Yesterday, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes passed away at the age of 69 years old. Born Virgil Riley Runnels Jr., the future Hall of Famer made his debut in professional wrestling in 1968 teaming with fellow legend Dick Murdoch. But it wasn’t until 1974 when Rhodes would become a fan favorite and break out as a superstar. “The Son of a Plumber” would go on to captivate audiences with his undeniable charisma in the ring and on the mic. His signature move, the bionic elbow, is often still used today in tribute to Rhodes, and his iconic “Hard Times” promo is unquestionably one of the greatest and most influential of all time.
On August 21, 1979, Rhodes would go on to defeat then champion the great Harley Race and capture his first of three National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) World Heavyweight Championship reigns. In later years, Rhodes would have a memorable feud with “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair and The Four Horsemen culminating in the creation of the WarGame match at The Great American Bash 1987. Rhodes created the match himself after watching the film Beyond Thunderdome.
During this period, Rhodes was also the booker for Jim Crockett Promotions (the forerunner to World Championship Wrestling) and was notorious for what would be known as the “Dusty finish”. The “Dusty Finish” is when a fan favorite wrestler appears to win a big match or championship, only to have that ruling reversed due to some kind of technicality. This type of booking technique is still used today, as recently as last month’s WWE Elimination Chamber match when it appeared Dean Ambrose had captured the title from champion Seth Rollins only for Rollins to retain the championship due to disqualification.
In 1989, Rhodes made his debut in the World Wrestling Federation as the yellow polka-dotted “Common Man” where he would go on to have feuds with The Big Boss Man, The Honky Tonk Man, and “The Macho Man” Randy Savage. In 1991, Rhodes would team up with his 20-year old son Dustin (later Goldust) against “The Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase. However, shortly after, Rhodes would leave the WWF and his career as a full-time wrestler would come to an end.
Following his time with the WWF, Rhodes would go back to booking and commentating for WCW, have a brief stint in the New World Order (nWo) and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), serve as head booker and writer for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA), then finally return to the now WWE in 2005 under a Legends deal and as a creative consultant. In 2007, Rhodes was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame by his sons Dustin and Cody.
Recently, Rhodes served as a trainer in WWE’s developmental system, NXT. Several NXT stand outs including Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, and Sasha Banks credit Rhodes for being a mentor and helping each of them significantly evolve into better performers. Below is a link to a fantastic post Sami Zyan wrote about his time with Dusty Rhodes.
On a personal note, I just wanted to say that I was introduced to Dusty after watching old WWF coliseum videos in the early 90’s. Back then I was entirely unaware of the NWA and all of Dusty’s past accomplishments. It wasn’t until the mid-90’s when I began watching WCW programming that I was introduced to the true legacy of Dusty Rhodes. And with his DVD release in 2006, and the advent of Youtube, I was able to take a deeper look into his entire career. It’s been a fortunate experience watching all of that old footage, and one I truly appreciate. Especially his promos, Dusty had a true knack for capturing your attention with his words. Whether those promos were light-hearted or serious, he was always able to convey both convincingly. Thank you Dusty for everything you gave to the business, to your peers, to your students, and to us the fans. We will miss you.