The 1980’s was a halcyon period for the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). The gaudy glitz of that decade, combined with the increase in American consumerism and the rise of cable television and pay-per-view special events, was just what young WWF owner Vince McMahon needed to push his burgeoning empire to the top, eclipsing all other wrestling promoters, who until this point had usually operated on a regional level, with an understanding that they would never venture into another promoter’s territory. McMahon and his WWF changed all of that, creating a brand of sports entertainment that reached a wider – and global – mainstream audience than the sport had ever previously experienced.
At the upper echelon of the WWF during this period, there was always Hulk Hogan, the golden blonde who wore comic book red and yellow, his oiled skin gleaning as he strode into the ring, ripping his shirt off to the accompaniment of Rick Derringer’s ‘I Am a Real American’. But not far below Hogan was ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage, who burst onto the national wrestling scene in 1985 with a charisma that helped him became an instant sensation. Dressing himself in gaudy flouro outfits, glitzy capes and new wave sunglasses, Savage’s over-the-top flamboyance, along with his neanderthal-like behaviour and famous catch-cry of “Ooooooh yeahhhhh!” was more than matched by his prowess and often-exhilarating moves in the ring. His professionalism, willingness to take a loss in the name of theatre, and dedication to rehearsing and memorising every planned move in a match, earned him the respect of many of his peers. Having his real-life wife, Elizabeth Ann Hulette, playing his manager and love interest, became a huge part of the WWF soap opera from that period, as the Macho Man and Miss Elizabeth became akin to royalty amongst passionate wrestling fans and mid-western beer drinkers.
Put together by the WWE (formerly the WWF) and released on their own DVD label, Macho Man: The Randy Savage Story documents both the life and legend that is Randy Savage, opening on a poignant note with his younger brother Lanny visiting the scene of his death, before winding the clock back on his life. Born Randy Mario Poffo in Ohio on November 15, 1952, Savage was the son of well-known wrestler Angelo Poffo, who achieved fame as the subject of a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! illustration after he set a world record for consecutive sit-ups in 1945 (6,033 in four hours and ten minutes). Growing up in Downers Grove, Illinois, Savage initially had his eye on a career in major league baseball, but after slugging it out in the minor leagues for several years without getting the big break he hoped for, he ditched ball (and his girlfriend) to follow his father’s footsteps into the wrestling ring (Savage claims he changed his surname from Poffo because he didn’t want to make it as a wrestler on his father’s name).
Initially appearing in a mask and calling himself The Spider (as a way to avoid a clause in his still-active baseball contract which forbade participation in other sports), Savage quickly worked his way through the regional wrestling leagues, before catching the eye of Vince McMahon in 1985. Over the next few years, the Macho Man would rise to the top of the WWF, striding into the ring to the strains of ‘Pomp and Circumstance’, and treating audiences to a string of classic match-ups that would see him claim both the Intercontinental and WWF Championship belts. Savage’s popularity and public profile became even bigger as the spokesperson and national face of Slim Jims, the popular jerky and dried sausage snacks, and the televised SummerSlam 1991 event was climaxed by an on-air wedding between Savage and Miss Elizabeth.
It was a golden time for the sport in general and the Macho Man in particular, and while he never suffered a mighty fall, the final years of his wrestling career saw him relegated mostly to ringside commentary, though he also briefly resumed his fighting career by defecting to World Championship Wrestling (WCW). He also had to suffer through both the public divorce from Elizabeth, and her subsequent death, brought on by a toxic mix of pills and booze, in 2003 (an event which cast a real-life dark cloud over a comic book drama). Though Savage retired from the ring in 2005, he continued to be a popular figure and ambassador for the sport, devoting a lot of his time and resources to charity organisations, particularly those which helped children. He had only recently re-met and married his long-lost high school sweetheart when he was struck down by a sudden heart attack while driving in Florida in 2011, losing control of his jeep and crashing into a tree. The Macho Man was only 58.
Featuring plenty of great archival footage, rare photos and interviews with Hulk Hogan, Lex Luger, Jimmy Hart, Tito Santana, his brother Lanny, his mother and many more, Macho Man works as an affectionate portrait of this much-loved personality, though it unfortunately skips completely over some aspects of his life and career. Savage’s appearance in motion pictures like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) and on episodic television shows such as Baywatch, Walker, Texas Ranger and Mad About You are not even mentioned, and the long-running feud which developed between Savage and Vince McMahon is never fully explored (McMahon being a noticeable absentee from the interviewees). The documentary doesn’t completely glorify Savage – we learn of how controlling and insecure he was of Elizabeth, forever fearful that she may be having an affair, and making her part of his act primarily as a way to continually keep her within his sights, a stifling condition which would eventually help drive his wife away. The subject of steroids is never broached (not that I recall ever hearing any rumours about Savage, but when a wrestler or bodybuilder dies at a relatively young age, steroid abuse often seems to be somewhere in the picture. It seemed a bit strange for the documentary not to even bring the topic up, either to discuss it or deny it).
A real treat for fans and for anyone intrigued by the over-the-top zeitgeist of the American 80’s, even if it doesn’t dig as deep as it might have.
Unfortunately there are no extras in the way of deleted scenes, extended interviews or audio commentaries, but Shock’s DVD release of Macho Man does certainly pack on the action, with two bonus discs containing 15 full-length classic Randy Savage matches. Clocking in at over five hours’ worth, these matches are culled from the glory years of 1986-1997, and feature the Macho Man going up against some of his biggest contemporaries, including Ricky ‘the Dragon’ Steamboat, Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper and more.
Macho Man: The Randy Savage Story is also available as a deluxe box-set edition, which also includes the three-disc Macho Madness: The Ultimate Randy Savage Collection, along with a t-shirt, bandana and sunglasses.