Pro wrestling was the land of giants in 1987, as towering talents such as Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant helped Vince McMahon's WWE promotion (then known as WWF) live up to its billing as a big-man territory.
On March 29, 1987, an indoor-attendance record of 93,173 fans packed the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan to watch Hulk Hogan defend his WWF heavyweight championship against Andre, known as the "The Eighth Wonder of the World," at WrestleMania III. But it took the efforts of two athletic and polished wrestlers, each performing at the peak of their primes at age 34, to nearly steal the show on the biggest stage.
Thirty years after Intercontinental champion Randy "Macho Man" Savage and Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat put on a 14-minute, 35-second classic, complete with 22 pin attempts, the parties involved looked back on a match that many believe changed the wrestling business.
RICKY STEAMBOAT: The one moment above all that fans bring up from my career when they run into me is the Savage match. Here it is, 30 years later, and everywhere I go that's what people want to talk about.
RANDY SAVAGE*: As far as fans letting me know -- and feedback with the fans is really the most important thing -- they always point to the WrestleMania III match with Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat. It happened in front of 93,000-plus fans, so it's hard to argue about something like that.
PART I -- The Road to WrestleMania III
"LEAPING" LANNY POFFO (WWE wrestler, younger brother of Savage): Everything Randy did, he put everything into it. Wrestling was not a hobby to him. Wrestling was his passion, and before that it was baseball.
"MEAN" GENE OKERLUND (interviewer/announcer at WrestleMania III): Randy Savage was a baseball player who didn't quite cut it. He was a catcher, and ultimately that throw down to second ended up in center field. That was not going to be his deal.
POFFO: In 1975, he got released by the Chicago White Sox. That made three teams that released him, along with the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals. Ten years later, he's in Madison Square Garden, and the rest is history. So from 1975 to 1985, he perfected his gimmick.
OKERLUND: Randy came from a wrestling family. I broke in with Ricky Steamboat [in the AWA]. He learned from one of the finest -- the late, great Verne Gagne, who was a taskmaster. Gagne was also a shooter. I mean, this guy could absolutely handle himself, and he was able to teach Ricky a lot of that, along with [Steamboat's] high-flying gymnastics and different holds. You could see there was a lot of athleticism in Steamboat and Savage.
POFFO: You heard the expression sports entertainment? Well, Randy believed in both. He believed in entertainment -- that would be the robe, the gimmick, the interview, the ring color and pizzazz. But he also believed in sports and had a chip on his shoulder to prove that he was the greatest athlete who ever lived.
OKERLUND: Steamboat's real name is [Richard] "Dick" Blood. He has a little Italian blood in him and some Hawaiian, but he had a great gimmick going with "The Dragon," because Bruce Lee was a big star at the time even though his life had come to an end.
GEORGE "THE ANIMAL" STEELE* (WWE wrestler, was in Steamboat's corner at WrestleMania III): I knew Randy as a little boy. I worked with his dad [wrestler/promoter Angelo Poffo] in Detroit, so I've known him a long time. I have a lot of respect for Randy. He had a tremendous work ethic.
Savage made his debut with much fanfare in WWE as a heel in 1985, choosing the services of his real-life wife, Miss Elizabeth, as his manager. He defeated Tito Santana for the Intercontinental championship in February 1986. Savage originally was set to feud with Santana, but the crowd response from his matches against Steele led to a change in plans, as the two worked an angle for more than a year through WrestleMania II and into 1987, with the storyline centered upon Steele's infatuation with Elizabeth.
POFFO: Randy had been working with Steele, and he didn't like the matches, because George liked to pander to his gimmick. George was a great athlete in his day, but he wrestled in a day where people liked to eat the turnbuckle.
STEELE: The world was changing, and the business was becoming very different. I'm old school. I never knew what I was going to do in the ring until I did it, which I think is the best way to work back then. Randy was coming into this where you did a lot of talking in the locker room, and you have pretty much everything laid out before you go to the match. You go from step A to step B, and that's just not me at all. So we had troubled waters coming.
STEAMBOAT: I have never, ever met a performer that was a stickler to critical moments and moves as they fit. Savage was a perfectionist.
POFFO: Randy was always that way. They might call it OCD -- obsessive compulsive disorder.
STEELE: We worked almost every night for two years, so we had our spats. It's a marriage; every marriage has some spats. It was at the right time -- Randy was the new era coming in, I'm the old school leaving. And that's what really made it work.
HULK HOGAN (WWF heavyweight champion at WrestleMania III): Randy had one-way heat with everybody. It was one-sided heat. Randy was a great person, great performer and one of my best friends of all time. But he had one-way heat with everybody.
STEELE: He was very, very jealous about Elizabeth.
HOGAN: He would say, "Oh yeah, you're looking at Liz. Don't pick her up by the armpits. You grabbed her t--." And I'm like, "What?" He had heat with everybody, and no one had heat with him. So it was something that turned into real life.
STEELE: Randy would always be so uptight because I had to do something with Elizabeth. He would say, "That's my wife!" I would say, "Hey, I've got a daughter older than her. Relax." But just as I'd leave, I'd say, "I'd have some runs with some of these young broads out here." And then I would leave, and he would [flare up in anger.] So I had him right where I wanted him. When he would come to the ring, he would be fired up. Really fired up.
OKERLUND: Savage was obsessed with things being absolutely perfect and tight in his matches.
STEELE: The first time ever we were going to work each other, he came up with about five pages written out for a match. For him to give me that and tell me this is what we're going to do, I thought it was disrespectful, because I've been there, I've done it. You're a new kid on the block, son. So that's how I felt about it, and I took each page, I read it and threw it in the garbage can. Then I said to him, "Just listen to me in the ring. I'll call it in the ring, and we'll have a great match." That didn't sit well with him, but that's the way it was.
SAVAGE: That's what I worked on my whole career -- putting matches together and scouting my opponents to see who would blend with my style of work, and if they didn't, how I could change my style to make the match as good as it possibly could be. That was a game for me. It's kind of like catching in baseball and calling a game.
POFFO: He would watch the babyface and see what the person did best. He knew how to accentuate what that person could do.
STEAMBOAT: Randy and I were brought up around the same time, in the early to mid-1970s. We were schooled by guys before us and were very much on the same page. We gelled and filled in all the gaps.
SAVAGE: I was never much of a good babyface. The fans liked me no matter what I did, or they hated me -- it was no in the middle. The "Macho Man" character was not subtle. It got people to either love him or hate him.
STEAMBOAT: A lot of times when I watch a movie, I'll pull myself away from the storyline just to watch the actor work to watch how he cries, watch how he gets pissed off -- the emotions, the facials. I remember doing that a lot throughout my career, which helped me become a babyface salesman, selling in the ring. I've watched "Raging Bull" a dozen times, watching [Robert] DeNiro getting his ass handed to him each time during those fight scenes because it looked so real.
POFFO: Deep in his heart, Randy knew that Steamboat was the greatest babyface he had ever seen. As a good guy, a pure absolute good guy that did high spots, sold and made a fiery comeback.
STEAMBOAT: When you get two guys that gel together, you can feel greatness in the ring.
POFFO: Randy asked to work with Steamboat, and he volunteered openly to lose the Intercontinental belt.
STEAMBOAT: The angle started when he came off the top rope with the bell on my throat.
What set the Savage-Steamboat feud apart was the attention to detail in the setup and how dramatic Steamboat sold the injuries he suffered. The feud began when the two wrestled in the main event of a "WWF Superstars of Wrestling" episode that aired on Nov. 22, 1986. Late in the match, Savage attacked Steamboat outside the ring, draping his throat across the barricade and landing a double-ax handle (before doing the same inside the ring, using the bell as a foreign object). Future vignettes featured Steamboat struggling to heal from a storyline-crushed larynx.
OKERLUND: What that did was embellish the severity and nature of the match itself. I think, if anything, [the backstory] pushes the match a little bit more to the forefront and puts even more importance at what takes place in the ring in front of that crowd.
STEAMBOAT: From the time he dropped the bell on my throat until WrestleMania, we had a three-month buildup. In other words, we had the time to elaborate [on the storyline]. If you drill into their heads week after week and it goes for three months, people will have a better, fond memory of why these two guys are having this blow-off match. I don't think too much today that the guys have that luxury. We have pay-per-views a lot more frequently now than we did back in 1987.
SAVAGE: It was a wild time right then as far as what led up to WrestleMania.
STEAMBOAT: When he hurt my throat, I was off the road for a little while. I would show up for TV, and we would do those backstage skits and stuff with the doctors and trying to learn how to talk. [On a Jan. 3, 1987, episode of "Saturday Night's Main Event,"] he had a match [against Steele], and I made an appearance at the building at ringside to get a pop from the fans as Savage was looking at me while I'm standing on the floor. At just about the same time, we were able to hook up in our hotel room and start putting the match together.
PART II - Booking a masterpiece: 'Nobody had ever done this'
STEAMBOAT: Back in the day, more often times than not, you would get the finish of the match and the rest you would call in the ring, but we wanted to make this one special.
POFFO: Randy was absolutely in love with Steamboat as far as a performer. When you finally get a good dance partner, it's like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Can you imagine how great it felt to have another guy the same size as you with perfect chemistry?
STEAMBOAT: Customarily, a standard blueprint for a match is, you would have your match and have your false finishes. So there may be six or seven of them in the course of a match. Savage and I, when we got together, we wanted to make it a championship match, understanding that we're on the undercard behind Hogan and Andre for the world title.
POFFO: Randy had extra expectations for the match. He even did a paint-by-numbers with Ricky.
"We were using the yellow legal pad and writing down steps. And it got into like 100-something steps. Finally, when we got the match top to bottom, we would then meet and quiz ourselves, and I would say, "OK, I'm at step No. 55, it's this and this. Now tell me the rest of the match." And he would go, "Step No. 56 is this, and No. 57 is this." We would go back and forth." Ricky Steamboat
POFFO: Randy thought [Steamboat] was the greatest talent in the business. For example, Steamboat had perfected the Jack Brisco style of an arm drag, and he could actually do it on big fat people because he was that coordinated. My brother said, "Oh, he has the best arm drag. Guess what? I can take the best arm drag." So they set up a bunch of high spots.
STEAMBOAT: We were both on the same page: To make it a championship match, it's the number of times you are trying to beat a guy and the number of times that he is trying to save his championship. That's the picture we wanted to paint where the fans think we are going to be calling a fall and then we sucker them.
POFFO: The quickness and the athleticism were incredible. Randy knew what Steamboat could do, and he wanted to highlight it.
STEAMBOAT: Randy was a great ring strategist and a great guy with psychology. He was the kind of guy where every move you do had a meaning behind it.
POFFO: He had a perfectionist thing. When he got up in the morning until he went to bed at night, he was 100 percent conscientious. When he had a boat, he had to have the best boat and have everything spic and span on the boat.
STEELE: The first time Elizabeth came on [WWE television] in Poughkeepsie, [New York], she had never done anything before. [Savage] makes her walk up the steps and teaches her to go through the ropes probably 150 to 200 times so that she wouldn't show too much leg and she could do it very lady-like. I felt sorry for her. It was brutal. He was in control of everything. I think everything she breathed, he was in control of.
POFFO: First of all, Randy was a brilliant man, and he cared a lot. He felt that if you didn't give the fans the best possible entertainment that you were like a pick-pocket or shoplifter because they paid their money hoping to have a nice show, and you have to give them everything you have. He didn't just save that for WrestleMania. He went up to Paducah, Kentucky, or he would go to Scranton, Pennsylvania, and he would give the most he could for the fans' money. That's why, whether he was a good guy or bad guy, everybody respected him.
OKERLUND: I know that Vince [McMahon] and [right-hand creative lead] Pat Patterson had a lot of input early on. But somewhere along the line, I believe that Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat made the final decisions as to what they were going to do on their own. It didn't come from Vince McMahon. It didn't come from Pat Patterson. And look at the product you got out of it.
STEAMBOAT: We would take bits and pieces of ideas in the house shows. If we got a pop from it, I would say, "We're going to use that in the pay-per-view." There were like 22 false finishes, and to remember the sequence of them, holy s---! It was just ... I was stressed out.
DAVE HEBNER (WWE referee in Savage-Steamboat): Working with Randy, it had to be on a dime. It had to. We went to the [WWE] office [in Stamford, Connecticut], where they have all the rings set up. We worked our butts off a month before to go over everything and get everything right.
POFFO: Randy was unheard of [in scripting matches]. Randy was the most effort ever put in by one man. Ever.
"Nobody had ever done this. I had to know everything that was going on, which is an awful lot of finishes for me to remember. I couldn't sleep the night before knowing that tomorrow I was going to have the biggest match in the world." Dave Hebner
POFFO: Randy could call it in the ring, but he figured with 90,000 people in the audience, why leave it to chance? He believed that it's an extreme evening, and it deserves an extreme match.
STEAMBOAT: I remember standing backstage with George Steele before going out on the cart. At the last second before they hit my music, I'm going through the match in my mind.
STEELE: They had been talking this match for three months. I was sick of it, because I don't talk matches.
HEBNER: I had cold chills going to the ring. I knew that I had a lot to do. I was nervous.
STEAMBOAT: I was so stressed out. I guess I burned up a bunch of nervous energy behind the curtain. But what I do remember is, we came through on the cart, and the first thing was, I completely forgot about all the stress. I was in awe of all the people in the stadium. And then I had to gather myself and sort of have tunnel vision.
OKERLUND: The preparation that Randy had, he would get tighter than a tick in the time leading up to a match. He was more intense. So about the time that the bell rang and it was time for him to go, he was ready to be shot out of a cannon.
HEBNER: Randy gets really hyper [before a match]. He goes crazy.
SAVAGE: It was really a moment in time as far as going down that aisle and all that energy. It's something that you can't even explain.
PART III - The match: 'I had nothing to compare that to'
"Oh yeah, Macho Man Randy Savage, Intercontinental heavyweight champion, was in a state of shock when Ricky 'The Dragon' Steamboat came back. But this time, in front of the largest audience in the world, I will not only embarrass you, not only pin you with the 1-2-3 count, but I'm going to put you out of wrestling for good. Oh yeah Dragon, I am the lord and master of the ring and you're going to find that out, one athlete to another, right now! You can't be with me, no, history beckons the 'Macho Man!' Yeah!" - Savage, during a promo that aired moments before his WrestleMania III match with Steamboat.
SAVAGE: 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.
OKERLUND: You have to remember those people were out front doing a little bit of tailgating before the match, and they were "highly tuned up" for this one. Once anything started to happen, the place just exploded. It roared.
STEAMBOAT: It was just so overwhelming with the fans and the applause. "Steamboat is back!" So I had to focus more on the ring and get my bearings and get my mind back into, "This is what we're doing tonight."
STEELE: I lived about 18 miles from the Silverdome. Do you think for one second George "The Animal" Steele at that big event wanted to be standing in somebody's corner? No way, Jose. I wanted to have a match. I didn't care with whom. It could've been with Vince. I didn't care, but I'd rather have been in a match than standing in a corner in my backyard. The only thing I liked about the match was I got to stand across the ring and look at Elizabeth.
"My last opportunity. Randy Savage, the day has finally come! The minutes. The seconds. We have reached our moment. As you and I climb into the ring, we clash like two titans, but there will only be one winner. One winner, Savage. This Dragon is made of fire! This Dragon will scorch your back! I will come away with the championship belt and see new horizons!" - Steamboat, during an interview with Okerlund before the match.
STEAMBOAT: Everybody would've thought that Ricky was going to get redemption and go after Randy Savage's throat, and we both agreed that we had a moment in the match for that.
POFFO: The beginning of the match, because of the revenge factor, Ricky put Randy in the hangman -- he grabbed him by the throat and choked him above his head. After Randy had put Steamboat in the hospital, you don't expect a guy to say, "No, I'm not mad anymore." No, it's, "I hate you. I'm going to grab you by the throat and throw you down." This is violence.
STEAMBOAT: I had him in a chokehold up in the air, but that was the only time throughout the whole match. We wanted to make it a championship match and let the fans get with it that way, trying to paint a picture that, Savage, you tried to put me out. Here is a guy who you thought you hurt so bad that he wouldn't be coming back. But guess what? I am coming back, and I'm going to beat you for the championship. That would hurt you more than me just going after your throat.
POFFO: Right from the beginning, they had the people, and the people understood that, for Steamboat, this was his comeuppance, and this was his revenge. People love revenge.
STEAMBOAT: I believe we sort of changed the course of [history] in terms of setting up matches, and we did it with all of the false finishes in that match. We had 22 finishes in a match that went just shy of 15 minutes. So it seems like we were trying to cover and beat each other every 45 seconds.
"I counted myself the different false finishes, and you know what that does to a fan who is on either side of the rivalry there? You have to wring them out at the end of the half hour. It was absolutely the most incredible thing that I've ever seen, and if I ever see one better, I probably would kiss somebody. Maybe Kate Smith, what the hell?" "Mean" Gene Okerlund
POFFO: Give credit to the referee, Dave Hebner. Randy liked him and he liked his attitude, but he said he picked him because he was the most intense person of throwing his body down and counting to the count of three. If you watch that match, you will find that every time somebody's shoulders were down, Dave Hebner didn't act like an old man and go down to one knee on the mat. He dove to the mat with great intensity and spirit.
HEBNER: Randy went to Vince and said, "I want Hebner to do my match. I want Hebner." And Vince said, "You've got it." It just gave me chills, because they wanted me. The best! I was the best. And Randy told me, "You are a legend and the best. You're an icon." I was on top of the world, because they picked me to do it.
OKERLUND: Dave Hebner was a damn fine referee. He brought fervor and gave you an honest three-count. He was also a guy who wasn't afraid to move around the ring to make sure his positioning was where it should be. I couldn't think of a better choice.
STEAMBOAT: Dave knew when to be there and when to disappear.
HEBNER: I had been in the business a long time, and my brother [Earl Hebner] and I are two legends who [went on] to have legendary careers. But this was the biggest thing in my life and the biggest match I have ever done.
POFFO: Randy had a meeting before the match with Dave Hebner and Ricky Steamboat. Randy said, "Here's the deal. We're not going to put heat on the referee. Dave, if the man's shoulders are down, you count to three, and I don't care if it ruins the finish. Whoever's shoulders are down has the responsibility to get their shoulders up, because if the fans can't believe in the finish, they lose the drama."
HEBNER: That's true. That's a true story. If I would have hit 1-2-3 and it wasn't [supposed to be] 1-2-3, it would have been over. You would have had 93,000 people that were really pissed off. It could have gone bad, but Randy and Steamboat just worked their butts off, and it was the most exciting match of all.
POFFO: When you have a championship match, the most important thing in the match is the three-count. If you make the referee look like an a--, the whole match is fake. Credibility comes with me trying to win, and as soon as you take that drama out of it, now you just have another sad, fake match. Randy believed that he can't make you believe wrestling is real, but he wanted to make you believe his match was real.
HEBNER: All of those finishes were close. You could see my hand going down and hit the mat, and it was just exciting. This was the big time. You just can't make a mistake, and it was a challenge to me to do it, but I never thought one minute that I couldn't do it, because I'm the best. I'm the best. They don't come any better than me.
POFFO: After every false finish, Dave Hebner would hold up the number two with his hands. I would think that his rotator cuff would be out of place for hitting the mat so hard with his hand. Think of the drama that causes. You not only had the two greatest wrestlers, you had the greatest referee with the enthusiasm that his hair was on fire.
HEBNER: This was one of the greatest wrestling matches in history. And there was a lot of action both in the ring and on the floor.
POFFO: Steamboat impressed the hell out of Randy when he took that big bump outside the ring and [later] over the guard rail into the fans. Randy said, "This guy is good. This guy might be the best. What a fantastic performance. That was a hell of a moment." Randy took his hat off and wanted to applaud him several times in the match because [Steamboat] threw caution to the wind.
OKERLUND: You've got two very fine athletes there. I think both men were so jacked that they peaked out at this match.
SAVAGE: 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.
Late in the match, after Steamboat recorded four consecutive pin attempts in a span of 23 seconds, color commentator Jesse Ventura, who joined Gorilla Monsoon on the broadcast, exclaimed, "This is one of the greatest matches I've ever seen!" After four more pin attempts in the next 90 seconds, Steamboat was inadvertently thrown into Hebner on a reversal from Savage, with the referee taking a bump to the canvas. Savage then landed his finishing move, a flying elbow from the top rope, but Hebner was still down and unable to count.
HEBNER: Taking bumps was good. I liked that. When I took the bump out, it was like a pancake smashed, and I went flying [almost] out of the ring and onto the floor. The people went crazy. They went crazy.
POFFO: Randy grabbed the bell and climbed to the top rope again, but this time George Steele was there to make the save.
OKERLUND: George added a third element to the match in the fact that he had taken to Miss Elizabeth throughout that entire storyline. That just added more fuel to the fire. You think the referee or somebody is going to get involved and take that element out of there, but it just never happened. And it was a very important part of the match, as we found out.
STEAMBOAT: The association [from Savage's feud with Steele] warranted it. But George also understood the focus on this match was me and Randy, and any little part that he could play in it, he was just thankful for it.
STEELE: Both [Savage and Elizabeth] were a huge part of what I call my swan song. My run with Randy was really the end of my wrestling career. It's what people remember.
POFFO: George had a persona that was over with the fans. He was fun to watch. I don't think he overshadowed anything that happened, but he definitely enhanced it. I'd say it all mattered, it all counted. Randy made a big deal out of each and every little thing [in the match]. This was a combination between great storytelling and great athleticism.
STEAMBOAT: Randy went up with the bell a second time, and George took the bell away from him and then shoved him off the top.
POFFO: When [Steele] pushed Randy off the top rope before the finish, you can't say he was too early or too late. He was right in the nick of time. So you've got to give him credit. Savage sold the pain from the hard bump on his back and attempted to pick up Steamboat for a body slam just as Hebner regained consciousness.
POFFO: Randy picked him up, and then, all of the sudden, one simple small package -- 1-2-3.
STEAMBOAT: The roar of 93,000 people was just ... I had nothing to compare that to.
SAVAGE: The entertainment of the fans was at a definite 100 right there, because with 93,000-plus people in the building you could just hear them. It was just incredible.
POFFO: If you go back and notice, Randy got to the top rope with the bell, and George Steele interfered and pushed him off. But when Randy picked up Steamboat before the body slam, what did he do? He put his hand on his back, because he had just taken a big [bump]. Look at the artistry of that. Before that you had seen much more spectacular false finishes than this simple finish on a roll-up. But the people went crazy. The thing is, it was scripted, and Randy didn't always have a script, and he didn't always need one. But he wanted to put everything he had into this match.
OKERLUND: I watched the match from all over the place. There are monitors back where we were at in the bowels of the Pontiac Silverdome. I can say that I had probably 10 different camera angles that I was able to view and think that I had an exceptional viewing of the entire match from all of those different angles.
POFFO: You might say Randy was sad because he lost the belt. He wasn't. Losing the belt made that match great. "All of a sudden the good guy wins! We didn't think that would happen." That was the shock of the evening.
"I remember laying there, and as I was gathering myself up and Hebner was handing me the championship, my mind was so elated and happy that we did it. It was done. It's over, and we were pretty much on spot with everything that we talked about. Of course I was happy about everything like the crowd reaction and winning the championship, but there was an overwhelming feeling there that it's finally done." Ricky Steamboat
HEBNER: It gave me cold chills to get that thing done, because that match was on the dime, and I had my hands full, and my head was floating around wondering what the next [spot] was.
POFFO: It takes two to tango, and it takes three counting the referee. And it takes four with George "The Animal" Steele. And it takes five with Elizabeth walking around ringside. It added to the intrigue and the fun and the greatness and the memorability of the match.
STEAMBOAT: I don't remember [going through Gorilla position] backstage. I don't even remember the ride back on the cart or what anyone said to me. I just don't.
PART IV -- The Aftermath: 'The greatest match I ever saw'
POFFO: I knew it was going to be great, and I heard it was great. Then I saw how great it was for myself.
OKERLUND: It seemed like it was going to be the backup match, but as it turned out, in reality, it was the main event of WrestleMania III. All of a sudden, the Andre-Hulk thing kind of came out as a specialty match, if you will. Which it was, indeed.
STEELE: It was probably the greatest match of all time for the fans.
JESSE VENTURA (Color commentator for WrestleMania III): 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.
POFFO: Randy loved Jesse, and Jesse loved Randy. They hung out whenever they could together. They loved each other.
VENTURA: Loved him. He was a tremendous performer. One of the best I've ever seen.
STEAMBOAT: 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.
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.
HEBNER: Even today, I go to the grocery store or somewhere and people say, "You're the guy who was with Randy Savage and Steamboat," and they ask for a picture. And I say, "Yes, I am. And I'm proud of it, too."
POFFO: In my dad's opinion, up until [WrestleMania III], he felt the 1961 Buddy Rogers versus Pat O'Connor was the greatest match he had ever seen. My dad was always trying to be the best, and he wanted us trying to be the best. And he was so proud of [Savage-Steamboat].
STEAMBOAT: 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.
POFFO: Randy wasn't that small-minded that he wanted to purposely outshine [Hogan and Andre]. He just knew that he had the opportunity to steal the show, and he did it.
"Around 2010, when [WWE] put out a three-disc DVD of my career, believe this or not, it wasn't until I got my hands on the final product that I actually popped it in and saw [a replay] for the first time. Twenty-three years later, I finally got a chance to see it from start to finish. I don't have an honest answer as to why." Ricky Steamboat
POFFO: Randy lived in the moment. He didn't go back to live in the past. In those days, we didn't have the technology that we have now where you could go back and watch something. He was always worried about his next match.
STEAMBOAT: I was never big on watching me work. I remember in the beginning of my career, when I first started working with [Ric] Flair in 1977, and I saw the first angle him and I did on TV for Crockett Promotions. I was cringing. I couldn't watch. My work was so green, and it was so robotic. I think that was the reason why I just didn't like watching myself anymore.
SAVAGE: [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.
STEAMBOAT: 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.
PART V: No rematch
Although the two continued to feud on the house show circuit for a month following WrestleMania 3 in steel cage matches, there was never another televised confrontation between the two.
Steamboat held the title for just 65 days, losing it to The Honky Tonk Man on June 2, 1987, in an episode of "Superstars of Wrestling" that was taped in Buffalo, New York. At WrestleMania IV in 1988, he was defeated by Greg Valentine in the first round of the WWE heavyweight championship tournament, won by Savage. Steamboat left the company shortly after.
STEAMBOAT: Randy and I never talked about [a rematch]. You have to remember, WrestleMania IV was the tournament, and that's where Randy won the championship. I guess you have to understand, that's just the way the business was running back then. There were not as many pay-per-views, maybe three or four per year.
OKERLUND: They could have run that match just about anywhere in the world, because people just loved to see those two live. It's one thing to see the match on YouTube or WWE Network, but it's another one to go in the gym or armory or arena and see something like that take place. [Savage and Steamboat] were a real thrill.
POFFO: Randy hated losing Steamboat as his dance partner. The only thing that went wrong is, at the time, Steamboat was going to have his first child, and he wanted some time out.
STEAMBOAT: The reason I left was that my son was born in 1987, and I asked for time off. Here I am, the Intercontinental champion, and back then, whenever you had that championship, the company was looking at you pretty hard and grooming you to be the next [heavyweight] champion. That's how much that belt meant. But it was short-lived, because I wanted to be there when my son was born.
POFFO: Vince McMahon doesn't take time out. In his whole life, I don't think he goes on vacation. I think he hates vacation and loves working. Good for him. But when you say, "I want to take a vacation because my son is being born," then Vince says, "OK, you have to lose the belt." And then the Honky Tonk Man beats him.
STEAMBOAT: It's a business decision, I understand it. Instead of letting the belt lay dormant while I wanted a couple of months off, they just said ... actually I don't know for sure what they said, because I never asked Vince or Pat Patterson at that time.
POFFO: People have told Vince, "Why don't we take a month off after WrestleMania?" And he would say, "Now why would we want to do that?" Holy s---! In every sport, like after the World Series and the Super Bowl, everybody goes home. They are not going to play another game. The season is over. Wrestling doesn't have a season. We are always wrestling. My phone doesn't ring [these days], but somebody is wrestling.
STEAMBOAT: I think because of the match that Savage and I had, it really jacked up how important that belt was. I think we really added a whole lot to it. But it was a business decision, I get it. You can't just leave [the title] laying out there. You're not doing TV, you're not doing live events. You're not representing.
POFFO: Can you imagine how great it would have been to have several more matches with Steamboat and Savage?
STEAMBOAT: To ask me if I would change that business decision -- I don't know. I've only got one child [former NXT superstar Richie Steamboat] and didn't know back then if I would have more. But I'm glad that I decided to be there when he came into this world. You only get that one shot. In my mind, in my heart of hearts, I know I said to myself that there would be other chances, there would be other championships and opportunities. But this was something just very golden to me.
POFFO: Don't think that I'm bitter. I am very, very happy for my career and very appreciative for everything I've got in the world. I'm not an angry guy. However, it would have been better to have Steamboat against Savage in Round 2 [of the WrestleMania IV tournament]. I'll never understand.
STEAMBOAT: You know that old saying, things happen for a reason, right? The next thing you know, I'm on top of the world again [signing with WCW in 1989 and facing Ric Flair in a legendary trilogy for the NWA world championship]. And that being said, I was able to be there when my son was born so I double-dipped, in other words.
PART VI - Savage dilemma: 'It kind of ruined his life'
SAVAGE: You can't help but get excited over some form of success when it's taking place in the wrestling world, and that match was definitely a turning point in wrestling for WWE.
STEAMBOAT: I did an appearance with Lanny Poffo in Miami [in 2016], so we hooked up and rode together. And I had a chance to really talk to Lanny about Randy. He told me that after our match, whichever angle or big match that Randy had, either in WWE or WCW or when he worked with Hogan later or Flair, he was always trying to find ways to get the most out of opponents to top it.
POFFO: I was really proud of Randy. But in a way, [the Steamboat match] kind of ruined his life, because he was never satisfied about anything. After everybody said it was the greatest match they ever saw, he kept trying to have a better match, and he never could.
OKERLUND: Knowing what you are doing in there and delivering and executing to perfection -- that's Randy Savage's story.
POFFO: After Elizabeth divorced him [in 1992], Randy got on the microphone and was just doing color commentary. He was still getting over because he was the "Macho Man" and an iconic figure, but he was older now. Unfortunately, [WWE] told him that they were having a youth movement and that the best thing he could do is stay on the microphone. So he was very insulted and offended by that.
SAVAGE: I wanted out of the ring, because I could see what Pat Patterson was doing. They were going for young guys, the new generation. Pat Patterson was in Vince McMahon's ear saying, "Don't even make a transition, let's just go for the new generation."
POFFO: He hadn't wrestled in a while, and he's watching all the talents while announcing. Randy decided that Shawn Michaels was emerging as the great talent he became and figured if he could have a chance to beat the Steamboat match, it would be with him. It was Randy's opinion that Shawn was the greatest talent he had ever seen. He was like total OCD about it. He would call me up at 3 a.m. and told me he was going to do a thing where they would have a feud like the Hatfields and McCoys, and he was really detailed about it. I asked him, "Do you think you could have as good of a match with Michaels as you had with Steamboat?" He said, "I don't know, but I'd sure like to try."
SAVAGE: My deal was that I still thought I could wrestle and had some years left with me. I was in a situation where I just didn't want to be trashed just for no reason. If it makes business sense it's fine.
POFFO: He thought this would be his one chance, so he developed a two-year program. His plan was to get a fake bottle of champagne and bring [Michaels] in the ring to have a toast, click the glasses and drink to the career of Shawn Michaels. Then he would take the bottle and break it over Shawn Michaels' head, and then they would work in every city, and they would improve every time they wrestled, because that's what it takes. In a Broadway play, they don't go to Broadway right away, they take the show on the road. He wanted to have two years of great matches culminating at WrestleMania with Shawn Michaels putting up his hair against Randy's career. Then Randy would lose right in the middle of the ring and retire to the announcing table.
According to Poffo, Savage's attempt to secure a program and WrestleMania match with Michaels was shot down by McMahon and Patterson, who wanted Savage to remain a commentator. Poffo says it was the final straw in Savage signing with WCW in 1994. WWE declined to comment on the matter.
POFFO: It was Randy's goal and dream to end his career at WrestleMania, and then, when they give him a eulogy, it would say, "He had the two greatest matches ever." He could only do that with a man the caliber of Ricky Steamboat or Shawn Michaels. That type of worker. Not necessarily a big man but a guy, once the bell rings, who would be unlimited what he could do athletically.
SAVAGE: [Leaving WWE] was basically my decision. [McMahon] was going toward younger guys and a new generation, and I didn't mind doing business with somebody, but [WWE] just did a real one million percent turn -- which I think later they found out didn't work. It's always better to work younger guys with more established guys so they could get the rub. So I just sort of pulled out. I didn't pull out completely, because I started calling some matches and waited for them to figure out [the youth movement] wasn't working. After I left, they figured it, and they made a big comeback. They knew what they were doing. They were just trying something, and Vince is real good at getting out of there if it isn't working.
POFFO: First you're too young, and then you're too old, so your window of opportunity at greatness is small when you are as athletic as Randy was. But don't you feel a little gypped that you didn't see Savage versus Shawn Michaels? Randy was a little older then, and maybe he couldn't have had a match as good as Steamboat, but wouldn't you love to see him try? The fans never got to see that, but it all worked out well. Even though the thing happened when they were looking for younger talent, Randy always loved and respected Vince McMahon. The love part came because Vince gave him his biggest break. The respect part came because he just couldn't believe [McMahon's] effort. Randy said, "Vince is the only guy who makes me look like I'm not trying. He puts all of his effort into everything. This guy gets up earlier, stays up later, and he never yawns."
In 2016, WWE.com ranked Savage-Steamboat as the second-greatest match in WrestleMania history behind The Undertaker's victory over Shawn Michaels in their first match at WrestleMania XXV in 2009.
STEAMBOAT: Look at the Shawn Michaels and Undertaker match and the false finishes they had -- the chokeslams and the super kicks and the kicking out. Everybody was like, "Oh my God!" And everybody thought this would be the end, but, "No, no, Not now." There were so many false finishes leading up to the finish. [Savage-Steamboat] changed what used to be, and then all of a sudden this is how it has to be from this point on to tell a story and build a match.
POFFO: Randy took it much more seriously, evidently, than I did, because I have a thing where if I don't have a good match, I don't beat myself up over it. But Randy would. It would bother the hell out of him. But the thing is, that's why I'm still alive and he's not, because you wear yourself out if you're going to care that much. My attitude is, do your best, forget the rest. He was do or die. And now he's dead. I consider myself luckier than him, because he had the match, but I lived to tell about it.
STEAMBOAT: I know how I felt, but Randy and I didn't run into each other much [after WrestleMania III]. I moved on to WCW, and we sort of got separated. And then when he moved on to WCW, I was already out of the business. Honestly, our paths just didn't cross that much, but I know just the short times that we would talk to each other, there would be a moment where he would bring up WrestleMania III. I would say, "We stole the show, didn't we?" He would respond, "Yeah, we did Dragon. We stole the show that night."
RICKY STEAMBOAT, 64, was a 2009 inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame. He became a road agent and trainer following his 1994 retirement and makes appearances as an ambassador for WWE.
RANDY SAVAGE died in 2011 at 58. He was inducted posthumously into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2015. His quotes were compiled from interviews with IGN.com (2000), "Between the Ropes" radio (2001) and TheInteractiveInterview.com (2003).
LANNY POFFO, 62, inducted his older brother Randy into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2015. A motivational speaker and author who grew to prominence in wrestling as "The Genius," he still makes appearances on the independent wrestling scene.
GENE OKERLUND, 74, was a 2006 inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame and remains a host and personality on the WWE Network.
DAVE HEBNER, 67, is a retired referee and road agent who went on to work the main event of WrestleMania V and the infamous Hulk Hogan-Andre The Giant title match at "The Main Event" in 1988, alongside twin brother Earl Hebner.
GEORGE STEELE died in 2017 at 79. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1995. Attempts to interview him were unsuccessful in the final month before his death. His quotes were compiled from interviews with KayfabeCommentaries.com (2012) and Sirius XM Radio's "Busted Open" (2013) .
HULK HOGAN, 63, was elected to the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005. His quotes were from an interview with ESPN in 2011.
JESSE VENTURA, 65, is the former Governor of Minnesota and a 2004 WWE Hall of Famer. The author and actor declined multiple requests for interviews through a spokesperson while living "off the grid" in Mexico. His quotes were taken from an interview on Hot 97's "Wrestling with Rosenberg" (2011).