"The Genius" Lanny Poffo
Lanny Poffo comes from one of the most well-known wrestling families in the industry. His father Angelo Poffo was a wrestler and promoter who ran International Championship Wrestling. Angelo set a world record in 1945 for doing 6,033 sit-ups, the additional 33 being one for each of year of Christ’s life. Lanny’s brother was the iconic “Macho Man” Randy Savage, one of the biggest stars in wrestling history. During his career Lanny wrestled as “Leaping” Lanny and “The Genius” where he was well-known for reciting original poems before matches. His website is http://geniuslannypoffo.com
During our 50 minute phone interview Lanny was very gracious, very honest and offered a unique perspective on Jim Hellwig that came from someone who wrestled for many years but never achieved “superstar” status.
Lanny’s earliest memories of Hellwig came in the late 80s when it was clear that Vince McMahon had plans for both Hellwig and Tom Magee. Magee was also a body builder and drew fame for powerlifting and strongman competitions. Magee never panned out as a prospect, but Hellwig was an obvious crowd favorite. Lanny had remembered seeing Jim in WCCW perform as the Dingo Warrior and was tremendously impressed with his fitness. “Naturally I never had that kind of physique”. He humorously noted that he would have traded Hellwig bodies and stated, “Evidently this guy made a tremendous commitment to it (lifting)”.
As we began discussing impressions of Hellwig from his contemporaries, Lanny quickly jumped in because he had a strong message to deliver. While he had never seen “The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior” documentary, he had seen clips and was “shocked” that people had belittled Warrior’s interview style. There was a clear tone of frustration bordering on anger as he began talking about the fact that they were trying to sell tickets and that Jim Hellwig sold tickets. People had seen everything in wrestling and what sold tickets was uniqueness, “Is Jim Hellwig unique? You bet!” Lanny criticized the critiques noting that most of the people who “knocked” him were people who did not sell tickets. He was ashamed of those people for their blatant criticism and made it clear that the Ultimate Warrior was fun to watch; otherwise he never would have gotten over.
While he was speaking he asked me if my tape recorder was on. When I confirmed it was he said, “Good”, because he wanted to be quoted. “More people die of jealousy than heart-attacks, cancer and car-wrecks combined.”
Lanny strongly believes that most of the criticism that has been thrown Jim Hellwig’s way is the result of jealousy, to which he said, “don’t knock success.” Jim Hellwig succeeded in an industry where it is not easy to succeed. Wrestlers are paid based on the success of the package that is put together to draw fans and Lanny realizes that his finances were a direct result of men like Jim Hellwig: “I saved my money, and I got some of the money he drew.” He also said, “I am richer because he was in the business than if he hadn’t been.” Noting how important Hellwig was both to the industry and on a personal level to the other wrestlers who relied on box office draws like the Ultimate Warrior for their livelihood, Poffo was blunt when it came to critics. He said, “Let me be negative about the negativity, ‘fuck ‘em.’” Sometimes being unique is better than being good and that is what Hellwig brought to the industry.
Hellwig and Poffo did not have any real meaningful interactions, but he remembered what interactions they had as being positive. When asked if Hellwig interacted a lot with other wrestlers in the locker room, Poffo said no then followed it up by saying, “so what?” Some people had different personalities and Lanny had wished some people would have interacted less than they did. The only person Lanny could remember Hellwig being close to was Kerry Von Erich, Hellwig’s friend from WCCW. Lanny also added , “I liked the hell out of Kerry”. Von Erich took his own life on February 18th, 1993.
I asked Lanny about Hellwig’s in-ring capabilities and he recalled that he had wrestled the Warrior in a singles match in Bakersfield, CA, and in a tag team match on NBC where The Genius and Mr. Perfect wrestled Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior as part of a lead up to Wrestlemania 6. Poffo was thrilled to be a part of history in the making and had no bad in-ring experience with the Ultimate Warrior. While he has heard that others said Hellwig hurt them in the ring, he never had that problem. He also noted that Big Boss Man had hurt him, almost breaking his neck at times, but not the Ultimate Warrior. Poffo said of those people who criticized Hellwig’s in-ring skills, “Screw them” because people always take a shot at those on top.
The only criticism Poffo had of Hellwig revolved around claims that Hellwig demanded money before he would participate in the “Match Made in Hell” at the 1991 Summer Slam. This incident was discussed in “The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior” but was not fabricated for the documentary.
The September 6th, 1991 issue of the “Wrestling Observer” newsletter had reported the Warrior’s suspension and rumors that it involved finances. When I asked Lanny if he knew anything about it he said that he did not, but believed it was “100% true.” He could not conceive of any reason why this would have been fabricated, or any financial reason why Vince McMahon would suspend the Ultimate Warrior for no reason. Additionally, Lanny recalled a card he worked in Austria, probably in 1993, where he was working just after Warrior had been there. According to the Austrian promoter Warrior had done the exact same thing there, demanding a ransom for performance. Poffo made it clear that of all the positive things he had to say about Hellwig, this was the one major critique. Lanny said that had Hellwig not done what he did he would have been richer today, but instead he did something that was “major stupid” and “immoral”.
The interview was very refreshing on a personal level, not only hearing the positive comments but also getting the opinion of someone who was not a superstar. Lanny Poffo’s livelihood was dependent on other performers who were more popular than he was to sell tickets. He recognizes that Jim Hellwig made him a wealthier man and he is grateful for what the Ultimate Warrior brought to the industry.