Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Dragon Scorches The Cover

Many consider him to be one of the greatest of all-time. Others say they've seen none better. Without a doubt, you were highly entertained if you've ever viewed a Ricky Steamboat match. "The Dragon" could do it all, with just about any opponent, and never gave less than 100%. The man had a tremendous look, as well. Exotic and dangerous, he was the wrestler that guys wanted to be and that girls wanted to be with, yet he remained a wholesome hero of the squared circle.

During his career, Steamboat's image graced the cover of many publications. The grappler who would later call North Caroline his home actually first began setting the world on fire in the late '70s as part of Jim Crockett Promotions and Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling. With longer hair than he would later be known for, Steamboat was played up as a Hawaiian high-flyer who did things that many other stars of the time did not. Though he had many top-level feuds at the time, his bouts with "Nature Boy" Ric Flair would be a prelude to their storied NWA World Championship rivalry a decade later. Many have said that these Mid-Atlantic matches, mostly confined to the memories of fans in the arena live, were even better than those later seen on a national level.

The treasured Mid-Atlantic Championship Magazines saw a few Steamboat covers, but none are cooler than the "beach" cover of Issue No. 3 Vol. 8. These magazines are quite collectible and always fetch a high price when they appear for sale these days. Many of the early covers feature beautiful artistic renderings of the promotions stars. Steamboat in his "native" lands of Hawaii is definitely unique and almost too peaceful for a wrestling magazine.

As Pro Wrestling Illustrated was instituted in 1979, it's no surprise that the publication grew as did the career of "The Dragon." Ricky made several PWI covers over the years, including one in May 1981 that featured him as Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Heavyweight Champion. The title belt, a favorite of many classic wrestling fans, saw one of its greatest national showcases on this cover. Steamboat also throws the old adage that "babyfaces don't grow facial hair" out the window as the cover shows him sporting quite the mustache.

By the middle of the decade, Ricky Steamboat had transformed into a
master of the martial arts somewhat reminiscent of Bruce Lee. "The Dragon" was born in the WWF and would be a moniker that followed Steamboat through the rest of his career. Steamboat saw his sole WWF Magazine cover appearance on the October/November 1985 issue. A striking and dramatic cover, the issue seems to show up much less than other issues of the time and, thus, commands a higher price when it does appear for sale.

Many fans consider the WrestleMania III encounter between Steamboat and Randy "Macho Man" Savage as their all-time favorite match. The bout ended with "The Dragon" as the Intercontinental Champion. Though his title reign was notoriously short, Steamboat made the ideal holder of that particular title. After all, it's often said that the matches for that championship "stole the show," just as Steamboat did more often than not. A 1987 WWF program cover appearance shows Steamboat during his brief reign, holding the Intercontinental Title high in the air. Iconic and historic.

Although he just misses my own "Five All-Time Favorite Wrestlers" list, he's definitely in the next five. When a Steamboat match is on, you watch. You can't help but watch. Meeting him many times over the years, Steamboat's greatness in the ring is only matched by his real-life attitude towards his many fans. If anyone ever came away from a meeting with "The Dragon" with any less than a smile on their face, I'd be truly shocked. The phrase "Never meet you heroes" does not apply here.

A true champion of life, cover-to-cover.

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