Meeting, interviewing WWE Hall of Famer the American Dream Dusty Rhodes in Miami

 

My Top 10 Dusty Foes

Tully Blanchard

Abdullah the Butcher

King Curtis

Masked Assassin

Superstar Billy Graham

Ernie Ladd

Kevin Sullivan

Terry Funk

Harley Race

Ric Flair


jvarsallone@miamiherald.com

He’s living the American Dream because he is the American Dream.

Dusty Rhodes -- all-time one of the greatest and most charismatic wrestlers -- recently returned to Miami, a regular stomping ground during his heyday with Championship Wrestling from Florida.

CWF in the 1970s birthed Dusty Rhodes as the American Dream.

YouTube video interview (two parts) with the American Dream Dusty Rhodes in March

on the jim varsallone (jimmyv3 channel)

Dusty discusses Bray Wyatt, CWF, Muhammad Ali, Chris and Angelo Dundee, Family, Miami, WWE Performance Center and more.

(Part 1) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3WBYfLPNyo

(Part 2) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NMguNvg4QU

(With fans) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xE8NbnfQtwc

Rhodes paves the way to greatness

When you think of great pro athletes in Florida sports history in the 1970s, names like Nick Buonticonti, Larry Csonka, Bob Griese, Mercury Morris come to mind. All Miami Dolphins. Remember, the Dolphins stood as the professional staple in the state. No NBA in Florida in the 1970s. No MLB. No NHL. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers formed but were awful. At the collegiate level, the Miami Hurricanes and Florida State Seminoles and Florida Gators hadn’t hit their stride yet.

So who else starred in Florida during that time? The American Dream Dusty Rhodes.

Statewide, I believe Dusty Rhodes loomed bigger, more popular than any Miami Dolphins player in the 1970s. And in Miami, he could rival Dolphins coach Don Shula in terms of popularity.

Speared by CWF promoter Eddie Graham, the decison to turn Dirty Dusty Rhodes into a good guy, a babyface, the American Dream, became one of the best decisions made in pro wrestling history.

And it all began in the Sunshine State.

Before pro wrestling went national, pre-sports entertainment, the American Dream Dusty Rhodes hit the big time statewide, regionally and then nationally.

His legend grew into Hall of Fame status.

A WWE Hall of Famer, he displayed a tremendous gift for gab, captivating crowds worldwide. A great storyteller in the ring, just give him a mic, and he can spin it all -- serious, angry, funny, passionate and even philosophical -- when cutting a promo.

Who better to learn from on mic? Ric Flair, The Rock. Better include Stardust Dusty Rhodes. WWE has. Dusty, who helped Bray Wyatt, works well with up-n-coming WWE talent under the NXT banner at the state-of-the-art WWE Performance Center in Orlando.

In March, Rhodes spent more time saying ‘thank you’ than talking smack as he signed autographs and posed for photos with appreciative South Florida fans -- from young to young-at-heart -- before an XSE wrestling show at the Miami-Dade County Fair at Tamiami Park on Coral Way.

Tamiami Trail country.

Before the Florida Turnpike and other major roadways, Tamiami Trail (US 41) served as the means of road travel for wrestlers driving from Tampa to Miami Beach for the weekly Wednesday night show at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

Many stories along that trail. Many more throughout his journey which continues today at the WWE Performance Center.

The American Dream persona emerged when Rhodes turned face by feuding with Pak Song, managed by Playboy Gary Hart. Fans loved the son of the plumber, the common man, a working class hero for all races, creeds and colors.

Funky like a monkey, the bionic elbow, bull of the woods, elaborate robes, million dolla’ smile, the Midnight Rider, Dusty Finish, War Games, polka dots, hard times, the scars, the blood (and lots of it), the sweat and the years helped make the man.

Even as a babyface, Dusty’s attitude remained the same on the mic or in the ring. He fought fire with fire before his villainous opponent could start the fire. A good guy with heel like tendencies, he punched, kicked, pulled tights, raked the eyes and delivered an occasional low blow when a ref distracted.

A wrestler, a fighter, a showman, a different type babyface, he talked the talk and walked the walk, even strutting to the delight of the audience.

A rotund man with bleach blonde locks, he moved light a lightweight boxer with fast hands. Still, how could a 290-pound man with a belly wrestle 60-minute matches? It is a testament to his in-ring abilities, making him one of the better workers of his era.

Watching Championship Wrestling from Florida with legendary broadcaster Gordon Solie at noon on Saturdays on WCIX Ch.6 (Ch.33) in South Florida, if Dusty Rhodes was ‘coming up next,’ you were glued to the set.

A line in one of his riveting promos captured his persona to a ‘T.’

Dusty said: “I’ve wined and dined with kings and queens, and I’ve slept in allies and dined on pork and beans.”

The American Dream Dusty Rhodes resonated with everyone.

I recall traveling to the Miami Beach Convention Center. I-95 south to 1-95 east. Look for Alton Road south. Dusty battled King Curtis for the Florida heavyweight title in a no DQ match. Complete with scarred head, evil eye and loud, mean, elongated voice, King Curtis stood as one of the top rulebreakers of his generation.

Dusty won the title, using a foreign object, which he took from Curtis. Fight fire with fire before the opponent starts the fire. The fans went into a frenzy, cheering widly.

That type of behavior from the fan favorite set the tone for future heroes with heel type tendencies like The Rock, the crow Sting and his baseball bat and Stone Cold Steve Austin. Instead of the babyface wrestling fair, and then the heel rakes the eyes or chokes him or breaks unclean, the Dusty way is one step ahead of the villain. You don’t have to wait for the rulebreaker to break the rules, when battling an opponent known for doing it.

Fans loved it.

Rhodes, who played college football at West Texas State University, debuted in pro wrestling in 1968. Dirty Dusty Rhodes teamed with Dick Murdoch as the Texas Outlaws, a young heel tag team that liked to brawl and cheat. Trained by Joe Blanchard, Rhodes later wrestled (as the hero) in the NWA in the 1980s, working a stellar feud with Joe’s son, Tully, a member of the legendary Four Horsemen.

Rhodes with Solie drew comparisons to boxing great Muhammad Ali with legendary broadcaster Howard Cosell. Solie helped elevate the wrestler the American Dream as Cosell did with Ali, another American Dream.

As his popularity skyrocketed, the American Dream Dusty Rhodes became one of the top fan favorites nationally.

Usually a wrestler settled into one territory, before moving to the next. Dusty was ahead of the curve, actually going national before Vince McMahon Jr. took his company nationwide, which changed the dynamic of the industry.

When Dusty hit it big during the territory days, he traveled extensively, working weekly for the major companies -- AWA, NWA, WWWF. By doing that, he was ranked simultaneously in the Top 5 contenders for each company’s champion by “The Wrestler” and “Pro Wrestling Illustrated,” the high-profile Apter mags.

An unheard of schedule, one night he’s battling Nick Bockwinkel for the AWA belt, the next Harley Race for the NWA title and then Superstar Billy Graham for the WWWF strap. A phenomenal accomplishment during the days of territories.

Rhodes, 68, won the NWA title three times, defeating Harley Race twice (1979-Tampa, 1981-Atlanta) and Ric Flair once (1986-Greensboro, N.C.).

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