Posted June 12th, 2015 by jshannon

Ringside Remembrances: Dusty Rhodes

Jay Shannon draws upon five decades as a devout wrestling fan to look at the past, present and future of professional wrestling.

The great state of Texas has produced so many top-notch professional wrestlers. Names like Funk, Guerrero, Austin, Von Erich, Michaels and so many others have brought honor and fame to Texas. At the peak of the pantheon of Lone Star Legends was not a Superman…it was a Common Man.

Wait, let me correct that. Dusty Rhodes WAS a Superman. During his lengthy and glorious career, Dusty had many roles: In-Ring Performer, Manager, Announcer, Booker, Promoter, Road Agent, Trainer, and various executive positions.

In addition, Dusty aided numerous promoters, over the years. According to Greg Klein in his book “King of New Orleans”, Dusty lent his knowledge and experience to: Eddie Graham (Florida), Bill Watts (Mid-South), Verne Gagne (AWA), Jim Crockett (Sr and Jr) (NWA/JCP), the Jarretts (Memphis and TNA), Triple H/Vince McMahon (WWF/E) and Ted Turner/Eric Bischoff (WCW). He also ran his own Turnbuckle Championship Wrestling, out of Texas. All of this from a man with simple beginnings.

Beginnings of The Dream

Dusty, born Virgil Riley Runnels, Jr., got his training from Joe Blanchard (Tully’s father). Dusty was set as a heel, teaming with Dick Murdoch to form the Texas Outlaws. The duo moved to the AWA, where they raised all kinds of Hell. Dusty would remain a heel until not long after his arrival in Florida. During a tag match, Dusty turned on his partner, Pak Song, and their manager, Gary Hart. That immediately shot Dusty to the moon with the fans. During this time, Dusty debuted his nickname “Stardust” (which would later be passed on to his younger son). Dusty then created his “Son of a Plumber, Common Man” persona that became known as the “American Dream” name. The fans instantly embraced this “Every Man” character and Dusty’s stock began to rise. He toured numerous NWA territories, over the next few years. Dusty was one of the first modern-era wrestlers to sport a mask to avenge a wrong. As the Midnight Rider, Dusty tore things up in Florida. Dusty would, years later, pass the character on to Bill Watts. During his time in Florida, Dusty began to learn about booking and promoting from Eddie Graham. As Dusty moved around the country, he picked the brains of everyone he met to further his knowledge of the sport. As I mentioned above, Dusty would later return the favors to the men who helped them by sharing what he had learned. Dusty’s own booking ideas have become standard practice in most organizations. Some even directly honor him (The Dusty Finish).


Dusty won just about every possible title in the NWA territory system. He won state titles, North American straps and tag belts. On August 21, 1979, Dusty reached the top. He defeated Harley Race in Tampa, Florida to become the NWA World Champion. Unfortunately, that first reign only lasted 5 days. It would take Dusty almost two years to reach the top again. On June 21, 1981, Dusty again defeated Race for the strap. The run lasted almost three months (88 Days) until he dropped the belt to Ric Flair. Dusty final run as World Champion would have to wait until July 26, 1986. Dusty would hold the belt for only two weeks before it went back to Ric Flair.

The Prince of Polka Dots

In 1989, Dusty surprised the wrestling world by jumping to the then-WWF. The WWF was well-known for altering characters and names of incoming talent. Dusty had competed in the old WWWF, including challenging “Superstar” Billy Graham for the World title. When he returned, Dusty was placed in numerous “Common Man” vignettes, some of which were hilarious and filled with double meanings. When Dusty came out to the Jimmy Hart written music, he was dressed in black…with huge yellow polka dots all over the place. Fans were ready to ridicule Dusty for his silly look but The Dream “Rocked Them Dots”. Dusty took something that may have been meant as a joke and turned it into something that people still talk about, 2 and a half decades later. Dusty never captured gold in the WWF but he did get to team with his eldest son, Dustin, to battle Ted DiBiase, Sr. and Virgil. Dusty seemed to completely enjoy his personality adjustment. His stay only lasted a couple of years before Big Dust returned to Jim Crockett Promotions.

The Roads Rhodes Travelled

Dusty Rhodes is the one of the only men to work in almost every major professional wrestling federation: NWA, WWWF/WWF/WWE, ECW, Ring of Honor, TNA, WCW, AWA, World Class (under the Big Time Wrestling banner), Tri-State (later known as Mid-South), Japan, Puerto Rico, etc… He feuded with almost every person to come down the pike through 2003. One of his final feuds was against “King of Old School” Steve Corino. Dusty rarely lost…unless the opponent cheated. The “Dusty Comeback” would inspire people like Junkyard Dog, Undertaker and dozens of others. In 2005, Dusty’s travels slowed as he joined the WWE in a Creative position.


When I helped with training at the PWD School, I had a selection of promos at my disposal to use. I reached out to various friends both inside and outside the business as to which of the promos was the best. Almost across the board, Dusty Rhodes’ “Hard Times” promo got the nod. Due to copyright issues, I can’t share that video here but you can definitely find it on the DVD (or on YouTube).

Often Imitated…

In the world of pro wrestling, some catchphrases become legendary. For Randy Savage, it was “Oh Yeah”. Flair has his “Woo”. The most memorable phrase from The Dream would be “If you will….sounding more like If Ya Wheel”. JBL often quotes it on Monday Night Raw. Other various announcers and wrestlers have utilized the phrase. Dusty’s classic promos have inspired hundreds of knock off rants.

Dusty’s move set has also been copied and modified. Both Bully Ray (Buh Buh Ray Dudley) and Road Dogg (B.G. James) did versions of the Flip, Flop and Fly. The Bionic Elbow has become almost as prevalent as the DDT.


Dusty was blessed with two wonderful sons who followed him into the business, Dustin and Cody. Cody received his father’s old Star Dust nickname to help launch a match for older brother’s, Goldust, persona. Dusty even got to serve as the unofficial “manager” for his boys during the early days of the Brothers of Dust teaming. Dusty made it crystal clear that he was proud of all his children and wanted the best for all of them. Dusty also has a granddaughter, Dakota (Dustin’s daughter), that may someday follow her dad and grandpa into the business. It is likely that the Rhodes name will continue for many generations.

There was only one Dusty Rhodes. He gave us nearly half a century of entertainment. He was a dedicated father, loving husband and dear friend to so many. He is a member of both the NWA and WWE Halls of Fame. Dusty was possibly one of the most unlikely of wrestling stars but he showed the world how to mix “Sizzle with Steak”. He could entertain with his moves (Steak) but took it to the ultimate level with his promos and interviews (Sizzle). The thing that saddens me the most is I never got the chance to meet Dusty to thank him for all the years of entertainment.

Dusty, I hope your rest is a peaceful one. No more Hard Times for you, only Wining and Dining with Kings and Queens (and Heavenly Father).


–Jay Shannon

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