Category Archives: Ultimate Warrior

Volume Four, Chapter Six: The Squared Circle Orthogonean

Savage and ElizabethThe Macho Man Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth in their greatest hour: WrestleMania IV. (Photo courtesy of WWE)

For years, the WWE Hall of Fame induction has been the chance for longtime wrestling fans to honor and possibly even meet the legends of the industry they grew up with. The key to receiving induction hinges on a wrestler’s relationship with WWE Chairman Vince McMahon. This has led to some notable exemptions and inclusions.

Chyna, the first female Intercontinental Champion, was fired from WWE in 2001, and went on to slam the company at the height of the Chris Benoit murder-suicide media blitz. Neither are often mentioned for Hall induction. Bruno Sammartino refused induction for years. Yet many people at odds with Vince have ended up inducted, often at fans’ behest.

Bret Hart, The Ultimate Warrior, Bruno, and even former business competitors like AWA promoter Vergne Gagne had major issues with WWE, but are all Hall of Famers. Abdullah the Butcher never even competed in WWE, but was enshrined nonetheless. And then there’s the case of one “Macho Man” Randy Savage.

David Shoemaker, a.k.a the Masked Man of deadspin.com, did an obituary of sorts for Savage just after his May 20, 2011 death. It’s also the source of the Hofstadter quote from last time. Shoemaker’s “Dead Wrestler of the Week” articles are written by a longtime fan of sports entertainment from a real-world view. The article piece pretty much sums up why people loved Savage.

He had the perfect woman (as of 1984, his real wife, Miss Elizabeth), and was jealous. He had the zany ring gear that still sells. He was believably brutal and agile in the ring. And that intensity in matches came through in spades when he was on the mic. The dream match between Savage and the Rock would be a hit if only for the promos between the two.

But there always seemed to be that underdog trait to Savage. He was the wrestling Orthogonean, the striving up-and-comer nipping at the heels at the elitist Franklin WWF Champion, Hulk Hogan. Much like the most famous Orthogonean, Richard Milhous Nixon, he would finally be the man, but he didn’t soundly beat the man, and was haunted by it.

Savage and Ricky Steamboat stole the show at WrestleMania III in their Intercontinental Championship Match. (Savage reportedly went over every single detail of it for days prior to the match.) Vince decided that Savage deserved a chance to be WWF Champion, and prepared him to replace Hogan, who was about to become a new dad.

Savage won the WWF Championship at WrestleMania IV after Hogan’s interference. He lost the belt to Hogan at WrestleMania V. Savage then replaced Elizabeth with Sensational Sherri Martel. He tried to establish himself without two key figures in his career, but it just never felt right. WrestleMania VII saw the Liz/Savage saga come full circle.

Minutes after a “retirement match” loss to the equally nutty Ultimate Warrior, Savage and Elizabeth reunited to tears and cheers from fans. The couple had a “wedding” at SummerSlam 1991, and Savage won a second WWF Championship, and defended his wife’s honor, from Ric Flair at WrestleMania VIII. Liz divorced him the same year.

In 1994, he up and left the WWF to join Hogan in WCW, where he got to play a sidekick- again. He even got to reunite with Elizabeth for a spell. Only when he signed with the upstart TNA did Savage, with his career nearly over, truly fly solo. His final televised match at TNA’s Destination Point event in December 2004.

Randy Savage was actually promoting his upcoming WWE action figures and video game appearances at the time of his death. Yet at the Hall of Fame Induction prior to WrestleMania XXVIII, the first after his death, he wasn’t included. Almost instantly, conspiracy theories exploded.

Was Macho Man Randy Savage being denied a shrine because he took the Slim Jim commercial deal to WCW with him? Did Savage refuse to be inducted over the WWF’s “Nacho Man” parody of him? Or was it because of the most bizarre, and therefore most popular, conspiracy: that Vince caught Savage trying to hit on a then-teenage Stephanie McMahon?

Savage’s brother, “Leapin'” Lanny Poffo alleged that the Macho Man only wanted to be inducted if Lanny and their late father, Angelo Poffo, could also be included. Since Lanny is only vaguely remembered for his short stint as the poetic Genius, and hardly anybody remembers Angelo’s Poffo’s ICW promotion, the induction was a no-go.

Vince refused the request, just as Elizabeth Ann Huelette’s family refuse to allow her to be inducted. They feel the wrestling industry killed her (she died in 2003 after an accidental drug and alcohol overdose). As the only surviving immediate family members, Lanny and the Huelettes get to make the call. Lanny finally decided to allow only his brother in.

Savage’s longtime frienemy Hulk Hogan is inducting Savage in the Hall, which loads yet another conspiracy regarding their association at Savage’s death. Meanwhile, fans and non-fans are all celebrating the career of one of the greatest wrestlers ever.

If Hulk Hogan was what kids wanted to be, then Macho Man Randy Savage was who many of us knew we ultimately were. Intense, talented, but too insecure to appreciate what we could do in full.

 

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Volume Four, Chapter Three: 21-1

21-1

The sight and sign fans thought they’d never see at WrestleMania… (Image Courtesy of 411mania.com)

At the 1990 Survivor Series pay-per-view, two major debuts occurred. One was the debut of the Gobbledy Gooker, a dancing guy in a turkey suit hatched out of a mysterious “egg” that the World Wrestling Federation had been promoting for months. The fans booed him, and Hector Guerrero, the guy who played him, out of the World Wrestling Federation in weeks.

The other debut was “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase’s mystery tag team partner. It turned out to be Mean Mark Callous, a 6’9″ 300-lb., former World Championship mid-carder. He was renamed Kane, the Undertaker. Later he was just called Undertaker, or ‘Taker.

The Undertaker was introduced as an invulnerable zombie that looked like a literal Grim Reaper. He also walked across the top ring rope and flew around the ring like a cruiserweight. He finished off foes with a tombstone piledriver. And with his new, even more macabre manager called Paul Bearer, he defeated “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka in under two minutes at WrestleMania VII.

At the time, no one could have guessed that to be the start of the longest annual pay-per-view winning streak, and the longest headlining tenure, in wrestling history. When one looks back throughout WWF/E history after 1993, there have been only two consistent entities: WWF Chairman Vince McMahon, and the man whose real name is Mark Calloway.

During the Monday Night Wars, ‘Taker wished those leaving for WCW well, but also galvanized the remaining WWF stars to tough it out. In rare mainstream interviews, he admits as much. Fans toughed it out as well. The Undertaker persona has evolved from a morbid mortician, an emissary of Hell, a straight-up devil worshipper, and a bad-ass biker. And he actually made the sh*t plausible.

Granted, many guys did get career-altering victories over ‘Taker (Mr. Kennedy, Randy Orton, John Bradshaw Layfield). But ‘Taker wanted to help up-and-comers become the future of the business; his legacy in the industry was set early. The only concession he ever kept was the “The Streak” at WrestleMania. It was pretty much seen as a token of respect from Vince and his fellow wrestlers.

‘Taker’s been part-time since WrestleMania XXVI, where he “retired” the event’s other iconic performer, “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels. Nonetheless, ‘Taker winning at his show has always been a given. Even more likely was his retirement from wrestling without ever losing at the WWE’s biggest event. At worse, he’d at least make it to 24 wins, and possibly lose match #25.

Going into WrestleMania XXX, he was an untouchable 21-0. Brock Lesnar made his WWE rep dominating ‘Taker when he burst on the scene in 2002. But there was no way he’d beat “The Dead Man” on his own playing field. Besides, Paul Bearer, who died just before WM XXIX, was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame the night before.

The crowd of 85K at New Orleans’ Superdome (and the Buffalo Wild Wings at Northgate Mall, where I was watching) was silent as Brock pummeled ‘Taker. He kicked out of two of Brock’s F-5 finishers, and kept the crowd into it. But then came the third. One…two…three. Complete silence. Gaping mouths. For many, it was the literal end of an institution that dated back to childhood.

The post-Mania Raw saw Brock Lesnar’s manager, Paul Heyman, tout his client as the “1 in 21-1” in one of the damnedest wrestling promos ever. Ultimate Warrior made his final, troubling televised appearance before dropping dead the next night. And ‘Taker, always on the post-Mania Raw, was nowhere to be seen. His absence just made the broadcast seem off kilter.

The decision to end “The Streak” was actually made hours before WrestleMania XXX was aired. ‘Taker was suffering from two decades of wear and tear. Both Vince and ‘Taker felt it best to begin the end. But nobody besides those involved in the match, not even those working in the blatantly scripted world of WWE, saw it coming. The response was legitimate, spontaneous shock.

Compare that to when so-and-so says or does this-or-that, and the media manufactures shock and outrage. Unless I pretended to be very naive, or really fake, a gay athlete, a third-world disease on American shores, an election win or loss every other November, or somebody drawing police attention to themselves with horrendous consequences can hardly qualify as shocking or controversial.

I was actually shocked more by that than anything else this year. The bulk of the brouhaha over most things, with the possible exception of international matters like ISIS, Kim Jong-Un, or Vladimir Putin, was far less spontaneous and more fabricated. But then again, when the focus is on self-affirmation, foreign aggression tends to rear its ugly head in times like that.