“Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Harley Race (9/18/87)

Comments (0) Wrestling

It strikes me odd that I’ve never seen fit to write about Harley Race before, though I suspect that mostly has to do with the way I’m familiar with him, which is as the burly, tough-as-nails old man who used to accompany Big Van Vader to the ring in WCW. Harley, in brief, is one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. Sadly, being one of the greatest of all time didn’t really mean much in the Rock ‘n Wrestling Era, where the leisure-suited Race of the 70s and 80s (a gruff, mean precursor to Ric Flair’s slicker, smoother style) would have been laughed out of the building despite the years he spent atop the NWA, terrorizing the world with his majestic afro, his stiff punches, and his crisp execution of just about everything, from knee drops to piledrivers. Harley is still active in wrestling, as a trainer of good repute. His handiwork can be seen on WWE TV in the persons of Ted DiBiase and Michael McGuillicutty, and he’s also the trainer of several other second and third generation stars, including Mike DiBiase, Reid Flair, Amy Hennig, and Ricky Steamboat Jr. When the DiBiases, the Flairs, the Hennigs, and the Steamboats of the world are sending their progeny to you, that’s respect.

Like I said though, that didn’t quite translate to Race’s WWF career, where they billed him as “The King” of professional wrestling. Race won the second King of the Ring tournament in WWF history in 1986, back when the tournament was not televised, and became the first man to parlay victory in the tournament into a gimmick, as evidenced by the crown, the robe, and the royal purple trunks, adorned with another crown. Race’s crown was the official one in the WWF for some time, passing from him to Haku to Jim Duggan to Randy Savage, who made perhaps the best use of the gimmick as the “Macho King.” Race, however, was in the twilight of his career during the whole “King” thing, which did see him feud against Hulk Hogan, which is about as high profile as wrestling for Vince McMahon in the 1980s got. Sadly, he suffered a hernia in a match against Hogan, and after a brief comeback, was let go. His last match as an active competitor was in 1991, at which point he was hired to be a manager in WCW.

But what made Race so great was still evident during his run as King, even though his reign as king served as a precursor to other King of the Ring wins that did nothing for the new regent. Granted he’s in the ring against the freaking Macho Man, but Race here is the rare wrestler who doesn’t prove the announcer a fool when talking about “ring experience” and “ring positioning.” Race takes a few of Savages best shots–the bionic elbow and top rope double axe-handle combo at around the 10-minute mark–and calmly, naturally puts his feet on the ropes. Too often, a wrestler’s leg shoots up for the ropes at the last second, using the same amount of energy it’d take to kick out. When Savage goes to pin Harley after the double axe-handle, Race lets Savage’s own momentum swing his leg over the rope. Simple. Effective. Smart.

I’ve written a ton of nice things about Savage on this blog in the past, and there’s no need to reiterate much of it. This, for historical purposes, was during his transition to a full-blown face. Gorilla Monsoon mentions the Honky Tonk Man’s ill-intentions towards Elizabeth at the start of the contest, and it was that feud, not the association with Hulk Hogan, that won the fans over to the Macho Man’s side. People don’t often compliment on Elizabeth much beyond her beauty, but her ability to engender sympathy was truly second to none. She single-handedly turned Savage face not once, but twice, and both under amazing circumstances. She might not have been a great manager the same way a guy like Bobby Heenan was, but in terms of performing a useful function, Elizabeth was one of the WWF’s most reliable ringside presences.