The following interview features WWE Hall of Fame wrestler, former NWA world champion, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. Dusty talks about his career, Ric Flair, Terry Funk, Hulk Hogan, booking TNA Wrestling, the WCW invasion angle, and more. The interview was taped May 7, 2005 and was broadcast on Pro Wrestling Radio.
An interview is played with Dusty from Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, 1984.
Dusty Rhodes: Wow, they don’t do interviews like that anymore. I mean, when you think about what I said and what went down at that time, I mean it’s amazing that you played that cut. It’s amazing. I amazed myself. I’m overwhelmed now. You’ve got me humbled. Unbelievable, it was just amazing. Anyway, how you doing down there? We are at a big book signing in Charlotte, North Carolina right now, everything’s going well with the book right now and I’m just really happy with it.
Eric: What are your thoughts on the late Chris Candido?
Dusty: Well I think that, I knew about him for a long time. I knew he had a tremendous of talent, I didn’t know he was as young as he was. And then the last year on the independent circuit around the country before he came with us (NWATNA) I watched him very close. I watched him work, I watched him move around, and I talked to him a long time, I had seen that he was trying so hard to defeat the demons that have taken so many lives in our industry. Prior to this and this was not the case obviously. And he had beaten them things and I had said to him that if I ever get an opportunity to be in power enough to do something for you I think that I want to do it. The only way that you can lose that position with me was just show up screwed up. I mean that was the relationship that we had. He was just starting (inaudible due to a brief bad cell signal) and it happened, it was amazing. It was hard to take because he had beat his demons and for that alone I have so much respect for him. He was a throwback to the old and new era of our industry. He reminded me a lot of a young Eddie Graham, my mentor who I talk about a lot in the book and there were times where he looked like Eddie in the ring where his facials, the way he wore his hair, and the tan. He will truly be missed in our industry and much more as our friendship had started to grow, you know? He gets a gold star from me.
Eric: What were the pressures like for your first reign as NWA World Heavyweight Champion?
Dusty: There wasn’t a lot of pressure as it was because we were already in the midst as you guys know of doing a tremendous amount of arena business. We were doing business everywhere it was something that the fans needed their hero. Thank God it was me and I needed that title for a very short period of time in order for that hope process to take place. I never really needed to be World’s Heavyweight Champion but I needed to back up my game sometime along the way and we did. The pressure was we running seven days a week, twice on Sunday, 360 days a year. The guys can’t fathom nowadays that happening. So that’s where the pressure was in the stress of everyday being on the road, and trying to compete and draw at a major level. And I think today it’s the same way with television. You know with us at TNA, and you know we’re trying to get a better time slot and we are doing a lot of great pay-per-views. We have the one coming up with Tito Ortiz, and Jeff (Jarrett), and AJ (Styles) on the 15 th. We (TNA) are doing our part but it’s not going to work, it will not work unless there is a better television deal done in some way shape or form, and we can get that product out there the way like it should be. I am very proud of the product.
Eric mentions he really enjoyed the last NWATNA Pay-Per-View (Lockdown).
Dusty: Well, I told the guys, it was something that I don’t know if I, everyone knows my feelings on that, I expressed them before that, but I think the guys are the ones that brought that home, from the Prince Of Darkness match with Dustin and them, to the opening match, to everything. Everything was different and it had a tremendous effort from the guys. The guys are the ones that made that successful period. Nobody else. I mean, production yeah and the camera shots and all of that, but they really brought it home. I’m really pleased with it.
Eric: Being on top in the seventies and eighties, how come you never made the full-time jump to the WWWF/WWF earlier?
Dusty: Because it was part of the territorial system, the Godfather Vince McMahon, Sr. was in New York with WWWF and Eddie Graham, my Godfather was down South and they were territorial where you could use. What happened was very simply that TBS made me a superstar across the country where other guys were regional and they would go from different regions to different regions, and they would either get over or they wouldn’t get over. I was lucky enough to be TBS’ first star, so I was able to go into New York. And Florida TV was really hot in New York, twelve midnight, on Saturday night in New York City, and when I got there you know that was my run in New York. It wasn’t the polka dots year and a half run that I wanted just to take off, which I made that successful to. I mean I turned that into a positive. But, New York City during that era me and Superstar (Graham) owned the city, it was cool, we were doing business, and there was no. The first jump that I actually made was to Crockett when I left Eddie (Graham) and finally made that move to go ahead and say, “OK I not only am going to star in this movie, I am going to write it, direct it, produce it,” and that’s what happened. We were very successful.
Eric: It is well known today that the WWE scout talent primarily on size and look. You are a guy that made more out of your lack of the “look” than probably anyone. Is that a problem, basing talent primarily on physique/size rather than working ability?
Dusty: Without a doubt. I mean, Arn Anderson was not a great, I mean look at Tully (Blanchard), and you go back and look to guys like Joe LeDuc, and the Pak Songs, and the guys that drew a tremendous amount of money, even (Antonio) Inoki. They don’t look like these young guys and these young guys are phenomenal. There is not a greater athlete anywhere in the country right now right now than AJ Styles, period. Tito Ortiz is from that new modern day, that look. But no I don’t think so. When I look at that Phi Delta Slam who we (TNA) had on a few shows, I mean these guys are four hundred pounds and did phenomenal stuff. They took phenomenal bumps. I think the young guys are in a position, I know my young guys are, some of them were very upset that they (Phi Delta Slam) were taking television time. Well they shouldn’t have been upset. Because the name of the game is drawing numbers and drawing ratings and trying to do the best you can, put the best product out there, and that’s what I do, put the best product out. We’re (TNA) loaded with tremendous talent from (Chris) Sabin and (Michael) Shane, and Sonjay (Dutt), and them guys, AJ (Styles), and Chris Daniels to me is the throwback of the Rick Rude era. He has taken over where Rick Rude was, he is a tremendous heel. Abyss, there is not a better big man in the business than Abyss, Jeff Hardy, you know the list. I don’t have to name them, it’s just I’m proud of TNA and I am proud of the strides that we have taken. It’s going to be cool.
Eric: Do you think that the Kevin Sullivan gimmick and angle you booked in Florida could be pulled off today since everybody seems to be so sensitive about what goes on television today?
Dusty: Well if it is on cable you can pull off just about what you want. I mean, you go back and look at the success of Deadwood and how raw it is. People are ready, and I’m not talking about raw as in the show (WWE) Raw, but raw television to me is better than all of the what they are doing now with let’s go in somebody’s home and shoot this, and real life, that’s not really real life. I think as a creative person I would open it up even, in four months I have opened up a different look at our product in TNA, and I’m very proud of that, in another four months I would like to open it up and throw it against the wall and see what sticks. Really raw it out. But that’s not going to happen because as you said the lay of the land doesn’t dictate that, and you can’t. Cable wise, yeah. Fox Sports Net where we are at right now you have to be careful of what you say, and how you do, and how it’s done. Otherwise you have to cross over that line. I do that a lot and if you don’t think outside of the box nowadays, you’re dead.
An interview from Georgia Championship Wrestling, 1981 is played coming back from the break.
Eric: How is that for a trip down memory lane?
Dusty: When it’s playing I know I’m there. I can visually, it puts me right back in that mindset of when I was there, and before I go I’d like to say Dustyrhodeswrestling.com, my website, I want everyone to go on there and find out what I’m doing, Dustyrhodeswrestling.com. It’s really cool, get that out of the way, it’s like selling a George Foreman Grill you know what I mean?
Eric: Some critics accuse you of stealing Thunderbolt Patterson’s gimmick back in the day, how do you answer those critics?
Dusty: Well if I did that’s cool man, he made me a lot of money. As I said in my book, I grew up in a black, African-American neighborhood and I learned to talk how I do, and jive like I do, and walk like I do, me and Thunderbolt. I would say this to my critics. Thunderbolt probably hasn’t wrestled for 20, 25 years or whatever. I would actually believe that they (critics) should ask him that maybe he stole some of his stuff from me. It wasn’t that, we take a lot from. You know it’s who makes it successful I guess, but I don’t know. That to me is no big deal, you know, what people think about Thunderbolt. I liked him a lot, a lot of respect for him, if I took something from him that did well then that’s cool. You know what I mean? It’s no big deal man, it’s just people making up, writing stories.
Eric: Arn Anderson when asked in an interview about you said that booking was a thankless job and put you over, is it a thankless job?
Dusty: Well it is, but people from the outside don’t really know what it is to coach a team. And that is really what you are doing. To have, to take this team and we are actually going to make a sitcom out of it, we’re going to make a movie out of it. And that is my job to, to do the movie, to cast the movie, to make the storylines, to write the music, and that’s the way I am. I put my fingers on everything, I let nobody touch that product, and that’s the hardest thing with people. Is that, you go to work for and say, “OK let’s turn this around,” if you are going to let me turn it around, leave me alone, let me turn it around. I don’t need a bunch of people, I don’t need a committee, I don’t need a bunch of other writers or anything, I just need, and if I don’t turn it around, cool. Then I’ll walk away from it. But you got to give it a chance, you know?
Eric: What is it about your son Dustin ( Rhodes ) that made him a natural, no pun intended as compared to second generation wrestlers of some of your biggest peers like Ric Flair and Bruno Sammartino?
Dusty: I think he just, like you said, I think he just had a natural talent for the industry like Barry Windham. When I first started and he understood by being around me, the value of characterization. Changing characters, doing, you know he took a character (Goldust) at the time that was the most exotic character in our industry, and made it work. And he got as far away from being Dustin Rhodes as he could. He just had it. You just have to have it, I don’t know. He’s headlined pay-per-views, double-headlined on a Wrestlemania, if you have done that then you are at the top of your game. You know what I mean? Him and Piper in a Street Fight, that was a tremendous Wrestlemania.
Eric: Was Hulk Hogan booked for the first Starrcade in 1983?
Dusty: On the first one? No, no.
Eric: It has been acknowledged elsewhere that Vince McMahon, Jr. made Harley Race an offer to jump with the NWA Championship and no-show Starrcade. If that had happened, how do you think it would it have affected Starrcade and the business at that time?
Dusty: Well it would have, I had a game plan, but it would have affected it tremendously. But, you know he didn’t do it, but that happened with every champion. When I had it, when everybody had it, when Flair had it, I mean you get the call. That was it, you know? That’s understood.
Eric: How would you have booked the WCW invasion angle that the WWE did after they bought WCW differently?
Dusty: You know I was away from it at the time and, you know I can’t knock something that has been successful so I don’t know. It would have been entirely differently believe me, it would have been nothing like that. It would have been, I don’t know, that’s something to think about. I’ll put that in my next book, you’ll be happy, I’ll dedicate that to you. I don’t want to answer without really giving it some thought.
Eric: How come you didn’t do a promotion vs. promotion angle with UWF after it was sold to Crockett?
Dusty: Well it was so far away logistically, we made it, they had their own television syndication, so we had to go in and kind of revamp it a little bit and blend the two. Even though we had TBS, they weren’t as national as we were on TBS. So, their stars weren’t as big, only in a certain area, you know? It would have taken a longer period of time to blend the two and Jimmy (Crockett) wanted it blended right away, so. So I just kind of went with they are over there and we are over here, but that would have been a great opportunity to do it. I know Eddie Gilbert wanted to do it but it just never came about.
Eric: What are your memories of the angle where Kevin Sullivan threw ink at your sister’s face on Florida television?
Dusty: Ah, tremendous, I’ve just seen the, I mean how home can you get? That’s family buddy, you know. The attempted assignation we called it, you know? It’s kind of like the guy that shot Nixon. You know the gun through the crowd, you’re trying to hit one guy, and you hit the other guy, it was big. It got over big, it was huge.
Eric: In Ric Flair’s book among many things he says that when Crockett sold to Ted Turner that the deal was contingent on him being a part of it. He claims that you and Jim Crockett had ever informed him of this and he could have made a lot of money. Is that true?
Dusty: I don’t know, I mean if that is what he believes that’s cool. In my book as you know I have the utmost respect for him, I know how he is. He’s out for Ric Flair and that’s cool. I have nothing against that. I made a tremendous amount of money and I’m not going to run him down about any of that. If that is what he believes then we can’t change that. I think that deep down we have that mutual respect for each other as far as being in the ring with each other. What he does outside, that’s his own business. Ric Flair is a great person in our industry as far as talent, so that’s cool.
Eric mentions that I think Dusty is way ahead of the curb in mixing UFC with pro wrestling.
Dusty: Well we’ll see. You know what I mean? I’ll either be a bastard or not, you know what I’m saying.
Eric: Looking back on things, you had a lot of involvement with the family for the first few years of your career, was there any jealousy or bitterness about it among the boys
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