The Main Event:
One of the biggest wrestlers from the eighties WWF boom, outside of Hulk Hogan and Rowdy Roddy Piper, was Ricky 'The Dragon' Steamboat. Born Richard Blood in 1953, he got his start in the AWA before moving up the ranks with stints in the NWA and WCW leagues before hitting superstar status with Vince McMahon and company. With Steamboat having been inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame last year, it seems high time that the company give him his own DVD retrospective, and here it is with the three disc Ricky Steamboat: The Life Story Of The Dragon.
Like most of the WWE biographical documentaries that have come out over the last couple of years, this feature follows his climb up the wrestling ladder. We learn how he started wrestling under his birth name until a promoter decided he should change it to something that suited his boyish good looks, and thus was born Ricky Steamboat, paired off as the nephew of a then popular wrestler going under the name of Sam Steamboat. Interviews with the man himself and many of the wrestlers who knew him both personally and professionally make up the bulk of the content here, but the WWE has dug deep into the archives and pulled out all the stops to showcase a lot of great photos and archival materials from throughout the wrestler's storied career.
As the documentary plays out and we learn about many of his career highlights, and about how when he moved to the WWF Vince McMahon turned him from simply 'Ricky Steamboat' to the more dramatic 'Ricky THE DRAGON Steamboat' to cash in on his maternal Japanese ancestry. From there he'd go on to make a splash at his Wrestlemania debut before feuding with a few of his opponents, taking on Don Muraco and even Mr. Fuji. Ongoing spats with Jake 'The Snake' Roberts were a big deal at the time, with Steamboat one-upping Roberts at one point by pulling Komodo Dragon out of a bag in the same style Roberts would bring a snake out to scare his opponents.
At one point in his career, Steamboat travels to Japan, which is interesting. He also speaks of how his life changed when he learned that he was going to become a father. We learn how constant training became an important part of his success, as his stint in the WWF brought him to newer and bigger heights, and how as his career in the ring came to a close, he'd begin mentoring other wrestlers. The documentary closes out with a look at his Hall Of Fame induction from 2009, before expanding on his legacy and what made his work inside the ring such a big deal to WWF performers and fans alike and giving us a look at his return to the WWE last year when he showed up to take on Chris Jericho.
As a career overview and biographical piece, this is a pretty solid watch. Throughout all of this you're very definitely left with the impression that, in the ring and out of the ring, Ricky is a stand up guy. Never one to dabble with drugs or booze, his story may not be as pleasingly sordid as some of the other wrestling stars and as such, the documentary isn't as sensational but he seems to have always treated people well throughout his career. There's no one here with a single bad word to say about him, and regardless of whether he was a favorite of yours or not, it's hard not to like the guy. This is admirable and endears the subject to the viewer, making him very easy to listen to even if his life story isn't the kind of thing that would make tabloid headlines. Rather, his story is an inspiring one that proves hard work and a good attitude can take you far. It's a bit on the short side at only an hour and ten minutes or so long, but what's here is good - especially the clip about twenty-three minutes in where he shows Mean Gene Okerland how to fight ninjas!
Aside from the documentary, on disc one, this set includes the following matches spread out in this order:
NWA World Tag Team Championship Match with Jack And Gerry Brisco vs. Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat And Jay Youngblood from Starrcade, November 24, 1983
NWA World Heavyweight Championship Match with Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat Versus "Nature Boy" Ric Flair from Boogie Jam, March 17, 1984
Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat Versus Cowboy Bob Orton at the Capital Centre July 20, 1985
Lumberjack Match with Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat Versus The Magnificent Don Muraco
at Maple Leaf Gardens, September 22, 1985
Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat Versus Jake "The Snake" Roberts at Boston Garden, August 9, 1986
Intercontinental Championship Match with Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat Versus Randy "Macho Man" Savage from WrestleMania III, March 29, 1987
2 Out Of 3 Falls Match For The NWA World Heavyweight Championship with Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat Versus "Nature Boy" Ric Flair from Clash Of The Champions VI, April 2, 1989
United States Championship Match with Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat Versus Lex Luger from The Great American Bash, July 23, 1989
WCW World Tag Team Championship Match with Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat And Dustin Rhodes Versus Arn Anderson And Larry Zbyzsko from Clash Of The Champions XVII, November 19, 1991
The Iron Man Challenge Match with Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat Versus "Ravishing" Rick Rude
from Beach Blast, June 20, 1992
No Disqualification Match For The WCW World Television Championship with Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat Versus Steve Austin, Clash Of The Champions XX, September 2, 1992
Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat Versus. Chris Jericho from WWE Backlash, April 26, 2009
Pretty much every one of the matches included in this set is a good one. From the early years up through to his recent match with Jericho, there's a lot of action and high flying athleticism on display. Both of the matches with Ric Flair that have been included here are pretty much shining examples of wrestling perfection. Surprisingly enough, the match in which Steamboat got the NWA Championship belt from Ric Flair isn't included in this set, which is a pretty big omission, but other than that most of the 'greatest hits' are included here. It's fun to see Steamboat square off against some of the more hissable bad guys from the wrestling world. Flair was arrogant, sure, but he's too cool not to like. Throw Steamboat into the ring with 'Cowboy' Bob Orton or Jack 'The Snake' Roberts and you've got some classic good guy versus bad guy action to get behind. Of course, the Wrestlemania III match against Randy Savage is not just a career highlight for Steamboat but is widely considered to be one of the greatest matches of the decade and it's easy to see why. Both performers are in the best shape of their lives and the amount of sheer showmanship on display in the ring is amazing. The later matches are still plenty entertaining as well, even if they're not quite on par with some of the better eighties era bouts. All in all, however, this is a great selection of matches that any wrestling fan should enjoy.
The 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, though interlaced, looks pretty decent. Some of the earlier matches are on the soft side and aren't quite as clean and colorful looking as the later day content is but this is generally quite a respectable looking presentation. There are times where the lights over the ring make skin tones look a bit off but this isn't a fault of the transfer or the authoring, it's simply the way the material has always looked. Nothing here really looks worse than when it was broadcast on television, and to some eyes it might even look a little bit better. There's a lot of fullframe material here, and the WWE has opted to presented in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen not by cropping it but by adding borders to the left and right sides of the screen. It actually works quite well.
The same comments apply to the audio on this release - some of the earlier stuff sounds a bit flat, but most of the newer stuff sounds just fine. Everything comes at you by way of a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track and aside from one or two instances where some of the archival clips have a small amount of audible distortion, there aren't any issues worth complaining about here. There are no subtitles or alternate language options provided.
The first disc, aside from the feature, contains a collection of deleted scenes not used in the documentary itself. There are also some amusing vintage promo spots from his stint in the 80s era WWF, some of which have not aged well but all of which are entertaining (Ricky's speech about having a positive attitude towards wrestling would be right at home in an After School Special!). There are sixteen excised clips here in total, all of which are worth checking out.
The second match on disc two, in which Steamboat squares off against Ric Flair, includes a commentary by: Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat & Matt Striker, as does the last match in which Steamboat took on Randy Savage at Wrestlemania III. The third disc also contains a commentary with Steamboat and Striker, available over the Clash Of The Champions XX match against Steve Austin. The three tracks are interesting enough. Striker knows his history and they give Steamboat a chance to spontaneously discuss things as they come back to him while they revisit some of this material.
This collection reminds us why Ricky 'The Dragon' Steamboat was widely considered to be one of the best wrestlers of his time. He's got style, he's got charm and he's got moves to spare and this three disc set not only does a fine job of documenting his life's work, but also presents a great selection of some of his best matches. Ricky Steamboat: The Life Story Of The Dragon comes highly recommended to anyone with an interest in wrestling.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.