At WCW’s Beach Blast 1992 pay-per-view in Mobile, Alabama, United States Champion Ravishing Rick Rude squared off against Ricky the Dragon Steamboat in a non-title, thirty-minute Iron Man Match. You don’t hear too much about what an exciting bout this was, but let’s take a look back and see what sort of legacy the match deserves.
TODAY’S ISSUE: Ravishing Rick versus Ricky the Dragon
Both men came to the ring in familiar manner. Rude strutted out looking like he owned the place and ordered the backstage crew to “cut the music!Ã¢â‚¬Â He delivered his traditional promo, telling the live audience to keep the noise down while he removed his sequined ring robe to show them what a “real sexy man is supposed to be likeÃ¢â‚¬Â. Beneath the robe, the Ravishing One’s chiseled physique looked as impressive as ever.
Steamboat was accompanied to ringside by his lovely wife Bonnie and the Little Dragon, who was adorned in the same martial arts gear as dear old dad, including the headband. The very picture of the wholesome, family values-oriented babyface, Steamboat was the antithesis of the dastardly Rude. Before the “shades of grayÃ¢â‚¬Â era was introduced in professional wrestling, it was certainly easier to decide which of the two combatants you preferred. Steamboat did everything but wear a white hat and donate to charity while Rude twirled his mustache with a menacing laugh. Ah, simpler times.
Steamboat started the contest in decidedly un-babyface fashion, slipping his son out of the ring and immediately attacking Rude prior to the opening bell. On commentary, Jesse the Body Ventura did me proud, correctly analyzing Steamboat’s tactics as calculating and cowardly. Of course babyface announcer Jim Ross decried the future governor’s comments, calling them ridiculous, and the heel/face announcing duo were on their way to performing their traditional roles in admirable fashion.
Before ten seconds of the thirty-minute time limit had elapsed, Steamboat fired Rude into the air and then drove him ribs first into his knee, drilling the Ravishing One with a devastating gut-buster. The US Champ sold it like he’d been shot with a cannon, and just like that, the story of the match was established.
Like the seasoned veteran he was, the Dragon spent the next several minutes assaulting Rude’s body with a variety of high-impact and grinding attacks. Rude sold the injury so well that it actually seemed he was enduring a great deal of pain and punishment early in the match. I found myself sympathizing with Rude’s plight, wincing with every impact to his ribs.
At only three minutes into the match, Ventura was already speculating that Rude’s best course of action might be to concede the first fall and submit now to escape a painful hold that further punished his ribs. Rather than submit, the evil US Champ simply used a traditional Greco-Roman thumb to the eye to escape in a true example of heel counter-wrestling.
It takes two focused performers to make one of them appear to be in such dire straights this early in a match that submission could even be considered. Ten percent of the way in, and I’m already drawn into the story these two were telling. That’s why I love professional wrestling; the drama, the intrigue, the action, the emotion. Steamboat and Rude were off to the races with plenty of time left in the match.
Steamboat stayed on the midsection and seemed to be beating the life right out of Rude, until Ravishing Rick capitalized on a miscalculation by the Dragon. After an Irish Whip into the corner and an overzealous follow-up by Steamboat, the Ravishing One managed to drive his knee into the Dragon’s jaw. The jarring impact of Rude’s defensive, instinctive counter attack was enough to secure him the first decision of the contest. Rude covered Steamboat and took the lead at one fall to none, but in 1992 the heel couldn’t simply hit a good move and get a pinfall. Rude demonstrated his not-niceness by snagging a handful of tights as he covered the Dragon for that all-important “extra leverageÃ¢â‚¬Â.
Now on the attack for the first time in the match, Rude drove elbow after elbow into Steamboat’s face. But brilliantly, he paused after the third elbow-drop and sold the injury, ensuring the type of realism that makes for an enjoyable contest for the viewing audience.
Without hesitation the Ravishing One applied his patented Rude Awakening neck-breaker and took a commanding 2-0 lead. The pendulum had swung dramatically, but the flow of the match still seemed believable and reasonable. This was not a Superman-comeback. Rude simply hit a homerun with one well-placed knee to Steamboat’s face and found his opening. After hitting the Rude Awakening, Rude sold his injured ribs rather than shrugging off eight minutes of hammering to his midsection by a world-class athlete and former world champion. This is storytelling, folks. It’s the little things that make all the difference.
Rude’s next attack surely inspired HHH in his Iron Man Match against the Rock nearly a decade later. He ascended to the top rope, knowing it would cause a disqualification (as all top rope attacks did at the time in WCW) and drove a well-executed knee into the Dragon’s prone body. Just as the Game would do against the Great One at Judgment Day 2000, Rude gave up the fall and nailed his opponent with an illegal move, then calmly rolled Steamboat up in an inside cradle and maintained his two-fall lead over the Dragon. A 3-1 margin is no different from a 2-0 margin, and the unauthorized top rope maneuver resulted in more damage to Steamboat. This was a win-win situation for the Ravishing One.
With17:30 left to go, Rude had Steamboat reeling. He went with an old classic from his WWF days as he tried to bump and grind for the ladies in the crowd, but was too injured to do it. Kudos to Rude for still selling the injury so convincingly over 12 minutes after it happened. For a little seasoning, Ventura lauded Rude for having the guts to try to give the ladies the thrill of their lifetimes, even in his injured state. Nice.
For the next five minutes the advantaged shifted slightly between the two gladiators, until Steamboat not only survived a piledriver and kicked out at two, but then reversed a second attempt and hit Rude with his own version to score his first decision that came as a result of his own offensive maneuver. At just over 12 minutes to go, the score was now 3-2.
Next, Steamboat caught Rude climbing the ropes for the second time in the match and executed a phenomenal superplex on the Ravishing One, knocking him silly and nearly scoring another fall, as Rude kicked out at two. The two clotheslined each other and did the obligatory double-KO spot with ten minutes left on the clock. After the action Steamboat and Rude had treated us to so far, it was easy to believe they were both fatigued almost to the point of exhaustion.
Seconds later, the Dragon secured the upper hand in a counter-wrestling sequence and captured Rude in a back slide pinning combination, scoring the fall and tying the match at 3-3. The decision seemed to breathe new life into Steamboat, and he broke out several pinning attempts on the Ravishing One in rapid succession, but none of them were successful. Sensing he needed to stop the Dragon’s momentum, Rude uncorked a vicious jaw-jacker on Steamboat and slowed things down once again. He obviously remembered the focus of his earlier attack was on the Dragon’s jaw.
For the next few minutes Rude took advantage of the slower pace, battering Steamboat with a variety of deliberate, clubbing attacks. Steamboat showed a flash of life, striking the Ravishing One with his famous knife-edge chops, but Rude shut him down with an illegal strike to the eyes and kept the pressure on. Time was ticking away for both Iron Men.
With just under six minutes left, Rude attempted a second Rude Awakening. But in a tremendous babyface power-out, Steamboat impressively bulled his way out of the finisher using strength and wrestling skill. He reversed it into a Rude Awakening of his own (the Dragon’s Wing?) and nearly took the lead, but Rude managed to drape a leg over the bottom rope to break up the pinning combination.
Steamboat took over on the seemingly exhausted Ravishing Rick, driving him to the mat with a series of suplexes and pin covers, but failed to score the elusive forth decision as the match remained tied. With four minutes left in the contest, Rude managed to clamp on to Steamboat with a sleeper hold, sapping the life out of the Dragon.
Try as he might, Steamboat couldn’t break the hold while carrying Rude’s 250-pound body on his back. Ravishing Rick kept the Dragon in the sleeper for over three straight minutes, thwarting all escape attempts and apparently locking up the victory for himself, after a great effort from the fading Steamboat.
But with 40 seconds left on the clock, still in the clutches of Rude’s sleeper hold, Steamboat walked up the ropes and pushed off with both legs, slammed his weight onto Rude’s damaged midsection and covered him for the pinfall, taking the lead at 4 falls to 3 with just over 30 seconds on the clock. Rude popped up, obviously realizing the urgency of his plight, and did everything he could to tie the score one more time. He made no less than five pinfall attempts in the last half minute of the contest, but was unable to score with any of them. Ricky the Dragon Steamboat withstood Rude’s final, desperate onslaught, and was victorious.
This match had everything a fan could want: drama, excitement, logic, suspense, heroism, villainy, and fantastic wrestling. The action stood the test of time as well; I’d kill to see this type of quality performance in the upper card today from any of the three WWE brands, or TNA.
I have no idea why this bout hasn’t gone down as one of the big ones people remember as their favorites of all time, except that perhaps the US Championship wasn’t on the line. What I do know is that I couldn’t possibly agree more with Good Old J.R.’s assessment just after the final bell, “What a Hell of a wrestling match!Ã¢â‚¬Â If only WCW could have kept up this kind of hard-hitting, realistic (compared to WWF at the time) and intense action, they might still be in business today.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.
p.s. Ã¢â‚¬â€œ “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.Ã¢â‚¬Â -Will Rogers