It’s during sad times like this that we realise just how spoiled we really are.
We’ve been lucky enough, after all, to witness some incredible personalities doing their best to captivate the imaginations of the masses, with traits, characteristics, stories and rivalries that generate a breath-taking array of emotions within us. We love being a part of their audience, especially when those extremely rare, once-in-a-lifetime gems break through, because when it happens, it’s magic, and regardless of the changes in landscape or constantly evolving standards, those special few are able to stand the test of time.
And that’s the legacy of Dusty Rhodes.
Gut instinct tells you to look at Dusty and say that you couldn’t craft a character like this, he’s just so unique. Between the look, the lisp, the style, the gift of gab, the ability to charm, there was nothing paint by numbers about Dusty Rhodes. The amazing thing about “The American Dream” is that so much of what we identify as being part of this exceptionally individual character was actually influenced by others. The transition from Texas Outlaw to the Dusty Rhodes most are familiar with is striking, and came with liberal “borrowing” from Superstar Billy Graham. The outfits, the rap, the cadence, the body language, even specific lines taken. But regardless, there’s something to be said for being able to do that and having the ability and natural magnetism to make it your own. And of course, Dusty was way more than that.
It’s often said that Dusty Rhodes’ notorious ego served to the detriment of the companies he worked for at various times, and no doubt it’s true. But at the same time, that same conviction, that complete sense of self, that unbreakable belief in his ability to draw is what earned him the spot as one of the absolute greatest promos to ever live. There’s no need to cite specific ones, WWE released a DVD on his career and littered them with his interviews, and rightly so. When he wanted to be funny, he had that wry smile and bombastic nature. When he let his natural charisma take over, the words out of his mouth were inconsequential, he would have you mesmerised. And when it was time to cut the money promo, when it was time for Dusty Rhodes to lay out what was in store for Ole Anderson or Tully Blanchard or Ric Flair, he would stare dead at the lens, pure emotion booming from his lungs, every word dripping with that aforementioned conviction as it left his lips, and he would just leave you in awe. He was one of the most utterly superb orators to ever grace the business, he could make you feel anything he wanted you to, and you would stare at the television, looking at this one-of-a-kind guy, a being seemingly filled with imperfections, and when it was all over, what he’d produce would be just…perfect.
Nobody is going to confuse Dusty Rhodes with Bret Hart in the ring, but Dusty knew exactly what to do, when to do it, and how to get the most reaction for everything he did. He could shine with the best of them, his vibrant energy connecting with the crowd from the off. He could sell at a level like few others when he had to – the ankle breaking angle where the Horsemen turn on him in the cage is evidence enough. And the fire in his comebacks were right on the money for whatever the situation called for.
As a booker it’s a mixed bag with Dusty. As the territories began dying off in the mid-80s, it was the Dusty-booked Crockett Promotions that stood proud as the Cadillac of them all in terms of drawing money and show quality, helped by an ensemble cast of top flight talent. Over time, a combination of poor business moves from Crockett and the wrong booking moves from Dusty (including not taking himself off the top when he should have) staggered the company to a level it took years to come out of. But there was genius in Dusty, and we got to see it when all the stars aligned in 1985. Like his promos and his matches, he knew how to appeal, he knew what to do to grab the audience with a great angle.
For whatever reason, it symbolically feels like part of the business has died with him, based on what he represented. It’s far too vogue for wrestlers outside WWE nowadays to focus on action, cool moves, hitting hard, and not selling much. Fun to watch, sure, but nothing that will ever appeal to anybody outside the realm of existing fans. And you’ll forget it the second the next one comes along. WWE’s tightly scripted nature and rigid guidelines on what constitutes a star or passes as good television doesn’t coincide with it either. Everything the business is now, Dusty Rhodes wasn’t. But conversely, everything Dusty Rhodes was, the wrestling business isn’t.
Dusty was able to get the crowd to live and die with him, feel his pain, his excitement, his emotion. You were able to care on a far deeper level. That’s what being an all-time great is all about. And the Dream was able to do that to a level few ever have. Indeed, his hand was touching our hand.
And thanks to that special magic, that magnetism that comes through the television and will make you feel the same thing no matter when you watch it, it always will.
VIP edition of SteelChair Issue 3 available at vuho.tv/vip3