May 20, 2011

"Macho Man" Randy Savage, 1952–2011

Say it with me: "From Sarasota, Florida, weighing 245 pounds…'Macho Man' Randy Savage!"

Somehow, this one actually bothers me. I don't usually get upset when celebrities die, because I don't usually know them personally, but occasionally, I feel a fan's true remorse. It happened when Rodney Dangerfield died, I recall. And now, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, one of the top names in pro wrestling back when I was a little pro-wrestling fanatic and, in my opinion, one of the most talented performers in the history of the medium. He died in a car accident this morning at 58.

In brief: Randy Savage (né Poffo, so yes, this guy was his brother) was the son of a wrestler and promoter, jumping into local wrestling in the Memphis region after his initial pro-baseball plan fell through. In the early '80s, as Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation expanded the "sport" into entertainment's A-list, Savage was brought in as an ideal villain. His talent was impossible to deny: Speed, skill, flash, and charisma, the guy had every tool in the wrestler's arsenal. He brought along his real-life girlfriend, the anodyne but beautiful Elizabeth Hulette, to be his manager/valet, "Miss Elizabeth," and the two worked a mildly abusive-boyfriend angle that attracted insane heat (i.e., the good kind of fan hatred). After a couple years, his appeal impossible to deny, Savage turned face (became a good guy) and became one of medium's most beloved good guys. He stayed on top for a decade, flipping back and forth between good and evil, but always in the plausible way that separates good wrestling from eye-rolling garbage.

My favorite Macho Man match: WrestleMania VII, 1991, a retirement match versus the Ultimate Warrior:

The adjective most often ascribed to Savage was intense. He perpetually seemed to be on the knife's edge, from his ominously whispered promo interviews to the furiously controlled way he carried himself in the ring. The reason I love this match is because it sets the stakes so high—the loser would have to quit pro wrestling, after all—and both performers play it to its hilt. (It's also my favorite Ultimate Warrior match, though that isn't saying so much.)

And to answer your question, wrestling nerds, yes, I do prefer this bout to Savage's epic showdown with Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat at WrestleMania III. Though that match deserves the epic, for sure:

Savage was a great villain (as seen above), a great hero, a great athlete and a great storyteller. He might have been the perfect 1980s wrestler: a colorful and exciting figure who helped bring the medium to its worldwide success, yet still a consummate physical performer who maintained the integrity of its athletic tradition (when it came to actual wrestling, he could work circles around Hulk Hogan, and more than held his own against Ric Flair). He was a world-class entertainer, someone with bona fide star power, which is very sadly in too short a supply these days. One last time: