Throwback Thursday: A Birthday Tribute to ‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes on WWE Network

October 12, 2017 by Brock Allen

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On June 11, 2015 the wrestling world lost a true giant when the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes passed away at the age of 69 after a long, undisclosed battle with cancer. This week, live and in livin’ color, baby, Throwback Thursday celebrates what would have just been the 72nd birthday of “The Dream” by looking back at 10 of Dusty Rhodes most memorable matches (and a few rare gems) as seen on the WWE Network.

Considered by many to possess one of the greatest creative minds in the history of professional wrestling, Dusty Rhodes helped drag wrestling from smokey dives to major arenas and stadiums. Credited with creating the first true supercard, 1980’s Last Tangle in Tampa, Dusty went on to help create some of wrestling’s biggest events and most enduring concepts, Starrcade and “WarGames: The Match Beyond” being chief among them.

WWE - Dusty Rhodes Inducted into Hall of Fame by Goldust & Cody Rhodes

For a newer generation of fans Dusty is more closely associated with WWE’s developmental system NXT, where Rhodes’ “kids”, as he called them, were schooled on promos, personality, and the sport of professional wrestling.

For more on the life and times of the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes check out the following: The American Dream: The Dusty Rhodes Story; Dusty Rhodes: Celebrating “The Dream”; Requiem for “The Dream”; The Dream Lives On; The Legendary Stories of Dusty Rhodes; The Dream’s Innovative Concept (WarGames: The Match Beyond); Rivalries: Rhodes vs. Flair; The Top 25 Rivalries in History (2:00:24);  Top 50 Superstars of All Time (1:22:18); The Greatest Wrestling Stars of the ’80s (1:17:01);  The 50 Greatest Finishing Moves in WWE History (5:16); Legends of Wrestling: Texas Wrestling; Legends of Wrestling: Worst CharactersThe Rise & Fall of WCW; WWE Hall of Fame 2007 Induction Ceremony (2:15:35); as well as our 2015 TBT celebrating “The Dream’s” birthday.

Tag Team Match – “2-out-of-3 Falls Match” (WATCH)
The Texas Outlaws (“Dirty” Dick Murdoch & “Dirty” Dusty Rhodes) vs. Billy Robinson & Don Muraco
AWA All-Star Wrestling October 6, 1973

Dusty Rhodes Tribute on WWE Network - Teaming with Dick Murdoch in The AWA

Rhodes, who broke into the business in 1967, had a relatively uneventful career until teaming with Dick Murdoch to form the Texas Outlaws in 1968. In a few short years the Texas Outlaws were widely considered one of the very best tag teams in all of wrestling. Dusty’s earliest match on the Network sees the Texas Outlaws battling Billy Robinson (in Robinson’s lone match on the Network, something I hope is rectified in good time) and a very young Don Muraco in the AWA in October 1973. Full of great timing, psychology and action, this match illustrates exactly why the Outlaws were the attraction they were. This match comes near the end of the Outlaws, however, and is a prime example of the quickness and timing that would make Dusty Rhodes an international star. Less that 7 months after this bout Dusty’s career would change forever when, on May 15, 1974, Dusty became the “American Dream” after finally turning on the villainous Gary Hart and Pak Song, who had laid Dusty out late in the match. Seemingly overnight Dusty Rhodes became the working class hero of Eddie Graham’s Tampa territory and a rising star up and down the east coast of the United States.

WWWF Heavyweight Champion (WATCH)
“American Dream” Dusty Rhodes vs. “Superstar” Billy Graham(c) w/The Grand Wizard of Wrestling
WWWF on MSG Network September 26, 1977

WWE - Dusty Rhodes Firing Up the Bionic Elbow!

By the spring of 1977 Dusty Rhodes was one of the most popular young wrestlers in the sport, and, thanks in part to the friendship between Eddie Graham and Vincent J. McMahon, Dusty soon found himself making stops in “New York” for the WWWF. This marked Dusty’s 3rd MSG appearance and was Rhodes’ first MSG showdown with then-WWWF Heavyweight Champion Billy Graham. This was, without a doubt, the biggest match to date in the career of Dusty Rhodes. Dusty’s command of a crowd is on full display in this match. In many ways this bout is a masterclass in psychology with every move and gesture meaning something. Even now Dusty’s charisma practically pours off the screen and stands as a testament to the greatness of Rhodes.

NWA World Heavyweight Championship – HIGHLIGHTS (WATCH)
“American Dream” Dusty Rhodes vs. “Handsome” Harley Race(c)
Georgia Championship Wrestling June 21, 1981

Dusty Rhodes Tribute on WWE Network - Dusty Rhodes vs. Harley Race in Georgia

After his stint in the WWWF was over Dusty Rhodes traveled the territories and became a massive a drawing card. Eddie Graham began lobbying the National Wrestling Alliance to vote “The Dream” World Heavyweight Champion, but Rhodes’ physical appearance, the antipathy of every other NWA World Champion to that point, was a hard sell for older members. Eddie Graham won out, though, and on August 21, 1979 (in Tampa, Florida) Dusty Rhodes defeated Harley Race for the NWA World title. The reign, lasting only five days, proved Eddie right. The title switch popped the Tampa territory, made Dusty Rhodes an even bigger attraction, and proved that the physical stereotypes meant nothing. This war with Harley Race, coming a year and ten months to the day after Rhodes won his first NWA World title (over Race), elevated Dusty Rhodes to rarefied air in the NWA as Rhodes became only the 5th man to win the NWA title twice to that point (joining Lou Thesz, Jack Brisco, Giant Baba, and Harley Race). Rhodes reign lasted 88-days before Dusty dropped the title to Ric Flair on September 17, 1981.

NWA World Heavyweight Championship – “Steel Cage Match” (WATCH)
“American Dream” Dusty Rhodes vs. “Nature Boy” Ric Flair
NWA Great American Bash ’86 Tour July 26, 1986

WWE - Bloody Dusty Rhodes & Ric Flair in Figure Four Leglock

The Dusty Rhodes/Ric Flair rivalry stands as one of the greatest feuds of all-time. The working class hero versus the wealthy socialite, natural rivals Rhodes and Flair optimized, in many ways, the nation they wrestled in front of in the mid-1980s. After two high-profile, controversial matches at Starrcade ’84 and Starrcade ’85, it seemed as if “The Dream” would never defeat Ric Flair for the NWA World title. This match (from the GAB ’86 home video) is a psychological masterpiece and one of the very best World title cage matches in history. Ending Flair’s third (official) reign at 793-days, this marked Rhodes’ third and final NWA World title victory, a reign that would end two weeks later in St. Louis when Ric Flair regained the title in controversial fashion.

“Non-Title Lights Out $100,000 Barbed Wire Ladder Match” (WATCH)
NWA World Six-Man Tag Team Champion “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes w/NWA Western States Heritage Champion Barry Windham vs. NWA World Television Champion Tully Blanchard w/J.J. Dillon & Dark Journey
NWA Great American Bash ’87 Tour July 18, 1987

WWE - Dusty Rhodes Competes in First-Ever Ladder Match in 1987?

Beyond “The Nature Boy”, one of Dusty Rhodes’ most memorable foes was Ric Flair cohort and Four Horsemen member Tully Blanchard. The Blanchard/Rhodes wars are the stuff of legend today and resulted in some of Rhodes’ greatest matches. This rare gem (from the GAB ’87 home video) was the long awaited rematch of the June 6, 1987 $100,000 showdown where Tully, after some chicanery, walked out of Greensboro with the $100,000 that Rhodes had believed he’d already won. Main eventing a massive card in Charlotte, North Carolina in front of some 25,000 fans Rhodes and Blanchard put on one of if not the first “ladder” matches in Jim Crockett Promotions history. With the added drama of the barbed wire covered ropes Blanchard and Rhodes produced the kind of wild, bloody, dramatic brawl that fans of the era loved.

NWA United States Heavyweight Championship – “Steel Cage Match” (WATCH)
“American Dream” Dusty Rhodes vs. “Total Package” Lex Luger(c) w/James J. Dillon
NWA Starrcade ’87: Chi-Town Heat – Glory Bound November 26, 1987

WWE - Dusty Rhodes Delivers a Dropkick Inside a Steel Cage!

Dusty’s war with the Horsemen moved from Tully Blanchard to Lex Luger in the fall of 1987 and only intensified after Hiro Matsuda, the future manager of the Four Horsemen, rendered Johnny Weaver (Rhodes’ longtime friend) unconscious with Matsuda’s Japanese Sleeper. In order to get this match Rhodes had to get through Matsuda, agree to a cage match, and put his career on the line (in the form of a 90-day suspension). Lex Luger, who had debuted for JCP in January ’87 from CWF, won the U.S. title from Nikita Koloff on July 11, 1987 in a cage after hitting Koloff with a chair J.J. Dillon tossed into the ring and cinching in the Torture Rack. All of the angles leading into this one are sown up nicely, from Johnny Weaver holding the key to Luger’s attempts to wipe out Rhodes as he had Koloff backfiring, in a match that over-delivers and proved “The Dream” was every bit as good at the age of 42 as he ever was.

3rd Annual “Bunkhouse Stampede” Finals – “8-Man $500,000 Steel Cage Battle Royal” (WATCH)
NWA United States Heavyweight Champion “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes (Wild Card) vs. NWA World Tag Team Champion Tully Blanchard vs. “Russian Bear” Ivan Koloff w/Paul Jones vs. The Warlord w/Paul Jones vs. NWA World Tag Team Champion Arn Anderson vs. “Total Package” Lex Luger vs. The Barbarian w/Paul Jones vs. Road Warrior Animal w/Paul Ellering
NWA Bunkhouse Stampede ’88 January 24, 1988

Dusty Rhodes Tribute on WWE Network - Bunkhouse Stampede $500,000 Steel Cage Match

The “Bunkhouse Stampede”, for those unfamiliar, was a series of come-as-you-are, bring-your-own-weapons, anything goes battle royals held in the winter from 1985 to early 1989. A Dusty Rhodes’ creation, the “Bunkhouse Stampede” matches were rarely shown on TV and never in their entirety. Designed to draw interest to the house shows the “Bunkhouse Stampede” featured the toughest wrestlers and biggest names in guaranteed bloodbath wars. Though this event as a whole was a disaster for JCP the main event “Bunkhouse Stampede” finals became a cult classic among hardcore JCP fans. A lot has been made of the fact that Dusty won the finals of each and every “Stampede” tournament but the concept itself was, for a time, a boon to JCP’s house show business.

NWA World Tag Team Championship (WATCH)
Sting & “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes vs. The Four Horsemen (“The Enforcer” Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard)(c) w/J.J. Dillon
NWA Clash of the Champions II: Miami Mayhem June 8, 1988

WWE - Sting & Dusty Rhodes As A Tag Team in NWA/WCW

By the summer of 1988 it was clear the party was over for Jim Crockett Promotions. Dusty Rhodes, the longtime creative force behind the promotion, took the brunt of the blame for JCP’s collapse. In this overlooked classic from COTC II, Dusty does his best to elevate Sting, one of the fastest rising stars in the history of pro wrestling. Though Rhodes survived the sale of JCP to Turner Broadcasting in October 1988 “The Dream” bristled under the corporate structure of TBS and their meddling in a “sport” they neither respected nor understood. Despite a blanket ban on blood Dusty went ahead with an infamous bloodletting angle (55:55) on the November 26, 1988 edition of WCW. The angle, coming a mere 24-days after the sale of JCP to TBS was finalized, drew immediate backlash from fans at home (who responded with angry phone calls and letters) as well as the head honchos of TBS. On December 26, 1988, at Starrcade ’88, Dusty was essentially fired. Rhodes worked his final NWA/WCW match in January ’89 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at MECCA Arena in a loss to Road Warrior Animal.

“Mixed Tag Team Grudge Match” (WATCH – 1:23:13)
“Macho King” Randy Savage & Queen Sherri vs. “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes & Sapphire w/Miss Elizabeth
WWF WrestleMania VI April 1, 1990

WWE - Dusty Rhodes Dances with Miss Elizabeth & Sapphire at WrestleMania

Vignettes of the “new” “American Dream” began airing on WWF TV on the June 3, 1989 edition of Superstars of Wrestling (a series currently unavailable on the Network). The “Americana Pizza” vignette (seen here on YouTube) was only a taste of things to come for Dusty in the World Wrestling Federation. Debuting in June as a jovial, tie dye clad version of his JCP character, Rhodes, by August, would adopt the yellow-on-black polka-dot costume that came to embody Rhodes’ time in the WWF. In November of ’89 Dusty would be joined on the road by Sapphire, the late Juanita Wright, and the two quickly became staples of WWF TV and one of the company’s most popular acts. This underrated WrestleMania VI showdown capped off Rhodes’ first real program in the WWF and included the return of the late Miss Elizabeth to WWF TV for the first time since the fall of ’89. In January of 1991 Dusty retired as a full-time wrestler and left the WWF for World Championship Wrestling where Rhodes would reemerge as a commentator and head of the booking committee.

“Tag Team Grudge Match” (WATCH – 45:56)
Stud Stable (Terry Funk & Bunkhouse Buck) w/Col. Robert Parker & Meng vs. The Rhodes (“The Natural” Dusty Rhodes & “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes)
WCW Clash of the Champions XXVIII August 24, 1994

WWE - Dusty Rhodes Returns to WCW to Team Up with His Son Dustin Rhodes

By the summer of 1994 Dusty was known more for commentary than wrestling. But when the right angle came along Dusty jumped at the chance to help put his son Dustin over the top and have one more moment in the sun. This match, Rhodes first televised mainland match in WCW since January of 1989 (he did team with Dustin on January 4, 1992 in a winning effort in the Tokyo Dome at WCW/New Japan Supershow II), was the perfect blend of reality and kayfabe that reminded the old and young alike why Dusty was as beloved as he was. This would mark Dusty’s last non-PPV match until 1998 when “The Dream” teamed with Kevin Nash to defeat Public Enemy on the May 16, 1998 edition of Thunder (a series currently unavailable on the Network).

Final Thoughts

There has never been a wrestler like Dusty Rhodes and there never will be again. Able to channel and touch the lives and hearts of America’s working class is a gift few wrestlers (or entertainers) ever have. Dusty not only touched our lives, he made them better by just being Dusty Rhodes.

WWE - Dusty Rhodes Final Interview in NXT Before His Passing

If you aren’t already subscribed to the WWE Network, what are you waiting for?! You can help celebrate the life and legacy of the “American Dream” right now by reliving these ten classic matches or seeing them for the very first time! And, as always, please let us know what you think below.

Thanks for reading – until next week, see ya at ringside!

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  1. Jon says:

    Good work as always, Brock. It’s easy to stick purely to classics with a retrospective like this but this has a good mix of hidden gems too.

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