This match is arguably the greatest WWE match of the 1980s that also elevated the Intercontinental Title to new heights. It’s Steamboat vs. Savage from WrestleMania 3.
Who: Intercontinental Championship: Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat @ WrestleMania 3
When: March 29, 1987
Where: Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac (Detroit), Michigan
Savage was a heel that was the long-term Intercontinental Champion. He held the IC Title for 414 days heading into this match. Steamboat was a popular face as the challenger.
During a match between the two in October of 1986, Steamboat was up against the railing and Macho Man jumped off the top with a double axehandle, causing Ricky to grab his throat. Later on, when they were back in the ring, Savage jumped off the top rope with the ring bell and he drove it across the throat of Steamboat. Moments later, Steamboat got taken out on a stretcher with Vince McMahon yelling on commentary: “He can’t breathe, look at that! He can’t breathe!”
A few months after the injury, Steamboat returned to action following the “crushed larynx” he suffered at the hands of Savage looking for revenge.
The other wrinkle in the match was that George “The Animal” Steele had feelings for Savage’s manager Elizabeth, so he’d be involved in this match too.
If you want more of the details of the build, former TJRWrestling writer Hank McAllen wrote a great article about the rivalry in March 2016 that you can read here.
What I Thought Back Then
I was six years old at the time, so I can’t really remember what I was thinking about this match. I was probably hoping to get some new toy trucks and action figures as the most important thing in my life at that point!
If I was a smart fan back then the way I am now then I’d really want to see this match because they are two of the best in-ring performers in a showcase match at the biggest show of the year. The match was built up well over the course of five months and people were ready to see the payoff.
Here’s my full review of the match, which was written in 2012.
Intercontinental Title: “Macho Man” Randy Savage (w/Miss Elizabeth) vs. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat (w/George “The Animal” Steele)
They went to a pre-tape from earlier in the night with Macho Man cutting an awesome promo. He says: “I am the Lord and Master of the Ring and you’re going to find that out one athlete to another right now!” I loved that one athlete to another part because they were the best athletes in the company. Then he ended it with this famous line: “History beckons the Macho Man…yeah!” Following the promo, Macho Man makes his way down to the ring with Elizabeth by his side. He had a lot of cheers for his entrance because I think people were starting to realize just how good Macho Man was. Savage had the title for 14 months at this point, which again makes this match really important because of how prestigious the IC Title was at this time.
In the interview room, Mean Gene talked to Ricky Steamboat, who gave one of the better interviews of his career. I loved it when he said “Randy Savage…we have reached our moment.” Steamboat made his way to the ring along with George “The Animal” Steele, who would be in his corner for the match. Ricky got a huge ovation during his entrance.
Steamboat got the advantage early as there’s a feeling out process. Savage jumped to the floor, then walked Elizabeth to the other side of the ring. Steamboat with two arm drags and a two-handed choke on Savage before he tossed him to the mat. Savage bailed to the floor, Steamboat chased and then when they got back in the ring, Randy got the advantage. Macho choked him across the top rope for a nearfall, the first of many of those. Savage charged in the corner, Steamboat moved and then Ricky worked on the left arm of Savage, draping it over the top rope. Back in the ring, Ricky continued to work over the left arm. Savage grabbed hair to get out of it and hit a sharp back elbow. Savage threw Steamboat over the top to the floor. Savage draped him over the top rope and hit him with an elbow to the throat, which of course is a great move because that’s the injury Steamboat had prior to the match. Randy back in with an elbow for two. Knee drop for two. Steamboat came back with punches to the head and a chop locked up Savage in the ropes. That’s a spot they loved doing in the 1980s where a guy would be tied in the ropes. Macho fought out with kicks. They ran into the ropes and Steamboat hit a crossbody block for two. Ricky got an armdrag followed by two successive shoulder blocks for two each time. This time, as Steamboat ran the ropes, Savage avoided it and hit a knee to the back. I love that counter. Savage threw Steamboat over the top rope, but this time Ricky held on and pulled himself back in the ring doing the skin the cat move. The crowd loved it. Seconds later, Savage hit a clothesline to send Steamboat all the way to the floor again. The pace of this match was ridiculously fast, unlike anything on the card to this point.
Macho Man follows the Dragon out to the floor and hits a running knee to the back that sent Steamboat over the railing. Steele helped Ricky to his feet while Ventura wondered why the ref isn’t counting him out. The referee was admonishing Savage in the ring. Steamboat went back in the ring, so Savage threw him out on the other side. This time Randy went to the top and people in the crowd were screaming because they remember this is how Steamboat got hurt in the first place. Savage hit the double axehandle on the floor although this time Steamboat wasn’t near the railing. The pop for that move was huge. In today’s wrestling, nobody would react to it. Back in the ring, Savage with another double axhandle and an elbow shot to the head for two. Macho draped him throat first over the ropes again, this time for two. Atomic drop by Savage gets two. Suplex by Savage got two again. That’s the tenth two count of the match. Yes, I’m counting. Back to their feet, Steamboat fought back with chops, but Savage stopped it with a rake of the eyes and he followed that up with a beautiful gutwrench suplex for two. Back up, Steamboat escaped a back suplex, then he put his head down, Savage booted him in the head, charged in and Steamboat gave him a back body drop over the top to the floor. Huge pop from the crowd for that one.
Steamboat rolled Savage back in the ring and he hit a chop off the top rope for a count of two because Randy’s foot was on the ropes. Back up, Steamboat whipped him in and hit a chop for two. With Savage on the mat, Steamboat chopped him three times and then punches him out to the floor. Savage rolled back in, Steamboat chased him, went on the apron and Steamboat jumped in with a sunset flip for a count of two. The crowd thought that was it. They are really doing a good job of making it seem like the match can end at any moment. Back up, Savage threw a punch, Steamboat ducks and rolled him up for a count of two for the 15th nearfall of the match. Savage got back up, Steamboat tripped him with his hand and covered in a reverse double leg hookup, as Gorilla called it, for two. Back to their feet, Steamboat with a small package gets another two count. That one was very believable too. The best way to describe the crowd noise is to say that they are extremely loud the entire time. It’s not like they are building to high spots. The whole thing is a high spot because they are working so well together. Steamboat came back with a bodyslam and then slingshots Savage into the corner with Randy taking the bump into the post. Savage fell back into Steamboat for two. Macho was so frustrated that he threw a punch at ref Dave Hebner, who avoided the punch. That was one of those little moments you don’t realize the first time you see it, but over time you appreciate it because it’s a heel trying to do a cheap thing to avoid the current situation. Steamboat rolled up Savage for two again and this time Randy countered by grabbing the tights to sit on top for…you guessed it…two. That’s the 20th two count of the match. The announcers argue over the nearfalls with Jesse thinking that referee Dave Hebner was counting slowly during Savage’s pinfall attempts while Gorilla defended the ref.
They get back up to a vertical base with Steamboat throwing punches, so Savage grabbed the tights and whipped Steamboat into the turnbuckle to get the advantage once again. Savage whipped Steamboat in, it got reversed, then reversed again and Steamboat went crashing into referee Dave Hebner. Savage hit a clothesline. Savage went to the top rope and hit the big elbow off the top, which was his finishing move of course. The ref was out. Jesse was freaking out about it, saying the match should be over. Savage tried to revive the ref, but he was not moving. Is he knocked out or tired after counting 20 nearfalls? Anyway, Savage went to the floor, grabbed the ring bell and the crowd was screaming now. Savage wanted to go to the top rope with it, but Steele grabbed the bell from him much to the delight of the crowd. Savage booted Steele in the head and picked up the bell once again. Savage went up, but Steele was back up and shoved Savage off the top rope. The ref got back to his feet, Savage picked up Steamboat, went for a bodyslam, Steamboat rolled through, small package and it’s the one…two…three! Steamboat wins it at 14:35. Huge ovation for that! Wow.
Winner by pinfall and NEW Intercontinental Champion: Ricky Steamboat
The ovation for Steamboat as he was being handed in the IC Title was ridiculously loud. The announcers were arguing about it with Jesse saying that Savage would have won if Hebner wasn’t knocked down. Even after the match, the arena was still buzzing. Both guys left in their rolling rings to big reactions.
Analysis: ***** Five stars out of five. You know the “steal the show” phrase they use in wrestling all the time? This match stole the show. It’s the one that holds up over time more than any match from the 1980s and should be remembered as one of the best matches ever from any era. Both guys did an incredible job here, especially with the nearfalls. As I said, there were 20 different two counts in this match. It was their way of putting over how much they wanted to win. They weren’t lazy pin covers. They were done in a smart way. The athleticism shown by each guy was unlike anything you’d see during this time period. Like Savage said in the pre-match promo, they were athletes going at it. I know that each guy had a number of matches go longer than this during their illustrious careers, but very few of them were as emotional as this. The build to the match was excellent and the execution of the match was even better. While it wasn’t perfect wrestling, it was damn near close to being that. I’m sure some will rate question me rating it a five star match and that’s fine. I thought about it. The wrestling was flawless with what appeared to be no missed spots and the ref bump and interference by Steele were fine because it helped the story of Savage being a cheating bastard. There’s a reason that so many current wrestlers hold this match in such high regard. It’s because nothing before Savage/Steamboat captured the imagination of the fans in such a way and few matches after it have been able to do it as well. The bottom line is that Savage/Steamboat at WrestleMania 3 is one of the best matches ever. No question about it. Five stars.
What They Said
The good people over at WWE’s ESPN page did an awesome article about the oral history of this match 30 years later. Here are some quotes from that article:
Announcer Jesse Ventura:
“For me, it was the greatest match I ever saw. Ever. First of all, it was in the biggest venue in history, the Silverdome, where we broke the Rolling Stones’ record with 93,000 people. Of course it was Hogan and Andre, which was the big draw. But the “Macho Man”-Steamboat match was the greatest match that I’ve ever witnessed in my life.”
Announcer Gene Okerlund:
“I’ve seen a lot of great matches after being in the business 46 years, but I think this is the very best. I label it as one for the ages, and I don’t think in my lifetime, or probably a few more lifetimes, we are going to see anything like it.”
“After the show, Vince would have a big dinner party for all the boys and their wives and family. I do remember a bunch of old-timers like Arnold Skaaland and Gorilla Monsoon patting us on the back and saying, “God damn kid, what a match. God, I’ve never seen anything like that before. My God. How did you remember all of those false finishes? Oh Jesus!” That was a great feeling, especially when you get it from the old-timers, even the salty ones.”
“We knew we stole the show that night, but we never thought it would get us the recognition that it did, and it seemed to grow each year, each day and each month. We never thought it would get that big with wrestlers or fans coming up to us and always reminding us of the match. Never did it cross our minds about that.”
“Watching it for the first time, I was always trying to stay ahead of what was going to happen next, just to test my memory. I was second-guessing myself a handful of times, thinking, ‘What the hell did we do next?’ And then I immediately replayed the match again and, just like watching a movie, I pulled myself away from the storyline just to watch the actor work. I think by the third time I just wanted to sit back and watch it as a fan, not as a wrestler or a participant, and see what was it that drew me in as a fan? What was it that all these fans keep talking about that made it so great? And then I was just able to sit back and relax and enjoy the show.”
“That was great working with Ricky, but even more than that was the rush. It doesn’t matter who you are working against when you have 93,000-plus in the Pontiac Silverdome. That was incredible. It can never be equaled as far as a rush going down to the ring. You can be wrestling on television in front of zillions of people around the world, but they are not there in the building with you.”
“Ricky and myself, I think we were in prime, peak condition then. Everything just worked, and we had good chemistry in the ring, and it all flowed together.”
“[Fans] asked me about the match all the time, and I appreciate it, too, because it’s really flattering. Not to be forgotten, but to be remembered is a real cool thing.”
Thanks again to ESPN.com for the quotes from their excellent oral history article about the match.
This is a pretty cool clip of Steamboat telling a story after the match as well.
What I Think Now
It was over 30 years ago and it holds up so well. The style of wrestling in that match was different than a lot of stuff in the 1980s because they were arguably the best in-ring performers in WWE at the time. They were smaller guys that were athletic while also having the intangibles needed to connect with the crowd.
Everything they did made sense. The nearfalls showed how competitive they were, the ref bump was a big part of the story, Steele needed to be there to prevent Savage from cheating to win and Steamboat winning with that inside cradle was the perfect way to do it because of all the nearfalls where each man came so close to victory before that.
This match did a lot for the careers of both guys, but it’s a shame that there were no major rematches because they moved on to other things. They did wrestle at several house shows and had cage matches, but none of them were featured bouts on television. It would have drawn a lot of interest if this match happened again.
What Happened Next
Savage turned face soon after because he was getting a lot of cheers even though he was acting like one of the biggest jerks in wrestling. He really caught fire as a face and became my favorite wrestler later in 1987. A year later, Savage had a much bigger role in the company as he won his first WWE Title in the main event of WrestleMania 4. At the WrestleMania after that, he was back in the heel role dropping the WWE Title to Hulk Hogan.
Steamboat’s reign as IC Champ was a short one. He dropped the title to the Honky Tonk Man shortly after this because he asked for some time off to be with his wife as she gave birth to their son, who was a wrestler under a WWE deal a few years ago. After dropping the title, Steamboat was given the time off he had asked for and when he came back he didn’t get pushed to the top. He parted ways with WWE in early 1988 and ended up in the NWA. In the NWA, he had three memorable matches over the NWA Title with Ric Flair in 1989 that are among the best matches ever.
It was the best match from the 1980s in WWE and I don’t think it was topped in WWE until about seven years after it. I’d say that’s pretty impressive for two guys wrestling in an era where it wasn’t always about match quality. Savage and Steamboat absolutely stole the show that night at the Silverdome. It’s a match that will never get old. Truly one of the greatest matches of all time.
That’s all for me. Check out the full list of my WWE PPV Review archive right here. Thanks for reading.