TAMPA — Tension in the ring, real or scripted, fuels the world of pro wrestling.
The story of the late Randy Savage, though, shows that tension outside the ring can hang just as thick.
Seven new legends including Savage contemporaries Jake “The Snake” Roberts and The Ultimate Warrior will join more than 100 others enshrined already in World Wrestling Entertainment's Hall of Fame during this year's induction Saturday in New Orleans.
Hulk Hogan is already there, as is Ric Flair, Andre The Giant and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.
Not Savage, though. And he won't be this year, either.
The longtime Tampa Bay resident whose real name was Randy Poffo and who wrestled as “Macho Man” remains conspicuous in his absence. Few would argue his place in the wrestling pantheon, with his baritone raspy voice, muscles too big to believe, Technicolor outfits and six world titles in a 27-year career.
Hocking Slim Jim snack sticks as he did only pushed him further into the mainstream of pop culture.
Savage's 59-year-old brother, Lanny Poffo, a Tampa Bay resident and veteran of WWE wars, said he knows why his brother has been left out year after year — bad blood between Savage and legendary WWE CEO Vince McMahon.
“I cannot prove a thing,” Poffo said. “You can take my word for it or not.”
The Tampa Tribune sent WWE a detailed account of Poffo's claims. In an email, WWE said it would have no comment.
This bitter feud between Savage and McMahon, Poffo said, began in 1987, just two years into Savage's WWE career. That year, the promotion held an “old timers” wrestling event.
Savage's father, Angelo Poffo, was a pro wrestler, as well. He won a few titles for small promoters during his career, but never made waves on the national scene. Savage asked McMahon if his father could participate in the old timer's spectacle so he could finally receive his big moment. According to Poffo, the answer was no.
“Randy didn't ever forgot that,” he said. “My father deserved to be in that match.”
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Described by his peers as a professional, Savage never allowed personal feelings to affect his business sense. He performed up to his abilities in the WWE for another nine years, always perched atop the promotion's hierarchy.
“The '80s is often called the decade of Hulk Hogan because he was the biggest star,” said Christopher Daniels, who wrestles for the Total Nonstop Action promotion. “But Randy stood side-by-side with Hogan. He was just as popular.”
When the 1980s turned into the 1990s, McMahon thought Savage's best years were behind him. He took him out of the ring and placed him behind a microphone as a color commentator. Savage was offended.
“He thought he still had a lot of good years in the ring left in him,” Poffo said.
At the age of 42, he signed with the WWE's stiffest competition at the time — World Championship Wrestling.
WWE responded to the defection by airing comedy skits on their television programs based on a character called “The Nacho Man,” depicting the popular wrestler as a bumbling old man.
Savage was bothered by the skits, Poffo said, but not too offended until he saw one that also included caricatures of Larry King and Hulk Hogan insinuating that Savage's ex-wife — Elizabeth Ann Hulette, known in the world of professional wrestling as “Miss Elizabeth” — had fooled around with Hogan.
Poffo said he doesn't know why the WWE reacted this way. Perhaps because Savage was the competition now.
Savage spent six years with WCW, remaining one of the top stars in the industry. He retired in 2000.
“Mean” Gene Okerlund, inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006 after a long career as a WWE and WCW announcer, credits Savage as one of the few at the time who could combine character flair and in-ring athleticism.
“He helped usher in this era of wrestling we know call sports entertainment; he was an innovator,” Okerlund said. “Randy absolutely deserves to be in the hall and should have been an early inductee.”
Austin Aries, a Clearwater resident who wrestles for Total Nonstop Action, said Savage is the wrestler many young stars try to imitate.
“He had that aura about him that we all want,” Aries said. “He was a great athlete and had a tremendous personality.”
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In Tampa Bay, Savage was beloved. He visited sick children at hospitals. He gave to charities. Every year he read “Twas the Night Before Christmas” at Tampa Bay schools.
But like his wrestling persona, he had an intense side.
Savage, his brother said, never forgave the WWE for its tasteless skit. Following his retirement, he retorted by with an online video making his own insinuations about Vince McMahon's daughter.
“I'm sure the video angered McMahon,” Poffo said.
For living inductees the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony often provides one last standing ovation from their fans. For those who have died, survivors are reminded what they meant to so many.
Unlike other halls of fame, though, this one has no building yet. And there is no secret balloting among a panel of experts. McMahon has the final say.
McMahon, Poffo said, eventually bent, calling his brother with an offer to induct him in 2010. Savage said he would only accept if his father and brother were inducted alongside him. The WWE declined.
“He wanted the Poffo family to go in,” Poffo said. “He knew it would mean a lot to my dad.”
Shortly after the rejection, Savage's father passed away. Poffo said the WWE never called to offer condolences.
“It was about respect to our family. Randy was furious,” said Poffo. “He told me if anything ever happened to him, he should not be put into the Hall of Fame unless it was as the Poffo family.”
A year later, Savage died at 58 of a severe form of irregular heartbeat while he was driving his car. His vehicle struck a tree. Investigators said he was dead before impact.
WWE produced a touching video tribute, but Poffo said called it public relations to benefit the organization.
“They again never personally offered condolences to my family,” he said. “My mother was hurt. They know our number and address.”
Poffo said that in 2012 the WWE called him to ask about posthumously inducting Savage into the Hall of Fame.
“They again did not say they were sorry for my father or brother's passing, even though they had the chance” he said. “I told them that I would honor my brother's wishes and only say yes if the entire Poffo family was inducted.”
Poffo said he has softened his stance. He said he is offering an olive branch.
This is no longer about his brother, his father or himself.
“This is for the fans,” he said. “They want to honor Randy and see him get his respect. So if the WWE wants Randy in the Hall of Fame but not my father or me, they should do it.”
Just don't expect Poffo to attend.
“Unless they call my mother and offer their condolences, I will not be there.”
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