No matter what you think about “The American Dream”, and no matter what memories you have, can you remember a time when Virgil Runnels made being a fan of Professional Wrestling an insult?
Sometimes that impact wasn’t the most favorable for reflections (his self-serving and hot-shot booking, those things read in various books, and that whole “polka dot” fiasco) but there is – was – always a larger than life charisma and a vastly talented individual who forced a respect for this business like few others.
Sure, there were times when we laughed at his gestures and wondered about what he was thinking, but we popped big for his moments and cheered him on against his adversaries and I know for myself that I never doubted that the business was what Dusty lived for.
In the mid-1970’s, when I was first watching the sport, I recall seeing Dusty Rhodes and Superstar Billy Graham “Irish Whipping” each other into the opposite turnbuckles. That was a level of physicality that impressed me at that young age, and as I learned more about talent and how great talent worked with those with lesser talent, it became a more profound example of who knew how to do what.
Remembering a few spots can often be more important than the wins-and-losses, when those spots are distinct and memorable and meaningful.
When Georgia Championship Wrestling hit the Cable TV scene in my area, Dusty was one of the go-to guys. His promos were always on the mark, even when screeching, lisping and seemingly aping others (Gorgeous George? Muhammed Ali? Superstar Billy Graham?) but at the core, there was Dusty being Dusty, calling down brimstone on the bad guy, proclaiming his fortitude and coming to the rescue.
Nothing quite matched Dusty’s decision making with the Road Warriors and having them turn on him. It was a high point of his then WCW run, but also the high point because of his own making. Yet that promo that followed, the “eye for an eye” was something my fellow Professional Wrestling fans at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt for us hardcore alumni) ate up, repeated often and copied verbatim
Now we can see that somewhere on YouTube, but I don’t think that promo could be done today: it’s a lost art; there’s no one with that connection; there’s no talent that cares so deeply; and there’s a greatly diminished fanbase that would even appreciate it.
I remember the original happening on TV, watched it a few times, and also remember a buddy of mine who would screech out that speech, echoing the momentous words of the bloodied and battered and victimized Dusty. We all believed him. We all wanted him to take on the Road Warriors (even if we secretly still rooted for them against anyone else).
Dusty poured it on, but even at the most outrageous, he never lost his place, never lost that connection with the fans.
Those are things that the industry should be reflecting upon, instead of using Hollywood and TV scriptwriters to put fake words in less talented mouths.
I’m unsure of the timing, but the Bunkhouse Battle Royals were of the same time frame, and I was at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena to see Dusty do battle. He had that “everyman” thing about him, and even when he was getting clobbered (or clobbering) there was something that appealed. In an age where almost all wrestlers are faces and heels at the same time, there was never any doubt of Dusty as the Babyface, even when he was doing dastardly things.
With Dusty, he was fighting the good fight, and it was obvious.
Dusty was outrageous, that’s for sure, but Dusty seemed to have a way with making fun of himself. Sometimes you had to wonder if he was fully aware of what he was doing. The Polka Dot situation was odd, but it was funny. Funny and Professional Wrestling are not part of my word association but even with the vignettes and the portrayal of a plumber, it never wiped out my awesome Dusty Remembrances.
That’s because every time he spoke in that not-so-unique and greatly imitated pattern of speech, there was a connection between the fan and the ‘wrassler’, between the emotion and the talent on display in the ring, and the attention and the investment of the people in the seats, watching on TV, participating in the event.
Dusty Rhodes was someone who did that.
RIP, Dusty, RIP.