The WWE defined itself in the ’90’s with it’s "Attitude" re-adjustment. Wrestlers were no longer supermen. They didn’t wear colorful costumes, they didn’t look like they stepped out of comic books. Guys like Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage and Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake had all run down south (to WCW), leaving behind guys like Steve Austin and The Rock. The philosophy was simple: just take the wrestler’s real personality and turn it up to 11. Work rate (what the wrestler actually does in the ring–other than pose and throw punches) became a matter of pride for most top-notch workers. Usually, that sort of thing was reserved for second tier guys: just on the edge of fame, still breaking their asses to get noticed by the crowd.
Stone Cold Steve Austin was the poster boy for the Attitude Era and at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, he made it very clear he would never come back to the ring. Perhaps the WWE should retire the Attitude Era with him, because what I saw and heard at Wrestlemania XXV was something I did not expect to see.
I saw the return of Ricky "the Dragon" Steamboat.
Steamboat was always a unique case in the world of wrestling. While most perfomers switch between heel and face (bad guy and good guy), he was always a white hat. With his good looks, charisma and work rate, it didn’t make any sense to turn him heel. And did I mention his work rate? You look up any list of the Greatest Matches of All Time and you’ll see his name on at least two of them. Rick Flair called him "the best wrestler I ever worked with." He and Randy Savage stole the show at Wrestlemania III.
And last night, he nearly stole Wrestlemania XXV.
At fiftysomething years old, he walked out into the ring and had an amazing four minutes with Chris Jericho. The crowd was chanting, on their feet. The loudest pops of the night came from those four minutes. He did steal the show… until Michaels and Undertaker stole it from him.
The following night, on Raw (I just watched it on Youtube), in a ten man tag match, the crowd was chanting his name. With guys like Rey Mysterio and Chris Jericho and Kane and all the other "superstars" in the ring, the fans wanted Steamboat. They chanted for him. "You’ve still got it," the crowd told him. And "This is awesome!" when he was in the ring, working just a step slower than the Steamboat of the ’80’s, but still working.
This wasn’t just a nostalgia thing. It was watching a guy who knows how to capture a crowd’s attention and hold on to it. A guy who knows how to sell his opponent’s moves. A guy who knows that it takes two to make a match work. The back and forth of the battle.
Damn, he looked fantastic.
Now, I’m not so much of a mark that I don’t know Steamboat probably couldn’t do a full match. But using Steamboat as an on-screen mentor for other wrestlers would be fantastic.
Imagine this. (Fantasy booker time.) Imagine two stables of wrestlers. One managed by Steamboat and the other managed by Flair. Put those two stables against each other. Now, you’ve got what the fans want to see.
Vince McMahon says he listens to the fans. I hope he heard what I heard.