WWE WrestleMania Flashback: Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat

Photo credit: WWE.com
Photo credit: WWE.com /

This week’s installment of the WrestleMania Flashback series goes back in time 30 years to the show-stealing match at WrestleMania III between Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat.

Welcome to the latest installment of the WrestleMania Flashback series here at FanSided as we travel the road to WrestleMania 33 in Orlando on Sunday, April 2.

In our previous journeys back in time, we’ve gone back five years to WrestleMania XXVIII to look at the “Once in a Lifetime” match between John Cena and The Rock and the “End of an Era” Hell in a Cell affair involving The Undertaker, Triple H and Shawn Michaels, 10 years to look at the “Battle of the Billionaires” from WrestleMania 23 involving the current President of the United States, 15 years to the epic “Icon vs. Icon” battle at WrestleMania X8 between Hulk Hogan and The Rock, and back two decades to WrestleMania 13 to examine the game changer that was Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart. Two weeks ago, we went back 25 years to take a look at the great matchup between Rowdy Roddy Piper and Bret Hart and stayed right there last week to look at the debacle that was the main event scene of WrestleMania VIII.

This week, we’re going back 30 years to take a look at the show-stealing Intercontinental Championship match between Randy “Macho Man” Savage and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat at WrestleMania III.


WrestleMania III is without question one of, if not the most, important events in WWE and wrestling history. While it was built on arguably the biggest match of all time between Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant, the night was stolen by the Intercontinental Championship bout that took place on March 29, 1987 between Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat, easily two of the best in-ring performers in history. But the road to WrestleMania III actually started back on November 22, 1986 on an episode of Superstars of Wrestling in which Savage and Steamboat headlined.  After pummeling Steamboat, Savage placed The Dragon’s throat over the steel barricade and came flying off the top rope with a double axehandle. The match actually ended in a countout but the drama was just beginning as Savage threw Steamboat back into the ring and came flying off the top rope again on Steamboat’s throat, this time with the steel ring bell. The whole beauty of this thing was how well Steamboat sold everything. He was placed on a stretcher and just writhed in pain the entire time he was being taken away. It was beautiful storytelling and everything took off from there.

We would get weekly updates on Saturday morning about the condition of Steamboat through either his doctor, his wife or Mean Gene, who all told the world it was a crushed larynx and it wasn’t until almost a month later that The Dragon finally appeared on television again. It wasn’t until a week after that when we finally got an interview in which The Dragon vowed revenge on the Macho Man, who had been continuously gloating over the incident. On the first Saturday night in January on Saturday Night’s Main Event, Savage was once again defending his Intercontinental Championship against George “The Animal” Steele and was going to do the same thing to his WrestleMania 2 opponent, but Steamboat showed up to save the day and it was on.

93,173 people packed the Pontiac Silverdome that day in March of 1987, and while I’m sure they knew they’d get a great match from two great performers, I’m not sure anybody expected that, 30 years later, the match would still be talked about as one of the greatest in the history of WrestleMania. What nobody knew either was that Randy Savage was an absolute perfectionist and that he and Steamboat worked for months to choreograph the match, something that’s really not done that often. But this was a step-for-step guide on how things were to go down and Savage had actually requested to work with The Dragon because he thought he was the best and had no problem dropping the belt to him if that’s what was necessary. And in a revenge situation like this, that’s usually what happens but it didn’t quite go down as people expected it to.

The atmosphere was electric and even as a kid I knew this event was something special. I was a Hogan kid so I was supposed to hate the Macho Man, even back then because he was one of the bad guys and Ricky Steamboat was pretty much the best guy in the world outside of Hogan, right? But Savage had Elizabeth with him and everybody was infatuated with her, and that didn’t change that night.

Photo credit: WWE.com
Photo credit: WWE.com /

As the competitors finally got to the ring, Savage had to keep Elizabeth away from The Animal, who had accompanied Steamboat to the ring and had a long history with Savage. Then the magic got underway as The Dragon hit some of his signature arm drags — still in my opinion the best the business has ever seen — but then got a little aggressive and went right for Savage’s throat to exact a little revenge on what Macho Man had done to him a few months earlier. Savage hit the outside but was chased by Steamboat before getting the upper hand with a double axehandle as The Dragon got back in the ring and went for a two count — the first of 20 in this match — following a clothesline. Classic Savage and more classic Macho Man as he hit his over-the-top-rope choke as he jumped to the floor, a move I always loved. After a little back and forth in which Steamboat worked over Savage’s arm, Macho Man regained the advantage and went back to the throat a few different times with elbows, knees and another couple of near falls.

Steamboat fought back, and eventually got Macho Man tied up in the ropes, hitting some hard shots before some fast-paced action and numerous more two counts following a cross body and a couple of shoulder blocks. I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Dave Hebner here, who was personally requested by Savage to do this match, as he was down as quick as he could be to count all of these things … despite what Jesse Ventura might say on the broadcast. Savage, however, would once again regain the upper hand and hit a high knee that had The Dragon reeling. Savage went to throw him out of the ring but Steamboat skinned the cat — where do you think Shawn Michaels saw it? — and came back in but got hit with a big clothesline and was back to the outside. Savage then hit him with another knee and Steamboat ended up in the crowd but was helped back in by The Animal, only to be thrown out again upon his reentry.

Savage hits a couple of double axehandles, one on the outside and one back on the inside, before another quick series of five two counts. But Steamboat once again comes back with some chops and then Savage took a huge bump over the top from a backdrop that looked so impressive. Back in, he runs into a chop from the top for another near fall and this one was really close as Hebner’s hand actually hit the mat and with the acoustics being what they were in that building, the live crowd thought it was over. He hit another chop for two count number 13 and followed that up with a sunset flip for number 14. And then we got a cradle for number 15, a reverse double leg hookup (thanks, Gorilla Monsoon) for number 16, a small package for number 17 and another hook for number 18 following a slingshot into the post. Steamboat gets number 19 with another rollup but Savage’s momentum allows him to get a rollup of his own for two count number 20. This all happened so quickly, as well. As beautiful as this match is, it’s not even 15 minutes in length but every second mattered here with this choreography.

Photo credit: WWE.com
Photo credit: WWE.com /

This was all about the back and forth, and true to form, a reversal of a reversal led to the ref bump from Hebner, which I will admit was a little much from him but if that’s the biggest problem then something is going right. Savage hits a clothesline and lands the flying elbow but there’s no ref to count. So what does Macho Man do? He sees his opening and goes for the ring bell but Steele takes it and then takes a kick to the head as Savage grabs it back and heads up top. But The Animal knocks him from the top down to the mat in an awkward looking fall. Savage is up and goes for a slam but Steamboat reverses it into a small package as Hebner came to and we finally get a three count after 14 minutes and 35 seconds of absolutely glorious action.

There are many people in the wrestling world that still consider this to be the best match in WrestleMania history and there’s no arguing that three decades later, it has proven that it stands up to the test of time and will always be remembered as a true classic. These were two great athletes that had something to prove and they went out there and did it. Unfortunately, the follow-up wasn’t all that great as there really wasn’t ever a big-time rematch — on TV anyway — and Steamboat lost the Intercontinental Championship to The Honky Tonk Man just over two months later and was gone from WWE the following year while Savage went on to become WWE Champion and would be a major part of four of the next five WrestleManias. While I say that it’s a shame that there was no big-time rematch, maybe I’m wrong on that. Perhaps the one match that we did get was all we needed because that match at WrestleMania III was just about perfect.