting the ropes and connecting with shoulder blocks and a crossbody block that very nearly pin the champion. A moment where Savage gets caught in the ropes allows them to cement the idea that Steamboat isn’t his usual sportsmanlike self as he delivers several blows to the tied up champion.

Intensity

Savage smartly uses Steamboat’s momentum against him by sidestepping a charge and hitting a flying knee to the upper spine to get his momentum back. He throws Steamboat out of the ring again and Ricky holds onto the top rope and elevates himself back into the ring in a crowd-pleasing athletic maneuver, but Savage stays on him by throwing his arm across his throat and pushing him out of the ring with a move called a “clothesline”. The Macho Man has given up on trying to catch his breath and follows the Dragon outside of the ring and hits the flying knee a second time, sending his opponent over the ringside barricade and into the crowd. It is only with George Steele’s help that the crowd’s hero is able to make it back into the ring.

Knowing that he has the advantage, Savage is relentless in his attack; he flies off the top rope to deliver devastating double axe-handle strikes and throws him overhead with suplexes in an attempt to pin him down, but can’t make it. He jumps in the air and drives a knee into Steamboat’s throat and snaps it down across the top rope, but the Dragon refuses to quit. He may not be able to get in definitive control, but he can still win. He cradles Savage with several different pinning combinations at a blistering pace, causing referee Dave Hebner to exhaust himself dropping down to count the shoulders over and over again. This leads to a key moment in which Savage throws the Dragon into the referee, too out of sorts to avoid the incoming Steamboat and falling to his back incapacitated. Referees in wrestling are usually pretty fragile. Savage ascends to the top rope and delivers his patented elbow drop, but there Hebner is unable to make the win official.

Perched

This leads to the match’s conclusion. Hoping to take advantage of the knocked out referee, Savage exits the ring and grabs a ring bell, hoping to make good on his promise to put Steamboat out of wrestling. This also serves to remind the audience of why this contest is happening and why it is so intense. Unfortunately, just like the match’s start, George Steele costs the Macho Man his advantage. Though the champion foils the Animal’s attempt to take the bell from him and climbs back up to his favorite perch, Steele recovers and shoves Savage off of the top rope in a nasty fall, getting a measure of revenge in their long lasting feud.

Hebner is recovered and Savage is still in better shape that Steamboat. He picks up off the mat, but takes a moment to place his right hand on his back; the fall has cost him badly. He lifts the Dragon up to attempt a slam but his back is too weak to complete the move and Steamboat uses the momentum to roll Savage to the mat and hook a leg, finally getting the three count. The crowd erupts as Steamboat gets his revenge and wins the Intercontinental Championship.

While Savage lost on this night, both men walked away from the match better. The contest displayed two athletes in the prime of their careers working with such speed and intensity that fans almost had to have a sense of whiplash from viewing the contest. It was a revolutionary style at the time and still remains compelling to this day.Twenty-eight years later, many fans still consider this to be their favorite match.

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Superstar Spotlight – “The Macho Man” Randy Savage

Professional wrestling is a larger than life world, and that means that in order to be successful as a professional wrestler, a performer has to bring something special to the table. Very few performers in history brought “something special” as much as the man I am spotlighting today. He was a great athlete with a keen eye for storytelling, and he also had a unique charisma that allowed him to pull off the most insane costumes any wrestler has put on. The gravelly tones of his voice are so iconic that even non-wrestling fans in the 1980’s would probably be able to recognize an imitation. He was born Randy Poffo, but the world would come to know him as…

Macho Man

Randy “Macho Man” Savage

Randy Poffo was the son of professional wrestler Angelo Poffo, but his first career choice was professional baseball. Though he made it as far as the developmental programs for the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox, an injury ended that career before he could make it to the big leagues. Which was a great thing for wrestling fans, because Savage wasted little time dedicating his life to the art of professional wrestling. He changed his in-ring name at the suggestion of Ole Anderson, who told him that he “wrestled like a savage.”

Ole’s assessment of Randy’s style was certainly accurate. Savage’s muscular body, messy hair and wild eyes already made him look like a caveman, but his aggression, intensity, and habit of climbing to the top rope to crash down his opponents with his fists were frightening to behold. And mesmerizing. To this day, I haven’t seen another wrestler that moves the way Randy did or works in a similar fashion. He was wholly unique.

Savage first gained notoriety in a promotion feud between his father’s International Championship Wrestling and Jerry Lawler’s Continental Wrestling Association. Lawler was the biggest star in Memphis, Tennessee, where he had earned the nickname “The King”. Their rivalry would re-energize Lawler’s territory and served as a platform for Savage to transition to the promotion that would make a worldwide star; Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation.

Elizabeth

The First Lady of Wrestling

Already colorful and known for putting on great matches, “The Macho Man” was introduced to the WWF audiences as the hottest free agent in the wrestling business. At the time, wrestling had several non-wrestling characters called “managers”, who functioned as ringside coaches but often worked as mouthpieces for less charismatic talents. Hero managers helped the audience cheer for their guys and heel managers often helped their wrestlers cheat behind the referee’s back. Every manager in the company wanted to sign Savage, but Randy had a different plan; he brought in his real life wife Elizabeth on screen as “Miss Elizabeth”, his new manager. Gorgeous and classy, she added a new layer to Savage’s character that would largely define his career in the WWF.

While fans loved Miss Elizabeth, they were less fond of Randy Savage; his arrogant interviews, vicious wrestling style and willingness to cheat made him one of the premier villains of the 1980’s. While Hulk Hogan’s All-American superhero persona was the top attraction, Randy Savage’s contests with other heroic characters in the promotion offered something different and almost as popular. Savage defeated Mexican-American fan favorite Tito Santana to become the WWF’s Intercontinental Champion, making him officially the #2 guy in the promotion, and he held the title for over a year before losing it in his legendary battle with Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat at WrestleMania III.

Most fans weren’t exactly cheering Randy Savage, but they had to recognize his athletic gifts and his charisma; they may have been paying to see him lose, but they were still paying to see him. This respect for his talents made it easy for the crowd to rally behind him when he started targeting The Honkytonk Man, a hugely unpopular Elvis impersonator wrestler who had somehow hornswoggled Ricky Steamboat out of the Intercontinental Championship. Wanting to get his title back, Savage challenged Honkytonk Man and drew the ire of Honkytonk’s manager, “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart, who used his other charges like Greg “The Hammer” Valentine and “The Hart Foundation”. Soon the fans were cheering for Savage, and an unlikely alliance with Hulk Hogan helped cement the Macho Man as a beloved character.

The Megapowers

A Race to the Top of the Mountain

With the fans on his side for the first time, Savage was riding a wave of momentum by the time WrestleMania IV was rolling around in the spring of 1988. After a controversial title change left the WWF’s World Heavyweight Championship vacant, a fourteen man tournament was arranged for the fourth WrestleMania, and Savage was naturally one of the entrants. When Hulk Hogan was eliminated in his match with hated rival Andre the Giant thanks to a double disqualification, Savage was suddenly the performer with the most fan support who had a chance of winning. It was a slim chance though; Savage had to make it through four matches in a single night in order to win, a monumental feat for anyone to accomplish.

Savage was able to get through his first round match against Butch Reed relatively unscathed, but Greg “The Hammer” Valentine proved much tougher’; while Savage was able to pin him to the mat with an inside cradle, it was obvious that he was tired going into the third match. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the massive One Man Gang was granted a bye into the semi-final round thanks to a time-limit draw in the Jake Roberts-Rick Rude first round contest. Well rested and over 400 pounds, Gang was the heavy favorite going in against Savage, but Randy had some luck on his side as Gang foolishly attacked Savage with his manager Slick’s cane in full view of the referee, getting him disqualified.

Savage had gotten to the finals by the narrowest of margins, but his opponent had the upper hand. Finalist Ted DiBiase was an excellent mat wrestler and brilliant strategist, but was also hated by fans because he was filthy rich and loved to brag about it. “The Million Dollar Man” was a bully and was also the reason the tournament was being held in the first place, having paid Andre the Giant to give him the WWF Championship he won from Hulk Hogan after paying off the referee to screw Hogan out of the title. And while his matches with “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan and Don Muraco were no cakewalks, DiBiase had dodged a bullet when Andre and Hogan’s match got them both eliminated and gave him a bye into the final round.

Wrestlemania 4

Championship Glory

It was a perfect climax to a long tournament; the villain had every advantage and looked to be able to win the championship he had robbed from Hulk Hogan. In his way was a beloved but worn down man who was going to have to rely on every ounce of physical and mental toughness to survive. The Macho Man valiantly battled against the odds, but just when it seemed like he might gain the upper hand in the contest, DiBiase’s charge Andre the Giant was able to intimidate him and open the door for DiBiase to get a sneak attack on Savage. With her man in dire straits, Elizabeth rushed to the backstage area and came back out with Hulk Hogan, who came down to make sure that Andre would not interfere any further.

Ironically, Hogan would be the one interfering in the match, saving Savage from DiBiase’s “Million Dollar Dream” sleeper hold variation by cracking Ted’s spine with a metal folding chair. The Macho Man capitalized on this blow and soared off of the top rope to deliver his patented flying elbow drop and pinned DiBiase to become the new champion. It wasn’t exactly the noblest of wins, but DiBiase had more than earned his comeuppance. The important thing was that Savage had overcome all odds and was rewarded with the top prize in the company.

Randy Savage would be one of the most successful box-office draws the WWF would ever had, more than proving his worth as the WWF Champion. His exciting matches and unmatched charisma led him to many more accolades for over a decade after this career defining night. I don'[t want to get into every detail because Savage’s story is distinguished and unique and I will be writing more about them in the future. But for now, what’s most important is to know that Randy Savage is one of the most recognizable, talented and brilliant performer in wrestling history. He didn’t just bring something special; he was something special.

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