Pulse Wrestling’s Top 100 Wrestlers of the Modern Era: #11 – Randy Savage

11. RANDY SAVAGE

Real Name: Randy Poffo
Aliases: the Destroyer, the Spider; the Executioner
Hometown: Columbus, OH
Debut: 1973
Titles Held: AGPW International Heavyweight; AWA Southern Heavyweight (2x); CWA International Heavyweight; NWA Mid-America Heavyweight (3x); NWA Gulf Coast Tag Team (with Lanny Poffo); ICW World Heavyweight (3x); USWA Unified World Heavyweight; WCW World Heavyweight (4x); WWC North American Heavyweight; WWF World (2x); WWF Intercontinental
Other Accomplishments: 1987 WWF King of the Ring; Winner of Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Match of the Year award in 1987 (vs. Ricky Steamboat); Winner of PWI Match of the Year award in 1987(vs. Ricky Steamboat); Winner of PWI Most Popular Wrestler of the Year award in 1988; Winner of PWI Wrestler of the Year award in 1988; Winner of PWI Most Hated Wrestler of the Year award in 1989; Ranked #2 on the PWI 500 list in 1992; Winner of PWI Comeback of the Year award in 1995; Winner of WCW’s World War III match in 1995; Winner of Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Worst Worked Match of the Year award in 1996 (with Hulk Hogan vs. Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Meng, The Barbarian, Lex Luger, Kevin Sullivan, Z-Gangsta, and the Ultimate Solution); Winner of PWI Feud of the Year award in 1997 (vs. Diamond Dallas Page); Member of Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (class of 1996)

It looked like a sure think that Randy Poffo would wind up as a wrestler. After all, his father Angelo was a longtime wrestler (and for a time world sit-up champion, with a count of 6,033 at a single time. In addition Randy’s brother Lanny was becoming a wrestler.

However, Randy never showed much interest in wrestling. Instead his focus was on baseball. After he graduated from college in 1971 Randy floated around various farm systems as a catcher.

Things changed in 1973. Randy debuted as the masked Spider during the baseball off-season. Randy eventually walked away from the baseball diamond and embraced his career as a pro-wrestler.

Randy and Lanny Poffo began making the rounds of the Georgia and Florida territories. It was here that Randy had a career-defining moment as Georgia Championship Wrestling booker Ole Anderson told Randy that his real name just didn’t fit his personality as a wrestler. Ole suggested dropping the Poffo and instead going by Randy Savage.

Other than that, these years were uneventful ones, at least regarding titles. It was 1976 before Lanny and Randy won the NWA Gulf Coast tag team titles, and they were fired less than a month later following an “incident” with the head booker.

After another unsuccessful run, this time in Nick Gulas’s NWA Mid-America promotion, Angelo decided that his boys deserved more of an opportunity than they’d been given he’d had enough with other promotions. Poffo started his own company – International Championship Wrestling that was based out of Lexington, KY and immediately went to war with Gulas’s Mid-America and Ron Fuller’s Southeastern Championship Wrestling.

The ICW was strongly based around Savage and Lanny. As a matter of fact, over the years that the ICW was open, its world heavyweight title changed hands eight times. Seven of those saw the belt traded between Savage and Lanny.

However, times were changing in the Tennessee wrestling scene. In 1980 Jerry Jarrett’s Championship Wrestling Association purchased Gulas’s company (which they’d split from in 1986) and the expansion of Jarrett’s territory found them under attack by the Poffos.

However, the war did not go well. In 1982 ICW was bought out by the CWA and Angelo, Randy, and Lanny were brought in to war with Lawler.

Randy immediately began feuding with Lawler. In addition, he tagged with Lanny to feud with the Rock N Roll Express.

It was December of 1983 before Savage gained his first CWA title. He defeated Terry Taylor to win the Mid-America title. He lost it the following April to Jerry Lawler. That same month saw Savage defeat Austin Idol for the AWA International title. He soon dropped it back to Idol.

In late 1984 Savage turned babyface and allied himself with Lawler as they battled Jimmy Hart’s First Family. This soon collapsed, as early 1985 saw Savage turn heel and began the war with Lawler again. On March 17 Savage defeated Lawler to claim the Southern Heavyweight title. He lost it in May to Jerry Oske and regained it a week later.

Finally on June 3rd Lawler defeated Savage to win the belt back. Savage demanded a loser-leaves-town match against Lawler for a rematch. The match took place on June 8 and Savage lost, banishing him from Memphis.

Savage, however, had signed with the WWF.

Savage debuted on Tuesday Night Titans and immediately had every manager in the WWF bidding for his services. Savage turned them all down, choosing instead an announcer from the old ICW show – Elizabeth Hulette, who would become known as Miss Elizabeth (she and Savage were a real-life couple at the time).

It didn’t take long for Savage to gain gold in the WWF. In February of 1986 he defeated Tito Santana to win the WWF Intercontinental title. However, Savage had another problem as well.

George “the Animal” Steele had taken a liking to Miss Elizabeth. After Savage had defeated Steele at the January 4, 1986 Saturday Night’s Main Event, the feud began. It would run for over a year and would tie in to other feuds of Savage’s.

In November of 1986 Savage was defending his title against Ricky Steamboat. Fans gasped in horror as Savage jumped off the top rope with the bell, jamming it into Steamboat’s throat. When Steamboat finally returned, a rematch was announced for Wrestlemania. It was there that Steamboat ended Savage’s thirteen-month title reign.

Savage turned babyface in 1987 and won the WWF’s King of the Ring tournament. His next feud was against the Honky Tonk Man, self-proclaimed greatest Intercontinental champion of all time. On the October 3 Saturday Night’s Main Event Savage had a rematch. He had Honky defeated when the Hart Foundation hit the ring to save Honky’s title. When Elizabeth tried to help, Honky shoved her down and she ran to the back. As Honky smashed his guitar over Savage’s head, Elizabeth emerged from the back with Hulk Hogan. Hogan and Savage joined forces to run off Honky and the Foundation and the Mega Powers were born.

While Hogan and Savage were a team, Savage was also about to get his greatest opportunity to date. In the months leading up to Wrestlemania IV Andre the Giant had defeated Hogan for the World title then immediately handed it to Ted DiBiase. WWF President Jack Tunney ruled the title change illegal and stripped Andre of the title. Wrestlemania IV would see a tournament to crown a new champion.

Hogan and Andre were given a bye in the first round and met in the semifinals. They eliminated each other, which gave DiBiase a bye to the finals.

In contrast, Savage clawed his way through the tournament by first defeating Butch Reed, then Greg Valentine, and finally the One Man Gang. Savage spent most of the main event dominated by DiBiase but finally began fighting back. Andre soon distracted the ref to allow DiBiase to begin utilizing illegal tactics.

Suddenly Elizabeth (who’d left ringside when Andre appeared) headed back to the ring with Hogan behind her. Hogan blasted DiBiase with a chair and Savage became the new world champion.

This led to a feud that faced the Mega Powers against the Mega Bucks (DiBiase and Andre). The Powers disposed of the Bucks in the main event of the first Summerslam.

The Powers soon began experiencing difficulties as Hogan appeared to be getting a little too friendly with Elizabeth. Pressure began to build as Hogan accidentally eliminated Savage from the 1989 Royal Rumble.

Finally, at the February network show The Main Event, Savage abandoned Hogan to the mercy of the Natural Disasters after slapping Hogan in the face. After the match Hogan was checking on Elizabeth when Savage stormed out and started yelling at both of them. Savage’s heel turn was completed when he blasted Hogan with the title belt.

This led to Hogan challenging Savage to a title shot at Wrestlemania. Savage accepted. Although the match was a dead heat for most of it, Hogan finally won at the end.

Savage responded by dumping Elizabeth and replacing her with Sensational Sherri Martel while continuing to feud with Hogan.

Savage later defeated Jim Duggan for the King’s Crown and declared himself the Macho King with his manager Queen Sherri. He also held a coronation with special guest the Genius (AKA Lanny Poffo) and was presented a scepter by Ted DiBiase. The scepter would prove to be a decisive factor in many of Savage’s matches.

As 1990 wound down Savage began feuding with the Ultimate Warrior. This culminated at the 1991 Royal Rumble when Warrior refused to name Savage the #1 contender to the title (which Savage’s opponent Sgt. Slaughter had already done). Not even a visit from Sherri could change Warrior’s mind. So Savage hit the ring during the match and cracked Warrior with his scepter, giving the match to Slaughter.

This led to Wrestlemania VII, where Savage battled the Warrior in a Career-Ending match. The Warrior finally eked out a win and left a ruined Savage lying in the ring. Sherri attacked Savage, which prompted Elizabeth (who was sitting in the crowd) to rush to the ring and save him. Savage and Elizabeth reunited in the ring.

Savage remained with the WWF and began working as a color commentator, while also planning to marry Elizabeth on the air at Summerslam. At the wedding reception they opened a gift to discover a snake, a gift from Jake Roberts (who was irate that he’d been thrown out of Savage’s bachelor party for being a heel). Soon Roberts raised the stakes by having a cobra bite Savage’s arm.

This led to Jack Tunney reinstating Savage and he made a match where Savage would face Roberts at the Tuesday in Texas PPV. Savage won but Roberts got revenge by dropping Savage with three DDTs and then humiliated Elizabeth when she tried to rescue him.

Savage finally put Roberts away to end the feud at the February 1992 episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event.

However, another storm was brewing. WWF champion Ric Flair was announcing that he had “indiscreet” photos of Miss Elizabeth. This led to the main event of Wrestlemania VIII where Savage regained the title.

Later that year Savage and Elizabeth divorced and she stopped working as his manager.

On September 14 he lost the title back to Flair.

After losing the belt, Savage joined forces with the Ultimate Warrior and they formed a team known as the Ultimate Maniacs. The Maniacs soon began trying to win the tag team titles from Money Inc. (Ted DiBiase and Irwin R. Schyster).

After Warrior left the company Savage tagged with Mr. Perfect against Ric Flair and Razor Ramon.

By the time Monday Night Raw started, Savage was back behind the commentary desk, where he mainly remained throughout 1993 and 1994.

However, Savage was wrestling regularly back in Memphis. The USWA (former CWA) was co-promoting with the WWF and they were running an angle where the WWF was invading. As part of the storyline, Savage defeated Jerry Lawler in October to recapture the USWA Unified World Heavyweight title for the WWF (Tatanka had originally won the title only to be beaten by Lawler).

November saw the USWA deal fall apart. Jerry Lawler was indicted for allegedly molesting an underage girl (the girl later admitted that the incident had never happened and Lawler was cleared) and Vince McMahon, already suffering bad publicity because of the steroid scandal severed ties with the USWA. This caused Savage to vacate the USWA title.

In October of 1994 Savage’s contract expired and he immediately signed with WCW. When he was brought in at Starrcade everyone wondered whether he would ally with Hogan or attack him. Savage shook Hogan’s hand and began feuding with Avalanche (WWF’s Earthquake).

The Avalanche feud ended at 1995’s Uncensored. Savage won by DQ after he was attacked by a fan. The fan was revealed to be Ric Flair and the feud was back on.

November 26 saw Savage winning the World War III battle royal to claim his first WCW world title. Savage spent the next few months trading the belt with Flair – Flair won it at Starrcade, Savage took it back on a January Nitro, and Flair took it back at Superbrawl.

With Savage taking the title in January, Flair decided to raise the stakes. He brought in Elizabeth as one of his attending ladies and bragged that she’d divorced Savage for him. Flair also made big shows of giving away Savage’s money that Elizabeth had gotten in the divorce.

The feud with Flair continued until June, when Hogan turned on Savage at Bash at the Beach to form the New World Order with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash. Savage feuded with Hogan until October and left the company after his contract expired.

Savage returned in January and wound up joining the NWO in February. He also reunited with Elizabeth and the two began feuding with Diamond Dallas Page and Kimberly. That ran through the rest of 1997.

1998 saw Savage feuding with Lex Luger until Spring Stampede. Hollywood Hogan had tried to win the WCW world title from Sting but after failing Savage took a shot. Savage faced Sting at Spring Stampede. During the match Hogan tried to keep Savage from winning the title. Despite Hogan’s efforts, Kevin Nash jackknife powerbombed Sting to give Savage the belt.

A Nash powerbomb also tried to make sure that Savage kept it the next night on Nitro when he was challenged by Hogan. Unfortunately Bret Hart interfered on Hogan’s behalf and Hollywood won the belt.

This led to the New World Order splitting. Savage went with Nash and became a founding member of the NWO Wolfpac.

During Savage’s title match with Sting he’d suffered a knee injury that wound up keeping him out of action for nearly a year. When he returned it was a different Macho Man. He wore his hair slicked back into a ponytail and had a manager named Gorgeous George. Savage first tried to protect Page’s world title but after Nash defeated him Savage went after the belt himself with the two new members to his entourage – Madusa and Miss Madness (Nora Greenwald, better known as Molly Holly).

The 1999 Great American Bash saw the return of Sid Vicious, who joined Savage in battling Nash. This led to Sid and Savage battling Nash and Sting in a match where the winner became world champion. Savage won and lost it the next night to Hogan (with Nash’s help).

Savage’s entourage soon disbanded as Madusa and Miss Madness began blaming each other for Savage’s loss. Savage fired them and the women began feuding with each other. In addition, Savage began feuding with Dennis Rodman and defeated him at Road Wild.

2000 saw Savage joining the Millionaire’s Club with Hogan, Flair, Page, and other top names. Later that year Savage’s contract ran out and it was not renewed.

Savage vanished from the wrestling scene from the next four years and spent part of the time recording a rap album called Be a Man. In addition, he appeared in the 2002 film Spider-Man as Bonesaw McGraw.

In 2004 Savage returned, this time for TNA. He was brought in to join forces with AJ Styles and Jeff Hardy against the “Kings of Wrestling” – Jeff Jarrett, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash.

Due to backstage issues (one story involves a confrontation with Hulk Hogan) Savage left the company after staying only weeks. To date, Savage has not returned to wrestling.

Randy Savage left a huge imprint on wrestling. His charisma was off the charts and although he was a heel his relationship with Elizabeth was a highlight of the 80’s WWF.

Savage’s charisma and in-ring skills kept him at the top of the WWF. His match with Ricky Steamboat at Wrestlemania III is a modern-day classic and has been called the greatest match in WWF history. His charisma meant that as much as fans hated him as a heel, they loved him as a babyface. For proof, check out Wrestlemania where he and Elizabeth reunite and you can see fans crying throughout the arena.

Thanks to the Wrestlemania III match, Savage became one of the best known wrestlers around. You can ask anyone to name a match from Wrestlemania III and there will likely be only two responses: Hulk/Andre and Savage/Steamboat.

Savage easily transitioned from the beloved hero who defeated DiBiase at Wrestlemania IV to the hate-filled heel that became the Macho King. And when the King was defeated by the Warrior and betrayed by Sherri, the fans (and Elizabeth) took him back again.

Savage was also not afraid to reinvent himself as he did in 1999. The cowboy hats, fancy sunglasses, and tasseled sleeves were gone. Now he had a much cooler appearance that rejuvenated his career.

Savage was able to turn his wrestling fame into other opportunities. During the 1990’s he became a spokesman for Slim Jim. He appeared in Spider-Man. He does voice-over work. And, of course, there was the infamous rap album.

Even today Savage remains one of the most identifiable faces in wrestling. He is so much so that TNA’s Jay Lethal has resurrected the Macho Man gimmick as a tribute to Savage.

With incredible wrestling skills and charisma that was off the charts Savage took the wrestling world by storm. And it was all the baseball diamond’s loss.

The entire Top 100 Wrestlers feature can be found here.

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