Memories of my childhood idol and thoughts on the recently released DVD set.
WWE takes a lot of heat from traditionalist wrestlers and fans, but the company has certainly shown a commitment to keeping professional wrestling’s rich history alive in recent years. They’ve done through their annual WWE Hall of Fame inductions and the release of classic video footage via WWE Classics and DVD collections.
There have been dozens of WWE DVD sets released and I hope there are many more. While I like to watch the matches, I love watching the documentaries. The stories about wrestlers and promotions, featuring video clips, photos, and interviews, are sometimes more interesting than the in-ring action.
In 2008, I sat quietly in the Harley Race Wrestling Academy while the WWE documentarian interviewed Joe Hennig for The Life and Times of Mr. Perfect and then covered a lot of different topics with Harley Race for what I assume found its way onto several DVDs and WWE Classics features. It was interesting to watch the way they blacked out the windows, unplugged all telephones, closed the gym next door, rearranged everything in sight, and experimented with different lighting schemes.
When I learned that WWE was going to release a Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat DVD set, I was thrilled. Steamboat was my childhood idol. To illustrate my feelings for Steamboat, here’s a piece from the revised edition of my autobiography (available in 2011), now titled, THE SOMEBODY OBSESSION: A JOURNEY FROM THE WELFARE LINE TO THE SPOTLIGHT:
My love for wrestling grew to an obsession in late-1986. During a challenge for the WWF Intercontinental Title, Steamboat suffered a “crushed” larynx at the hands of the defending champion, “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Watching Steamboat gasp for breath while paramedics and WWF officials scrambled to save him, I was first paralyzed with fear. Then I cried. A lot. Steamboat was sidelined for several weeks. I forgot about my own problems and my world revolved around the weekly updates on Steamboat’s condition. During this time, WWF aired an interview with Steamboat’s doctor, who said that “the Dragon” should never step into the ring again, and a vignette in which Steamboat went through speech therapy. On January 3, 1987, Steamboat guest-starred on an episode of Sidekicks, a crime drama starring Ernie Reyes Jr. Later that night, on Saturday Night’s Main Event, Savage was about to injure George “the Animal” Steele the same way he’d injured Steamboat weeks before. “The Dragon” came to ringside, restrained by several WWF officials, and saved his friend Steele.
That was it; I was hooked. My future was decided — I was going to become a professional wrestler just like my idol, Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat. I immersed myself deep in the mysterious world of wrestling, worshiping Steamboat. He was tough, exciting, and he represented good (me) overcoming evil (all the sources of my childhood angst). When Steamboat beat Savage for the WWF Intercontinental Championship at Wrestlemania III, he did it, I thought, just for me.
When I got into the wrestling business, everyone, it seemed, listed Steamboat as their wrestling idol. I couldn’t help but feel a little annoyed by it–growing up, everyone around me was a Hulkamaniac and my love for Steamboat had set me apart from the rest of the pack. Now, I was just another Steamboat fan.
I had the pleasure of meeting Steamboat during an autograph signing before a WLW show in 2004. I had met countless stars and never asked anyone for an autograph, a fact in which I took a great deal of pride. But when I met Steamboat, I couldn’t resist getting a Polaroid taken and signed. B.J. Race, who knew how I felt about “the boys” asking for pictures and autographs, gave me a confused look. I explained to her that Steamboat was the man who inspired me to become a wrestler. I’d love to say that the Polariod of me and my idol is prominently displayed in my writing den, but the truth is I was so damned caught up in the moment that I left the picture behind.
I met Steamboat a second time while I was a manager at a bar & grill in Lake Ozark. He came in with a friend of his and ordered dinner after he appeared at another one of Harley’s shows. The server placed his check on the table and I hurried to pick it up.
“This one’s on me,” I said.
“Why’s that?” Steamboat asked.
I looked over my shoulder. I didn’t want to draw attention to him. “Please. It would mean a lot to me.”
He thanked me and shook my hand. On his way out the door, he waved goodbye and said, “Thanks, Matt.”
The bartender recognized Steamboat and I shushed him long enough for my idol to pull out of the parking lot.
The third time I met Steamboat was before a Ring of Honor show in Dayton, Ohio. I rode there with my friend Ace Steel, who Steamboat knew well, and we picked him up at the hotel. He was cordial to me and he chatted away with Ace about Ritchie, Steamboat’s son, who was racing trucks at the time. I just sat in the back seat and kept my mouth shut, dying to shoot the breeze with Steamboat but shy as a schoolgirl.
Two years ago, Ritchie came to Eldon to train at the Harley Race Wrestling Academy. We hung out a couple times and he seemed to be a likeable guy, but I hated to see people treat second- and third-generation stars different from the rest of the students and I knew that I wouldn’t treat him the same as everyone else. How could I? Soon after Ritchie was born, there was an article in WWF Magazine with pictures of my idol and his newborn son. Because I was a first-class wrestling nerd with a big imagination, the eight-year-old version of me thought that I would be the guy who’d bridge the gap between Steamboat generations; I imagined that I’d learn the ropes from Ricky as his tag team partner during the last years of his career and then team with Ritchie during the last years of my career. That, of course, didn’t happen, and memories of my wrestling weirdness haunted me when I was around Ritchie. Somehow, it just felt right to keep my distance from him. He’s now training with Florida Championship Wrestling in Tampa and is under developmental contract with WWE.
Last year, Steamboat was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. The next night, at Wrestlemania, he participated in a handicap match against Chris Jericho. I couldn’t watch it live. I’d seen too many legends perform past their prime and I couldn’t stand to watch my idol embarrass himself. After I read a report of the match on the Internet which described his great performance, I bought the replay and watched it. Then, the next night, he participated in a 10-man tag team match. I’m about as emotionless as they come, but there’s a chance that a couple tears trickled down my cheeks while Steamboat battled once again and the crowd chanted, “You’ve still got it!”
The 3-disc DVD set, titled Ricky Steamboat: The Life Story of the Dragon, was released last Tuesday. I bought it that morning, brought it home, and watched the entire documentary and a few matches.
The documentary was awesome. It featured interviews with Ricky, several current and former stars, and even Ritchie. While I watched and listened to “the Dragon” talk about his career, I thought about how he impacted my life and I wished that I could have told him that during any one of our three encounters.
There are a thousand different matches that could have been added to the DVD set, but I’m happy with their selections. One that I’m especially glad they included was the WCW World Tag Team Title match from Clash of the Champions XVII, a match in which Steamboat made a surprise return, teaming with Dustin Rhodes to beat Arn Anderson and Larry Zbyszko for the championship. When the match originally aired, it brought me a lot of joy at a time in my life when that was an emotion I seldom felt.
A couple days after Steamboat’s DVD was released, he was hospitalized with serious medical issues. While I tried to process the information I’d just read, I walked into the living room, where my four-year-old son, Hunter, was holding the Steamboat DVD set.
“Can we watch Ricky Steamdragon?” he asked.
“You mean Ricky ‘the Dragon’ Steamboat?”
I put in Disc 3, sat down, and made room for my son. Together, we watched the Iron Man Challenge Match between Steamboat and Rick Rude from Beach Blast ‘92.
“I like Ricky Steamdragon,” Hunter said a few minutes into the match. “He’s my favorite.”
This time, I was happy to hear someone else say that.
For more Matt Murphy check out his website here.