411’s Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2006: Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat
Like many professional wrestlers of his era, Richard Blood learned his craft from the legendary Verne Gagne. Assisting Gagne in training this young stud was none other than that technical marvel himself, the Iron Sheik. After finishing his training in 1976, Richard bounced around from the AWA, to Florida, to Georgia, before finally settling in the Mid-Atlantic region, where he was named “Sam Steamboat Jr.” due to his physical resemblance to the legendary ex-wrestler from the Hawaiian Islands. Soon he became Ricky Steamboat, and on June 25, 1977, Ricky scored the biggest victory of his young career, defeating the NWA Mid-Atlantic Television Champion, Ric Flair. And thus one of the greatest rivalries in wrestling history began. When Steamboat wasn’t busy wrestling singles, he tag teamed with Paul Jones. They would win the Mid-Atlantic Tag Team championships on 2 occasions, and even win the NWA World Tag Team championships in a 10-team tournament on April 23, 1978. While Steamboat & Jones were tearing up the tag circuit, Steamboat also had responsibilities in the singles ranks. After losing the television belt to Baron Von Raschke, Steamboat targeted the man he had defeated for that belt, who happened to be holding the NWA United States title. On November 1, 1977, Steamboat defeated Ric Flair yet again, this time getting the U.S. Title from him. Steamboat would lose the title to Blackjack Mulligan, but he soon had bigger problems to deal with.
His tag team partner Paul Jones was becoming jealous of him. While Steamboat was winning singles titles, Jones was in his shadow, only being known as Ricky Steamboat’s tag team partner. Jones was on the breaking point, and he turned against Steamboat, viciously attacking him. They would engage in a series of violent matches, and eventually Steamboat emerged victorious. While he no longer had Jones by his side, he would soon team with quite possibly the greatest tag team partner he would ever have. Before that, he resumed his rivalry with Ric Flair, who had regained the U.S. Title. Steamboat defeated Flair for it in December 1978, but Flair would regain it in April 1979. At this point, Steamboat began teaming with a man by the name of Jay Youngblood. They won the NWA World Tag Team Titles for the first time in October 1979, defeating 2 men Steamboat had faced before, Baron Von Raschke & Paul Jones. Steamboat & Youngblood would go on to win the World Tag Team Titles a total of 5 times, which at that time was second only to the legendary Minnesota Wrecking Crew of Gene & Ole Anderson. When not teaming with Youngblood, Steamboat still had the time to win the Mid-Atlantic heavyweight title from Hussein Arab (Iron Sheik) and Ivan Koloff. He also teamed with Dino Bravo in Mid-Atlantic, winning the tag team title with him. In addition to all of this, Ric Flair had won the NWA World Title, and Steamboat challenged him several times for it, coming up a little short. Eventually the stress caught up with Steamboat, and he retired from wrestling on December 25th, 1983, one month after he and Youngblood won the World Tag Team titles for the 5th time at Starrcade 1983 from the Brisco Brothers. In a sad note, Youngblood passed away on September 1st, 1985 after being injured in a wrestling match in New Zealand. He was 30 years old.
Steamboat’s first retirement lasted a grand total of a little less than 3 months. He returned in March, and defeated Dick Slater on April 21, 1984 for his third U.S. Title. This put him in line for another shot at Ric Flair’s NWA World Title, but he would come up short. He would lose the title to Wahoo McDaniel 2 months later, thanks in part to the NWA Television Champion Tully Blanchard. Steamboat’s feud with Blanchard would culminate in a loss at Starrcade 1984, but Steamboat was foiled time and time again by interference from Baby Doll. Outside interference would often cost Steamboat matches he should have won throughout his career, as it was often the only way somebody could beat him. In 1985 he debuted in the World Wrestling Federation. He gained the nickname of “The Dragon”, as WWF used his martial arts background to market him as their answer to Bruce Lee. He appeared at the first WrestleMania, defeating Matt Bourne. Steamboat teamed with Jimmy Snuka on occasion as the South Pacific Connection, forming a tag team with aerial tactics like none seen in the WWF at this time. His first major feud was with Hawaiian wrestler Don Muraco. Since Steamboat was still being billed as from Hawaii, this was seen as a rivalry between Hawaiians to see who was the best. Muraco had Mr. Fuji by his side, who would often interfere in Muraco’s matches and in one memorable moment blinded Steamboat by tossing salt into his eyes. With all the sneak attacks and salt throwing, Steamboat still dominated the feud. His next feud would be with the sinister Jake “The Snake” Roberts. They were to have a match on an episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event on May 1st, 1986, but Roberts attacked Steamboat before the match even started, and DDTed Steamboat on the concrete floor. Steamboat was injured for several weeks following this, and when he came back, Roberts was in a world of trouble. The feud culminated at the Big Event in Toronto, Canada on August 28th, 1986, where Steamboat defeated Roberts in a “Snake Pit” match.
After disposing of Roberts, Steamboat’s next goal was to finally win a championship in the WWF. With Hulk Hogan holding the WWF title and not planning on letting it go anytime soon, Steamboat targeted the Intercontinental Champion Randy “Macho Man” Savage. Steamboat finally got a shot at Savage’s title on October 20th, 1986. Savage got himself disqualified after having great difficulty with Steamboat all through the match, and then in one of the most memorable moments of all time, attacked Steamboat with the ring bell. He came off the top rope to the floor where Steamboat was hanging on to the safety rail, jabbing Steamboat in the throat with the ring bell. Steamboat suffered a crushed larynx, and was out of action until January 1987, when he reemerged while Savage was wrestling against George “The Animal” Steele. The match was made for March 29th, 1987. It was WrestleMania III at the Pontiac Silverdome, and as you all know by now, this was where Steamboat gained the title from Savage in one of the greatest wrestling matches of all time. This would be the apex of Steamboat’s stint in the WWF, as it was all downhill from here. He lost the title in a shocking upset to the Honky Tonk Man on June 2nd, 1987, and spent the rest of his time there not doing a whole lot. In one notable development he was actually on Randy Savage’s team at Survivor Series 1987, along with Jim Duggan, Brutus Beefcake, and another old rival in Jake Roberts. In a bit of irony, he, Roberts, and Savage were the surviving members of their team in their victory against a team captained by Honky Tonk Man. Eventually Steamboat had enough, and he retired for the second time after losing to Greg Valentine in the 1st round of the WWF Title Tournament at WrestleMania IV on March 28th, 1988.
Steamboat would resurface in the NWA in January 1989, appearing as the mystery partner of Eddie Gilbert in a match against Ric Flair & Barry Windham. The old rivalry between Steamboat & Flair was rekindled, and Steamboat would receive a shot at Flair’s NWA World Title at the Chi-Town Rumble on February 20th, 1989. It was a battle between a good man who valued his family against a bad man who valued money and was consumed with greed. While Steamboat had come up short before against Flair in NWA World Title matches, this time was different. He won his first and only world championship on this night. He would defend the title against Flair in several classic matches, including one in the Louisiana Superdome on April 2nd, 1989, which was part of the Clash of the Champions on TBS. This was a 2 out of 3 falls match that almost went the full hour time limit, which was almost unheard of in this day and age of TV wrestling. The reign of Steamboat would not last much longer, as he would lose the title to Flair on May 7th at WrestleWar 89 in Nashville, Tennessee. Flair & Steamboat shook hands after the match, and Flair was piledriven through a table by Terry Funk shortly afterwards. Steamboat took on Funk at the next Clash of the Champions, and won by disqualification. When Flair returned to feud with Funk, Steamboat went after the US Title, which was being held by Lex Luger. Steamboat came up short in his battles with Luger, which happened to be some of the greatest matches Luger would ever have. Steamboat retired for the third time shortly afterwards, and this one actually lasted a bit over a year.
Steamboat returned to the World Wrestling Federation in March 1991. WWF decided that Steamboat should play up the “Dragon” aspect of his persona, so they had him dress up like a dragon and spit fire. They called him “The Dragon” and more often than not the commentators wouldn’t recognize that he was a former Intercontinental Champion. The gimmick sucked, and Steamboat left the WWF after 7 months. On November 19th, 1991, Dustin Rhodes brought out a mystery partner to replace an injured Barry Windham against Arn Anderson & Larry Zybysko. Sure enough, it was Ricky Steamboat. They won the WCW Tag Team Titles that night, but would lose them 2 months later to Anderson and Bobby Eaton. Anderson, Eaton, & Zybysko were all part of the Dangerous Alliance, a supergroup led by Paul E. Dangerously that also included Ravishing Rick Rude, Madusa, & Stunning Steve Austin. Steamboat was one of the top WCW good guys that tried to keep Paul E. and his men from running WCW into the ground. He went after Rude’s U.S. title, but came up short time after time mostly because of interference from Dangerously & Madusa. The Dangerous Alliance did everything they could possibly do to Steamboat, from breaking his nose to getting a woman to accuse him of cheating on his wife with her. After having little success with Rude, Steamboat decided to go after the TV title held by Steve Austin. Once Dangerously was in the confines of a shark cage on September 2, 1992, Steamboat was able to defeat Austin for the title without any interference. He lost the title 27 days later to Scott Steiner, and then he found a new partner to go after the tag team titles with.
While Ricky Steamboat & Shane Douglas might not seem like the most likely of combinations, they were very successful in their short run together. They defeated Steamboat’s old partner Dustin Rhodes & Barry Windham for the WCW Tag Team Titles on November 18th, 1992. Windham turned against Rhodes afterwards and also attacked Steamboat & Douglas in the locker room, but their greatest challenge would come from the newly formed Hollywood Blondes. Steamboat’s old enemy Steve Austin had formed a team with Brian Pillman, and they would win the belts from Steamboat & Douglas on March 2nd, 1993. The Blondes refused to give Steamboat & Douglas a shot at the belts, so they went under masks and called themselves Dos Hombres. The angle didn’t go anywhere because Douglas left WCW before the Slamboree show where they were to get their title shot. Tom Zenk took over Douglas’ spot under the mask, and they lost to Austin & Pillman that night. After a few months in the singles ranks, Steamboat defeated Paul Orndorff on August 18th, 1993 to win his second Television Championship. His reign would be short lived, as Lord Steven Regal beat Steamboat at Fall Brawl on September 19th to get the title, albeit with some outside interference from Sir William Dundee. Steamboat feuded with Regal for a few months, but failed to get the title back due to the TV time limit constantly expiring during their matches, and that pesky Dundee and his umbrella. Steamboat moved on to bigger and better things though.
It had been 5 years since Steamboat had feuded with Ric Flair, so you knew they would have to go at it one more time. Steamboat got a shot at Flair’s WCW World Title at Spring Stampede on April 16th, 1994. They fought to a double pin, as Steamboat had Flair in the same double chicken-wing pinning combination that he used to defeat him in the Superdome in 1989, but the referee counted both men’s shoulders down this time and Flair remained champion. After that, Flair turned heel and started feuding with Hulk Hogan, while Steamboat set his sights on the US title, which was being held by his old nemesis Steve Austin. He was unsuccessful at Bash at the Beach in July 1994, but at the Clash of the Champions (an event that took place several times a year where Steamboat won a lot of titles) on August 18th, 1994 Steamboat defeated Austin to win the US title. Unfortunately, this would be Steamboat’s last title victory. Shortly after this match Steamboat faced Austin at a show in Roanoke, VA. He took a bump off the top rope and landed on his tailbone, which compressed two spinal discs. He was told that he could still wrestle, but the first wrong bump would cause the discs to rupture. Steamboat decided to retire on September 18th, 1994, and forfeited the US title.
Steamboat stayed out of the wrestling scene for several years afterwards, spending time with his family and running a gym in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. He would return to the wrestling world at the first NWA-TNA pay per view on June 19th, 2002, refereeing the main event where Ken Shamrock won the NWA title. Steamboat refereed several other matches in TNA, and became a commissioner figure in late-July, granting Ron “The Truth” Killings a title shot against Shamrock. Steamboat enjoyed refereeing, and continued to do so in several independent promotions, eventually ending up in Ring of Honor. He refereed a match where AJ Styles retained his Pure Wrestling title against C.M. Punk. Punk was a stuck up straight edge punk who thought he was better than everyone else, and didn’t have time for people like Steamboat who he saw as old men who wouldn’t get out of his way. He wasn’t happy with the way Steamboat called the match, and jumped Steamboat, only to get the worst of it in the end. Steamboat refereed another Punk defeat and then the men had a “verbal confrontation” which ended up being a sneak attack by Punk. The feud culminated on July 17th, 2004, as Steamboat got the better of Punk during a physical confrontation and told him that his attitude was destroying him, and he would continue to beat him until he became a man. Generation Next, a group in ROH seeking fame and fortune, attacked Steamboat until Punk intervened and saved Steamboat. They became allies, and would feud with Generation Next until Mick Foley entered ROH and feuded with Steamboat over Hardcore vs. Traditional wrestling. They would have representatives fight each other for the next couple months until Steamboat left ROH on December 26th, 2004. He had accepted a job with World Wrestling Entertainment as an agent in November 2004, and has been serving in that position ever since.
Why Ricky Steamboat was selected…
Ricky Steamboat is in the Hall of Fame for several reasons. First, he was quite possibly the greatest babyface of all time. He was such a great babyface that he never had to turn heel to keep himself fresh with the wrestling fans. One time he wanted to turn heel while in the WWF but Pat Patterson refused to let him, because Steamboat “could go out to the ring and chop Hulk Hogan’s arms off with a chainsaw, and nobody would believe him as a heel”. Steamboat was so likeable that indeed, it was impossible to see him as a bad guy. In addition to that, Steamboat was also one of the greatest in-ring competitors of all time. He was Ric Flair’s greatest opponent, and countless other wrestlers would tell you that they had their best matches with Ricky Steamboat. He brought out the best in everybody that he ever faced in the ring, and was responsible for many of the greatest in-ring moments in a decade that saw professional wrestling begin to make the transition to sports-entertainment. While men like Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper provided the entertainment and brought in a more “casual” fan base, men like Ricky Steamboat kept the legitimacy of professional wrestling alive for those of us who would always be fans of wrestling.