Ocala Star-Banner – December 26, 1982
By Alyse Lounsberry, Lifestyles Editor
Meet Dusty Rhodes, Heavyweight Wrestler Whose Message Of Success Wins Fans, Coast To Coast
Dusty Rhodes grew up in Texas, if not “dirt-poor,” then poor enough to dream of bigger, better things. He found them in the confines of a wrestler’s ring, amid throngs of fans, all screaming, wriggling, waving arms, hollering, chanting, cheering for Dusty Rhodes, who somewhere along the rocky road to success ceased to become just Dusty Rhodes and became The American Dream.
“When I was a kid – even kids nowadays have teen sports idols – we all had one hero. We had someone to look up to. Well, with wrestling, I wanted to give them that, show them that you can be whatever you want to be if you want to bad enough, no matter what type of background you come from, you can be anything you want,” says Rhodes, firing off a locker-room interview after winning a bout with Jake “The Snake” Roberts at Central Florida Community College here recently to benefit CFCC’s Patriot Boosters.
Energy ran high, the atmosphere was tense, expectant, and Roberts put up a good fight, slitering out of Rhodes’ clutches more than a time or two, pinning The American Dream to the mat as 3,500 of his loyal fans roared indignantly.
But in the end, sweat pouring off both men, both faces twisted almost beyond recognition in expressions of pain, power and determination, Roberts proved no match for Rhodes, the eventual winner, who twice during his career has worn the wide, garish belt proclaiming him World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion.
It took no time to discover the favorite among the fans.
From the moment Rhodes appeared – clad in white boots with Dusty Rhodes tooled down the sides in red leather, black monogrammed trunks, and a silver lame baseball jacket with “Dusty Rhodes: The American Dream” lettered on the back in read – the fans went wild, roaring for the platinum-haired athlete. From the moment Roberts emerged from a separate door, the same crowd “hissed” and “booed.” Roberts, like any other of wrestling’s true “bad guys” scowled, meanly.
In a sense, Rhodes had already achieved his victory before he laid a hand on his opponent.
After the match, from a bench in the locker room, a now subdued and smiling Rhodes confided in a voice surprisingly gentle (and far removed from the raspy, menacing tones he uses to jeer an opponent during televised wrestling matches) that, for him, the fans are where it’s at. “I give ‘em 120 percent every time I go out there,” he says. “They love you so much. It’s great.”
The American Dream is a nickname with a message, according to Rhodes, who, out of the ring, comes across as sharp, charming, brimming with personality, and with the kind of charisma it takes to be a winner at anything.
Eye-to-eye, now, with The American Dream, bits and pieces of other, not-so-close encounters with Rhodes flash forth: Dusty Rhodes, baseball cap pulled down over part of his platinum curls, this time a gold baseball jacket zipped over his big chest, hurling challenges at his opponents on Championship Wrestling of Florida as the show’s announcer, Gordon Solie, goads him on; Rhodes, shaking his fist and raising his voice to a high-pitched frenzy, threatening to wring the daylights out of one of an ever-changing host of hopeful challengers; Rhodes, hands held high over his head, claiming victory in the ring… dramatic moments, all. Drama may have its place in the wrestling arena, and wrestlers may adopt certain personae to assure fan appel, but it is also a sport requiring a great deal of prowess and physical stamina, and even then, a wrestler – even a seasoned wrestler like Rhodes, who weighs in at 260 pounds – can be hurt amid the twisting and grinding, the head-locks and body-locks, the scissor locks, the hurling and the falls.
Over the years, Rhodes has cracked up ribs, knees, twisted ankles, wrists, pulled muscles, and moves the hair on his forehead to show where 260 stitches are located. Any way you slice it, wrestling’s better, to his way of thinking.
He should know, because he’s had the opportunity to explore more than just one sport. “I can do it all,” he explains without sounding egotistical.
He played college football for West Texas State, was once scouted for the New York Mets, adds that he can ride a bull, shoot pool, and second to wrestling, loves basketball.
Wrestling is a clean, wholesome sport, he says, “And we don’t go on strike every time you turn around.” In addition to providing good sports entertainment, wrestling also gives the fans an outlet for pent up energies.
At a match, fans can scream, holler, let it all out, venting steam from broken dreams, a host of personal problems, and today’s fast-paced demands.
So in one sense, being a fan of wrestling might be considered healthy, if you listen to Dusty Rhodes: “I make it possible for people to take out all their emotions.”
It means a lot to him, he says, to pack wrestling enthusiasts into a place such as the CFCC gym, fill up every seat, even turning a few away, just as some were turned away when he was pitted against “Nature Boy” Rick Flair about this time last year, a bout that cost Rhodes the world title.
More than any bruises that lingered after the bout, losing that title hurt: you can see it in his eyes as he speaks of it, hear it in his voice as he claims: “Now Rick’s got it and it’s going to be hard to get it back…”
You can see he’s thinking of getting it back, dreaming of it, perhaps, yet The American Dream also lets the word “retirement” slip into his stream-of-consciousness conversation. “I always say I can retire anytime, but what in the world would I do?”
He’s winding down now, winding up a grueling, grinding, nearly year-long schedule involving 327 days of travel, spanning the country. He’s soon to wrestle again at New York’s Madison Square Garden, but he says he takes time off each year at Christmas, and this year has planned a trip to Vale, Colo., where he and his wife own a condominium. “I guess that’s part of the American Drea, too,” he grins.
Yet he’s never too far away from the dues he paid to become tops in the sport that won his heart over football, basketball, baseball and the rest.
“My first actual match was a 20-minute draw, and I thought I was gonna die,” he laughs wryly, remembering, shaking his platinum mane. He also remembers a match in Boston, Mass., when he was under the heap, not on top of it as he appears to be today. Before the mystique of The American Dream ever came into being, he was taking any match he could, just to break in, and that night in Boston, after the match, when he went to get his pay, the manager handed him a $10-bill. Amazed, he took it, realizing he’d spent more than that amount in gas, just to get there.
Finally, how about those who discredit the sport, dismissing wrestling as “a lot of hype,” as “unreal,” illegitimate in comparison to other pro-sports? Do comments like these bother The American Dream?
“Not at all,” he remarks levelly, without a smile, even his eyes serious. “I made $350,000 last year…”