Dusty Rhodes is one of my favourite wrestlers ever. There has never been a time in my life when he wasn’t on my wrestling radar in some way, and for that I’m truly grateful. Hearing of Dusty’s passing was unexpected and it was obvious from the outpouring of emotion online that I wasn’t the only person who felt that way. To say Dusty Rhodes had an impact on the professional wrestling world would be a gross understatement, and the same could be said about his impact on me personally. Dusty molded the way I looked at professional wrestling, and even how I wanted to be a part of it.
I first discovered The American Dream in the late 80s. I was a World Wrestling Federation kid and as such, had never seen the man who had fought through hard times, or wined and dined with kings and queens. When I first met Dusty Rhodes via my television he was wearing polka dots and dancing with a frumpy lady to the most 80s music you’d ever hear coming out the loud speakers of a wrestling arena. I loved him immediately. What I think I loved most about Dusty was his energy. He always seemed to be having the time of his life out there. He made wrestling fun.
I’ll never forget Survivor Series 1989. The Dream was captain of his own group, the aptly named Dream Team. While his gang had a number of big personalities on it, no one stood out like Dusty. The moment that always stood out for me was when their opponents “The Enforcers” couldn’t get along and filled the ring to solve their differences. Dusty, ever the showman, was standing across the ring instigating like a mischievous boy playing a prank. That’s how I always first think of Dusty Rhodes. As a man who had tremendous fun loving the business.
Soon thereafter, Dusty left the WWF and headed home for Atlanta and World Championship Wrestling. At the time I wasn’t even aware of WCW’s existence, so I had no way to follow him down south until Nitro started airing in Canada. When it did, I got to see Rhodes again. Not as an active wrestler, but as a colour analyst, and if anyone brought color to the ringside microphone, it was the American Dream. I will be the first to admit that at times Rhodes came off as a little more common than I prefer from my analysts, but it’s rare that outside of Jim Ross for me to remember so many calls from one man – even if they were incredibly ridiculous.
Most remember his famous call of “HE’S GOT A BICYCLE!” during a match featuring Big Bubba, but when I think of memorable lines from the Dream on commentary, my mind I’m me jumps to Starrcade 1995. I always recommend that fans watch this event. Not just because it had a good concept and great action executed incredibly well, but this was Dusty at his most… Dusty on commentary. The line I’ll never forget no matter how hard I try was during an argument with Tony Schivone about what it meant to play possum. Dusty took the call literally and described a man running up a tree and yelling “I’M A POSSUM! I’M A POSSUM! I’M A POSSUM!” I think I laughed until I cried.
At this point, I had only seen Dusty as a dancing polka dot man and a bumpkin colour analyst. Despite my memories being fond, my only glimpse into Rhode’s past as a true bad ass were through old copies of Pro Wrestling Illustrated and stories told by his peers. Ironically, I would get my first taste of the classic Dusty Rhodes in a company that did everything they could to buck tradition: Extreme Championship Wrestling.
While watching ECW on TNN in 2000, I became entrenched in the blood feud between The American Dream and a slimy little punk calling himself the King of Old School, Steve Corino. Dusty would beat the snot out of that kid from pillar to post, and all over the arena if we’re going to be truthful. Their Bull Rope match from Living Dangerously 2000 is still a violent guilty pleasure of mine to this very day.
Once Vince McMahon purchased the WCW video tape library in 2001, they began to release more and more matches, interviews, and segments that featured Dusty Rhodes in his heyday as the American Dream. Through various DVD collections I was able to witness Rhodes talk about hard times, brawl with the Road Warriors, and fight for America both against and alongside Nikita Koloff, not to mention the wars he had with penultimate rival Ric Flair. I got to witness him win championships and fantasize about being a wrestling fan in a time when Dusty Rhodes represented the fan in the stands.
My eyes were now open to legend behind the man I grew up watching and listening to. His passion was now on full display in my living room live via my television set. It’s hard to choose a favorite match, moment, or memory from those days, because it is a treasure trove of the most beautiful plunder a wrestling fan could find. Ironically, my mind is inevitably drawn back to the World Wide Wrestling Federation and his series of matches with WWWF Champion Superstar Billy Graham at Madison Square Garden. It’s a classic series of battles between good and evil.
Every time Rhodes made an appearance on World Wrestling Entertainment programming, my face lit up. He always maximized his minutes and gave a moment worth watching. If anyone had questions about his abilities into his old age, those questions were emphatically answered in the Fall of 2013. Dusty became embroiled in a story featuring his two sons, Cody Rhodes and Goldust, who were fighting for their jobs against The Authority. The American Dream of old came out to cut a classic promo on Stephanie McMahon and then stood in the corner of his boys against The SHIELD at WWE’s Battleground event, where their victory and celebration was one of the best moments of 2013, and one of my favorites in the career of the Common Man.
When I was training to become a professional wrestler, like many others before me, I patterned much of my style after Dusty Rhodes. I smashed opponents with bionic elbows and made myself a man of the people. Just like the American Dream, my belly and behind were just a little big. I wasn’t very good and could not even begin to compare myself to the real deal, but without the inspiration of Dusty Rhodes reaching his hand out to touch my hand live via a television screen, I wouldn’t have been able to make it through the hard times on my own journey.
My story is one of hundreds, full of people whose lives were irrevocably altered and affected by the life and times of the American Dream in ways both bigger and smaller than my own experiences. He was known as the Common Man, but in reality, he was anything but. He was a once in a generation performer who’s legacy will be remembered in the hearts and minds of his fans. Thank you for letting me share my personal recollections and memories of a person I never met, but feel like I knew all the same. Though the man is gone, the Dream lives on.