McGinnis: In memory of Randy SavageWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Randy Poffo’s first foray into athletics wasn’t inside a wrestling ring — the stage which would make him a legend and icon for a generation of fans. Grappling was in his blood, as his father Angelo had been famous as a wrestler and even more famous as a world record holder: For years, Angelo held the record for consecutive sit-ups, with 6,033 in a row.
For Randy, however, his first stage was a diamond. He had been signed out of high school by the St. Louis Cardinals organization, and played outfield in Double A for several seasons. Success in the game would prove difficult to come by, particularly when young Poffo suffered an injury to his throwing arm.
His father’s profession came calling. During the offseason, Randy began to perform as a wrestler alongside his father and brother, who performed under his real name, Lanny. Randy’s first character, inspired by his astounding agility and quickness, was “The Spider,” a take-off of Spider-Man — ironic, considering his later appearance in the character’s 2002 feature film. At one point, booker Ole Anderson said to Angelo that his son wrestled “like a savage.” A surname was born.
Randy Savage was the first wrestler I ever saw perform. I was only 10 years old when, one day, my father asked if my brother and I could tape the WWF’s first prime-time show on NBC — “The Main Event.” My father wasn’t even a fan, he was just curious about how the big Andre the Giant vs. Hulk Hogan main event would go. So, we watched as it recorded.
Suddenly, before me on the screen was a man who was the definition of larger than life. Decked out in a robe covered in sequins, with the words “Macho Madness” scrawled across the back, he turned toward the camera and uttered his now-famous catchphrase, “Ooh, yeah!” At his side stood his manager and real-life wife, Elizabeth. Savage began explaining, as only he could, how his opponent, an Elvis impersonator named The Honky Tonk Man, had wronged them both and now it was time for revenge.
This was 1988. Savage had already been a full-time wrestler for nearly 15 years by the time I first laid eyes on him. He had garnered a reputation as one of the greatest talents of his generation, competing for years under the banner of his father’s wrestling promotion. His performances blended elements from across the grappling spectrum. He combined the hard-hitting, physical style popularized in Europe and North America with the high-flying athleticism often seen in Japanese or Mexican promotions. No one had ever seen anything quite like it before.
He was still at his physical peak when Vince McMahon brought him into the then-WWF in the mid-1980’s. His remarkable in-ring style, coupled with his unique and intense character, made him an instant star. He’d started out as a villain but had way too much charisma for that to stick, and he quickly became the No. 2 hero in the company behind Hogan.
As I watched that night, and saw a man I had never heard of doing moves I never thought possible, I became a fan for life, of professional wrestling and of Randy Savage.
It is cliche to say that someone was ahead of their time, but for Savage, it goes beyond even that. He helped create a new era. He was practically the first man to become WWF world champion who wasn’t the huge, bodybuilder type whose feet never left the mat. He showed that smaller guys with enormous talent could be at the top of the card. Guys like Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Rey Mysterio and more walked a path that Savage pioneered.
As the years went by, age and injuries caught up with Savage, as they do for all athletes. He had basically been an outcast from wrestling for the past decade. Rumors abounded for years as to why Savage and Vince McMahon were not on good terms, which led to Savage’s history being all but ignored. But signs of fences mending began to occur — WWE had released a DVD of Savage’s career highlights a few years ago, and Savage’s likeness appeared in a recent WWE video game, which he helped to promote.
But there’ll never be a full-fledged return now. The man who made me a fan — and who I’m betting did the same for a lot of folks my age — will never get a chance to walk that aisle one more time and hear the people express their admiration and gratitude for everything he did.
But if the outpouring of mourning and sadness that fans have expressed over the past few days is any indication, it’s clear that though time and absence may have separated Savage from fans, the memories he left have never faded.
Thank you, Randy.
Email Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.