411’s Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2007: “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes
Not many people realize that there almost was no “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. As a child, Virgil Runnels battled an ailment known as Osteomyelitis; which is a rare disease that attacked Runnels’ hips, making it almost impossible for him to walk. As a child he spent years on crutches, but through treatment and an undying determination Runnels was able to overcome the disease. The only telling sign of the ailment today is that one of his legs happens to be shorter than the other.
This was the catalyst for how Virgil Runnels would model his life, and how Dusty Rhodes was born. In the mid-late 1960′s Rhodes would really begin to make a name of himself, but not as “The American Dream” we know today, no, Rhodes started his career as a defiant heel, along side Dirty Dick Murdoch. They would form “The Texas Outlaws” and be one of the meanest teams ever seen in the territories. They cheated, fought and scratched their ways to many tag titles while gaining hatred across the country. The duo would eventually spilt, feud, team and repeat over the next many years.
The split was a good one for Dusty, as he would travel the roads to many territories and was able to become a top draw in each and every one. There was a time in the 1970′s that Dusty and Andre the Giant were the top 2 draws in the US, and depending on who you talk to, the answer to who was actually number one always seemed to be in dispute. For a time in 1979, Dusty Rhodes was so active in so many groups; he was ranked in the top 10 heavyweight challengers for the NWA, AWA and WWWF all at the same time.
When the WWF then broke away from the NWA and everyone was becoming more loyal to one company, Dusty stayed with the NWA. He had epic battles with Tully Blanchard over the TV Title; that would main event many cards all over the country. He feuded with the Russians Ivan and Nikita Koloff but as in anything, there was always one true nemesis, and for Dusty Rhodes it was the Four Horsemen.
As I said, he would battle Tully Blanchard for the TV Title, challenge the Andersons with Magnum TA for the Tag team titles and eventually, Ric Flair for the NWA Heavyweight Title. This is where the American Dream would really start to captivate America. With TBS carrying the Saturday Night show, Rhodes would hit a bigger audience, and he would be a true hit with them. While the 4 Horsemen were all about the money, the cars, the women and the finest clothes and watches, Dusty was the antithesis of the “Common Man.” He admitted to not looking like a “traditional” athlete, and that he could dine with Kings and Queens, but he regularly dined on pork and beans. He admitted to not being able to run a 26 k marathon at a world record pace, but that no matter what he would finish any race. He was the exact opposite of what the Horsemen were, and it worked.
That is why the people bought into Dusty Rhodes, and that is why he was always over with the audience. But eventually a time for change would come, and Dusty would do what many thought would never happen, he would travel north and work for Vince McMahon. Dusty filmed many vignettes that would show him as “a common man” working at a gas station, cleaning toilets and a plumber. When he debuted, nothing had really changed. He still got massive ovations and could get a crowd off of their hands. The way he was booked in the WWF though, with the polka dot tights and all, made many insiders think it was nothing but a huge joke on Dusty, revenge from Vince for booking the competition. After feuds with “The Macho King” and “The Million Dollar Man” he decided to leave the WWF and return to WCW, where he would basically retire and become an announcer.
Dusty stayed in the background for a while, just announcing and making “plundah and clubberin” household words to wrestling fans. In a shock to most traditional wrestling fans, he would turn on fellow veteran Larry Zbyzko and join the n W o. He stayed on as a manager while he and Zbyzko teased an in ring feud, but nothing came. He would turn on the n W o and Bishoff, but then fade into the background once again.
In another shock to wrestling traditionalists, in the year 2000 the “American Dream” showed back up on the wrestling scene, in ECW. He had a feud with “The King of Old School” Steve Corino; that legitimized Corino to many fans. After that, he faded away again and started his own small company, Turnbuckle Championship Wrestling.
But WCW came calling again, and Dusty was there. Leading into WCW’s final PPV Greed, it was determined that Dusty would tag with his son Dustin to face Ric Flair and Jeff Jarrett. Ironically enough, Rhodes and Flair were on the first ever and last ever NWA/WCW PPV’s.
Dusty would eventually get involved with the Jarrett start up company, named after a company Dusty bled for many times over; the NWA TNA. He mainly was an on air character, but would tag with “his boys” America’s Most Wanted and even had one more chance at the gold against AJ Styles. After a less than successful stint as TNA’s Booker and on air director of authority, Rhodes and TNA parted ways.
Months later Rhodes was signed by WWE to a legends contract. He then transitioned into a role on the writing team. Rhodes’ legacy was preserved by WWE as they released a 3-DVD set on his career. Late 2006 saw Rhodes returned to TV as a possible partner for Ric Flair on the company’s Cyber Sunday event. He wasn’t selected, but his brief appearances were a bit of nostalgia many fans enjoyed.
When all is said and done…
Unfortunately today’s wrestling fans only remember Dusty Rhodes as a controversial booker and the originator of the “Dusty Finish.” They think of him as an overweight man that couldn’t possibly have ever been one of wrestling’s biggest draw, let along a multi-time World Champion. But he was, many times over. He isn’t the typical looking wrestler today, but what Dusty Rhodes did in wrestling is almost impossible to overtake. He was gold on the mic and could electrify any crowd in the world.