1954 - 2023
Regardless of whether he was playing the good guy or the bad guy, Lanny Poffo was one of my favorite performers in the World Wrestling Federation in the 80's and early 90's. Sadly, it was announced yesterday that Mr. Poffo passed away. He was 68 years old.
Lanny Poffo was the son of NWA US Heavyweight Champion Angelo Poffo, and the brother of Randall Poffo, who is better known to the world as the six time WWF and WCW World Heavyweight Champion: "Macho Man" Randy Savage.
When I saw him for the first time, he was wrestling for the WWF as "Leaping" Lanny Poffo. He wasn't one of the company's main event wrestlers, but he stood out in a number of ways. He wrestled a high flying and speed-based style of match which was years ahead of its time. This would evolve in the years that followed to become the cruiserweight wrestling style that took off in popularity during the late 90's and early 2000's.
The character that he played was simple, but unique and very entertaining. He'd come out to the ring with a Frisbee that had a poem printed on it, and after he flipped into the ring, he tossed the Frisbee out into the crowd. The fan who caught it would find that Mr. Poffo had autographed it before he came out to the ring.
One of Mr. Poffo's poems was printed on the top of his Frisbee, but he'd recite a different one on the microphone before the bell rang to start the match. This poem usually made fun of his villainous opponent, which would inspire the bad guy to attack him as he was taking his jacket off to get the crowd's sympathy on his side.
The "Leaping" Lanny Poffo poem that had burned itself into my memory is from a 1988 match that he had with Boris Zhukov.
This was the absolute height of pro wrestling comedy for me when I was eight years old. I haven't seen this match in over 30 years and I still remembered it almost word for word.
By the Fall of 1989, Mr. Poffo retired his "Leaping Lanny" persona and adopted a new villainous character called The Genius. He began coming out to the ring wearing a graduation cap and gown and carried a metal scroll. He still read poetry before each of his matches, but these new poems had a different tone in which he'd brag about being the world's smartest man while taking shots at his opponent and the fans in attendance. His wrestling style also changed to fit this new character, with The Genius adopting cowardly tactics, such as jumping out of the ring to stretch, jog, or argue with the fans at ringside to delay having to fight against his opponent in the ring.
|1990 Classic WWF - Card #32 (left) and Card #29 (right)|
Lanny Poffo wrestled in the first pro wrestling match that I ever saw in person. My dad brought me to a WWF Superstars Of Wrestling house show at the West Palm Beach Auditorium on my 11th birthday. The opening match that night was scheduled to be Mr. Perfect vs. Koko B. Ware, but Mr. Perfect stepped aside and let his ally, The Genius, wrestle in his place.
To the best of my knowledge, the first wrestling show I ever attended wasn't ever broadcast on television or released on home video, but this match between Poffo and Koko is pretty close to my memory of how their match went. These two probably performed this same match a hundred times in cities across the country, with the folks in attendance enraged every time the cowardly Genius used underhanded tactics to steal a victory from the fan favorite Birdman.
Lanny Poffo stepped away from the World Wrestling Federation in the mid 90's, but he returned to the company for a night in 2015 to read one last poem in honor his late brother, Randy Savage, who was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame.
News of Mr. Poffo's passing was shared by his friend Hacksaw Jim Duggan. Like Duggan, Lanny Poffo never held a championship belt or performed in the main event of a pay-per-view in the World Wrestling Federation. However when fans look back on this era of pro wrestling, I think they'll find that they have just as many fond memories of the performers who wrestled in the opening matches and the midcard as they have of the headliners. I know that I do.