It’s difficult to write about a memory you can’t remember. For the past several years, I’d say ever since the untimely death of “Macho Man” Randy Savage, on May 20, 2011, I’ve been trying to recall the night that I attended a live taping of WCW Thunder, in my hometown of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, but every time I do, I draw a blank. Thanks to the internet and the help of a few friends, I’ve been able to narrow down the date to August 5, 1999, but even still, when I read and reread the various online dirtsheets and results listings, it reads as totally unfamiliar, and I can’t say with absolute certainty that that was indeed the night in question. I simply can’t remember any of it. Well, with the exception of a few details.
I specifically remember my wardrobe that day. I was sporting a crisp new pair of black denim Sean Jean brand overalls and a black t-shirt. I feel like I only remember this because my friend Barry, who was visiting from Houston, Texas, and with whom I attended the live event, had mocked me for unintentionally dressing like a “less than buff” Buff Bagwell (who was on the card that night). And the other main thing I remember from that night is that when Barry and I entered the LaCrosse Center Box Office, to purchase our tickets mere hours before the show, we actually met “Macho Man” Randy Savage. He was simply walking around inside the empty LaCrosse Center lobby, not unlike Barry and myself, except Barry and I were a couple of stoned young men, looking to waste a little free time before the big show, and “Macho Man” was arguably the greatest professional wrestler to ever live.
I’ll willingly admit that I was completely starstruck. I couldn’t do anything but wordlessly stare at “Macho Man,” who was jacked to the gills yet surprisingly short, but Barry jumped into action without hesitation, immediately grabbing the attention of “Macho Man” and shaking his hand. Barry remembered that I had a disposable camera in the pocket of my overalls, as I often did back then, and he and “Macho Man” posed with their fists interlocked. I snapped the picture, Barry enthusiastically thanked “Macho Man,” and I also silently shook his hand, as he walked by. In the years since, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and shaking the hands of many other professional wrestlers, a number of whom I would consider among the greatest to practice the craft, but due to the serendipitous nature under which I met the “Macho Man,” no other wrestler meet-and-greet has felt so momentous.
When I’ve talked to Barry about that night, and what he remembers about it, he also can’t seem to remember a single thing, other than meeting “Macho Man” (and maybe my glorious Sean Jean overalls), and he’s joked that it feels like the magic of meeting “Macho Man” before the show is somehow responsible for erasing our memory of the remainder of the night, and I’ve started to agree with him. It was such a wholly unexpected surprise, that meeting “Macho Man” was destined to overshadow anything else that occurred. Of course, for myself, there were probably other factors also involved in my lack of retention. If, in fact, the date of that particular WCW Thunder is correct, and we were there on August 5, 1999, that means that it had been little over 4 months since my first child was born on March 22, 1999. I was barely 20 years old, and I was consumed with the stress and emotion of being a new parent, so perhaps that’s one reason why the only thing I remember is meeting “Macho Man.”
With that said, this was one of those rare occasions, before smartphones and social media, in which there actually exists, or existed, documentation of the night’s events. For starters, I had a disposable camera, and I had used it throughout the night, first by taking a picture of Barry and “Macho Man,” and I can assume I took pictures throughout the night, but as it so happens, the film in that camera never got developed. Like much of the film I used from around that time, I simply threw it into a dresser drawer or shoebox and forgot about it. A number of years later, I made it a point to eventually attempt to develop my saved rolls of film, but I quickly found out that much of the film just wasn’t worth developing. Most of the film had simply expired, which I didn’t then know could happen. And so I finally made the decision to indiscriminately throw away all of my saved, undeveloped film. Now, in doing so, did I also throw out a great amount of wonderful memories, photographs of my friends and family and infant daughter? Did I also throw out my undeveloped photograph of Barry shaking hands with “Macho Man” Randy Savage? I did. I threw it all away. But at the time, I decided it just wasn’t worth trying to develop a box full of unlabeled, indistinct, and expired rolls of film, in the off-chance that I might finally uncover those missing pictures from WCW Thunder, when there was an equal or better chance that when I went to the CVS photo lab, I’d be stuck paying for a thick envelope full of glossy 4X6 photos of indistinguishable exposures. So, that eliminated part of the evidence of what Barry and I saw and experienced that night. That further distanced the memory, and any chance of recovering it.
And yet, this was a televised event. This was an episode of WCW Thunder, and hence, it is something I could actually watch, if I could only find it. As it turns out, the episode of WCW Thunder that Barry and I attended was a two-parter. There was the live portion, which aired on Thursday, August 5, and then there was the taped portion, which aired on Thursday, August 12, 1999. So far, I’ve been unable to locate any video of the live August 5th episode of WCW Thunder, just a collection of results and summaries, with the occasional screenshot thrown in to add some color, but one of the screenshots I’ve found at least looks familiar. In it, “Macho Man” Randy Savage is being interviewed, in ring, by “Mean Gene” Okerlund, and I swear that “Macho Man” is wearing what he was wearing when Barry and I met him in the LaCrosse Center, before the show. Rather than his ring gear, “Macho Man” is wearing a black, sequined, collared shirt, black leather pants, black sunglasses, and black leather Kangol-style hat. Granted, this was the general style of “Macho Man” around that time, well after the brightly colored robes and fringed jackets and cowboy hats, well after “Pomp and Circumstance,” Miss Elizabeth, Slim Jims, and ICOPRO. But this image of “Macho Man,” and what he was wearing, his street clothes, felt too familiar to be a coincidence.
Still, that one image wasn’t enough to fully convince me that Barry and I were at WCW Thunder, and hence met “Macho Man,” on August 5, 1999, and so I kept searching. And while I never found any video from the August 5th episode, I did come upon the full episode of the August 12th edition of WCW Thunder, which was taped on August 5th. So this was it, at last, video evidence of that night, assuming that I could remember any of it. It was very possible that the entire episode would seem completely foreign to me. I wasn’t a diehard WCW Thunder viewer back then, and so at least my viewing memory wouldn’t skew what might’ve been the wrong episode. Therefore, I concluded that if I could recall anything from this particular episode of WCW Thunder, then that would finally help fill in the blank, as far as what occurred that night, and most importantly, help nail down the actual date of when Barry and I met “Macho Man” Randy Savage.
I’m not going to run down the entire episode, because the point here isn’t to write a review. If you want to know exactly what happened on the August 12th episode of WCW Thunder, back in 1999, there’s no shortage of information available. You can even watch the episode, yourself, if you can find it (spoiler alert: Rick Steiner defeats Spyder and Sid Vicious defeats the tag team of Disorderly Conduct). The important thing is, for about the first half of the video, I felt completely dismayed. Nothing about this episode, in any way, felt like I had been there or seen what was happening in the ring. Part of the issue was that this was the “go home” episode of WCW Thunder, before the 1999 Road Wild pay-per-view, and so most of the televised episode was spent recapping the previous week’s episode of WCW Monday Nitro, and reminding viewers of the various feuds and matches heading into the upcoming event in Sturgis, South Dakota, but the little that actually did occur in the ring felt previously unseen. Therefore, I conceded that this was the wrong episode, and that Barry and I hadn’t been at WCW Thunder on August 5, 1999.
It was disappointing, feeling so close to rewatching a forgotten memory, and then realizing that the memory wasn’t yours in the first place. And so, convinced that I had come to a dead end in my research, I continued to half-heartedly watch the rest of the August 12th episode of WCW Thunder, but my attention began to stray from the action in-ring. I began to search the crowd for familiar faces. Barry and I had known a number of other people who were at that same event, and so I tried to identify somebody, anybody, I knew. And more so than that, I was trying to find myself and Barry. That night, we were sitting in the lower bowl section of the LaCrosse Center, in seats facing what’s referred to as the hard camera, and I hoped that I might see myself on TV. There were a number of moments when I thought I caught a glimpse of either myself or Barry, but then something, some sign or odd piece of clothing or merch, would almost immediately disprove that it was us.
At one point in the video, a man in the audience suddenly stood and raised a camera to his eye, and a part of me felt this might have been me. He had similarly styled dark hair and an unfortunate beard (did I have a beard then?), similar black t-shirt and a camera in hand, but then again, the likelihood seemed too coincidental for my taste. I rewatched this brief moment at least 5 more times, if not more, but I ultimately decided that it was somebody else. And then, at a little over one hour into the video, after a brief clip of a confrontation between Dennis Rodman and “Macho Man” Randy Savage that occurred on an episode of the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the episode cut back to the LaCrosse Center, where “Macho Man” was headed into the ring to face young Evan Karagias (pronounced like “courageous”), and I suddenly remembered, “Macho Man” made two appearances that night. There was the earlier in-ring interview with “Mean Gene,” which aired live on August 5, 1999, but then there was the actual match “Macho Man” had later that same night, which served as the main event of the evening.
“Macho Man” was wearing the same wardrobe that he wore during his interview with “Mean Gene,” which was the same wardrobe he was wearing, pre-show, when Barry and I met him in the empty LaCrosse Center lobby. I vividly remembered the motions of “Macho Man”’s match with Karagias. The out-of-context pre-match promo about a Hummer, “Macho Man” shaking Karagias’ hand and then kicking him in the gut, the involvement of “Macho Man”’s forgettable blonde valet, who was a lackluster substitute for Miss Elizabeth. There was no doubt in my mind, I had seen this all before. I was there that night.
By the time the match reached its inevitable conclusion, and “Macho Man” dropped a total of three flying elbows upon a supine Evan Karagias, I had fully made up my mind. It was settled, Barry and I attended WCW Thunder, and thus met “Macho Man” Randy Savage, on August 5, 1999. It was satisfying to finally have a definitive date attached to this memory. There was never any doubt that Barry and I met “Macho Man,” yet it ragged on me that I could remember so little about that night, let alone when, exactly, it had happened. But once I watched, or technically rewatched, “Macho Man” Randy Savage’s otherwise forgettable squash match against Evan Karagias, my memory was replenished. At last, I could finally stop obsessing over what I couldn't remember about that night, and instead, I could cherish the irreplaceable memory of what happened that day.