Saturday, October 03, 2020

NWA Champion Harley Race meets Ricky Steamboat for the First Time

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

The year 1977 was Ricky Steamboat's breakout-year in pro wrestling, upsetting Ric Flair for the NWA TV Championship in the spring of that year. Flair moved on and won the United States Championship from Bobo Brazil that summer, only to have Steamboat take that title from him, too, in October.

That United States title win set Steamboat up as the number one contender for Harley Race's NWA World Heavyweight Championship whenever Race was in the territory. And the week of Thanksgiving, Race would meet the young "Hawaiian Punch" for the first time.

Race's defenses against Steamboat that week included a Tuesday night tilt in Raleigh, a Thanksgiving night clash in Norfolk, a Friday night battle in Charleston, and a Saturday night finale in Spartanburg. 

Race managed to escape this tour through the Mid-Atlantic territory with his title intact, but his first bout with Steamboat woke him to the reality that the young superstar from Hawaii was more than up to the task to hang with the tough veteran champion. The Raleigh match went to the one-hour time limit, leaving Race stunned and exhausted. For most of the rest of the week, he didn't take any chances, often getting disqualified for throwing Steamboat over the top rope.

But Race quickly developed a healthy respect for Steamboat, and the two had classic title matches over the next several years across the Mid-Atlantic territory and in Canada as well.

Race's promo for their first match in Raleigh is classic-Harley, and is included below, a vintage audio recording made on a small cassette tape recorder by Gary Wray. Les Thatcher introduces the taped promo Harley sent in from Kansas City. 


LES THATCHER: Harley Race will put his world title on the line against Ricky Steamoat. Here's some comments from the world's champion.

HARLEY RACE:  Well it looks like the kid has finally moved up in the ranks. The last time I was around the Carolina area, I had no idea in the world that Rick Steamboat was going to be as good as what he has proven himself to be. You beat Flair. You beat everyone around there there is to beat. There's only one left. It's me, right here. When I come to Raleigh, I'm putting ten pounds of pure gold on the line. And let me tell you something kid, when you come for this, you're coming for my livelihood. You're coming for an investment in my life of 18 years, 'pert near as many years as you are old. So when I come, daddy, I'm coming to beat you, and beat you I will. 

Race's voice inflection when he says "I'm putting ten pounds of pure gold on the line." ... his observation that his career has spanned roughly the same time Steamboat had been alive ... there was no one better than the champ, "Handsome" Harley Race.

 c. 2020 Mid-Atlantic Gateway