I think my friend and famed wrestling columnist Mike Mooneyham summed it up best. It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since we lost Dusty Rhodes. The larger than life character, the charismatic hero, the man who became the center of my world as a youngster well watching professional wrestling in Florida. He is still very much a part of what I believe professional wrestling is all about.
Dusty Rhodes wasn’t the typical athlete. He wasn’t muscular, he wasn’t god-like, he talked with a southern drawl, and he was as flamboyant in the ring as he was bullish facing top heels in the 70s 80s and 90s.
Whether it was Terry Funk or Kevin Sullivan or Ric Flair was the epitome of what fans believed to be good in a “sport” filled with secrecy back in the day.
Rhodes was every man. A white man that talked the black man’s jive. The man who identified with the middle class. The man who knew about “hard times” and could preach about it. The man who would feel comfortable in any setting. No matter what part of United States you lived in, if you were a wrestling fan, you knew who Rhodes was.
He was the defender of good versus evil. He was the Lone Ranger. He was Superman. He was the John Wayne of his era. Ric Flair once said that while he worked with Rhodes in the NWA, he thought there would always be one hero and one villain. And he thought that he and Rhodes would wrestle each other, filling those roles, until they both retired from the business. Flair and Rhodes defined 1980s NWA wrestling in the Carolinas. And it was Rhodes and his fertile mind that gave us such events as the Bunkhouse Stampede, War Games, and the Great American Bash. It was Dusty Rhodes creation in Florida and the Carolinas of “Loser Leave Town” matches, Texas Bull Rope matches and one of my favorites the barbed wire match.
I can remember being a little boy sitting on the couch with my father in Miami when I was six. At noon Championship Wrestling From Florida came on after watching one hour of Dusty Rhodes and Gordon Solie talk about the Masked Spoiler, Pak Song or Bad New Brown, I was hooked. His matches with Kevin Sullivan all over the state of Florida, whether it was the Armory in Tampa or the Miami Beach Civic Center or the Veterans Memorial Coliseum here in Jacksonville with legendary. And every time I heard about a match that was in and around where I lived, I begged to go watch in person.
That is the kind of affect Rhodes had on me and others my age and many of those of us who cover the business today.
One of the greatest ways Rhodes impacted the business is how his friends and opponents talked about him upon learning of his death. Whether it was Flair, or Tully Blanchard or Arn Anderson – they all had the same thing to say – that Dusty Rhodes impacted their careers as much is they impacted his.
With this “New Era” of the business, with wrestlers acting more like stunt artists then grapplers, the era in which I grew up in has essentially died. Not to sound morbid but it’s true. Rhodes, Flair, The Briscos and The Funks helped to define a generation. And when looking back on memories of hundreds of matches that I watched and hundreds of performers and characters I have followed, none made me want to watch more than the “American Dream” in the ring.
It’s still hard to think that somebody so charismatic has left this world and this business. But my heroes are a dying breed. There’s no way of getting around that, it’s called life. I’m just glad that I have those memories and can go back and watch those matches to remember just how great Dusty Rhodes was an awesome era of professional wrestling.