Sports

How the Heartbreaking Death of Dusty Rhodes Inspired Cody to Change the Pro Wrestling World Forever

Dusty Rhodes may have never truly gotten the better of Vince McMahon but it would be difficult to find anyone that thinks the WWE Hall of Famer didn’t have the same kind of impact in the world of professional wrestling, the same kind of impact his youngest son, Cody, is having on the business today with All Elite Wrestling.

As an in-ring performer, Dusty Rhodes certainly didn’t look the part of one of the best pro wrestlers in the world. He wasn’t seven-foot-tall like Andre the Giant. He didn’t have 24-inch pythons like Hulk Hogan. But that didn’t stop him from getting over. He was a fantastic wrestler and a great storyteller that simply oozed charisma. He looked like the average Joe and that’s what made him so lovable. His “Hard Times” promo in 1985 is still one of the best the business has ever seen and made him even more relatable.

But his in-ring talent wasn’t even his biggest contribution to the pro wrestling industry. It was his presence backstage and his creativity that truly made him one of the all-time greats in the industry, something that Cody sees in himself. Dusty Rhodes was never afraid to take on Vince McMahon and, following the death of his legendary father in 2015, Cody is following suit.

Dusty Rhodes worked for and against Vince McMahon

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After wrestling for numerous promotions around the country in his early days, Dusty Rhodes went to work for Vince McMahon Sr. in what was then known as the WWWF in 1977, later working for Vince Jr. after he purchased the company from his father in 1982.

Rhodes left the promotion shortly thereafter and began working for Jim Crockett Promotions, who would later be purchased by WCW. It was here that Dusty had his biggest matches, feuding with the likes of Ric Flair and Harley Race. It was also here that he became one of the best backstage minds in history. Dusty was responsible for the creation of the Great American Bash, WarGames, Clash of the Champions, and Starrcade, which became WCW’s biggest show of the year.

Dusty Rhodes was fired by WCW in 1988 following an on-screen incident with The Road Warriors and had to swallow his pride and go back to work for Vince McMahon in WWE. McMahon tried to embarrass him and put him in polka dots and Dusty still made it work, engaging in fantastic programs with “Macho Man” Randy Savage and “The Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase.

Rhodes went back to WCW in 1991 and remained with the company until Vince bought his competition in 2001. After failing to get his own promotion going, Dusty spent some time in TNA before heading back to WWE in 2005. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2007 and later became the head writer and creative director for the NXT brand, where his backstage brilliance helped shape the majority of the current stars in WWE today. Dusty Rhodes passed away in 2015 due to kidney failure but his legacy certainly lives on.

Dusty Rhodes never wanted Cody to become a professional wrestler

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Cody Rhodes never intended to get into the family business. Even after his older brother, Dustin, better known to WWE fans as Goldust, found success in the pro wrestling industry, Cody had his sights set on Hollywood. He pursued an acting career but destiny is a funny thing. He told his famous father that he wanted to get into wrestling and Dusty wasn’t happy about it one bit. He actually didn’t want either of his sons to get into wrestling. Sure, Dusty had plenty of friends in pro wrestling but he had plenty of enemies as well. He didn’t want his sons to suffer just because of their last name.

But Cody was determined to make it and made his debut in Ohio Valley Wrestling in 2006 and made his WWE debut the following year. Dusty was right there beside him in a number of angles in the beginning but Cody soon broke away to do his own thing. He joined Randy Orton and Ted Dibiase, Jr. to form The Legacy, which became one of the biggest things in WWE for a while. Unfortunately, when that stable ended, Cody simply became a gimmick machine.

It started with “Dashing” Cody Rhodes. Then it was “Undashing” Cody Rhodes and the mask. Then it was the mustache. Then it was Stardust. But at least he got to team with his brother for a while, which certainly led to some great segments and matches, although the dream bout at WrestleMania never took place. But the Stardust gimmick wore thin and Cody needed a change. He pleaded with creative and even Vince McMahon himself to take off the paint but to no avail. He was frustrated and deservedly so. He wanted more and when Dusty died, he decided to go out and get it on his own.

Cody was inspired to go ‘All In’ on himself following his father’s death

Cody and Dusty Rhodes
(L-R) Dusty Rhodes; Cody | Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images; Paras Griffin#SPORT/Getty Images

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One of Cody Rhodes’ dreams was to win a world title while his father was still alive, a dream that never came true. He’d won the Intercontinental Championship in WWE but had never reached the top of the mountain as WWE Champion. While it’s obviously pre-determined, being the champ is still a big deal in pro wrestling as it shows the company has faith in someone to be that top guy.

But Vince never saw Cody as that top guy. But Cody doesn’t blame McMahon for that. He blames himself. He later told Bleacher Report that he wasn’t putting in the work that maybe he should have. When Dusty Rhodes passed away in 2015, the pressure of winning a world title away and Cody knew it was time for a change.

“I got a boost of bravery when my dad passed away because all I ever wanted to do was be world champion while he was still alive. That was my biggest fear in life: I wouldn’t win it. And I didn’t win it. It was such a silly fear, but it came true. He didn’t get to see it. He never asked for it. He never was pressuring me on it. It was my own pressure.

“But after that, I thought, ‘I have zero to be afraid of.'”

Cody Rhodes

He says he was offered a ton of money to stay in WWE but less than a year after Dusty passed, Cody and his wife, Brandi, who’d made her own name in the business, were gone. It seemed as if Triple H tried to guilt him into staying but Cody wasn’t having it.

“Hunter took it very personally because he had done so much for my dad at NXT. There was one conversation where he said, ‘I’m shocked that you feel this way after everything I’ve done for your family.’ But I told him, ‘I’m not my dad. I can’t stay here out of loyalty to you for giving my dad a job in 2005. I get it, and the little boy in me really appreciates what you did for my dad. But I’m not him. He’s not here anymore. I’ve got to be me.'”

Cody Rhodes

And that was that. Two years later, Cody, along with the help of the Young Bucks, brothers Matt and Nick Jackson, was putting on the biggest independent wrestling show in decades. He’d gone all in on himself and the “All In” pay-per-view was a smashing success. It sold out a 10,000-seat arena in the suburbs of Chicago in 10 minutes and was the biggest non-WWE or WCW event in the United States in nearly a quarter of a century. But even bigger things were in store.

On January 1, 2019, Cody helped announce the creation of All Elite Wrestling, a promotion backed by the Khan family for which Cody serves as one of the executive vice presidents, along with being one of the company’s top in-ring performers. They signed a TV deal with TNT that began last October and “AEW Dynamite” now goes head-to-head with WWE’s NXT brand on Wednesday nights, the very brand Dusty Rhodes helped get off the ground.

But Cody isn’t looking to put Vince McMahon out of business. He’s seen others try that and fail miserably. He just wants to offer an alternative. He knows the challenges are there and that people are waiting for AEW to fail but he’s ready to face them as an in-ring talent and a behind-the-scenes leader, just like his father.

“Every day almost, I’m like, ‘Man, we need a home run every segment.’ Because there’s a microscope on top of a microscope on what we’re doing. When people are like, ‘He’s doing the same thing Dusty did.’ I always want to say, ‘Yeah, well Dusty was one of the most over guys on the show.’

“I could only hope to do what Dusty did.”

Cody Rhodes

Cody is doing exactly what his father did and Dusty Rhodes would be damn proud.