Like I said when commemorating him a couple weeks ago, Randy Savage was the complete package not just as a professional wrestler, but as an entertainer flat out. Everything from his look to his voice to his cadence and delivery to the way he moved was refined painstakingly to maximize his innate charisma and create one of the most memorable characters in pop culture.
But as I also said, when it came back to pure athleticism and being able to tell a physical story in the confines of the wrestling ring, well, the Macho Man could do that better than most too.
Here are my personal favorite matches featuring Randy Savage in all his Macho glory.
5. Randy Savage vs Ric Flair (WCW Great American Bash 1995)
Two of wrestling’s greatest performers had an awesome, intense and personal rivalry that spanned two companies and nearly a decade; their clashes both in the ring and on the mic are all worth looking up. But while they had a classic encounter at WrestleMania VIII for the World title and later battled over the WCW World title as well, I most enjoyed this hidden gem where nothing was on the line but pride. With Flair having attacked his elderly father a month prior, Savage comes out a house of fire and basically spends 15 minutes with Flair on the run, desperately searching for the proverbial fire extinguisher. Flair and Savage’s characters meshed very well—the scheming douchebag versus the hero with a hair trigger—and their chemistry made for a great one here.
4. Falls Count Anywhere: Randy Savage vs Crush (WWF WrestleMania X)
In the final high profile match of his World Wrestling Federation career and his swansong on the WrestleMania stage, Randy Savage turns it on and proves that he was anything but past his prime. “Macho Man” not only keeps up with the younger, stronger Crush, he laps the big man, stinging him like a furious gnat and selling the weight of their months-long conflict that drew him out from behind the announce table and into combat with his former friend and protégé. Some might rag on the finish—Savage hogties Crush backstage and escapes back to the ring to claim victory—but I think it just showed another side of Savage, the cerebral veteran who knew how to eke out a win over the unbeatable monster. The best in Savage always seems to come out when he has something to prove, and he certainly had to silence the naysayers with this one.
3. For the WCW World title: Sting vs Randy Savage (WCW Spring Stampede 1998)
The last truly great match of Randy Savage’s career before a knee injury forced him to slow down in his final days as an active competitor. Sting had been more or less sleepwalking since taking a year off and morphing into his Crow gimmick, but here the “Macho Man” slapped him in the face and woke him up in time to start having fun again. Savage shows off his versatility once more here, attacking with fury from the onset and showing he can brawl just as well as he can wrestle when the need arises. The fire in Savage’s eyes is one of a man written off with everything to prove; he convinces you that he not only needs to win here, but that he can overcome the boogeyman who nearly destroyed the entire New World Order, that he really is “the most dangerous man in wrestling.” After 10 minutes of a fight that spills all over the arena, Kevin Nash ultimately gives “Macho Man” the win and World title, but Savage is absolutely the one who earned it.
2. For the WWF Intercontinental title: Randy Savage vs Ricky Steamboat (WWF WrestleMania III)
From a technical standpoint, this always needs to be in the discussion as far as the great wrestling matches of all time. Nearly 15 minutes of non-stop action where you never for a second have a moment to breath for an extended rest hold or dry double knockout spot; it’s pure energy unleashed in a dual performance as brilliantly choreographed as any ballet. Legend has it they spent months of house shows wrestling one another and taking the best pieces of each encounter to assemble into this masterwork; legend also has it that the meticulous Savage nearly drove Steamboat nuts with his obsessive attention to detail and pre-planning, but hopefully for “The Dragon” the ends ultimately justified the means as it did those of us watching. Both men got every opportunity to show off their athleticism and signature spots, being it Steamboat “skinning the cat” or Savage launching himself from the top turnbuckle. There was just enough story flourishes injected via George Steele and Ms. Elizabeth, but mostly the wrestling was the story, and by the time Steamboat got his fluke rollup for the win, you had been dazzled by so many nearfalls to the point of near exhaustion. These days it’s tough for two wrestlers to capture our imaginations for the length this match did without some kind of gimmick, be it tables, ladders, chairs or simply no disqualification, but Savage and Steamboat did it the old-fashioned way.
1. Career vs Career: Randy Savage vs The Ultimate Warrior (WWF WrestleMania VII)
In all the time prior and the twenty years since, I still don’t think a truly emotional and touching story has ever been told in the medium of professional wrestling that matches up to this one. On the day Randy Savage passed, I saw folks who hadn’t watched in years noting they still remembered this one. I remember Scott Keith writing long ago in regards to this match “And they say it can’t be Shakespeare” or something along those line, and he nailed it. The then “Macho King” came into this having been built as the quintessential villain for two years, having turned his back on best friend Hulk Hogan and true love Ms. Elizabeth and become an over-the-top bad guy complete with outlandish “royal” demands and the shrill Sensational Sherri as his new consort. The Savage-Ultimate Warrior feud consisted of Warrior denying Savage a title shot when he was World champion, “Macho Man” screwing his rival out of the championship, and the two of them having nothing left to gamble but their careers. Two things stood out right from the start to set the tone: Elizabeth being shown in the crowd and Warrior foregoing his usual sprint to the ring, instead walking slowly and underscoring the stakes. Savage bounced around like a pinball for Warrior, and in return, the Ultimate one delivered what I consider to be his best match; both guys perfectly walked the line between the overblown goofy fun that lies at the heart of professional wrestling and the serious business they needed to demonstrate in character. Both men delivered everything they had—including an unprecedented three flying elbow drops from Savage and Warrior hitting all his patented moves—but neither could keep the other down. When Warrior finally got the duke, you believed that Savage had absolutely pushed his body to the limit and beyond. But of course the true beauty beyond what occurred from bell to bell is Sherri turning on her charge, Elizabeth coming to his rescue, Savage realizing what has transpired and doing a complete 180 to go out a hero, reunited with the woman who meant more to him than his very career. The facial expressions on Randy’s face as he pieces together what happened showcase his talent every bit as much as the match and the moment where after five years he finally holds the ropes open for her as opposed to vice versa was just the cherry on top; not just a great match, not just a great wrestling saga, but one of my favorite stories from any medium.