One year ago today, "Macho Man" Randy Savage passed away. He meant a lot to me as a performer, so I've written the following column to honor his legacy. Enjoy.
In the business of professional wrestling there are many things one can use to give examples of having "it." What exactly is "it"? It's a combination of attributes to determine the skills of an individual, although there's no specific definition.
To me it means a performer has a combination of talents ranging from an ability to work in the ring at a high level; the talent to cut a meaningful promo; a look to him that is unique; the ability to sell tickets (very important to a promo); and that aura which makes that person stand out from the pack. Not everybody has all of those things.
As a WWF fan growing up in the 80s (I didn't get to see Ric Flair in the NWA where I lived in Southern Ontario), you know who had those attributes better than anybody else on the roster? "Macho Man" Randy Savage. The first wrestler I could ever say was my favorite. The guy I could point to and say: "He's the reason why I'm a fan." That's what Randy Savage is to me.
There are five moments/feuds that stand out to me in Savage's career. Not surprisingly they all happened at WrestleMania. Also not surprisingly they happened with five different opponents. That's what makes somebody special.
The ability to have those great moments not with just one person, but with several. These moments feature an all-time great performer stepping up on the biggest stage. Let's take a look at them.
Savage as a heel defending the IC title against Ricky Steamboat. The feud was built up when Savage attacked Steamboat with the ring bell. The match ended up being legendary and is revered to this day as the best WWF match of the 1980s.
Frankly, it still holds up to this day. The amount of nearfalls are amazing, the timing they had was spectacular, and the way the massive Detroit crowd popped for everything only added to the mystique of it. A truly special match that did a lot for Savage's career in terms of moving him up the ladder. The definition of a classic.
The WWF title was vacant heading into WrestleMania IV, so they had a tournament to crown the winner. Andre the Giant came out to cheat for Ted DiBiase (Savage's opponent), so Hulk Hogan came out to help Savage.
The finish saw Andre the Giant interfering. The ref turned to him, and that allowed Hogan to hit DiBiase in the back with a chair. Savage did one of his patented stunned facial expressions then climbed up top and hit the patented top-rope elbow for the win.
I was the happiest kid in the world. What's funny is if that kind of finish happened today, a lot of people (myself included) would be complaining about how even when they put Savage over with the title victory, Hogan was the reason for it. I really don't think of it that way, though. When I watch it now, I remember how I felt the first time I saw it, and it always brings a smile to my face.
When you're a kid and you're as big a fan of a wrestler as I was with Savage, you can't help but smile when you think of how much it impacted you. It was special to me. It meant something. When it makes you feel like that, it's pro wrestling at its best.
Savage had a year-long run with the WWF title. Imagine that in today's WWE? Ha. He started out his run as the babyface World Champion (when he won it at WMIV as described above) and ended it as a the top heel in the company.
They did an angle where Savage became paranoid that Hogan, his best friend as part of the Mega Powers, was out to get him. Of course Hogan was always a good guy back then, so it ended up where Savage ended up as the jerk in the whole scenario.
He thought Hogan was going for Elizabeth (his real life wife who was an on screen manager at that point) even though his intentions were to just help her as a friend. You know what they say? There are two things that can come between two good male friends: women or money. And in this case it was a woman.
They ended up having a very good match that is one of the best matches Hogan ever had in the WWF, which isn't a surprise because Savage was as good as anybody in the company at the time.
Randy Savage vs. the Ultimate Warrior. You know how people ask what wrestling match would you show somebody that wasn't a fan in order to get them to be a fan? One of the first matches that comes to mind is this one. The story was simple.
Savage was the former World Champion that was beloved by fans for years until he turned on his friend Hulk Hogan. Part of the reason he was beloved was because he had Elizabeth at his side, who was almost a queen-like figure. He ended up kicking her to the curb and instead pairing up with Sherri Martel, who wrestling fans knew as a heel.
Two years after losing his title, he took on a former World Champion, Ultimate Warrior, in a retirement match. I never liked Warrior much, so of course as a Savage fan, I wanted him to win.
What happened? They had an excellent match that saw Warrior win clean even after Savage hit him with multiple top-rope elbows. Savage lost, which meant he was retired. I was devastated.
After the match, Sherri got in the ring and put the boots to Savage because his retirement meant she was gone too. That caused Elizabeth, seated in the audience, to come over the railing and haul ass to the ring to shove Sherri out of there. This was unheard of at the time because Elizabeth, unlike the women of wrestling today, never touched anybody.
She was always just there standing at ringside supporting her man. The building erupted in cheers. It was huge.
Savage awoke and looked at Elizabeth as if he had seen a ghost. He was stunned that she was there. They embraced, he put her on his shoulder and that pop was one of the biggest ones I've ever heard.
It's a simple story that worked incredibly well. Of course Savage came back to wrestle and a year after this moment, he won the world title again, but to me this was the best thing that Randy Savage did in his WWF career.
To add to this thought, let me point out that Warrior was a below average wrestler, so for Savage to carry him to such a good match is a testament to Randy's greatness. What I said in the open was true. This is the best match to show to a non-wrestling fan to make them a believer. The story told is one of simple human emotion. And it works. Oh, how it works.
The last classic feud that Savage had in the WWF was in 1992 with Ric Flair, who was new to the company at that point. Flair won the world title at the Rumble (amazing match) and went on to feud with Savage after that.
The deal was that Flair made these claims that he had a romantic relationship with Elizabeth. He even had photos that they put into what was then known as WWF Magazine. They were all untrue of course, but it was perfect for Flair's character as a ladies man while Savage was the husband that was fighting for the woman he believed in.
They ended up having an outstanding match that was full of drama. There was even a blade job by Flair even though they were banned by the company at the time. I believe they told Vince it was accidental when in fact, it was intentional because two old school wrestlers like Flair and Savage knew that the blood would help tell the story.
In the end Savage ended up as the World Champion again, although this time he didn't win with a top-rope elbow. He beat him with a cradle. It was still a classic moment, though.
There are other moments too. Who can forget when the snake of Jake Roberts bit Savage? That was one of the scariest things I ever saw as a young wrestling fan.
Or the wedding with Elizabeth? They were already married in real life, but when they did that on TV, it was a huge deal.
All of the Mega Powers stuff with Hogan was very popular too. As good as Savage was in the ring, his character was one of the best ever too. He could deliver that big money promo when he needed to, and the results are in the big match performances he had.
It wasn't just in the WWF where Savage had an impact with me. It was in WCW too. In the summer of 1994, Hulk Hogan signed with WCW, which was a big deal obviously. I've never liked Hogan that much, but his move created quite the stir in the business. I noticed it, yet I was still a WWF guy living in Canada.
At the end of 1994, Savage showed up in WCW. I started to pay attention to WCW every week because of that.
Prior to Savage showing up there, he was a commentator in WWF, which was a misuse of his talent in my opinion, so I was glad to see him wrestling again. While WCW is largely laughed at by a lot of people, Savage did have a good run there.
They had him feud with Flair upon arrival, which was a nice throwback to their WWF feud, and he really did an awesome job in elevating Diamond Dallas Page. It was one of my favorite WCW feuds ever. Those that saw it will probably agree it was well above average.
Then in his last couple of years he, like most in WCW, didn't seem to give a damn, and the work suffered, but he did have a decent run there.
The thing about Savage that intrigues me is, what was he really like? Was he this crazy old man that some people think he is, or was he a really humble former pro wrestler that had an amazing knowledge for the business? I've always been intrigued by what he was really like.
To me he seemed like one of those guys that knows everything about the business. His dad was a wrestler, his brother was a wrestler (Lanny Poffo aka The Genius), and while he will always be known for his eccentric behavior, he's not somebody that you think about in terms of being an intelligent wrestler. Why? I don't know.
I doubt there are many that would know more about the business than him. Maybe that's part of his greatness. He was the ultimate showman. When his career was over, he walked away and didn't look back.
Why did Randy Savage matter so much? Because he was a regular guy, in size, competing in a big man's world, and he was successful at it. In a world where the likes of Hogan and Andre always appeared at the top, it was Savage that found ways to stand out.
His promos were unique. His top-rope elbow was something that stood out from the pack. His outfits were flamboyant. And that "Oh yeah" catchphrase to this day remains one of the best ever. He did it all, and he did it at a very high level for a long time.
These days, if you ask wrestling fans about Randy Savage, they probably have mixed opinions. They might make a joke about that silly rap CD he did last decade. Or they might ask why he's not in the WWE's Hall of Fame. There are plenty of rumors about that, which I'd rather not get into. Simply put, he should be in, and I hope that whatever differences there are with him will be resolved one day.
Some people will remember him for being that dude in the Slim Jim commercials. Others might think of him as being in the first Spider-Man movie, which he was great in. There are a lot of things to remember Savage for.
The one way I'll remember Randy Savage is as the guy that made me a wrestling fan when I was a young kid flipping through WWF shows on a Saturday. His charisma, his promos, his in-ring ability and that voice that we will never forget—all of those things made Randy Savage special.
He wasn't the biggest guy, but he was somebody that truly stood out as a special talent, and his greatest gift will be the lasting impression he left on fans like me. Anybody that's in their 20s or older and watched wrestling as a kid knows what kind of impact Macho Man had on the business.
If you're younger than that, search for videos of him and watch how good he was. You'll see what I mean. He was a special talent in every way imaginable, and the impact he left on the business will be felt for generations to come.
In my opinion Randy Savage is one of the few professional wrestlers that had all the gifts. He was gifted in the ring, had so much charisma, made memorable promos, had major drawing power, and he worked his ass off while doing it. He was a master of the art of pro wrestling.
Rest in Peace, Macho Man. We love you. We miss you. And we will never forget you.
John Canton is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. He'll be writing about Over The Limit live on his website TJRWrestling.com Sunday night starting at 8pmET, so join him there for a full recap of the event. Follow him on Twitter @johnreport, too.