Kayfabe, Lies and Alibis: “Old School” – A look at Dusty Rhodes

The story of Dusty Rhodes is told by the men who fought many wars against him

Hosted by Steve Corino

Guests: Ivan Koloff, Kevin Sullivan and Baby Doll

Presented by Highspots

This was taped only a few months ago, Uncle Ivan has since passed away.

On to the shoot…

Dusty had an impact and influence on all four of the people on the panel at different points over the past 40 years.

Baby Doll met Dusty when she was just a kid. She could tell Rhodes was going to be a star just from the way he carried himself, dressed and talked. Sullivan smiles gleefully as Doll goes over all this.

Koloff met Rhodes in Montreal in the late 60’s. Rhodes could move well for a big man. Koloff worked against Rhodes on that tour. During one of their matches Koloff tried to prop him up for a back breaker but he ended up dropping Rhodes due to his girth and Dusty suffered an ankle sprain.

Rhodes and Koloff feuded on and off for years. Koloff had been using a red shovel as part of his Communist gimmick, which led to Dusty coming up with doing a “coffin match” in Houston, where a casket would be in the ring and you had to lock your opponent in it to win.

In Florida, Rhodes was the creative force, but he used Blackjack Mulligan, Mark Lewin, Sullivan and others for ideas which he would put his twist on.

The Devil gimmick came about after Sullivan cut a promo on how Rhodes should be scorned because he had big houses, fancy cars, etc and the fans were dupes for cheering for this wealthy fake. The “American Dream” was dead.

Heels in the 70’s and early 80’s had to be tough and weary because the promotions did not use guardrails. This allowed the fans to attack you if you had too much heat. Sullivan once did a brutal number on Dusty, and the fans ran past him to care for Rhodes instead.

Baby Doll was plucked by Rhodes from the territories and made a star with Tully Blanchard. As the story unfolded, Doll was slapped by Blanchard, leading to Rhodes saving her. She and Dusty stayed together for a few months before Doll turned on him and rejoined Ric Flair and the Horsemen.

Doll explains that she and Blanchard had so much heat with the fans that she was turned babyface in order to save her from being attacked by fans.

Flair was put with Baby Doll in order to try and sway her from marrying Sam Houston. She stayed with Houston anyway. Doll was punished by being sent to the Central States promotion. This switched her payoffs from six grand a week, to maybe one tenth of that. Ultimately she was fired for marrying Houston.

Magnum TA, JJ Dillon, and Mike Graham were tremendous backstage influences in helping Rhodes book JCP.

Eddie Graham taught Rhodes the ins and outs of booking. Graham was a perfectionist who would give you grief for not hitting his planned finish layout, even if you got over with what actually went down.

Ivan gets his stories mixed up a bit as he talks about how he and Krusher Khruschev were willing to lose the World tag belts to the Rock and Roll Express because he knew Nikita Koloff was coming in soon and they were going to get a renewed push. Nikita debuted in 84, the Express in mid-85.

Verne Gagne slapped Koloff hard across the head before his first match in the AWA. This was suppose to serve as motivation. Koloff was hot, but he went out and tore down the house. Gagne praised him after that.

Ivan knew he was the one who had to make himself a star, so whenever he worked, it was at a hard pace. If you didn’t keep up, he’d eat you alive.

Sullivan was working MSG on the night of one of the Koloff vs. Bruno Sammartino matches. Kevin was standing next to Vince McMahon Sr. and after Ivan and Bruno traded chair shots and bled, Sr. commented “Those men are the only two gladiators left”.

Dusty was Dusty almost 24/7. Even later in his life Rhodes’ aura stayed alive. He would refer to himself in the third person.

Philadelphia loved the heels. Fans would wear homemade “Nikita Koloff” shirts and held up Dusty Rhodes heads hanging in effigy. Rhodes took it as a challenge to turn the fans on his side by the end of the match.

While getting booed in Toronto one night, Rhodes switched his style and worked heel. This leads to Sullivan talking up what a good heel Dusty was prior to his turn.

Some of Rhodes’ selling was inspired by Mark Lewin, such as his twitching arm and head routine.

Corino feuded with Rhodes in ECW. Working together was a learning experience as Dusty could feel the audience and knew just the moment to mount his comebacks to gain the maximum pop.

Today’s workers need to use the WWE Network and youtube to study the past in order to improve their performances.

Heels need to be devious and monsters. “Babyfaces need dragons to slay, not salamanders”.

Dusty picked his losses wisely. They meant something to the feuds they were part of, and served to keep Rhodes grounded with the fans as being one of them, and not a Hulk Hogan-like superman.

Beating Rhodes also created massive heat and set Dusty up for another round of beating the same heels he had beaten up prior to the loss.

As long as the fans kept coming, you can’t question Rhodes keeping himself on top of the cards.

Corino would argue with Rhodes about things as their feud unfolded. Dusty had a way of charming you into complying with his view – then a bit later you’d realize you’d been had.

Sullivan stabbed Adrian Street’s valet in the eye with a spike during a Florida angle. Rhodes scooped her up and carried her to safety as the fans tried to attack Sullivan.

Magnum TA was the chosen one who was suppose to carry the NWA into the 90’s. After his car wreck, it was on Dusty to make the hard call on who to replace him with. This led to the turn of Nikita Koloff while the Cold War was still ongoing.

Sullivan thinks it could have killed the territory had the fans taken the turn a different way, which made it so ballsy and brilliant. Kevin then gets his timelines messed up as he speculates that Rhodes called Eddie Graham for advice in the matter. Graham had been dead for over two years by that point.

Baby Doll points out that Nikita had so much heel heat that turning him babyface was almost the best possible idea since heel and face turns have the greatest impact when they are done at the wrestler’s peak heat.

Doll was working in Central States at the time, and the worker’s impression there was Rhodes just killed the territory by turning Nikita.

Corino asked Dusty why he picked Ron Garvin to win the World title over someone like Barry Windham. Windham had been taking Flair to 60 and 90 minute draws. Rhodes admitted that Windham had hurt him personally by jumping to the WWF in 1984 instead of staying with JCP. Could he be trusted to stay with JCP if he was made the world champ? Meanwhile Garvin was loyal and worked very hard.

Kevin challenges any workers who dislike Rhodes to put up their salaries while working with Dusty against working against other top guys.

Baby Doll thanks Rhodes for treating her fair and lady like.

Koloff looks to the ground and asks Dusty if he’s popping for all of them putting him over.

Ivan comments on how Rhodes was all business all the time. He loved talking about wrestling.

Sullivan says Rhodes gave you an image of yourself where you were larger than life.

Doll stays on that track and speaks on how Dusty would teach you to be a star.

Final thoughts: This was a fun flashback look at an all-time great. Koloff’s passing made this session feel even more important as his words are now silenced.


Written by Andrew Lutzke

The grumpy old man of culturecrossfire.com, lover of wrasslin' and true crimes.