Steamboat on his legendary WM match with Savage: “What surprises me is 31 years later and I still get people asking me about that match”
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Ricky Steamboat Transcription
Ring Rust Radio: At the upcoming PCW Ultra show in Wilmington, California, on May 4, you will be the special guest referee in the light heavyweight championship match between Shane Strickland and Douglas James. What are you expecting from this match and who do you think walks out as the champion?
Ricky Steamboat: You know, this will be the first time that I’m going to be doing an appearance for this company. In doing some research on it as of late, I understand that it’s a pretty stand up company for an independent company. The crowd that they draw for me to say is amazing for an independent show so they must be very professional. I’ve done guest refereeing in other appearances and I’m just the type of guy that with being a baby face all my life, I call it straight down the middle. The matches that I’ve been involved with as a referee, sometimes the heel likes to get up in my face a little bit and even at 65 years old, I don’t put up with that crap. Most times or not, the poor guy gets chopped down a few times. A word of warning to any of the two participants; I’m not afraid to throw some of my stuff at them that I’ve done over the years.
Ring Rust Radio: One of the most anticipated matches on the PCW Ultra card is the battle between Chelsea Green and Tessa Blanchard for the women’s championship. What are your thoughts on the rise of women’s wrestling and the possibility we could see two women main event WrestleMania next year?
Ricky Steamboat: You know I’m very happy with the World Wrestling Entertainment company to which I still work for. In the last several years, they’ve really given women a chance. I feel that we really had some good, athletic women wrestling out there and they work just as hard as the guys and put on a heck of a show. I know Tessa, I’ve met her on a few occasions and I’ve watched her work in the ring. There’s probably some grey areas that she needs to work on but overall, she seems to be doing well every time I’ve seen her work in the ring. If you don’t know, I’m sure you probably do though, she is Tully Blanchard’s daughter. Of course, my history with Tully going back to I’m going to say 1982, ‘83 or ‘84 maybe in that timeframe I had many a good match with her dad. The women’s revolution is really stepping up as of late. On any given night, on any wrestling card, a lot of times those women will either steal the show for the evening or they’re working just as well as the guys.
Ring Rust Radio: You’ve been praised throughout your career for the psychology of your matches by making sure things were done that made sense and fit the narrative of the match. When you watch matches today, is there somebody you feel does a great job following in your footsteps?
Ricky Steamboat: Well you know, we have a lot of guys at the training grounds there and we have a lot of guys that even fight on the independents circuit. I’ll say there’s a lot of good athletes out there, but the key thing that I see missing is being able to put it all together in order to tell a story. In every match you can tell a story. There’s a lot of guys that do a lot of stuff over the course of a match and none of it ties together or makes sense. I’ll be doing a seminar on Saturday and a lot of my focus is on telling these guys how to tell a story in a match to which storytelling in a match get your fans involved. If you can get them involved in what story they are trying to tell when your match, it just makes it all the easier. All of us are in the entertainment business, regardless if you’re doing wrestling or rock ‘n roll or whatever, you’re out there performing and you work for the response from the fans. I know a lot of guys that get responses from the fans and it’s only because it’s a spot and doesn’t tie into the story. I feel that makes you a real pro in our business if you’re out there to get the response from the fans but at the same time you go out there and are able to tell a story in your match, I focus a lot on that. I’ll give you real quick example: I have two guys in a championship match on an independent show. They came up to me for some advice and I said, “Look you are the two best at this company has to offer. I want you to go out there and tell a story that this is a championship match. At the end of the match you come back to see me and I’ll let you know.” So, at the end of the match they came back and there were standing there with their chest stuck out, walking into the locker room and they asked what I thought? I told them their match was all over the place and that it was not a championship match. The guy says to me, “Whoa, what do you mean by that?” I told him the object of the game is you have the good guy here, the babyface is the champion, you’re the heel, and the promoter decided to change the championship, switch the belt, and put it on you. So, I look at the babyface and tell him that what you are trying to do in the story is you’re telling us that you’re trying to hold onto this championship and you the heel your trying to get it from him. There were several times during the match in which you drop some big bombs on the guy but you didn’t cover him. Like the Jake Roberts’ DDT and respect to Jake Roberts, if you do a DDT to a guy and you’re trying to win his championship and everybody knows that that was a finish hold from one of the best psychologists in our business and you don’t even cover him? What kind of story are you trying to tell in that moment? They looked at me and thought, “Wow, that’s right. I did a big move on at him and I didn’t even cover him like I was trying to beat him.” It’s all about that when I teach: why you do it, when you do it and the reason behind it. So those guys walked away and they did do a match that there were so many holes in it and I pointed them out to them and I hope at the end of the day moving forward, they would apply some of the things that we talked about.
Ring Rust Radio: Since leaving your in-ring career behind, you have focused on working with younger talent, including hosting a PCW wrestling seminar on May 5 in Bell Gardens, California. How much pride do you take in bestowing your knowledge on the next generation of wrestlers?
Ricky Steamboat: Right now in my life, it’s what I do a lot of and happy to do it. I remember the first couple of years when I was coming up through the ranks, some of the old-timers would take me aside after the match and critique me. I understand today’s guys, a lot of guys when they get in the ring, they’re looking across the ring at a guy with the same amount of ring time. Some guys six months, some guys one year, some guys two or three years, but when I was coming up, most nights I was looking across the ring at a 15- or 20-year journeyman. Every night he was taking me to school and he knew what his position was and it was to pass the torch and hopefully by doing this, he would help to keep the business going. Help bring up guys that were green and rookies and show them the way. I find out at this point in time in my life, this is what I’m doing. I understand that wrestling now has changed as opposed to what it was when I worked, but I still think you can apply some of the things that I talk about and just put you 2018 twist on it and still make it work. It is a lot of pride for me and it’s a way for me giving back. A way I am passing the torch and hopefully some talent will look back at the day I was there teaching them, reflect on that and hopefully they will understand how it helped.
Ring Rust Radio: A lot of people point to you as the perfect model for what a great babyface is supposed to be in wrestling, and you’re one of the few wrestlers who never turned and went to the dark side, so to speak. Is there any part of you that wishes you would have had even a brief run as a heel, and how do you feel you would’ve fared in that role?
Ricky Steamboat: I’ll tell you a true story. Back in ‘91, I went to Vince and Pat Patterson and asked to do a turn and they both shut me down without hesitation. They said it would not work, I was the premier babyface, and I told them that I’ve been in the ring with the best feels in the business. I actually believed that I could work as a heel because I’ve been in the ring with the best of them. They said bottom line, it would probably hurt your career and they shut it down. Now, at the time guys I was a bit turned off. I was a bit disgruntled because I wanted to be able to work as a heel. At that time, I had been in the business I was approaching around 17 years and I knew I was get into the twilight of my career and I just wanted to be able to experience working on the dark side. Being able to feel what that’s like and I was upset about not being able to do it at the time. Looking back at it now, I’m happy and pleased that they did talk me out of it and not allow it. Like you said earlier, one of the few guys in the business that wrestled close to 20 years actively and stayed the same way as he started in the business. There’s just a few of us that have done that and I’m happy to say that I’m one of those few guys now. I reflect back and I’m happy that I was turned down.
Ring Rust Radio: I think any longtime fan of wrestling has great respect for your WrestleMania 3 match against Randy Savage, but one thing I’ve always been curious about is WWE’s decision-making regarding WrestleMania
Ricky Steamboat: Well honestly, I don’t know the reason. I didn’t question them. I had thought that when I was looking at the bracket, I had Valentine in the first round and Savage was in the second round. I felt myself, what a way for me to pay it back to Randy for what he did for me at WrestleMania 3 and of course I would love to put him over right there in the middle. It was a surprise to me to know that that wasn’t going to happen. I don’t know if there’s politics involved, I never questioned it. Dropping the ball on a situation like that I think the fans would’ve really enjoyed to see a return type match between Randy and I even though it was only in the second round of the tournament. I was looking forward to paying him back and really giving him a good look.
Ring Rust Radio: Your match with Randy Savage from WrestleMania III is one of our favorites. Is there something specific that stands out to you about that match that perhaps fans may not be aware of or you feel goes overlooked?
Ricky Steamboat: A lot of Q&A’s that I do at appearances, comic-cons, or conventions, they always ask about that match and I’ll say that match was completely scripted and put together. The reason was Randy and I did not have any opportunity to work with each other leading up to WrestleMania 3. A lot of main event guys are able to work with their partner and fine-tune their match before a big pay-per-view, but Vince wanted my debut to be on that day. The only thing we could do was put together something that would work just from gut feeling. We didn’t know if it was going to work with the fans and we didn’t have a chance to try and fine-tune it. Thank God what we did put together worked. I think the biggest thing I wanted was to make it a championship match. That was my answer to Randy because he is asked, “What do you want to do Dragon?” So, I told Randy that we got to make it a championship match. He told me that I should go after his throat since he came off the top rope with the bell on my throat. I said what I kind of think is everybody would expect that. If we could have a moment in the match where I get a little payback and then let’s move on to making it a championship match. What I meant by that was we had 21 false finishes in a match that went less than 17 minutes, and I thought the story that we were trying to tell here Randy is that I’m going after your belt, and you’re trying to hold onto it. So, with all those false finishes and finally number 22 was the final 1, 2, 3. We were talking about my dive off the top I did and I think everybody again would kind of expect that so let’s catch them out of the blue. It was a simple he picked me up for slam and I hit him with a small package. A small package is probably one of the most prostituted moves or false finishes in our business. I think anything that we do at this point and time in the match is going to pop the fans. Where we had 21 attempts and worked in really good match. What surprises me is 31 years later and I still get people asking me about that match. 31 years later. I just wish Randy was around so we could share that moment a lot more often together, but he is not. That’s what I’m talking about with making a championship match. He’s going after me, I’m going after him, anytime you get the opportunity to try to beat the guy and cover the guy the fans are really going to go with it. I read somewhere, I can’t remember, memories not all that good with me anymore with being dropped on my head a few times. I read somewhere that they took a recent poll through the fans, old generation and new, and that match with me and Savage ended up being like second of all WrestleMania matches. That did surprise me because how many matches do they normally have on a WrestleMania? 10? You take that, times 34, that’s over 300 WrestleMania matches and we ended up number two which really surprised me. It really just popped me and really did that the fans thought so much of it. We’re just going by a couple of good pros that knew what they were looking for and Randy was very open to my suggestions for the two of us to put this together. If we had a chance to fine-tune it, like maybe have a handful of matches between ourselves it might’ve even been better. I will tell you this and looking back people ask me if there was anything we would’ve changed. I said yeah, and this is what I would’ve added: I would’ve added me coming off the top with my dive, and the referee gets down for the three count, and I would have had Savage kick out. That would of really threw a monkey wrench at the fans. For the fans to see the first time anyone ever kick out of my finish. Would you guys like to know the first time I was able to watch the match back? What was the of WrestleMania 25? That was the year I got inducted into the Hall of Fame and it was also the time when the company put out a three-disc DVD of my career. Of course, they gave me a bunch of copies and I sat there and I was able to watch that match. From 1987 to 2009, it was over 20 years before I actually watched the match that everybody talked about. There are times when I was watching it and trying to remember what was coming up next. There are several times during the match that blew me away because I couldn’t remember then when I saw it, it hit me was like déjà vu half a dozen times when I was watch the match. then I had to plug it and watch it over again the third time my memory came back to me altogether and I was able to call it and how everything was happening move, after move, after move. The first time I watched it like you guys, it blew me away and it caught me off guard several times.