Sometimes it’s hard for me to pick a topic for one of these columns, but this week there was no doubt. This week, the wrestling world lost one of the biggest and most important starts it ever had. I know a lot of people have talked about Dusty Rhodes all week, but he deserves all the tributes he’s been getting and one more won’t hurt anyone.
Now here’s the thing: I really didn’t like Rhodes all that much. I’ve spent years talking about Rhodes taking spots that he didn’t deserve, how horrible he was in the ring, how he stuck around because he was in charge and made sure that his buddies were near the top of the card no matter what. I remember rolling my eyes whenever he came out because I really could not stand the guy.
That’s what made his death so strange for me. I came home Thursday and heard that he had passed away. Like any wrestling fan I was shocked, but after a quick moment of thinking “dang that came out of nowhere”, I figured I was pretty much done thinking about Dusty and anything related to him.
As the day went on though, I found that I couldn’t get anything going all day and was stalled with any writing. This happened occasionally but for the most part I could shake it off and get back to work. It was different this time though. As the day went on and I still couldn’t shake it, I figured it out: it was because of Dusty.
This got me thinking: what was it about Rhodes that made him the star that he was? Of course it was the charisma, but there was more to it than that. The more I got to thinking about it, the more I kept coming back to a line that Dusty would occasionally repeat in his promos: “I offered up my innocence.” That line stuck with me over the years and while it’s not the same idea here, that word was the one I was looking for.
Rhodes could talk as well as if not better than anyone ever and his serious stuff is some of the talking of all time. However, that’s not what I remember him for. I grew up in the 1990s so I remember him as a combination of the fat man in polka dots and then a commentator in WCW. While I was never a fan of his, there was one thing I always had to give him on commentary: he was never boring. Not once. There was no such thing as Rhodes phoning in a commentary performance and he got so goofy at times that it was great.
This innocence and energy was summed up perfectly for me during a match between Masahiro Chono and Lex Luger. Here’s the exchange with play by play man Tony Schiavone:
Tony: There’s the Mafia Kick! There it is!
Dusty: WHERE DO YOU GET ALL THIS??? The German suplex and the Mafia Kick?
Tony: Well I do my research and….
Dusty: He kicked him with the bottom of the 12 ½ boot right in middle of the mush! That ain’t got nothing to do with the Mafia!
This sort of thing was common for Rhodes, as he would often get lose it over one random thing in the match. There’s a long list of these things, including but not limited to:
Manager Colonel Robert Parker locking up with Madusa at “Uncensored 1996” (“HE LOCKED UP WITH HER!!! SOMEBODY GET MY MEDICINE!!!”)
Big Bubba Rogers finding a bicycle to use in a match against Mr. JL (“Who is riding a bicycle in this arena? I don’t know where the kid is that was a-riding it, but he ain’t on it when he brought it to the ring!”)
“Great American Bash 1996” when Chris Benoit and Kevin Sullivan fought into the men’s bathroom and a woman followed them in. This was too much for Dusty, who went on for about three minutes about A WOMAN IN THE MEN’S BATHROOM!
That’s how I remember him: a man who was clearly having a great time doing something that he loved so much. It was like listening to a kid who was having the time of his life talking about even the lowest level match in the world because he wanted to be watching wrestling. Not a lot of people can do that and Rhodes was making the most of his time.
There’s one other promo that really stands out to me. I know the one that you often hear about is Hard Times, but there’s one that means a bit more to me. My dad and I don’t always get along, so this one meant a lot. In 1994, Dustin Rhodes had started a feud with Colonel Robert Parker’s Stud Stable. For some reason he picked Arn Anderson as his partner and, as anyone who knows anything about Anderson could see coming a million miles away, Anderson turned on him the first chance he had.
This brought Dusty back to talk to his son. Dusty spoke about neglecting his son over the years and how he saw Dustin dealing with egg sucking dogs like Terry Funk and Anderson and that wasn’t right. Dustin had to beg Anderson to be his partner, but that isn’t what happens when you have blood family. If Dustin could carry him, Dusty wanted to be his son’s partner, and he didn’t need a handshake. All he needed was a hug and a kiss to seal the deal. Dustin gave his dad what he asked for and the Rhodes Family defeated the Stud Stable in WarGames at “Fall Brawl 1994.”
It was the kind of connection that you can’t fake and the kind of connection that would resonate with millions of people. This was a father coming to help his son when he needed him most and the emotion was perfect. Dusty sold the heck out of this speech and made sure to include the date of the show as well as everyone involved in the story. Those details are what can take a promo from very good to outstanding and Dusty was a master at it.
While Rhodes may not be remembered as the greatest wrestler of all time or the prototypical athlete, the one that he he will always be remembered for is the energy that he put into everything else. There was no such thing as a boring Dusty Rhodes promo and it made him look like someone having more fun than anyone has ever had in wrestling. That’s the way I remember him: as someone who loved what they did and made it look and sound as good as anyone else ever has.
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