While the spotlight never shone quite as brightly on Randy “Macho Man” Savage as it did on his friend and great rival, Hulk Hogan, it’s hard to think of another man who personified pro wrestling (specifically ’80s pro wrestling) so completely. Ask the average person to imagine a pro wrestler and a good portion of them will immediately summon up memories of fringed jackets, kaleidoscope cowboy hats and promos cut by a man who sounds like he’s halfway through passing a kidney stone. Randy Savage was wrestling, and his life was as improbable, conflicted and frequently amazing as the sport itself.
Strap yourself in because we’re going back to THE DANGER ZONE with 10 madness-inspiring facts you might not know about Macho Man Randy Savage…
1) Randy Savage owes his career to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not (believe it or not). Randy Savage (real name, Randy Poffo) was the son of Angelo Poffo, a successful pro wrestler in his own right. Angelo won a version of the NWA US Title back when that really meant something, but probably his most lasting contribution to wrestling (aside from fathering Randy and his brother “Leaping” Lanny Poffo) was innovating the neckbreaker, which he used to finish most of his matches.
Angelo didn’t have any particular interest in wrestling or desire for the spotlight early in life, but that changed when he had a brush with fame while serving in the US Navy in 1945. For whatever reason Angelo got it in his mind that he was going to beat Ripley’s official world sit-up record, and over the course of 4 hours and 10 minutes he did it, doing 6,033 straight-legged, elbow to knee sit-ups (6000 to break the record, and 33 more for every year of Jesus’ life). Angelo was left exhausted and bloody (that many sit-ups will wear the skin right off you back) but for his feat, he was awarded his first ever championship belt.
Angelo would spend the rest of his career chasing more championships, an obsession he would pass down to both his sons. Would Angelo have gone into wrestling if he hadn’t managed to beat a Ripley’s record on a whim? Possibly, but he may not have, depriving us of some very talented second generation stars.
2) Young Randy almost made it in Major League Baseball. Randy was a natural athlete growing up, but the pro wrestling game wasn’t what he wanted to pursue – baseball was his first love, and he was good. Randy was signed by several Major League Baseball teams in his late teens and early 20s, playing for the farm teams of the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox.
Shocking proof that Randy Savage’s hair wasn’t always completely terrible.
Unfortunately Randy’s baseball dreams were destroyed when he badly separated his shoulder during a collision at home plate. Being extremely determined (and a bit insane) Randy forced himself to become ambidextrous through sheer force of will, but it wasn’t enough. Any hopes of making the big leagues were scuttled. Thankfully, Randy’s backup plan panned out pretty well.
3) Randy was first dubbed “Savage” by Ole Anderson. Quick, think of a wrestler that’s the complete, diametric opposite of Randy Savage. You may not have thought of ol’ “your dad’s less interesting friend” Ole Anderson, but he’s a pretty good choice, and yet Randy Savage owes one of the least flashy wrestlers ever a major debt.
“Yeah, I’m not sure how I ended up on TV either.”
Savage teamed with Ole back in the 70s when he was still just Randy Poffo, and later worked for him when Ole became booker for Georgia Championship Wrestling. It was in GCW that Ole decided to replace Randy’s real last name, which was kind of doofy if we’re being honest, with Savage, because that’s how the kid wrestled (Savage was mentored by the original Sheik and early on, violent, bloody brawls were a specialty).
4) And the first person to call him “Macho Man” was his mom. Okay, so we know where “Savage” came from, but what about the Macho Man nickname? Probably came from all the ladies he was escorting to the Danger Zone, right? Haha, no. It actually came from his nice Jewish mother. As Randy’s character started to come together in the late 70s, he called up his mother Judy and asked her to put together a compilation of possible nicknames for him…
“I saw the term ‘Macho Man’ in a magazine and just put it on the list. A few days later, Randy called me from and said, ‘What’s a Macho Man?’ I said, ‘I have no idea.’”
Maybe Randy never found out, because his character certainly never matched any conventional definition of macho. But hey, thanks Randy’s mom!
Thankfully for the Macho Man gimmick, Randy didn’t stick with the Daisy Dukes for long.
5) Savage dealt with another wrestler pulling a gun on him in the most badass way possible. During the late 70s, Angelo Poffo, frustrated with the lack of push his sons were getting, decided to created his own promotion called International Championship Wrestling where the Poffo boys could shine. Back in the 70s all wrestling promotions had specific territories they stuck to, but ICW was an “outlaw” promotion, spilling over into other territories and directly competing with numerous promotions under the NWA banner. The outlaw thing wasn’t just an image either – top ICW stars would often show up at competing shows, make trouble and cut unscripted promos on the rival talent. If Randy Savage popped up unannounced at your show, it was best to find a way to slip out of the arena quietly, lest things get ugly in the parking lot. The situation became so tense, ICW’s rivals in Memphis began arming themselves just in case the Poffos decided to make wrestling a little too real.
You don’t mess with the Poffo mafia.
One night Randy and the entire ICW crew bought tickets to a Memphis show promoted by Jerry Jarrett and word began the circulate that they planned to rush the ring and attack one of the company’s top stars, Bill Dundee. In an ironic twist, whatever plans the ICW guys had were derailed when a completely separate riot broke out, ending the show (pro wrestling used to be SERIOUS BUSINESS people).
Some months later, in 1982, Dundee and Savage ran into each other in a parking lot and got into it. Things quickly escalated, Dundee ran to his car to grab his gun and Randy, well, Randy earned his The Madness nickname right then and there. According to several accounts, Savage grabbed the gun out of Dundee’s hand and pistol-whipped him with it, breaking his jaw and putting him out of action for six weeks. Dundee, on the other hand, claims Savage injured him with a punch before he went to get the gun, and ran off once the firearm was procured, but that’s just what a guy who got pistol-whipped by his own guy would say, isn’t it?
The whole story improves immeasurably if you imagine Savage in full regalia and Dundee wearing this hat.
But hey, time and money heal all wounds. Not long after the gun incident, ICW folded and Savage would go on to have a lengthy, memorable feud with Jerry Lawler in Memphis. No matches with Bill Dundee though. Gee, wonder why?
6) The Macho Man had the same tailor as Jimi Hendrix and Cher. No article about the life and career of Randy Savage would be complete without discussing the outfits. Nobody in the history of pro wrestling has boasted gear as consistently astounding as the Macho Man, who strode out each and every night sporting eye-scorching ensembles that made him look like a dizzying combination of hippie, cowboy, male prostitute and modern art piece. What was the thought process behind this stuff? Who sat down and decided “hmmmm, yes, I think this lime-green checkerboard cowboy hat would go quite nicely with the pink and yellow leopard-print cape and the rhinestone codpiece”?
Well, Randy Savage’s outfits were the best because he went to the best. Most of them were designed by Michael Braun, the eccentric Florida designer who also created memorable outfits for Jimi Hendrix, Cher, Bon Jovi and pretty much every other rock star who’s ever been accused of bad taste. Hell, some of Braun’s outfits hang in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame – Randy Savage never did anything half way, and the Macho Man’s duds definitely weren’t being sewn together in some old lady’s basement, no sir.
Braun (pictured) hand painted every pair of Savage’s iconic sunglasses.
7) Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth’s relationship was just as screwed up in real life as it was on TV. Elizabeth Hulette first met Randy Savage back in his International Championship Wrestling days. Her family owned the TV station where ICW filmed their television show, and she was working as one of the station’s camera operators. Needless to say, eyes met, things quickly got too hot to handle (and possibly funky like a monkey) and Elizabeth promptly left the glamorous world of camera operating behind and became an on-air presenter and interviewer for ICW. Randy and Elizabeth married in 1984.
Happy, paranoid times.
In 1985 Savage made his WWF debut in a storyline where he, as the “top free agent in wrestling”, was being courted by managers such as Bobby Heenan, Freddy Blassie and Jimmy Hart. Eventually Savage revealed he wasn’t going with any of the established names, but an unknown woman Gorilla Monsoon made sure to sell as the most gorgeous creature on God’s green earth. The woman was of course his wife, now known as Miss Elizabeth, and for the rest of his WWF tenure most of Savage’s storylines revolved around him being ridiculously, violently possessive of his poofy-haired goddess.
Well, Macho Man’s on-screen treatment of his wife was actually a rare case of a wrestler tuning down his real life persona. According to almost everyone around at the time, the insanely jealous Savage would insist on Elizabeth having her own dressing room with a lock wherever WWF went, and would sometimes lock his own house from the outside, leaving her isolated for days at a time when he was away.
Savage’s first truly memorable WWF feud was with George “The Animal” Steele who, in storyline, developed a childlike crush on Elizabeth, driving the green-eyed Macho Man to distraction. Despite the fact that George Steele was an out-of-shape fur beast in his mid-50s, Savage became legitimately upset about the cartoonish scenarios that played out on WWE TV. When Steel carried Elizabeth away over his shoulder after a match, Savage had a full-on nuclear meltdown backstage. During another match, Elizabeth was seated on a ringside lifeguard’s chair, and Randy was convinced Steele was looking up her skirt every time he was on his back.
In 1991 Savage briefly retired as part of an attempt to salvage his marriage, which was on the rocks by that point (locking your wife in the house like a lunatic can have that effect). Randy wouldn’t be gone for long, returning only months later for an elaborate in-ring wedding to Elizabeth at SummerSlam ’91. The wedding was one of the most emotional moments in WWF history, likely because it wasn’t entirely a storyline — Randy had proposed the fake marriage in hopes that it would shore up his real marriage. The angle was an unqualified success, but Randy and Elizabeth split for good in 1992.
8) Savage wanted to end his career with an epic two-year feud with Shawn Micheals. Randy’s 1991 retirement may not have stuck, but by the mid-90s the Macho Man’s WWF career was clearly on the downswing. Randy himself felt it was about time to call it a career, but he wanted his final storyline to be truly memorable.
Randy pitched a massive, intricately-planned two-year feud with a young up-and-comer named Shawn Michaels, which would eventually culminate in a retirement match at Wrestlemania. Unfortunately for Randy (and all the fans) Vince McMahon nixed the idea, and so an incensed Savage opted to spend his final years collecting easy paychecks in WCW. Just imagine if Vince had gone for the storyline – the 90s could very well have played out in a very different way.
9) Spider-Man began and ended Savage’s career. Both the very beginning and end of Randy Savage’s career had something in common and, weirdly, that thing was Spider-Man.
When Randy first started wrestling back in 1973, his very first gimmick was “The Spider” — essentially a masked wrestler who dressed and acted like Spider-Man. Sadly no pictures of The Spider have survived, but feel free to mentally superimpose Randy Savage over Toby Maguire and/or Andrew Garfield next time you watch any of the Spider-Man movies. Trust me, you’ll be infinitely more entertained.
Speaking of the Spider-Man movies, Savage’s last major moment in the spotlight was playing wrestler Bonesaw McGraw in 2002’s Spider-Man. Savage insisted on doing all his own stunts, one of which involved him being flipped into the ropes then landing on his head. You can see the moment towards the end of this clip…
The shot required numerous takes, and Randy ended up doing career-ending damage to his neck. So, in the end, Spider-Man giveth, and the Spider-Man taketh away.
10) The Mega Powers made up before Randy died. One of the sadder parts of the Macho Man saga was his weird, post-wrestling feud with Hulk Hogan. It’s hard to say exactly what sparked the bad feelings between the former close friends, but things were apparently bad enough to warrant incendiary G-rated diss tracks…
Thankfully, Randy didn’t take his hard feelings for his fellow Mega Power to the grave. Shortly before his death Randy ran into Hogan while taking his mother to the doctor’s office. According to Savage’s mom Randy “came up and grabbed Hulk from behind. Hulk turned around and he was so happy. Randy wasn’t angry anymore.”
A year before his death, Savage married an old sweetheart from his baseball days, Barbara Lynn Payne. According to his family, Savage wasn’t angry about much in his later years. Macho Madness was finally at peace.
So there you have it, a few facts about a man who snapped into life, and lived and breathed pro wrestling like no other. If you have any favorite Randy Savage facts or stories that I didn’t mention, feel free to share. Yes, you can even get into those rumors if you want. The WWE/F blackballing rumors. But keep it classy.