The following extensive interview features WWE Hall of Fame wrestler, former NWA world champion, and former WWE intercontinental champion Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. Steamboat talks about the 20 year anniversary of WrestleMania 3, Ric Flair’s longevity, WWE buying WCW, Vince McMahon wrestling and more. The interview was taped August 25, 2003 and was broadcast on Pro Wrestling Radio.
Eric: Can you update the fans and listeners as to what you have been up too since your past appearance on the show?
Rick: Wow, that was over three years ago! What has happened? I have since then had a couple of health clubs and sold those businesses. I am still the landlord of the buildings I just sold the businesses. Ritchie, my son and I have been racing, and we still are racing. We moved up to another level of racing and we are seeking next year to possibly move up to our first full sized car. It would probably be a late model truck. We are looking to move into that next year. I have been working at a race shop the last couple of years. We build, fix, and do set-ups typically on the type of car that my son is racing. We have about 50 clients, with about 50 guys that just like to go racing on weekends. They wreck em’, we fix em’. (Laughs) I have been doing some personal appearances, I just did one about three weeks ago with Harley Race, I was out there for a couple of days, I did an autograph session, and we promoted a wrestling show out there that turned out very well. This past weekend, Saturday I was up in New Jersey. I was doing an autograph session, pretty much like a Baseball Card Convention kind of set up with wrestling memorabilia; I saw several of the guys there. Paul Orndorff was there; Bobby Heenan was there, J.J. Dillon was there. Kevin Von Erich was up there, and I have not seen that man for close to twenty years. His attitude did not seem to change very much. He is a very laid back type of guy.
Rick: I have done several training-camp style seminars. I have worked with some of the talent, some of the guys that have been working. I like working with guys that have been in and out of the ring, in the business for a year or maybe more, rather than teach guys that are just starting off in the business on how to even do a headlock. Don’t get me wrong; there is nothing wrong with that. I like to take guys that have been working in the ring for a year or, and take them to the next level. Les Thatcher, Harley Race, and myself are putting something together of a training camp coming up October 30, 31, and November 1. The one that Harley had turned out really well, guys learned a lot. It was through that with Les, Harley, and myself being there, seeing how well the guys responded us to teaching them, their light bulbs were clicking on they were grasping it. Three old-timers with collectively one hundred years worth of experience in one place. It was through that seminar, that we got the wheels turning to do another one.
Eric: Are you still working with NWATNA?
Rick: I am not doing anything with them! I did a couple of shows there in the beginning. I do not know, I would like to see something to the effect if you make a new world champion, I would like to see the person stay a world champion for a while, to establish himself as a world champion, and establish the belt. Ken Shamrock, he would have been a great representative, and I do not know if he had it less then a month, and they decided to switch it. You know? I think if he would have been champion for a year, and then they would have changed it, it would have really meant something. It just seems to me that if you get the WWE, they have their pay per views every month, and their television shows, doing a lot of switching things around, at one point in time that was something that would create interest, and keep the fans. God, if you had somebody like Ken Shamrock as your world champion and you just kept feeding him guys for a year or more, and finally someone came up and beat him, I think that would raise a lot of eyebrows. Who is to say what I think is right? I am never in that position to be in the office, and I really do not desire too.
Eric: That ironically brings me to my next question. After being around a full-time promotion, do you have any desire to write, or book?
Rick: You know, I do not know. I think if I had any say in it, what I like in this business are guys that come up with ideas, my forte is to sort of pick it apart. I throw a lot of logic and reasoning into it, and then come up with the ultimate answers. Is it going to work? Is it going to fly or not? Not so much as to sit there, brainstorm, and come up with ideas. I like to, that is what a lot of guys when I was in the business. Some of the guys coming in would like me to set their match up. I think it would eventually make better workers out of the guys, instead of coming to me and having me line their match up start to finish, I would say, “Look, you guys put your heads together, and you think of something. Make your brain work, and when you think you have something that you feel is going to get over, if you want to run it by me fine, and I will pick it apart, critique it, and we will go from there.” Many times, guys would come up to me after I told them that and actually put together a darn good match, I had very little to do with that. Then there were other times when I said, “You are going to do all of that in the next five minutes and the promoter wants you to go twenty minutes? How are you going to hold these people for the last fifteen minutes? You have everything in the ring, including the kitchen sink and a monster truck.” You know? And their light bulbs would come on, “You are right Rick. We are doing everything that could possibly be done in our business in the first five minutes of our match, and we have to go twenty minutes.”
Eric: Are you surprised at Ric Flair’s continued longevity and his current place at the top of the WWE cards?
Rick: No. I think Flair will probably be in the ring as long as long as he is physically able too. I think his age, that question is asked to me a lot by fans. “God, Ric was in the ring the other night. How old is Flair?” He is in his early fifties. Do not get me wrong, when I was first starting in the business in the 70s, there were guys in their late forties and fifties that were wrestling full time, seven days a week, you know? Look at Buddy Rogers, you know? I guess maybe it raises the question with the fans that we have today, because Flair is someone that is someone that has been around a long time. But if you take into consideration the bulk of the talent they are featuring right now, it is a lot of young people. You know? It was not like, when I first started in the business, you still had Buddy Rogers who was still wrestling, and Pat Patterson, even Wahoo McDaniel at that time in the 70s had to be in his forties, you know? I can understand why the fans are coming up with that question, “When is Flair going to get out, and how old is this man?” Because you look at the talent they are featuring right now, and it is a bunch of young people.
Eric: Having a history with both companies, what are your thoughts about the WWE purchasing WCW?
Rick: I definitely think it does not leave too many options for the guys. If you have another company out there, it at least gave you somewhat of a chance if things did not work out with one organization, you could try and go work for the other. I think that, there was certainly enough money backing WCW, I put some of the blame on the boys. Having people that were up in the office trying to run a wrestling company without that much of any kind of wrestling company background. As you know, first, second, and even third generation families, all usually ran most of the companies that were around in wrestling. Here we got people, they may be great business people but the wrestling business is a different kind of business, you know? With those guys that are strictly a number game, and do not get me wrong, with the promoters I worked for it was also strictly a number game. How many fans are we drawing, how many tickets did we sell? Trying to come up with a lot of scenarios to be competitive with WWE, and with people that had no wrestling background at all, good business sense, but wrestling is different. Another thing is you cannot put all of the blame on the office, a lot of the boys and smart for them, all signed big, lucrative, guaranteed contracts, and had a lot of no-shows. They were getting their checks every week regardless of if they had gone to the shows or not. A number of no-shows time and time again, the fans just stop coming. That is what I have heard from a lot of the guys that were working for the company and were going to the shows. Someone would say, “Oh, I hurt my shoulder. I cannot go to Chicago.” “I sprained my ankle, I cannot go to Philadelphia.” In our days, we were wrestling with broken ribs, and broken calves. If you could not walk, you better make it to the ring unless you absolutely could not walk, you know? At least make an appearance to show the fans that you are there, but you are really unable to wrestle because you had a broken leg.
Eric: I bring up the infamous story of Terry Funk wrestling Ric Flair at the Great American Bash with a broken tailbone.
Rick: Oh sure, that is true. You know? That is like; my last match was with Steve Austin, my very last match. I took a bump backwards off of the top rope and landed on my tailbone, and did a spinal compression and herniated two discs, although that match was not really the last match I did. I had two more shows on the tour. I went to those last two shows, and then came home and went to the doctor, and the doctor gave me the bad news about my lower back, but I still went into the ring. Austin and I, those last two matches did not have anywhere near the match we could have, but I was still going to the ring, and we were doing a lot of walking and talking, just trying to get by because we knew we were on a ten day tour and just wanted to get back Atlanta, we wanted to finish it up. With the guys that signed these big money contracts, and they were getting paid whether they showed up or not they were coming up with, “My wife has a problem, and I cannot make it to the show tonight.” Or, “I sprained my thumb, I jammed it, and I would be able to wrestle tonight.” Just crazy stuff like that hurt the company. Stuff like that of course, Vince McMahon would not put up with it.
Eric: How do you think the purchase will affect the business five years from now?
Rick: I honestly do not think it would help the business at all. Obviously everyone knows now that the fans know, when they said, “Purchase,” and they tried to throw a little swerve, something where the son and the daughter was involved with the purchase? They were going up against Dad, where they had their crew of guys wrestling against Dad’s crew of guys. Hey, the scene sounds good but how long did the direction last? For something as big as that, when you have family going against family, they could have really made something out of that. In six months time it was over. You have to understand that wrestling has changed though, with television and pay per views that made it change. We used to do television, Flair and I would do something on television, then the next week we would do something together on television, then we would wrestle against each other on the house shows across the Carolinas, come back a week later and do something else on television. We would capitalize on each other for three months before we would have the big match in Greensboro. Now, they cannot do that because they have a pay per view every months, so they have to do something every two-three weeks to gear up for that pay per view, and as soon as that pay per view is over with their gearing something else up for the next pay per view. Flair and I, could go with each other, in a small territory in which people would see us every night, Monday night you are in Greenville, Tuesday night you are in Raleigh, you know every night? Then the next week you are back in Greenville again on Monday night, and him and I could work with each other for three months, and go back to Greenville for three straight months, go back to Raleigh on a Tuesday night for three straight months, and just keep feeding a little bit on television, and still do big numbers and big crowds. I think television has changed that format. Remember when Vince McMahon took on this huge task of being the biggest and the best in 1984? He had the first Wrestlemania pay per view show in Madison Square Garden, Roddy Piper against Hulk Hogan with Muhammad Ali as the special guest referee, and then there were not anymore pay per views, and then it came around to the second Wrestlemania. Everything was geared for Wrestlemania, I think Wrestlemania is still Vince’s baby, but you look at all of the pay per views they have each month and it is kind of, like the thing they did with Savage and I for Wrestlemania III. Savage hurt my neck with the belt, and that was December, and here comes Wrestlemania in March. You know? We worked on that for three or four months. And then they built the thing up with Hogan and Andre the Giant for three months, and they capitalized on that for three months. They can no longer do that.
Eric: Speaking of Wrestlemania, do you think that Randy and yourself will be honored at the twentieth anniversary of Wrestlemania next year, since your match is always prominently mentioned among the wrestlers when asked their favorite Wrestlemania match of all time?
Rick: I know, I know. I get that when I do these seminars with the guys that are still breaking into the business. “One of the videotapes that I keep going back to, to constantly watch is your match with Savage.” Or they mention the matches I had with Flair in 1989. I do not know. Vince and I do not get along. I do not think he likes me. I do not think, my heart honestly feels that I will not be receiving a call, although I think it would be kind of neat to do a walk on introduction for the twentieth Wrestlemania, just a walk on, waive to the fans, and see you. I do not think that will even come about. As little as that may be, I do not think that will come about.
Eric: What do you think of Vince in the ring as a wrestler?
Rick: You know something Eric; I do not even watch much of that show. I really, I have seen maybe thirty seconds of him in the ring. Based on that, I could not tell you. My feeling is, that and this sort of old school, if you are a booker or promoter, keep your business in the office, and let the boys handle the stuff in the ring. It is sort of like old school because when you are the owner of the company and you have the pencil in your hand, and it is proven in the past this is the guy that has all of the belts around his waist, making himself champion, may not happen with Vince. He has his whole family involved, and sometimes that could be a good or a bad thing. Let me say this. I get asked a lot about what I think of the business now as compared to the era I was in. I say, “Look. Wrestling stays at the same levels from the forties through some of the seventies. It was almost like black and white. Boxing on television for so many years.” Jim Crockett in the early 80s promoted some pretty big shows for that time, Starrcade and that kind of stuff. Vince came a long in 84, 85 went cable and put in big money for production into his television show. People that were watching in Texas, Florida Championship Wrestling, Georgia Championship Wrestling, all of those smaller promoters, wrestling fans and what they were used to seeing and now they see the WWF and there was big money spent on production, what a difference? He took it to another level, and since then he has probably taken it two or three other levels. I am not saying that all of them were positive levels where it was better for the business, I think some of the things were not, but always understanding that the business was at one level, a plateau for forty, fifty years, and then all of the sudden there is a big bump in it, in the mid-eighties, and then a couple of more bumps up until now. He is a man that understands that he is always trying to better himself in the business and continue to take it to different levels. Sometimes you do not agree with what he is doing. Sometimes you do. With that thought in mind, it always seems to make for better business. You have people liking it, and you have people not liking it, bottom line is you get people talking about it, because you get one person agreeing, another disagreeing, and what are they doing? They are talking about the WWE. So, I cannot say that a lot of what he is doing is family, ethical. I do not think any of that is within his line of do’s and don’ts. He just wants to put a product on the tubes and if you do not like it, you have your television channel changer, and you can change the channel, you know?
Eric: Were you surprised that one of your matches with Ric Flair from 1989 was included on a Best of Triple H DVD?
Rick: Which match was it? (I answer the first one from Chicago, Wrestle War) Really? (I respond, “You did not know?”) No. (I respond that I am surprised that nobody has ever told him) No. Even though, I get asked a lot, even though that was the match in which I had won the world belt, and was the only time I had the world belt, the match that I liked was the second match, the re-match, the two out of three falls match from New Orleans, where we almost went the hour. I like that match better. People always say, “God, the one in Chicago is the one you won the belt. You won the belt! Come on, the one Chicago!” No, I said, “The match that I like better.” You know, Eric let me say this. I have been working with Flair since the late seventies, he and I going into little Sumter, South Carolina, or even Greenville, South Carolina, you know little Spartanburg. Believe it or not, him and I had better matches then the match in Chicago, then the match in New Orleans. In these little spot shows, where we had 6-1200 people sitting there. I did not know that about our Chicago match.
Eric: Is your son a wrestling fan at all?
Rick: No, not really. He loves racing. He wrestled as an amateur in AAU starting off when he was about six, and finishing off when he was about eleven. Then he took a break away from it, because it was at that age in which he started to get involved with racing. He started high school last year as a ninth grader, as a freshman and got the bug again. “You know Dad, I think I am going to go back out there and try out for the wrestling team.” He had been away from it for almost five years, four years he had been away from it, not been on the mat. He went out for the team and made Varsity as a freshman. He did pretty good his first year. This year coming up will be his second year, and I was kind of glad. I remember when he was eleven, he was in his fifth year wrestling for AAU, and I could see he was getting a little burnt out by then. Here is a kid that had been wrestling for five years, since he was six. We were traveling all over the country, going to Columbus, Ohio for the Nationals. He won the Nationals one time. He has won the State Championship in North Carolina four times. I could see he was getting a little burnt out, and when he told me he was getting burnt out you have to understand I was not the type of Dad who said, “Ritchie you have to understand, I am Ricky Steamboat. You have to keep wrestling.” I said, “If you do not want to fine, we will go do something else.” I think because of that little breather, now he is back in high school and has the bug again.
Eric: Can a pure babyface like yourself still get over in today’s wrestling and do you think a one-hour match like you and Flair could work today?
Rick: To answer your first part of the question, I think yes. It is up to whoever is in there, how entertaining you can be. Even if you are a pure heel or a pure babyface, today’s bottom line for the fans that are watching is how can they be entertained. I think it can be done; it does not matter whether you are a pure heel or a pure baby. If you can entertain the hell out of them, go for it. That helps answer the second question about keeping the attention of the fans for an entire hour. Who was it, Triple H and Rock? They did a hell of a job. Both guys are over, big time over. So, that also helps, big time over, Rock and Triple H went the hour and did a hell of a job too. I have never been impressed that much with Rock as a worker. As an entertainer, and knowing what to say, how to say it, and facial expressions when saying it? Excellent, excellent. That was another thing like with Hulk Hogan. If you had seen one of his matches then you saw them all. But the guy could come across with entertaining the people in his interviews, doing the little deal at the end of his matches, tearing the shirt apart, and getting the fans involved. Today, I think that today the fans are so wise to it that it does not matter whether you are a heel or babyface. As long as you can “wow” them, and they love it. You know? They applaud the bad guys just as much and boo the good guys. That too, it is just part of the change. The change is, “We are going to have some fun tonight, and guess what guys? We are going to hooray the heels, and boo the babyface.” Their buddies are sitting there and saying, “Yeah let’s do that just as a joke, just to razz them.” I do not know if that discussion ever came about with the fans that were going to a big show, but it might have been, and the next thing you know you have the heels that are getting applauded and the babyfaces are getting made fun of, you know?
Eric: What are your thoughts on the independent scene with the crazy high spots and super stiff wrestling?
Rick: It bothers me that guys are trying to hit each other and hurt one another. That is not the art form of pro wrestling. The art form of pro wrestling is to throw a punch making it look like you took the guy’s chin off, but you barely tapped him. There is the art form, so that the person that is sitting in the front row, which is the closest person to the ring, is thinking, “When he kicked him in the face, he really kicked him.” There is the art form. There is no art form in punching the guy in his nose, and breaking his nose. Especially if he is not going to move. If he is on his hands and knees and you give him a football kick to the face and he is there for you, but you end up breaking his jaw, anybody can do that. There is no art form to that. The art form is when you are on your hands and knees and a guy is coming at you from left field with a boot that looks it took your face off, but he barely touched you, but everybody in the front row went, “Holy shit did you see that?” That is the art form.
Eric: Do you have any good road stories?
Rick: I know ribs that were played on other guys. Nobody played ribs on me. Mr. Fuji would put an M80 in the distributor of your car so it would blow up and you could not make it home. There have been guys that walk out of the show and the car is sitting on cinder blocks and their wheels are gone. There is a chain thrown all the way across the roof coming underneath the car, going through the door handles. Just to give you an idea on how old this rib is we are talking about door handles. With a padlock on the chain, so you could not get the door open. Someone would super glue the inside of the keyhole. Everybody today uses a keyless remote to open the doors, back in the day you had to stick a key in to open up the lock you know? Fill it up with super glue, so your key could not go in. They did not have those remotes back then you know? We played a game, Jay Youngblood and myself, and a couple of the other guys. Barry Windham was with us, Mike Rotundo, Jay and I. We would be coming back from a little spot show in the Carolinas driving on a two lane road and the driver would put on a pair of sunglasses driving at night, and these are two lane roads with no lights. So, you put on a pair of sunglasses, and then the other guy hands you another pair of sunglasses, and then another pair, and you wind up wearing four pairs of sunglasses in the middle of the night trying to drive this car on a two lane road that has no street lights, and that was always kind of funny. The co-pilot sitting in the seat next to the driver would always give directions, “Get ready, we are coming up to a turn. Turn, turn, turn, turn!” Then we would wind up in the middle of the field and get back on the road with four pairs of sunglasses on. It was crazy.
Listen to the Ricky Steamboat Pro Wrestling Radio interview in its entirety.
Grab discounted WWE DVDs, merchandise, t -shirts, figures, and more from the WWE Shop on Amazon.com
© 2014, Pro Wrestling Radio. All rights reserved.