Sunday, August 26, 2018

Ricky Steamboat Defends Mid-Atlantic Wrestling's United States Title in Florida

Flair and Steamboat Travel to Florida for an Extra Payday During Crockett's Christmas Break
by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway
Special Thanks to Mark Eastridge

Mark Eastridge Collection
As I've written about before here on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway, I always loved when wrestlers with Crockett-area titles defended those belts in other territories. Specifically, the United States heavyweight championship and the NWA world tag team championships were occasionally defended outside the Mid-Atlantic territory in other areas such as Georgia, Florida, and Texas to name a few.

In December of 1977, just a few days before Christmas, Ricky Steamboat took the U.S. title to Championship Wrestling from Florida and successfully defended it in Miami Beach.

He didn't go alone. His top rival for the championship, "Nature Boy" Ric Flair, was also booked for Eddie Graham's promotion the same night, but not as the challenger for Steamboat.

It was a bonus payday for both Flair and Steamboat, who were in the middle of what was Jim Crockett Promotions' annual Christmas break. Each year in those days, the Crockett promotion would shut down for two full weeks right before Christmas, returning to action for big shows on Christmas night.

Barry Rose Collection
In 1977, the last Crockett shows before the Christmas break were on Tuesday, December 13 at their regular Tuesday stops in Columbia, SC and Raleigh, NC. The next night, they taped multiple episodes of "Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling" and "Wide World Wrestling" at WRAL in Raleigh, including the annual year-end highlights shows, to get them through the next several weeks of TV while the company was down.

During the Crockett break, Steamboat and Flair took the opportunity to get themselves booked in Florida exactly one week later, on 12/21/77 at the Miami Beach Convention Hall.

Steamboat was the reigning U.S. champion at this time, having defeated Flair for the prestigious belt  in Greensboro, NC in October. He defended the title that night in Miami against another Mid-Atlantic regular Bill White. It was an interesting match-up and was likely White's only shot ever at the U.S. championship. Steamboat was successful in that title defense.

Flair wrestled Rocky Johnson in the semi-main event of this card, which was headlined by a WWWF title match between reigning champion "Superstar" Billy Graham and "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes.

Also on the big card were Jack and Jerry Brisco, Bob Roop, Bob Orton, Jr., Buddy Roberts, Dutch Mantell and many others.

U.S. Champion Ricky Steamboat
in Miami Beach before his U.S. title defense
It was a homecoming of sorts for Steamboat. When he arrived in Florida in the spring of 1976 with only a few months experience under his belt, promoter Eddie Graham thought Richard Blood (his real name) looked so much like perennial Florida favorite Sam Steamboat, he gave him the name Ricky Steamboat. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Before returning to Miami as United States Champion, Steamboat's last match there had been a win over Jim Lancaster in the preliminaries on a card in July of 1976. 

With Superstar Graham on the card in Miami to defend the WWWF title against Rhodes, and two of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling's top stars supporting that card, it was one of the more unique cards to take place in Florida in those years.

Photographer and photo-collector Pete Lederberg owns the rights to photographs taken this very night in Miami Beach.  The photos were originally shot by area photographer Brian Berkowitz. The title defense and those photographs are a cool little bit of history for Jim Crockett Promotions' U.S. championship.

Berkowitz's photo above of Steamboat with the U.S. title belt was featured full page in color in the book "Jim Crockett Promotions' United States Championship", along with a few other photos licensed from Lederberg. See many other photos from this night (including match photos of Steamboat vs. White and Flair vs. Johnson) in Pete Lederberg's Facebook photo album: Miami 12/21/77.

Thanks to Mark Eastridge, Pete Lederberg, Carroll Hall, and Barry Rose for their contributions to this article.

Originally published September 26, 2016