The legendary fight between Randy Savage and Bill Dundee was a huge part of Memphis Wrestling history. To truly understand the origins of this real-life conflict, we must go back to the events that led to them “rolling around like two old women on the ground” outside a Tennessee gym.
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What Led to the Randy Savage and Bill Dundee Fight?
Before Randy Savage became one of the most recognizable figures in professional wrestling, the real-life Randy Poffo, alongside his brother Lanny Poffo and father Angelo Poffo, created an "outlaw" wrestling promotion in 1978 out of Lexington, Kentucky called International Championship Wrestling. ICW was considered an outlaw promotion because they did not have affiliation with the National Wrestling Alliance.
When a young Randy, fresh off a stint in minor league baseball, failed to grab Jarrett and Lawler’s attention in Memphis, Angelo Poffo created ICW as a place for his sons to be the top stars.
Recommended read: Deep Drive: A Randy Savage Baseball Career Retrospective
Angelo, the patriarch of the Poffo family, was a wrestler and promoter who made quite an impact regionally before his sons Randy and Lanny got involved in the business in the early ’70s. Angelo was well known for his athleticism and had even broken the world record, as recognized by Ripley’s Believe It or Not, for most consecutive sit-ups, completing 6,033 straight (6000 plus 33 for each year that Jesus lived).
Around this time, ICW was competing against several successful territories in the mid-American states including Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Knoxville-based Fuller family territory, as well as their most reputable competition, Jerry Jarrett and Jerry "The King" Lawler’s Memphis-based promotion, Continental Wrestling Association. Lawler was one of their top stars.
The Poffo Family and ICW’s Unconventional Measures to Boost Business
According to Jim Cornette, "Jerry Jarrett was doing really good business, and ICW had struggled. When we say they weren’t doing very good business, they were doing 1000, 1200, 1500 people sometimes in some of those Eastern Kentucky towns where there wasn’t a lot of wrestling going on. That would be considered good today, but for the time, they were struggling as a company and were always cutting promos on Jarrett’s guys." This included Jerry Lawler, Bill Dundee, and even Jarrett himself.
ICW resorted to unconventional measures to grab fans’ attention, spending as much time trash-talking their rivals as they did building their talent up. Jerry Lawler recalled their unmerciful gibes in his autobiography, It’s Good to Be the King… Sometimes:
"They’d go on their show and challenge all the guys on our show. They wouldn’t talk about their own matches; Savage would just rip into me. ‘I went to Jerry Lawler’s house in Memphis, and I threw a rock through the window, and he was too scared to come out.’ Stuff like that."
Jerry Jarrett attempted to ignore the trash talk and challenges. He informed his wrestlers to do the same, but there was no escaping the Poffo Family. The Poffo’s waged war on the Memphis-based promotion. Fans began taking notice, and gradually the Poffo’s grew in popularity, notably Randy Savage, who made it known that he was going after Lawler.
"This was a period in the wrestling business where if you were crazy onscreen, you were crazy offscreen," Bruce Prichard recounts in the highly recommended first episode of Viceland’s documentary series, Dark Side of the Ring. "You had to live your gimmick, and Randy played crazy really well. He lived it 24/7."
Tensions were quite high, and Randy and several other wrestlers would buy tickets and turn up at shows to taunt and challenge the Memphis wrestlers whenever they rolled into Lexington, which was Jarrett’s best town.
"That was kind of their base, and they would buy tickets to the Jarrett shows, and they’d be in the back when the guys parked and walked in the back door," Jim Cornette reveals. "They’d be there yelling at ’em and challenging ’em in front of the fans, or they’d sit at ringside a time or two in Rupp Arena when they were allowed to buy tickets."
The Memphis wrestlers, including Bill Dundee, became uneasy about this, so they began to carry guns.
A Firearm Gets Pulled on Randy Savage
In 1977, Bill Dundee had the words "Macho Man" emblazed on the back of his tights. Five years later, in the fall of ’82, a group of wrestlers were working out at a gym called American Fitness Center in Hendersonville, Tennessee. According to Jim Cornette, a wrestler named Candi Devine approached Randy Savage to tell him about the tights Dundee used to wear. This added to an already tense situation. As Dundee left the gym, Cornette recalls, "Savage started cutting a promo on Dundee. When Dundee saw that he was outnumbered, he tried to defuse the situation by saying something like, ‘Hey, just hold on. Let me put my bag in the trunk…’ Well, that’s when he got his fucking gun out!"
Cornette continued, "Because he was outnumbered in the parking lot and who knows with Randy Savage what he’s gonna do, Dundee managed to get ahold of his gun, he brought it out, but Savage blocked it, grabbed the gun, and whacked him with it. Savage drilled Dundee on the side of the head and broke his jaw."
Savage left the scene, and eventually, news of the incident spread.
Bill Dundee tells a different version of the story. His version ends with him coming out on top in the situation. Dundee claims that he was leaning up against his car, talking to both George Weingeroff and Pez Whatley of ICW when Randy Savage sucker-punched him out of nowhere. Dundee explains, "Randy ran by and sucker-punched me right in the eye." Dundee then stated that he was never ‘pistol whipped’ but did suffer a broken orbital bone.
According to Dundee, "[Randy and I] got rolling around like two old women on the ground, then that gets stopped. There’s just Randy, but the other two were there, and they had their vans sitting up on the hill with a whole crew in it. So I thought if I get in the back of my car, I will restore order."
As Dundee tells it, he got to his trunk, popped it open, and pulled out a .38 caliber gun. Dundee claims that he pointed the gun at Angelo Poffo, who walked up to the vehicle to see what all the commotion was about when Dundee threatened to shoot him if Randy didn’t back off.
Eventually, the situation was diffused. Later, both Dundee and Savage went to court over the incident, but the charges were dropped, and the case was thrown out altogether. When Dundee returned to Memphis television, he never mentioned Randy Savage by name on-air. Instead, he said he was confronted by "four gorillas" that were "nine feet tall"!
When Lanny Poffo was asked to respond to comments Dundee had made in the past, he replied with a coy, "Well, I’d like to take the opportunity not to respond. I’ll tell you why. I was in the World Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee, on the day it happened — and I really hate stories like this, but it never ceases to amaze me how people that were afraid of my brother don’t mind talking about him after he’s dead. Well, I got bad news for you. I’m still here, okay? And here’s a little something else I would like to say- I’m glad, Bill, that your son Jamie is doing so well. You should have jacked off the day that you made him!"
What Happened After the Incident Between Randy Savage and Bill Dundee?
After the incident, ICW continued to struggle financially. When asked to talk about Randy Savage and Angelo Poffo’s ICW territory, Jerry Lawler replied, "I think the reality of it was that it’s very, very difficult, and very costly to try to run a small promotion like that and they were about to go belly up simply because there was not enough money to keep going. So, they called us up and said, ‘What about us trying to work together a little bit or at least have this big inter-promotion rivalry between our two companies?’"
The two did great business together, and the highly anticipated match-up between Randy "Macho Man" Savage and Jerry "The King" Lawler sold-out Rupp Arena drawing more than 8,000 fans.
In 1984, ICW closed its doors for good due to dwindling attendance with its assets being bought by Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler. Due to the fans’ knowledge of the extremely bitter rivalry between ICW and CWA, Randy Savage was able to migrate to the CWA and begin a memorable feud with Jerry Lawler that established him as a world-class superstar.
The shoot fight story between Randy Savage and Bill Dundee is legendary, even though both parties paint a different picture of the events that took place. Despite ICW withering away, it became the catalyst for Randy being able to move onto something much bigger, something his father Angelo had hoped for all along.
Randy was a special athlete and wrestler who had managed to cause a storm — a storm that was big enough for an even bigger promotion to take notice. His intensity and inimitable style would eventually become legendary. Randy Savage was on his way to superstardom as he soon made his way into Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation. The rest, as they say, is history.
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