Macho Man Tribute

Hey Scott,
I just wrote this piece for my blog (and yes, it really did take me a year to figure out what to say and how to say it), and I thought I’d pass it your way, too:
World Without A Macho Man
By Monte Williams

I didn’t discover comic books until my twenties, and so it fell to professional wrestlers to provide me with fodder for my adolescent power fantasies. I was an asthmatic and eccentric child, and the baffled indifference with which I regarded competitive sports resulted in an awkward situation from which I never really recovered. Put simply, by age ten, all my friends possessed what struck me as an intimidating grasp of the impenetrably complex rules of football and basketball. I timidly attempted to join in on a hasty game of the latter during a hot afternoon recess in fifth grade, and the coach and my buddy Joseph both playfully mocked me for “traveling”, whatever that means. Thus ended my flirtation with athleticism. (The same panicky feeling of inadequacy arises even now whenever I am confronted with that other traditional masculine activity: automotive repair. Just setting foot inside a Les Schwab shop leaves me feeling uneasy.)
Small wonder that I found such solace and inspiration in the clumsy cartoon narratives of what was known at the time as the World Wrestling Federation. The wrestler who carried most of the burden of my wishful thinking in the late ’80s was the Ultimate Warrior. His theme song was a pounding, thrash-metal assault which served as a brilliant compliment to the Warrior’s aggressive personality, and to the almost unsettling frenetic energy with which he would race to the ring and overwhelm his hapless opponents; there has never been a piece of entrance music more perfectly suited to a wrestler, and I would celebrate my every trivial conquest by loudly performing a Beavis-and-Butthead-style a cappella rendition of the Warrior’s theme.
But the Warrior wasn’t my first hero, nor was he the WWF’s most gifted or charismatic performer. The stories he told in the ring were frequently the most exciting, but they were never the most inspiring or—yeah, I’ll say it—the most resonant. Because the Warrior, for all his power and confidence, wasn’t the best. The best was the first. My first.
My first hero. “Macho Man” Randy Savage.
I was fortunate to avoid the wrath of bullies. Still, I had something of a victim’s manic love of underdogs, particularly defiant underdogs. And it was his reckless defiance that made me a fan of the Macho Man, and of the WWF in general. I’d tried once or twice before to watch wrestling shows, but I’d always found them unpleasant and tiresome. Then something persuaded me to watch for a moment one Saturday morning in 1988. I say “something”, but it’s no mystery—Randy Savage persuaded me.
The jaded, tired, cynical thirty-five-year-old who is writing this essay knows that what he saw that day was just a wrestling “angle” designed to setup the main event of the first SummerSlam pay-per-view, but at age eleven, I saw two villains standing in a wrestling ring—it was the Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase and his bodyguard Virgil, not that I knew their names that day—and I saw a tan, muscular, bearded freak on a stage nearby, and he was wearing leather pants and tassels and giant sunglasses, and he was challenging both the bad guys to a fight at the same time, and it was the most courageous, daring taunt I’d ever witnessed (“in my whole life,” my eleven-year-old self would no doubt hasten to add). Further, the raucous cheers of vigilante endorsement from the crowd clearly implied that this lunatic in purple leather really could fight two guys at once—and win!
I believe Savage’s exact words were, “I’ll take on you and you ugly bodyguard right now.” Hardly the wittiest challenge, admittedly. But when I consider the dizzying number of hours I have spent watching and reading about professional wrestling since 1988, I feel certain that those ten words had a greater impact on me than any other phrase in popular culture. Again, what I found so enthralling was the Macho Man’s brash defiance. I lived in mortal fear of ever having to fight another boy, and this guy? He’s ready to fight two dudes at once! Whoa.
Macho Man was the champion at the time, and that surely added to his appeal. Kids are always drawn to the leader or the strongest character from a group of heroes, and a champion is the strongest (or best) and a leader of sorts. But Hulk Hogan had been the champion, too, and would be again (and again… and again… and again, including a brief reign in the impossibly far-off year of 2002), and yet, while I adored and cheered Hogan, my feelings for him were never quite as intense as what I felt when I’d watch the Macho Man wrestle. For one thing, Hogan was such a massive beast that it was difficult to convince oneself that he was ever really in jeopardy; no doubt this partly accounts for why his program with Andre the Giant was so compelling: for once, Hogan was the victim of someone much meaner and much, much bigger. As such, he was relatable for perhaps the first time. As concerns his ability to create an almost desperate level of sympathy in his audience, the Macho Man was always relatable, which is no small feat considering his character was intense and insane, and also prone to wearing outfits that even Prince might dismiss as too loud.
Too often, the ill will with which two wrestlers toss taunts and threats at one another feels contrived and flat and unconvincing. This was seldom the case with the Macho Man, and it was never the case in any of his blood feuds, especially when he was the good guy; when he threw himself at Bad News Brown or Jake “The Snake” Roberts, the Macho Man didn’t just make everyone believe he hated his opponent—he convinced everyone in the audience that he wanted to kill the son of a bitch.
And yet, Christ, could he ever make you hate him. What a vicious motherfucker! Why, he betrayed Hulk Hogan! He grabbed a pair of scissors and cut off Brutus Beefcake’s mullet! He cost the Warrior the championship and treated his valet Elizabeth like s--- and man, I f------ hate the Macho Man!
But never for long. He was just too much fun to cheer.
I was never a WCW fan, and so for me, when Randy Savage left the WWF in 1994 to perform in WCW, his career effectively ended. And really, I’d been slipping away from pro wrestling for a few years by that point, so that I was only half-aware of Savage’s second championship reign and his final feud in the WWF, wherein his opponent was a big mean bastard named Crush. No doubt I missed out on many a magical Macho Man moment, but it’s for the best, ’cause in my mind, the career of Randy “Macho Man” Savage ended in grand fashion… at WrestleMania VII, with his legendary retirement match against the Ultimate Warrior.
The bag guy in the main event that night was Sgt. Slaughter, but make no mistake: Randy Savage was the most hated man in the WWF. He had turned against Hulk Hogan and Elizabeth more than two years prior, and he’d been irredeemable ever since, and so everyone was thrilled to see the Warrior soundly thrash him and end his career. (Spoiler alert: that stipulation was not honored.) In retrospect, perhaps fans even regretted having cheered the bastard during his brief stint as a hero; he’d always been so cruel towards Elizabeth throughout the early years of his career, and what had he ever done to make amends? Had we really been so willing to forgive the abusive creep just because he stopped beating up bad guys and started beating up the Honky Tonk Man? What the hell were we thinking? Screw that guy! And look, the Warrior just beat him and ended his career. Good! Good riddance!
But then something unexpected happened.
Elizabeth hadn’t appeared in the WWF for a year, and yet she was in attendance that night, seemingly just to sell the importance of the match. She’d loved Savage for years, after all, and so it only made sense that she would want to be there to witness the match that would determine his professional fate. Sure, he’d opted to pursue the deranged, violent Sensational Sherri as his manager, but still, there was a history between Elizabeth and Savage…
Elizabeth didn’t stay seated in the audience. When Savage lost the match, Sherri opted to express her disappointment by kicking him repeatedly as he lay beaten on the mat, until finally Elizabeth, who weighed all of ninety-five pounds, raced to the ring and threw Sherri out of it, after which Macho Man rose groggily to his feet and regarded Elizabeth with his default expression: angry suspicion. And after several tense minutes, and with the encouragement of an increasingly if still cautiously optimistic crowd, Savage finally set aside all his paranoia and rage: he and Elizabeth embraced in the middle of the ring, and suddenly the most hated man in wrestling was everyone’s hero again.
I just watched this stirring scene for perhaps the tenth or fifteenth time, and once again I was struck by the number of fans in the audience who openly weep at the unexpectedly sweet and triumphant conclusion to the tumultuous saga of Randy Savage and Elizabeth. It is not often that professional wrestling makes its viewers cry.
Wrestling is frequently a disappointment for me these days, during the rare periods when I bother to watch it regularly. It is also an exercise in frustration, although I recognize, in my more lucid and objective moments, that it’s really no more dumb or pandering today than it was in the ’80s or ’90s. Sadly, just as there are limits to how much pleasure I can derive from wrestling today, there are also limits now to the extent to which I find inspiration in the reconciliation between Savage and Elizabeth, simply because there are limits to the extent to which I am able to forget that in real life the couple divorced just a few months later, and Elizabeth eventually died of a drug overdose.
Still, it all must mean something to me, all these years later. ‘Cause it has taken me a year to try to find the words to express how deflated and defeated and sad this perpetually eleven-year-old man in his mid-thirties felt when first he heard the news that he must learn to navigate his timid, uncertain way through a world without a Macho Man.