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Wrestling’s Greatest Feuds: Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat by Hank McAllen

Starting this month, and continuing with my first column of each month, I will be writing about the greatest feuds in wrestling history. The list will cover all federations and time frames. From Bruno Sammartino vs. Larry Zbyszko through The Freebirds vs. The Von Erichs, as well as Stone Cold vs. The Rock all the way up to Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada. Tag Team feuds will also be featured including the British Bulldogs vs. The Hart Foundation as well as The Rock and Roll Express vs. The Midnight Express. I’ll also profile some classic feuds that maybe some of you forgot or never even knew about.

To start this series off, I begin with my favorite feud of all time; Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage for the WWF Intercontinental Championship. It started with a ring bell, and it culminated with maybe the greatest match in WrestleMania history, if not wrestling history. This feud had all the elements:

  1. Two of the greatest in ring workers of all time.
  2. Emotional interview segments.
  3. Steamboat fighting his way back from a serious injury.
  4. A beauty and the beast theme.
  5. And a crowd of 93,000 plus left in awe.

This amazing feud started with a ring bell. It was on November 22, 1986 during a weekly TV match on Superstars of Wrestling that Savage and Steamboat were the main event on the card. During the match, the Macho Man dumped Steamboat outside of the ring. Savage then continued to beat up the Dragon and then placed a lifeless Steamboat’s body across the metal barricade around the ring. Savage then gave his patented double ax handle across Steamboat’s back to inflict more punishment, which ultimately led to the match ending in a double count out. The Macho Man wasn’t done though. He then lifted up Steamboat again and dragged him back into the ring, then made his way over to the ring announcers table, took the ring bell, went back up to his usual perch of the top rope and leaped off driving the bell into Steamboat’s throat; leaving Steamboat grabbing his throat and gasping for air. Things continued to get worse for the Dragon as attempts to get him on the medical gurney proved ineffective as it took 8 people, including Chief Jay Strongbow to get Steamboat on the gurney and to the back.

Things continued to spiral out of control backstage as Bruno Sammartino, who called the match alongside Jesse Ventura and Vince McMahon, stood outside the locker room area when he was approached by Savage who was proud of what he did to Steamboat. The Living Legend became so enraged he attacked the Macho Man and had to be pulled off by Hillbilly Jim, S.D. Jones and Corporal Kirchner. Whew, is that Saturday morning TV programming or what?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYpMAlHTSdE

There was a hushed silence in the arena, and I’m sure millions across the nation were left stunned in front of their TV sets. Savage has been, is and will always be my favorite wrestler. He had done this dastardly deed to yet one of my other favorites, Ricky Steamboat, so I was somewhat torn. I was thinking that Randy had taken his game to another level in becoming without a doubt Roddy Piper’s replacement as the top heel in the company. But why did he have to do it to Steamboat? Why not Hogan, who I liked, but wasn’t a personal favorite. Still though, I just sat there for a moment collecting my thoughts as to what I had just seen. I remember calling my friend on the phone that late Saturday morning and asking him, “Did you just see what Savage…” my friend cut me off and said, “dude we are in for an amazing feud”. How right he was! It was the beginning of a 4 month roller coaster ride that we would never forget.

The following week we received an update from Steamboat’s wife Bonnie who spoke to Gene Okerlund over the phone regarding her husband’s recovery. Updates continued to be given to the fan base as Gene Okerlund then interviewed Ricky Steamboat’s doctor about his injury. WWF continued to keep Steamboat off the air selling the injury angle and keeping the fans wondering if he was legitimately hurt. More interview spots continued to be shown over time with Savage gloating over what he did to the Dragon. It wasn’t until December 20, almost a month after the initial incident, that Steamboat showed up again on WWF television in the infamous scene where we see footage of Steamboat in his doctor’s office shown learning how to talk again.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCgmlz6ZZH4

A week later, Steamboat gave his first interview since his injury at the hands of Savage when he vowed revenge. While the Dragon was healing the champ was getting ready for his next title defense against the man he had a previous feud with; the turnbuckle eating, George The Animal Steele who still had feelings for the lovely Elizabeth. On January 3, 1987 on Saturday Nights Main Event, Savage put his belt on the line against Steele in front of millions of fans watching around the country. As Savage and Steele fought pillar to post, it was towards the end of the match that the Macho Man began to get the better of Steele. Then, when the referee lost complete control of the match, Savage left a beaten Steele in the middle of the ring to get the same foreign object that plagued Steamboat, the ring bell. As Savage began climbing up the top rope, Steamboat came running to the ring to save his friend from suffering the same fate he had. As soon as Steamboat arrived, Savage made a beeline to the backstage area. It was official, Ricky Steamboat was back!

Several house shows hosted Steamboat vs. Savage matches, as well as tag team matches including the two with the likes of the Honky Tonk Man and Hulk Hogan being involved, but the score was never settled with a true victor. There was only one place that this monstrous feud could be settled and that would be at WrestleMania, as part of the undercard to the Andre The Giant vs. Hulk Hogan main event. Most of the hype and build up to WrestleMania III was focused on Hogan vs. Andre. And while that match may have sold the building out, it was Savage and Steamboat who would leave the fans talking about their match almost 30 years later.

The date was March 29, 1987. The place was the Pontiac Silverdome in front of 93,173 people. In his final interview before he entered the ring, Savage proclaimed “History beckons the Macho Man!” Then Pomp and Circumstance began to play and out came the Macho Man with the lovely Elizabeth at his side. Then the challenger, Steamboat came to the ring accompanied by George The Animal Steele who would be in his corner. The building was filled with anticipation. The two combatants had played with the emotions of the fan base beautifully building to the ultimate crescendo. They were going to settle the score in a 4 month long feud (imagine that, a feud that lasted more than 4 weeks!).

Now I will not give you the blow by blow of the match. If you haven’t seen it, please check it out. It is nothing like you’ll see in today’s homogenized, high spot filled wrestling world. If you have seen it, then you know how great it was and is definitely worth another viewing. In total there were 22 pin fall attempts! The match captured the imaginations of not only the fans, both there and watching on closed circuit television, but you could also hear it in the voices of the great announce team of Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura. Even though they probably knew what the outcome would be, you’d never have known it. They did an amazing job calling the play by play. Towards the end of the match you even hear Jesse say, “This is one of the greatest matches I’ve ever seen Gorilla!” It was an emotionally draining feud that left us blown away with a match for the ages. One of my favorite moments of the match came after it was over. When leaving the ring Randy Savage looked so devastated that he had lost. The way he was selling his emotions about losing is a clinic that all wrestlers should take from. A close friend of mine always says that not all wrestling lasts the test of time. The meaning behind that comment meaning that not all matches from previous decades still appeal to the modern fan, this one though definitely does.

On the March 1, 2008 episode of WWE’s Legends of Wrestling, the roundtable discussion was about WrestleMania. When discussing the Savage vs. Steamboat match, Michael Hayes said that it was “one of the matches that transcended the business, into the way the guys started to perform in the ring in the 90’s and going forward.” Hayes also went on to say that what broke his heart about the Savage vs. Steamboat match was that in the NWA there were those who still held out hope that they, the NWA, the “wrestling group” would still be able to overtake the “circus show” that was the WWF. He went on to tell the story of going over to Hollywood John Tatum’s house the night of WrestleMania III who told Hayes the match between Savage and Steamboat was unlike nothing he had ever seen and that it was the greatest match he ever saw. Hayes said that his was response to Tatum was, “damn now they have it all.” When Mick Foley, who was also a member of the roundtable discussion, was asked what his favorite WrestleMania match was, he selected Savage vs. Steamboat because that’s when he “got the sense that the matches really mattered.”

While this feud was my favorite of all time and the match remains my personal favorite, it is not without two minor flaws in my eyes. Both instances occurred in the title match. First of all, I always felt that the George Steele portion of the angle was totally unnecessary. I understand that he had a major feud with Savage prior to that and that he was infatuated with Elizabeth, but he just seemed to clutter things a bit and I felt his involvement late in the match was not necessary. Also, we have the obligatory WWF/WWE ref bump. Again, not needed. Also the bump that Dave Hebner took was so bad that it was hysterical. Other than that it was a perfect match, ending a perfect feud.

The aftermath of this rivalry is a bit frustrating. Only one rematch took place between the two, which occurred at a house show in May. You’d think that the WWF would have capitalized on the success of their WrestleMania match a bit more. Also, Steamboat’s reign as Intercontinental Champion was a very short one. He held the strap for a mere 65 days. He eventually lost to the Honky Tonk Man, a loss I still can’t get over. But brighter days were ahead for the Dragon as he went back to the NWA to reignite his famous feud with Ric Flair, which is a column for another day. Randy Savage went on to win the WWF Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania IV, then headlining ‘Mania again the following year with Hulk Hogan as the Mega Powers exploded! I have a feeling that will be another column as well.

Well, that’s it. My first of hopefully many “Wrestling’s Greatest Feuds” revisited. Please let me know which classic feuds you’d like to see appear in my columns. As I said, I’m talking all generations and territories. From WWWF to Mid South, AWA, NWA, WCW, WWF/E, Mid Atlantic, ROH, TNA, etc. so please feel free to chip in.

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