Dusty Rhodes was one of the greatest and most popular professional wrestlers ever, and I’m not sure he’d make it in wrestling today. That’s a paradox, but Dusty was always paradoxical: He was one of the greatest talkers in wrestling history, but he spoke with a speech impediment. Even at peak physical condition he was at best chunky, but made his living as a professional athlete. And he was simultaneously a creative genius and responsible for some of the worst ideas ever in wrestling. A confusing legacy, but an overwhelmingly positive one.
Dusty was a football star before he was a wrestler. He was a star at West Texas A&M, good enough to get a tryout for the Boston Patriots. While in Boston, he was offered a chance by a local wrestling promoter to wrestle. Dusty accepted, looking to make a few bucks. In that coincidence, he found his calling and passion.
According to Dusty, he was never trained to wrestle. It was all just natural. But really, watching Dusty’s matches, he didn’t do much that a typical athlete couldn’t. He didn’t do fancy, acrobatic moves or complicated submission holds. He fought like a tough man, with unparallaled charisma. And that was all natural.
Dusty’s sheer charisma is unmatched in wrestling history. He could just talk. A lot of what he would say would be pure nonsense, but it wouldn’t matter because just by the act of speaking he would have the audience hanging on every word. He’d throw in rhymes, make nonsensical analogies and references. No one else could have made these promos work, but Dusty had a special talent.
You know his accomplishments. Great tag wrestler with Dick Murdoch in the Texas Outlaws. NWA World Heavyweight Champion three times. Two Starrcade main events against Ric Flair. The creator of Starrcade. Longtime booker and creative team member. Announcer for WCW in the late 1990s. He did it all.
But what made Dusty special was the way he connected with the fans. I’ve compared Daniel Bryan to Dusty Rhodes many times in recent years, and I think the comparison has merit. Daniel Bryan represents internet wrestling fans in the same way Dusty Rhodes represented blue collar fans in the south in the 1970s and 1980s. He was a simple man. No bodybuilder physique, no amazing martial arts skills. He looked like a guy you would see mowing his lawn on a hot summer’s day in Georgia. Dusty Rhodes was the people, and they gave him the fire to keep fighting.
I can’t imagine there being another Dusty Rhodes. It just wouldn’t and couldn’t happen in today’s wrestling environment. Sure, there are wrestlers who are big fat guys. There are wrestlers who don’t have any technical or high-flying skills. And there are wrestlers with speech impediments. But combine all three? And add in a difficult personality to boot? No promoter today would deal with that. But in the wild world of wrestling territories, Dusty grabbed a foothold and made his mark. The wrestling world never was the same again.