Saturday, September 17, 2016

Gateway Interview: Ricky Steamboat

A mainstay in Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling for eight glorious years, Ricky Steamboat personified what it was to be the consummate “good guy” both inside and outside the ring. From early 1977 through early 1985, fans of Jim Crockett Promotions in the Carolinas and Virginia could always count on Ricky to valiantly battle, and usually slay, the wrestling giants that roamed the heel side of the talent rich Mid-Atlantic Wrestling roster. Steamboat’s most famous Mid-Atlantic rival, the boisterous “Nature Boy” Ric Flair was the perfect foil for Ricky’s unassuming and unpretentious character. But there were times when Flair aligned himself with the forces of good, and he and Steamboat became a formidable tag team combination to the fans’ delight. Later during the Mid-Atlantic era and beyond, Ric Flair ruled the roost as the NWA World’s Heavyweight Champion and he and Ricky had memorable bouts over wrestling’s most prestigious title. On February 20, 1989, “Steamer” realized his dream of becoming NWA World Champion by beating Flair, and the three match series between Steamboat and Flair at that time is widely viewed as the greatest championship trilogy in professional wrestling history. news came out recently that Ricky Steamboat and Ric Flair would be doing a Mid-Atlantic reunion tour of sorts in the fall of 2016, retracing their steps in the Carolinas in a rare series of joint appearances. Big Time Wrestling sponsored mega events in Morganton, North Carolina on September 22nd, Raleigh, North Carolina on September 23rd and Spartanburg, South Carolina on September 24th will feature the homecoming of Steamboat and Flair, along with a cavalcade of other wrestling stars from today and yesteryear.

On the eve of Ricky Steamboat once again “teaming” with Ric Flair in the Carolinas, version 2016, the Mid-Atlantic Gateway had the privilege of chatting with Ricky about that upcoming reunion, the glory days of the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling promotion and assorted other topics. While Ricky Steamboat found success wherever he competed in professional wrestling, including being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009, he will always be considered a “Mid-Atlantic guy” by those fans who cut their wrestling teeth with big bites of Ricky Steamboat versus Ric Flair in the Mid-Atlantic area, in some of the greatest matches ever!

David Chappell: Hey Ricky, thanks so much for visiting the Mid-Atlantic Gateway today. Greetings from Richmond, Virginia!

Ricky Steamboat: Thank you David. Richmond Coliseum, we would go there every other week on a Friday night.

Chappell: Absolutely. Boy, I tell you what, those were just wonderful times. I don't think that magic has ever been recaptured.

I saw one of your very first matches in the Mid-Atlantic territory. It was actually at a spot show just outside of Richmond on March 4, 1977 at the Colonial Heights High School gym, and this new guy named Ricky Steamboat was wrestling Jacques Goulet. Of course, we had never heard of you. But after a couple of minutes with Goulet, it was pretty obvious you were going to be a big deal!

Steamboat: 1977 would be the year in which I did go to the Carolinas from Atlanta. In the early part of the year, I think it would be February or March of '77. I don't remember that match particularly, but I do remember Colonial Heights. I do remember Jacques Goulet. He was from Montreal, Canada. I think he was like a Sergeant.

Chappell: Yes, Sergeant Jacques Goulet! I thought he was excellent in the ring.

Speaking of being excellent in the ring, you actually wrestled excellently as recently as 2009 in the WWE and suffered a scary injury in that brief stint. Can you tell us a little about that, because I was never real clear what happened then.

Steamboat: The incident happened on Monday Night Raw through Nexus. They brought me out because they were introducing my DVD about Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, and his career. We had these guys come out. They had just come up from the WWE school and they were trying to create some heat; four of these young guys. I had my hand in with all of them, and helped with training them down there at the school. During that live event on Monday Night Raw, I ended up with what they call a subarachnoid hemorrhage. In other words, I got thrown down real hard, and I ended up with a brain bleed.

Chappell: Yeah, we were really worried about you. We'd hear stuff, obviously, well after you experienced it. It sounded really scary.

Steamboat: It was a bad situation for me because the doctor said they could not do anything for it, it either had to stop on its own, or if it continued, the pressure would kill me. It was down inside my brain. They said unlike an aneurysm, which is mostly a surface bleed, to relieve the pressure they would drill a little hole in your skull and let it bleed out. The problem with mine was that they couldn't get to it. I was in intensive care for almost a month, which I didn't think anything about it at the time because I was so drugged up on the pain medicine because of the pressure in my head. Being in intensive care for almost a month, the doctors say was a very long time.

Most people go to intensive care, they're there for three or four days and then after that, they get moved up to the next level.

Chappell: Exactly.

Steamboat: I was in there for almost a month. It was a bit hard for me.

Chappell: I know it had to be, and everybody is just thankful that you were eventually okay.
But on a happier note, how great is it that you and your top Mid-Atlantic rival Ric Flair are going to be making joint appearances in the Carolinas in just a few days? Wouldn’t you love to get in the ring and wrestle him just one more time?!

Steamboat: I would really love to get in the ring with Flair, but the doctor told me my head's been traumatized too many times throughout my career, chairs and 2x4's, and DDT's on the cement floor from Jake Roberts!

Chappell: (laughs) Okay, I guess it’s understandable why it’s not going to be a physical deal! But how do you feel about just getting together with Ric again and hitting these old Crockett towns together?

Steamboat: This is such a great pleasure for me, and I also know it is for him. Even during our heyday, in the 70s and 80s when we campaigned through the Carolinas and Virginias, we had a lot of respect for each other when it comes to being a professional person in the ring. People ask about were you guys friends, and I would say yes, but we never hung out.

Chappell: You really couldn't hang out in those days could you?

Steamboat: Yeah, kayfabing was the number one deal. Even to invite one over to one's house to have dinner in a private way never took place. Our lifestyles were totally different. What you saw of me was the way I was. What you saw of him, the flamboyant guy was the way he was. To get together now is great; we have a show in Raleigh and we also have one in Spartanburg. To get together with Ric Flair, it is so rewarding for me on a personal basis. I also want to tell the fans this does not happen too often.

Chappell: That's true, very true. I think that's the great part of these upcoming events, Ricky. I don't remember… I'm sure you probably made a joint appearance or two with Flair after your in-ring days, but it certainly is not commonplace.

Steamboat: Let me say this. I actually retired in '94, so I've been out a little over 20 years. Both Flair and I have been doing these appearance gigs during this time. I'm going to be very honest with all my fans out there; we have been together on two other occasions for autograph signings in the past 20 years.

Chappell: Wow, I didn't know it was that limited.

Steamboat: Between the two of us, I know we have done hundreds and hundreds of appearances around the country. For us to get together on the same date in the same town, to sit side by side with each other is very, very rare. I'm pretty excited about it.

Chappell: And at the Raleigh and Spartanburg events, the fans will have the option to do a photo op with both of you together with the “big gold belt” as a prop!

Steamboat: Yeah, that's very rare to get our autographs, but at the same time get a picture with us with the World Championship. It's a very rare moment. The fans coming away at the end of the day with that, being able to put it in a photo album or frame it and put it up on the wall is very, very rare. The fans that are going to be able to do that, I'm not going to say will be very lucky, but I think will be very fortunate. I couldn't tell you when the next time the two of us will be able to hook up and do this again.
Chappell: I think that's well-said.

You've already hit on a couple of things I wanted to touch on with you, kind of reading my mind on these. You talked about not really being able to hang out with Ric much during the Mid-Atlantic days. I sort of divide you two in the Mid-Atlantic era between the early days when you were the babyface, which of course you always were, and Ric was the heel. Later, and I remember this really well, because one of the first big matches when Ric turned babyface, you all teamed up in Richmond. I don't think there were ever more people trying to get into that building, the Coliseum, than when you all unexpectedly teamed up. Do you have any thoughts of when you two were feuding over the U.S. belt when he was the heel, and then later when Flair became a babyface as well, and that dynamic? Do you have any particular recollections of those two time frames?

Steamboat: I knew Flair was the number one heel in the territory there, the Crockett territory, and he actually went to the promoters when I first came in. He said this new kid you got, I can see potentially being able to do a lot of good business with him. When he went to Crockett, George Scott at the time, who was the booker, selected me. Understand, I had been in the business for a couple of years. When I started to work with Flair every night, it was like going to school again, the things he was teaching me, timing and what to do, when to do it. I was saying, "God, this guy is so good at what he's doing as a heel, but then he's also directing me to do it as a babyface," to know both ends. I learned so much.

Then I worked with him hundreds and hundreds of times as a heel, but then to get together and tag up like you said. We had a short run when he turned babyface for us to tag up. We did great business. The fans were very curious. They’d say, "Oh yeah, Flair's going to tag up, but one day, he's going to turn on him." That was the big question mark for all the fans. All right, we understand they're going to start the match off as tag team partners, but I'll bet you before the end of the match, Flair will turn on him!

Chappell: Exactly, I think that was part of the lure of it. One, I don't think anybody believed you all would ever team up and two, if you did, he would almost certainly turn on you. In fact, I think I remember maybe to try to convince the fans he wasn’t going to turn on you, I think Ric put up $10,000 that he wouldn't turn on you or you'd get the money. Easiest 10 grand you ever thought you’d make!

Steamboat: Yeah!

Chappell: But Ric upheld his end!

Steamboat: That was the hook to get everybody to watch and wonder when is he going to turn on Steamboat. We had such a rivalry, and God, it went on for all those years.

Chappell: Yeah, it never got old. The matches were always great. It never got old, it really didn't.

Steamboat: Even when we had left the Carolinas, it went on all the way up through '89 when I won the World Championship from him in Chicago. Then it even went on into WCW and up through '94. On and off, the two of us ...

Chappell: Oh yeah, for 17 years…

Steamboat: From 1977 to 1994, what a run.

Chappell: Absolutely!

Steamboat: I don't know if you could name two guys in our business that had such a profound rivalry and that had a run that went 17 years.

Chappell: I don't think there is one, Ricky. I really don't, anywhere. You mentioned '89. That's a little bit outside the time frame of our site, but of course, we're all wrestling fans. A lot of people talk about those three matches that you all switched the title in '89 as being the greatest trifecta of world title bouts ever. Do you think they rate that high on the wrestling totem pole?

Steamboat: Yeah, I’d like to think so. Out of the three matches, everybody asks me, "Which one was your favorite?" Most of them are assuming it was the first one, to which I won the championship with all the glory and everything that comes with winning the world championship. But my favorite out of the three was the second match, which we had the 2 out of 3 falls.

Chappell: Very interesting!

Steamboat: Down in New Orleans, that was my favorite out of the three.

Chappell: Any particular reason that ranks up higher for you?

Steamboat: Going 50+ minutes, and to me, it just had such a better flow. That's just the way I felt. We were able to put in that much time to be able to tell that kind of a story on a return, to which I'm sure there were a lot of fans that thought, at that time, Flair was going to win it back.

Chappell: Surely…

Steamboat: 2 out of 3 falls, that he was going to be able to get 2 out of 3 on me. We left the door open at the very end when I used, I think one of the falls was the double chicken wing, and then there was the last fall, which he had his foot underneath the rope. Tommy Young didn't see it. We left the door open for Ric on that, and the fans, just to bring it all to Nashville. Talking about that real quick, we all knew ahead of time Flair was going to win the belt back on the third go around, but then I thought I was going to follow that up with a lot of return matches, not knowing they were going to create an angle when Terry Funk ran in there after the match in Nashville.

Chappell: (pauses) You believed coming out of that last match there’d be the typical series of rematches? That's something you expected that didn't happen?

Steamboat: Correct.

Chappell: I mean, I was always perplexed by that, too. Why no return matches for you? Why stop it after that incredible series of matches, you know?

Steamboat: Yeah. It was the Terry Funk angle.

Chappell: Which was good, too, don’t get me wrong. I’m talking about the Flair and Funk program. But I mean why fix something with you and Ric that wasn't broken, so to speak?
And I have to say that I’m floored that you weren’t smartened up to the Flair/Funk angle. Man, that’s a head scratcher to say the least!

Steamboat: That's what I told Ric. I said I can't believe you did that without telling me, number one. Out of all the times we had worked with each other, and I don't mind you doing it, but at least give us a good run on return matches and then maybe something where him and I are on TV and then let Terry run in there and do what he did. That wasn't part of the deal. Terry Funk was very good on being able to negotiate with the promotion.

Bottom line, David, it's all about business. That is our business. That's professional wrestling, to be able to create an angle and capture the number of people that tuned in to watch the show, and take advantage of it, is really good business on Terry's part. It's good business.

Chappell: But to have the thing go down right after the match where Ric wouldn’t give Terry a title match and then have Funk piledrive Ric…you didn’t know any of that was coming?

Steamboat: I didn't know anything about it.

Chappell: Wow…

Steamboat: I was heading back to the locker room, walking down the aisle and Ric and Terry come running by me. I go, "What's going on here?" I turned around, and I actually watched the angle go down the first time just like the fans were watching it.

Chappell: (pauses) To say I’m surprised is an understatement!

Steamboat: That is pretty big news, right?!

Chappell: Yeah, for absolute sure!! You know Ricky, as a fan at the time I wondered why no rematches for Steamboat? As it turned out, the Flair versus Funk program was certainly entertaining down the road. But that's jaw-dropping, Ricky; that you didn’t know anymore about this new direction at the time than the fans did!

Steamboat: You heard it first here, David.

Chappell: That's right! Whew! Man, that's something….that really is something.

What do you say we return to Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling for a bit?!

Steamboat: (laughs)

Chappell: When we look at you coming back home to the Mid-Atlantic area in a few days, one of the venues you’ll be returning to is the historic Dorton Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. What are your thoughts or recollections of Dorton Arena all these many years later.

Steamboat: In around, I'm going to say '78 or '79, after being in the Carolinas for a couple of years, Harley Race was coming into our area in the Mid-Atlantic. He was the NWA champion. It was at Dorton Arena that I had my first one hour broadway, which is the term we use, but a 60 minute draw with Harley, and that was at Dorton.

Chappell: Wish I had been there!

Steamboat: It was at Dorton. George Scott was the booker at the time. I think at the time, I was the United States Champion, like the number one contender...

Chappell: Right, because that U.S. belt really did make you the number one guy. I bet you were the U.S. Champion at that point.

Steamboat: George didn't want me to get beat, and of course I wasn't going to win the NWA Championship from Harley. He said you've got to go the hour, kid.

Chappell: 60 minutes was the answer then!

Steamboat: I said, “George, I've never done an hour. I've never done an hour, George." He was like, "Don't worry. You'll be out there with Harley. You'll be all right." We went the hour!

Chappell: And that certainly wasn’t the last hour broadway you did!

Steamboat: After that, George saw that I did the hour with Harley, and of course I had Harley out there directing traffic and everything. After that, I started having some hours with Flair, and even, believe this, Blackjack Mulligan! Mulligan just passed away.

Chappell: Yes, Blackjack was a dear friend of the Gateway. But as much as I love Blackjack, I can’t imagine doing 60 minutes with him was easy!

Steamboat: I remember, let me tell you! I had one with Blackjack Mulligan, actually at Dorton Arena, and George Scott, the Mid-Atlantic/Crockett Promotions booker, was the special guest referee for the match.

Chappell: You knew when George Scott was a special referee, it was going to be a big deal. Something was usually up when George was a referee.

Steamboat: Him and Sandy, his brother, the Scott brothers, were a great tag team. The Mid-Atlantic was pretty much a tag team territory because there were so many good tag teams. We're back to me and Jay Youngblood. I remember me and Paul Jones, the way he turned on me…

Chappell: (laughs) That’s not what Paul says, but we’ll save that for another day!

Steamboat: (laughs) Anyway, let me get back to this story here. I'm at Dorton Arena. It's funny how Dorton Arena, as I start to think about it, lots of things happened there.

Chappell: Yes, it’s coming up a lot.

Steamboat: Yeah, coming up to starting my career there. A lot started at Dorton Arena. Anyway, it’s me and Blackjack Mulligan at Dorton Arena, and George Scott is special guest referee. We have to do an hour. Blackjack's a big man.

Chappell: Oh boy, that’s for sure!

Steamboat: Yeah, he was about 340 at that time. We have our match, George planned on being the special guest referee. George being George, wanting to help out instead of just letting Mulligan and I have our match. George says, “All right, you guys, why don't you do this, this, and this. Come on, let's do that." We do the spot. He goes, "All right, you guys. I've got another one for you. Do this, this, and this." At that time, I was doing Ricky Steamboat's arm drags.

Chappell: The greatest arm drags in the business!

Steamboat: Blackjack Mulligan, as big as he is, is trying to deal with these arm drags. What happened was after one spot, Mulligan ... I will say this, the pace that George was setting was not good for big Blackjack. The pace, you had to settle down and let him get his air back a little bit. Then you could do the next one. George was like boom, boom, boom. He was feeding me for another arm drag. Timing was way off. The back of my head met the front of Mulligan’s teeth!

Chappell: Ouch! From the arm drag?

Steamboat: Yeah. I'm bleeding down the back of my neck. Blackjack Mulligan is bleeding from the gums of his front teeth. George gets down. He didn't see it happen, this collision and he starts calling another spot, to which Blackjack, laying on his back and I've got his arm because we just finished the arm drag, but we had the collision. Blackjack is laying on his back, and he has his right hand over his mouth feeling for his teeth, looks up at George, takes a swing at George's face with his fist! Mulligan had hands as big as catcher’s mitts.

Chappell: Blackjack had those huge hands for that claw hold!

Steamboat: He took a swing at George, and George says, "Whoa, what's the matter?" Blackjack says, "George, you call another spot in this match, and I'm telling you ... " He looked at me and said, "Ricky, I'm sorry, but I'm going to knock him out." Then he said, "George, I'm going to get up and I'm going to knock you out." He was serious. He was bleeding from the mouth. I've got blood running down the back of my neck from this collision. George hushed up for the rest of the match, didn't say a word.

Chappell: (laughs) I bet he didn’t…it’s called self preservation.

Steamboat: That’s it.

Chappell: When the good Lord made Blackjack, he broke the mold! There will never be another one.

Steamboat: You know, you’re right. What an era of time in our business.

Chappell: Yeah, absolutely. Why do you think the Mid-Atlantic era was so great? Why do we keep talking about it today? Why do people do websites on it like us? What do you think made it so magical?

Steamboat: Oh wow. David, to be honest with you, you've got fans that will talk about the era of wrestling in Texas, the era of wrestling through Arkansas and Georgia. AWA up there with Verne Gagne up there in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Everybody, I think, respectfully has the same kind of discussion you and I are having about their memories of the territory as a fan you used to go and watch the guys wrestle. As a participant, such as I am in the Mid-Atlantic, we talk about that it was a golden era. I'm sure every single territory at that time, through the '70s and '80s, does the same thing. It was a golden era for all of the business.

Chappell: True enough. I don't think there's any question about that, and I know I'm biased towards the Mid-Atlantic area. But I do think even people from other territories, even big fans from other territories, once they were exposed either through video or whatever, I think it's hard to find many people who say Mid-Atlantic wasn't the best territory. Or at least it was right up there at the top at the time. And that's coming from people that admittedly loved their own local territories.

Steamboat: Right, I agree with you because there were wrestlers that were trying to get in, to get work and work in the Mid-Atlantic territory. I don't have any specific names, but I do remember guys. I had been here maybe three or four years at this time, and new guys were trying to come in. They'd say, “I've been trying for over a year to get in here, to work here. We had heard how people, even if you were working in the opening matches, you could have a good check every week, just doing the first opening match and make a good living.” Business was so good.

Chappell: Yeah, that's obviously a big part of it, too. The money, I think, was very good and that had to play into the fact that people wanted to come.

Steamboat: When you're making $1000 to $1500 to $2000 a week back in the '70s, that's major money.

Chappell: Yeah, considering the territory didn't have a New York City in it, it didn't have a Philadelphia in it, a Dallas.

Steamboat: That’s right.

Chappell: That didn't keep the Carolinas from being perceived as a good draw money-wise, so that said a lot.

Steamboat: Right.

Chappell: Ricky, the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium is another place you will be retuning to in a few days. That venue was a hotbed, literally, during the Mid-Atlantic days! What are your thoughts about Spartanburg?

Steamboat: (pauses) Memorial Auditorium! This may not sound like a whole lot, but when you're driving every night from Charlotte to let's say Richmond, it's close to 300 miles. Charlotte to Norfolk was about 330. To go up and wrestle and drive back, in a day, you're covering 600 miles. The Memorial Auditorium, it was not like Norfolk's Scope or not like the Richmond Coliseum. What I'm saying is you couldn't get as many fans in there, so obviously your check is not going to be the same as if you were wrestling at the Richmond Coliseum. But the saving grace for Spartanburg was it was only 60 miles down the road from Charlotte.

Chappell: Right, right. That's a big deal to get a little break from that travel grind.

Steamboat: Instead of a five hour drive up to Richmond, you've got a one hour drive to Spartanburg. You're not making nearly as much money, but you're still going to go down, you're going to have a good show. The place is going to be sold out, 800 people, sold out and packed. The atmosphere is going to be off the hook.

Chappell: Oh yeah, great fans in Spartanburg!

Steamboat: You're going to go down and make a few bucks, but you're just an hour from home.

Chappell: That had to make you happy just in and of itself that it wasn't 300 miles back.

Steamboat: Yes, it was just 60. I don't want the Spartanburg fans to think that was the only reason Ricky liked coming here because it was only an hour from Charlotte! That did play a role, and you have to understand, we were driving every night, every day. It does play a factor at the way you're looking at a show that's 350 miles away or a show that was 60.

Chappell: So that means you were always in a good mood when you came to Spartanburg, and I’m sure it will be no different when you return in a few days!

Steamboat: (laughs)

Chappell: Yeah, travel wise, I still just marvel at how you all were able to do that and put on these great shows, and do these great promos on Wednesdays. I still can't fathom how you all did it.

Since we’ve been talking about Ric Flair a lot, can you give us a travel story about you and Ric in the Crockett days. I know you all were limited in being able to hang out on the road together much, but I bet you all managed to have a couple of “situations!”

Steamboat: (laughs) Wow. You know, let me tell two real quick ones, okay?

Chappell: Sure, great!

Steamboat: One of them is going to involve Piper…Roddy Piper.

Chappell: This will be a good story, I'm sure!

Steamboat: Roddy Piper, to which I can very safely say that out of all the guys I've met in the business, there's just a handful I would consider to be my friend, and also a good guy, not a backstabber, not a manipulator, not a guy that was out to try and get your position the wrong way. Piper was a good guy with a good heart, a good family man.

Anyway, here's the story. It was the time, David, to which Ric Flair and I were tagged up. It was the time to which Roddy was also a babyface and not a heel. As you know, he played both ends, Piper did. At the Charlotte Coliseum after the show, there was a club down the road, the 2001 Club. This was around 1983, I guess, '82, '83. The disco was still popular, the disco ball, the spinning ball in the center of the room.

Chappell: I’ve definitely heard the 2001 Club mentioned a few times!

Steamboat: I said earlier in my interview I did not frequent clubs very much with Flair, but this was one of those moments to which he would say, “You've got to come down to the Club with me.” I’d say, “You know I don't do that.” Ric says, "Come on down and have a couple of beers. It's not going to be too often we're going to be able to do this out in public. I don't know how long I'm going to be a babyface, so come on down." The club was just two minutes down the road from the Coliseum. We went down there, and of course all the fans heard we were going down there. The owner of the club had an area roped off for the wrestlers and their families, their girlfriends, and wives, and whatnot. Flair was being Flair and buying the house round after round.

Chappell: Of course!

Steamboat: Piper was there. At the end of the night, Flair comes up, "All right, guys, we're going to split the bill three ways." Piper and I are looking at Flair like, "What are you talking about?" Ric said, "Well, we're going to split it three ways." I said, "Flair, I've had three beers. I don't know how many beers you've had or how many kamikaze's." I saw these waiters coming out with these trays of beers and trays of shooters. I only had three beers. I've already paid for my own beers. He said, "Well, we're going to split it three ways and the bill is $1000. I'm going to go ahead and throw a $200 tip in for the waiters. To split it three ways is $400 a piece." I said, "You've got to be kidding." Anyway, Piper and I anted up. That was it. That's why I just couldn't hang out with the guy!

Chappell: (laughs) That math just didn't add up from you and Piper’s standpoint, Ricky!

Steamboat: $400 times three…

Chappell: I hope they were three good beers, Ricky, really good beers!

Steamboat: $400 for three beers, right, back in the day when a beer was 50 cents.

Chappell: (laughs) I guess that was the “new math” according to Ric Flair…that just doesn’t add up!

Steamboat: I'll tell you another Flair story. We had just finished wrestling in, I believe it was Charleston, South Carolina. At the end of the night there's a 7/11, to which all the boys would stop and stock up on their beverages and buy a sandwich. Kayfabe was so strong that normally if I saw Flair in the store, to which if I pulled up, I'd get back in my car and go find me another 7/11 or something. That's how strong kayfabe was.

But on this occasion I pulled up and parked, and went inside the 7/11 when Flair was in there, and a bunch of fans were following him around through the store. He didn't know I had pulled up. The fans saw me coming in, and they saw me coming up. He had his back to me. I spun him around and got up in his face. This is unbeknownst to him at the moment. I said, "You try and pull that crap on me again, and the next time we have a match, they're going to be carrying you out of that ring for real."

Chappell: Sounds like those 7/11 customers were going to get a free match!

Steamboat: All the fans are looking, their eyeballs have gotten as big as half dollars. Oh my God. We had done a hot finish, to which he cheated.

Chappell: (laughs) Can’t imagine Ric cheating!

Steamboat: I spun him around and said to him, "You try that crap on me again and they're going to be taking you out on a gurney, a stretcher," and walked out of there. Back then, David, of course we didn't have cell phones. Later in the night, I get a call from him about 1:00 in the morning. He says, "You okay? You're not mad at me?" I said, "No, what are you talking about?" He says, "You came up to me in the 7/11 and said what you said." I said, "Flair, I just did that in front of the fans."

Chappell: (laughs) You worked the dirtiest player in the game!

Steamboat: I said I was so good at it, “I even worked your silly ass, didn't I?”

Chappell: Bravo…well done Ricky!

Steamboat: I guess it did get out in Charleston because the following Friday, we drew a better house. Maybe it might have helped. Especially in Charlotte where we all were home-based and lived, there were a couple of times I went to a restaurant, a nice place, and Flair would be in there with his wife. I'd have mine. People would look at me, look at him, look at me, look at him. I'd turn around and walk out, wouldn't even sit down. The maitre d’ would be waiting to seat me or something and I'd go, "No, Flair's in here. I'm not going to eat at the same place." I'd turn around and walk out. I've done that on a couple of occasions. That's how strong kayfabe was.

Chappell: Boy, what a difference 35-40 years makes!

But now being here in 2016, please tell us what’s going on with Ricky Steamboat currently and your thoughts about meeting your Mid-Atlantic fans in a couple of days.

Steamboat: I find this point in my career, this point in time in my life and in my career, to be very rewarding. I get to see a lot of faces and people who come up who watched me back in the day. Sometimes it's a grandfather bringing his son that's bringing his son, three generations. To me, it's very rewarding. It's almost like saying thank you back to the fans for all the times you've come out, you bought a ticket, you came out to support me and all that. I didn't have very many opportunities back in the '70s and '80s to do this. Of course, we were wrestling all the time. We get a little more personal, a little more close up. I can spend a few seconds with the fans, and I ask them about things. Sign an autograph, take a picture. This point in time, I find it's a way of giving back.

Ricky Steamboat with his copy of the book
"United StatesChampionship" by Dick Bourne
Chappell: Absolutely,

Steamboat: I really enjoy it. I live down here in St. Petersburg, Florida. I'm about a mile from Madeira Beach. I lived in the Carolinas for 35, 36 years. I grew up down here in St. Pete as a kid.

Chappell: Right, you called Florida home in your early days.

Steamboat: Eddie Graham, the late Eddie Graham, down here gave me the Steamboat name after Sam Steamboat, who campaigned through Florida and did very well.

At this point in time, David, in my life, I find it very rewarding to shake hands and take pictures, to be able to spend a little bit of time, a short moment, and just say thanks to all the people who have come out throughout the years.

Chappell: You are a wrestling hero and a bigger than life guy for so many folks in the Carolinas over the years. I know your fans will also want to thank you for all the lasting memories you have given them, when you make your return to the Mid-Atlantic area in a few short days!

Steamboat: All right. David, good talking with you, and we'll see you soon in Raleigh.

Chappell: Thank you, sir. It's been a pleasure and an honor.

Steamboat: Thank you. Bye bye.

Chappell: Bye for now.