Before the polka dots, gimmick matches and questionable booking, Dusty Rhodes as a professional wrestler was everything to me. Growing up in the heart of “Flair Country” and “Horsemen Territory,” he stood for everything good that I loved about wrestling. This column will likely join what I’m sure is to be a long list of others recalling their favorite Dusty memories and paying respect to the great pro wrestling visionary who passed away today.
Jim Crockett promotions and the National Wrestling Alliance spent considerable time in Greensboro, NC and my family would make the 20-minute trip to catch live wrestling action whenever we could. We were all huge Dusty fans, and by proxy, Magnum T.A. fans too. Before we thought that pro wrestlers had to look like Lex Luger, here was this rotund, scruffy-looking redneck with some serious soul! He had tremendous feet for his size and could really move. His gyrations and swaying made us laugh! In the days of innocence (early 80’s) before such movements were labeled as questionable and effeminate, Dusty would prance around the ring and taunt his opponents and have the crowd going bananas.
Watching Dusty Rhodes and appreciating everything he did in the ring or on the mic allowed me to make my first emotional investment into a wrestling character. As an adult wrestling fan, those same types of emotional investments are a little harder to come by now, but as a child, you couldn’t pay me to disown “The American Dream.” So much so, that one of my earliest memories of seeing Dusty live was at the Greensboro Coliseum during a match between he and Tully Blanchard, with Baby Doll at ringside. I don’t recall the match itself, only what happened afterwards, as Baby Doll jumped onto Dusty’s back and began clawing him down the length of his back leaving blood trails. I cried. The veil of professional wrestling hadn’t yet been lifted from over my 7-year old eyes, so I really thought Dusty was in serious trouble. Sure I’d seen blood in matches before, but seeing it in person did something else to me. I just couldn’t stop crying.
In some ways, Dusty held our family together through wrestling. Saturday evenings at 6pm was our legit family time because World Wide Wrestling was coming on. Other than The Cosby Show or A Different World (which we eventually began recording with that new VCR thingy), there was no other show on television we watched together as a family. We watched him battle The Four Horsemen and no matter how many times they jumped him, no matter what they did to him, he always came back. He was the embodiment of “never give up” before John Cena was even a thought. And oh my, the vignettes; like the time they jumped Dusty in the parking lot, tied his arm to a truck and ‘broke it.’ YouTube that footage right now and see if it wasn’t reality television in the eighties!
I remember watching Ole Anderson turn on Dream in the middle of a tag team cage match, a few years before the formation of The Four Horsemen. I watched them ‘break his leg,’ and again, couldn’t stop crying. The emotion he could convey with the faces he made just roped me in and I tell ya, he really looked hurt!
There’s no mentioning Dusty Rhodes without talking about his Bionic Elbow! Long before The People’s Elbow, Dusty’s Bionic Elbow sent fans into a frenzy like no other move. Sure, it was simple for the times, but it was effective and his opponents sold it like they’d been hit by a cinder block! He’d be outnumbered, only to reel off elbow after elbow, knocking down everybody that got in his way. Mind you once again, this was all still ‘real to me’ so I thought as a child that Dusty had something either magical or illegal in his elbow pad!
A lot has been said about Dusty’s run in WWE, most of it negative in regards to the infamous polka dots. I could launch into an anti-Vince McMahon rant here, but that would only take away from the spirit of the column. What I will say about his run is that for every match or segment I watched, I knew he was still the same “American Dream” to me, and more importantly, he never dialed it in. My connection with Dusty far exceeded any costume or gimmick. Even more can be said about Dusty’s booking while running creative in WCW, again some of it not good, but that is not why I’m writing this column.
I never professed to having many childhood heroes, especially none that I saw on television, but I can say with 100% certainty, that “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes was one of them. “Dream” will continue to live on in the hearts and minds of wrestling fans everywhere. His impact on the business, the superstars he’s mentored, as well as his own flesh and blood Dustin and Cody, a.k.a. Goldust and Stardust will all make sure the name of Dusty Rhodes will never be forgotten in the world of professional wrestling.
These are ‘Hard Times.’ Rest in Peace, Dusty Rhodes.