The Genius Lanny Poffo – Working Harder and Working Smarter

It is within the sunlight the prettiest flowers shall grow. But only the toughest of plants thrive in the shadow. When your father is a marvel and your brother a Savage, it is a certainty that your life will not be average. This is the story about the younger of the Poffo brothers, the Genius Lanny Poffo.

You may think you know it, but it is unlike all others. Now is the time for the record to be set on professional wrestling’s only Poet Laurette.

Lanny was the second son of Angelo Poffo. Even though his family were from Illinois, they were in Alberta when Larry was born. This gave Lanny birthright citizenship in both the United States and Canada.

The Genius Lanny Poffo –
Working Harder and Working Smarter

Macho Man” Randy Savage's wild road to WWE Hall of Fame - Sports Illustrated
[Photo: SI]
His mother was Jewish-American. While Lanny and his older brother Randy were raised Catholic, they were both proud of their Jewish heritage.

The boys were both raised in Illinois. While Randy dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player, Lanny knew that he wanted to be a wrestler like his father. Randy only began wrestling in 1973 as a means of earning money during off-seasons.

Lanny debuted in 1974. Angelo trained both his sons and instilled important disciplines into them. Yet he would not let them compete until they had finished their education.

Angelo stayed under his father’s wing longer than Randy did. Angelo competed in numerous companies affiliated with the National Wrestling Alliance. For the early part of his career, Lanny went wherever his father did.

They competed in both singles and tag team competition against the top stars of Big Time Wrestling in Detroit. They would win the NWA World Tag Team Championships and held them for several months.

Lanny went his own way in 1976, competing in NWA affiliates across multiple states. He got his first shot at the NWA World Heavyweight Championship only to be turned back by Terry Funk.

He then went to Mid Atlantic Championship Wrestling and formed a tag team with his brother Randy. When the older Poffo sibling moved on, Lanny remained in MACW’s singles division. In 1978, he wrestled NWA Champion Harley Race to a time-limit draw.

Randy created the “Macho Man” Randy Savage persona for himself. This character and his wrestling style made him hot property. Anywhere he went, he often requested a spot for his little brother too.

Such was the case at Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling. The move allowed Lanny to appear on television more regularly. He would win the AGPW International Heavyweight Championship, the first singles title of his career.

The two engaged in an intense feud which saw the younger Poffo fail to gain a decisive win over his younger sibling. Savage would take Lanny’s title and Lanny would never get it back.

Just as the brothers were establishing themselves within the business, their father was falling out of favor with the NWA. He created International Championship Wrestling as a rival “outlaw” promotion.

Jim Cornette: Randy Savage's Dad Was A Huge Cheapskate | Fightful News
[Photo: Fightful]
Angelo was still respected among his peers, which made it easy for him to poach wrestlers from rival companies. Lanny and Randy would join the company to support their father. Both men would become top stars, and both would win the ICW World Heavyweight Championship.

However, Angelo’s business practices drew the ire of neighboring promotions. They refused to work with him, and partnered up to help put ICW out of business. ICW folded in 1984.

“My father was teamed up with Killer Kowalski, who was a vegetarian and a health nut, and I got to listen to his viewpoints on things.

I was exposed to that type of mentality early in life, and I kept with it. Health, wealth, and freedom are the best things in life, and health comes first. Without health, you have nothing.”

– Lanny on the importance of a healthy diet.

Lanny continued to follow Savage to every promotion they visited over the next few years. While he enjoyed decent mid-card success, he never achieved the same levels that Savage did.

The older brother kept offering a helping hand by requesting to have Lanny as his partner in tag team matches. When Savage was offered a deal with the World Wrestling Federation, he negotiated a deal for Lanny too.

The WWF had become more entertainment-focused than any other promotion the brothers had worked at before. Savage’s character was a natural fit among the other larger-than-life personas.

He added a new element by bringing in his actual wife, Elizabeth, to be his onscreen manager. Savage would draw heel heat by being mean to the pretty girl by his side.

Lanny needed a hook of his own. He chose to rely on his writing talents. Lanny would read poems he had composed himself before his matches. They usually insulted the opponent he was about to face.

He would then hand it to fans at ringside. He later started printing them on flying discs so he can throw them further into the crowd. Lanny later admitted that he had given away all his poems and had not kept any copies. The only ones he would recover were from re-watching old footage and from flying discs that fans kindly returned.

Both brothers featured heavily on television and rarely lost. They became known for their athletic and acrobatic styles of wrestling, and using finishers that required them to jump from the top turnbuckle.

Best of Leaping Lanny Poffo Wrestling Dvd - Etsy
[Photo: Etsy]
“Leaping” Lanny Poffo alternated between using a moonsault or a flipping senton bomb as his finisher. He was the first person to use both these moves in the WWF. Unlike with Savage, Lanny was unable to gain any traction.

He consistently beat anyone who was below his level but rarely overcame anyone who was above him. He was also not kept consistent as a heel or babyface. The role he played depended on who his opponent was.

In 1986, Lanny sensed his career was in trouble. He competed mainly in battle royals. He started experimenting with different ideas to get himself over. One of the worst was to compete while wearing a full suit of armour.

Then his career took a hard knock, figuratively and literally. Andre the Giant had turned heel. His first match in this role was a battle royal. The first thing he did was headbutt Lanny so hard that he went over the top rope.

He had broken Lanny’s nose so badly that he needed to be taken out on a stretcher. While this helped solidify Andre as a heel, it made Lanny look weak.

This would be the pattern for Lanny for the next two years. He was not an enhancement talent, yet he would be the first person someone defeated when they began a new push.

Lanny would always be on the side of big events but never close enough to be remembered as part of them. Panic set in when he went on a losing streak against actual enhancement talent.

Angelo abstained from tobacco and recreational drugs, rarely touched alcohol, and avoided partying with the other wrestlers.

He had observed how these behaviors led to his peers becoming broke, committing adultery, getting into trouble with promoters, and even being arrested. Lanny heeded these warnings and kept away from this lifestyle entirely.

He also promoted his anti-smoking stance in some of his poetry. While it made it harder for him to make friends in the locker room, he never felt like he missed out on anything.

“Lanny was the cleanest guy I have ever seen. Lanny, as far as I know, never took drugs. Around 90% were taking steroids, and the other 5% are lying if they said they didn’t… Lanny would never take a drug.”

– Billy Jack Haynes on Lanny Poffo being clean-living.

His fortunes changed when he used one of his poems to insult the local sports teams while competing in Boston. This marked the beginning of a heel turn. He began wearing a graduation robe and an academic hat to the ring, like his father used to do.

The Genius Lanny Poffo
[Photo: eWrestlingNews]
His took inspiration from Gorgeous George. Just like the legend had done, Lanny would study a dictionary for multisyllabic words he could use to insult crowds. He nicknamed himself “The Genius.” This brag would become his ring name.

The Genius went on a long winning streak. The victories were finally translating into more television time and a better position on the roster. In addition to his own career, he became an “executive consultant” (manager) to Mr. Perfect.

His only loss to Koko B. Ware at an untelevised event went ignored. Genius led the coronation of “Macho King” Randy Savage and Queen Sherri. He was finally part of a major moment and not just a bystander.

The Genius had the biggest match of his career on November 5, 1989. At Saturday Night’s Main Event, he put his winning streak against the winning streak of Hulk Hogan. He had gone undefeated (on television) since winning the WWF World Heavyweight Championship in January 1984.

The Genius infuriated Hogan and the crowd by relentlessly taunting and jumping out of the ring. He lured Hogan out of the ring and then distracted the referee while Mr. Perfect struck Hogan with the title belt.

The Genius won the match by count out. Later that night, the heels added further insult to injury. They would steal the title belt, and Mr. Perfect smashed the centre medallion with a hammer. Perfect would wear a replica of the broken belt for the rest of their feud with Hogan.

“Whether it is for satisfaction or just having fun, the spirit of competition is the birthright of everyone. It’s a very special moment when they pass the torch along. In the words of Charles Dickens, ‘God bless us, everyone’.”

– The poem Lanny Poffo recited after winning his last career title.

The downward slide began in 1990. The Genius’ winning streak was finally broken when he was pinned in a tag team match. It is worth noting that his opponents were WWF Champion Hogan and WWF Intercontinental Champion The Ultimate Warrior.

The two biggest babyfaces in the company at that time. The Genius started losing more often and slipped down the ladder. Yet he was still in a better position than when he was winning matches as “Leaping Lanny.”

The thing that did hurt his career was taking a break. When he returned in early 1991, he competed on the mid-card with no direction. Then he was taken out of the ring to be a manager for the Beverly Brothers.

Unlike with Mr. Perfect, The Genius would not get physically involved with his clients’ matches. His own matches were few and far between. He stayed in the Beverly’s corner until he was released in December 1992. At this point, he took another six-month break from wrestling.

Lanny spent some time touring the independent circuit before making a return to the WWF in May 1994. He was gone a month later. His brother Savage left for World Championship Wrestling soon after.

Vince McMahon was so hurt by Savage’s departure that he had nothing more to do with the Poffos until after Savage passed away in 2011. This led to baseless rumours about what truly happened between Savage and McMahon.

Savage extended his biggest and last career lifeline to Lanny. Among his conditions for signing with WCW was that they hired his brother too. The WWF owned “The Genius” character, which prevented Lanny taking it anywhere else.

Knowing that Lanny was inspired by Gorgeous George, Savage bought out the rights to that character. He planned on giving it to Lanny to use. Lanny would only work one match in WCW. He waited and prepared patiently for his comeback.

Nobody returned his calls. When they finally did get in touch with him in 2000, it was to let him know he had been released from his contract. They had effectively paid him to not work for five years. Savage wound up giving the Gorgeous George ring name to his then-girlfriend, Stephanie Bellars.

“I’m not going to tell you how much I made, but I saved it all.”

– Lanny on what he did with WCW’s paychecks.

Lanny made the most of his absences. He had tried to keep his private life a secret to protect his wife and daughter. He has seen what the industry had done to Randy’s marriage and the relationships of his colleagues.

Lanny would release two children’s books encouraging them to abstain from tobacco, alcohol, and drug use. He was a certified counsellor and a motivational speaker. Lanny tried his hand at acting by appearing in a re-enactment for I (Almost) Got Away With It, a show depicting true crimes. He also hosted an infomercial for an exercise machine.

He returned to wrestling in 2005. He competed as part of the Wrestle Reunion tour in Tampa, Florida. He then continued to appear sporadically for various smaller promotions across the US and Canada, and once in England. His highlight was winning a battle royal to claim the Great North Wrestling Canadian Championship in September 2011.

Savage passed away after suffering a heart attack while driving. His passing persuaded McMahon to end his animosity towards him. The WWE made multiple attempts to add Savage to their Hall of Fame, but it kept being blocked by Lanny.

He maintained that Savage had decreed he would never go in unless his father and brother were added to. There is a belief that Savage had made Angelo being inducted into the WCW Hall of Fame one of his conditions for signing with them.

In the end, they finally managed to negotiate a deal for Savage to be inducted by himself. He headlined the 2015 class.

The induction caused some controversy. Savage was inducted by Hogan, and the award was collected by Lanny on his brother’s behalf. It was well-known that Savage had a long-standing dislike of Hogan.

He was one of the reasons why Savage quit the industry in 2004, and had tried to launch a rap career on dissing him. Hogan continues to maintain that they had become friends after a chance encounter at a medical center.

Lanny was the only person to ever corroborate the story. However, he admitted sometime later that he had no idea if it had happened or not. Savage had not spoken about Hogan in several years and had never mentioned the encounter.

Lanny made an appearance at the All-In pay-per-view (the independent event booked by Cody Rhodes, not an All Elite Wrestling show). He managed Ring of Honor World Champion Jay Lethal.

Lethal had parodied Savage for part of his career, and continued to use the “Black Machismo” nickname. After the event, Lanny would make appearances on ROH telecasts as an announcer.

He did the commentary in his “Leaping Lanny” persona. His final match took place at The Reena Rumble in Toronto on March 2019. The match featured former WWF stars as well as local talents.

“Be humble when victorious, be noble in defeat. Be there for your neighbour who doesn’t have enough to eat. Try to love your enemy. And always be aware; whether World Cup or Superbowl, the Tortoise beats the Hare.”

– Lanny dispenses life advice to his daughter in the form of a poem.

In 2018, Lanny started two new projects. He produced a biography in the form of a graphic novel. He also started a podcast that lasted for only twenty episodes. He and his wife moved to Ecuador in 2020.

Lanny passed away in New York City on February 2, 2023. The news was broken by longtime family friend Jim Duggan. His cause of death was revealed to be heart failure. He was sixty-eight.

It is unfortunate that Lanny’s legacy may be that he was Randy Savage’s brother. While the spotlight may have always shone on the Macho Man, he never left Lanny out in the cold. In return, Lanny never sought anything more than he had earned.

Perhaps that should be a legacy itself. Both brothers expressed themselves boldy. While one let his actions do the talking, the other utilised the power of his words.