Thank You Macho Man

24 May

As a child, I was fascinated by performance.  This usually meant an undeniable attraction to both movies and television, but it wasn’t confined to those two mediums.  My mother regularly took us to plays and musical performances, probably in an attempt to develop that particular part of the brain that pursues culture.  But the one method of performance art that always managed to capture my attention, no matter what else was happening at the time, was professional wrestling.

Many people have presented the (somewhat tired) argument that wrestling is the lowest form of performance.  Critics have been claiming since its inception that men (and women) fighting with a pre-determined winner is at the opposite end of the spectrum from something like Ballet.  And then there’s the contention that it’s not a sport.  This is the most common contention that I hear when people are making fun of those of us who have never grown past this part of our lives.  I’ve never really understood this line of reasoning.  I learned at a very young age that the outcome of each match wasn’t a mystery to the participants.  The fact that these men were more actors than combatants never made me question their athletic ability.  I simply realized that I was watching something similar to the Nutcracker performance my mother had taken me too, but with all the violent entertainment potential of Home Alone.

Subsequently, I became deeper and deeper invested into these characters (because that is really what they were) and their feuds, romances, and dreams.  And just like my favorite movies and television dramas (like Duck Tales), I had my favorite characters, the ones who inspired me, always made me proud to be a young American man.  The perfect example of this was “The Macho Man” Randy Savage.

So, when I heard that he had died on Friday, May 20th, I wasn’t quite sure how to feel.  As I approach the end of my twenties, I suppose it’s inevitable that in the next few years I will begin to see more of childhood heroes die, but he was one of the first.  And I’m really not sure how I feel.  It’s strange to think back on moments when you were truly inspired and realize that the person who brought up those emotions isn’t here anymore.

In 1988, Wrestlemania IV took place in Atlantic City.  This was a pretty big deal because the WWF didn’t have a national champion at this time.  The position was vacant, and it had been decided that the winner of a 14-man single elimination tournament would be the new National Champion.  This meant that if you wanted to win, you would be fighting multiple times.

Now, this was right in the middle of the feud between former friends, and now deadly enemies, Hulk Hogan and André the Giant.  Obviously, everyone expected one of these two men to come out on top, but there were definitely some other possible winners.  Randy Savage, Ted DiBiase, Jake Roberts, and Bam Bam Bigelow were all competing.  But things became really interesting when Hulk and André faced each other in the quarterfinals.  Several minutes into what had become a VERY exciting match André and Ted DiBiase managed to trick Hogan, so that both men used chairs, and were subsequently disqualified.  This was INSANE.  These were the two biggest men in the WWF at this time.  The biggest hero and the biggest villain.  One of them had to be champion!  But not tonight!

At the end of the evening, the championship match was “The Macho Man” Randy Savage and “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase.  Savage had only just finished his previous match, while DiBiase had a very large break between fights due to the disqualification of both Hogan and André the Giant.  So, as the match started, everyone was on the edge of their seats.  DiBiase clearly had the upper hand due to his extra energy, and he was embracing the villain role perfectly.  Savage’s manager/girlfriend Miss Elizabeth was doing her best to encourage him from the side of the ring, but it didn’t seem to be enough.  Then, just when it seemed that Savage might come back, André came down and stood in DiBiase’s corner.  As the crowd began to get more and more behind Savage, André began to trip him every time the referee was distracted.  After a couple of minutes of this, Miss Elizabeth brought Hogan out to balance the situation.

The fight continued, and just when it seemed like there was no way Savage could come out on top, Hogan hit DiBiase with a chair while the referee was distracted and Savage climbed to the top rope, jumped, and finished him off.  The ref turned around and did the count, and there was a new National Champion!  “Pomp and Circumstance” began playing and Hulk Hogan and Miss Elizabeth helped Randy Savage stand up and claim his title.

To my very young eyes, this was simply the greatest moment in sports history.

Looking back on it, its still one of the most inspiring moments in entertainment that I have witnessed.  This is the only wrestling match that I have ever made my wife sit down and watch.  And I still feel that child-like sense of excitement and joy every time I watch it again.   Honestly, there’s not a huge number of entertainment moments that I can consistently go back to and feel the same thing I did the first time I watched it.  The original Star Wars trilogy, E.T., Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, The Adventures of Robin Hood from 1938, a couple of episodes of Boy Meets World, and a handful of other films and television episodes.  But, to me, The Macho Man is right up there.

So, thank you Macho Man.  Thank you for Wrestlemania IV.  Thank you for all the Slim Jim commercials.  Thank you for one of the best scenes in Spiderman.  And thank you for being a hero to this grown up who’s still the small boy sitting in front of the television at heart.

If you’re interested in seeing the highlights of Wrestlemania IV, here you go:

And here’s the Macho Man (and Hulk Hogan) at his best:


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