I became a pro-wrestling fan thanks to Cyndi Lauper's "The Goonies R Good Enough" music video, which featured various World Wrestling Federation superstars making hilarious cameo appearances. Drawn in by the quirkiness of it all, I quickly became a fan of the WWF (now WWE) men in tights. I couldn't wait to see what Bobby "The Brain" Heenan or "Rowdy" Roddy Piper would say or what opponent (and turnbuckle) George "The Animal" Steele would devour next. Right from the get-go, however, two stars resonated most with me. Obviously, no child of the 1980s could live his life without idolizing Hulk Hogan. I was no different -- a true Hulkamaniac who even tried making a few protein shakes. But "the Hulkster" wasn't my only idol. Randy "Macho Man" Savage sucked me in with his wrestling style, unpredictable behavior, and even more impressive mic skills (the lovely Miss Elizabeth didn't hurt either. Before long, I had his T-shirt, a 7-Eleven "Big Gulp" with his caricature on it, and even tried snapping into a Slim Jim no matter how gross they tasted.
I remember in the late 1980s, my father would take me to WWF matches no matter how near or far they were based and a constant main event was Savage versus long-time rival Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat. (My dad was a good sport -- he wasn't a fan but knew how much I was of all things WWF.) Both Savage and Steamboat were notoriously known throughout the industry (watch "WrestleMania 3" now) as the best in the business and they clearly didn't disappoint. I loved every minute of it, and appreciated the father/son male bonding over bodyslams and elbow drops.
By the early 1990s, I stopped watching wrestling because I felt it was time to grow up. By 1997, my senior year of college, however, I was sucked back in by... yes, Savage and Hogan. At the nudging of my best friend Steve I was talked into watching World Championship Wrestling (WCW) because all the 1980s icons were back on TV -- reinventing the genre and kicking WWF's ass. By 2001, WCW was over but Savage was not. He filmed a cameo as Bonesaw McGraw in Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man," and I was fortunate to land an interview for a Marvel publication I freelanced for. I found out quite fittingly. While at Opening Day with my father watching the New York Mets, I decided to check my voice mail.
"Jon Chattman... this is Randy 'Macho Man' Savage."
The wrestling icon's attorney let him know I wanted to interview him, and called me to set it up. When I called him back later that day, all the memories from my dad and I going to matches came back to me. Once I interviewed him, I was beside myself. We hit it off instantly and for over an hour he talked the squared circle, Spidey, and his early days of minor league baseball. He also told me how he got the Macho Man moniker. In the weeks leading up to the article's pub date, I spoke with Savage roughly once a week. Once it was printed, those phone calls continued. He'd often call asking for copies of the magazine. (Meanwhile, while all this was happening, I changed my voice mail at work to Macho's voice saying "Jon Chattman.")
Macho and I eventually met in Orlando on a weekend we both were coincidentally in town.
On the phone, Savage was his in-ring persona. He talked to me just like he talked to "Mean Gene" Okerlund, and when we met face to face, it was just the same. We met in a hotel lobby and I saw him coming to me from a mile away. He pointed from far away (as he had so many opponents), gave me the firmest handshake of my life, and we ate lunch. He ordered a "New York Reuben" in my honor of "my New York friend" (me), and we talked everything from his near-purchase of WCW to his on-and-off again friendship with the Hulkster. I also told him about the days of me going to the Meadowlands or New York-area arenas with my father watching him perform at arguably the peak of his career. Always humble, surprisingly down-to-earth Savage smiled at me, raised his beer, and said "I'll drink to that." After he picked up the lunch bill, we shook hands again and he thanked me again for the article. He even met some of my friends and took photos with them. Weeks later, he sent signed photos calling me "the man" and thanking me again.
We talked on the phone a few times after that, but ultimately lost touch. For years, I'd tried to get in touch with him to no avail. Two years after interviewing Savage, I ended up interviewing Hogan. I remember how proud I was of myself that I got to interview the wrestling "Mega Powers" -- my two childhood role models not named "dad."
Savage's death today hit me hard, and that's saying a lot considering how many wrestlers from that glorious era have died tragically. Not only was Savage a part of my childhood and personified the strong relationship I have with my father, but he lived up to the hype when I met him.
There will never be another Savage. Without him, there would be no "Stone Cold" Steve Austin or "heels" you could root for. As a wrestler, I idolized him. As a man, I respected him.
Long live the "Macho King."