Mark for War: Dust in the Wind
A week ago, wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes passed away at the age of 69.
I purposely wanted to delay this week’s column. I knew I would focus on Dusty and his legacy. Frankly, I wanted the dust (no pun intended) to settle before addressing a pivotal legacy in wrestling history.
Before I address what Dusty’s legacy meant to me, I first want to address how annoyed I was with social media’s reaction to his death.
On Thursday, my Facebook feed blew up with people giving “shoutouts” to Dusty in the midst of his death. No disrespect to my 2k Facebook friends, but many of them don’t know who the fuck Dusty Rhodes is/was. Sure, they saw him wrestle a match or two growing up. But eventually they moved on with their lives. One day while bored at their 9-5 job, Dusty’s death popped up in their news feed. Of course they had to post about it.
Here’s the thing about social media that sucks: people die every day. Because of that, a new death seems to be trending every day. Yesterday, for example, actor Rick Ducommun died. He was in The ‘Burbs and a few other movies. His role in Encino Man was my personal favorite. That said, when someone randomly posts on their Facebook status, “Oh shit, the dude from The ‘Burbs died,” (actual Facebook post by a friend of mine) it pisses me off. Is that really an apt tribute? If someone positively impacted you in your life, take the time to honor them properly, or don’t say anything.
Also, on the other end of things, don’t be one of those assholes who gets pissed over the social media posts of others honoring people post mortem. You know the guys who say, “Why are you sad? You didn’t know him!”? It’s okay to feel sad when people pass away who positively effected your life, even if you never personally met them. That’s called “being a human being.”
All that said, here’s are my thoughts on Dusty Rhodes, a man I feel is without a doubt one of the most pivotal wrestlers in the history of the business.
My first introduction to Dusty Rhodes was in 1989, and it was horrible. You know, the polka dot outfit Dusty Rhodes. I immediately thought that he sucked. He was horribly out of shape. He was booked as a goof. They gave him Sapphire, a horribly awkward, unattractive, unappealing valet who couldn’t cut a promo to save her life. It was almost appropriate that THIS Dusty Rhodes taught me one of the first wrestling lessons of my life: your introduction to someone is not where there career begins.
As I watched a match between Dusty Rhodes and Randy Savage in ’89, my father, an old school wrestling fan, said how awesome Dusty Rhodes was. I said something to the affect of, “The guy in the ring, Dusty Rhodes? He’s terrible.” He then went on to explain to me Dusty’s legacy prior his WWE run. My dad watched him during the 60s and 70s, when Dusty was the man.
I got around to watching golden age Dusty matches about a year later, after Dusty’s run with WWE came to an end. I had a newfound respect for him when he moved back to WCW and did his thing there during the mid-90s. He wasn’t just an amazing interview. He was slick in the ring for his size. He was one of the best brawlers ever. He was one of the greatest faces in the history of wrestling (I don’t think he’s ever been a full fledged heel). And my personal favorite, he bladed like NO OTHER.
I was obsessed with ECW as a teenager, and was stoked to see Dusty pass through there in the late 90s. One of my favorite Dusty Rhodes matches of all time, believe it or not, was a bull rope match he had with “The King of Old School,” Steve Corino, at an ECW PPV around then.
I think it’s also extremely important to reference Dusty’s contribution to the WWE in the mid-90s, a time when he didn’t even step foot in a WWE arena. While Dusty was absent from WWE in the mid-late 90s, a renegade superstar named Goldust debuted. I don’t know what to say about Goldust other than he may arguably be the most underrated superstar of all time. He will be in the Hall of Fame one day. There will also never be a better father son combo than Dusty and Dustin Rhodes. (And yes, this does include the Ortons, who will also be a duel Hall Of Fame father/son combo.) Obviously, Goldust’s great promo skills came from his old man. I also attribute, believe it or not, the Goldust character’s existence HEAVILY to Dusty Rhodes and the clean cut, All-American legacy he left behind. How can the son of such a legend follow in the footsteps of his father and become a big star in his own right? The answer, apparently, was to throw the past to wind and fearlessly develop a character that stomped on said legacy in a round about way.
For the last decade, Dusty was part of the WWE creative team. Most notably, Dusty was a head booker for the NXT brand at the tail end of his life. It’s interesting that Dusty seemed to embrace young talent. I feel this is what made him special among his legendary peers. Ric Flair, a guy who has seemingly been connected to Dusty his whole career, has always had a rep for not getting along or understanding young talent. He’s one of those “Back in my day” guys. Dusty was never like that, even though all signs would have pointed to him being one of those guys. I always found that interesting.
Speaking of Ric Flair: my favorite Dusty Rhodes story ever came from the mouth of the Ric. This could have hyperbole, but Ric said that he and Dusty wrestled each other in the early 80s every night for two years straight, each night to an hour long draw. One night, Ric was in a casino betting on roulette, in all his pompous glory. Magic Johnson was the talk of the NBA at the time, and the leader of the Flair-loved Showtime Lakers. Flair put thousands of dollars worth of chips on 32 (Johnson’s number). Dusty, appropriately, was a fan of the blue collar rivals of the Lakers, the Boston Celtics, lead by Larry Bird (number 33). As the roulette wheel spun, Dusty had moved all of Flair’s chips from number 32 to 33 on the board. As 32 hit, Flair began to WHOOOO uncontrollably, only to realize Dusty’s rib had cost him thousands.
Dusty Rhodes was a rarity: an old schooler who didn’t ride off into the sunset in the midst of a sea change. He could have easily done so and been seen as every bit of a legend that he was in the 70s and 80s. Instead, he choose to give back to the business. It’d be like a valedictorian graduating from Harvard, making millions, and then going back to teach at Harvard. It’s staggering to think that the 69 year old Dusty and was such a pivotal part of what we saw on our TV every week until last Thursday.
I take solace in the fact that Dusty Rhodes will be honored for years and years by WWE. I wouldn’t be surprised if they rename the NXT training facility after him, or something along those lines. I often am asked who I think should be on the “Mount Rushmore of Wrestling.” I’m not sure if Dusty would be on Mount Rushmore. He’s more of a guy who I see on the twenty dollar bill of wrestling: heavily circulated and touched by everyone at one point or another.
Dusty Rhodes vs. Ric Flair, NWA World Title, 9/17/81
I’m sorry for not being able to find the full version of this match. This was Ric Flair’s first NWA world title win. Flair always said, “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.” And yes, in this match, Flair indeed beat THE MAN. RIP, Dusty.