In the world of pro wrestling, you need to be entertaining to get to the top. You either have to be a really good mic worker, or need to have an entertaining gimmick to get over with the fans. That is how the wrestling business works today; even though you’re the best wrestler in the world, you will go nowhere if you can’t get recognized with the mic (With Daniel Bryan being the prime example). But the irony of it all is that since the old days, back in the day when wrestling was still real to the people, the guys were trained to be wrestlers and not performers. Whether you take the example of Gorgeous George or Freddie Blassie, their characters and their in-ring skills caught the attention of the fans. Even though Gorgeous George was a show boat, he was a wrestler; not a performer, or a superstar, but banked himself to be a wrestler.
In the present generation, everyone misses that aspect. It is a rare sight to see a good wrestling match in pro wrestling business. It gets worse when the biggest promoter, WWE, calls itself an ‘Entertainment’ company, removing the term ‘wrestling’ completely. When you look at the WWE now, there are far less in-ring technicians; the ‘performers’ and the ‘superstars’ have replaced them. How good is it for the business? The buy rates and the revenues speak for themselves. Although it is not a wrong move; with changing times, you have to change. Adapting is a way of life, and applies even to the WWE and the rest of the companies. Companies which couldn’t realize it went bankrupt, like ECW and WCW.
When we talk about the old days, we talk about the guys who were good wrestlers. We talk about the outrageous characters, the guys who understood the business. The Roddy Pipers, the Randy Savages and the Ric Flairs. There was one guy who made a name for himself among all the other greats, someone who had a different persona, his own unique style and character. Someone who is considered to be one of the greatest wrestlers, and not superstars, in the history of the WWE. This person is fondly remembered as ‘The Dragon’, and put on one of the best matches in Wrestlemania‘s history. If you’re a long time wrestling fan, you’d know who the guy is. He is none other than Ricky Steamboat.
The reason I chose to write about him today is simple. He was born on the 28th Feb, and was also introduced into the WWE with “Birth of ‘The Dragon’” vignettes. So I thought it would pay a fitting homage to one of the greatest characters, and one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. Since Steamboat’s mother was a Japanese, the character of ‘The Dragon’ stuck well. Although Ricky did not have a successful WWE career, his accolades in other companies were nothing short of impressive. Ricky had a great presence, and since he was a small guy, couldn’t find himself among the ranks of the Hogans and the Grahams, but in his own right, contributed to the success of the WWE in his generation.
Steamboat made his initial impact in NWA, where he became a legend and to this day, old school fans still remember Steamboat’s moments in the promotion. His career elevated after a feud with Ric Flair, and Steamboat went on to capture the prestigious NWA United States Championship, along with the Mid Atlantic Heavyweight championship, thus solidifying himself as one of the top guys of the company. He had many classical matches with the likes of Flair, Slaughter, Blanchard etc. After differences crept between the booker and himself, Ricky left the promotion for the big league, the World Wrestling Federation.
Since Ricky was liked by many as a good guy, Vince found the perfect time to introduce the character of ‘The Dragon’. He was involved in a feud with Jake ‘The Snake’ later on, and was a part of one of the best segments in the history of the WWE. When Jake tried to use Damien, his snake, on a defenseless Ricky, Ricky decided to use his own pet, a Komodo Dragon to scare Jake Roberts off. This was believed to be one of the most talked about, and a revolutionary angle in the WWE and in wrestling, as any such thing wasn’t seen before at the time.
But perhaps, the biggest achievement of Ricky took place at Wrestlemania, when he took on Savage for the coveted Intercontinental title. Savage, who was the IC champion at that time, dropped the title to Ricky in what was one of the best wrestling matches of all time, receiving rave reviews from the fans and critics alike. But Ricky dropped the title soon after that, as his wife was expecting, and this angered the management and they decided to punish Ricky. It was also believed that the Savage–Steamboat classic overshadowed the main event of Wrestlemania III, which was Hogan–Andre, and this made the WWF management decide to punish Steamboat by involving him in meaningless feuds. This led to Ricky quitting the company and leaving for WCW and Japan, where he competed for New Japan Pro Wrestling, before making a short return to WWF.
Ricky resigned with WCW, and held their Television, United States and tag team championships, but was never able to regain his past glory. Although he made some brief appearances in organizations like Ring of Honour and TNA, before returning to the WWE, no one can imagine how big of an impact Ricky could have made if the WWF had decided to give him a chance, a story similar to Jake Roberts’. In the end, Ricky had earned his right to enter into the WWE Hall of Fame, along with the prestigious Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame.