Thursday, July 06, 2006

Dusty Rhodes

Few competitors in professional wrestling history have been as colorful, charismatic or popular as today’s inductee to the ITSC Hall of Fame, the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. A common man, who rose up to be one of wrestling’s all time greats, in public, if you will, Rhodes remains one of wrestling’s most recognizable and remembered legends. He drew big money most everywhere he went, and was one of the best interviews ever. He is most worthy of being inducted into the Inside the Squared Circle Hall of Fame.

Born Virgil Runnels in 1945, he took the classic name Dusty Rhodes, and was a star very early on in his career. Ironically, if Rhodes came along today, he likely would not be able to break into the wrestling business. Rhodes never fit the cosmetic profile of a wrestler, with a big belly and an un-athletic looking face. However, he more than made up for those flaws with his work in the ring, and more importantly, his work on the microphone. It was there that he shone most brightly as a thoroughly likeable baby face.

His career, however, did not start off in that manner. Rhodes initially was a bad guy, teaming with fellow Texan Dick Murdoch as the infamous Texas Outlaws, one of the most hated tag teams in the United States. When they broke up, Rhodes became a good guy, and was rarely ever portrayed as a bad guy again. He quickly became one of the most popular wrestlers in the world. His unique style of interviews, which borrowed heavily from Muhammad Ali, were able to get people to pay to see his matches as well as any ever given. His “son of a plumber” persona and dumpy look epitomized the “American Dream” that anyone can achieve great things. The Dream was along with Andre the Giant, one of the great attractions of the 1970s.

During that period, Rhodes traveled the world. He was a star everywhere he went, from the WWWF, to the AWA to the NWA to Japan. He had many memorable feuds during this time, from Terry Funk and Harley Race to Nick Bockwinkel and Stan Hansen to Superstar Billy Graham. He held various titles and big crowds followed the Dream wherever he went.

As wrestling promotions became more divided in the 1980s, Rhodes was no longer able to wrestle for so many promotions at the same time. Subsequently, he centered his career in the NWA, and went on to become the NWA World Heavyweight Champion on 3 occasions. He beat Harley Race for the belt and lost it back to Race in 1979. He won it back from Race in 1981, and then lost it to a young star known as Ric Flair. It was the first NWA World Title for the great Nature Boy. Rhodes also traded the belt with Flair in 1986.

In the early 1980s, Rhodes engaged in some of his most famous feuds. He had a unique feud with a devil-worshipping Kevin Sullivan, and continued his feud with Terry Funk. The two didn’t get along particularly well in real life, and they used that in their feud, which saw them hurl insults at each other for decades. Similarly, Rhodes had personal issues with Ric Flair, but used them to create a classic feud that drew them both a lot of money. Rhodes was one of the first adversaries Flair’s Four Horsemen had to deal with.

By the late 1980s, Rhodes moved into the creative aspect of the wrestling business. This ended up leading to a lot of resentment towards Rhodes within wrestling. He was the booker for the NWA, and many felt he tried to push himself as the top star years after his prime. He was initially very successful as a booker for the NWA, but business began to take a downturn under him after a while. In 1988, Rhodes lost a power struggle with Ric Flair, and was ousted from the NWA. Shortly thereafter, the WWF offered to give him employment. It seemed to observers that the WWF was more interested in humiliating what was perceived as an egotistical American Dream than anything else. He debuted for the WWF doing humiliating promos that saw him cleaning toilets and doing similar degrading tasks. He was dressed in polka dots and given an overweight middle-aged black woman for his valet. But a funny thing happened. The gimmick got over.

In perhaps the greatest tribute to Rhodes, over a decade past his prime, out-of-shape and dressed ridiculously, and trying to appeal to WWF fans educated that someone who looked and sounded like him was not worth paying attention to, he still got over with the crowd. They took to Rhodes in spite of all these obstacles, and he quickly became one of the WWF’s top attractions, in spite of their best efforts to bury him. Rhodes for all intents and purposes retired in 1991. He returned to WCW, where he became booker again. He did that for a while, wrestled in occasional matches, and commentated for WCW programming. He also had a stint in ECW, where he became very popular with the crowds despite seemingly epitomizing what ECW was fighting against.

Dusty Rhodes is still heavily involved in the wrestling business. He runs his own wrestling school in Florida, and also Turnbuckle Championship Wrestling. He recently appeared for the NWA TNA promotion, and his son Dustin works for the WWE as Goldust. Dusty Rhodes is one of wrestling’s unforgettable characters, and the Inside the Squared Circle Hall of Fame welcomes the legendary American Dream.


Anonymous The Masterbater said...

Do you know any reason why would the WWF at the time would want to bury Rhodes? Was it because he was competing with Vince when he was a booker in the NWA? Pretty sad if that was the case. Does Dusty and Ric Flair still have some bitterness towards each other?

6:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In reading Ric Flair's book, Ric was pretty outspoken against Dusty. Dusty looked out for himself and should have stuck to being the booker as opposed to putting himself over with several championship runs. In his defense, he did have some good years booking and the dude could talk like no other.

4:56 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Awesome read, Todd. I just got done watching his DVD and loved it.

3:39 AM  
Blogger Todd Martin said...

Thanks, Phil.

As you alluded to, Dusty had been feuding with Vince as booker of the NWA, and he had a big ego and heat with a lot of people to boot. Vince loves to humble people, and that made Dusty one hell of a target.

As far as Dusty and Ric, I know they don't trust each other. Both Dusty and Ric have said that on numerous occasions. But my sense is that it isn't a heated anger or anything like that; it's just that both know that they have different personalities and have had conflicts of interest in the past and they leave it at that.

7:20 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home