Ah yes, it's Saturday. Although the Saturday columns always take me the longest time to write, I enjoy discussing the past. Today, however, I'll enjoy it even more, for I'll try to recap the history of one of my personal favorite wrestlers, Ricky "the Dragon" Steamboat.
I started watching Steamboat in the middle 80s, where he eventually feuded with Randy "Macho Man" Savage that led to Wrestlemania 3. His match against Savage just totally impressed me, and I was hooked on Steamboat ever since. After the WWF depushed him, he somewhat disappeared until reappearing in the NWA in 1989, where I was in shock over the debut! After the best series of matches, ever, he would eventually go to the WWF, where his career was flushed down the toilet. I kept asking "why". He would return to WCW, although performing well, he couldn't carry a promotion which didn't care.
I've wanted to do this column for a while, and I've researched title histories, past interviews, and more to bring you what you'll read to day. Enjoy.
Just a quick note: This column covers ground on about 20 years here. So minor details might be left out, or special TV events might not be included since I didn't watch Steamboat until his WWF days. Even then, I was very young. A lot of information listed here comes from just knowledge that I've picked up by reading or whatever else about Steamboat. Please keep this in mind. Thanks.
Born Richard Blood, Ricky Steamboat grew up in the state of Florida, where he was a very good amateur wrestler. So good, in fact, that he won a Florida state championship in wrestling. Richard Blood eventually made his way to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where his bride to be was attending Northwest Orient Airlines training school in 1975. Her roommate, ironic enough, was Donna Gagne, the daughter of AWA promoter, Verne Gagne. So through her, Steamboat made his way into wrestling.
Ricky Steamboat: "Verne Gagne's daughter. I guess, through conversations, Donna telling my fiance that her father was a wrestling promoter, my fiance telling her that I had a pretty good amateur background...Florida State Champion and so forth and so on...so Verne asked for a resume and I sent it on up there, he gave me a starting day on his next camp. Basically, that's how I got into the business."
Richard Blood would go through very rough training sessions under Gagne, and Blood took it with his drive and desire to become a professional wrestler. Out of Steamboat's wrestling camp, there were 16 or 17 wrestlers training; only 4 survived. That's how intense and demanding the training was, especially go to get into Verne Gagne's AWA promotion, which was red hot at the time. Here is what Steamboat said about some of the training they did.
Ricky Steamboat: "We were in the basement of Verne Gagne's office building - I mean he didn't own the building - he just had a floor. It was 21 stories - we would run stairs everyday. That's 21 flights up and 21 flights back down. Then we would "wheel barrow" - that is, somebody grabs your feet and you go up 21 flights of stairs on your hands and come back down then switch positions and run them again. And then we would fireman's carry - meaning hoist a guy up across your shoulders - across your back and carry them up 21 flights of stairs - drop him and then run back down where he would hoist you on his back and run the stairs, everyday..... During the first couple of weeks we would probably spend four hours and thirty minutes calisthenics and thirty minutes in the ring. Then as the weeks passed by the calisthenics grew less and we began spending more ring time - learning how to take backdrops and all that kind of stuff. "
All of this insane training was done to weed wrestlers out of Gagne's camp. The ones who survived got a shot in Verne's AWA, which Blood eventually received. So when entering the AWA, he needed a gimmick. Gagne and company got together and gave Blood the name Ricky Steamboat, and they'd bill him as the son of the legendary Sam Steamboat, who had the real name Sam Mokuahi. That's how he acquired his name, a name that would stick throughout his career.
Steamboat only worked for the AWA for one whole month. The Dragon would be shipped down back to his home state of Florida, and work under Eddie Graham, making a rough salary of $14,000 in his first year. Steamboat would eventually travel to Georgia Championship Wrestling, which is one of the federations that evolved into World Championship Wrestling. He would work there for about a year, and then travel up to Jim Crockett's version or wing of the NWA, the Mid-Atlantic based version.
Steamboat quickly jumped up the ladder, and was given his first singles title by the company, defeating Ric Flair for the Mid-Atlantic television title, in June of 1977! It would be the first of many titles to switch back and forth between Flair and Steamboat. Steamboat was quickly impressing the older wrestlers, who were amazed by the fast and energetic style of the Dragon. His mixture of high flying moves, martial arts, and just good overall mat wrestling made him a hot star in the NWA. For some reason or another that I can't find out, Steamboat never was defeated for the Mid-Atlantic TV title, as there was a new tournament to decide the NWA Television Champion. I bet this is from many NWA wings recognizing that Crockett's version was the strongest, or something else. Looking at the title history, it doesn't say Steamboat was defeated for that title.
Steamboat and Flair continued to fight over titles, though, as they had an intense feud over the Mid-Atlantic tag titles and the US title! With wrestler Paul Jones as his partner, Steamboat acquired one half of the tag titles by defeating Flair and Greg "the Hammer" Valentine. Ironic enough, Hammer and Steamboat would go head to head about 10 years later, but we'll hold off on that for now. In November of 1977, Steamboat defeated Ric Flair for the United States title. Steamboat kept that title until Black Jack Mulligan defeated him in February of 1978.
Ricky Steamboat, still co-tag champ with Paul Jones, would then go on to win a vacated NWA Television title in June of 1978. Steamboat held that title for quite sometime until he vacated that title sometime in 1980. Ric Flair, the dirtiest player in the game, decided to stack his team against the Tag champs by acquiring the late Big John Studd to win the titles in October 1978. Paul Jones and Steamboat gained the titles back the next month. The Nature Boy and Flair weren't through though. In December of 1978, Steamboat defeated Flair for the US title, his second.
Big John Studd must have been fired up about the tag title loss in November of 1978, so he grabbed the technically sound Ken Patera as a tag partner. In January of 1979, Patera and Studd defeated Jones and Steamboat for the tag titles. Steamboat's stronghold on the titles began to die, as Ric Flair won the US title back in April of 1979, keeping their now legendary feud going. Oddly enough, their feud would be rekindled in 1989, which came from the trust of working well with each other in the late 1970s NWA. Steamboat would pick up Dino Bravo as a partner in early 1980, and they won the vacated Mid-Atlantic tag titles together. However, they vacated the titles for some reason or another.
Steamboat didn't quite have much title success in Crockett's NWA until he was picked up by the hungry WWF. Steamboat's only title gained was the US title in April of 1984 against "Dirty" Dick Slater. Steamboat would then feud the newly turned heel Wahoo McDaniel, when the evil Tully Blanchard interfered. Thanks to the interference, the title was held up to become vacant. McDaniel would then win the title tournament. This last reign as US champ was the last NWA title held by Steamboat until his famous return feud with Flair in 1989...
During 1985, the WWF, now totally fueled and driven by Vince McMahon Jr., was picking off talent from any company possible. The AWA was totally raided, as was some of the NWA. Steamboat was picked up by the WWF in 1985, thus starting his career there. I believe, although I'm not totally certain, that the WWF was the one who really pushed using the nickname "the Dragon". Now it might have come about during the NWA, but the WWF was a strong pusher behind it. The WWF, as they always done, enjoyed giving gimmicks or nicknames to wrestler. Steamboat, with his obvious martial arts like moves at some points, was pushed as someone who could use Karate in the ring. It was his WWF gimmick.
Steamboat actually wrestled in the first ever Wrestlemania, defeating Matt Borne. Borne would later find success as Doink the Clown, if you call it success. Steamboat continued climbing the ladder, and he wrestled Hercules Hernandez at Wrestlemania 2. Steamboat looked impressive to the WWF there, so they booked him into his first intensive feud in the company. Jake "the Snake" Roberts was becoming an impressive wrestler, as well, so it was decided to have the Dragon vs. the Snake, seriously. This is long before Roberts turned face, and enjoyed success about putting snakes on evil heels. He did it to faces back then, once he brought the snake down to the ring.
At a Saturday Night's Main Event in May of 1986, Roberts attacked Steamboat before the match! The DDT was becoming a fierce move in the WWF, and Steamboat took one on the floor. Back then, if you hit anything outside of the ring, you were injured; unlike today where they get back up instantly. Roberts got the best of Steamboat during the "Big Event" of August 1986, but revenge was ever so sweet at the next Saturday Night's Main Event, where Steamboat defeated the Snake. I guess Steamboat would bring down an actual dragon or large lizard agianst Jake's snake, to you know, fuel Steamboat's gimmick more. I might be off on the timeline, but I know they did this against each other at some point.
Steamboat's feud with Roberts was an eye opener for the WWF backstage bookers and Vince McMahon. They took notice, and they wanted Steamboat to feud with Macho Man Randy Savage over the Intercontinental Title, back when it had respect before the Honky Tonk Man won the title. However, at the same time, Ricky Steamboat was requesting time off to spend some time with his wife, in hopes of a pregnancy. The WWF, however, still wanted Steamboat to feud with Randy Savage, so at some televised event, they booked Steamboat against Savage in late 1986. Steamboat was dropped over the railing by Savage, and then Savage attacked the throat area to work on the broken larynx. This was an injury angle, and a good one to build up lots of heat for their eventual feud that would lead to Wrestlemania 3.
Steamboat would make a huge return in 1987, and they started to build up their Wrestlemania match ahead of time. To make sure the match would be a classic, Macho Man and Ricky Steamboat would fine tune the famous Wrestlemania 3 match over house shows. There, they'd work long matches against each other to generate a great match. Vince McMahon had a full 16 minutes of Wrestlemania for Savage and Steamboat, and they wanted to make the most of it. Reports of the house shows were coming in that fans just witnessed some of the best matches ever!
Ricky Steamboat: "It was just a sixteen minute match, and McMahon stressed to us - you know Savage and I were wrestling each other around the country building up for this pay-per-view - and you know, we would go out and have thirty - forty minute matches, you know, and McMahon would tell us, 'Look, I know you guys have been putting in time out on the road - the feature match is Andre and Hogan - don't you dare go out there and go thirty minutes and leave them with about four minutes...' "
Their match at Wrestlemania 3 was a classic. It's said to have around 22 false finishes (minus or add a few) in the 16 minutes slated. It won match of the year during 1987, and it really stole the show for a Wrestlemania aimed at spotlighting Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant. Steamboat said that magazines were printing "Hogan vs. Andre drew the show, but Savage vs. Steamboat stole it". In fact, Hogan was said to be paranoid about the exciting match, and he used some backstage politics to bury Savage for a while, with the exception of the King of the Ring win. Steamboat, on the other hand, was coming off a red hot win. He was on his way to the top, right?
Wrong. Just a short while after Steamboat won the title, his wife delivered a baby boy. With the new arrival into Steamboat's life, he asked McMahon and the WWF to give him a much lighter schedule to be with his family. Back then, though, McMahon was extremely demanding of his wrestlers to work all dates given. No such thing as special treatment, so instead of giving Steamboat a weaker schedule, he gave him a whole 6 months off! With that, Steamboat was forced to drop the IC title. It was supposed to be against The Natural, Butch Reed, but he no showed! Instead, the Honky Tonk Man weaseled his way into the vacated spot by Reed, and defeated Steamboat for the IC title in June of 1987. Steamboat wasn't seen on television for the next half year, and it came as a shocker to many fans because he just fought the match of a lifetime against Savage.
Steamboat's main return was at Survivor Series 1987, as a part of Randy Savage's team. Yes, I said Savage's team, who just turned face to fight against the Honky Tonk Man. Steamboat also tagged with former rival Jake "the Snake" Roberts, along with Jim Duggan and Brutus Beefcake against Honky Tonk, Outlaw Ron Bass, Danny Davis, Harley Race, and Hercules. Honky Tonk Man's team was overmatched, and Team Savage won. However, after Survivor Series, no thought was ever given about Steamboat going after Honky Tonk man for his IC title.
None whatsoever. In fact, you didn't see much of Steamboat at all after Survivor Series until Wrestlemania 4 in the spring of 1988. I guess the writing was on the wall from Vince and the WWF that they weren't too thrilled with giving him time off, and they would no longer want his services within the WWF. At Wrestlemania 4, the long and boring World Title tournament was held. Ricky Steamboat was in the tournament, and he was instantly jobbed away to Greg "the Hammer" Valentine, a wrestler he worked with in the late 70s. That was the last straw for Steamboat in the WWF then, and the Dragon decided to somewhat retire after that.
In late 1988, Ric Flair was handed the booking responsibilities after a long fought feud with Dusty Rhodes. What Flair saw in early 1989 was that the NWA (soon to be WCW) had no real face opponents for himself, who was the World Champion. He saw that Ricky Steamboat was available, and he pushed hard to acquire him. Steamboat, who saw great days in the NWA during the late 70s and early 80s, jumped at the offer and was brought in. Now fans back then knew all wrestling federations, not to mention the oldschool NWA fans remembered that Steamboat wrestled for the company before. So Steamboat was brought in at a perfect time.
Now I've covered the Flair vs. Steamboat feud before, but since it's that good, we'll cover it again! Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard, along with JJ Dillon, left for the WWF, leaving only Barry Windham and Ric Flair as the surviving Horsemen. After either wrestling Barry Windham or Ric Flair during a Saturday Night television match, Eddie Gilbert was on the receiving end of a massive beatdown by the 2 remaining Horsemen. Gilbert then got on the mic, and challenged Flair/Windham to a tag match with a "special" partner. Now since Barry Windham was feuding with Luger, everyone thought the obvious, as did I, being the young mark that I was back then. Gilbert comes out, and his partner came to a total shock to me! It was Ricky "the Dragon" Steamboat!!! The crowd just errupted in shock, and the tag match was just a classic bout. The Dragon was as intimidating as ever, and he actually pinned Flair during the match. That was the first shot that sparked the war!
And what a battle it was. Since Steamboat pinned Flair during the tag match, it pissed off Flair to the point of giving Steamboat a title shot. Their first televised bout was at the Pay Per View Chi-Town Rumble 1989, which is one of my favorite shows ever. Steamboat and Flair fought an incredible match, and it showed a lot of great selling, psychology, and drama that Luger vs. Flair, Dustin Rhodes vs. Flair, or any other competitor against Flair couldn't produce (besides Flair vs. Sting at Clash 1). Steamboat won the first match and became the NEW World Heavyweight Champion.
With Wrestlemania 5 around the corner, the NWA decided to pull a fast one on the WWF, just like they did in the previous year, and have a FREE televised event going Head to Head with it. Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat 2-out-of-3 falls was booked for the Clash of the Champions show, and proved to be one of the best (if not THE best) matches of all time. The first fall was just brutal and vicious, with chops going left and right. Flair would eventually small cradle Steamboat in the 1st fall, when the Dragon was attempting the figure 4. The next fall would just a brutal assault on Flair's arms and shoulders by Steamboat, with armdrags left and right. Steamboat became the first wrestler, ever, to make Flair submit via his new submission hold, the Chickenwing. 3rd fall was a tough one, with both wrestlers showing signs of wear and tear. Flair began to DESTROY the leg of Steamboat, working on it for most of the 3rd fall. Steamboat would eventually slap on the Chickenwing, again, but this time, the leg went out! However, they landed so that Flair's shoulders were down on the mat. Steamboat got the win, retaining the title, but a controversy came of it. Flair's foot was on the ropes, and the referee missed it. Hence, a rematch had to be held! The rematch was at Wrestle War 1989, and it was yet another great match. 3 great an superior matches in a row from Flair and Steamboat? That's why they are both considered the best "wrestlers" in professional wrestling. Flair actually got the clean win the last chapter of their 1989 feud.
What was Steamboat to do now? Well, Lex Luger had nobody to work with after regaining the US title from Michael PS Hayes. So at a Clash of the Champions, after receiving a beatdown, Luger attacked Ricky Steamboat, who just made the save. Thus, Luger was now a heel, and Steamboat had the task of carrying Luger to a good match. Which he did. At the Great American Bash 1989, Steamboat carried Luger in their match, which resulted in a disqualification from the evil heel Luger. Steamboat would then leave the NWA shortly after the Luger feud, take some time off I believe, and then receiving a call from the WWF for his services again. Would the WWF realize their mistake?!?
Of course not, or we'd hear about how great of a WWF World Champion Steamboat was. In early 1991, the WWF gimmick team put their stupid heads together and decided to make the nickname, "the Dragon", a REAL life gimmick. I'm talking Dragon costume and breathing fire!
Picture courtesy of WrestleCrap.com
And it wasn't like Steamboat didn't have it. He could still wrestle and perform, like he always did. But the WWF only saw a gimmick out of him, and that was it. They completely forgot about the fact that he fought Savage to the best match of Wrestlemania 3, nor did they consider his matches with Flair to be something to be of value in the WWF. Instead, he was dressed up as a dragon and he would spit fire from the top rope before matches. He was just fighting jobbers during Superstar events, and not given the chance to shine in the WWF again. I believe Vince McMahon just wanted him to make his very young wrestlers, jobbers then, or very low midcarders to look decent. He eventually got some respect for Summerslam 1991, winning a 6 man match with the late Kerry Von Erich and the British Bulldog.
The damage was done, and with the now packed roster of wrestlers, the WWF didn't think much of Steamboat, who was still kept back from shining. The WWF gained Ric Flair and Sid from WCW, along with the pushes of other mainstay wrestlers, like Bret Hart, Roddy Piper, and the Mountie. So instead of saving himself from further embarrassment, Steamboat left the WWF to eventually turn up in the now newly named NWA, World Championship Wrestling. But think what could have happened if the WWF gave a crap about Steamboat in the WWF back then. Sid and Flair left in 1992, Hogan "retired" in 1992, and guys like Macho Man fought a much more limited schedule. Could you just imagine if the WWF kept Steamboat and made him fight Bret Hart for the World Title? But instead, the WWF missed on the opportunity.
In late 1991, Ricky "the Dragon" Steamboat would turn up at the Clash of the Champions as Dustin Rhodes's surprise and mystery tag team partner to win the World Tag titles from the Enforcers, Arn Anderson and Larry Zbyszko. Dusty Rhodes, Dustin's father, was the booker of WCW again and he made Steamboat Dustin's partner to make his own son look good. But I remember the return, as Steamboat dressed up as a very large dragon and slowly made his way to the ring. At least this time, he could wrestle and not have too much focus on a gimmick.
They only lasted 2 months as champions, with the lethal duo of Bobby Eaton and Arn Anderson taking their titles away in January of 1992. After going for Ravishing Rick Rude's US title but not being able to win the title, and then he participated in the Wargames of Wrestle War 1992. Steamboat would then fight the title-less Rude in an excellent Iron Man match (only 30 minutes, but still) at Beach Blast 1992. The Dragon was truly back! Steamboat would go on to fight a series of tag matches or singles matches with Brian Pillman, which would come back later. Steamboat would also defeat Steve Austin, who was "Stunning" then, for the television title during early September 1992. That would start a long and never ending feud between the two. Steamboat didn't hold on to the title for long, losing to Scott Steiner in a mere 27 days later.
But in November of 1992, Steamboat found himself a good tag team partner in Shane Douglas. They were a pretty lethal tag team back then, and it especially good since it gave Douglas a new focus in WCW. The held on to the titles until May of 1993, when the newly joined Hollywood Blondes, Pillman and Steve Austin, won the titles. Douglas was then fired from WCW for some reason or another, and Steamboat was left out in the cold. He did try to get under a mask, with various other partners, to try to weasel the Tag Titles from the Blondes, but it didn't work. The Blondes suffered a bad fate, as Pillman destroyed his ankle and the titles were jobbed away to the new Horsemen team of Paul Roma and Arn Anderson. It was supposed to serve as a track to push Steve Austin as a singles wrestler...
Steamboat would go on to win the TV Title at a Clash of the Champions in August of 1993 against Mr. Wonderful, Paul Orndorff. Next month, however, Lord Steven Regal (now William Regal of the WWF) defeated Steamboat cheaply at Fall Brawl 1993. It would be Steamboat's last NWA television title, as he was headed for yet another feud with Steve Austin, a brutal one at that., over the US title.
Before the feud, though, Steamboat was practically wasted. He feuded with Orndorff again, losing a several times, and then tagging up with Regal to face Orndorff and the fucking Shockmaster later on. Don't even get me started on the Shockmaster. This loss to Orndorff/Shockmaster enabled Steamboat and Regal to feud over the TV title again. Just realize that WCW was totally hitting Rock Bottom at this point, with poor management and just bad financial decisions by one Eric Bischoff. In a panic to save his job, Eric Bischoff handed the booking duties back to Ric Flair, and the second coming of WCW was on our hands. Flair knew Steamboat could still go, and they would rekindle their feud once again.
Flair booked himself to defeat Big Van Vader at Starrcade 1994, and then immediately began pushing Steamboat as the next challenger, after fighting Vader one more time. At Spring Stampede 1994, it was business as usual, and Flair and Steamboat put on another wrestling classic. This time, however, they didn't quite have the good announcing of Jim Ross to add the drama, plus for the fact that it was 5 years ago when they had their awesome feud. This was still a great match by all standards, and it was used primarily to rise the stock of Steamboat for the next Superstar heel of WCW....
Ric Flair intended Steve Austin to be the next champion heel of WCW, so with that, Flair threw Ricky Steamboat towards his way. They fought several times over the US title, but in August of 1994, Ricky Steamboat won his 4th US title against Austin. This was during the time when the new Hogan era was just hatching, and Austin's fate was coming up. Steamboat's fate, however, came before Austin's. Shortly after winning the title, Austin and Steamboat wrestled a match either at a houseshow or television taping. I'm not sure exactly where it was at, but during the match, Steamboat came out with an injured back or neck, which put him out of wrestling for good. Well, some people have said that he could come back, but after about 20 years in the business, Steamboat officially retired from professional wrestling. Austin was then awarded the television title, and then jobbed away to Jim Duggan. Many say Steamboat probably would have been eventually doomed under the new Hogan regime, but we'll never know. Just like we'll never know what might have happened if the WWF careed about the Dragon.
So where is he now? Currently, Steamboat is running a Health Club, which he owns, and spending lots of quality time with his family. Steamboat, every once in a while, makes a special appearance with an independent federation, but he has yet to resurface in either WCW or the WWF. Some rumors were saying that he was considering a front office job with WCW, but those came out to be false.
But through it all, Steamboat was definitely one of the best in ring performers ever in professional wrestling. He gave his all for every match he wrestled, and he had the desire to put on a great match with anybody. It's a shame that there were times where his career was looked down upon, and it's especially a shame that the WWF didn't make better use of Steamboat. But Ricky always kept his head high, and always gave us something to look foward to on the wrestling card.
Credit: Jeremy Hartley's interview with Ricky Steamboat for the quotes. PWI Almanac for the many title changes.
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@Nothing like a good marathon column to burn you out on a Saturday! Whooo! I'll be back tomorrow with something, or if I'm too burned out, I'll take the day off since there are no Pay Per Views whatsoever, thanks to the end of ECW. Just chill...
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Take Care, and Thanks a Million for Reading.
Chicago Enforcers vs. Memphis Maniax
Las Vegas Outlaws vs. Orlando Rage
Both games start at 8:00 PM, and the Orlando vs. Las Vegas game will be the focus tonight. I'd rather see Memphis vs. Chicago tonight, just because two former decent NFL backs will go at it, in Rashaan Salaam against John Avery. Tonight's game will have the Cheerleader's lockerroom camera, but expect to see a lot of "WWF" missing from the game. That means you'll see less of the angles or hype that the WWF wanted. Just hardnosed football instead of the image.