It’s a happy 64th birthday of Richard Henry Blood, Sr. He's best known to wrestling fans as the legendary Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat.
Born in West Point, New York, he moved during his high school days to Gulfport, Florida. He was a state wrestling champion for Boca Ciega High School.
In 1976, Richard made his professional wrestling debut under his real name, Rick Blood. He was given his famous ring name when he went to Championship Wrestling from Florida courtesy of Eddie Graham. He picked Ricky Steamboat for his resemblance to Hawaiian wrestler Sammy Steamboat. It sounded more “facey” as Rick Blood felt like a heel name in Graham's eyes.
In 1977, Steamboat joined NWA affiliate Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling (which would become known later as Jim Crockett Promotions). Brought in on the recommendation of Wahoo McDaniel by booker George Scott, he was brought in as a protégé of McDaniel. He barely spoke above a whisper, but he would have a natural rival in the brash Ric Flair. Steamboat broke through that June when he defeated Flair for the Mid-Atlantic television championship.
Over the next eight years, he would feud with Flair, Paul Jones, Sgt. Slaughter, Don Kernolde, Jerry & Jack Brisco, Tully Blanchard, and his mentor McDaniel. He would also be one of NWA's most successful performers, winning the NWA United States Championship three times, the NWA World Tag Team Championship six times, the Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship twice, the Mid-Atlantic Tag Team Championship four times, and add a second NWA World Television Championship run. After having creative differences with booker Dusty Rhodes, Steamboat left for the WWF.
In 1985, Steamboat joined the WWF. It was there he was given the nickname of "The Dragon" (his mother was Japanese-American, and he wore a keikogi and long tights). The nickname—and the gimmick—stuck.
His first major feud would be against Don Muraco after Steamboat defeated Muraco's manager Mr. Fuji. The feud went into January 1986 when Steamboat and Junkyard Dog defeated Muraco and Fuji. His next major feud came following Wrestlemania 2 against Jake "The Snake" Roberts. The feud began when Roberts attacked Steamboat pre-match and hit a DDT on the concrete floor (at the time, the floor was not covered with protective mats). Both Roberts and Steamboat weren't keen on this spot, but Vince McMahon and booker George Scott insisted on the spot happening. Surely enough, Steamboat was legitimately knocked out. Steamboat would win the feud by defeating Roberts in a pair of Snake Pit matches (one at The Big Event in Toronto in August, the other on Saturday Night's Main Event in October).
He then soon moved into his most famous feud during his WWF tenure, against Macho Man Randy Savage over the Intercontinental Championship. Steamboat got a shot in November, but would lose via countout. Post-match, Steamboat was assaulted by Savage with the ring bell, crushing his larynx. It was a write-off. He'd return a few weeks later in saving George "The Animal" Steele from the same fate.
The feud continued until Wrestlemania III, where Steamboat ended Savage's 14-month run as Intercontinental champion (Savage was less than two weeks away from Pedro Morales' record for longest run as Intercontinenal champion) in a classic match. The bout, named the match of the year by both Wrestling Observer Newsletter and Pro Wrestling Illustrated, is often regarded as one of the most influential matches in wrestling history.
Soon after winning the Intercontinental Championship, Steamboat asked for some time off to spend with his wife Bonnie, as she was soon to give birth to their first child. WWF management weren't too happy with this, as he was pegged for a long title run. Just two months after winning the title, The Honky Tonk Man would win it from Steamboat at a WWF Superstars of Wrestling taping. His son, Richard, Jr. (who would wrestle from 2008 to 2013), would be born a month later. Steamboat has alleged in interviews since that he was also being punished for ‘one-upping' the Hulk Hogan-Andre the Giant WWF title match, the Wrestlemania III main event.
Ricky would return just before Survivor Series that November, but was hardly the featured performer he once was. Thank WWF management, still salty over Steamboat's sabbatical, for that. His last major bouts were at the 1988 Royal Rumble event where he defeated Rick Rude by disqualification, and where he was one-and-done in the WWF Championship tournament at Wrestlemania IV by Greg "The Hammer" Valentine. Steamboat and Valentine were set to feud, but instead, Ricky would call it a career at age 35. His retirement wouldn’t last long.
Ricky returned to the ring for World Championship Wrestling in January 1989 as the tag team partner for "Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert against Ric Flair and Barry Windham. Steamboat pinned Flair to win the match, setting up a classic bout at Chi-Town Rumble. Ricky would defeat Ric to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship for the first time. Steamboat would retain the title in a controversial rematch at Clash of the Champions in April, but Flair would win the title back when they met again at WrestleWar '89 in May. The trilogy of bouts were all given five stars from Wrestling Observer Newsletter's Dave Meltzer, and were voted the top three matches of the year by the publication (their Clash bout would win the award).
Steamboat feuded with Lex Luger, who was none too happy with being passed over as the #1 contender for the NWA world title. Luger attacked Steamboat at Clash of the Champions in June. The two were set to face off at The Great American Bash in July in a no-disqualification match, but Luger demanded the no disqualification rule be waived or there'd be no match. The stipulation was waived, and Luger would win by disqualification after he was hit with a chair by Steamboat. He would soon leave WCW due to a contract dispute and impending foot surgery.
After a brief run for the North American Wrestling Association and New Japan Pro Wrestling, Steamboat returned to the WWF in 1991 as "The Dragon", with no reference to his previous run with the company. Ricky primarily wrestled (and won) on Superstars and Wrestling Challenge, making just one appearance on PPV, at Summerslam in a six-man tag team match (he was on the winning team with Kerry Von Erich and Davey Boy Smith). After being defeated by Skinner (his only loss during his 1991 run), he gave notice to the WWF and quit the company. Steamboat leaving put quite the wrench on Survivor Series plans. He was to be the patsy for the Undertaker prior to Undertaker's WWF title match at Survivor Series against Hulk Hogan.
Steamboat returned to WCW in November 1991 as the surprise tag partner of Dustin Rhodes to defeat the Enforcers, Arn Anderson and Larry Zbyszko for the WCW World Tag Team Championship. They would lose them to Anderson and Bobby Eaton in January 1992. Later in the year, Steamboat was a part of another five-star bout, the WarGames bout at WrestleWar '92. That year, he also feuded with Rick Rude over the WCW United States Championship. He failed to win the title at SuperBrawl, but would beat Rude in a non-title Ironman match at Beach Blast. He spent the next year winning the WCW World Television Championship twice (from Stunning Steve Austin in September 1992 and from William Regal at Clash of the Champions in August 1993). He would also win the NWA and WCW World Tag Team Championship with Shane Douglas in November 1992.
In 1994, Steamboat feuded with Ric Flair one last time. The two fought to a draw over the WCW world championship at Spring Stampede when both men's shoulders were pinned at the same time. Flair would win the rematch on WCW Saturday Night a few weeks later. They fought one last time in July on WCW Main Event when Stunning Steve Austin interfered.
He would feud with Austin over the WCW United States Championship. At Clash of the Champions in August, Steamboat injured his back, but would go on to defeat Austin for the US title. The back injury would force him to forfeit the title at Fall Brawl in September. Austin would win it back, but would lose it in under a minute to Hacksaw Jim Duggan. Shortly after his Fall Brawl appearance, he was fired by then-WCW president Eric Bischoff via Federal Express package.
Ricky was away from the wrestling business over most of the next decade. Ricky notably appeared for TNA in its early days, including referee the promotion's first world title and X Division title matches in 2002. In 2004, Steamboat appeared for Ring of Honor, engaging in feuds with CM Punk and Mick Foley, but ultimately made peace with both before leaving the promotion following Final Battle.
Ricky returned to WWE in 2005 as a road agent and was introduced as a legend at WWE Homecoming in October 2005. Steamboat sporadically appeared on WWE programming, but had a featured role in 2009, when he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. At Wrestlemania 25, Steamboat was part of a team of legends that included Roddy Piper and Jimmy Snuka that took on Chris Jericho. Jericho would win the bout. His final WWE match was to be in a ten-man tag bout the night after Wrestlemania. Steamboat impressed so much, the crowd chanted "You still got it!" That led to Steamboat getting a singles match with Chris Jericho at Backlash, a match won by Jericho. Ricky's final bout came for World Wrestling Council where he teamed with his son Ritchie to defeat Hiram Tua and Orlando Colon.
Steamboat worked as an NXT trainer and in talent relations until the release of Ricky's son Richie in 2013. Since then, he has taken on an ambassador role for WWE. Ricky, a former Mr. North Carolina in bodybuilding, is a member of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (1996), Professional Wrestling (2002), WWE (2009), and NWA (2012) Halls of Fame. He is also a Stanley Weston Award winner for lifetime achievement for Pro Wrestling Illustrated (1995), and was the publication's most inspirational wrestler of 2009.
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