I'm not entirely sure how it happened, though I suspect my brother had something to do with it. Nevertheless, by the time I was 10, wrestling had invaded my life. It was a curious intrusion into the Larson household, as certainly my Father had no interest in watching pre-fixed men in tights battle it out over what many deemed 'fake' championships. My brother's early interest was passing at best, and he had moved on within a few years after the initial Wrestlemania.
Looking back, it became the only entertainment that was solely mine...
I was consumed almost immediately, amazed at the larger than life characters that unfolded onto my television set every week. I bought magazines. T-shirts. Action Figures. And somehow I even got to attend a few matches at the old Rosemont Horizon with some mutual kids my age. My Father never stepped foot into a wrestling arena, and pay-per-views were the one time in my upbringing when it didn't matter what Dad wanted to watch. For three hours on Sunday, the room cleared out so I could watch my heroes.
My parents thought it was a passing fad, and in retrospect they weren't completely wrong. I stopped vigorously following wrestling once I learned that girls weren't so bad, sometime around freshmen year of high school.
Over the years, wrestling has found its way back into my home for sporadic periods of time, usually dependant on the storyline. I'm definitely what you'd call a wrestling fan, so maybe it wasn't so passing as I thought. Either way, never did I love wrestling like I did in the mid to late 1980's. The period dominated by not just Hulk Hogan, but a charismatic insanity-fueled acrobatic man named Macho Man Randy Savage.
Savage was my first fan favorite, though not my last or my most frenzied (always reserved for the equally exciting Ultimate Warrior).
I was never a Hulk Hogan fan. For whatever reason, I just didn't like the old red and yellow mustachioed muscle man from Venice Beach. There's really no going around it, Savage was just plain cooler than Hogan. In the days before Savage wore a cowboy hat and pitched Slim Jim, he was far more of a rock star than anything else. His sequined capes. His giant sunglasses. His wacky mannerisms. And while Hogan was finishing opponents off with a lame leg drop, Savage was flying through the air with a pointed elbow. There was no contest for me.
Savage was the first wrestler to hold the title after Hogan had held it in his grasp for the entire early 1980's. It was an honor that made Savage an all-time star, one that would never be erased from the Vince McMahon history books. To this day, it's one of my fondest memories of wrestling as it finally gave Randy the recognition he deserved.
I could write several pages about Savage and what he meant to the world of wrestling, but there are far more qualified writers on actual wrestling websites who will no doubt do that in the coming days. They'll talk about the greatest romance in the history of wrestling, Randy and Elizabeth. They'll pontificate on the technical genius Savage achieved with Ricky Steamboat at Wrestlemania 3, a match that many still consider the greatest of all-time.
Much will be said about the absence of Savage in the WWE Hall of Fame. Why Savage doesn't exist there is the JFK conspiracy theory of wrestling. No one knows what happened between Vince and Savage, only that something must have in order for McMahon to freeze Savage out for so many years.
Wrestling fans were hoping whatever the cause was, those tensions were thawing. Just this past year, Savage finally got his own WWE Classic action figure. The fact that the likes of Papa Shango and the Berserker got a figure before Savage was not lost on any wrestling fans. It wasn't just the figure though, Savage was put into WWE's new video game featuring all-time WWE legends. And there was the compilation DVD put out of Randy's most important matches. True, there was no actual documentary (a staple of WWE related DVDs), but we at least finally got our Savage footage.
Certainly, a Hall of Fame ceremony was looking like a very distinct possibility.
That was until today, when Randy Poffo, aka The Macho Man Randy Savage, was found dead of a heart attack and subsequent car accident.
Of all the memories I have of the Macho Man, none will stand out more than when I actually came face to face him at an autograph signing when I was in eighth grade. At the time, an actual appearance by a WWE superstar was unheard of. And certainly not one with the stature of Randy Savage. This was in the days when autograph expos were reserved for sports stars, and usually only local ones at that.
I can't recall why, but there was a large convention center featuring some 200 athletic stars signing autographs. My Father immediately made plans to go, as baseball card shows were the one facet of entertainment he never missed with us. Let's face it, he got just as much a kick out of meeting Walter Payton as I did.
We poured over the names appearing at the show, circling only the ones we wanted most. There was only so much disposable income to go around, and so tough calls had to be made.
That's when I saw the one name that would trump all others- Macho Man Randy Savage.
I was in shock. Never before had an opportunity arisen for me to meet a WWE hero. There was nothing my Father could say, as meeting Savage was pretty much all I talked about for the weeks leading up to it. There were bets placed on whether or not I'd imitate Savage's "Ohhhhh Yeahhhhh!" catchphrase to him directly, and I remember my brother prodding me to do so (ever the puppet master).
When the time came, I remember Savage being even larger in person. Decked out in his electric cowboy gear, I got in line and waited. My Father, unable to contain my enthusiasm, even splurged for the extra personal picture. I approached Savage and meekly handed him a WWE magazine for him to sign. We then took my picture, where my beaming smile has rarely been duplicated to this day.
I thanked Randy and walked a few feet away from his booth, staring at awe of my new autograph. I paused, as something compelled me to seize the moment. I spun around and yelled "oh yeahhhhhh!" loud enough that everyone in shouting distance stopped and stared. Savage, ever the entertainer, stood up. For a brief moment he said nothing, then pointed in his Macho Man way, and yelled out "Ooooooohhh yeah I like it!".
Fantastic timing, which is what fans like me always expected from The Macho Man. The crowd ate it up. I walked away.
I'm pretty sure my Dad even smiled.
Mach Man Randy Savage. Rest in Peace.