Pulse Wrestling’s Top 100 Wrestlers of the Modern Era: #18 – Dusty Rhodes

Our number eighteen inductee is ready to head to the pay winda.

18. DUSTY RHODES

Real Name: Virgil Runnels
Aliases: The Midnight Rider
Hometown: Austin, TX
Debut: 1968
Titles Held: NWA Central States Heavyweight; NWA Central States North American Tag Team (with Dick Murdoch); NWA Florida Bahamian; NWA Florida Brass Knuckles (2x); NWA Florida Global Tag Team (with Magnum TA); NWA Florida Heavyweight (10x); NWA Florida Southern Heavyweight (7x); NWA Florida Tag Team (4x – 1 each with Dick Murdoch, Dick Slater, Bobo Brazil, and Andre the Giant); NWA Florida Television (2x); NWA Florida United States Tag Team (2x – 1 each with Bugsy McGraw and Blackjack Mulligan); NWA World Heavyweight (3x); NWA Georgia Heavyweight; NWA National Heavyweight; NWA Television; NWA United States Heavyweight; NWA World Six Man (with the Road Warriors); NWA World Tag Team (2x – 1 each with Manny Fernandez and Dick Slater); NWA World Television (2x); NWA America Tag Team (2x – 1 each with Baron Von Raschke and Dick Murdoch); NWA Texas Brass Knuckles (2x); NWA Detroit World Tag Team (with Dick Murdoch); NWA Mid-Atlantic Tag Team (with Buff Bagwell); NWA Hawaii North American Heavyweight; NWA San Francisco United States Heavyweight; NWA Tri-State North American Heavyweight; NWA Tri-State United States Tag Team (with Andre the Giant); NWF World Tag Team (with Dick Murdoch); IWA World Tag Team (with Dick Murdoch)
Other Accomplishments: Winner of 1987 Jim Crockett Memorial Cup (with Ivan Koloff); Winner of NWA Bunkhouse Stampede from 1985-1988; Winner of PWI Wrestler of the Year award in 1977 and 1978; Winner of PWI Most Popular Wrestler of the Year award for 1978, 1979, and 1987; Winner of PWI Match of the Year award in 1979 (vs. Harley Race – August 21, 1979); Winner of Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Best Babyface award in 1980 ; Co-Winner of Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Most Charismatic award in 1982 (tied with Ric Flair); Winner of Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Best Booker award in 1986 ; Winner of PWI Match of the Year award in 1986 (cage match vs. Ric Flair – July 26, 1986); Winner of Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Most Overrated award for 1987 and 1988; Winner of Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Readers’ Least Favorite Wrestler award in 1987 and 1988; Winner of PWI’s Feud of the Year award in 1987 (Super Powers/Road Warriors vs. the Four Horsemen); Winner of Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Worst Feud of the Year award in 1988 (Midnight Rider vs. Tully Blanchard); Winner of Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Worst Gimmick award in 1988; Winner of Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Most Embarrassing Wrestler award in 1990; Winner of Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Worst Television Announcer award in 1997; Member of WCW Hall of Fame (Class of 1995); Member of Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (Class of 1996); Member of WWE Hall of Fame (Class of 2007)

Dusty Rhodes grew up in Austin Texas. In college, he was a member of the University of West Texas’s football team. Then he was trained by Joe Blanchard.

He made his debut as a heel who was part of a tag team with Dick Murdoch that was known as the Texas Outlaws. In November of 1968 he and Murdoch were in Bob Geigel’s NWA Central States promotion (which centered around Kansas City). On November 7 the Outlaws defeated Tommy and Terry Martin to capture the North American Tag Team titles. The reign was a little more than a month long as December 27 they lost the belts to Bob Geigel and the Viking.

Of course, by then Dusty had also won his first singles title as he defeated Tommy Martin (again) on December 13 to win the Central States Heavyweight title. Again, he held it about a month before dropping it to Don Kent.

After this, Dusty returned to Texas and began working for NWA Big Time Wrestling, a company that would become World Class Championship Wrestling in the 1980’s. That summer Dusty and new partner Baron Von Raschke defeated Wahoo McDaniel and Thunderbolt Patterson to capture the territory’s North American Tag Team titles. In August Thunderbolt and Wahoo defeated them and recaptured the gold.

As 1970 opened, Dusty hit the road with Dick Murdoch as the Outlaws reunited. They began traveling the country. In March they were in NWA Detroit, where they captured the territory’s World Tag Team titles from Ben Justice and the Stomper. They held the belts until August, losing them to Bobo Brazil and Lord Athol Layton.

The next stop was Florida. On September 17 the Outlaws captured the Florida tag team titles from Jose Lothario and Argentina Apollo. During this time Dusty was also chasing Lothario’s Brass Knuckles title. Dusty captured it on December 1. Later that month the Outlaws were stripped of all titles (likely due to leaving the territory).

January found the Outlaws in Australia for Australian World Championship Wrestling. January 21 found them winning the IWA World Tag Team titles from Mark Lewin and Mario Milano. By March, however, they had lost the belts to Lewin and his new partner Killer Kowalski.

Dusty’s next stop was Oklahoma for NWA Tri-State (a company that would become Mid-South Wrestling). On May 21 he defeated North American champion Bill Watts to take the belt. Watts regained it in October.

1972 saw Dusty heading to Hawaii. On November 25 he took the North American heavyweight title from Sam Steamboat. Bill Robinson took the belt away the following June.

While still holding the Hawaiian belt, Dusty also began returning to Florida. While there he won the Brass Knuckles championship again. And again Dusty was stripped of the title in December – this time for assaulting NWA President Sam Muchnick.

By late summer, however, Rhodes had found a new partner in Dick Slater and had regained the Florida tag team titles. They lost them in December (which was apparently an unlucky month for Rhodes’s title reigns) to Jos and Paul LeDuc.

September had seen Rhodes defeat Bill Dromo for the promotion’s Southern Heavyweight title. By the end of the year Dusty had lost that belt to Jos LeDuc as well.

This time, however, Dusty wasn’t leaving town. He defeated LeDuc in January of 1974 to regain his title. He wound up losing it later that year to Pak Song.

In May, Dusty’s career changed forever. Dusty was tagging with Pak Song with manager Gary Hart as they faced Eddie and Mike Graham. Song accidentally hit Dusty and Rhodes had enough. He joined the Grahams in attacking Song and Hart – turning babyface in the process.

The feud continued through the rest of the year as Dusty took Pak Song’s Florida heavyweight title away in October before losing it to Bill Watts in November.

Late 1975 saw Rhodes on a roll again. He defeated Killer Karl Krupp to begin his third Southern Heavyweight reign (which ended when he lost the belt to Harley Race. Dusty also took the Florida Heavyweight belt from Bob Roop on October 6. However, the Florida reign ended on October 28 when it was vacated after Rhodes defended it in a match against King Curtis Iaukea.

1976 saw Dusty also starting to travel a bit northward as he was also working for NWA Georgia. On January 30 he defeated the Spoiler for the Georgia Heavyweight title before losing it back to him a week later.

Back in Florida Dusty regained the Florida Heavyweight title from Bob Orton Jr. in July before dropping it to Superstar Billy Graham in October.

Dusty regained the belt from Buddy Wolfe the following June and lost it to Ernie Ladd a month later. Later in the year the belt was vacated, Dusty took it back, and lost it to Lars Anderson before regaining it in November. Killer Karl Kox took the belt away in February of 1978.

During this time Dusty was heading north again – this time to Jim Crockett’s Mid-Atlantic Wrestling. In September he resumed teaming with Dick Slater and defeated the Minnesota Wrecking Crew (Gene and Ole Anderson) to capture the Mid-Atlantic tag team titles. The Wrecking Crew regained them a month later.

Back in Florida, Dusty regained the Southern Heavyweight title from Slater on June 18th. It wasn’t long before Slater defeated his sometime-partner to regain the title.

Meanwhile, Dusty was adding to his collection by defeating the Spoiler on the 19th to recapture the Florida Heavyweight belt. September saw the Spoiler taking it back.

Later in the year Dusty captured the Television title from Bobby Duncum before he closed the year out losing the belt to Bugsy McGraw with Dusty finally reclaiming the belt in January of 1979.

In November the Florida Heavyweight title had been vacated again. Dusty defeated Bob Roop in the finals of a tournament to crown a new champion and he lost the belt to Mr. Uganda in December.

That same month Dusty finally started turning his December luck around as he returned to NWA Tri-State. He allied himself with Andre the Giant and won their tag team titles in a tournament although Andre was soon replaced by the Spoiler. On January 25 the Spoiler turned on his partner which allowed the Angel and the Assassin to capture the gold.

Still in January of 1979 Dusty returned to Big Time Wrestling in Texas where he won the Brass Knuckles title from Rocky Johnson. By the end of the month he’d dropped the belt to Mark Lewin.

On July 4 Dusty regained the NWA Florida Heavyweight belt from King Curtis Iaukea. It would be vacated less than a month later.

On August 21 Dusty won the NWA World Heavyweight title from Harley Race, vacating the Florida Heavyweight belt in the process. Harley would win it back five days later.

After losing the belt, Dusty continued traveling the territories. On December 21 Dusty defeated Mark Lewin to regain the Texas Brass Knuckles title. Lewin would regain it in January.

Dusty won his first belt of the 1980’s in April as he defeated Leroy Brown to win the Southern Heavyweight belt for the sixth time.

On July 14th, Dusty and Bugsy McGraw won a tournament to win the Florida United States tag team titles. August would also see Dusty and Bobo Brazil defeat Ivan Koloff and Nikolai Volkoff for the Florida Tag Team titles. Both belts would slowly lose prominence before quietly being vacated.

In October Dusty regained the Florida Heavyweight title. He held it about two weeks before losing it to Dory Funk Jr.

November found Dusty in California, defeating Dick Slater for the NWA San Francisco United States Heavyweight title. Two months later the promotion would shut down with Dusty as its final champion.

In 1981 Dusty regained the Florida Tag Team titles, this time with Andre the Giant as his partner. Again the belts would fade away and quietly be vacated later in the year.

June 21 saw Dusty return to the top of the mountain as he again defeated Harley Race for the NWA World Heavyweight title. He would hold it until September when he was defeated by another up-and-comer – Ric Flair.

October of 1982 saw Dusty regain the Florida Southern Heavyweight title by defeating Jimmy Garvin. Less than a month later Kevin Sullivan ended Dusty’s final run with this belt.

In February of 1983 Dusty (now working under a mask as the Midnight Rider) teamed with a young wrestler named Terry Allen as they defeated the Fabulous Kangaroos for the Florida Global Tag Team titles. Later in the month Rhodes left the area and presented Scott McGhee with his belt.

July found Dusty in the Bahamas where he challenged Angelo Mosca for the Florida Bahamian title. He held the belt until the following fall when he departed Florida for the last time.

In November Dusty teamed with Blackjack Mulligan to regain the Florida United States Tag Team titles from the Zambuie Connection, who’d supposedly won a tournament after Dusty and Bugsy vacated the belts. Mulligan wound up replaced by Mike Davis and they were defeated by Ron Bass and the One Man Gang on November 30.

In fall of 1984, Dusty wound up signing with Jim Crockett’s Mid-Atlantic Wrestling. In October Dusty and Manny Fernandez captured the NWA World Tag Team titles. They held them until March, when they dropped the belts to Ivan and Nikita Koloff.

Rhodes wasn’t worried, however. He was busy feuding with Tully Blanchard over the NWA World Television title. They traded the belt through July of 1985, when Dusty was stripped of the belt due to injury.

While Dusty was recovering, he found himself easing into the position of booker for Crockett’s company.

In December Dusty “won” the NWA Georgia National Heavyweight title from Buddy Landel. The actual truth was that Landel had been released and Dusty was awarded the belt. Dusty lost the belt the following March to his old foe Tully Blanchard.

In May of 1986 Dusty teamed with the Road Warriors to take the NWA World Six-Man title away from Ivan and Nikita Koloff and Baron Von Raschke. (Raschke had replaced Krusher Khruschev, who’d in turn replaced Don Kernodle.)

Dusty returned to the top of the mountain as he defeated Ric Flair at the 1986 Great American Bash to regain the NWA World heavyweight title. His reign lasted until August 9, when Flair recaptured the gold.

In September Dusty took the World Television title from Arn Anderson. At Starrcade in November Arn’s fellow Horseman (and old Dusty foe) Tully Blanchard brought back the belt in a first blood match.

In November of 1987 Dusty won the United States title from Lex Luger. The belt was again vacated in April when Dusty attacked Jim Crockett.

February of 1988 saw Dusty and the Road Warriors losing the Six-Man belts to Ivan Koloff and the Powers of Pain. The belts were vacated in April when the Powers jumped to the WWF, and in July Dusty and the Warriors regained the gold.

Things turned bad with the Warriors in October when they attacked Dusty, leading to a match in November that saw Dusty get busted open as Animal jabbed one of the Warriors’ trademark spikes into his eye.

Ted Turner had just bought the company, and the new bosses were not happy with the blood – especially since they’d just forbidden it. Dusty lost a blowoff match to Animal at Starrcade and Dusty was then fired.

Dusty debuted in the WWF soon after calling himself the Common Man (and playing off his American Dream nickname). Now allied with Sapphire, Dusty found himself feuding with Macho King Randy Savage and Queen Sherri. After a win against Savage and Sherri at Wrestlemania, Sapphire wound up deserting Dusty for the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase. Dusty feuded with DiBiase until he (and his son Dustin) left the company in early 1991.

Dusty returned to WCW and began working backstage full-time. Later he began also working as an announcer – calling Saturday Night with Tony Schiavone and doing PPV’s with Schiavone and Bobby Heenan.

In 1998 Dusty joined the New World Order, much to the shock of Tony Schiavone.

Dusty left WCW soon thereafter and headed to ECW where he feuded with Steve Corino. After a bloody, violent feud with Corino, Dusty returned to WCW where he and Dustin feuded with Flair and Jeff Jarrett.

After the WCW buyout Dusty wound up opening his own wrestling company in Georgia – Turnbuckle Championship Wrestling.

2004 saw Dusty return to the national spotlight as he became TNA’s Director of Authority (and also worked backstage as head booker). In 2005 he was asked to step down so Dusty resigned from the creative team and waited out his contract.

Dusty signed a WWE Legends deal in September of 2005 and was also brought onto the creative team. Today Dusty remains part of WWE Creative as well as performing commentary on weekly Florida Championship Wrestling broadcasts with Josh Mathews.

Dusty Rhodes is unusual in wrestling. He was never an incredible technical worker. He never had a million-dollar build.

What Dusty had was charisma that let him build a connection to the fans that was almost unprecedented. During the 1980’s NWA heyday Rhodes, calling himself the son of a plumber, represented the common man against the jet-flying, filthy rich Four Horsemen.

Dusty also had a keen mind for the business that the WWE is still using today. While Dusty is today famous (or infamous) for the so-called Dusty Finish, he could book feuds that would draw crowds and pack houses.

For all of his contributions, Dusty continues to work in the industry today. In addition, his legend lives on through his sons Dustin and Cody. For all that he has done, Dusty Rhodes has definitely earned his place on this list of the top 100 wrestlers of the modern era.

The entire Top 100 Wrestlers feature can be found here.

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