411’s Top 30 WrestleMania Matches of All Time: #2 – Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat (WM 3)
Posted by Larry Csonka on 04.04.2014
411 continues its look at the top 30 matches in the history of WrestleMania with Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat from WrestleMania 3!
Welcome back to 411Mania, and welcome to 411's official countdown to WrestleMania 30! Every year, the 411 staff comes together in some way to bring you, the fine readers of our site, a special countdown to WrestleMania. In past years we have done special countdown columns, ranking the shows, rating them overall, discussing special aspects of the big event, and even columns that have served as odes to the matches and moments that are etched into our minds.
To some fans, WrestleMania is the biggest show of the year, and the way that WWE has transformed the event into a near weeklong party, it may as well be a holiday to the fans that love our special brand of entertainment. Call it sport or call it a specially designed male soap opera, we love it and we love to talk about what makes things special. WrestleMania is an institution, and this year, as the WWE gets prepared to put on their 30th WrestleMania event, we decided to go big. Starting on March 7th, and running all the way to April 5th, 411 will present the top 30 matches in WrestleMania history.
Each writer on the 411 staff was given the opportunity to nominate 30 matches of their choosing. #1 on their list received 30 points, #2 received 29 points, and so on and so forth. Writers were asked to base their lists on both match quality and historical significance to create their nominations. The final list was created, and there was a ton of competition for the top spot. In fact, the voting was so tight that the top FOUR matches were separated by a mere 16-points.
Each day we will present a match from the list, which will include a full recap of the match from the 411 archives (from Scott Slimmer, JD Dunn, and Robert Leighty Jr.) as well as thoughts from the writers. Thank you for reading, and we hope that you enjoy our presentation…
#2. From WrestleMania 3 - Intercontinental Title: Randy Savage (w/Elizabeth) vs. Ricky Steamboat (w/George Steele)
Well, here it is – one of the greatest matches of the 1980s. Most of it is too fast for strict play-by-play. Ricky fires off a few arm drags and lifts Savage by the throat. Savage misses a charge and nearly gets his arm broken in half when Steamboat lifts up on a wristlock. Savage hits an elbow to take over and gets a series of near falls. Steamboat fires back, and Savage gets tied in the ropes. They trade an incredibly fast series of near falls. Steamboat tries to skin-the-cat, but Savage clotheslines him right back out. Back in, Savage gets a series of near falls, but he can't finish Ricky off. Steamboat dips his shoulder and backdrops Savage over the top in a HUGE BUMP! Back in, Steamboat jumps off the top rope, over Earl Hebner, and hits Macho Man with a chop between the eyes. The fans think that's it, but Hebner says he only counted two. Now it's Steamboat who gets a furious series of near falls but can't get the win. The crowd thinks Ricky's won it again, but Hebner just hit the mat hard when he dropped down, and it was only a two count. Ricky gets two off an O'Connor Roll, and Savage reverses with a handful of tights for two. They reverse Irish Whips, and Steamboat gets sent into Dave Hebner. Savage hits the flying elbow drop, but there's no ref. Macho grabs the ring bell and is about to crush Ricky's throat with it again, but George Steele sneaks up and pushes him off the top. Savage picks Ricky up and goes for a body slam, but Ricky rolls him over into a small package! ONE, TWO, THREE! Ricky gets the pin and the title (and one of the biggest pops ever) at 14:35. One of the greatest matches of all time, and certainly a consensus Top 10 pick for the 1980s. Savage has his head in his hands all the way back to the locker room as Elizabeth tries to console him.
- By JD Dunn
Scott Rutherford: Back in 1987 two men went out in front of the largest indoor wrestling crowd ever and completely stole the limelight from the biggest money match ever in Hulk Hogan & Andre The Giant. One was a relative newcomer to the WWE who had mainly plied his trade in Memphis as the son of an outlaw promoter Angelo Poffo while the other was considered one of the greatest workers ever and was much respected by his peers for willingly making other much less talented wrestlers look credible.
During a rare televised Intercontinental Title match between champion Randy Savage and challenger Ricky Steamboat was halted due to Savage crippling Steamboat with a ring bell across the throat, Savage and Steamboat had been on track for a rematch of epic proportions at WM3.
Unbeknown to all, Savage and Steamboat had been having clandestine meetings on the road about this match for months. While they knew that Hulk & Andre was the reason everyone was showing up, they planned on being the match everyone talked about. Over the course of the preceding weeks Steamboat and Savage planned every step of the match from bell-to-bell in order to make sure they were going to get the most out of their 10 minutes in the ring.
This match is widely considered one of the best matches of all time and in fact, it held the best match ever crown until the Steamboat/Flair series of 1989 moved it back a notch. This was, to put it simply, a glorious match. With the emotional set-up leading in these two athletes went out and tore the house down. With the intense prior planning, they know exactly what was going on at all times and the pace of the match was breathtaking (even today's cruisers would have a hard time keeping up). In the era of the original Hogan title reign, we were used to seeing slower paced, cartoony style fighting, these two showed you could get people excited about what was happening in the ring with actual wrestling.
The action was never ending and there is something like 15 near-pinfalls in a 10-odd minute match. They showed us some great hold/counter-hold sequences that while they weren't new, we hadn't seen them at this pace and type of execution. It provided several key components to later day WWF success..
1) It established the IC Title as the workers title and a stepping-stone to the WWF Title.
2) It showed Vince that the smaller wrestlers could be a legit drawing card.
3) It showed there was a different style than the lumber giants that we had grown accustomed to in the Hogan-era
4) Most importantly it was a large part of why Randy Savage started to become a massive babyface.
Steve Cook: 93,173 people packed into the Pontiac Silverdome to watch the Immortal Hulk Hogan battle the legendary Andre the Giant. We give Hulk & Andre a lot of credit for that number, & rightfully so, but it wasn't the only feud that gained lots of attention before WrestleMania III. "Macho Man" Randy Savage's attack on Ricky Steamboat where he crushed The Dragon's larynx with a double axe handle on the safety rail & then with the ring bell shocked fans everywhere and made them want to see Ricky get revenge by taking Randy's Intercontinental Title. It obviously wasn't the main event, but people knew that Savage vs. Steamboat would be a match worth watching and was the best in-ring match on paper. I don't think anybody knew just how great Savage vs. Steamboat would be, the influence it would have on the future of wrestling and that people would still speak of it in reverential tones decades after it took place.
Some people say the match doesn't hold up. I think those people are insane. Savage & Steamboat both brought the intensity & their execution was nearly flawless. The one thing I don't completely love about the match is something that WWF did a lot during the 80s…the spot where the referee gets knocked out & the heel gets the visual fall on the face. I always thought that should have been reversed, but it did lead up to Savage trying to use the ring bell & George Steele preventing him from doing so. Steele's involvement as Steamboat's second was a good callback to Savage vs. Steele from WrestleMania II, and of course the ring bell was a callback to Steamboat‘s injury. I also liked the fact it allowed Jesse Ventura to go off on a rant about how Savage was being screwed while Gorilla Monsoon calmly told The Body that Savage brought it upon himself.
In an era where the WWF was known for slow, plodding matches with larger than life performers in more ways than one, Savage & Steamboat cranked the speed up. It's strange now to think that Savage & Steamboat were considered "small", and a large reason why is that they inspired a lot of kids that up until they saw that match thought they weren't big enough to be pro wrestlers.
Ricky Steamboat was the greatest in-ring babyface of all time. I never saw him have a bad match. Randy Savage is in the GOAT conversation, and was known for meticulously planning out his big matches so everything would be perfect. Put them together on the grandest stage of all and you'd expect one of the greatest matches of all time…and that's exactly what happened at WrestleMania III.
Wyatt Beougher: In the interest of full disclosure, let me start by mentioning that Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat was my favorite wrestler when WrestleMania III took place, and, at the tender age of six, I was blissfully unaware of just how good this match actually was. Now, nearly twenty-seven years later, with Savage and Steamboat both in my top five favorite wrestlers of all time, this still stands out as probably my favorite WWF/E match, and it's not solely based on nostalgia (it would probably be my favorite Steamer match of all time if not for his classics with Flair in the NWA/WCW). Nearly three decades later, I can still remember the build to the match, with Savage attacking Steamboat and then hitting him in the throat with a ring bell from the top rope; this has become a point of contention between my father and I, because he claims I cried when that happened, while I maintain that there was just an overabundance of sawdust in the room at the time. After a series of vicious brawls, it all culminated at WrestleMania, where Steamboat would have George "The Animal" Steele in his corner.
Savage's promo before the match was pure 80s Randy Savage, with "Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion" Savage threatening to not only put Steamboat down "with the 1-2-3 count", but to put him out of wrestling altogether (man, I love 80s Macho Man promos). As Savage and Elizabeth rode to the ring in that moving ring contraption, Jesse Ventura and Gorilla bantered about Savage stealing the title from Tito Santana. Steamboat, after doing some nonsense karate (because 80s WWF, amirite?), delivered a promo that would make the Warrior proud, and then he and George Steele took their ride to the ring. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Savage rocked the classic pink trunks/yellow boots and kneepads look, along with a silver headband that coordinated with his purple/blue/silver sequined robe. Contrast that with the all-business Steamboat, wearing white tights and white boots, and you've got their personalities at the time in a nutshell – Savage was the over-the-top entertainer who could back it up in the ring, and Steamboat was much more bland, but driven to gain his revenge and win the Intercontinental title.
Before the match even got underway, Jesse hinted at what was to come, talking about how Savage had the champion's advantage – he could get counted out or disqualified, and while he'd give up on the winner's pay, he'd also retain his title. Steamboat took the early advantage, causing Savage to bail and stall, under the pretense of keeping Elizabeth away from Steele. Savage would look to wear Steamboat down and then start working on his throat (which, at the time, was sold as being a miracle recovery from a career-ending injury), but Steamer, for his part, worked extensively on Mach's shoulder and elbow, looking to take away his vaunted elbow drop. At one point, Savage's arms were tangled in the ring ropes, and Steamboat, in spite of The Body's admonishments about sportsmanship, went to work, pounding on Savage until referee Dave Hebner forced him away, with Gorilla rightly pointing out that Steamboat was just "doing whatever he had to do" against a guy who tried to end his career. With Steamboat in control, the pace picked up, but Macho took control with a running knee to the spine and Macho turned it into a brawl outside, attacking Steamboat from behind and knocking him over the Spanish Announce Table and even over the metal barricade behind it. Macho seemed content to just allow Steamboat to get counted out, but Hebner was too busy admonishing him for the attack on the outside, which allowed Steele to carry Steamboat back to the apron. Savage wasn't having it, though, and just continued brutalizing Steamboat with a variety of elbows, flying axe handles, and attacks to the throat. After a nice sequence where Savage started doing more and more damaging technical moves and Steamboat would kick out, get a hope spot or two, and then get stifled by Savage, usually with a questionable (if not illegal) move.
Finally, Steamboat took control and by that point, the crowd was totally invested, going absolutely NUTS for everything Steamer hit, even a simple roll-up, which evolved into a nice sequence of varying pin attempts by Steamboat. After taking control by pulling Steamboat by his tights into the ring post, Savage Irish whipped Steamboat inadvertently into Hebner, and that's when the match got truly, truly memorable. Savage dropped Steamboat with a bulldog clothesline and hit the elbow drop before realizing that Hebner was incapacitated. Seeing his opportunity, Savage seized the ring bell from the timekeeper and looked to go back to the top rope, but Steele snatched the bell from Savage, earning a thunderous ovation from the crowd and also a kick to the back of the head for his troubles. Savage took the bell back and made it to the top rope, only for Steele to push him off. Savage went for a body slam, only for Steamboat to roll him up with a small package and get the win! When I say the crowd went crazy, I can't possibly overstate their reaction. After the match, the Macho Man pled his case to Hebner, but Steele carried Steamboat to the moving ring and they made their exit, with an exhausted but exuberant Steamboat waving to the capacity crowd.
What can I say? Everything about this match was perfect at the time, and it still holds up today. There were no planchas or exchanges of finishers, but Savage and Steamboat were two of the best performers on the WWF roster at the time, and everything clicked perfectly. The six-month build-up culminated in the psychology employed by both wrestlers in the match, with Savage looking to inflict damage to Steamboat's throat at every turn, and Steamboat utilizing a mean streak that had barely been seen in his WWF run. The action was never too one-sided, but Macho Man dominated enough of the match that Steamboat's hope spots were perfectly timed and executed. There was a lot of little things that worked perfectly, whether it was Steamboat using a double-handed choke lift or a slingshot into the corner post to show that he was willing to do whatever he had to do to get retribution against Savage, or Savage turning to see Steamboat skinning the cat and then immediately clotheslining him back to the floor. Probably my favorite part outside of the finish was actually a two-part spot that was set up in the early goings, when Savage slid out of the ring and made a lap around it, so that he could catch Steamboat with a boot when he tried to follow Mach back into the ring. And then it was paid off later, when Savage tried the same thing, but Steamboat, rather than sliding in, delivered a shoulder to Macho Man's stomach and went for a sunset flip, which itself turned into a perfect microcosm of the match. Savage nearly blocked the sunset flip by grabbing the rope, but Steamboat showed his resilience and completed the move, earning a two-count (and a huge pop from the crowd). Savage grabbing Steamboat by the tights and flinging him shoulder-first into the ring post was also a nice touch, as it came moments after Steamboat's slingshot into the corner and showed that if Steamboat was willing to get dirty, Savage was still going to get dirtier. And sure, the ending today might seem somewhat convoluted, with the ref bump and George Steele's interference, but at the time, it was an edge-of-your-seat moment, and six-year-old me was on the verge of hysterics when Savage threatened to come off of the top with the ring bell again.
But it wasn't just the match itself that was so wonderful, it was the historic significance. Not only was it the first time the Intercontinental title had changed hands at WrestleMania, but it was also different because Savage and Steamboat had laid everything out ahead of time and rehearsed the match at Savage's Florida home, rather than calling it on the fly, as was the standard at the time. That's come to be a lot more commonplace now, with the Undertaker as a prime example, as he reportedly spends as much as a month at his home with his WrestleMania opponent to make sure that their match comes out flawlessly, but at the time, it was still relatively rare. And while Hogan slamming Andre the Giant would be the biggest moment of the show, Savage/Steamboat pretty clearly stole the show, and that was due in large part to both Savage and Steamboat being smaller, more agile, and quicker than either main event participant. Sure, Vince McMahon's fascination with immobile, larger than life superstars has lingered into the present day, but one look at this match will show where wrestlers like Daniel Bryan have gotten their inspiration. (Not to mention guys like Dolph Ziggler and Seth Rollins, who I'm sure bring a smile to Steamboat's face with the effort that they put into selling moves.) Obviously, any time a list like this gets made, it comes down to personal preference, but if this match had ended up any lower on this particular list, I'd be incredibly surprised.