"Macho Man" Randy Savage passed away on May 20, 2011 in a tragic automobile accident. Driving with his wife in the passenger seat, Savage (apparently) suffered a debilitating heart attack which caused him to lose control of his vehicle and collide with a tree.
While the death of a former professional wrestler might not seem important to the mixed martial arts (MMA) community, an outpouring of grief, support, and condolences was sent out by fighters, reporters, and fans alike via Twitter.
It didn't seem out of place to see someone like Ariel Helwani, who wears his pro wrestling fandom on his sleeve, discussing the tragedy. What did come as a surprise was fighters like Rashad Evans, Rich Franklin and B.J. Penn tweeting about it.
When you really think about it, though, it shouldn't come as much of a shock. Pro wrestling was a phenomenon in the mid- to late-80s and "Macho Man" was its most engaging star. Chances are if you were a male child during that time, you were practicing your flying elbow drop off the couch after every episode of WWF programming.
Sure, Hulk Hogan may have been the bigger and more popular star but Savage truly captured the imagination of fans. His charisma, his flamboyance, and most of all, his in-ring ability, made him one of the most beloved wrestlers of all time.
So here goes my little tribute to one of the all-time greats.
Randy Savage. Ricky Steamboat. The Pontiac Silverdome. WrestleMania III.
The basis for any feud in pro wrestling is simple. Wrestler A doesn't like Wrestler B. The feeling is reciprocated and they settle their differences in the ring.
The rub for the writers is to find a reason for that hate, preferably one that would make fans care enough to spend money to see how it plays out.
The buildup to Savage and Steamboat's Intercontinental Title match at WrestleMania III was nothing short of genius.
During a free TV match between the two, Steamboat was dumped to the outside of the ring where he leaned over onto the guard rail. Savage climbed up to the top rope, clasped his fists together, leapt and smashed them across "The Dragon's" back.
Steamboat recoiled back, grabbing his throat. To compound the injury, "Macho Man" grabbed the timekeeper's bell, climbed back up to the top, and flew towards Steamboat, ramming the bell across his throat.
Laid across a stretcher, Steamboat was taken to the back and fans were treated to several vignettes over the next few weeks documenting his recovery including one that had "The Dragon" engaging in speech therapy.
When they finally collided at WrestleMania III, in front of nearly 100,000 fans at the Pontiac Silverdome, the anticipation was thick enough to be cut with a knife.
In Steamboat's corner is George "The Animal" Steele. And as always, backing Savage is the beautiful Miss Elizabeth. A quick and furious start culminates with Steamboat lifting Savage by the throat.
Oh, sweet revenge.
Soon after, "The Dragon" begins to work over "Macho Man's" arm, an old trick known in the wrestling world as ring psychology. The idea is that later in the match, Savage's arm will be too damaged to achieve any significant offense.
It's a simple trick, a mental sleight of hand on the viewing audience that seems lost on most wrestlers today. Savage was a king of this, having nearly completely perfected it.
What's interesting about the match is that it was planned, move by move, in advance and rehearsed several times over. This is not typical of all wrestling matches. Usually, the wrestlers involved will simply agree on certain key moments -- an impressive top rope maneuver at this point, a stunning reversal at that point, and so on and so forth, leading in to the big finish.
For whatever reason, "Macho Man" deviated from this path and perfectly constructed most of his matches minute by minute, second by second. As such, the fans are treated to a near flawless display of pro wrestling.
Another thing that stands out in this match is its ability to surprise even the most diehard wrestling fan. At one point, Steamboat is clotheslined to the outside of the ring but manages to hold onto the ropes before spilling out.
He flips himself back over, ready to pounce on an oblivious Savage. A time-honored trick of the heel -- the bad guy -- thinking he's temporarily safe from the face -- the good guy.
Bucking tradition, "Macho Man" is quick to clothesline him right back over.
With minutes remaining in the match, the two begin to start trading near-falls -- pinning situations that are measured in the 2.8s and 2.9s.
The crowd begins to sit on the edge of their seat, knowing the ending could come at any moment.
When the referee is caught in the crossfire of these two titans, he is knocked out and laid out on the mat. Savage climbs to the top, lifts his arms in the air, and delivers his finisher -- the trademark flying elbow drop.
He lays across Steamboat but there is no count. The referee is still down, unable to slap the mat for that 1-2-3.
Not satisfied with nearly beating "The Dragon," Savage makes his way outside the ring and grabs the bell. A moment of deja vu sweeps over everyone as he begins to climb back up to the top.
Steele, still outside the ring, grabs the bell from "Macho Man" in an attempt to save his friend from further harm. The two tussle with Savage getting the upper hand. He climbs back to the top but before he can leap, "The Animal" is able to shove him off.
Up and over, Savage crashes to the mat. By this point, the referee is finally making his way back to his feet, overselling like crazy.
Savage gets up and drags Steamboat to his feet by his hair. Once he gets him up, he picks him up for a very simple scoop bodyslam.
However, just as Ricky hits the mat, he surprises Randy by grabbing his left leg and rolling him over for a small package. With both of Savage's shoulders down, the referee counts the 1-2-3 for the pin.
And thus ended one of the best matches not only in WrestleMania history, but in professional wrestling history.
The ending itself was unique in that Savage, who was playing the heel, was seemingly cheated out of a win. Steamboat won, as all good guys should, but without Steele's help, he very well could and should have lost.
It's those little nuances that Savage added to his character over the years that made him so special. It's what put him above the pack in an era that was crammed with hundreds, if not thousands, of muscle-bound, tanning bed enthusiasts who were looking to make it big in the squared circle.
With Savage's passing, so too does a little bit of the childhood of all those who watched him. For pro wrestling fans like me, Evans, Franklin, and Penn, "Macho Man" had always been there and knowing he's gone is a bit surreal.
Rest in peace, "Macho Man." I only hope that you knew, before you left us, how much we appreciated you.
Below is the full video of the Savage vs. Steamboat classic from WrestleMania III. Enjoy.