“I’ve wined and dined with kings and queens … And I’ve slept in alleys and ate pork and beans.” This memorable quote was stated by the late, great and charismatic “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, who passed away on June 11, 2015. Dusty experienced the highs and lows in life and he believed that a person should experience both in order to grow and develop. In another promo, which many believed was his best one – called “Hard Times”, after Ric Flair and the Four Horsemen, put him out of action in 1985, he talked about regular working individuals going through tough times: “Hard times are when the textile workers around this country are out of work, they got 4 or 5 kids and can’t pay their wages, can’t buy their food. Hard times are when the auto workers are out of work and they tell ‘em to go home. And hard times are when a man has worked at a job for thirty years, thirty years, and they give him a watch, kick him in the butt and say “hey a computer took your place”. Dusty did not have a typical body for a wrestler, but he had a larger than life personality. It was that personality that attracted people to him.
Aside from the rivalries with Flair and the Horsemen, Dusty had memorable battles with Harley Race, Terry Funk, and Ted Dibiase. In fact, Dusty won his first world heavyweight championship from Race in August, 1979. After losing the title, he regained it by beating Race again in 1981. Later that year, he lost the belt to relatively unknown wrestler at the time, who would later go on to become one of the best ever, Ric Flair.
Rhodes feuded with Flair and his group for most of the 1980’s. There was a point in this rivalry where he was out of action for a few months. When he returned, he introduced a concept called War Games, which comprised of two rings surrounded by a cage. Two teams of four or five compete until one individual from a team submits. This was used as a method to end the rivalry, and Dusty did end up finding four wrestlers he could trust to combat the Horsemen.
Dusty debuted in the WWE in 1989, with ring attire made of polka dots. He was portrayed as the “common man” who worked hard and was able to relate to everybody. In the rivalry with Ted Dibiase and his bodyguard, Virgil, it became apparent that Dusty would not be able to deal with his opponents on his own. The WWE then decided to introduce Dusty’s son, Dustin, into the story. The four would have a match at the 1991 Royal Rumble, which the Rhodes’ won by disqualification. After the match, Dusty decided to end his run as a full-time wrestler and returned to World Championship Wrestling.
One of my favourite promos by Dusty occurred on an episode of WCW Worldwide Wrestling on August 6, 1994. Dustin Rhodes was looking for a partner to battle Bunkhouse Buck and Terry Funk. Dusty entered the ring and talked about how he was not there for his son in the early years since he was wrestling as a way to provide for the family. He ended the promo with a very emotional plea asking his son to be his partner for the match: “I wanna be your partner! I don`t need no handshake, because up there (points to the crowd), right now tonight, there`s people with their brothers and sisters and their wives. They are blood”! Rhodes continued. “I don’t need a handshake. What I need now from you is just a hug and a kiss to seal the deal”. Dustin, with tears in his eyes, embraced his father. The crowd was filled with emotion. There were people crying in the stands. This was a very passionate promo segment which displayed how much family meant to both Dusty and Dustin. The Rhodes boys won the match because of a disqualification when Arn Anderson interfered.
Dusty returned to the WWE in 2005 and was involved in a couple of storylines. One of them led to a “Texas Bullrope Match” against Randy Orton. Dusty lost that match, and I am sure many fans hoped for a different result. I think the company and Dusty made the right business decision to put over the younger Orton, as he was considered the future of the WWE at the time. That is really what Dusty was about in his life, putting over the future of the wrestling business. This leads me to the superstars of the future.
One of the things Dusty should be proud of is the work he did with the superstars of tomorrow down in NXT. NXT is a developmental territory that is run for the most part by Triple H. It has its own weekly show where the emphasis is on wrestling and for these future stars to develop their skills in the ring and with the microphone. Dusty helped train them with the hopes that they would eventually be a part of main WWE roster. I think Dusty’s main role there was to help with the promos. These superstars, and sometimes even the veterans would have gone to Dusty for advice, and he would tell them how to improve. Today, fans see Kevin Owens, Bo Dallas, Adrian Neville and the current WWE Champion, Seth Rollins on Raw and Smackdown every week. This is because of the hard work and the positive attitude they showed and developed at NXT. Pretty soon, we will see Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Finn Balor and a host of others from NXT appear on Raw and Smackdown. I know Dusty would be proud of them. I know those currently at NXT would miss his encouraging words. I also know Dustin and Cody would miss their father immensely. But I know they will do well when they decide to return to the WWE.
Dusty did everything with passion, determination and a smile on his face. There never was a dull moment when Rhodes performed in the ring or gave an interview. He understood the business of professional wrestling and knew the importance of introducing the younger talent. He also knew how to connect with a crowd. His signature polka dot gear, which he wore in the WWE, will forever be etched in the minds of fans. I will close with a quote from Dusty, which I think is highly motivating for everyone: “Get a dream, hold on to it, and shoot for the sky”! Thank you Dusty for everything you did to make the professional wrestling industry better. You will be missed!