Return of The Dragon
Updated: Dec 3, 2022
If you want to be a quarterback, you should study Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Dan Marino. If you want to be an actor, you should study Denzel Washington, James Garner, and Al Pacino. If you want to a pro wrestler, you had better study Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat!
Few wrestlers are as universally revered as Ricky Steamboat. In the ring, he was the consummate fan favorite; a well-conditioned athlete with Hollywood good looks. He could evoke a wide range of emotions- confidence, sympathy, elation, awe- from an audience with his matches. His arm drag is a work of art that every young wrestler should study in hopes of being able to replicate, even with the knowledge of certain failure, because anything remotely close to Steamboat's will still be pretty damn good.
Outside the ring, by all accounts, Ricky Steamboat is a class act; a true gentleman in a world where so few exist. Respected by rivals, colleagues, and fans alike, the man known as "The Dragon" is a rarity in the cutthroat business of professional wrestling. In my personal experience with the man, I found that he not only lived up to his mythical status as a "nice guy", but he exceeded it.
When I heard that he was going to have one more match at the famed Dorton Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina on November 27, 2022, I knew that I had to be there.
The Dorton Arena is a venue at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds that seems to have been built specifically for professional wrestling and it has certainly seen its share of matches, as it was a stronghold for Jim Crockett Promotions in the 1970's and '80's. A virtual Who's Who in Professional Wrestling graced the ring in the Dorton; Wahoo McDaniel, Ric Flair, the Koloffs, Harley Race, The Midnight Express, Dick Slater, Bob Orton Jr., Ron Garvin, and the list goes on and on. As I sat in the stands, I imagined what it was like in its heyday and every seat in the place was full of fans screaming for the aforementioned stars.
Big Time Wrestling pulled out all the stops for the "Return of the Dragon" event. Coming at the tail end of the extended Thanksgiving/WrestleCade weekend, fans walked into a Fan Fest environment as they entered the arena with many superstars signing autographs and taking photos.
If you would like to read a quick write-up I did for PWInsider, you can do so the link below. I will try to avoid redundancies here.
Instead, I will offer up some opinions and observations on some of the matches and wrestlers. I'll preface them by saying they are MY opinions. Again, I don't watch a lot (hardly any) contemporary wrestling so some of my observations may be like telling you that water is wet.
Here we go....
Matt Hardy vs Crowbar opened up the PPV/streaming portion of the card.
I was fortunate to have Matt Hardy in Primal Conflict Wrestling in 2014 and he was great for my business. When my wife asked what I wanted for Christmas that year, I said "Another Matt Hardy."
Crowbar seems to have defied time. He has reinvented himself and bares very little semblance to his former persona, Devon Storm. The new gothic, darker Crowbar would be a good fit for any promotion with a television deal.
Kerry Morton vs Brian Pillman, Jr.
I saw Kerry at the MLW event I attended in Charlotte, NC earlier this year where he teamed with his dad against the Von Erichs. He was much better here and seemed more like his own man.
Brian Pillman Jr. is a rock star. The fans took to him instantly, despite his best efforts to spurn their affection. I know he is signed to another promotion currently, but I see him having a bright future in WWE.
Rock & Roll Express vs Mark & Jay Briscoe
Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson are on a farewell tour and this bout was billed as 'the Rock & Roll Express' Final Match at the Dorton Arena". Mark & Jay wanted it to be Ricky & Robert's last match. Period.
The Rock & Rolls came out to Electric Light Orchestra's "Rock 'N' Roll is King" which was a great touch for us old-timers.
The Briscoes deserve a lot of credit for this match and when the Rock & Roll Express do have their FINAL Match, I would not be upset if that match is against the Briscoes. I would like to be in the arena for that match, as well.
Ricky Steamboat & FTR vs Arn Anderson's Horsemen (Jay Lethal, Brock Anderson, and Nick Aldis)
FTR are a great tag team, and I am glad to see that traditional wrestling is being carried on by these guys. They are throwbacks to teams like Tully Blanchard & Arn Anderson, Midnight Express, and Minnesota Wrecking Crew.
This is only the second time I have seen Brock Anderson in action and the first time live. As Arn is one of my all-time favorites, I may be slightly based, but I really like Brock. Obviously, he has some similarities to his father and that is a great thing.
I have long said Jay Lethal is one of the best wrestlers in the world. I haven't seen him aside from the Flair PPV since the end of Sinclair's ROH and was excited to see his name on the card for this one. He did not disappoint, and his "Black Machismo" persona was a big hit with the Raleigh crowd.
Nick Aldis is GOLD. Pure gold. I heard that he recently gave his notice to the NWA, and I hope he lands in a place where he is properly valued.
Now, on to Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat.
At 69 years of age, Steamboat turned in a performance that literally gave me goosebumps. In wrestling, I've learned to never say never, but if this was Steamboat's last match, it was the cherry on top of a great career. I was glad I made the long drive to see it in person.
Wrestling is not something that everyone gets and that okay. If you've read this far, you are likely one of the ones that does get it. If you're not, maybe this will help you understand those that do enjoy it.
I was talking to some other fans prior to the matches, and I met a man named Todd and his young son, whose name was either Casey or K.C. (I didn't ask for clarification). 35 years ago, Todd's father had brought him to the Dorton Arena to see wrestling and Todd (then 8 years old) got his picture taken with the Rock & Roll Express. Todd kept the photograph all these years and had it blown up and brought it to the meet & greet, where he got his 8-year-old son to take a picture with the Ricky & Robert in the same pose that he had done 35 years before. He said, he'll hang both photos side by side at his home (in as prominent space as his wife will allow). Todd was smiling as he showed me his photos and told me about them. I could tell he was thinking about the times he shared with his own father. I have some great memories from "Return of the Dragon", but my favorite is the one a stranger shared with me.
Thanks for reading and I'll talk to you soon.