Talk about under the radar.
For years now, we’ve all heard the untoward rumors and speculation—which will not be reprinted here—about the circumstances surrounding the late, great “Macho Man” Randy Savage’s abrupt departure from the WWE.
“At this time, obviously conspicuous by his absence, is the “Macho Man” Randy Savage. And I’d like to announce, unfortunately, that Randy Savage has been unable to sign a contract with the World Wrestling Federation—not unable to, rather to come to terms with the World Wrestling Federation for a new contract. But Randy, I know you’re out there listening, and on behalf of all us here in the World Wrestling Federation, all of your fans, and certainly me, the number one fan, I’d like to say thank you for all of your positive contributions to the World Wrestling Federation. Thank you, Randy Savage, for all the wonderful memories for so many years here in the World Wrestling Federation. We wish you nothing but the best. God speed, and good luck.”
The following month, Savage debuted in WCW and began another chapter of his in-ring career.
WWE parodied Savage in their bitter “Billionaire Ted” sketches, which also lampooned fellow WCW signee Hulk Hogan and the promotion’s then-owner, cable television visionary Ted Turner. Except for passing clips in montages, Savage went largely unmentioned on WWE airwaves until the June 9, 2009, release of his 3-disc DVD set.
Savage himself would not participate in any WWE-related project until the surprise announcement at the 2010 San Diego ComicCon of his first action figure in 12-years. Even at 58 years old, and in a pre-recorded video, the gray-bearded former Macho King still lit up the crowd.
Just as Hogan and Bret Hart had mended fences with Vince McMahon after notable departures and vocal animosities, it appeared as though Savage was finally on the road back to his WWE home.
Such was not to be. That highly anticipated figure was released in spring 2011, shortly before Savage’s unexpected and fatal heart attack on May 20.
In its 4-page obituary for Savage, even all ProWrestling Illustrated—the vanguard of this sport’s journalism—had to say about the1994 WWE departure was that it was “abrupt and controversial” and “prompted much speculation as to the nature and cause of his split with the company” (ProWrestling Illustrated, September 2011, pg. 39).
Savage did not leave fans with an autobiography, and never publicly addressed those strange and silly innuendos that had taken on a life of their own after 16 years.
The story that circulated just doesn't wash. A Vince McMahon who is so passionate that he has to be talked down from the proverbial ledge by his son-in-law because Brock Lesnar appears at a UFC pay-per-view without notice wouldn't put any wrestler before his family or his company, let alone give a heartfelt on-air send off to, or later write an obituary for in Time Magazine.
Incredible, the power of gossip, how an unsubstantiated rumor could be taken as canon by so many.
What is even more incredible is that Savage, years prior, had addressed why he left WWE.
A recent “Botchamania” article included a link to an IGN interview with a candid and out-of-character Savage, from 2000. During part two of that interview, Macho talked at length about his decision to leave for WCW:
“They wanted me to do the commentary thing, which I will want to do some day… but I just wasn’t ready to take off my boots at that point. I’m glad I didn’t. It wasn’t anything but an attitude, or a direction, which the WWF was going, and they proved me to be 100% correct in where they were going, because they had a vision in where they were going. But at the same time, it didn’t work for me at that time. And I’m glad I made the move that I did, looking back, because I just wasn’t ready to do that. I have to do things because I want to, not because I have to.”
He concisely reiterated this point during an interview with E! Entertainment Television, saying, “Vince McMahon was going for younger wrestlers at the time, you know, he was going with the “new generation” theme, nothing more than that. I was doing announcing for him over there, and I just wanted to be participating in the ring.”
Ironically, the “Billionaire Ted” vignettes supported this, painting Hogan and Savage as over-the-hill, in contrast to the vibrant, up-and-coming WWE Superstars.
When asked by IGN if there was friction between him and the WWE/Vince McMahon over the segments, Savage surprisingly said no. “If they wouldn’t have put me in the skits, I would’ve called up Vince McMahon and said, 'Hey, brother, (laughs) be my bro, man, make fun of me!' Because when he made fun of me, it made me important.”
“When he was doing all those things about me, I was proud. I wanted to write him a letter saying, 'Vince, thanks.' (laughs) Thanks for thinking about me. Even in a bad sense, I love it.”
Colleagues such as George "The Animal" Steele, Bret Hart, Hulk Hogan and Diamond Dallas Page have all attested to Savage's professionalism in various interviews.
In his biography, "Bobby the Brain: Wrestling's Bad Boy Tells All," hall of famer Bobby Heenan, who once managed Savage's dad, went so far as to say, " Randy Savage was great to work with too. He was very professional. If I had a territory, I would have Randy, his brother Lanny Poffo and their father Angelo working for me. Because they'll always be there on time. They'll always care about the business and do what is right. They know what they should do and what they shouldn't do. They're businessmen."
That's not to say the Poffos weren't canny. Angelo founded Kentucky's International Championship Wrestling in 1978 in National Wrestling Alliance country—but without NWA sanction. The utter brazenness drew the ire of NWA affiliated promotions, such as Jerry Jarrett's Continental Wrestling Association, headlined by the popular Jerry "The King" Lawler. That bona fide heat was transferred to good business and a star-making feud for Savage and Lawler when ICW folded in the real world, but "invaded" the Memphis promotion.
Savage inherited his father's shrewdness. Jimmy Hart, another star on the River City wrestling scene, told ProWrestling Illustrated, "When I told him the WWF was interested in him, the first thing he asked was, 'Do you think they'll take Liz and Lanny?' Family was so important to him. He loved them and he just didn't want to leave them behind" (pg. 38).
Isn't it possible McMahon's curious and undefined anger when Savage would sometimes be mentioned was just the result of a broken heart? McMahon prides himself on running a handshake business, where people's words count for something. He admitted he was the Macho Man's number one fan.
If Savage, so admired by his peers for his professionalism, allegedly gave his word he'd re-sign with the company, only to switch gears and take his drawing power and a major advertising sponsor with him to the competition—amid the pressure of a federal trial eroding WWE's reputation—maybe it just cut too deep for someone as driven by emotions and instincts as Vince McMahon.
Maybe the man was just hurt.
And isn't it possible salt was rubbed into that wound when, according to "Mean" Gene Okerlund, Savage rebuked McMahon's offers to join the WWE Hall of Fame? Okerlund told "Inside the Ropes" he was still trying to figure out why the invitations were denied.
Just as Savage wouldn't enter the WWE without his family, it is most likely he did not want to enter the WWE Hall of Fame without them, either.
Lanny Poffo confirmed this in an interview with Slam! Sports, saying he and his brother discussed the WWE Hall of Fame after the Von Erichs were inducted as a family in 2009. "That was the first time he'd mentioned it, and my father was still alive. We celebrated his birthday, and at this point my father was coherent. He says, 'The Von Erichs are in the Hall of Fame? I'm not going in, ever, into the Hall of Fame unless it's the Poffos, Lanny, Randy and Angelo.' That's what he said."
It wouldn't be the first time Savage leveraged his considerable starpower to help his father earn such a spot. Angelo Poffo was mentored early in his career by none other than the incomparable Gorgeous George (Randy and Lanny would later return the favor by buying the rights to the Gorgeous George name and likeness to preserve the Human Orchid's legacy), but for better or worse, what the Illinois native's career is best remembered for is being the father of the Macho Man and the Genius.
WCW reportedly inducted Angelo into their Hall of Fame in 1995 as a favor to Savage. Fellow inductee Gordon Solie was so angered that someone of Poffo's stature in the industry was being inducted alongside the likes of Wahoo McDaniel, Dusty Rhodes, Big John Studd, Antonio Inoki and Terry Funk, that he resigned from the company.
In fairness to Angelo, though, his career was about his family, taking his wife and sons with him all over the world, "and they enjoyed every bit of it," his widow Judy told Slam! Sports.
According to that same obituary, "When his sons were old enough to wrestle, Poffo bought into the Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling promotion in the Canadian Maritimes with Emile Dupre in the mid-'70s, and then ran Championship Wrestling out of Lexington, Kentucky from 1979 to 1983." Angelo ran promotions to make his sons stars.
Savage never forgot that. He could have been a baseball player, but wrestling was the family business. He was never bigger than his father or brother in his own mind. That he had notoriety simply meant that he could look out for them.
After years of searching, I'm glad I can finally put these rumors to rest. Savage wasn't perfect, and neither is McMahon. No one is. But they're two men who care about their families and their family businesses, and that is evident in every step of the legacies each made.