Professional wrestling is a weird, wonderful thing. You have freakishly athletic performers taking part in elaborate matches in front of a live crowd, with wins and losses predetermined and, in some instances, each and every move choreographed ahead of time. Mix in the soap opera storylines, theatrical entrances, loud music, and pyrotechnics and you have yourself a thick, juicy slice of pure entertainment. I love it.
“But it’s fake!,” you say. “It’s like ballet or something!” And, sure, they may not be really trying to hurt each other, but I respect wrestlers far too much to take away anything from what they do. Some of the most emotional performances I’ve ever witnessed were carried out by wrestlers, and some of my favorite memories involve watching wrestling live with friends or with my young daughter.
I bring all of this up because May 20 was the five-year anniversary of the death of “Macho Man” Randy Savage, my personal favorite wrestler of all time.
Savage could do it all, from deliver fiery interviews to perform phenomenal feats of strength and athleticism. You might know him for the Slim Jim commercials or even his cameo in 2002’s Spider-Man, but he was also one of the smartest, most charismatic wrestlers to ever lace up a pair of boots, and his death at the age of 58 was a tragedy for fans all over the world.
Savage also played a role in one of my strongest wrestling memories. I was a few months shy of my eighth birthday and was in the midst of my initial obsession with wrestling. I cheered the good guys, jeered the bad guys, and still believed thought that everything was 100 percent real.
Savage, Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, the British Bulldog, and the Rockers were all heroes to me, while Roberts, “Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase, the Undertaker, and the other cowardly heels were like nasty comic book villains who had come to life.
Anyway, in the weeks leading up to 1991’s Survivor Series, Savage and Roberts were in the middle of a nasty feud. Savage had recently lost a retirement match, but he also just married the love of his life, Elizabeth, and was still around as an on-air personality. (In real life, Savage wasn’t truly retired and he and Elizabeth had actually married years ago, but we’re talking storylines here.) Roberts, on the other hand, had just revealed he was buddies with the evil Undertaker, and his character was getting more dastardly by the day.
Their feud really got going at Savage and Elizabeth’s “wedding reception,” when the happy bride opened a box to discover it was being occupied by one of Savage’s pets …
Not long after that, it happened: the snake bite seen ‘round the world. Roberts got Savage in the ring, tied him up in the ropes, and got out a king cobra. Watching in my basement at home, little 7-year-old me kept waiting for the cavalry to arrive.
Surely Hogan or someone else would show up at any moment to save Savage! And “Rowdy” Roddy Piper actually did try to stop it, but he wasn’t successful. Roberts held up the snake, it took a good look at Savage’s arm, and it bit down hard.
I don’t remember if I began to cry immediately or if it built up over the next few minutes, but I can still see myself at home, balling my eyes out, and screaming at the TV.
I found my Roberts action figure and tossed him against the wall. I found a nearby book that had his name in it and scratched it out. One of my heroes had been brutally attacked, and nobody had been able to stop it. It was pure, complete chaos, and it broke my young, gullible heart into a million little pieces.
Looking back now, perhaps the craziest thing about the angle is that the snake did actually bite Savage. And backstage, before they carried out the act, Savage even demanded that the snake bite Roberts first just to prove there was truly no venom to worry about.
So, like I said, professional wrestling is a weird, wonderful thing. I’ve gone through long periods in my life where I didn’t pay any attention to it and others where I’ve been completely obsessed. But either way, I’ll always respect those athletes for doing what they do. And I’ll always be thankful for the memories, even if they involved me crying my eyes out.
Watch video below …