By Chuck Carroll
(CBS Boston/CBS Local) — The pro wrestling landscape has changed dramatically over the past 30 years. The evolution has been abundantly apparent in front of the cameras and to thousands of fans inside arenas. But the change has also been seismic for talent away from the ring. And Lanny Poffo, better known as the quick-witted wrestler The Genius, knows this all too well.
Poffo, the younger brother of WWE Hall of Famer ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage, broke into the business at a time when talent were spending 50 weeks a year on the road. The time away from home tore apart families, destroyed relationships, led to rampant drug use for some, and left others to walk away with nothing more than empty pockets and a bitter taste for the business.
He details his experiences in Fulvio Cecere’s documentary 350 Days, a name chosen as a nod to the time talent would spend annually hustling from one town to the next. And while the documentary does shine a light on the dark side of wrestling’s past, Poffo says his experience was a positive one and recalls more good than bad. He only regrets using steroids for a short stretch of time in his career when he was involved in a storyline with Hulk Hogan.
In talking to the 64-year-old, I understood why he sees it that way. Focusing on the negative is largely absent from his personality. Poffo’s view on life is so rose-colored that he fondly recalls the time a fan tried to attack him in the ring. The gentleman from Boston, who was not part of the show or wasn’t supposed to be anyway, had grown enraged after Poffo recited a poem that ran down the Red Sox, Celtics and Patriots in one fell swoop. It was exactly the reaction he was hoping for.
I had a chance to catch up with Poffo ahead of the April 2 home release of the 350 Days documentary.
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The whole premise of the documentary is 350 days a year on the road. Was that the experience for you when you were breaking into the business?
Yeah, pretty much. You see all these people complaining that “We work too hard,” and this and that, and the family and all that. But the thing is, I know people that work nine to five that are divorced. I’m divorced, I’m a one-time loser myself. But I don’t blame the business, because it’s just what it is. People that live in the same town and work nine to five get divorced too.
Do you think then that the time away from home was an excuse then and that the marriages that were referenced in the documentary may have been destined to fail regardless?
I think if you get a divorce, you should look in the mirror and blame yourself, either for marrying her or divorcing her or whatever, or not being a good husband, or whatever. It’s a failure that everybody is looking for a scapegoat, and sometimes the scapegoat is the wrestling business. Then they get into some other line of work, and they still get a divorce. So I believe in looking in the mirror and taking your own responsibility. Wrestling, for me, has been nothing but positive. I’m 64, I don’t go around with a chip on my shoulder that I got mistreated by wrestling.
Nowadays we hear a lot about talent entering into romantic relationships. Was that as common back in the ’70s and ’80s, when you were breaking in, or is that a relatively new phenomenon?
There’s a little motto that I have and I’ve found it to be 100% true: opportunity plus desire equals humpage. So, when you’ve been on the road too long and you’re lonely and somebody is in your face, and they’re willing and they’re able and they’re attractive, it’s going to happen. It’s got to. That’s how mommy met daddy and that’s why there’s so many babies.
The film really didn’t shy away from the rampant drug use among wrestlers that were on the road. Did you partake?
I didn’t smoke, drink or do drugs, but in 1989 I became ‘The Genius,’ and I had a chance to be main event with Hulk Hogan for four months. I defeated him on NBC. I mean, I went from the outhouse to the penthouse for four months and then eventually back to the outhouse again. I am ashamed to tell you that I took steroids for that period of time. I got acne vulgaris and testicular atrophy. The acne cleared up and you’ll have to take my word on the other. But I only told people that because it’s the truth and because it was legal then, and I’m recommending that anybody reading this abstain from steroids. Because the good stuff about steroids is very temporary and the bad stuff is permanent. I think I got away with it because I didn’t do it much.
Did you do it because you felt pressure because you were in such a high-profile spot at that point?
Nobody held a gun to my head, not Vince McMahon or anybody. But I was competing for a top spot, and I was finally getting an opportunity, and I was trying to earn it. So it was out of desperation and about being tired of being a jabroni. So I finally got to drink from the silver chalice of success, even though if I go to a shopping mall right now, you won’t find one person that remembers me. You know what I mean? Fame, if you win it, comes and goes in a minute.
Do you think that steroids are still somewhat prevalent in the locker room even though some promotions have a testing policy?
Yeah, but there’s ways to mask the test, and the scientists keep getting better on both ends. Scientists get better to catch you and scientists get better to hide it. I don’t watch wrestling anymore, because in 36 years I’ll be 100, but from what I’ve seen, some of the wrestlers that look a little too muscular might be that way for a reason.
Did you ever wrestle in a place where you kind of felt like you were in danger a little bit because the fans were a little bit too rambunctious?
I used to be very popular in Boston, because I would say nice things in the poem about the Red Sox, or the Celtics or the Bruins. But then when I turned into a villain I used to insult the Red Sox and the Bruins and the villains and the Patriots, and they wanted to kill me.
Give me an example of what they would do. (Poffo begins reciting a poem)
I’m the Genius Lanny Poffo. I always know what’s up. The Bruins haven’t got a chance to win the Stanley Cup. The Red Sox haven’t won in years. I hope they never do. The Celtics are a travesty, the Patriots are too.
And I start the third verse and a fan jumps in the ring, and never give a sucker an even break, I caught him between the ropes and sent him flying. I start the third verse and another fan jumps in the ring, but this time the police come and they stop the match. So that’s the kind of heat that I got with ridiculous poetry.
NEWS & NOTES
Speaking of Boston… the Red Sox will celebrate WWE Night at Fenway Park on September 3 when they face the Minnesota Twins. A Red Sox WWE-themed item will be given to fans that night.
WWE will bestow this year’s Warrior Award to a long-time employee at the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony Saturday, April 6. Sue Aitchison, who has been with the company for 30 years, has helped to facilitate more than 6,000 Make-A-Wish events for children and WWE Superstars and spearheaded the company’s WrestleMania Reading Challenge initiative. The annual award is given to those who demonstrate “unwavering strength and perseverance and who lives life with the courage and compassion that embodies the indomitable spirit of The Ultimate Warrior.” Dozens of current and former Superstars trumpeted Aitchison since the announcement. To say she is well-liked within the company would be a gross understatement.
The WrestleMania card continues to fill out, and there should be at least another couple of matches added in the coming weeks. Alexa Bliss will serve as this year’s host. Here is the card as it stands now:
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Seth Rollins
RAW Women’s Championship Triple Threat Match
Ronda Rousey (c) vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair
No Holds Barred Match
Triple H vs. Batista
Shane McMahon vs. The Miz
AJ Styles vs. Randy Orton
United States Championship
Samoa Joe (c) vs. Rey Mysterio
Kurt Angle’s Farewell Match
Kurt Angle vs. Baron Corbin
WWE Cruiserweight Championship
Buddy Murphy (c) vs. Tony Nese
Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal