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wrestling / Columns

That Was Then 3.23.07: True Feats Of Manliness – The Randy Savage Snakebite Incident

March 23, 2007 | Posted by Sam Caplan

Ah, the tale of Austin and Michaels wasn’t enough, was it? You need more manliness to get your weekend off to a manly start? Well, let’s look at a feat that quite frankly, many might consider insane, but I consider one of the damndest, toughest things I’ve ever seen. Here is the story of “Macho Man” Randy Savage and the night he agreed to be legitimately bitten by a cobra.

The Background

“Macho Man” Randy Savage had lost a retirement match to the Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania 7, and was no longer allowed to wrestle. Instead, he took a spot at the broadcast table for WWF Superstars, and appeared satisfied with the prospect of spending the rest of his career announcing. In the summer of 1991, he proposed to his longtime manager Miss Elizabeth, and they tied the knot in a lovely ceremony at Summerslam 91 in Madison Square Garden. Even though he could no longer wrestle, they were secure and things were looking bright for the newly married couple.

Jake Roberts, in the meantime, had traveled a much darker path over the first half of 1991. He had spent the Spring of 1991 feuding with Earthquake, who had attacked and killed Jake’s longtime pet python Damien, psychologically scarring Roberts. Around that time, the Ultimate Warrior came to him looking for help in his feud with the Undertaker. He wanted Jake to help him get in touch with the dark side and give him an insight into the Undertaker’s mentality. For weeks, Roberts taught the Warrior the ways of darkness, sending him into trap after trap designed to break the Warrior down, and finally he sent the Warrior into a room full of snakes where he was attacked by a cobra. It was a fake, but the incident revealed that Roberts was actually in league with the Undertaker all along. Following his attack on the Warrior, Jake Roberts set his sights on Randy Savage.

After Summerslam went off the air, Savage and Elizabeth went backstage for the wedding reception. They began opening presents and found that one box contained a cobra, again a fake. Jake Roberts and the Undertaker took the opportunity to sneak attack the Macho Man, but were picking on an easy target who could not get in the ring to defend himself. Savage began campaigning for reinstatement throughout the entire Fall of 1991, using his position as an announcer on Superstars to stump for his reinstatement, which was continually denied by WWF President Jack Tunney. This all led up to an incident on an episode of WWF Superstars less than two weeks before the Survivor Series where Savage and Roberts would finally come face-to-face in a physical confrontation. However, unlike the fake cobras he had been using up to this point, Jake Roberts would add a touch of reality this time around, one which would provide for a grisly scene that would not soon be forgotten.

The Snake Bite

Jake Roberts came out to the ring for his match on WWF Superstars, and even as he walked to the ring, Savage talked about how difficult it was to just sit there and watch Roberts without being able to get his hands on him. As Jake wrestled, Roddy Piper, also on commentary, kept reassuring Savage that he was doing the right thing by staying at the announce booth and keeping his cool instead of attacking Jake and blowing the whole thing because he couldn’t hold his temper.

Jake won the quick squash, and then got on the microphone and began insulting the Macho Man. He told Savage that, as a former Intercontinental and WWF Champion, he was a man Jake once admired. But Jake said that he had lost all respect he had for Savage, believing that he had gotten soft. He said that Savage was afraid of Jake, and didn’t think Savage had the guts to come down to the ring and confront him face-to-face. Against the warnings of Piper and Vince McMahon, Savage got up from the broadcast table, saying he was just going to get a closer look, and slowly approached the ring. A referee came out from the back and tried to persuade Savage to turn back, but Savage insisted that he wasn’t going to get in a physical confrontation with Jake. He made his way to ringside and climbed up on the ring apron, and the referee decided to intervene at this point, grabbing Savage’s ankle to try and guide him away from the ring.

Jake took advantage of the distraction by blindsiding Savage, clotheslining him off the apron to the floor. Roberts followed him to the outside, rammed his arm into the post, and rolled him into the ring where he tied Savage into the ring ropes and delivered a series of knees. Jake went for the bag and, as the audience held its breath, he opened it up and out of the bag poured a real live king cobra. Jake picked up the cobra and walked over to where Savage was tied in the ropes and, in a shocking visual, the cobra bit Savage on the arm.

The amazing reality of the situation was that not only was this a real king cobra, but it was really biting Savage. In order to make it look real, Savage agreed to make it real and allow the snake to legitimately attack him. The cobra latched onto his injured arm and began chewing away, drawing a flow of blood down Savage’s arm. The cobra was sunk in deep and, with the blood leaking out of his wounded arm, Savage helplessly writhed as the reptile continued to dig into him. The line between work and shoot blurred again here, as Jake began trying to pull the snake off of Savage, but it wouldn’t let go. Roberts began shaking the snake, kayfabing it to look like he was trying to get it to bite harder, but he was actually trying to shake it loose of Savage.

Roddy Piper and a crew of WWF officials came to ringside, but Jake Roberts, having finally gotten the snake off of Savage, turned it toward Piper and used it to chase the would-be rescuers away from the ropes. The situation was an uncomfortable one for many of the fans at ringside, but got worse when Elizabeth ran to ringside in tears. While Roberts was busy fending off Piper and the medics,Savage freed himself of the ropes and tried attacking Roberts, but the venom flowing through his veins acted like a narcotic, impairing his balance and leaving him dazed and unable to stay on his feet. There were actually children crying at ringside as they watched this attack, and there were even adults in the audience that appeared upset by what transpired in the ring. After several minutes of this, Piper was finally able to get in the ring and pull Savage out and get him on a stretcher, and as Piper and the medics wheeled Savage to the back, the last thing we saw was Roberts sitting in the corner laughing as the snake slithered around the ring.

The Aftermath

Following this incident, Savage’s reinstatement was finally approved by a remorseful Jack Tunney, and they were signed to meet in the ring a week after the Survivor Series, a PPV from which Jake had been pulled as punishment for the incident. Savage won the bout, but Jake got the last laugh by laying Savage out again and hitting Elizabeth. They continued playing cat and mouse until Savage won a second match on Saturday Night’s Main Event, following which the two men were turned in different directions. Roberts gave notice shortly after this and after wrestling and losing to the Undertaker at Wrestlemania 8, he left the WWF. Meanwhile, Savage got diverted into a feud with Ric Flair over the honor of Elizabeth, whom Flair had claimed to have had a relationship with before Savage came into the picture. This led to Savage’s second WWF Title victory at Wrestlemania 8.

Although it was just an angle, Savage really did get bitten by the snake and allowed his arm to be chewed on for quite a long time. No, the snake didn’t really have any venom, but Savage went way above and beyond the call of duty by agreeing to this. Over the years, many people wondered about how they could have worked something like this, but the answer is that they didn’t, it was 100% real. Even in a completely worked situation like this, I’d be willing to bet there aren’t too many people around who would agree to let a cobra bite them. This is often pointed to by people who insist that Savage’s insanity began long before he started issuing empty threats to Hulk Hogan years later, but I look at it as a dedication to his craft that took more guts than most people I know would have.

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Sam Caplan
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