Dusty: Reflections of Wrestling's American Dream (9 page)

BOOK: Dusty: Reflections of Wrestling's American Dream
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So he kind of said he gave his notice at the same time I gave mine, not knowing what we were going to do and that was pretty much the split.

Sure, we worked with each other in Japan, we saw each other off and on and had a feud with each other, but we never partnered all over the country again like we did those first three years as a tag team.

He went his way and I went mine.

I became whatever I was going to be, but he had a thing about him that he had to live up to, like the thing I mentioned earlier about the racism. Now that I think about it, he probably had to live up to that reputation like I had to live up to the reputation of being the American Dream.

If I wanted a new car, it was important I had one. I was going to be in the hole financially, but it didn’t matter as long as I was driving my new car in downtown Tampa, and they—the fans—would see me in it and that would be cool … that would work because that was part of living the dream as “the Dream.”

Like I said … believability and respect. …

C
HAPTER
5

I
’ve often told people that I feel I was born a black man in a white man’s body. I know that probably sounds crazy, but for those of you who are following my story closely, reading between the lines if you will, I’d like to believe that you understand where I am coming from. Perhaps my thinking comes from my childhood, having lived in a mixed neighborhood of whites, African Americans and Mexican Americans. Maybe it comes from the fact that I feel like I’ve struggled in my life to gain acceptance in my profession, as a black man would struggle for acceptance in his everyday life.

I know it would be impossible for me to really know or understand what my African American brothers and sisters experience every day of their existence in terms of racism, discrimination and exploitation, but in my heart of hearts I know they are the ones who built the foundation for my fan base in order to help me become … and live … the American Dream.

It’s hard to explain that the chase for an American Dream is in all of us. For some, just getting up every morning and going to work in order to pay the bills and taking care of business while thinking of a more fulfilling life is an American Dream. For others, just getting up every morning in a free country is an American Dream. For me, right now just writing these words for you to read can be considered an American Dream.

Toward the end of 1973, a different American Dream was about to be realized. At the Landmark Apartments in Tampa, Florida, little did I know that I was about to become “The American Dream” and an American Icon.

The word icon is used in our industry a lot, but most of the time it is bullshit. The territory system had its stars, but on a national level there were only a few who held that star status, and I was about to become one of them … an icon that is.

Championship Wrestling from Florida has long been gone, disbanded, but in the eyes of the fans and the stories they still tell, at times it’s like I’ve never left and CWF is still going strong. I love them for that.

While wrestling existed in Florida before 1960, CWF lived from around 1960 and died in February 1987, almost two years to the day after Eddie Graham was found dead in his home, the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. It’s still hard for me to talk about Eddie’s suicide, probably because he was so close to me, in many ways a second father, and to this day his son Mike is one of my best friends, almost like another younger brother.

Some say the 1980s were not real good to Eddie. With his in-ring career pretty much over, except for the occasional appearance here and there, he concentrated on his promotional and charitable duties, while privately battling personal demons.

While some may scorn me for this, I feel it’s not my place to write about his drinking problem, as we all have faults. Eddie unfortunately had a very dark side, and while maybe it is my place to talk and write about the depression that led him to taking his own life, I can’t and I won’t. I can only talk and write about what he meant to me and the wrestling business.

In our business, Eddie had no equal. Let me repeat that, he had no fucking equal in our business, and I’ve seen them all. His mind for pro wrestling story telling, ring work, timing, and even advertising and promotional stuff, could not be matched. He was ahead of himself.

A lot of people may not realize it, but the Florida territory did not come easy to Eddie. Florida was originally run by a guy named Clarence “Cowboy” Lutrell. He ran Florida from 1949 to 1971. When he left the business, Eddie took over, but not without controversy. I don’t know all the behind-the-scenes dealings here, but from what I understand, “Professor” Boris Malenko thought he was entitled to take over the territory. I don’t know if that is true or not, because it was always explained to me by Gordon Solie, Hiro Matsuda, and others that it was Eddie who was the one being groomed by Cowboy to take over. Now I know Malenko drew money in the territory with Eddie, and their feuds are still talked about by some today, but I don’t know exactly what happened. All I know is that there was a lot of bad blood, or as we say in the business a lot of “heat” between the two, and they never spoke again.

Every so often a little outlaw promotion would pop up here and there, and just like a Mafioso Godfather, he would say, “Them motherfuckers will
pay! You guys go over there and kick their asses.” Like I said, he was the Florida Godfather.

Now while Eddie could be a tough son of a bitch, he had a big heart. He was a big supporter of charities and amateur wrestling, which made him a huge asset to the business, by tying his business into the community. He started amateur wrestling camps and was personally responsible for getting amateur wrestling into Florida high schools. He established a $500 wrestling scholarship for the University of Tampa, donated $10,000 in 1978 to the University of Florida to create a wrestling room, and was one of the co-founders of the Florida Sheriff’s Boys Ranch, now called the Florida Sheriff’s Boys and Girls Ranch. For those who do not think this was genius on his part, you can kiss my ass. He knew exactly how to position himself with the people who would ultimately help his promotion. Remember, in the wrestling business, business is business.

I think it’s important to explain just how influential Eddie was back in the 1970s because some of that had to do with the creation of the Dream. Eddie was a much respected promoter within the NWA and was the organization’s president from 1976 to 1979. Under his watch, the NWA territories did great business, everyone was making money hand over fist, and he was among those personally responsible for arranging the first ever NWA versus WWWF (World Wide Wrestling Federation) World Title unification match in 1978 between Harley Race and “Superstar” Billy Graham at Miami’s Orange Bowl; a card I also happened to be on, defeating Ken Patera.

So CWF really had only three guys the territory was built on—Eddie in the ‘60s; Jack Brisco, the NWA World Heavyweight Champion in the early ‘70s; and then me. For each era, each man had his run.

Jack was right in the middle of his run when he passed me the torch, and buddy I lit up the state from Key West to Jacksonville with that torch and it was all so simple.

It was at the Miami Beach Convention Center in 1973, “Dirty” Dusty Rhodes versus Jack Brisco, the handsome Indian from Oklahoma; Florida’s golden boy.

In a match that lasted one hour, I saw the fan favorite change to a villain right before my eyes. A very simple move happened, one that Eddie knew would work. At about the 50-minute mark, as the voice of Frank Freeman—Miami’s
very famous ring announcer—said, “Fifty minutes gone, ten minutes to go,” I hit Jack with the big elbow and he flew across the ring.

As Jack landed on his back, the roar of the crowd became deafening. I dropped the big elbow on him, I covered him, and the crowd seemed to know that without a doubt I was about to become World Heavyweight Champion. As I waited for the count, everything seemed to be in slow motion … one, two, as I looked at the ref, he started to get up and stopped fucking counting at two and tapped me on the back to break it up. Could it be over? Was I the champ?

The crowd roared … not with glee, but with anger! The booing from the 6,000 in attendance was beyond belief. I looked down and saw that Jack’s leg was draped over the bottom rope—something an outlaw would do to save himself from a hanging … but the World Champion? The match continued and ended after a one-hour draw. Whoa! The crowd was still booing Jack!

As I left the ring, the crowd began to cheer so loud I will never forget it, the icon shit just started to take over. Jack Brisco was still champion, but the world of pro wrestling was about to change.

It was that simple, that easy. No high-risk maneuvers, no stunt bump off a building, just a cover, a foot and leg on the ropes … a champion saving his title.

“Even before putting the leg over the rope, earlier in the match I had Dusty tied up in a corner and when it came time to break, it wasn’t a clean break … the fans didn’t like that at all.”
—J
ACK
B
RISCO

Eddie was standing in the door of the dressing room. He looked at me and I’ll never forget what he said, “That is the way we do business. That’s how simple it is when you are ‘over’.” But he also had that black and white look on his face—there was no middle ground there, no gray area—”You have to go a little longer before you become a good guy.” Business is business. It was business at its best, simple, but good business.

Bill Watts was booking the territory at the time and later that night he, Jack and Eddie talked about me becoming a good guy! For me it was time to become the American Dream.

“It was Eddie’s idea to turn him babyface. Dusty had gotten over so hard, it was impossible to keep him heel.”
—J
ACK
B
RISCO

Eddie had the prime suspect as to who would help me take that final step. In 1974 Pak Song Nam and “Playboy” Gary Hart were the players who not only had a hand in changing the landscape of wrestling, but they were the tools used to build the icon, transforming the interview into the reason so many would attend the event, and most of all to see the Korean Assassin with his manager matched against the son of a plumber from Austin, Texas— “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. It does not get any simpler than that. Good versus evil! The emotions would fill the arena and make TV ratings go through the roof! What an era … what a great time to be a wrestling fan.

There have been a lot of stories of how, when, and where “The American Dream” moniker was first attached to my name. There have also been lots of stories of who came up with “The American Dream” for me.

Let me make it clear. When I first talked about “The American Dream,” it really had nothing to do with wrestling.

After I started the turn from being a bad guy or “heel” to a good guy or “babyface,” Gordon Solie and I would go to high schools and middle schools in the Tampa Bay area where I would give these little motivational speeches. Part of what I would tell the kids was about me growing up in Texas and working with T.C. Lee as a ditch digger and that he used to tell me, “There’s a dream out there … you oughta get out of this ditch and live it,” and so I used to tell that to the kids. When I did, it was like a lightbulb went off over my head.

So we did this little deal on TV with Gary and I where we started arguing over the title shot I had with Jack, and for the first time ever on TV I said, “I’m not doing this for me, I’m doing it for all the black, the yellow, the green, the brown, all the people in the world … this is the American Dream … Dusty Rhodes … you don’t like it?” and I threw him against the wall— slam!—and when his head hit, it sounded like it would never come off the wall; it stuck like super glue.

So now during an interview with Gordon Solie on one of the televisions, I was recounting the same story to the people in the audience, about growing up and all and it just came out … after I said it, about T.C. Lee, I turned to Gordon and said, “I’m ‘The American Dream,’ Dusty Rhodes.” And I
remember Gordon saying, “Pak Song Nam, ‘The Korean Assassin’ versus ‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes …” kind of like the exclamation point at the end of a statement.

“The thing that impressed me about Dusty was his incredible charisma. His interviews were awesome … and the crowd loved his butt wiggles.”
—J
ACK
B
RISCO

Well, wrestling fans picked right up on it, and that was my new handle. I was now “The American Dream.”

And man, it just took off … whoosh! … ran rampant across the nation like the fucking hula-hoop. I not only became a big star in Florida, but people knew me all over and I changed people’s lives. I was the man and I knew it! Why? Because men could look in the mirror and see their fat stomachs and women could look in the mirror and see their saggy tits and know they didn’t have to be perfect to live their dream … because if this fat black man in a white man’s body, with a stupid-looking frizzy white afro hairdo could live the dream, well, so could they. And that’s what it’s all about … it ain’t the fucking hokey pokey.

Mike Graham was another player who really set the tone for me to turn and become “The Dream.” Six-man tags were booked, with me, Mike and Eddie as a team. In the storyline Mike trusted me, but Eddie took the hard line and didn’t—remember what he said to me in Miami about turning—as we would face Hart’s Army led by Song. This made for great story lines, great television shows and great times in this cosmic world of pro wrestling as The Dream’s era began to unfold.

BOOK: Dusty: Reflections of Wrestling's American Dream
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