The troubling thing about professional wrestling (or sports entertainment, as WWE likes to call it) is that it is looked upon as a novelty act, a sideshow carnival where its stars are larger than life and everything is prearranged. The truly great performers make it look easy, but they didn’t get there by accident. It takes skill and dedication to want to be a professional wrestler. It’s okay to stare in awe at the athletic prowess of a football player that makes an amazing touchdown catch with three fingers or a sports figure that cemented his place with Hall-of-Fame worthy stats. However, outside of wrestling and its legions of fans, it gets little to no recognition. And whatever recognition it does receive is negative in its connotation, usually involving a tragic death.
In television it is not uncommon for actors to be greatly associated with their fictional selves (i.e., Jason Alexander as Seinfeld‘s Costanza or Ed O’Neill as Al Bundy on Married…with Children). It’s the same for wrestling. Stage names take the place of real ones (mostly) with the intent to create a bigger-than-life personality. Sometimes it works to great effect: Hulk Hogan is like that “incredible” guy, only tanned and covered in baby oil. Sometimes it doesn’t: Honestly, would you be intimidated by a guy named Virgil? But no matter where a wrestler is positioned on the card – jobbers, main eventers, et al. – he or she had training to make the presentation of choreographed safe violence look and feel authentic. Even the ones who had no intention to enter the squared circle had to learn before they could perform in front of audiences.
Take Randy Mario Poffo, a talented baseball prospect out of high school who was signed to the St. Louis Cardinals and placed into the minor leagues. While he may have never played in the majors, his work ethic did not go unacknowledged. This was a guy who, after injuring his throwing shoulder, learned to throw with his other arm. And future professional leaguer Larry Herndon would adopt one of Poffo’s training exercises which involved swinging a bat into a hanging car tire. The exercise helped in grip strength and hip flexors as the movement utilized his legs with every swing. When Poffo’s baseball career flamed out he reinvented himself into a top wrestling personality, and he made it to the show not because of his family connections – his father, Angelo Poffo, wrestled from 1948-1991 – but because of his unmatched dedication to remolding his body from baseball slugger to dynamic wrestler with a personality to match. He was determined to be the best, and as “Macho Man” Randy Savage he is amongst the discussion to be part of the Mt. Rushmore of professional wrestling.
Back in 2009, World Wrestling Entertainment released Macho Madness – The Randy Savage Ultimate Collection. Hindsight being 20/20 had the company had a crystal ball and known that Savage would pass away in 2011, the collection most likely would have had a documentary as the main feature plus a plethora of matches and promos on the subsequent discs in the collection. Instead, it was wall-to-wall matches hosted by WWE personalities Matt Striker and Maria. The compilation included a number of career highlights: his legendary match against Ricky Steamboat at WrestleMania III; his WWF Championship victory the following year; his “Retirement” match against The Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VII; and a dream tag match where Randy Savage and Bret Hart squared off against Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels.
Five years after the success of Macho Madness, World Wrestling Entertainment has given us a sequel of sorts, only one that is more solemn in its depiction of the “Macho Man.” Finally getting a retrospective documentary, Macho Man: The Randy Savage Story chronicles the late professional wrestler’s life as an in-ring performer and as a television and voice icon (you can not picture Slim Jim beef jerky and not hear Savage’s “Snap into a Slim Jim! Oooooh Yeah!”). The documentary itself runs roughly 94 minutes in length and it starts out inauspiciously at the site where Randy Savage had his heart attack and consequent car accident on May 20, 2011. Guided with narration from his brother Lanny (best remembered as “The Genius” during his tenure with the WWF) and plenty of talking head interviews (Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, Ricky Steamboat, and Jake Roberts among others), the documentary stays linear when telling the story of Randy Savage. Those who have followed wrestling for decades, reading dirt sheets in the pre-Internet days, will be familiar with a number of controversial topics involving Savage. This includes his controlling treatment to his wife and valet Miss Elizabeth. And the rumor of an affair involving Savage and Stephanie McMahon is subtly acknowledged in one segment.
Incorporating tons of archival footage, including a sort-of shoot interview with Randy Savage from 1993 that bridges gaps where interviewee recollections cannot, the documentary is up to WWE’s high standard of quality. It isn’t the magnum opus like The Rise and Fall of ECW or as great as the ones for individual performers Steve Austin (The Legacy of Stone Cold Steve Austin) or Mick Foley (For All Mankind: The Life and Career of Mick Foley), but it’s worth watching. The background of Randy’s father Angelo shows how he would conduct himself when it came to money. Neither man was known for being big spenders. Extensively covering Randy’s athletic prowess in baseball you start to understand how driven he was. So when it came to transitioning to wrestling Randy didn’t slack off. He was 100 percent committed to becoming a wrestler. He would wrestle under a mask as “The Spider” in Tampa (ironically, his career in the ring would end after injuries sustained while making 2002’s Spider-Man). A complete gym rat to hone his unnatural physique Savage had the look that Vince McMahon loved. He may have not been a giant like Andre, but with an ostentatious wardrobe made by the same tailor that fitted Jimi Hendrix and Cher, and having “Pomp and Circumstance” as his lead-in music, the “Macho Man” took the necessary steps to ensure that his persona loomed large. Obsessiveness of character would carry over to being a perfectionist in the ring. His match against Ricky Steamboat for the WWF Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania III is considered by many to be the greatest match of all time. It was ahead of its time, in terms of the amount of near falls and pacing, and every bit of it was planned out way in advance on a sheet of paper – move for move. Yes, even something as perfunctory as a tie-up was noted.
Randy Savage’s obsessiveness and seeking perfection in the ring would also lead to paranoia. This developed paranoia would cost him his wife “Miss Elizabeth” Hulette as the two divorced in 1992. Two years later, Randy was done with the WWF and joined World Championship Wrestling. Though he would win a few world championships and was the first winner of WCW’s World War 3, a three-ring, 60-man, over-the-top battle royal, Savage’s legacy is with WWF first and foremost. It is saddening that bad blood between Savage and McMahon could not reach an amicable resolution prior to his death.
The silver lining in the life of Randy Savage is him reuniting his high school sweetheart and finding love once again. Sadly, his sudden passing in 2011 came as a shock to many. His death was reported on major outlets like ESPN and nightly news telecasts on ABC, NBC and CBS. The man whose signature gutteral voice would sell millions of Slim Jims and whose wrestling ability would entertain live audiences and inspire future superstars, Randy Savage was a one-of-a-kind talent. Though away from the wrestling life, his death at the age of 58 shocked many of his friends. As evident by participants in the documentary, three years after his passing it was hard for the likes of Diamond Dallas Page and Ricky Steamboat, the latter of whom is near tears when he acknowledges the fans who come up to him and tell him that the WrestleMania III match is the best match of all time.
Beyond the main feature documentary, the three-disc DVD set boasts fifteen matches featuring the Macho Man.
WWE Intercontinental Championship Match: “Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. Superstars – November 22, 1986
WWE Intercontinental Championship Lumberjack Match: “Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Bruno Sammartino. Boston Garden – February 7, 1987
WWE Intercontinental Championship Match: “Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. Maple Leaf Wrestling – February 15, 1987
“Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Harley Race. Philadelphia, PA – September 18, 1987.
Six-Man Steel Cage Match: “Macho Man” Randy Savage & Strike Force vs. Honky Tonk Man & Hart Foundation. Boston Garden – March 5, 1988
WWE Championship Match: “Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Ted DiBiase. Boston Garden – July 9, 1988
WWE Championship Harlem Street Fight Match: “Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Bad News Brown. Maple Leaf Wrestling – January 16, 1989
WWE Championship Match: “Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Hulk Hogan. Madison Square Garden – April 24, 1989
“Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Miami, FL – January 22, 1990
WWE Championship Match: “Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Shawn Michaels. Munich, Germany – April 14, 1992
WWE Championship Match: “Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Ultimate Warrior. SummerSlam – August 31, 1992
WWE Championship Match: “Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Ric Flair. Hershey, PA – September 14, 1992
WCW World Television Championship Match: “Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Arn Anderson. WCW Saturday Night – January 28, 1995
WCW World Heavyweight Championship Steel Cage Match: “Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Ric Flair. SuperBrawl VI — February 11, 1996
Las Vegas Sudden Death Match: “Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Diamond Dallas Page. Halloween Havoc — October 26, 1997
Those who spring for the two-disc Blu-ray release will get the documentary, the 15 matches and exclusives that include four extra matches and 18 stories (ahem, deleted scenes) about Randy Savage that could not make it into the documentary. Having only the DVD release in my possession, I’m curious to see how well of a card player Savage was as well as his competitive nature when it came to nutrition and fitness against a wrestler who was once referred to as “The Total Package.”
WWE can be hit or miss with its retrospectives on past performers – The Ultimate Warrior one was a nostalgia trip (read my review), but “The Best of Sting” is far from best, with the wrestler’s absence a notable hindrance – but with Macho Man: The Randy Savage Story we get a well-rounded documentary and bonus matches. It may not be the definitive Macho Man collection, but with the content contained therein it is a fitting release for those seeking more Macho Madness.
Tags: Hulk Hogan, Jake Roberts, Macho Man, Macho Man Randy Savage, Miss Elizabeth, Randy Savage, Squared-Circle Science, WWE DVD