Friday, December 18, 2015

Ric Flair tells George South: "Today You're Ricky Steamboat"

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

I've written before about all the stories that George South has told me over the many years we've been good friends, and usually I find myself not believing half of them. I mean, come on - - wrestlers tend to tell tall tales, am I right? And George loves to tell a good story. But then someone comes along that was involved in one of those stories and says something that confirms his story and I wind up calling him and confessing  - - "You were right!"

Such was the case on a recent episode of the "WOOOO! Nation" podcast, when Ric Flair and co-host Conrad Thompson were taking questions sent in by fans. One question dealt with wrestler Mike Jackson and why he never quite got a break to move up the cards back in the day. Jackson was thought of at the time (and still to this day) as one of the best underneath workers in the business and all the main event guys liked working with him.

But Flair moved on quickly from Jackson and said this, which confirmed part of a story George had told me long ago:

"You know who was actually the best worker back then, was George South .... I got in the ring with him one time and I said, 'Buddy, today you're Ricky Steamboat'. And we tore it down."  - Ric Flair, WOOOO! Nation, December 9, 2015

About ten years ago, George told me the story about his November 12, 1988 match with Ric Flair on Superstation WTBS, a match that went nearly 15 minutes, much longer than the usual WTBS TV match at the time. We were making a 22-hour round trip in a rented truck to visit the great Blackjack Mulligan at his home in Florida. That's right, I had 22 hours of listening to George South tell stories with the same Journey CD playing in the background the whole time. (And that part about Journey is a shoot!)

World Championship Wrestling on Superstation WTBS, November 12, 1988

George told me on that trip that before they walked through the curtain that morning in the WTBS studio, Ric had uttered those same words to him: Today you're Ricky Steamboat. Now, I never knew if I really believed that or not. I mean, I knew George loved Ricky Steamboat, and at times thought he was Ricky Steamboat, so it seemed plausible that in the context of the story this was George's wishful thinking. That is until last week when I heard Ric Flair say those very same words.

So having once again called George to acknowledge he had indeed told me the truth, I asked him to tell me whole story again. He quickly reminded me that it was a match Ric didn't want to have to begin with.

"When you got to TV, you found out who would actually work," George told me. "Ric was scheduled to work for the first time in awhile, but he really didn't want to. He had just gotten in from Pittsburgh after being up all night and he had to catch an early plane to Ohio after the taping. That studio was so cold and he didn't want to work and then have to shower and have that wet hair and rush to the airport."

Indeed, a quick review of notes from those Saturday night shows in the fall of 1988 showed that Ric didn't wrestle on any WTBS studio taping that late summer or fall until that Nov. 12th show. He did lots of those classic interviews, but didn't work in the ring. 

"He and Dusty sort of got into it right there in front of everyone, and Dusty told him he was going to have to wrestle," George told me. "So Ric threw his bag on a chair and said, 'Well then I want South.'"

I asked George if he remembered who he was originally scheduled to work, or if he remembered who Flair was scheduled to work, but he could not recall. "All I know is Ric changed it and I was now working with him."

George had wrestled Flair on several occasions on different Crockett TV shows going back to 1985, but this time the circumstances were different. Flair was in a horrible mood and George figured he might be in for a tough, stiff, short match.

"Ric got dressed," George told me, "and as we were at the curtain about to go out, he looked at me and said, 'Buddy, today you're Ricky Steamboat."

George's heart skipped a beat. "I about peed in my pants!"

He entered the ring alone during the long break set aside for the "College Football Scoreboard" segment that aired on WTBS during fall Saturday afternoons in those years. Ric didn't follow right away and it seemed like an eternity waiting for him, even though it was only a few minutes. George had time to ponder what was to come.

When they came out of the break and back on air, Ric came through the curtain and entered the ring wearing one of his beautiful white robes. He removed the "Big Gold" NWA world heavyweight title belt and handed it to his manager James J. Dillon at ringside. George told me he thought to himself, "OK, buddy, here we go," and the they locked up.

But George wasn't prepared for what happened next.

"Ric started calling all these spots," George told me, "and I was going a hundred miles an hour. I was having the time of my life, but I was rushing."

Indeed, Ric was giving a great deal to George early on. George was reversing holds, working a lot of drop-downs, trading chops, and even throwing drop-kicks.

Suddenly, he was aware that he wasn't pacing himself. And there was no finish in sight.

"I got so blowed up in there," George said. "I was really hurting."

I asked George if he and Ric had discussed the match before hand. "No, not at all," he told me. "Back in those days, he called it in the ring. I didn't know anything. And I didn't know if we were going 2 minutes or 20 minutes. I was just going so fast. Ric did this every night, but I didn't!"

Given that Ric didn't want to work to begin with, it was surprising the match was going the way it was. "Honestly, I think he was doing it just to tick Dusty off," George told me. He laughed as he thought back on it. "He was so annoyed with Dusty, I think he would have let me win the NWA belt just to get back at him."

"Dusty was hollering at me 'What are you doing?' and I said, you know, I'm not gong to beat a guy like George South in one minute. Sorry." 
- Ric Flair, WOOOO! Nation, December 9, 2015

George thought he might have a chance to rest when they went to a commercial break during the match, but no such luck. "Ric just kept going," he said.

By the time they were back from commercial, they were over eight minutes into the match, with still no end in sight.

"If there ever was a clinic in pro-wrestling, we're watching it. The world champion Nature Boy Ric Flair against George South, showing us a variety of moves during the break."   - Tony Schiavone, World Championship Wrestling, November 12, 1988

Back in those days, unlike today, commercial breaks during matches were relatively rare except in longer main event matches. The fact Ric went two segments with George made the match seem all the more special. Ric was calling all the signature spots that he would normally do with main event guys like Harley Race, Sting, Lex Luger, and yes, certainly with Ricky Steamboat.

"He had me shoot him out of the corner and he did his flip into the turnbuckles," George said." I couldn't believe what was happening. Then he went to the top turnbuckle and told me to throw him off. Brother, I was about to die in there! I think he just flipped off the turnbuckle himself!"

When George finally threw Ric from the top, Ric's feet hit the lights, and debris fell into the ring. It was a surreal moment for George, who kept being given the comeback by Ric.

Finally, Ric called for the finish. He lifted George high in the air and held him for a few moments before delivering the vertical suplex.

"Now, we go to school!" Flair shouted, as he applied the figure four leglock. It didn't take long for George to submit.

George lay prone on the mat, exhausted. As TV showed the instant replay of the figure four, Ric hopped out of the ring to do a ringside post-match interview with David Crockett.

Referee Teddy Long knelt down on one knee beside George. They were right behind Flair, who would be joined in the interview segment by Barry Windham and J.J. Dillon.

"I thought Teddy was checking on me, making sure I was OK. So I whispered, 'I'm OK, Teddy.' He said right back to me, 'Brother, you've got to get out of this ring! I've got to get you out of the shot.' I could barely move, so he just rolled me like a big log out of the ring."

David Crockett prepares to interview Ric Flair after the match.
Teddy Long tries to usher George South out of the ring behind them.

If you carefully watch this back on tape, you can see this happening. "Oh, it's funny now," George said, "but it wasn't funny then. I had never been so blowed up in my life."

To make matters worse, George observed that Ric was barely breathing hard. "He's just so in shape, it's amazing. You can't blow him up. He is what he says he is - - a 60-minute man."

Still exhausted, George made his way back to the dressing room and then collapsed on his hands and knees and crawled to his chair. "Kevin Sullivan was sitting in a chair right inside the door watching the monitor. He just looked down at me and laughed. Not so much laughing to be mean, just laughing as if to say 'brother, we've all been there.' I don't think there was a wrestler in that locker room who hadn't been blown up at one time or another by Ric Flair."

George looks back on that match with fondness. It is without a doubt the longest and most competitive match he ever had on TV, and it is a memory he will hang on to forever. Nice to know Ric remembers it, too, some 28 years later.

Listen as Ric Flair talks about George South on WOOOOO! Nation
December 9, 2015

You can probably find the whole match if you do a little searching on YouTube. Otherwise, enjoy this one-minute music video of a few highlights from the match.

Visit "WOOOOO! Nation with Ric Flair" on the Play.It website at

Visit George's website at