In 1976, a handsome young army brat showed up at a pro wrestling arena. This
kid had been wrestling for a while under his real name, Richard Blood. But, that
day, the promoter saw him and really didn't think that name suited such a
good-looking kid. He thought about an ex-champ and fan favorite he'd booked who
looked similar named Sam Steamboat. He billed Blood as Ricky Steamboat, Sam's
nephew, sent him down the aisle, and a star was born. Ricky Steamboat would go
on to wrestle in every part of the country for two decades, electrifying crowds
from Spokane to Sarasota.
His wrestling work speaks for itself; Steamboat remains one of the greatest
performers to ever grace the squared circle. What makes Steamboat so
distinctive, however, was the man behind the wrestler. In one of the world's
sleaziest industries, Steamboat was a good guy in every sense, a man who
conducted himself with class and honor in the ring as well as the locker room.
You couldn't boo the man, no matter how hard you wanted to. Even a kid like me,
who always cheered the bad guys, loved the guy for his superior in-ring ability
and believably nice persona. WWE presents another top-tier collection for one of
their Hall-of-Famers. The documentary of his life may not be their best work,
but the match collection on Ricky Steamboat: The Life Story of the Dragon
is one of the best you'll ever find.
As usual with the fluffy documentaries that WWE tries to pass off as main
programs to their match collection, this is a series of interviews with the
subject, his peers, and those wrestlers he influenced that serves as narration
for clips of his matches and photos from his life. If you know nothing of Ricky
Steamboat, it serves as a fine primer on his career, but there isn't a lot that
older wrestling fans don't already know. This entry is slightly less compelling
than normal, though, because there aren't a lot of True Hollywood
Stories-style confessionals. Steamboat was neither an addict nor a
philanderer; he was an honorable, hardworking family man. Good for him, but it
doesn't make for the most exciting television.
Extremely exciting, however, is the match selection, so let's get to it.
Jack and Gerry Brisco vs. Steamboat and Jay Youngblood (11/24/83):
Opening the show, we find Steamboat with his first steady tag partner in a
battle against the legendary Brisco brothers for the NWA World Tag Championship.
If you like old school mat wrestling, you can't do a whole lot better than these
four competitors. The younger and faster pair get beaten around by the older and
meaner Briscoes, but don't count out the kids; they have a lot of heart.
Steamboat vs. Ric Flair (3/17/84):
Few match ups in the history
of professional wrestling provided more riveting ring entertainment than
Steamboat and Flair. Polar opposites outside the ring, they made magic within.
This is the first of two matches on the set between them, though you could have
an amazing collection of matches just between the two. It's hard to say which is
better. They're both beautiful, but this one is historically less important.
This match features additional commentary with Steamboat and Matt Stryker.
Steamboat vs. "Cowboy" Bob Orton, Jr. (9/20/85):
Here, we see Steamboat during his first stint in the then-WWF, fighting against
one of my personal favorites in Bob Orton, father of current superstar, Randy,
and one mean jerk of and S.O.B. This is a very good match but, as much as I love
Orton and his ever-present cast, he just can't match the athleticism of a lot of
others in this collection. Plus, the ending of the match is terrible, typical of
the WWF at this time.
Steamboat vs. Don Muraco (11/22/85):
Of all the matches on this
set, this one is the most puzzling. Firstly, it's a lumberjack match, in which
ten wrestlers are poised outside the ring to beat on anybody who tries to leave.
This is just about the worst gimmick match there is. Secondly,
"Magnificent" Don Muraco wasn't nearly as good as he was popular, and
this is a plodding match. Still, the lumberjack format makes it fun to see the
B-grade talent in 1985 WWE.
Steamboat vs. Jake "The Snake" Roberts (8/9/1986):
The master of in-ring work takes on the master of psychology as the Dragon
battles the Snake. This match was Steamboat's return to action after suffering a
nasty hematoma at the hands of Roberts and his DDT, one of the greatest
finishers in wrestling history. This match isn't as spectacular as you might
expect, though there are some great parts, but maybe that's because I was so
upset about Vince McMahon making Steamboat come out with a kimono dragon before
Steamboat vs. Randy Savage (3/29/87):
Wrestlemania 3 under the roof of the Pontiac Silverdome for the
Intercontinental Title was one of the biggest moments of Ricky Steamboat's
career, and experts often call the match the best of all time. That's arguable,
I suppose, but there's no doubt about the influence the match had on the next
generation of wrestling. Great, great action that also features additional
commentary from Steamboat and Stryker.
Steamboat vs. Flair (4/2/89):
Just a few short months after the
previous contest, Steamboat was back in WCW rekindling the greatest feud of his
career. Though Steamboat and Flair beat each other from pillar to post all over
the world, it was their trilogy of matches, with this as the middle, that they
would be best remembered for. This is a stellar best two-of-three match. You'll
be hard-pressed to find better wrestling than this.
Steamboat vs. Lex Luger (7/23/89):
We're taking a huge step
down in quality with Lex Luger, whose consistent inclusion in WWE's collections
belies the fact that Luger was one of the worst performers of the decade.
Steamboat does the best he can with the stiff he has to fight for the WCW U.S.
Championship, and the only reason I'm less confused by this match than the one
with Muraco is that Luger is always included for some reason.
Steamboat and Dustin Rhodes vs. Arn Anderson and Larry Zbyzsko
Larry Zbyzsko may be my least favorite wrestler of all
time. He's a sound mat technician, no doubt about that, but after marrying his
way into a championship in Minnesota, he went on to bore audiences to tears with
his voice for the next twenty years. Since that's off my chest, this match is
really pretty good. Steamboat and Anderson have to pick up the slack for their
respective teammates, but Zbyzsko and Rhodes, the future Golddust, do try their
best. Inessential, but a fine match.
Steamboat vs. Rick Rude (6/20/92):
Okay, we're back on solid
wrestling ground. Here we have the Dragon against the freakishly talented
"Ravishing" Rick Rude, whose career would never match his potential.
He does still have my all-time favorite pre-match catchphrase (or
catch-paragraph, in this case). The contest is an ironman match, in which the
man with the most pinfalls or submissions after thirty minutes wins the match.
These guys go hard from start to finish and build some great drama. Where
Steamboat was a great athlete, Rick Rude, like Jake Roberts previously in the
set, knew ring psychology and could really get to a crowd. It isn't the best
technical fight, but it's my favorite match on the set.
Steamboat vs. Steve Austin 9/2/92:
People who became wrestling
fans during the Monday Night Wars will be especially interested in this match,
as a young, pre-Stone Cold Austin show at this early stage just how good he was
before all the injuries took their toll. Dynamic in the ring and possessing the
ability to work a crowd like few others, Austin takes it to Steamboat in what
would prove to be his last pay-per-view match, at least for twenty years.
Steamboat vs. Chris Jericho 4/26/09:
This is actually
Steamboat's final match, for now, and the aging legend still looks great in the
ring. Athletically, Steamboat doesn't have what he once did, but all those hours
in the ring still shine through. This is an excellent match against an excellent
opponent in Chris Jericho, who was greatly influenced by the Dragon, and for
whom this match must have been a great honor.
The video and audio quality varies greatly on WWE's release of Ricky
Steamboat: The Life Story of the Dragon, but you'd expect that from a
retrospective that spans two decades. The documentary looks as good as you'd
expect a new production to be, while the audio/visual quality of the matches
increases as time progresses. The matches take up the second two discs in the
set, while the main program and bonus features reside on the first. These
bonuses are all additional interviews and archival footage of promos and
vignettes, mostly from his stints in the WWF. While it's fun to see these cheesy
things from the early days of my wrestling fandom, the segments are objectively
brutal, especially when Steamboat battles ninjas in front of Mean Gene
Ricky Steamboat: The Life Story of the Dragon is a fluffy
documentary, but the match collection is one of the best WWE has ever