By Rich Twilling
Friday, May 20, 2011, 6:00 p.m. CT
Growing up a huge wrestling fan, most people I knew were fans of Hulk Hogan and Hulkamania. I was never the average kid. I was always the kid who acted like an adult and thus, Hogan bored me. Well, not Hogan personally, but the fact that Hogan always won. The then WWF used the same formula and I saw right through it every time. Growing up in California, I was not a fan of the San Francisco 49ers either, as I respected, but disliked their dominance in the '80s.
So, I always rooted for the heel Vince McMahon threw at Hogan, but nobody, even the legendary Andre the Giant, could dethrone him as the top guy in the company. Long before their yearlong feud, Hogan defended the WWE Championship on house shows against a man named Randy “Macho Man” Savage. Whenever I got my hands on an old Coliseum Home Video, I loved watching Hogan vs. Savage at Madison Square Garden, at the Philadelphia Spectrum, and at other historic venues. At the time I thought, “This is the guy that can legitimately share the spotlight with Hogan.” I was correct.
I was immediately enamored with Savage and was a huge fan right away. I loved that he was a former baseball player. I loved his athleticism. I loved his promos and yes, I thought his lady was gorgeous. I imitated his voice and outside of my classroom, there was a ramp and a railing. I would treat the railing like ring ropes and catapult myself from the ramp to the ground, like Savage would do from the ring, over the top rope, and to the floor. I wore his bandana and sunglasses and carried around a self-made championship belt that we defended during games of teatherball.
Of course, Savage never defeated Hogan for the championship, but he did win the formerly very prestigious Intercontinental Championship from Tito Santana in 1986. Savage had it all. He had the flashy look, the entrance music, Elizabeth, unique and original promo skills, and oh yeah, he could go in the ring. Savage’s repertoire of speed, strength, and agility was unlike anything at the time.
At WrestleMania 3, 93,173 fans piled into the Pontiac Silverdome to watch Hogan defend the WWE Championship against Andre the Giant. However, when they left the arena that evening, they were talking about the classic Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat match, in which Steamboat defeated Savage for the Intercontinental Champion, ending Savage’s fourteen month reign. This match still holds up today and for a long time, was considered by many to be the best Mania match ever.
Steamboat quickly dropped the belt, but Savage was on his way to being the headliner for the company. Sure, others had come and gone as temporary feuds for Hogan, but the idea another babyface could lead the company was just ludicrous. On February 5, 1988, Hogan dropped the title to Andre, who then handed it to Ted DiBiase. We didn’t know it at the time, but this was the first day of Savage’s run at the top.
WrestleMania 4 was a memorable event for one reason and one reason only. Savage. Savage won four matches that night to become the WWE Champion. He wore four different robes and four sets of ring gear. Elizabeth wore four different dresses. Although Savage was having “his moment” after winning the championship tournament, he shared it with Hogan and Elizabeth (imagine if Savage told the referee to get them out of the ring like Shawn Michaels did regarding Jose Lothario at Mania 12). Nonetheless, it was the dawn of a new day and for this fan, a new lease on wrestling life.
The next year marked one of the best programs in the history of the company. Savage and Hogan ruled at the top. Savage had the gold, and the lady, but even back then, it was obvious what was going to happen. Regardless, it was a lot of fun to watch it play out. Of course, Savage dropped the title to Hogan at Mania 5, but make no mistake, Savage was the star of the feud and stole the show in the main event of WrestleMania that year.
In the middle of Savage’s title reign was the summer of 1988. That marked the best summer of my young life at the time. I was playing in the Bambino State Baseball Tournament in Oakland. Per the rules, the players were housed with parents from the host city. I will never forget that someone was murdered across the street from where I was staying. This fell under the “exception to the rule” category and as a result of the incident, we were allowed to move to the hotel our parents were staying in.
Also staying at this hotel were WWE wrestlers. Chaos and youthful giddiness ensued as a bunch of all-star baseball kids ran around that hotel with the ferocity of a stadium full of people chasing hundred dollar bills falling from the sky. I still have many memories of the wrestlers I did meet as I received many autographs in my hotel phone message pad.
The Warlord was the nicest wrestler there. Terry Taylor (who signed “The Red Rooster”) was very cool. Ted DiBiase was very polite (which was surprising to us given our age and his on screen persona) and appreciative of the attention. Bret Hart and Gene Okerlund signed on their way into the hotel bar. A buddy of mine was butt hurt that Bobby Heenan yelled at him, but I told him he had it coming because he disturbed Bobby while he was eating breakfast. Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty blew us off, but then came outside of their room an hour later to find us still waiting there. Bushwhacker Luke screamed at us because we woke him from a deep sleep. Bill Eadie (Demolition Ax) gladly signed for me while he was on the phone.
Despite these and many more memorable moments, I never met my favorite wrestler at the time, Randy Savage. A few of the boys told us Hulk Hogan was staying at his own hotel (but did not say which one), so I figured Savage was probably somewhere else too. One night, I came back to the hotel after a game and my mom surprised me with an autograph (she didn’t come to games because she got too nervous). I’ll never forget what she said. “I saw a very good looking man in the laundry room and I figured he had to be with the wrestlers. He was big, but not ridiculously big. Athletic big. He did not have the ego some of these guys have. He was very sure of himself and very soft spoken. He was extremely polite and when I asked for an autograph for my son, he was more than happy to sign.”
That wrestler alone in the laundry room with my mom was Randy “Macho Man” Savage. Looking back, I thought it was very cool to meet Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart, before they became main event guys, but I most envied my mom for meeting Savage. He was my favorite. He was different from Hogan, and he was the champion at the time. On top of that, my mom had nothing but good things to say about the guy. As a young kid, it felt good to not be disappointed by someone I looked up to.
Today, I drove my mom to a luncheon and she reiterated the Savage story to me. She knows wrestling because of my involvement in it, but she would not be able to tell John Cena from R-Truth. She did, however, remember fondly the evening she met Randy Savage. She recalled him being handsome and polite. Funny thing too, she was the only one to see him, meet him, and get his autograph. Nobody else was that lucky. Thank you Randy for being good to my mom that day. Today, the world lost a wrestling legend and true pioneer of the industry. There was only one Randy Savage. RIP.
Twilling’s Blog: Remembering Randy Savage and a family member's encounter with him in a hotel laundry room
May 20, 2011 - 06:00 PM
May 20, 2011 - 06:00 PM
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