It’s about time I talked about some actual matches, not just any matches though. Anybody can do a written review or recap of the current product and a lot of people already are, in fact a lot of the matches I want to talk about have been reviewed and recapped at some point. The point of these articles, which I’ll be doing periodically between other articles that I’ll put out, is that when I want to tackle a match, it’s to try and understand why we loved it, or why we hated it if it sucked the big one (I’ll cover bad matches too) I don’t want to go into every hold or slam because it’s been done and that’s not the point of these articles, the point is to explain where I’m coming from as a fan and to hopefully convert a few non fans out there too.
Today I tackle a classic and a tough one to talk about, because everybody else already has, it’s the match that defined two men and their careers to this very day and it’s the match that stole the show of one of the greatest Wrestlemanias.
Randy Savage Vs. Ricky Steamboat
When I typed those words a few days ago, I immediately realized the task that I had voluntarily dropped myself into, I could have moved on to another topic, another match, sure…but I wanted to start with this match, this is the match that has many wrestling critics and fans alike either calling it the greatest match in wrestling history or a great match that has been overrated through the years. Savage vs. Steamboat is a hard one to talk about because, well almost everybody has put their own two cents on the matter anyway, we should ash our hands of it right? Say the match was good, it deserves to be remembered and call it a day? Well no, there’s a reason this match needs to be talked about, there’s a reason it needs to be remembered so fondly. In my opinion it set the bar for every wrestler with a chip on their shoulder, every guy that had to look out at a jam packed stadium, knowing that the company believed that every hard earned dollar they spent was because of whatever golden boy may have been in place at the time.
Let me explain briefly what I’m trying to get at here, today the idea of a match “stealing the show” is common place, it’s usually a match somewhere in the midcard region, ranging from the lower to upper levels that manages to outshine and outperform the rest of the matches on the card, it’s the sleeper, the underdog…the unexpected surprise. In the modern day fan’s mind, we thrive for the show stealer, we hope there’s a match that’s going to blow our expectations out of the water and we hope we’ll be there to see it…but where did the show stealer really start?
Well, that’s honestly a good question, there’s really no way to pinpoint the first match people saw that was the gem of the night, as long as there has been wrestling, there’s been some element of surprise in it all, but for me…the idea, the popularity and the adoration of a show stealer, the true definition of a show stealer wasn’t in our minds until Wrestlemania 3.
Understand the time period here and the wrestling fan at the time, the mainstream wrestling fan at that. Probably never seen a match from Japan or Mexico in their life, are used to either the slow, traditional style of the NWA or the new Entertaining flashy presentation of the WWF that’s giving us larger than life athletes with larger than life personalities Let’s not pretend here OK? WWE has ALWAYS been about the entertainment factor from the day Vince Junior walked into the office. It’s worked for over thirty years so can’t really criticize it that much I guess, sure athleticism was there, but it wasn’t the focus…not by a long shot. There’s a reason Hulk Hogan is the top guy and it sure wasn’t his wrestling ability.
Vince had bet everything on Wrestlemania being a success and it was, albeit a bit of a shaky start, while the first Wrestlemania hasn’t aged well, you can see why it was such a success, nothing like that had ever been seen before on such a large scale. Wrestlemania 2? Still a success but poorly booked and one of the orse Wrestlemanias out there.
Then comes Wrestlemania 3, the one that cemented the future of wrestling dominance, NWA had a chance, a slim chance but a chance to take back the crown…and it was thrown out of the window after Wrestlemania 3. There’s no mistaking why those people bought their ticket, it was Hogan Vs. Andre no questions asked, Andre The Giant had a kayfabe fifteen year undefeated streak, Hogan was champion for three years and good friends with Andre before Andre joined up with Bobby Heenan, making him the biggest heel in the company at the time. This was perfectly booked perfectly timed and perfectly scheduled, everybody was paying to see it and everybody in the locker room knew it.
Randy Savage is the Intercontinental Champion, a belt that at the time was extremely prestigious, one that would go on to be held on the same level as the world title, it was considered the “Wrestler’s title” if you held the Intercontinental Championship, you weren’t the top draw…but it was the company acknowledging you were the most athletic wrestle,r or that’s at least the mindset some of the guys had in the back anyway. Randy at this time is a heel and WHAT A HEEL! He had won the title from George “The Animal Steele” at the previous Wrestlemania and due to a surprisingly “beauty and the beast” stroyline where George had an infatuation with Miss Elizabeth, the storyline ran a lot longer than expected and because of that, he appeared in the match to aid Ricky Steamboat in Wrestlemania 3, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The Build Up
I believe the build up was three months (going by the words from Ricky Steamboat on the latest Macho Man DVD, go pick that up by the way.) though it could have been longer, the final three months was where it all started to really heat up though.
During a free TV match between the two, Randy unceremoniously dumps Ricky outside of the ring, where Ricky leans against the barricade to catch his breath, while he is doing this, Randy climbs up to the top turnbuckle, clutches his fists together and dives them straight into Ricky’s back, causing Ricky to grab at his throat and shoot back. Too add to the injury (ah ring psychology, how I miss you…) Randy goes out, grabs the time keepers bell, climbs BACK to the top turnbuckle and drives it straight into the Dragon’s throat. We’re shown Ricky getting taken out on a stretcher and their road to Wrestlemania begins with a bang!
What follows is just pure genius booking, the next few weeks we are treated to vignettes of Steamboat’s recovery, including speech therapy sessions, all the while swearing that he’ll get his revenge on Randy Savage for what he did to him as Randy gloats that he ended Ricky’s career.
The two are finally set to collide and they give some of the best promos in the build to this event and Macho Man goes on to give, what I think is his absolute BEST promo after the match, Ricky is still selling the throat even though he can speak again, he’s got a low, gutteral growl going on that just oozes intensity, meanwhile Randy provides us with his usual off the wall intensity that made him the character we know and love.
Randy was a perfectionist, not just in the ring but on the microphone, here they were, Pontiac Silverdome, Wrestlemania 3, a supposed 90,000 plus fans packed in to the stadium and everybody is saying it’s for one reason and one reason only. Now while that may be true, they didn’t give in to that notion, they didn’t accept it, shrug their shoulders and just do the match. No, from the moment this match was announced these two worked together in preparing this match and doing everything in their power to steal the show, that included the microphone work.
Randy was a perfectionist, an obsessive one, on the mic, in the ring, it didn’t matter, he wanted to be the best and he wanted his matches to reflect that According to steamboat, Randy had over a hundred pages of notes, all bullet pointed of every detail that would happen in the match. It got to a point here both of them would be able to flip to a random page, say the spot that happened and then ask the other person to describe the rest of the match and both of them would be able to describe it off of the top of their heads. Ricky wasn’t a fan of scripted matches, as he believes the best matches are ones that come naturally in the ring, an idea that is shared between him and other veterans like Flair, however he had no problem with it as far as I can tell, he knew this was how Randy wanted to do and decided that if this was how they were going to put on a great match, he was going to do it and make sure he did it well.
As soon as everybody heard the numbers, both men wanted to take advantage of the situation and rightfully so, sure the numbers were there for Hogan’s match and rightfully so, the two were huge names, it was going to be a huge match…but to not have the idea planted in your head that you were going to go out there and steal it would have been a wasted opportunity.
I could sit here and tell you every move, every hold, everything from the first Irish whip to the final finishing move and it wouldn’t do the match justice, it wouldn’t do the atmosphere of that arena justice, the magic that match carries still lingers very much on my screen when I go back to see it and it astounds me that it was so heavily scripted. It comes off with such a natural flow to it all that for the longest time before I heard the story about how it was scripted I thought these two were just going off the cuff and making magic out of it. Does knowing it’s a scripted match ruin it? It might for some but for me it doesn’t, I could go and watch that match right now and just sit in stunned silence up until the final bell, it really is flawless.
Now does it deserve the moniker of greatest match of all time? That’s a difficult point to put forward, it was certainly the greatest match of that time, that’s for sure. You have to remember this audience, as large as it is, the majority of these people only know NWA or WWF and that’s it, that’s what they’r eused to, it’s what they grew up with. This style of match hadn’t been seen before, it was fast paced, it was intense, it did things people didn’t see at the time in such a large scale and it did it all extremely well. In today’s world, a match like that, while not common, may not be hard to come by…but I challenge you to find a match that has the same feel to it. It’s not just the large crowd, it’s not just the athletes in the ring. It’s this perfect ix of everything that went on in the story, the build, the promos, the in ring work, the atmosphere of the arena and the crowd…it all melded together to make this match and that’s why people clung to it It was something they hadn’t seen, it had excellent ring psychology, excellent storytelling. It just…it was unseen at the time and you can’t replicate that.
Honestly I still crack a smile at the start of the match, now if you didn’t know the story it’s an extremely trivial thing, but Ricky Steamboat has had his throat crushed here folks, you know this now if you didn’t before. In the story this man has had to have weeks of therapy, he’s had to deal with the man that stopped him from being able to speak properly gloating how his career was over His throat was crushed…and what is the first thing he does in the match? He grabs Randy Savage by the throat and lifts him up in the air…
It’s so simple and it happens in such a subtle fashion that you don’t realize it for a moment, that was Ricky giving Randy a taste of his own medicine.
Another moment of brilliant ring psychology comes at the end. This is where Savage begins to get fed up with Steamboat, the ref is down and out, the pin should have been his. He wants to make sure Steamboat is down and out for good, so he gives us a visit back to the past as he goes to get the bell. He begins to climb up to the top and then George Steel (who as I mentioned earlier, had his own beef with Savage) saves Ricky before the deadly blow can be dealt. Ricky surprises Randy with a sudden pin fall, 1-2-3…crowd goes wild!
Now this is the eighties, an ending like that is very common where the heel actually has right to complain that things didn’t go his way but honestly the only way that ending could have been better is if Steamboat hit Savage with a diving crossbody for the pin. What solidified Randy Savage for me when I was looking in to him and his matches was the promo after Wrestlemania 3. The man has just lost a match, any other heel might come across whining and complaining but Savage? There’s a little part of you that knows he’s right about what went down and god that makes you hate him even more as a bad guy.
Macho Man was, what he said he was…The Cream of The Crop!
So Why Do We Love It?
In today’s world, this really could have been thrown to the cynics and some cynical minded people have turned against it, others are just modern day fans who don’t understand what is so special about the match and that’s an understandable viewpoint honestly. So many years of people calling this the best match ever can really build up expectations for people that have never seen it before and that can end up disappointing people…especially if they have no idea what wrestling was like back then. I can’t see somebody trying to show this match to a modern day fan and have them truly understand why it is this match is so loved to this day. Yes it’s good, it’s better than good, it’s brilliant! Brilliantly performed, booked and prepared for every step of the way but for me? Why it is I love this match beyond all of that.
For me this is what set the bar, this is what every wrestler should look at when they go into a Pay-Per-View, this is what mid card talent should be watching to inspire them come Wrestlemania when Roman Reigns is facing Brock Lesnar in the main event. This is what every young star in NXT should be shown as they go through developmental Every star that feels like they have a place on that show needs to watch these to wrestle again and again until they get the message drilled into their head.
These two men were met with a situation where it was clear who would get all the praise and all the accolades, they didn’t complain, they didn’t moan, they went out, they put on an amazing match that stole the show…and the entire wrestling world has remembered that match more than any other match that ever stole the show because of it. It’s the one that made it popular, it’s the one that put it in our minds, it gave us a physical definition right on our screens of exactly what this thing called a show stealer was…it made wrestling history and I don’t think we’ll ever let it go away, because it’s too special. It’s special to those that got to see it either in the flesh or on Pay-Per-View, it’s special to those that got to see it on old VHS tapes that were probably handed down to them by family members, sharing memories together. It’s one of those matches that just showed you why you shouldn’t be ashamed to be a wrestling fan, they only come by every now and then. Sure if you had the time you could name hundreds of matches that stole the show and you could probably name the shows they were on too…but how many of them can you say had the affect on you or anybody else the way this match did? It’s the original show stealer…nobody could do it better. If you haven’t seen the watch, go watch it with an open mind…and if you have seen it, go watch it again, because it really is that good.