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Posts Tagged ‘Dusty Rhodes’

Countdown to meltdown, the 10 worst pro wrestling interviews of all time–#2: WCW shocks the world

October 19th, 2010 4 comments

A memorable two-word review for the Shock Master's debut simply read: "Shit storm(trooper)."

By most accounts, Dusty Rhodes had a creative wrestling mind and was an effective booker in the mid-’80s, responsible for some of the most entertaining and money-making angles of all time for Jim Crockett Promotions. Likewise, nearly everyone agrees that Big Dust was burned out by the end of 1987, with his out-of-control screwjob finishes and his insistence on centering all the key angles around himself, combined with Jim Crockett’s overly aggressive nationwide expansion plans, dooming the company and eventually leading to its sale to Ted Turner.

After being fired by the new Turner regime, Rhodes went to the WWF, where he tarnished an otherwise brilliant in-ring career with his constant humiliation as the polka-dots-wearing common man. (At the very least, he found true love with Sapphire.) After being chewed up by McMahon & Co., they released him, refusing his overtures to remain with the company as a booker. Inexplicably, he was rehired by Turner as a creative talent  in 1991, where he shifted his traditional old-school style story lines and ideas to those more in line with McMahon’s over-the-top cartoon style (perhaps in a misguided attempt to “out-Vince” Vince)…with disastrous results.

Case in point: the grand debut of the Shockmaster, Dusty’s old buddy Fred Ottman (the Memphis Big Bubba, Tugboat, Typhoon, etc.) wearing a “Star Wars” Stromtrooper mask (no idea why) spray painted silver and covered in glitter, on a live Clash of the Champions TV special in 1993. Despite having Ole Anderson on the mic dubbing lines off-stage for the big lug (which sounded amazingly similar to the Black Scorpion), the introduction of the Shockmaster was memorable for all the wrong reasons. If you listen closely, you can hear Ric Flair, Davey Boy Smith and Sid break from character to bemoan under their breaths the sheer idiocy on display here, with the Bulldog crowing, “He fell on his arse!” (A young Cody Rhodes may have been the only fan watching who popped for the angle on this night, exclaiming, “That looked like Uncle Fred!”, when the hood came tumbling off the bumbling behemoth.) Credit Sid for regrouping and attempting to salvage the angle with his rant. The collective fart nationwide in response to this angle was deafening; it’s generally regarded as one of the most ill-conceived gimmicks–and worst promos–of all time. Easily tops 1978’s “Star Wars Holiday Special” as the worst TV appearance ever by a Stormtrooper.

Three count and a cloud of Dust: Wrestling’s dreaded Dusty Finish

May 26th, 2010 6 comments

Buddy Landel was one of many stars to seemingly defeat Ric Flair for the NWA title before the decision was overturned.

In his book and DVD as well as during several “shoot” interviews, Dusty Rhodes denies responsibility for the screwjob finish that became a trademark of his booking during several high-profile World title matches in the ’80s. I’m talking about, of course, the dreaded “Dusty Finish”–a disheartening swerve that was booked in several JCP/WCW towns and on PPV repeatedly to the point it only served to piss of the fans instead of build anticipation for the rematch.

It usually went something like this: one referee (e.g., Tommy Young) is knocked unconscious to the floor with a bump. The heel (in this case, Ric Flair) charges his babyface challenger (say, Big Dust), who alertly backdrops the champion over the top rope, near the knocked-out official on the floor. A second ref hits the ring as Dusty suplexes the Nature Boy back into the squared circle and goes for the cover. The substitute ref counts the pinfall on the champ, swerving the people into believing the belt has just changed hands. The title win is then promptly overturned by the original ref, who explains that he had regained his bearings just in time to see the champ tossed over the top rope, an automatic disqualification. To make matters worse, sometimes the overturned decision wasn’t announced to the live crowd, so they left the arena thinking there was a new champion. The following week on TV, Flair would strut out with the belt, with no mention of a controversial finish at the local arena. As Big Dust himself might say, “Dat’s risky bidness, baby.”

Using his this finish, Dusty won the NWA World title from Ric Flair at Starrcade ’85 and had the boys (Superstar Graham, Billy Jack Haynes, Wahoo, Italian Stallion) give him a rousing locker-room celebration before the belt was returned to Flair. (I’m sure they were all just thrilled.) Tommy Young’s explanation about the DQ didn’t air on JCP TV until nearly two weeks after the event.

Dusty pretty much killed the promotion’s attendance in Chicago when he booked that same finish in a Road Warriors vs. Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard bout for the NWA tag titles at Starrcade ’87, which saw the “hometown” LOD lose on a DQ. (Amazing feat: In one night, Dusty pissed off fans from Chicago to Greensboro, where the longtime JCP fans were already furious that the promotion had moved the flagship event to Chi-Town.) A year earlier, Animal and Hawk had both seemingly won the NWA strap from Flair via the Dusty Finish in matches Rhodes booked as part of the 1986 Great American Bash tour.

WCW even used the Dusty Finish years later in a Ric Flair vs. Tatsumi Fujinami title match at the Tokyo Dome for a PPV, which ended the long-standing credibility of the NWA belt in Japan. (As Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer wrote at the time: “The Dusty Finish strikes Tokyo.”) The poor members of the Japanese press were forced to explain that Fujinami was still the NWA champion, but Flair had control of the WCW belt so he could defend it at house shows in the States. (In a lame segment by even WCW standards, a bloody Flair interrupted Fujinami’s press conference and simply stole the belt back before winning a rematch in the States.)

To those who criticized him for the Dusty Finish, the American Dream responded in his book: “Holy dippity dogshit, the ‘Dusty Finish’ is without a doubt the biggest scam in our industry. The phrase was created by sheet writers and picked up by the guys in the business who read them. Sure, I may have brought it to prominence by showing in on TV in the ’80s, but my finish? That fucking finish was around a lot longer before I was booking. If the swerve is what makes it a Dusty Finish, then I guess the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a Dusty Finish. George Washington crossing the Delaware to surprise the Hessians, that was a Dusty Finish.” (He goes on to categorize the Trojan horse and Eve taking a bite out of an apple as “Dusty Finishes.”)

In Dusty’s defense, he wasn’t the only guilty party. The Southeastern/Continental territory booked the same swerve with the likes of Austin Idol and Ron Fuller winning the belt for all of two minutes, while Kevin Von Erich got a brief taste of the Ten Pounds of Gold at the Dallas Sportatorium with an apparent win over Flair in 1982 before Bronco Lubich overruled babyface ref David Manning’s ruling. Flair himself used the finish in Auckland, New Zealand, for a bout at the local YMCA with Mark Lewin.

A recent YouTube Find reveals that even Sam Muchnick’s St. Louis territory, which prided itself on relatively clean finishes, especially in bouts involving the NWA World championship, wasn’t above a variation of the Dusty Finish. I sort of like this version, with Harley Race tossing Ted DiBiase over the top strand in a 1981 title bout at Kiel Auditorium; the verdict is delayed when even the original ref raises Ted’s hand after a discussion with the ring announcer and the second ref. But in the end, the ref awards the belt to Harley; Ted has the victory…but by disqualification. Nice touch with announcer Larry Matysik stressing (with an awkward pronunciation of the challenger’s surname) that, ever the sportsman, DiBiase shook the ref’s hand because he realized it was the right call to take the heat off the official and the finish. If used only once in a territory, the finish could be effective in spiking the houses for a return match.

Writes Jeff Sharkey for the Cauliflower Ear Club:The infamous rematch with Race for the NWA World title at Kiel Auditorium on February 6, 1981 ended with what became known as “the Dusty finish” for its frequented use while Dusty Rhodes booked for Jim Crockett in the mid 1980s. But in St. Louis, the result was booked to make all parties come out strong. The referee of record, Charles Venator, was knocked down, yet he still witnessed Race tossing DiBiase over the top rope, an act that served as grounds for disqualification. Yet before that decision could be rendered, DiBiase returned to the field of battle, and Race fell victim to another belly-to-back suplex, which led to a three-count at the hand of a second official. Slowly the official decision of a DQ on Race became apparent to the throng in attendance through well-timed referee pantomime and Matysik’s announcement of the result over the house mic. The St. Louis crowd shared DiBiase’s visible disappointment. But it was the right decision technically, and thus they respected the referee’s call, especially after he was endorsed by a handshake from the challenger, who came ‘just that close’ on this night. The anticipation of DiBiase being on the brink of striking gold led the fans back to the rematch at the Checkerdome on June 12, 1981. Sixteen thousand fans watched as Race turned back DiBiase’s challenge. “But it proved Ted was a main eventer who delivered good matches and drew money,” Matysik said.

The problems mounted for WCW which Dusty booked the ending on consecutive shows in towns like Greensboro, whose fans were pretty savvy. Plus, Dusty seemed to have trouble realizing that when you booked that finish on the SuperStation or on PPV, your fans nationwide–not just the folks in the arena–saw it, so you couldn’t effectively run it again at house shows. Fans could see it coming a mile away.

Today, while WWE occasionally resorts to lazy booking for major PPV bouts–e.g., Sunday’s World title match at Over the Limit PPV between champ Jack Swagger and Big Show, which ended in a DQ in under five minutes–the company for the most part appears committed to delivering clean wins, even by heels, which is one of few refreshing developments in the era of sports entertainment. While I hope the days of the Dusty Finish are behind us, I can’t help but think WWE Creative might get cute and book Cody Rhodes to win the WWE championship in a few years after a second referee makes the call, only to have the decision overturned by the official of record. Talk about karma–in public, if you will.

Anatomy of an angle: Dusty’s bad break

February 5th, 2010 1 comment

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.)

Russian to main event status: Though still green, Nikita was pushed early as a threat to Flair.

Russian to main event status: Though still green, Nikita was pushed early as a threat to Flair.

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.

Crimson mask: The champ is all smiles after injuring the Dream.

Crimson mask: The champ is all smiles after leaving Dusty for dead in the cage.

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.

Blood oath: Dusty gets his revenge.

Blood oath: Dusty gets his revenge.

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.