When the legendary WWE Hall of Famer Ricky Steamboat’s name is mentioned, immediately a wide grin appears on the faces of wrestling fans who have very fond memories of the handsome young wrestler who appeared on their television screen every week for Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP) on Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling. They would also see him in person in all the cities that JCP promoted. The Dorton Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina was one of the more popular locations that fans would go to see Ricky do battle with such dastardly villains as Ric Flair, Harley Race, Greg Valentine, Baron Von Raschke, Blackjack Mulligan and so many more.

This Sunday, November 27th, at the Dorton Arena, Big Time Wrestling, the wrestling promotion that specializes in giving the fans a one-on-one experience with some of their favorite wrestlers and exciting matches, presents “Return Of The Dragon.” It is an opportunity of a lifetime to see Ricky Steamboat lace up his wrestling boots and wrestle in a six-man tag match. Ricky teams up with AEW and WWE stars F T R to do battle against AEW and ROH star Jay Lethal, AEW star Brock Anderson with AEW, WWE, WCW, JCP star Arn Anderson and a mystery partner.

In another exciting match, the legendary WWE Hall of Famers and JCP stars the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express vs. ROH stars the Briscoe Brothers. Other exciting wrestling stars scheduled to appear are: Matt Hardy, Scott and Rick Steiner, Kane, Ron Simmons, Lex Luger, Teddy Long, Jimmy Valiant, Shane Douglas, Crowbar and many more. There will be a meet and greet with all the stars at 2pm and bell time is 5pm. Get your tickets now @ http://dragonreturns.com If you are not able to see it in person, you can see it on Fite TV. Go to @FiteTV - http://bit.li/DragonReturn

As a huge fan myself of JCP and Ricky Steamboat in particular, it was an absolute honor and pleasure to speak over the phone with Ricky a while back. We covered everything from his feuds with Ric Flair, Paul Jones, Sargent Slaughter and Don Kernodle, Jack and Jerry Brisco and his famous match with Randy Savage at WrestleMania III.

Yiorgo: You are coming back to your Mid-Atlantic roots, where you had some of your most memorable matches. Where were you before you started working for Jim Crockett Promotions?

Ricky Steamboat: Before going to the Carolinas I was in Atlanta, GA with Ole Anderson as the booker. I was a mid-carder, still new in the business, two years under my belt when Ole made the talent swap and I came to the Carolinas in March 1977. Soon after, it was Ric Flair that went to Jim Crockett and said “I would like to do something with that young kid Steamboat.”

Y: As a huge wrestling fan myself I remember being glued to the TV and seeing in horror as Ric Flair rubbed your face all over the TV studio cement floor. An interesting tidbit for you and the wrestling fans reading this is, on the recent WWE Rivalries Series Ric Flair VS Ricky Steamboat, it is my wrestling footage that I filmed 35 years ago by the ring apron that is used to tell a big part of your Mid-Atlantic history. They also used my footage filmed of my TV set of you talking to Bob Caudle with your face all scarred up.

RS: Thank you for documenting that part of our history. I tell people all the time that some of my best matches were in the arenas only for those fans to see, but now thanks to your footage others can see them as well. So then here is a tidbit for you. During our match before the rubbing of my face on the floor, I agreed to let Ric punch me one time “the hard way” that is to say full force, to guarantee that my eye would swell up. Not that many people know that fact. Now let me tell you what happened backstage with that segment. I went backstage after Ric rubbed my face on the floor and the rule of thumb back then was that you would get a small towel, wet it, and put a raspberry on your cheek. Well Harley Race who was in the Carolinas at the time, sent David Crockett to the hardware store to bring back some sandpaper and David came back with a variety pack. Harley pulled out the harshest one. I looked at it and it looked like it had small rocks on it. I sat in the chair and a couple of the wrestlers held me down. Harley said, “Rick this is going to hurt”. He started to sandpaper my cheek and my eyebrow. He actually took off part of my eyebrow, and he sandpapered through the skin and I was bleeding. He then got some iodine and then sprayed some New-Skin over it. I was young then and did what I was told. I had a discoloration starting at the top of the eyebrow and going down to my cheek. For a good 6-7 months I looked like spot the dog. I would walk into 7/11, the clerk would see my face and say, “Oh my God, that stuff is real.” And I did not know if this discoloration would stay with me for life. Thank God it eventually faded away. We drew pretty good with that angle but it wasn’t until a little later when Ric was on TV with a couple of his models and was showing off an 8 X 10 picture close up of my face that I went out there, jumped him and tore every shred of clothes off of him down to I believe his lime green underwear, his shocks and a his tie that became a knot knot, and I could not get it off of him. Once I did that to him, we did really great, great business. We either sold out or came close to selling out everywhere we went.

Y: I also remember vividly your 90-minute match you had with Ric at the Norfolk, Scope. And that was after you had a 60-minute draw two weeks before. When I am asked what was my favorite match that I witnessed, I always cite that particular match. How do you keep up the stamina for something like that?

RS: Ric and I only had a few of those 90 min matches and I was trying to recollect recently where they were and what cities they were in. But to answer your question, you learn to pace yourself. Any of those 90 min matches you were really in uncharted territories. The only time I did them was only with Ric Flair, and the few times we did do them, you just have to pace yourself and know whether you are going 10, 60, or 90 minutes the last part of the match is the most important because the last thing they see is the last thing they remember in the match. You have to have enough gas in the gas tank, you do not want to burn out early. It is also very difficult to tell a story when you go that long. I’ve done enough 60 min matches with Blackjack Mulligan, Harley Race, Greg Valentine of course most were with Ric Flair. When you are trying to tell a story and keep the audience captivated, 90 minutes can be very difficult to do because you end up repeating yourself which you don’t want to do. And believe it or not those matches back then were all pretty much on the fly. We called it in the ring. It makes you the consummate pro in being able to stick to your storyline and sometimes you get what I call the brain farts and get lost. Fortunately for me, when you are in the ring with Ric Flair it never happens. He always puts on a 4 or 5 star performance.

Y: Now I would like to mention some names and if you can tell us a memory or story. Let’s start with you and Jay Youngblood against Sargent Slaughter and Don Kernodle.

RS: It was Sarge’s idea to tag with Don. I remember going to the office because they did not think Sarge and Don together would work and Jay and I spoke up. We were the world tag team champions and I looked at Jimmy Crockett and said, “Jimmy, that is the responsibility of Jay and I of how we can make Don a main event guy. Sarge was already a main eventer without a doubt. We will sell for him and make him look good to put him over. The rest is history. They beat us; we chased them for the belt and that match in Greensboro in a cage with the stipulation unbeknown to us that if we lost we could not be a tag team again. We had turned away business. We also had a formal contract signing on TV and that was very, very rare back then.

Y: Jack and Jerry Brisco.

RS: The four of us presented the idea to have a series of babyface (good guys vs. good guys) matches against each other. We went to Jimmy again and said the same thing. We had to convince Jimmy Crockett to do it. He said it would not work. I said, “It’s up to Jay and myself to make these guys heels or bad guys.” It was another great angle and we did just great business as with Sarge and Don. Later on they told me several times that those years were the most fun they had in their career. One day we were waiting to do interviews when somebody came in and said the Briscos were needed on the phone. Jack said, “Gerald, go see what they want.” Jerry came back and said, “We are giving our two weeks notice. We have a salvage/bodyshop yard that the state of Florida is building a bypass through, they just bought from us and we just became millionaires. They opened up another one and are still in business.

Y: Jay Youngblood.

RS: Jay came into the area in 1980. We were together 4½ years and he would ride with me. We both had long black hair, his much longer. He fell asleep against the window. I see an 18 wheeler tow truck towing another 18 wheeler just the cab part and it is facing backwards, meaning if I am behind it, it would look like it is coming straight at us. So I decided to play a rib on Jay. I rolled the window down gently and rolled it up again catching his hair in the window. I am about 8 feet behind them and I let out a big scream yelling for Jay to wake up. He does and in his sleepy state, to him it looks like the cab of the 18-wheeler being towed is coming straight at us. He jumps; his hair is being pulled out of his head because it was caught in the window. It was funny and you know he never slept again.

Y: Why did you go to the WWF?

RS: I was disgruntled a little bit with the way Dusty was booking. I had seen the writing on the wall. I had been there for 8 years and that was a long time for a guy to be in one territory, especially a guy like me who had never switched sides from babyface to heel. So I called George Scott who was booking in WWF at the time. Jimmy Crockett was good with it. He said “Ricky you’ve done good with me.” I did not realize it until years later that I had to thank Dusty for doing that because I went up to the WWF at the time and it actually took my career to another level. I was very grateful for that.

Y: Did you ever thank Dusty in person?

RS: I did years later. We were both working at the training school in Tampa, before it became NXT and the school moved to Orlando. Dusty and I were talking, it was just him and I, and he said “There was a time when you left me.” (Left Crockett’s and went to Vince) and I told him I was disgruntled and left but I thanked him for it because once I left my career took a big jump and brought me in the main event category. Dusty looked at me and gave me a nod and a smile. He did not have to say anything. Things happen for a reason and whatever life tosses you try to make the best of it. And I moved up to Vince and it turned out better than I thought.

Y: How about a WWF story. How do you wrap your head around performing in front of 93, 000 fans at WrestleMania III?

RS: It took my career to another level. I became the Dragon, had great matches with Savage, Jake the Snake, and Don Muraco, Mr. Fuji. Here is a Randy Savage story. We worked on some things at previous live events. Randy was very particular about his matches but so was I. We were on the same page and it flowed. We never, never, never had words with each other. I remember coming down in that cart at WrestleMania III and seeing that many people but seconds later I got tunnel vision, and focused on the ring and once the match started stayed focused on the match itself. And you have to pace the match so the fans can process what had just taken place. In a standard match, you have 7-8 false finishes then the finish itself. Do you know how many finishes we had? We had 21 false finishes and number 22 a simple finish where he goes to pick me up and I roll him up for finish number 22. It changed how others did matches after that. It set the tone I think to a lot of stuff that you see today. The ups and downs in a match and so many false finishes. And back then from Jessie the body to Arnold Skaaland to Gorilla Monsoon they were all coming up to us congratulating us and wondering how we were able to remember all of that. Even now guys are still coming up. I was at a wrestling convention recently and the Nasty Boys, Greg Valentine and Lanny Poffo, all brought up that match.

Yiorgo is an arts, entertainment and sports writer. A stage, TV and movie actor, he is also a sports entertainer, educator, motivational speaker, writer, storyteller and columnist.

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