Little Dreamer: Rhodes embodied 'American Dream' persona

06/12/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

As a lifelong professional wrestling fan, the news of Dusty Rhodes passing stunned me. I've been stunned by the deaths of some former wrestlers in the past, but the unexpected passing of "The American Dream" really did hit me. It got me to thinking of all of the times I watched Dusty Rhodes, especially as a kid in the 1980's. I remembered so many matches, feuds, and one legendary promo. Dusty Rhodes wasn't just a character, he was the true definition of the American Dream.
Even though Rhodes debuted in the early 1970's (prior to when I was born), it's the 1980's that I remember as the period of his career where he stood out. Dusty Rhodes was never your typical professional wrestler. In an era of jacked up, body builder type, heavyweight wrestlers, Dusty Rhodes certainly didn't fit the mold. Dusty was, well lets just say, a rotund wrestler. He billed himself as "The Common Man". " The Son of a Plumber" from Austin, Texas. Dusty Rhodes used those monikers to carve out a niche that made him one of the most popular wrestlers in the 1980's, and eventually of all time. He didn't have the muscular build. He actually only won 3 world championships during his career. But it wasn't the wins or titles that made Dusty Rhodes stand out, it was his charisma. Dusty Rhodes is probably better known for the big time matches he lost than those that he won. But his connection and relationship to the fans is what made him the legend that he was.
In the 1980's, Rhodes had some very memorable feuds that I remember. His legendary battles against Ric Flair, Tully Blanchard, and The Four Horsemen come to mind first. He and Magnum T.A. battling the "Russians", Ivan and Nikita Koloff. At the height of hostility between the United States and Russia in the mid 1980's, Rhodes fit perfectly as the centerpiece of what was billed "America's Team". After Magnum T.A. was involved in a career ending car accident, Rhodes and Nikita Koloff formed the "Super Powers" to feud with the Russians as well as the Four Horsemen. I remember Dusty battling Ric Flair in some legendary (and bloody) steel cage matches. Some violent (and again bloody) Texas Bull Rope and Bunkhouse Stampede matches against Tully Blanchard. It seemed Dusty was always bleeding in the 1980's. But his ability to sell to the audience through his performances in these sometimes gory matches is what made Dusty Rhodes who he was. Dusty bled so much his forehead looked like a road map. But he made the fans believe in the realness of the match he was in. He had the fans eating up everything he was selling in the ring. When he was injured in an angle by one of the heels he was feuding with, you believed he was hurt and were even more blown away when he came back. And as great as he was in the ring, he was even better on the microphone.

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Dusty Rhodes cut some of the best promo's in wrestling history during his tenure with the NWA. He got you fired up and proud to be an American when he talked about feuding with the Russians. He had catch phrases such as "Gettin' Funky Like A Monkey", and "Takin' Care of Business" (which Dusty pronounced "b'ness") and his gyrating, hip swiveling elbow smashes that always brought the crowd to their feet, and sent his opponents to the mat. But it was during his feud with the Four Horseman and Ric Flair, that Rhodes cut what may have been the best professional wrestling promo I ever heard. Flair and the Horseman were portrayed as having the best cars, best clothes, and the finest jewelry. Dusty Rhodes was the common man. Flair and the Horsemen cut promos in suits and designer sun glasses, showing off their Rolex watches and talking about being the kings of whatever town they were in that night. Dusty Rhodes did his interviews in a Bruce Springsteen or Bob Seger t-shirt and a cowboy hat or a John Deere cap. He represented the Common Man. He felt the pain of American mill, manufacturing, and factory workers who were losing their jobs at the time. Coming back from an injury at the hands of the Horsemen in 1985, Dusty cut this promo about "Hard Times"
I remember seeing that promo when I was 9 years old. I watched it today again and it gave me goose bumps again. That's the effect Dusty Rhodes had on wrestling fans. His charisma and promos were great and are timeless. He was the Common Man, the Son of a Plumber, and the American Dream. He also was one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time. Thank you Dusty Rhodes for the entertainment and excitement you gave to a young wrestling fan and many others like me back then. And thank you for those memories that still live on today. Rest in peace Virgil Runnels, you will never be forgotten. And the American Dream will always live on in the memories of all of us wresting fans.

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