Ricky Steamboat Interview
Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat — probably my very first favorite wrestler back as I started watching in the mid-80s — was just returning from speaking in the ring at the Pillman 2000 show when I managed to divert his attention long enough to secure an interview. Although he had other immediate commitments with the event organizers and other media, Steamboat proved himself to be a gentleman in addition to his pre-existing status as an undisputed legend by granting me over 20 minutes of his time. Below you’ll find the highlights of a conversation that spanned Steamboat’s favorite memories of the past and his thoughts on wrestling’s present.
I’m giving everybody the chance tonight to start off the same way: with a story or memory of Brian Pillman… I know you two crossed paths in WCW, and worked together a lot. Are there any unique stories you’d like to share?
The Dragon: Well, [chuckling to himself] we were wrestling up in Detroit. Shane Douglas and myself were the World Tag Team Champions, and we were wrestling against and Austin and Pillman, the Hollywood Blondes. Well, we had beaten them, retained our belts, but then they jumped us and left us lying in the ring. They’re standing over us, each holding a world belt. Austin’s standing over me, and Pillman’s standing over Shane. Austin just takes the belt and tosses it off to the side. But meanwhile, Pillman takes the belt and throws it down on Shane, hits him in the mouth and chips a tooth! I’m laying on my side, and we’re three feet apart from each other and I’m watching this. Shane turns to me and goes “Oh, man!” and puts his hand over his mouth, “The guy threw the belt down right on my tooth, I think I chipped a tooth!”. So here we are, the end of the match, we’re supposed to be laying in the ring like we just got our butts beat up, and we jump right up, and — BOOM! — and say “Hey c’mon, let’s go get ’em!”. [LAUGHS]
By the time we got back to the locker room, they were saying, “Oh god, we’re sorry” and all that, of course. That was a funny memory. If you get Shane tonight, be sure to ask him about that story.
Actually, I spoke with Shane yesterday, and I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to get any more time with him tonight.
TD: Oh, OK… but if you do, be sure to ask him about that one.
Was it cool being here tonight, seeing a guy like Shane Douglas or any of these other guys?
TD: Well, I’ve seen Shane a couple of times this past year. Every time he comes through Charlotte, he calls me up and we go out to dinner, you know. He calls me at my health club a couple, two or three times per year. He does a better job of getting a hold of me than I do getting a hold of him. Yeah, he’s a real good guy.
Ric Flair was originally supposed to be here tonight… had you talked at all with him about what you two might do here? I know last year…
TD: [Cutting me off…] We were actually…. that was actually just a moment we grabbed. It was just… well, the way the fans reacted, we just grabbed it and ran with it a little bit. There wasn’t really any intention of him and I wrestling here this year. I haven’t wrestled in five years. I’m not saying that I COULDN’T, but… I’ve got a bad back, and don’t want to chance it.
What do you think about a guy like Shawn Michaels, also with a bad back, who came back for just one last match a couple months ago so he could go out his way? Is that something you would ever consider?
TD: You hate to say the word “never,” right? People have asked me in interviews such as this, “Rick, if you had the choice to come back against one guy or have that one match, who’d it be with?”. I’d say it has to be with a couple of guys… one of ’em would be Savage, OK? We had that great match at WrestleMania 3. But then, the thing I don’t know is, we’ve gotten older. Jeez, that was [pausing to do the math] fourteen years ago, you know. We’ve changed.
The other one, if I had a choice, would probably be with Flair.
That’d be tremendous, too.
TD: God, we wrestled each other so many times. I mean, without the national public knowing it, when we were working for Crockett promotions down in the Carolinas, we worked with each other for years.
That’s something else I’d like to kind of get your take on, because obviously, the national fanbase probably thinks of your match with Savage at WM3 as your greatest. But that was probably also your highest profile match, ever… are there any matches you hold in higher esteem or would suggest your fans seek out on video if they really want to see you at your best?
TD: Well, the match I had with Flair in ’89… I had beaten him for the belt in Chicago. This was the first return match, it was two out of three falls, and we went 50 some odd minutes… that, to me, when I talk to other wrestlers about it, on a professional level, they would understand this. We’re talking about a smaller house, attendence-wise, going two-out-of-three, and the time we would have to put into it. Considering that WrestleMania was — what? — sixteen minutes and ninety-four thousand fans. God, you had so much adrenalin pumping, it was easy, you know? That was easy, and you only had to go sixteen minutes.
Go with much less people, and go an hour, and that’s hard to do. That was hard to do. So I look at it as putting out the effort for the business… I think my reputation speaks for itself when you talk to some of the guys. “Ah, Steamboat, you start working with him, if there’s 50 people out there, he’s going to give 110 percent. If there’s 94,000 people, he’ll give 110 percent. It doesn’t matter to him.” I want the people to get their money’s worth.
Do you see that same fire and dedication in some of the younger guys who may not even have really broken into the business until after you left?
TD: They don’t have ring psychology, and the only way you can learn to understand ring psychology is to put the time into a match. Everything is geared towards pay-per-view and TV, so a lot of these new guys, I don’t think in their entire careers will experience a one hour broadway.
Well, but what about the… did you catch the WWF’s latest show with the 60 minute match…
TD: [Cutting me off…] Yeah, it was the Rock and Triple H, right? Actually, I didn’t see it, but I heard they did a damn good job with it. Well, it’s also a lot easier to do a one hour match when you’ve got two of the most popular guys in the business who are over, you know?
I don’t know how many specifics you may have heard, but do you think they were helped out by the fact that they got to do 11 decisions in the match and had a lot of meticulous intra-match booking, whereas you and Flair only had three decisions in an hour and not a whole lot of extracurriculars?
TD: With the Rock and Triple H… How did that help them make their one hour match easier? Making their one hour match good? If you’re a fan, and you’re looking at that match, and the Rock and HHH are really up there in terms of fan popularity, so whatever they do you think is great. You get a couple of guys who are just starting out in the business and send ’em out there for an hour, and people are going to go “Boring, boring,” right? But Triple H and the Rock do the exact same headlock, and people will still go nuts. So believe it or not, psychologically, for the Rock and Triple H, it plays a role in how good they feel. When you have that happening, you’re sitting there in a headlock, and you look down and say, “Man, we got ’em. We’re just sitting here, I got you in a headlock and they’re going crazy.” God that makes you feel good.
Do you think fans are different today than in the past, or even different city to city? How does that affect what works and what doesn’t in the ring? Does that make it harder to sell a headlock, no matter how big you are?
TD: This generation of fans… and don’t get me wrong, the generation who saw me wrestle are still out there, but we’ve got this new generation, too… they’re not used to seeing a guy in a headlock, they’re used to bing-bang-bing-bang. They see a guy piledrived six times, and the next thing you know, he jumps up and runs after the guy. There was a time when a piledriver was a move that after one, you’d do an angle where the guy would be carted off to the hospital. They do it now… [trailing off]
And the guy is backstage cutting a promo 5 minutes later.
TD: [Chuckling] Yeah, yeah, that’s it exactly. So, you know, these guys, it’s just the way they’re conditioned. And it’s not their fault. This new breed that’s come along, they don’t understand ring psychology, because they’ve never been given a chance to learn it. You know, we used to go out and wrestle 7 days a week, 20, 30, 40 minute matches EVERY NIGHT. You had to learn it, or else, you’d get let off. Sure you can do the backdrop, sure you can do a slam, you can do all that stuff, but you don’t know how to piece it together so that it means something. Because you don’t have the psychology in place.
I didn’t mean to hold you up so long, but I really appreciate your time.
TD: Oh, no problem.
And I know our readers appreciate your time, too. Have you got a website or anything like that to help them keep tabs on what you’re up to?
TD: Well, my wife has BSteamboat.com. [Apologies to Rick Steamboat if I messed something up in the translation, but this does not appear to be an active website… if anyone can help with the confirmed URL of the existing online home of the Steamboat family, I’ll gladly post a correction here.]
She talks to several fans right now, and we also use it… well, for instance, my son is into car racing. He’s into smaller cars, but he’s only 12, and living in Charlotte with all the NASCAR and Winston Cup fans, well we use it to keep up with that, too, among other things.
Alright, we’ll definitely get the word out. And again, we very much appreciate your time.
TD: Thank you.