His career spanned decades, but the legacy of, “the common man”, Dusty Rhodes, and the lives he touched will surely continue, for many more. The professional wrestling icon passed away June 11 at the age of 69. The cause of his death has not been disclosed.
Known as, “The American Dream”, many will recount his rivalries in the Carolinas with Ric Flair and the 4 Horsemen. Others might remember his time in the WWF (now WWE), with Macho Man Randy Savage in New York. But, the son of a plumber from Texas, Rhodes made a name for himself here, in Tampa, what was once a hotbed in the wrestling world.
Born Virgil Riley Runnels Jr., Rhodes was the face of the common people, he fought for the factory worker, for the craftsman. He was far from common though. He spit-charisma, and was even better known as a world-class-talker, than a championship wrestler. His first big event that he not only headlined, but booked (head writer) as well was at Tampa Stadium in 1980, “The Last Tango In Tampa."
Rhodes was quoted in the Tampa Sports History blog as calling his spectacle “a milestone for the city of Tampa … and for the sport that gets pushed around, shoved around, and put on the back pages! Baby, there were 20,000 people who gave a damn about what was going on! As long as I’m able to walk, as long as I’m able to strut my stuff, I’ll do it right.”
Before Tampa was in the Stanley Cup finals, before the Bucs, wrestling was king, and Dusty Rhodes was happy to wear the crown. He didn’t have the Adonis looks of a Hulk Hogan. He didn’t have quite the technical acumen of one-time protege, Ric Flair. Rhodes’ hard work, and exuberant style made up for any perceived shortcomings.
Wrestling legend Gerald Brisco, another Tampa wrestling veteran told The Miami Herald, “I’ve traveled throughout the world with him. Something I will always take from Dusty Rhodes is to believe in yourself and believe in what you are doing or don’t do it at all. Dusty Rhodes took an idea that he had and became a globally famous man because he believed it.”
Brisco was in an attendance at a fundraiser in Tampa aiming to generate money for a Championship Wrestling from Florida Wall of Fame at the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory, site of many a big Rhodes match.
“He was a giver. I love you Dusty and will see you on the other side.”
When the news of Dusty Rhodes’ death hit, outpourings of admiration came from colleagues, fans, and local residents. Sarasota native, Lanny Poffo (surviving brother of Randy Savage) summed up a lot of those thoughts:
Perhaps more than any of his contemporaries, Dusty Rhodes logged many hours on the creative team, helping establish wrestling’s future. His work, behind the scenes, at WWE’s NXT system in Orlando has drawn almost unanimous praise. NXT is now arguably, Florida’s hottest wrestling attraction, and Rhodes had a big hand in making it that way. NXT Superstar Sami Zayn wrote a heartfelt thanks to his mentor, and reflected on the joy he had been given:
“Another thing he did that would make me laugh a lot is he would call people by the wrong name. I still don’t know if he did it on purpose or not, but it was just hilarious. My favorite of his wrong names though is undoubtedly when Kevin Owens first showed up at the Performance Center. Kevin came into WWE as Kevin Steen. Usually when a new talent arrives to the PC, his/her first week is only observation, and sometimes just a quick getting to know you. However, on one particular night when many important guests were in attendance (“Luminaries”, as Dream would call them), Dusty decided to surprise everyone and put Kevin on the spot by calling up “Kip Stern” to cut a promo. Kevin just stared blankly because his name was Kevin Steen, not Kip Stern. This awkward silence filled the room for a good 10 seconds until William Regal, who was sitting next to Kevin, nudged him with his elbow and said, “You should probably go up there.” Good God, I still laugh about that one all the time.”
Soon after this story was shared, NXT Champion Kevin Owens changed his twitter handle to “Kip Stern.”
On paper, Dusty Rhodes may not have been anything special. In reality, it seems, the man who once put Tampa sports on the map, was anything but common.