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This Day in Wrestling History (May 20): Macho Man Passes Away

Today's TDIPWH is presented in two parts. The first part focused on other events of the day, including a royal victory in court for Jerry Lawler, Chyna's last WWF match, and the WWE Wellness Policy claiming another victim. This part will focus on the career and life of Randy Savage, who died five years ago today.

5 years ago today, former WWF and WCW world champion Randy Mario Poffo, best known to millions as "Macho Man" Randy Savage, dies of a heart attack while driving with his wife in Seminole, Florida. He was 58.

Born November 15, 1952 in Columbus, Ohio to an Italian-American father in Angelo and Jewish mother in Judy, Poffo had athletics in his family: his father was a well-known wrestler in the 1950s and 1960s and was featured on Ripley's Believe it or Not! for his ability to do lots and lots of situps, while his younger brother Lanny went on to have a wrestling career himself, most notably as The Genius in the WWF in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Randy was in the St. Louis Cardinals' minor league system for four seasons.

In between his third and fourth seasons in baseball, Poffo wrestled, breaking into the business in 1973 as "The Spider", based off the popular comic book character Spider-Man. At the suggestion of Georgia Championship Wrestling booker Ole Anderson, Poffo became Randy Savage because Ole thought he "wrestled like a savage". After reading an article in Reader's Digest, Randy's mother Judy suggested adding the name "Macho Man". Obviously, the name stuck. Savage called it a career in baseball after the 1974 season and began wrestling full-time with his father and younger brother. They frequented Georgia, eastern Tennessee, the Carolinas, Michigan, and the Maritimes, and the Midwest for his Angelo's own company, International Championship Wrestling.

Eventually, the Poffos landed in Memphis at Continental Wrestling Association. Savage feuded with Jerry Lawler over the AWA Southern Heavyweight Championship and teamed with his brother to feud with the Rock ‘n Roll Express. Savage also feuded with Carlos Colon and Abdullah the Butcher during his runs in Puerto Rico in 1984. The next year, the Savage-Lawler feud capped off with Lawler defeating Savage in a "loser leaves town" match in Memphis. It was, of course, a write-off: Savage was WWF-bound.

Randy Savage made his WWF debut in June 1985 as "pro wrestling's top free agent". Several managers threw their name in the hat for his services, but in the end, it was his real-life wife, Miss Elizabeth that got the gig. Savage mistreated Elizabeth and threatened anyone who even so much looked in her direction. He quickly rose up the ranks of the WWF, challenging for Tito Santana's WWF Intercontinental Championship after only a few months with the company. He also defeated WWF Champion Hulk Hogan by countout twice in Madison Square Garden in his rookie year with the company.

In February 1996, Savage defeated Santana for the Intercontinental Championship. He would feud with the likes of Bruno Sammartino and George "The Animal" Steele, but his most memorable feud and match as champion came against Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat. The extremely choreographed bout at Wrestlemania III in March 1987 was different from most any bout during that time (the match was heavily planned as opposed to being called on the fly in the ring), and led to one of the, if not the, greatest matches in wrestling history. Steamboat won the title, ending Savage's run at fourteen and a half months. The bout was named Match of the Year by Pro Wrestling Illustrated and Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Savage would recover and win the King of the Ring tournament later that year.

Around this time, Savage began getting cheered by fans despite being heel. He became less hostile towards Miss Elizabeth and challenged Honky Tonk Man and his claim to being the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time. In October 1987, Savage defeated Honky via disqualification when Jimmy Hart's other charges, the Hart Foundation, interfered. In the ensuing beatdown, Miss Elizabeth sent out Hulk Hogan to even the odds. The Mega Powers were born.

At Wrestlemania IV, Savage won a one-night tournament to claim the vacated WWF Championship, winning four times that night (Butch Reed, Greg Valentine, One Man Gang via disqualification, and "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase). Hogan was right by his side during Savage's year-long reign as champion, feuding with The Mega Bucks (DiBiase and Andre the Giant) and the Twin Towers (Big Boss Man and the artist formerly known as One Man Gang, Akeem). Jealousy crept in their alliance when Hogan began to take on Elizabeth as his manager.

The alliance, showing visible cracks by the end of the Royal Rumble in 1989, died on an episode of The Main Event a few days later. Elizabeth was injured when Savage landed on top of her. Hogan carried Elizabeth to the back, leaving Savage alone to be decimated by the Towers. Randy saw this as Hogan making a move on his woman and his belt, and attacked Hogan despite Brutus Beefcake, security, and Elizabeth trying to intervene. The Mega Powers exploded at Wrestlemania V when Hogan ended Savage's 371-day run as WWF Champion.

Savage replaced Elizabeth with Sensational Sherri and would team with Zeus of No Holds Barred fame to take on Hogan and Brutus Beefcake, known collectively as The Mega-Maniacs. Around this time, Randy adopted the "Macho King" moniker after defeating then-King of the Ring Hacksaw Jim Duggan. Savage blew off his feud with Hogan in February 1990 when he was defeated by the champion on an episode of The Main Event. It was then-boxing heavyweight champion Buster Douglas that counted the fall, then knocked out Savage post-match. (In an interesting bit of trivia, that spot was originally for Mike Tyson, but Tyson was defeated by Douglas prior to the event.) After feuding with Dusty Rhodes for most of the remainder of the year (losing in a mixed tag match at Wrestlemania, but beating him via forfeit at Summerslam), he turned his attention to then-WWF Champion Ultimate Warrior.

It would be Savage that cost Warrior the title at the 1991 Royal Rumble event to Sgt. Slaughter after he was turned down for a title opportunity. The feud escalated to the point where one man or the other had to leave. At Wrestlemania VII, it was Ultimate Warrior that was victorious, forcing Savage to retire. Sherri took none too kindly to this, so she berated and assaulted Savage until Miss Elizabeth shocked everyone by jumping the rail and going after Sherri. The couple reunited to much appreciation and many tears, and Savage rode off into the sunset as a face. Asterisk. Savage actually wrestled a few times following his "retirement" and stayed on in a non-wrestling role. In a cruel bit of irony, Warrior was fired following Summerslam 1991 over a pay dispute.

At the same event, Elizabeth and Macho man got storyline married (in reality, the couple, long married, were renewing their wedding vows). During the reception, Elizabeth is frightened by a snake hidden in one of the gift boxes. Savage is taken out by Undertaker until Sid Justice runs Taker and Jake "The Snake" Roberts off. Savage petitioned WWF fans to get him reinstated. Despite over a million people calling and writing in favor of the reinstatement, WWF president Jack Tunney refused. It took Savage being bitten by a king cobra handled by Roberts to get reinstated. The two would feud into the new year, with Savage defeating him at This Tuesday in Texas and at Saturday Night's Main Event in February 1992.

Savage feuded next with Ric Flair, with Flair having eyes for Elizabeth; he even went so far to claim that he had her first and he had pictures to prove it. The feud peaked at Wrestlemania VIII, with Savage retaining the WWF Championship in a physical, bloody brawl. Following Wrestlemania, Savage and Elizabeth separated and eventually divorced. The storyline was tweaked some following the couple's split, with nary a mention of Elizabeth. It was also around this time The Ultimate Warrior returned to the WWF. The duo coexisted somewhat peacefully...until it was announced Warrior was the next man in line for Savage's WWF title. The two met at Summerslam, with Warrior winning by countout thanks to Flair and Mr. Perfect. Another member of Flair's alliance, Razor Ramon, played a hand in Flair regaining the WWF Championship from Savage in September 1992.

As for Ultimate Warrior, he and Savage aligned as the Ultimate Maniacs and were set to face Flair and Ramon at Survivor Series...but Warrior got himself fired again just weeks before the match. Savage needed a replacement partner, and it was Flair's consultant Mr. Perfect, and the makeshift team defeated Flair and Razor via disqualification.

1993 saw Savage shift to commentary, primarily for WWF's new show Monday Night RAW and WWF PPVs he did not compete in. He wrestled sporadically for the next couple years, most notably finishing second in the 1993 Royal Rumble match to Yokozuna, and defeating Crush in a falls count anywhere match at Wrestlemania X. He also wrestled for Jim Cornette's Smoky Mountain Wrestling during the fall of 1994. Savage's WWF deal expired in October 1994, and in a shocking move to many, especially Vince McMahon himself, he quickly signed with WCW. McMahon looked visibly distraught when he delivered the news of Savage's departure on the November 7, 1994 edition of RAW.

Savage debuted in WCW on the December 3, 1994 edition of WCW Saturday Night and aligned himself with his frenemy Hulk Hogan after he saved him from an attack by the Three Faces of Fear. After briefly feuding with the Faces, Avalanche, his attention was turned once again to Ric Flair. They feuded during the spring and summer of 1995, with the two splitting a pair of PPV encounters (Flair defeated Savage at The Great American Bash; Savage won the return bout in a Lifeguard Lumberjack match at Bash at the Beach). At November's World War 3, Savage was the last man standing out of 60 to win his first WCW World Heavyweight Championship. He lost the title (and a second match that night) just a month later at Starrcade. Savage won it back less than a month later on Nitro in January 1996, but lost it just three weeks later at Superbrawl VI back to Flair. The feud between them continued until June 1996, with Savage's ex-wife Elizabeth being brought in.

Savage was on the front line for WCW against the New World Order in the summer of 1996. Savage, joining Lex Luger and Sting, faced the Outsiders and a player to be named later at Bash at the Beach. The player to be named later would turn out to be Hulk Hogan, who dropped the leg on Savage, cementing his association with the Outsiders. Savage remained on the front line until Halloween Havoc when he failed to win the WCW world title from Hogan thanks to The Giant. Savage left the company briefly following the event when he was unable to reach an agreement on a new contract.

Randy returned in January 1997; it wasn't long before he assimilated himself into the nWo. He joined at SuperBrawl VII when he helped Hogan defeat Roddy Piper to retain the WCW world title. He also reunited with Elizabeth, who had also joined the group several months earlier. He spent most of the remainder of the year feuding with Diamond Dallas Page and his wife Kimberly. The two had three PPV bouts, with Savage winning two (Page won a no-disqualification match at Spring Stampede, while Savage defeated Page in a falls count anywhere match at The Great American Bash and in a Las Vegas Deathmatch at Halloween Havoc). Page often credits Savage for their feud thrusting him into the main event spotlight.

Savage feuded with Lex Luger in early 1998, with Luger defeating Savage on consecutive PPVs. Despite the setback, Savage turned his focus to the WCW world title held by Sting. After Hogan failed to defeat Sting for the championship, Savage gave it a shot at Spring Stampede, and despite tearing his ACL during the match (and with the help of Kevin Nash), Savage won the title. His moment of glory was short lived; Hogan won the title back the next night on Nitro. After briefly feuding with Bret Hart and Roddy Piper, Savage again left the company to recover from major knee surgery.

Aside from a one-off appearance in late December 1998, Savage was gone from WCW until the spring of 1999...looking very different upon his return. His hair was a slicked-back ponytail, wore earrings, and even had a new valet, his then 22-year old girlfriend Stephanie Bellars, aka Gorgeous George. Soon after, the two would be joined by Madusa and Miss Madness to form Team Madness. Savage for a while protected Diamond Dallas Page's world title, but when Kevin Nash won the title in May 1999, Savage went after it himself.

Two months later at Bash at the Beach, Savage won his fourth—and last—WCW world title in a tag match. Once again, it did not last long: in an almost note-for-note rehash of what went down fifteen months earlier, Savage lost the title to Hulk Hogan the next night on Nitro. Team Madness disbanded soon after and feuded with Dennis Rodman, defeating him at Road Wild. Savage's final appearance for WCW came in May 2000 when he helped Ric Flair get the victory in a 41-man battle royal for a shot at the WCW title at The Great American Bash.

Savage would be away from the wrestling game for more than four years. He returned at TNA's first three-hour PPV, Victory Road 2004, confronting Jeff Jarrett. The next month at Turning Point, he, AJ Styles, and Jeff Hardy defeated the Kings of Wrestling (Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and Jarrett). Set to win the NWA world title at Final Resolution the next month, Savage left TNA out of concerns for his health. In February 2005, he retired from pro wrestling altogether.

Savage, who lent his voice to a number of animated shows and movies, including Dexter's LaboratoryKing of the Hill, and the 2008 animated film Bolt, and also appeared in the 2002 film Spider-Man, is best known outside the ring as the longtime celebrity spokesman for Slim Jim snacks. His catchphrase, "Snap into a Slim Jim!" lives on in pop culture lore. In 2003, Savage released his own rap album, Be a Man, featuring a tribute to Curt Hennig and a diss track on Hulk Hogan.

On May 20, 2011, Savage suffered a heart attack while driving with his wife in Seminole, Florida, a suburb of Tampa. He became unresponsive and lost control of his vehicle, crashing into a tree. Initially thought to be killed in the collision, an autopsy later revealed Poffo had an enlarged heart and advanced coronary artery disease. The official cause of death was officially listed as atherosclerotic heart disease; basically, he had a heart attack. He was cremated and placed under a tree on his property in Largo, Florida. His dog, Hercules, died just over a week earlier, and his ashes were poured into the same spot.

Despite a strained relationship between Savage and WWE, a tribute video and ten-bell salute was given in his honor following his passing. CM Punk wore a version of Savage's mid-1980s wrestling gear in tribute. He would later adopt his diving elbow drop. WWE released a DVD documentary in late 2014 on his life. Though he would ever be inducted in his lifetime, Savage was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in March 2015. Savage is also a member of the initial Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame Class in 1996 and a member of the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2009.

A partial list of accomplishments for "Macho Man" Randy Savage:

  • 2-time WWF Champion
  • WWF Intercontinental Champion
  • 1987 King of the Ring
  • 4-time WCW Champion
  • 1995 World War 3 Winner
  • 2-time AWA Southern Heavyweight Champion
  • CWA International Heavyweight Champion
  • 3-time NWA Mid-America Heavyweight Champion
  • USWA Unified World Heavyweight Champion
  • World Wrestling Council North American Heavyweight Champion

From Pro Wrestling Illustrated:

  • 1987 Match of the Year (vs. Ricky Steamboat, Wrestlemania III)
  • 1988 Wrestler of the Year
  • 1988 Most Popular Wrestler
  • 1989 Most Hated Wrestler
  • 1995 Comeback of the Year
  • 1997 Feud of the Year (with Diamond Dallas Page)
  • #2 singles wrestler in the world in 1992
  • #9 singles wrestler of the PWI Years in 2003
  • #57 tag team of the PWI Years in 2003 (with Hulk Hogan)

From Wrestling Observer Newsletter:

  • 1987 Match of the Year (vs. Ricky Steamboat, Wrestlemania III)
  • Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame Class of 1996

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