Had they had it their way, the Poffo brothers would not have become known the world over for poetry, flying elbows and heavyweight championships, but rather for diving catches, home runs and World Series titles.
Luckily for wrestling fans, things didn’t turn out as planned for the late Randy Poffo and his brother Lanny, better known by their ring names, Macho Man and The Genius. The impact the brothers had on the world of professional wrestling, along with their late father, Angelo Poffo, is legendary. While Randy and Lanny came by wrestling naturally and honestly, it was neither man’s first choice.
“We were a baseball family,” said surviving family member Lanny, the younger of the siblings. “(Our) first pick was baseball. We had dreams of being in the major leagues.”
The elder Randy almost did fulfil his dream of playing in the big leagues.
“Randy was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1971,” Lanny said in a telephone interview. “And he played four years in the minor leagues.”
Had it not been for Randy’s unconditional release from the Chicago White Sox in 1975, Lanny explained, the world may never have been introduced to the Macho Man Randy Savage.
“I was a catcher, and so was he,” Lanny said, adding his older brother only turned to wrestling following his release by the Chisox. “That was his third pink slip … one from the St. Louis Cardinals, one from the Cincinnati Reds, and the other from the Chicago White Sox. That was in 1975.”
Not surprisingly, Randy was a natural, his brother said.
“Ten years later, he (made) his debut at Madison Square Garden. I would say that he definitely made a good rebound.”
For Lanny, the man who would later go on to become World Wrestling Federation’s villainous “Genius,” becoming active in professional wrestling happened much earlier.
“I was lucky enough not to be as good (at baseball) as (Randy),” he said. “So right after I graduated from high school, I got into wrestling. Like I say, it was kind of lucky that I wasn’t as good. I didn’t have to torture myself in the minor leagues.”
From there, it wasn’t long before Lanny, and soon Randy, began to travel the world, both for their father’s wrestling promotion, International Championship Wrestling, and for other promoters worldwide. However, it was after signing with the World Wrestling Federation in 1985 that both brothers experienced their greatest success.
Known as “Leaping” Lanny Poffo, Lanny’s first break came as part of a segment on TNT, Tuesday Night Titans, a prime-time World Wrestling Federation talk show, hosted by Vince McMahon and Lord Alfred Hayes on the USA Network. It was there that he read his first poem, which would become his trademark.
“I wore a suit of armour, and I read a poem (dedicated to Hulk Hogan)”, Poffo explained of the opportunity he was given. “And when they went to black, after the first segment, (WWE owner) Vince (McMahon) said ‘That was great! From now on you’re doing a poem before every match!’ ”
The younger Poffo had a rare combination of skills, with mat-based skills and high-flying, making him in many ways ahead of his time. He found success as both a good guy, and later as a heel, as his career progressed.
“I worked on my own gimmick a lot. (Turning heel) was just a great opportunity for me, because the Leaping Lanny thing had run its course,” Lanny said “I had been there for over five years, and I was dying of stagnation. Everybody was. So then I got the Genius gimmick and I made the most of it.”
In those days, finding success in wrestling went one of two ways, Poffo said.
“There’s only two ways to make it, one as a good guy, and one as a bad guy. Of course, now it’s more shades of grey, but I was just happy to exploit whatever I could do to get where I got.”
The elder Poffo, Randy, found even greater success thanks to “Macho Man” Randy Savage, going on to what a hall of fame career—he was inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2009. Randy, who died tragically of a heart attack at the age of 58 in 2011, was regarded both for his incredible in-ring performances and unforgettable personality. Many of his catchphrases live on today and his flamboyant ring attire has inspired many wrestlers who’ve followed in his footsteps.
“Randy was naturally gifted athletically,” Lanny said, adding that his brother “put everything he had into giving the fans more for their money than they ever would have gotten. He would curse the people that didn’t show up, and reward the people that did show up.”
And while Savage is the more famous and recognizable of the two brothers, younger brother Lanny doesn’t allow jealousy to cloud his admiration for his brother, or respect for his success.
“I don’t ever give a lot of stock to that,” Poffo said when asked if he wished he was given a bigger break in professional wrestling. “Instead I just feel grateful. There are a lot of wrestlers that are angry because they didn’t get a big break, or a bigger break. But, when you think about it, I never thought I would get to Madison Square Garden in my life, and yet I made about 35 appearances, and two of them were as a main eventer.”
Poffo also drew attention to his website, geniuslannypoffo.com.
“(There) you’ll see all of my fondest memories of my match with Hulk Hogan on NBC, my appearance with Regis Philbin, and the others,” he said. “So I’m very happy with the way things have turned out in my life, and I’m in a very happy place right now. I don’t place a lot of time wishing for more, or why I didn’t get more. Instead I’m grateful for what I’ve got and I consider myself very lucky.”
It’s in speaking with Lanny about brother Randy that you really begin to have a feeling of how much his brother meant to him, often seeing him every day until Randy’s tragic and sudden passing.
Randy Poffo died after suffering a fatal heart attack while behind the wheel of a car also carrying his wife in Seminole, Fla. Savage became unresponsive while driving. The vehicle spun out of control and crashed into a tree.
“He had a ventricular fibrillation, which is like an arrhythmia of the heart,” Lanny said. “It’s just too bad that he was driving.”
If not for Randy’s wife, things could have been much worse, Lanny said, adding that Randy’s wife saved the day, saving a motorcyclist and avoiding a collision with a bus.
“She grabbed the wheel and steered it into a tree,” Lanny said. “And very safely, too. His foot was still on the accelerator, and he was going the wrong way in traffic, so she saved the lives of countless others.”
While Randy had become somewhat secluded in his final years of life, Lanny painted a picture of someone who was very happy with where he was in life, and what he had accomplished.
“He was very happy at the end of (his life),” Lanny said. “There were a lot of people who were curious about him, and I saw him almost every day. He was very happy, and I’d say he lived a pretty great life in 58 years. You know, you really couldn’t ask for more. He was a very satisfied person.”
Since Randy’s death, calls for his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame have intensified. With each passing year, fans clamour louder and louder to see Poffo and his Savage character take his rightful place alongside his iconic peers. But, as years continue to pass, rumours also intensify as to why Savage’s induction has yet to come to fruition.
“They could have put Randy in the Hall of Fame any year they wanted to,” Lanny said, speaking to his brother’s inevitable induction. “(However) it was Randy’s wish that all three (father Angelo, and brothers Randy and Lanny) would go in at once. And since then, I have decided that I am now the alpha-male of the family, it’s a very odd role for me to play, because I was always the youngest. From now on, I’m going to make all of the decisions regardless of what anybody wants. And I say if they want to put Randy in, beautiful, let him go in. Now, this goes against what my brother’s last wishes were, but I didn’t always get my way when I was alive either. Sometimes I had to yield to the people who had the most experience. I am now the oldest. But, of course, they have not called me, so maybe he won’t go in. I don’t know how serious the heat is but I’ll tell you what, all it does it make them look ridiculous, and it’s very bad for the fans. But, in another way, Randy is more famous for not being in it, than for being in it.”
One thing is certain; a posthumous induction won’t be the same as having the man himself there on induction night.
“The Hall of Fame is one thing, but you’re not going to bring him back with the Hall of Fame. You know, no matter who does the speech, it won’t be as good as Randy doing it. So, first of all, it shouldn’t have been posthumous, secondly, it’s going to be anti-climatic.”
Poffo referenced one of the most recent inductees, The Ultimate Warrior, who died suddenly, just days after accepting induction into the WWE Hall of Fame.
“I just know that the speech won’t be as good as what they would have missed. And I’ll tell you what, I’m very jealous. I’m very happy for the fact that the Ultimate Warrior got to speak before he died, but I’m jealous because wouldn’t it have been great if Randy would have gotten the chance to speak before he died. Say hello, say goodbye, get a few things off his chest.”
Lanny Poffo does not allow the controversy surrounding his family’s WWE Hall of Fame status to slow him down, though, continuing to keep himself busy at 59 years old. Along with penning two Amazon.com international best-selling poetry books, Lanny finds himself accepting speaking engagements, doing public appearances, and occasionally lacing the boots up for one more match.
“If the price is right, I’ll be there tonight”, he laughed, stealing a line from Tom Hanks favourite A League of Their Own. “I do personal appearances, and I do speeches, and being the author of two best-selling books, I get the opportunity to go to a lot of schools.”
And despite the controversy surround his late brother and the WWE Hall of Fame, the loss of his father in 2008 and his brother in 2011, Poffo continues to remain positive.
“Everybody has their cross to bear,” he said. “We are born to die. I’ve got a good attitude about both life, and death, and I’m just trying to seize the day, carpe diem.”