Thursday, June 11, 2015

Cultureshark Remembers Dusty Rhodes

R.I.P. Dusty Rhodes, "The American Dream," one of pro wrestling's true immortals who somehow died today at only 69 years old. As a rabid wrestling fan growing up, I thought the Dream embodied everything that I loved and everything that I hated about the sport (Yeah, of course, I knew, but I called it a "sport," not "sports entertainment." As an adult I appreciated him so much more as a character, and now I think he just embodied wrestling, period.

Let me get this out of the way: When I first got the Jim Crockett Promotions/NWA programming in my area, I always rooted against him. Always. I was entertained by his interviews, but I resented his big shot status in the promotion and thought it killed my suspension of disbelief to see him cleaning house on so many superior athletes.

I was a Ric Flair guy, a Four Horsemen guy, and I couldn't stand seeing Flair get whipped by him. One of the most ridiculous things ever was his "Bionic Elbow," a simple elbow smash that usually showed little impact...or even effort. Worst of all was seeing the Horsemen or pretty much any other heel in the company lining up to take that Bionic Elbow.

Now, of course, I watch Dusty Rhodes footage and think that move kicks ass.  And the fact that I wanted him to lose every match doesn't mean he didn't give me a lot of great memories. Dusty was an integral part of many of the fun angles I enjoyed on SuperStation TBS back in the 1980s--the spike in the eye from the Road Warriors, his "Superpowers" team with Nikita Koloff after Magnum T.A.'s car accident, the Midnight Rider...

Yeah, the whole "wrestler loses a match and has to leave town, then comes back under a mask" gimmick is an old one, but I ate up Dusty's "Midnight Rider" shtick. Something as ridiculous as a fat guy with a big blotch on his belly wearing a mask and claiming to be someone else IS wrestling. So is the ability to address the camera without a script, start yakking, and make everyone in the audience want to see  your match. So is showing up on all the magazines at the grocery store with blood running through your blonde hair and down your forehead. And so is--let's face  it--using your power backstage to push yourself as the top babyface in the company, even if it means glomming off some of the shine from the rising stars. Hey, that's wrestling, too.

Dusty was one of those larger-than-life characters you just couldn't resist trying to imitate. Legend had it his ridiculous--there's that word again--gimmick he got in WWF, the polka-dot-wearing "Common Man" was a joke at his expense. Well, guess what? He was so entertaining that he got over even when saddled with that costume and a middle-aged valet named Sapphire. His massive charisma was clear even on a minor show like "WCW Classics" on the old Turner South. He introduced matches and just generally seemed to be having a good time. I sure as hell had a good time watching him.

Dusty Rhodes was one of the most ridiculous wrestlers ever but also one of the most awesome, because sometimes pro wrestling is best when it's a certain kind of ridiculous. That was Dusty, and that was a big part of my youth. Time to go watch some Dusty moments., and don't be offended if I come up behind you tomorrow and hit you with a Bionic Elbow.

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