Anatomy of an angle: Dusty’s bad break
On September 30, 1985, Dusty Rhodes was scheduled to work with “Nature Boy” Buddy Landell as part of a star-studded card co-promoted by Jerry Jarrett and Jim Crockett at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis.
The American Dream never made it to town–the “other” Nature Boy saw to that.
For the first half of 1985, NWA World titlist Ric Flair was pretty much the flamboyant, cocky champion we’ve always known, goading challengers like Magnum T.A. and Rhodes, who could never quite take the 10 pounds of gold from the manicured hands of the Champ. Still, Flair was often cheered like crazy in his “hometown” area of the Carolinas, and he continued to play toward their affections, especially on promos cut for that particular market. On the national TBS stage, though, Flair was more of a heel, turning up the heat when running down his rival. (Of course, this only made a lot of fans on a national level love him as well, as Flair was hilarious and perfect in the role of the rich champ when discussing his celebrity friends like Bruce Springsteen, Jack Nicholson and the L.A. Lakers, and tooting his own horn, so to speak, when discussing his sexual prowess.)
Flair was booked as a babyface in a huge July 6 show at Memorial Stadium in Charlotte, defending the NWA championship against Nikita Koloff, the supposed nephew of Mid-Atlantic legend Ivan Koloff. For those who never saw Nikita (Scott Simpson) in his prime, he was an amazing specimen. Nikita was very green, so initially he was hidden in tag matches and squash matches as the promotion slowly got the Eddie Sharkey-trained rookie over as the unbeatable Russian Nightmare. Nikita basically stuck to power moves, with his finisher, the dreaded Russian Sickle clothesline, looking nearly as stiff as Stan Hansen’s Lariat maneuver.
Nikita and “Uncle Ivan” ran roughshod over the promotion for months, winning the NWA World tag titles from Dusty Rhodes and Manny Fernandez along the way, as well as being named the World Six-Man champions with Russian Sympathizer Krusher Khrushchev (Barry Darsow) as their partner.
After Nikita used the Sickle to decapitate a longtime Mid-Atlantic announcer in June 1985, the horrid (though unintentionally humorous) David Crockett, Flair vowed revenge during his upcoming NWA title defense at Memorial Stadium. David was named special ref for the bout in Charlotte.
More than 30,000 fans were on hand at Memorial Stadium to see Flair play the part of Rocky Balboa in ROCKY IV, taking a bloody beating in babyface fashion at the hands of his Russian foe before rallying for the victory. Afterward, the Russians got their heat back by attacking Flair and leaving him for dead. (Uncle Ivan and Krusher were noticeably absent after Drago’s loss to Balboa.)
For the resulting Flair/Nikita feud on a national stage, Flair took on more of a ‘tweener role: a solid babyface when booked against Nikita, but still working as a heel in title bouts with babyfaces.
While some fans in hindsight wish Flair had remained in this role for at least another year, booker Rhodes had other ideas. Flair had already defended the NWA belt against Dusty at Starrcade ’84, but the bout didn’t have a lot of heat as it was held in a strong Mid-Atlantic town, Greensboro, N.C.– no way the fans were going to boo the Nature Boy on his home turf. (To Dusty’s credit, he wasn’t booed much, either, but the bout lacked the spark of a major main event on a big show.) For Starrcade ’85, Rhodes apparently felt there would be money in a rematch, especially since the card was to be a divided show taking place in two different cities: Atlanta and Greensboro. (And guess which city was to get the Flair/Rhodes bout? Hint: It wasn’t in traditional Crockett Country.)
To make things a little personal between the Dream and the Nature Boy — not only for Starrcade but also for the potentially hot rematches thought to follow well into 1986 — Rhodes pushed for Flair to turn full-fledged heel as JCP evolved into more of a national promotion and began shedding its Mid-Atlantic distinction by the fall of ’85.
The scene was set for September 29, 1985 (the day before the big Memphis show), at Atlanta’s Omni, as the NWA champion defended his laurels against Nikita in a Steel-Cage rematch. Following yet another Flair win, the Nature Boy was subjected to yet another beating at the hands of the other Russians, who stormed the cage following the finish.
Eventually, Dusty answered the desperate calls of the fans and entered the cage to dispense a little Texas justice on the foreigners a la George Bush. After successfully clearing the Russians from the cage, Dusty approached Flair to help him up; however, the proud champion refused his help — in fact, the Nature Boy seemed downright perturbed that the Dream would interfere in his affairs. As if on cue (and undoubtedly they were), Flair’s “cousins” Ole and Arn Anderson appeared out of nowhere to jump Rhodes and lock the cage. The dastardly trio proceeded to beat the hell out of Dusty in a scene eerily reminiscent to another incredible heel turn in the very same arena years earlier — also involving Dusty and Ole.
Side-Note Slam: Around 1980, Ole, once a dastardly heel, eventually won over the fans after nearly one year as a babyface. Ole was so convincing in his role that even Dusty agreed to take him on as a partner in a potentially dangerous atmosphere: a steel-cage tag bout with the two babyfaces meeting the Assassins. While the masked duo called for Ivan Koloff to serve as special ref, Ole and Dusty wanted the elder Anderson (Gene) to serve as the official — both teams got their wish. For Dusty, though, it would turn out to be a deathwish. Minutes after the bout had started, Ole turned heel on his partner, along with Gene Anderson. Koloff and the Assassins joined the fray, making it five on one. The fans nearly rioted trying to save Dusty. Many consider this to be a classic turn. And Ole’s interview explaining how he patiently put the fans and Rhodes to sleep with his babyface act while he slowly crafted the plot to lull the Dream into the caged heel is considered to be one of the strongest ever in the business.
Together, the future Horsemen “broke” the ankle of Rhodes, leading to several babyfaces rushing the area and desperately trying to scale the cage to save the Dream. Rhodes wisely chose Atlanta, one of his babyface strongholds, to turn Flair. A lot of fans in Greensboro might have given Flair and the Andersons a standing ovation as they left the Dream’s carcass in the ring after the beating. Not in Atlanta, where Rhodes had been a huge star for years, highlighted by an NWA title win over Harley Race in June 1981. Incidentally, that title bout, while marginal by Race’s standards, has an incredible atmosphere, as fans literally rushed the ring to congratulate the new champ — an amazing reaction.
The following night after Flair’s turn and the attack, Rhodes no-showed the Memphis bout on Sept. 30 to help sell the injury. In typical fashion when a top-name babyface fails to appear, the replacement (Pez Whatley in this case) went over, with Whatley pinning Landell with a sunset flip for the upset win. While I think the timing was unintentional, Dusty probably didn’t lose much sleep no-showing Jarrett’s card. The two had a little heat stemming back to 1984, when Jarrett changed his mind after booking Big Dust. The promoter realized he didn’t need Dust (who commanded a hefty fee), so Jarrett left a message a week before the card in Memphis saying that the Dream’s services wouldn’t be needed. Dusty was insulted for the slight; however, Jarrett was correct in his assessment. Dusty was originally booked in the fourth bout on that 10-match card in 1984 against Jim Neidhart, a match-up that would have meant very little in Memphis, especially when guys like Lawler, Austin Idol, the Road Warriors, Fabulous Ones Keirn and Lane, Randy Savage and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express were appearing. In a rare ethical moment for the Memphis promotion, Dusty was pulled from all advertising the weekend before the event — which drew slightly over 10,000.
Flair and Dusty went on to have a pretty hot bout as part of Starrcade ’85, but was marred by the “Dusty finish” in which the American Dream is briefly realized with a title-winning (yet sloppy) small package — only to be reversed later when original ref Tommy Young overturns the decision after claiming he saw the champ tossed over the top rope — an automatic DQ. The promos leading up to the bout were, of course, intense and outstanding.
By January 1986, the Four Horsemen were formed when the fans picked up on an improvised remark by Arn Anderson made when promoting eight-man tag bouts with the Andersons/Flair and their new partner Tully Blanchard. Double A compared the foursome to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (much like sportswriter Grantland Rice had done in the sporting world years earlier with the famous Notre Dame backfield of 1924): “The only time this much havoc had been wreaked by this few a number of people, you need to go all the way back to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse!” Rice may been slightly more articulate, but Arn’s comments sparked a craze with NWA/JCP fans.
While Flair’s turn eventually led to him being booked as a paper champion by 1987 — one who only retained his title with help from the other Horsemen — there’s no denying that short-term, the Horsemen stable was one of the hottest gimmicks in wrestling. And the promos between Big Dust and the heel foursome were some of the most entertaining ever — a feud that would define the glory days of the JCP era for many fans.
Good thing Dusty didn’t mind his own bidness–in public, if you will–that fateful night in the cage in Atlanta. Turned out to be “risky bidness” indeed.