Was Dusty Rhodes Really That Good?
As always we are taking a look into the illustrious career of a wrestling legend and asking that same question; Were they really that good?
‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes was the ultimate everyman. The son of a plumber, Dusty showed that you didn’t need to have huge pecs and washboard abs to be a wrestling megastar. With a slow southern drawl, his curly blonde hair and his not so typical physique, he never should have made it to the heights he did. He truly embodied the ‘American Dream’ moniker. He brought two very talented sons into the business, Dustin and Cody, with the latter going on to start WWE's main rival promotion, AEW. So, get comfortable as we take a look at the career that shouldn’t have been, and ask the same question that we ask every week; Was Dusty Rhodes really that good?
Born Virgil Riley Runnels Jr. Dusty played baseball and football at West Texas University before turning pro in football and trying out for the Boston Patriots (eventually being cut) and playing for the now defunct Hartford Charter Oaks in the Continental Football League. His interest in wrestling was piqued in 1967, when he saw an advertisement for Big Time Wrestling owned by Tony Santos and bluffed his way into the promotion. Despite having no experience in the sport,he was able to get a foot in the door by using his real-life friendship with the Funk brothers. Billed as Dusty Runnels he made his debut that same year, and one of his first matches was for the BTW World Heavyweight Championship whilst still being trained by the legendary Tully Blanchard’s father Joe! Talk about bluffing skills, am I right?
After his stint in BTW, Dusty made his way to the Von Erich’s World Class Championship Wrestling in Texas (WCCW), which at the time was also named Big Time Wrestling. Texas was where Dusty first adopted the ‘Rhodes’ name, becoming Dusty Rhodes. The name change came about when approached by Gary Hart about changing his name to ‘Lonesome Rhodes’, in typical Dusty fashion he replied "Well...I don’t plan on being 'Lonesome'. I think I’ll stick with Dusty." While there, Dusty was managed by Hart and became a rule breaking heel, teaming with Dan Jardine. After his time in Texas, Dusty also had a successful run in Kansas teaming with Dick Murdoch as the Texas Outlaws touring nationally, but most importantly internationally working in both Australia and Japan.
Dusty was making waves, but it wasn’t until he joined the NWA in 1974 that he made a real name for himself. Dusty turned babyface in 1974 when Gary Hart and then partner Pak Song turned on him, throwing Dusty into singles competition where he adopted the ‘American Dream’ moniker. In 1977 Dusty wrestled for Vince Snr’s WWWF where he challenged ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham for the WWWF heavyweight championship twice (both times main eventing Madison Square Garden). Dusty won the first bout via count out and it culminated in a Texas death match, which Dusty lost. Dusty would make appearances for the WWWF until 1983, albeit sporadically.
1985 Saw Dusty become a booker with Jim Crockett Promotions (which would become WCW). Here he had many feuds with legendary names such as Harley Race, Blackjack Mulligan, Kevin Sullivan, Pak Song and Billy Graham, but none were as big or as iconic as the feud with the Four Horsemen. It was this particular feud that brought out the best in both Dusty and Ric Flair. From this feud we got one of the greatest promos of all time, Dusty’s ‘Hard Times’ promo. It resonated hard with the fans, with people turning up to arenas in tears just to say thank you for recognising their struggles.
After Starrcade 1988 Dusty was fired after booking an angle where Road Warrior Animal grabbed a spike from his shoulder pad and jabbed it into Dusty’s eye, with Dusty blading and creating a lot of blood. After the purchase of JCP, Turner Broadcasting System had outlawed blood. With his firing, Dusty made his way to WWF. Many fans feel like his time in the WWF was designed to humiliate him (in which Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer News lends credence to), for being a major player in JCP/WCW.
He was adorned with polka dots, had a promo package of him working as a pizza delivery man, a plumber and a butcher’s apprentice and had his name changed to ‘The Common Man’ with Vince seemingly trying to unravel all the work he did as the ‘American Dream’ because he was a big star from the opposition. A lot of the territory generation believe this to be true with Jim Ross saying on Grilling JR:
“I think it was. Look, Bruce was there, I wasn’t. I know Bruce [Prichard] loved Dusty as much as I did, and a lot of the rest of us that were fans of his work. Big fans of his work. I think there’s a little evilness, a little mischievous bent on the Dusty characterization. Why? Again, who knows.”
Dusty finally dropped the polka dots when his manager ‘Sweet’ Sapphire left him for ‘The Million Dollar Man’ Ted DiBiase’s money, and began feuding with him and Virgil, bringing with it the WWF debut of Dustin Rhodes, who would later go on to have success as Goldust at the Royal Rumble 1991. Shortly after, both men departed and this marked the end of Dusty’s in ring career.
He did however remain an active onscreen personality. He went back to WCW as a part of the booking committee and appearing on TV just 11 days after his Rumble appearance. He was also Rim Simmons’ manager and by his side when he defeated Big Van Vader for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship, he was also part of the broadcast team for a time, paired with Tony Schiavone and also Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan for PPV’s. During the NWO Angle Dusty was a defender of WCW, but as was the case with most guys in WCW, he eventually joined them becoming The Outsiders manager. In 2000 Dusty once again left WCW and bizarrely ended up signing a short-term deal with ECW where he put over Steve Corino, then went back to WCW until its closure in 2001. From there he started his own promotion Turnbuckle Championship Wrestling which closed its doors in 2003 citing declining business and increased competition from WWE. He then joined TNA as head booker and writer, and was later asked by Dixie Carter to join a creative team including Jeremy Borash, Scott D’Amore and Bill Banks, which he declined, resigned as booker and waited out the rest of his contract which ended in 2006.
‘The American Dream’ was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2007 by his sons Dustin and Cody. Fun fact though, Dusty has inducted four separate inductees into the WWE Hall of Fame: His Mentor, Eddie Graham, The Road Warriors, the Funk brothers and The Four Horsemen. He's also one of only six men to be inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, WWE, WCW, and Professional Wrestling Halls of Fame
Dusty made his way back to WWE, making sporadic appearances on TV and becoming head writer and also creative director for NXT weekly TV as well as a developer of characters and mic skills for up and coming talent. He helped some of WWE’s biggest stars during his tenure at NXT from Bray Wyatt to Roman Reigns.
Unfortunately, Dusty suffered from kidney failure in his later years and passed away in June 2015. But what a legacy he has left. His son Cody has gone on to start the biggest threat WWE has seen since WCW with All Elite Wrestling where they also named the ‘Gorilla Position’ the ‘Dusty Position’, he is cited as one of the greatest minds the wrestling industry has ever been gifted with, created a finish that is named after him, ‘the Dusty Finish’, where a babyface thinks they have won the title only for the decision to be reversed, and is a multiple time Hall of Fame inductee.
So, after reviewing his career, albeit a somewhat abridged version, it is safe to say that Dusty Rhodes really has done it all from blagging his way into the business to booking some of WCW’s biggest angles.
Was he really that good? F*ck yes, he was! Sorry to be crude but there is no other way to put it. Dusty well and truly is and was a legend in our sport. No one, and I mean no one has done more for professional wrestling than the American Dream. Not only did he dedicate his life to the sport, but ushered in the next two generations of talent after him, talent that have climbed to the top of the wrestling mountain today.
And that is just my two cents.
Thanks for reading and I’ll see catch you in the next ‘Were they really that good?
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