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Written By: Mark Armstrong
Running Time: 471 Minutes
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: September 27 2010
Released in 2010, Ricky Steamboat: The Life Story Of The Dragon focuses on the career of (Yes!) Ricky Steamboat, one of the greatest pure wrestlers of all-time. Here, we get a 70-minute documentary on Steamboat’s career along with a selection of on-screen segments and bonus extracts from the main feature, complete with a dozen of The Dragon’s matches. How does this fare amongst similar releases on WWE legends? Let’s see …
As is generally the case with WWE releases, the first part of the DVD is based around a sit-down interview with its main subject, combined with comments from various wrestling personalities and clips of his most memorable moments. Along the way, we learn about Ricky’s amateur wrestling adventures, his entry into professional wrestling and his training at Verne Gagne’s AWA camp, how he got the Steamboat name and his original clashes with Ric Flair. We see Steamboat’s career progress, most notably through NWA United States and Tag Team Title wins (the latter alongside Jay Youngblood), before his arrival in the WWF and, of course, we then go in-depth on his classic WrestleMania III showdown with Macho Man Randy Savage for the Intercontinental Title.
We hear about how Ricky’s fairly sudden IC Title loss came about due to a desire to spend more time at home with recently-born son Richie (later a wrestler himself on NXT), which in itself launched the longest-running IC Title reign ever for The Honky Tonk Man. Then we revisit the most memorable rivalry of his career as Steamboat and Ric Flair engage in an all-time great three-match series for the NWA Title in 1989. By this point, The Dragon’s career had peaked, although he still had returns to the WWF (a short-lived 1991 run which ended, he says, due to false promises concerning a headline spot) and WCW where he entered a memorable feud with an up-and-comer named Stunning Steve Austin. Unfortunately, as we see here, a 1994 bout against the future Stone Cold saw a bad landing result in a premature injury-enforced retirement for Steamboat.
However, several years after Steamboat accepted an agent’s position with WWE, The Dragon made an unexpected mini-comeback as the documentary explains. Coinciding with his 2009 Hall Of Fame induction (an honour which clearly means a lot to Ricky), Steamboat’s return saw him deliver a far better than anticipated performance, given his age and it being his first match since 1994, at WrestleMania 25 in a handicap match against Chris Jericho, in a Raw ten-man tag the next night, and at Backlash 2009 against Y2J (he also had some house show bouts but these were the high points, and he resumed non-wrestling activities in mid-2009).
The DVD was released shortly before Steamboat suffered a serious brain injury after a 2010 attack by The Nexus; fortunately, Steamboat made a full recovery and continues to serve an important role behind the scenes in WWE.
The documentary is a good but not great one; Dragon followers will really enjoy it and Steamboat delivers an honest yet sensible look back at his career, befitting a truly nice guy in an industry not always renowned for its gentlemen. Plus, all of his key matches and rivalries are covered, meaning that nothing essential is ignored. And we get Jesse Ventura commentary, both during documentary clips and during bonus matches, which is a nice touch presumably due to his voice being vital to the entertainment of Savage-Steamboat at WM III (it would take too long to explain the Jesse Ventura situation; just consider that you don’t always hear his voice on past WWF footage shown on DVDs).
On the downside, it is a bit short, but more notable is that because there aren’t a lot of famous Steamboat stories concerning his outside-the-ring endeavours, there isn’t much in the way of revelations or potentially juicy content (one item not really covered is how Steamboat’s divorce from his first wife led to a dispute for years about who owned the trademark to his ring name; it appeared to have been resolved shortly before this DVD came out since he had his first modern action figure and videogame appearance and his first DVD all with a few months in 2010). Also, some non-Steamboat comments are silly: George Steele suggests that Savage actually tried to injure Ricky despite it being part of the show, and Sgt Slaughter claims that 30,000 were turned away from an NWA Tag Title Cage match (which at first I didn’t mind until I thought about it and realised how daft this was). These are minor complaints, though: fans of Steamboat should definitely enjoy the documentary as it covers everything which his supporters would hope for.
And he also had many fans in the dressing room due to his incredible wrestling talent. The great ring awareness, the topnotch ring psychology, the super-smooth chain wrestling (including the greatest arm drag ever, the speedy nature of which Ricky claims he borrowed from Jack Brisco), his superb selling and his outstanding athletic ability (he was even hitting perfect cross body splashes at the age of 56) – it’s no wonder that he is considered one of the best wrestlers ever.
This is emphasised by the bonus matches, all of which are good, great or absolute classics. The Starrcade 1983 Tag Title win is very good (at least by 1983 standards), although it does end abruptly. Conversely, the 1984 Boogie Jam bout against Flair takes a long time to get going but is engaging, again by 1980s expectations. We then get a surprisingly entertaining WWF match against Cowboy Bob Orton, a Lumberjack scrap with Don Muraco (in which we get a referee who delivers astonishingly slow counts before a rapid-fire three count, all made stranger by the fact that this wasn’t part of the match storyline), and an reliable match with another psychology master in Jake Roberts, before that WM III match against Randy Savage which ends disc two.
Disc three opens with what Steamboat calls his greatest match, the Clash Of The Champions number classic against Flair (why didn’t we get his NWA Title-winning bout with Slic Ric from Wrestle War 1989?). There’s no 1991 WWF matches, despite the DVD box art centring on this phase of his career. The next few WCW matches are less notable although bouts with Lex Luger, alongside Dustin Rhodes against Arn Anderson and Larry Zbyszko (in his surprise return to the company in 1991), against Rick Rude (a really good 30-minute Iron Man scrap) and against Steve Austin are all worth watching. The DVD ends with an impressive showing against Chris Jericho (the aforementioned Backlash 2009 meeting).
On disc one, we also get some bonus stories and career-spanning segments and interviews. The latter is a bit odd as Steamboat was never renowned for his mic work although there are some highlights, particularly his 2009 HOF induction (I laughed during one 1985 segment when Mean Gene Okerlund calling him “Richard”; that is his real name, but come on: nobody refers to Shawn Michaels as “Michael” do they?). There’s also an Easter egg in the form of a Steamboat anti-drugs PSA if you click right on “WrestleMania III” in the documentary menu (which some might say is darkly comical given how many WWF wrestlers were allegedly using drugs of some kind during this era). The DVD is completed by bonus commentary from Steamboat and Matt Striker on the 1984 Flair, Savage and Austin matches, which are worth listening to as Steamboat explains in-ring nuances and psychology in a way that is almost alien to modern-day wrestling.
Overall, then, how does this compilation rank? Personally, I feel that whilst this doesn’t strike me as a five-star wrestling DVD, it is on the level just below that. The documentary is acceptable and insightful, the non-wrestling extras are satisfactory, and despite a couple of notable omissions, the matches are all good and includes some all-time classics. Steamboat fans will love it, but so will longtime wrestling supporters in general, who will be treated to plenty of truly great wrestling matches involving one of the best in-ring performers in history.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10 – Excellent