Texas has produced legendary wrestling families.
The Funks. The Von Erichs. The Windhams. The Guerreros. The Smiths (Grizzly Smith, Jake Roberts, Sam Houston). Legacies from these still appear on our screen today—see Bray Wyatt (Windham) and Chavo Guerrero. But none, no other family, has had the lasting impact and staying power on the biggest stages of wrestling as the Rhodes family.
It is no surprise then that Dustin’s promo video released to announce the epic brother-brother matchup of Dustin and Cody Rhodes at AEW’s Double or Nothing in May focused on family, filmed no doubt on his Texas country spread.
Dustin quips therein that Cody’s goal is to put Dustin out to pasture at 50. He laments, as Dusty once did in a WCW Clash of Champions promo to align with Dustin against Arn Anderson and Bunkhouse Buck of the Stud Stable, that Cody, the younger brother, was given the privileged upbringing Dustin never had. Cody has more recently responded that the match is bigger than sibling rivalry. It’s Cody’s generation versus Dustin’s. It’s Cody and AEW’s attempt to destroy the Attitude Era generation’s stronghold on the sport.
“I’m not here to kill Dustin Rhodes. I’m here to kill the Attitude Era,” Cody said.
Both have painted a colorful narrative about why this match is going down. This match got heat.
But that shouldn’t be a shock either. Look at their father. Look at The Son of a Plumber, The American Dream Dusty Rhodes, master of the colorful turn of phrase, master of the match building rant.
Look no further than his famous “Hard Times” promo ahead of his Starrcade ’85 bout with Ric Flair for the world title:
First of all, I would to thank the many, many fans throughout this country that wrote cards and letters to Dusty Rhodes, The American Dream, while I was down. Secondly, I want to thank Jim Crockett promotions for waitin’ and takin’ the time ‘cause I know how important it was, Starrcade ‘85 it is to the wrestling fans, it is to Jim Crockett promotions, and Dusty Rhodes The American Dream. With that wait, I got what I wanted, Ric Flair the World’s Heavyweight Champion. I don’t have to say a whole lot more about the way I feel about Ric Flair; no respect, no honor. There is no honor amongst thieves in the first place.
He put hard times on Dusty Rhodes and his family. You don’t know what hard times are daddy. Hard times are when the textile workers around this country are out of work, they got 4 or 5 kids and can’t pay their wages, can’t buy their food. Hard times are when the auto workers are out of work and they tell ‘em go home. And hard times are when a man has worked at a job for thirty years, thirty years, and they give him a watch, kick him in the butt and say “hey a computer took your place, daddy”, that’s hard times! That’s hard times! And Ric Flair you put hard times on this country by takin’ Dusty Rhodes out, that’s hard times. And we all had hard times together, and I admit, I don’t look like the athlete of the day supposed to look. My belly’s just a lil’ big, my heiny’s a lil’ big, but brother, I am bad. And they know I’m bad.
There were two bad people… One was John Wayne and he’s dead brother, and the other’s right here. Nature Boy Ric Flair, the World’s Heavyweight title belongs to these people. I’mma reach out right now, I want you at home to know my hand is touchin’ your hand for the gathering of the biggest body of people in this country, in this universe, all over the world now, reachin’ out because the love that was given me and this time I will repay you now. Because I will be the next World’s Heavyweight Champion on this hard time blues. Dusty Rhodes tour, ‘85.
And Ric Flair, Nature Boy… Let me leave you with this. One way to hurt Ric Flair, is to take what he cherishes more than anything in the world and that’s the World’s Heavyweight title. I’m gon’ take it, I been there twice. This time when I take it daddy, I’m gon’ take it for you. Let’s gather for it. Don’t let me down now, ‘cause I came back for you, for that man upstairs that died 10-12 years ago and never got the opportunity to see a real World’s Champion. And I’m proud of you, thank god I have you, and I love you. I love you!
See what I mean? Those goosebumps you’ve got right now are real. It doesn’t matter that part of it gets nonsensical (I mean, I hope the textile workers don’t have to pay their own wages). In fact, the charm of his erroneous word choice at times comes precisely from a seemingly genuine flustering frustration of the Hard Times with which he identifies himself here against the bourgeois Flair persona.
Starccade ’85 was The Son of the Plumber versus The Golden Boy—jet-flying, limo-ridin’, kiss-stealin’ party boy. No one in the arena or on the pay-per-view audience would have felt it on that level without The American Dream Dusty Rhodes.
Here we are, 34 years later, and the sons of The Son of the Plumber have the stage on the most anticipated non-WWE pay-per-view in years.
Dustin and Cody have done a lot in their respective careers to distinguish themselves from Dusty and each other. I think I can say without question the sons far surpass the in-ring working ability of the father. Both have impacted the wrestling world and driven central storylines through their personas and promo, just like Dusty. In a way that the Funks, Von Erichs, Windhams, Smiths, and Guerreros never achieved, ALL of the wrestling family members have made and stayed in the big time.
Dustin has been a mainstay for 30 years. He started in WCW in ’89, then exploded the mold as Goldust off and on for the past 25 years. Cody first appeared at Slamboree ’95, a nine year old standing with his famous father as Dusty was inducted into the WCW Legends Hall of Fame. He earned his way into the big time, spending a decade working up the WWE food chain, OVW to NXT to Raw, from 2006-2016. In 2016 he declared independence, and on Dave Meltzer’s challenge, has launched AEW with funding from the Khan family.
And Cody is certainly primed to run the show. Dusty Rhodes ran Florida and WCW booking for years as a wrestler/booking agent for both promotions from the 1970s through the 1990s. Look it up and you’ll find the “Dusty Finish” is legitimate wrestling lingo for a booking that appears to have one wrestler win only to have the decision quickly reversed on a technicality. Others did it before, but Dusty booked it often. After WCW fell to the WWE monolith in 2001, Dusty started his own promotion, Turnbuckle Championship Wrestling, siphoning off WCW backstage and in ring talent among those not picked up by WWE close to the old WCW flagship, Marietta, GA. After Turnbuckle, Dusty moved over to TNA to assume booking and in ring roles there too. He was finally brought into the WWE fold, where he stayed to the end of his life, signing a Legends contract and serving as a creative consultant. It makes perfect sense that Cody stands here now, ready to assume his backstage and in ring roles with AEW.
World Class Championship Wrestling, owned by Von Erich patriarch Fritz Von Erich, never booked Kerry and Kevin Von Erich in a feud with each other. Terry and Dory Jr. never played out a Funk brothers rivalry. It’s a shame. We know and have seen the kind of heat that can draw. Look no further than Bret and Owen Hart’s heated mid-90s rivalry. AEW has taken the natural road here, booking the older brother as the jealous one (as opposed to jealous younger Owen in the WWE) against the king of the company brother.
In a way, they’re both fighting to establish a longer Rhodes legacy, one free of WWE’s influence. While WWE has been kind to the Rhodes of late, this was not always the case. In the 1980s Vince McMahon did his fair share to rib and bury the American Dream. Dusty made a huge name for himself before he ever wrestled for the WWF. And if you’ve paid attention to WWF/E’s history, it isn’t always kind to the guys that were big time outside of its confines. Harley Race, an NWA legend, was booked as an afterthought during his WWF run with hardly any mention of his prominence in other promotions. Vince went even further though to diminish Dusty’s persona.
Before Dusty ever signed with the WWF, Vince had his eyes on mocking The American Dream. He took the proven One Man Gang gimmick off of George Gray and put the “Akeem the African Dream” outfit on him. Gray was forced to constantly “jive,” a head and hand bob that Vince invented to parody the moving and shaking of Dusty. Dusty’s east Texas accent was confused as an affected black soul jive lingo by the WWF, so Akeem was the “African Dream,”or a white man pretending to be black. When Ted DiBiase was assigned a black manservant, he was dubbed “Virgil,” a direct reference to Dusty Rhodes’ real name, Virgil Runnels.
When the WWF did finally lure Dusty, because he was unhappy with WCW management at the time, Vince put Dusty in polka dots and into storyline with the completely talentless Sapphire (Juanita Wright was a superfan and regional promotion referee, but her mic and in ring skills were complete crap in the WWF). Vince couldn’t wait to put Dusty into storyline as a mixed-race couple because he couldn’t let go his perception that Dusty was imitating black men. Until very, very recently the WWE treated Dusty Rhodes with very little reverence indeed.
AEW appears to offer a new chance for the Rhodes legacy to leave a giant mark in the annals of wrestling lore, one free of Turner or McMahon promotional whims, one that is instead Rhodes-centred.
AEW’s calling card might be their resistance to the WWE route, but frankly I’m glad they’ve extended the sibling rivalry featured and developed over a few year period in WWE as Goldust and Cody, then Stardust, teamed then feuded. For the most part, AEW has molded itself as the anti-WWE. Cody put Triple H and Goldust and the Attitude Era on blast for a reason. They paved the way for the popularity of wrestling, but Cody and Kenny Omega and others stand ready to showcase what WWE has often avoided: putting the best in-ring performers, not the best bodies or most constructed characters, over. That said, it’s a good thing they haven’t ignored the past completely in paving the way forward for the Rhodes family and AEW wrestling.
Dustin versus Cody should be something to see indeed.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @Gritvanwinkle. Thanks for reading!