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#23 Randy Savage
Perhaps the most naturally gifted wrestler to ever step into the ring, "Macho Man" Randy Savage was one of the biggest stars in professional wrestling during its tremendous boom periods during the 1980s and 1990s. A well-rounded superstar who did everything exceptionally well, Savage's colorful persona and unique charisma was matched only by his athleticism and technical ability inside the ring.
Savage was a second generation wrestler, his father Angelo Poffo was a popular regional wrestler in the Mid-West and South and was most noteworthy for having performed 6,000 sit-ups consecutively in 1945, a world record at the time. Savage grew up in central Ohio and was a standout baseball player in high school, immediately signing with the St. Louis Cardinals after graduating. During a minor league career that lasted four seasons, Savage dealt with an arm injury that he suffered from a collision at home plate that cut short any plans of him making it to the majors.
Savage debuted in wrestling in 1973 as "The Spider" but soon changed his name to Randy Savage when Georgia promoter Ole Anderson suggested that Poffo was too nice of a name for someone that "wrestled like a savage." The "Macho Man" gimmick would come later when Savage's mother read a note in Reader's Digest that the term would become a new hot phrase in coming years. Savage would get his start working mostly with his father and his younger brother Lanny Poffo, who was a solid worker in his own right and would achieve greater fame in the World Wrestling Federation as "The Genius".
Feeling that his sons were not getting adequately utilized by local promoters, Angelo Poffo launched his own promotion, International Championship Wrestling, based out of Lexington, KY. This was a very bold step by Poffo because ICW was not affiliated with the National Wrestling Alliance and ran shows in cities that were informally owned by NWA affiliates. The promotion got off the ground thanks to the talents of the two Poffo boys, and began to draw the ire of local promoters, particularly Jerry Jarrett and the Continental Wrestling Association in Memphis. The rivalry between ICW and the CWA reached such boiling points that wrestlers from both promotions have admitted to carrying guns in their suitcases while traveling to other towns.
Savage would anchor the ICW for several years, feuding with his brother and other regional names like Paul Christy and Ron Garvin. Eventually Angelo Poffo and the CWA buried the hatchet and merged into one promotion under the CWA banner. Throughout the early 1980s Savage and Lanny would be top names in the CWA, regularly wrestling in the main event. Their most infamous moment as a tag team came in 1984 when the two were feuding with Southern uber-faces The Rock n' Roll Express. During a heated contest at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis, Savage piledrove Ricky Morton through the timekeeper's table, one of the first documented incidents of such a thing taking place. Savage reportedly injured Morton's neck in the incident and the result led to a red-hot feud between the two teams.
At the same time Savage found himself as a frequent opponent of Memphis kingpin, Jerry Lawler, who he engaged in many battles over the AWA Southern Heavyweight Championship, a title that Savage would hold twice during his career. In 1984 Savage also began working for Carlos Colon in Puerto Rico, wrestling top names on the island like Colon and Abdullah the Butcher.
By 1985 Savage was clearly the top unsigned prospect in a wrestling world that was seeing promotions go national. In June, Savage signed a contract with Vince McMahon and appeared on the WWF talk show Tuesday Night Titans being billed as the top free agent in all of professional wrestling. The mid-1980s were the heyday of evil managers, and the likes of Bobby Heenan, Jimmy Hart and Freddie Blassie vocally advertised their services to Savage, but Savage elected to go with an unknown; his real-life girlfriend Liz Hulette who as Miss Elizabeth would become a big star in the industry simply by being Savage's valet. Savage would then build his heel persona based on the aspect of a jealous boyfriend who would rope the almost-pious Elizabeth into cheating and becoming paranoid if anyone even looked at her, a characteristic that unfortunately mirrored real-life all too well.
Savage's first order of business in the WWF was the Intercontinental Championship, currently being held by Tito Santana. After chasing Santana for several months, Savage finally defeated Santana for the title in February of 1986 when he knocked out Santana with a foreign object stashed in his tights to earn the pinfall. Savage would go on to define the Intercontinental Championship as the one worn by the best worker in the company. While Hulk Hogan had lackluster matches in the main event, Savage and fellow workers like Santana, Ricky Steamboat, Greg Valentine and others were having the best matches of the night on the undercard. Savage fit the bill of what was expected of the Intercontinental Champion, not only oozing charisma but carrying matches with his athleticism and timing.
Savage would hold the championship for over 400 days and is widely recognized as the man who elevated the championship to a new level of prestige. He defended it at WrestleMania 2, defeating George "The Animal" Steele which was part of a long-term feud with Steele that involved the child-like Steele developing a crush on Miss Elizabeth. Savage would eventually lose the championship to Steamboat in an all-time classic match at WrestleMania III that saw Savage lose when Steele pushed him off of the top rope right before he was going to deliver his trademark flying elbow. The match is widely regarded as being one of the best matches in both WrestleMania and Intercontinental Championship history.
After losing the Intercontinental Championship, Savage would win the 1987 King of the Ring Tournament and began to be cheered as a babyface despite his heel persona. Eventually he became a full-fledged babyface when he feuded with The Honky Tonk Man who was holding the Intercontinental Championship after winning it from Steamboat. While battling to regain his championship, Savage found himself overwhelmed by The Hart Foundation who were aligned with the Honky Tonk Man, leading to Hogan coming to Savage's aid. This would lead to the formation of the Mega Powers, a tag team whose relationship was just as strenuous outside of the ring as it was inside it.
In February of 1988 the WWF World Heavyweight Championship was vacated due to a convoluted storyline involving Hogan, Andre the Giant, Heenan and twin referees. A new champion was to be crowned at WrestleMania IV during a 14-man tournament. While the tournament was viewed as being way too long and repetitive, Savage was able to advance to the finals where he defeated Ted DiBiase (with help from Hogan) to win his first world championship.
On paper, Savage was everything that you would want to have in a world champion. He was in great physical shape and was a terrific worker in the ring. More importantly, Savage had a colorful personality and tons of charisma that epitomized what made the WWF so successful during the 1980s. Savage had the right braggadocios attitude where he could work whether he was a heel or a babyface; and his ability to rhyme on the microphone and brag that he was "the cream of the crop" or "too hot to handle and too cold to hold" was second to none and it was always punctuated by his signature "Oh Yeah!" that is often imitated but never duplicated.
Savage's world title run lasted a full calendar year, but Savage as champion was usually regarded as a secondary act to the Mega Powers. Savage did defend his title against Andre the Giant and the One Man Gang, but it was feuds against tag teams like The Mega Bucks (Andre and DiBiase) and The Twin Towers (The Big Boss Man and Akeem) that were the real high water marks for his title reign. His most significant moment came when Hogan and Savage teamed up in the main event of the first SummerSlam to defeat The Mega Bucks.
The real test of Savage's reign was in one of the more brilliant feuds in WWF history, the explosion of The Mega Powers. It began at the 1989 Royal Rumble when Hogan accidentally eliminated Savage from the match, leading to a heated exchange between the two friends. In February, during a match against The Twin Towers, Elizabeth was bumped off the apron and was brought to the back by Hogan, which enraged Savage who accused Hogan of trying to steal Elizabeth away from Savage. Savage would turn full-fledged heel on Hogan by attacking him and Brutus Beefcake.
The heel turn in some ways mimicked real life. Savage believed that Hogan was jealous of Savage's popularity which was rivaling Hogan's and Hogan was tired of Savage's paranoia. The two respected the fact that they could make lots of money together, but the they would remain at odds for most of the rest of their careers, occasionally working together but most of the time remaining disgusted with one another. Also, especially later in his career, Savage was becoming increasingly more protective of Elizabeth, at points even locking her in the dressing room during his matches so that nobody could do anything to her.
The storyline would lead up to WrestleMania V, where Savage was defeated by Hogan, ending his title reign. Following the loss Savage dumped Elizabeth and replaced her with Sensational Sherri. He would continue to feud with Hogan for the rest of the year, including a pair of big tag matches that saw him team up with Zeus, a fictional character from the WWF film No Holds Barred that was played by actor Tiny Lister and losing to the team of Hogan and Beefcake at SummerSlam and then again at No Holds Barred (a special event, not the actual film).
In the fall of 1989 Savage began to dub himself "Macho King" Randy Savage and he changed his decorative tights to reflect his newfound royalty and was given a royal scepter by DiBiase, which would be used often as an illegal object. His final encounter with Hogan came in February of 1990 on an episode of The Main Event, which saw Hogan defeat Savage for the title with the aid of special guest referee, boxer Buster Douglas.
Savage would feud with recent NWA import Dusty Rhodes, who he would lose to in a mixed-tag match at WrestleMania VI when Rhodes and his valet Sapphire defeated Savage and Sherri. Savage would later become the top opponent for new WWF World Heavyweight Champion The Ultimate Warrior. After successfully defending against Savage several times, Warrior denied Savage's request for another match at the 1990 Royal Rumble. Savage then attacked Warrior with his scepter before his match against Sgt. Slaughter, costing Warrior the championship. This would lead to a career vs career match at WrestleMania VII, which saw Warrior defeat Savage in a classic that in storyline ended Savage's career. Following the match, Savage dumped Sherri and was reunited with Elizabeth who he had dumped two years prior, once again becoming a babyface.
Although he was retired Savage remained active in the WWF as a color commentator on television. Savage would continue to engage in feuds, most notably with Jake Roberts who would interrupt a wedding ceremony between Savage and Elizabeth when a snake appeared as one of the wedding presents. Roberts would continue to goad Savage into fighting, but Savage was unable to do so due to his forced retirement. In October of 1991 Savage was assaulted by Roberts and tied into the ropes, only to be bitten in the arm by a real, live King Cobra in one of the most memorable moments in WWF history. Savage would then petition his retirement and was reinstated by WWF president Jack Tunney, and Savage would defeat Roberts at the PPV This Tuesday in Texas and again on a February episode of The Main Event.
Leading into WrestleMania VIII Savage began to feud with Ric Flair, who had won the WWF World Heavyweight Championship back at the 1992 Royal Rumble. The feud was built on Flair's allegations that he had a sexual relationship with Elizabeth, and even had pictures to prove it. Savage would exact his vengeance on Flair by defeating him for his second world championship in a splendid match at WrestleMannia VIII. Savage would continue to feud with Flair throughout the summer, and he also met his old nemesis The Ultimate Warrior, in a rare babyface vs babyface match at SummerSlam 1992 in London. Savage retained the championship via countout after Flair and Mr. Perfect injured his knee. Savage would then drop the title to Flair, submitting to the Figure Four in September of 1992.
Savage would form a tag team with Warrior but quickly ended when Warrior was fired by the WWF. Savage would then work sporadically for the WWF, mainly as a color commentator but occasionally wrestling. Savage's last PPV match for the WWF came in at WrestleMania X when he defeated Crush in a Falls Count Anywhere match. In November of 1994, Savage's contract expired and he left the WWF to sign with their competitor, World Championship Wrestling.
Savage debuted in WCW in December of 1994 and immediately was recognized as a main event star. After publicly shaking hands with Hogan, he resumed his feud with Flair when Flair attacked Savage during a match at Uncensored. Savage would then team with Hogan to defeat Flair and Vader at Slamboree, but Flair attacked Savage's father, Angelo Poffo, after the match. The next match took place on Father's Day at The Great American Bash 1995, with Savage having his father at ring side, Flair utilized Poffo's cane to defeat Savage.
The feud between Flair and Savage would prove to be a forgotten game-changer in the battle between WCW and WWF. WCW had been discarded as second-rate for a long time, but Savage and Flair's feud actually spiked WCW's business, particularly at house shows, and inched them closer to the WWF. Revisionist history has WCW as being nothing before the formation of the nWo, but in reality, WCW got much closer to WWF during the Savage/Flair feud. In early 1995 WCW was doing about 50 percent less on PPVs than the WWF, but by early 1996, they were relatively equal.
At World War 3 1995, Savage won the first ever three-ring 60 man battle royal (WCW's answer to the Royal Rumble) to capture the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. Savage would hold onto the title until Starrcade 1995 when Flair defeated him for the strap. Savage would regain the championship on a January 22 episode of Nitro, only to drop it back to Flair in a Steel Cage match at SuperBrawl VI. Early in 1996, Savage brought in Elizabeth (now called Liz due to trademarks by the WWF) to be his manager, but she turned on Savage following his loss to Flair and became Flair's manager instead.
At the Bash at the Beach 1996, Savage, Sting and Lex Luger teamed up to take on The Outsiders, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, but were betrayed when Hogan turned heel, dropping the leg on Savage and founding the nWo. Naturally, Savage served as one of their main rivals, and battled with his former friend Hogan. At Halloween Havoc 1996, Savage finally challenged Hogan for Hogan's WCW World Heavyweight Championship but was defeated when The Giant interfered on the nWo's behalf to help Hogan retain the championship.
Savage would take a brief hiatus from the company before returning in January of 1997. Savage declared vengeance against the nWo, but ended up breaking WCW fans' hearts when he joined the group at SuperBrawl, helping the group defeat Roddy Piper. Reuniting with Liz, he began a long feud with Diamond Dallas Page and his valet, Kimberly, both of whom expressed similar tendencies to Savage and Elizabeth during the 1980s. The feud would carry through the rest of the year, that saw the two battle in various different tag matches and street fights, eventually ending when Savage defeated Page in a Las Vegas Death match at Halloween Havoc.
Savage would feud with Luger during the early months of 1998 before challenging Sting for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. Sting had defeated Hogan for the title back at Starrcade and Hogan's continued attempts at the regaining the title proved fruitless. Jealous that Savage was now getting a chance at the title, Hogan interfered in the match at Spring Stampede, but Savage was saved by Nash, and Savage defeated Sting. The following night on Nitro, Hogan defeated Savage for the title after interference from Bret Hart cost him the title. Savage would then join with Nash and others to start the first of many nWo splinter groups, the nWo Wolfpac.
Savage would soon miss six months due to a knee injury and returned in 1998. By that point WCW was beginning to unravel and Savage constantly saw his role in the company change, ping-ponging between heel and babyface so frequently that fans forgot what he was supposed to be at all. He formed Team Madness, a group of three female valets and himself, but the group disbanded when two of the valets, Madusa and Miss Madness (later WWF's Molly Holly) began to fight. After feuding with Dennis Rodman in the summer of 1999, Savage would be phased out of WCW programming, his last appearance coming in May of 2000. Following WCW's collapse, Savage would appear for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling briefly in 2004, teaming with Jeff Hardy and AJ Styles to defeat Scott Hall, Kevin Nash and Jeff Jarrett. Following the match, Savage retired from wrestling.
Even to non-wrestling fans, Savage is a household name and even if you didn't pay attention to wrestling during the 1980s, chances are you can do a Macho Man impersonation. Savage had a decorated career that could only be justified by his immense talent and his commitment to excellence throughout his wrestling career. His career in parts was overshadowed by Hogan and others, and that ultimately hurts him a little bit in the rankings. His long title reign coincided with Hogan being his partner and he rarely headlined events defending the championship, especially when compared to Hogan. Savage has arguably the most talent out of anybody on this list, but at the end of the day he wasn't the man for a long period of time in any company. That being said, he was a great performer who did draw a hell of a lot of money for a long period of time, defining him as one of the all-time greats even if he never completely got out of Hogan's shadow.
Next week #22 will be revealed, a charismatic star who famously left a tag team and became one of the best big match performers of all-time and is regarded by many fans as the best to ever work in a ring.
The Top 50 so far (click link for description of the qualifications of the list):
49. Superstar Billy Graham
47. El hijo del Santo
45. Bruiser Brody
43. Kurt Angle
42. Hiroshi Tanahashi
41. The Sheik
39. Perro Aguayo
38. Ricky Steamboat
37. Toshiaki Kawada
36. Jushin Thunder Liger
35. El Canek
33. Jack Brisco
32. Shinya Hashimoto
31. Roddy Piper
30. Genichiro Tenryu
28. Abdullah the Butcher
27. Keiji Mutoh
26. Bob Backlund
25. Mil Mascaras
24. Nick Bockwinkel
23. Randy Savage