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Posts Tagged ‘Ric Flair’

Dragon Masterpiece: new WWE DVD spotlights Ricky Steamboat

June 29th, 2010 4 comments

Just as important as the top dog in a territory in the kayfabe days was the No. 2 drawing card. In a sense, No. 1 was only as good as No. 2; in fact, they co-existed as stars and drew money because of the chemistry between the two. Simply put, No. 1 couldn’t have captured the imagination of wrestling fans—not to mention all those title belts–without No. 2. Meanwhile, in most cases, they both were probably each taking credit for the houses at the time, i.e., the money drawn at the arenas, because, well, that’s how the business was back then. A little legit professional jealousy was always considered good for the business, with the lines of fantasy and reality blurred.

In the late ’70s, the money-drawing rivalry in Memphis was Jerry Lawler vs. Bill Dundee, while Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat helped ignite the Crocketts’ Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling (MACW) not long after a plane crash crippled one of its biggest stars–and nearly the territory itself. The tragedy that ended the career of longtime U.S. champ Johnny Valentine, a true legend in the area, also seriously injured Flair’s back, which he rehabbed like a man possessed to come back months ahead of schedule. Valentine’s retirement forced the territory to usher in a new era sooner than expected.

Although the stage was set for Flair to rise from the wreckage as an inspirational babyface, booker George Scott went another direction. Before he was ready to work again, Flair appeared at ringside as a heel, ensuring that MACW fans wouldn’t feel sentimental about the Nature Boy as he prepared to make his return. Flair ridiculed the fans during a memorable studio appearance for making the mistake of sending him get-well cards. When he ripped up those cards, crowing that the fans were fools for caring about him, his heel fate was sealed. Flair may have returned more despised than he was before the plane crash—now that’s heat.

Timing is everything in all forms of entertainment, and the wrestling business is no exception. Not long after his actual in-ring return, Flair reportedly asked booker Scott to be paired up with the athletic Steamboat, real name Richard Blood, a chiseled rookie who had adopted the well-known surname of ring-veteran Sammy Steamboat. Scott trusted Flair’s instincts, which resulted in a new style of working, first in the Carolinas, and, later, the rest of the country. While the Valentine era was known for stiff, methodical contests, especially his bouts with guys like Wahoo McDaniel, Steamboat and Flair set a new standard of pure athleticism. The two young lions immediately clicked, with their athletic, state-of-the-art (especially for the time) bouts captivating MACW fans.

One underrated, unique aspect of the kayfabe era was the effect of the national wrestling magazines, later referred to as “the Apter mags,” on young marks back in the ’70s. Much like fans today flock to the Internet every day for the latest rumors, ’70s- and ’80s-era wrestling fans at the time thirsted for as much actual “news” as they could decipher in those largely fictional Apter mags, sold at supermarkets and drug stores. The notion seems ridiculous now, since we all know that nearly all of these Apter stories were as imaginative as the angles themselves. There was a time that, much like the razorblade-induced scar tissue on stars’ foreheads, these kayfabe-suited stories helped fans put aside common sense and believe that maybe pro wrestling was legitimate. The fact that I never saw Flair or Steamboat wrestle during the late ’70s made them larger than life to me–I knew they must be good because, hey, they were always listed near the top of the NWA’s top-10 contenders, while Lawler was rarely included in the “Official Wrestling Ratings.” Like fellow heartthrob Tommy Rich, Steamboat appeared on dozens of Apter covers as he and Flair feuded. Little did I realize at the time that the majority of the magazine coverage was given to guys who were working territories like New York, Georgia and Mid-Atlantic, where the mags were hot-sellers.

Crockett’s “World Wide Wrestling” program began airing in Memphis in late 1982, so I was finally able see what the fuss was all about. Unlike the WWF, whose TV I found extremely boring, or Georgia, which to me came off like a watered-down version of Memphis by the time my family got cable (I missed three incredible years of WTBS rasslin’ in ’79, ’80 and ’81), Mid-Atlantic was entertaining, realistic TV, with a “real” sporting event-type feel. I recall my mother watching World Wide with me once and making the comment: “Now, see, this stuff doesn’t look as fake as our wrestling.” My reply was something like: “Mom! Gosh, why do you have to go and say that?” I was a such a little diehard Memphis mark who was still in denial that rasslin’ was sports theatre.

I must admit, though, that I was impressed with Flair and Steamboat, the area’s two top stars who were good friends and partners at times…but even better enemies. Flair and Steamboat battled over the area’s TV title, the Mid-Atlantic championship and, eventually, the U.S. title and NWA World title through the years. While the flamboyant Flair was the man whose name was synonymous with the Crockett territory, Steamboat was nearly just as important in their success, especially after the Nature Boy had captured the 10 pounds of gold. While Flair was defending the belt around the world, the red-hot feud between Steamboat and partner Jay Youngblood vs. Sgt. Slaughter and Don Kernodle was as entertaining as anything in wrestling at that time, culminating with the Final Conflict cage match in March 1983, which sold out the Greensboro Coliseum with reportedly more than 10,000 fans turned away.

Steamboat was in phenomenal shape for the era, and the girls loved him. But he was so athletic in the ring that the male fans didn’t consider him a pretty boy. Work-wise, I’d say Steamboat was in an elite class inside the ring, along the lines of Jack Brisco and Shawn Michaels. As Harley Race says: “Steamboat was very, very good. He was easy to work with–if you could keep up with him, that is.” Clips I saw of a one-hour Broadway between Steamboat and Race back up the former NWA World champ’s remarks. He was super smooth very early in his career and, with the possible exception of Ricky Morton, nobody sold an opponent’s offense quite like Steamboat. His realistic style of taking abuse always seemed reminiscent of a heavyweight boxer on the ropes after 10 rounds. He was the total package—he really could do it all.

Not just blowing smoke: Steamboat's DVD has some of the best matches you'll ever see.

Flair and Steamboat’s battles for the NWA  title were legendary, including a one-hour draw on March 17, 1984, in Greensboro, and the main event of a card in enemy territory when the NWA “invaded” East Rutherford, N.J., on May 29, 1984. When Dusty Rhodes took over the book for Crockett in 1984, he appeared to have handpicked Magnum T.A. as his top ally, leaving Steamboat the distant number three babyface. After losing to Tully Blanchard at Starrcade ’84, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat debuted in the WWF in 1985. As good as Steamboat was in the ring, he was horrible on the mic, so he agreed to the addition of a martial-arts gimmick a la Bruce Lee and, later, to carrying a komodo dragon to the ring to help distinguish himself under Vince McMahon’s expanding circus tent. He told Wrestling Perspective: “It looked like Noah’s Ark. Vince was the proclaimed Noah.” Later, he begrudgingly added a spectacular fire-breathing display to his entrance. “I’d have to go about every three months to get a blood check,” he says. “Kerosene has a lot of lead in it, and it’s the same thing as kids eating lead paint.”

While Steamboat never worked heel (Flair’s lone criticism of the Steamer), the longtime Mid-Atlantic babyface went on to have an amazing career (and incredible matches along the way) in the WWF and later in the NWA/WCW with the likes of Randy Savage, Flair, Rick Rude and the team of Steve Austin and Brian Pillman. Steamboat and Flair seemed to get better with age; their classic 1989 series featured some of my favorite matches of all time. Of their major bouts that year for the NWA title, I’d rank their New Orleans bout first, the Chicago title switch a close second and the Wrestle War bout in Nashville a distant third, despite the incredible angle afterward with Terry Funk. (Steamboat was miffed that he was not told about the Funker’s post-match attack, thinking he and Flair would be meeting in immediate rematches over the next few months, continuing the rivalry.) I immediately left a high-school soccer game my senior year in April 1989 so I could arrive just in time to catch the main event of Steamboat defending against Flair at the Mid-South Coliseum. Although less than 3,000 fans showed up, Flair and Steamboat went 35 minutes and tore the house down with an amazing bout–a far cry from the predictable 10- to 15-minute Lawler bouts in the same building during that time.

A new WWE DVD release–Ricky Steamboat: The Life Story of the Dragon–including a documentary chronically Steamboat’s career, is available today via Amazon (just click the link below)*. The Nexus (the official name of the former NXT rookies) brutalized Steamboat last night on RAW, which had to have him thinking, “There’s gotta be a easier way to plug a DVD.” Still, it was pretty cool seeing Lawler and Steamboat standing back to back in the ring to fend off the attack, as their paths rarely crossed throughout their careers. Storyline-wise, the angle also made sense, as clearly these punks have no respect for anyone, including Steamboat, one of the spectacular performers the business has ever known

Although I can think of about a dozen other bouts that should be included, the new WWE DVD includes some of the best matches you’ll ever see, including:

NWA World Tag Team Championship Match
Jack & Gerry Brisco vs. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat & Jay Youngblood
Starrcade November 24, 1983

NWA World Heavyweight Championship Match
Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat vs. “Nature Boy” Ric Flair
Boogie Jam March 17, 1984

Intercontinental Championship Match
Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat vs. Randy “Macho Man” Savage
WrestleMania III March 29, 1987

2 out of 3 Falls Match for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship
Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat vs. “Nature Boy” Ric Flair
Clash of the Champions VI April 2, 1989

Iron Man Challenge Match
Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat vs. Rick Rude
Beach Blast June 20, 1992

No Disqualification Match for the WCW World Television Championship
Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat vs. Steve Austin 

 *Your favorite wrestling Web site gets a commission for each Steamboat DVD when you buy clicking the link below, so buy dozens for your family and friends. (Also, check out the new Mattel WWE Legends figure featuring the Dragon–very cool.) I hope to have a full review up next week.

 

The Mega-Million-dollar man: Ric Flair offers hope for Tennessee economy

June 25th, 2010 4 comments

Money in the bank: Flair advises Lance Russell to invest in Apple stock in 1982.

While Ric Flair’s career as a financial advisor didn’t last long, the Nature Boy is back with a viable investment option for struggling Tennesseans as the new pitchman for the Volunteer State’s Mega Millions lottery.

Does my heart well to know that folks in my home state can turn to the 16-time World champion for inspiration in these uncertain economic times.

In the commercial below, I love how Flair bullies the puny jackpot (Kurt Angle off the gas) into pumping up his payouts, kicking dollar signs in his face. (Brings back memories of Jerry Lawler bodyslamming the Masked Inflation for Fleming Fine Furniture back in the late ’70s.)

Flair is certainly pumped, nearly more ripped today than he was in his lone appearance for Jerry Jarrett’s live Memphis wrestling show in August 1982. Guess he’s been…uh…working out with Hulk Hogan in TNA.

I wooooo! Ric Flair’s daughter Ashley walks that aisle

May 26th, 2010 No comments

Whether you like him...or don't like him...learn to live with him.

Ashley Fliehr, the daughter of legendary wrestler Ric Flair, was married Sunday to Riki Johnson (no relation to Rocky and Dwayne Johnson) in North Carolina. 

The couple made headlines along with the Nature Boy in Chapel Hill in September 2008 following a drunken brawl in which Ashley teamed with Riki to allegedly assaulted her famous father. Police officers arrived on the scene to find Flair, Ashley Fliehr and Riki in a shmaz.

Neighbors claimed the three were involved in a fight that left the 16-time World champion bloodied and bruised. Flair admitted fighting Riki but declined to file charges in the case, but his daughter was arrested after kicking an officer. Reportedly, Chapel Hill Police were forced to use a stun gun to subdue Ashley. (Frankly, this had Vince Russo written all over it.) 

The Nature Girl was charged with assault on a law enforcement officer and delaying or obstructing a public official, according to a police report. (Ashley’s mug shot was quite possibly the most flattering I’ve ever seen–better than most headshots I’ve seen in Los Angeles…couldn’t ask for a better picture.)

Ashley mugs for the camera following her arrest in September 2008.

In the end, Ashley pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 45 days in jail, which was suspended to supervised probation and a $200 fine. A charge of assaulting an officer was dismissed as part of a plea deal.

Much like Flair and longtime hated rival Ricky Steamboat mended fences in the Carolinas so many years ago, Naitch and Riki clearly put the incident behind them as Ric was on hand stylin’ and profilin’ at the ceremony. I cannot confirm if Hulk Hogan showed up unannounced to shove Flair’s face into the wedding cake; however, I have it on good authority that the Nature Boy managed to keep his clothes on for the duration of the reception. (During an awkward moment, Flair apparently felt the best man’s speech was dragging, prompting Naitch to scream, “You keep you mouth shut, fat boy!”)

Ashley was a star volleyball player in high school, leading her team to two state titles. She played volleyball at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.,  graduating in spring 2008.

 

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