Right now, The Rhodes Family is on a roll in WWE. Dusty, Goldust/Dustin and Cody are part of one the the best programs in a while in WWE, revolving around Cody's unjust firing. Cody finally stood out as a star on his own, Dustin reminded everyone just how good he is and got a full-time job with WWE again and Dusty showed younger fans why he's probably the best talker in wrestling history.
There are 45 years of family history in wrestling leading up to this run, though. To celebrate the awesome run they're in the middle of, let's take a look at how Dusty became one of the biggest wrestling stars of the '70s and '80s, Dustin stepped out of his shadow, and Cody made his mark on the modern scene in WWE.
There are a bunch of conflicting stories about what happened here, but the one thing everyone can agree on is that it all started when a rookie heel named Dusty Rhodes wrestled Grizzly Smith at the Sportatorium in Dallas, Texas. It was Dusty's debut in the city, and someone saw something that took him from being set to be used as a glorified job guy to him being pushed pretty heavily within a few weeks of that match.
In the Grizzly Smith obituary that Dave Meltzer wrote in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (subscribers only), Smith is credited with seeing the fans were getting into the charismatic rookie and decided right then and there to change the finish and put Rhodes over. In manager "Playboy" Gary Hart's book, he said he saw something in Rhodes, got the finish changed and announced himself as Rhodes' new manager.
If you look up results from that period, it shows Rhodes losing to Smith in his Dallas debut in less than five minutes. Still, clearly something happened, as within a few weeks, Dusty was teaming with and wrestling against top stars like Duke Keomuka and The Spoiler, and he started to become a legitimate star in his home state.
After a successful run through several territories in the Texas Outlaws tag team with his best friend Dick Murdoch, Dusty settled in Florida. At this point, Dusty had been a career heel, but he was so charismatic and such a good talker that fans were starting to cheer him.
Championship Wrestling from Florida promoter, head booker and fading top star Eddie Graham decided to conduct an experiment. I'll let Dusty describe it, as told to our own Jonathan Snowden, a few weeks ago:
In Miami Beach, the great, legendary Jack Brisco was the world's heavyweight champion. The fans in Miami were really starting to dig my interviews. Whether I was a heel or not, they started to really get behind me. And Jack Brisco was the biggest babyface since Eddie Graham, himself.
They loved Jack, but they wanted to see the changing of the guard. Eddie felt it.
We wrestled for one hour there, and at the end, Jack put his foot on the ropes. I hit him with the elbow, and he just got his foot on the ropes. It was the first time they had ever seen him have to save himself like that. When he put his foot on the ropes the place just erupted.
They were booing so loud. In one second, he went from the biggest babyface, to the top bad guy in that town—by costing me the world heavyweight title in that way. On the way back, Eddie Graham was standing by the door and he said, "That is the way we do business." It was that simple. He controlled the people. His timing was immaculate. It was amazing.
From there, it was simple. Managed by Gary Hart, Dusty teamed with Pak Song (sometimes called "Pak Song Nam") against Eddie Graham and his son Mike. Song accidentally hits Dusty, they brawl, and now Dusty is an American hero fighting against the scourge of the evil Korean that's implied to be Vietnamese.
The turn itself is available on WWE's Dusty Rhodes DVD set, but I can't find it on any streaming sites online. I've embedded Dusty being amazingly charismatic voicing over one of his house show matches from when he was on fire in Florida in the late '70s, instead.
While other territories had better wrestlers, more angles or better interviews, the WWWF was the biggest money territory in the wrestling business. The markets they ran were huge population centers: New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston, etc., so they drew the biggest crowds and thus it was a huge deal to main event there.
The Florida TV show aired in New York back then and was plugged in the WWWF's arena programs, so the local fans were all familiar with Dusty Rhodes. When he came into the territory for some TV tapings and Madison Square Garden appearances, he was already a superstar to the fans thanks to the Florida TV show.
Meanwhile, while Bob Backlund was being groomed to take the WWWF Championship, "Superstar" Billy Graham held the title for about a year. Since the belt had been held by babyfaces just about all of the time previously, a heel defending against a murderer's row of star babyfaces was very fresh.
With both cutting wild promos, Rhodes turned into arguably Graham's greatest challenger. They drew huge overflow crowds to Madison Square Garden and Dusty was now a bonafide national star.
The NWA World Heavyweight champion was, in the '70s, generally the biggest star in wrestling. He toured from territory to territory, something that only a few other top stars, like Andre the Giant, did.
Dusty Rhodes was not in the usual mold of the NWA champion. While a very talented worker, he wasn't the 60-minute man who could carry anyone, like Harley Race and Jack Brisco were. Still, he was incredible popular.
In 1979, he won the title in Florida and as you can see, it was a joyous occasion. Unfortunately, he lost it within the week...
By 1981, Dusty had also become one of the most popular wrestlers in Georgia, as Jim Barnett's Georgia Championship Wrestling was cherry picking talent from other territories for big shows. It was in Atlanta that Dusty got to beat Harley Race for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship again, and this time, it wasn't just for a few days.
While it wasn't an especially long reign at 88 days, Dusty did the whole NWA champion thing, travelling the country as champion and defending the title against everyone from Ken Patera to the Iron Sheik to Kevin Von Erich. When it came time for him to lose the title, his opponent happened to be a guy named Ric Flair, opening a new chapter in the NWA's history and setting up one of Dusty's most famous feuds.
In 1984, Dusty moved to Charlotte, N.C., to take over as booker of Jim Crockett Promotions. Meanwhile that summer, Vince McMahon bought Georgia Championship Wrestling to get their coveted TV deal with TBS, but WWF programming was too different and flopped on that station. Vince sold the deal to Crockett, and Crockett, with a more palatable product to TBS viewers, used it as a platform to expand nationally.
In 1986, Terry Allen was Dusty's best friend in real life and on TV, where he was one of Crockett's top stars as Magnum T.A. After a classic feud with Russian menace Nikita Koloff that culminated in a famous best-of-seven series, Magnum was nearly killed in a car accident that severed his spinal cord. The whole roster was emotionally devastated, with everyone from the opening match on up donating money to pay for his astronomical medical bills.
Meanwhile, in the long run, the show needed to go on, Dusty needed a new partner and someone needed to take over for Magnum in general. Dusty walked to the ring for a cage match against Four Horsemen members Ole Anderson and J.J. Dillon...only to be followed by Nikita Koloff.
Dusty entered the ring and the Horsemen quickly swarmed. Koloff poked his head in the cage door, looked around, took a deep breath and beat the holy hell out of the Horsemen as the fans exploded with the craziest pop you'll ever hear for a wrestling angle.
Basically, Nikita had grown to respect Magnum, and the near-death experience that retired him was much bigger than wrestling for the evil of Mother Russia.
Dusty's most genius moment as a booker.
Dustin Rhodes started wrestling in 1988, and by 1991, he was still in his father's shadow. He had only just started using his natural speaking voice on interviews instead of his own take on his father's gimmicked "Duthty" voice.
He was starting to come into his own, though. He had started teaming with his dad's protege, Barry Windham, and they had excellent chemistry. They were very similar: Two tall, rangy Texans who were as naturally gifted in the ring in a way very few wrestlers are. Just when they started to pick up steam, Larry Zbyszko "injured" Windham's wrist, I believe to cover for a legitimate hand injury.
They were still scheduled for a WCW tag title shot at Zbyszko and Arn Anderson, and when the match came, Barry was still hurt. It was OK, though, Dustin had a mystery partner; Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, fresh off WWF television and a former six time tag team champion.
Not only did the good guys prevail, but it was one of the greatest matches in WCW history, putting Dustin on the map as something special in a different way from his father.
In 1994, Dustin was stuck in a feud with Bunkhouse Buck (Jimmy Golden) and fending well for himself until Terry Funk returned to WCW and decided to insert himself. Dustin needed a good tag team partner, so he begged former rival Arn Anderson to be his partner and I think you can guess what happened when they teamed.
A couple weeks later, Dusty Rhodes returned during a Bunkhouse Buck match, started raining down elbows and a wild brawl erupted with Funk and Dustin entering the fray. When the dust (pun not intended) cleared, Dusty took the house microphone and had a conversation with his son. Well, I'm not even sure it was supposed to be Dusty or just plain Virgil Runnels, because he dropped the "Duthty" voice for this promo.
He then cut possibly the greatest promo in wrestling history. I can't do it justice, so I'll just note that you should watch for all of the amazing moments like the fans popping before Dusty was ready for them and then quieting down when he raised his hand up. Dusty asked to be Dustin's partner, everyone cried and off the strength of this promo and a Hulk Hogan vs. Ric Flair main event, the next Clash of the Champions special drew a huge rating.
When Cody Rhodes debuted on WWE's main roster in 2007, he quickly entered a feud with Hardcore Holly, where he begrudgingly got the veteran's respect. They won the World Tag Team Championship, held the belts for several months and all was right with the world.
Six months into their reign, Ted DiBiase Jr. showed up and finagled a title shot for him and his mystery partner. The match came, and the partner was late. No worries, Ted will start against Holly.
Cody attacked Holly, DiBiase pinned him and there were new champions. Yes, Cody won a title from himself, and it made him more than just another generic second generation wrestler.
I think you all know this one. Cody gets fired by evil Triple H. His brother Dustin returns as Goldust to try to get him his job back, comes close and fails. Dusty tries to fight for them but is mauled for his troubles.
It all built to Cody and Goldust with Dusty at ringside against Triple H's enforcers, The Shield (in this match Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns with Dean Ambrose at ringside). If the Rhodes' brothers win, they get their jobs back. If they lose, they're never rehired and Dusty loses his job as a developmental coach.
Dustin showed his brilliance as a tag team wrestler, doing a great job selling, building heat and making a comeback, and the match was excellent. It led to a wild scene where Dusty elbowed Ambrose, Goldust cut Reigns off when he tried to sneak up on Dusty and Cody hit the Cross Rhodes on Rollins for the pin as the crowd went nuts and all of the good guys came out to celebrate.
While the title switch rematch this week may have been an even better match, this was a better moment for the family, as Dusty was there and all of the focus was on them instead of being shared with Triple H and Big Show.