On March 29, 1987 at WrestleMania III there were 78,000 fans who were enthralled with every slam, punch and suplex thrown in a match that involved two of the best wrestlers on the planet. When the final bell rang at14:35 in the contest, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat was crowned as the new WWF Intercontinental Champion by defeating Macho Man Randy Savage. This is arguably the greatest wrestling match of all-time, however, its reputation has been tarnished over the years due to how the match was prepared and laid out.
In a shoot interview conducted in 2001, Ricky Steamboat stated that Randy Savage insisted on carefully choreographing the entire match in advance and scripted every single move in a notebook. Steamboat said he had never worked a match that way before, but trusted Savage enough to go along with his plan. Steamboat went on to say that during the weeks leading up to WrestleMania III, Savage would randomly quiz him to make sure he knew the sequence of moves on a particular page.
Ever since this story came out, the perception of Savage vs. Steamboat has changed over the years. What was once a masterful wrestling match is now, to some, a tainted exhibition of the art. On an episode of the Stone Cold Podcast. William Regal stated that he used to love the match until he talked to Steamboat and discovered its rehearsed nature. Steve Austin himself along with other wrestlers have publicly echoed the same sentiment, which has even turned some fans (some who don’t have the slightest clue) against this match
Planning an entire match in advance is really no different than what actors do when using a script to deliver their lines in a play or movie. A lot of wrestlers, however, prefer call it in the ring because they can tell a better story instead of being beholden to a list of planned moves. Preplanning everything outright can make wrestling matches look rigid, robotic and make it difficult to change course in midstream if the audience is sitting on their hands.
Being able to call a match in-ring and get the crowd going is a badge of honor for some wrestlers because it exhibits a certain mastery of their craft. This is why it’s perplexing that two of the best to ever lace up a pair up boots would resort to such extensive rehearsal, which is why Steamboat vs. Savage has lost some of its luster.
While resentment towards the aforementioned match is understandable within the confines of the industry, there is one big glaring undeniable fact that ultimately renders this argument inert. Regardless of how it unfolded, Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage at WrestleMania III is still an amazing match that captivated one of the biggest crowds to ever witness a wrestling event.
It’s not as if Savage and Steamboat used stunt doubles, hired George Lucas to add in CGI, or are incapable of calling it in the ring. In fact, they worked a plethora of house show matches with each other, prior to WrestleMania, that weren’t rehearsed, and some enjoy those bouts even more than the classic bout in question.
The notebook script was a well thought-out method that was designed to produce a great match. Savage had an idea, Steamboat agreed, and the rest is history. Even if Steamboat flat-out refused to follow a script, odds are that their match at WrestleMania III would’ve still been an amazing body of work from two consummate in-ring professionals who stole the show sold by Hogan and Andre.