Orlando Sentinel – November 17, 2000
By Ric Russo
Pro wrestlers change personalities as often as most of us change clothes. One week they play the role of fan favorite, working strictly within therules as the crowd cheers with approval.
Next time out a sudden change occurs. They turn on their tag-team partners, berate the fans that once cheered their every move and break the rules with a win-at-all-costs attitude. In pro wrestling this is called a “heel turn,” and it makes for great theater.
In a career spanning three decades, Richard Blood never underwent such a transformation. It was his call, but every promotion that Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat — Blood’s ring name — worked for was in agreement:
“Ricky was a good hand; that’s the highest compliment you can give a professional wrestler. It means he worked hard every time he stepped between the ropes and he knew what he was doing,” said Bob Roop, a former competitor and booking agent who worked with Blood many times.
“As far as him never being a heel, nobody would have bought it. The fans loved him everywhere he wrestled, and he was perhaps the nicest guy I ever worked with. That was no act.”
The 48-year-old, who goes by Ricky Steamboat, owns and operates a health club in Cornelius, N.C., called Ricky Steamboat’s Lake Norman Health Club. He is one of only a few wrestlers who had enough business acumen to incorporate their wrestling name.
This allows him to use it for business purposes and earns royalties for merchandise sold with the name Ricky Steamboat on it. Many of Steamboat’s former colleagues wish they had taken the same route.
Running the health club keeps him busy, but Steamboat still makes appearances occasionally at wrestling events.
“I’ll sign autographs or something. People still recognize me and remember my days in the ring,” Steamboat said. “Wrestling has been a very big part of my life.”
In addition to his business interests, family life keeps him on his toes.
He has a wife and 13-year-old son who appears to be following in his dad’s footsteps. In amateur meets in the Charlotte, N.C., area, Richard Jr. has gone up against Reid Flair — son of one of Ricky’s old wrestling nemesis, Ric Flair.
“I would have to say Ric Flair and Randy Savage were two of my favorite guys to work with; I had some good main-event type matches with both,” Steamboat said. “Matches against both of them rank among what I consider highlights.”
Steamboat got his first exposure to pro wrestling while growing up in St. Petersburg. That area was a hotbed for Championship Wrestling from Florida, with CWF shows taped in Tampa and broadcast on a St. Pete station.
“Every Saturday afternoon I was watching Gordon Solie,” he recalled. “That sparked my interest.”
Steamboat was a 1971 state champion from Boca Ciega High School who went on to compete at St. Petersburg Junior College. Steamboat stumbled into pro wrestling by accident. His high school sweetheart attended a vocational school and was roommates with Donna Gagne, daughter of pro wrestling legend Verne Gagne.
“The topic of wrestling came up, and a few weeks later I was learning the ropes, so to speak, at a school run by Verne Gagne,” Steamboat said. “I worked for about six weeks with a guy named Khosrow Vaziri. Shortly thereafter, I made my debut.”
Vaziri is a former World Wide Wrestling Federation world champion who wrestled as the Iron Sheik.
Steamboat worked in Gagne’s American Wrestling Alliance for a short time and wound up returning to Florida to work for Eddie Graham. That’s when he got the name Ricky Steamboat.
“I walked into Eddie Graham’s office, he took one look at me and said ‘You look a lot like Sam Steamboat; we’re going to make you his nephew, Ricky Steamboat,” Steamboat said. (Brothers Sam and Vic Mohuahi were a popular team in the late ’60s and early ’70s known as Sam and Vic Steamboat. They had a huge following in Florida.)
Ricky quickly worked his way up to Georgia Championship Wrestling and on to Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, where he teamed with Jay Youngblood to form a successful tag-team.
“I was making $75,000-$85,000 a year, real good money,” he said.
In 1984 the World Wrestling Federation came calling and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: “Six figures annually. Had to work very hard but worked with a lot of good guys,” Steamboat said. “I had a good run with the WWF. A lot of good matches, a lot of fun.”
He left the business to concentrate on family and the business in 1995. Father Time was calling as well.
“My back hurts real bad, every day. All those bumps took their toll,” he said. “But life is good and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”