I was raised on the National Wrestling Alliance. Similar to today’s wrestling climate where the WWE gets the lions’ share of the attention, the N.W.A. was where wrestling started and stopped for me. Being from the south, Winston-Salem, NC to be exact, I was born and raised in the heart of “Horsemen Territory.” The famed Greensboro Coliseum, the site of many Jim Crockett Promotions’ events throughout the 80’s, was only twenty minutes away so if there was a Saturday night show, there was a chance that my entire family would be there.
The superstars of that era, man, oh man…Ric Flair, Tully Blanchard, Arn Anderson, Barry Windham, Rock-N-Roll Express, Midnight Express, Nikita Koloff, Magnum T.A., “The Raging Bull” Manny Fernandez, Abdullah the Butcher, Jimmy “The Boogie Woogie Man” Valiant, The Barbarian, Superstar Bill Dundee, and countless others who came along in the latter part of the 80’s all played an integral part in my love and appreciation for wrestling. But, there was only one man that made me tune in to WorldWideWrestling on Saturday nights and his name was “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, who by the way, was the son of a plumber.
Before I became an internet wrestling geek, and long before I learned to just generally dislike certain wrestlers, Dusty was it. I tuned in to watch, and went to the shows just to see Dusty. Hell, I even cried on the way home from a show one night after watching Baby Doll (The Perfect 10), Tully’s valet at the time, scratch and claw Dusty’s back. “It was real to me, dammit!”
I began to long for the glory days again so I spent some hours on YouTube, looking at some of my favorite moments, promos and matches. Pouring through this footage, I noticed a trend…if there was a babyface getting jumped, Dusty made the save, if a babyface was cutting a promo appealing for help, they asked for Dusty, when the heels did their promos, Dusty was at the top of the list of wrestlers they claimed they’d destroy to get a title shot or what have you. So, before I ever heard of positioning or placement for top tier superstars, Dusty was THE superstar. Chalk it up to him booking or whatever you want; Dusty Rhodes was the classic babyface who stood for all that was good in the world. Dusty could do no wrong in my eyes.
Now, as I bury my thesis statement in the fifth paragraph, I offer that Dusty Rhodes must be considered the John Cena of the 1980’s.
It’d be incredibly easy at this point, to launch into an anti-Cena tirade, but as popular as that is, I’m going to not do that. Instead, I’d like to draw attention to the similarities of his character to those of “The American Dream.” There’s no denying that John Cena represents everything that is righteous, not only in wrestling, but in the world as a whole. He encourages the young fans to “never give up” and to “rise above hate.” His work with Susan G. Komen and the Make-A-Wish Foundation not only serve to bolster my previous statement, but are, in my opinion, above the reproach of all Cena haters.
Inside the squared circle, he, like Dusty, is a multiple-time champion. It seems as if he’s always in the hunt for the title or fighting for a title shot, similar to The Dream. Additionally, I’m sure that every young WWE superstar in the making knows that to grab Vince’s proverbial “brass ring,” they’re going to have to overtake John Cena.
Let me also add, that I make this comparison with a full understanding of the climate of today’s more vocal and edgier wrestling fan. But, there can be no denying the fact that John Cena draw$. Those 50/50 chants by his fans and haters? They’re all there to see him, the way I wanted to see Dusty, though some want to see him to cheer him, while the others, well…point is, they all paid their money to sit in those seats and do as they wish.
Remember when Cena got ‘fired’ during his Nexus angle? That didn’t stop him from showing up, right? Well, on more than one occasion, Dusty found himself ‘suspended’ only to return as “The Midnight Rider,” fooling no one might I add. So, even in their supposed ‘absences’ Rhodes and Cena just could not be kept off television.
Finally, I’d like to readdress my earlier statement about today’s climate. I respect the hell out of John Cena. I appreciate his talent and his love for the business. He gets a bad rap on the internet, and while most of it is undeserved, it is what it is. Personally, I’m not a fan as I think his character, while molded in the classic babyface form, is rather stale. So, looking at today’s product and seeing Cena face off against Randy Orton (again), seeing Randy attack his dad (again), and knowing that whether by hook or crook, Cena will be involved in the title picture at Mania…see where I’m going with this? It just prompts an automatic “Cena, again?” response.
Now, back in the 80’s, such thinking would have been foreign to me. I think if I tuned in to watch wrestling and didn’t see Dusty, I would have felt almost cheated. On the flip side, I wouldn’t hate tuning in to Raw or Smackdown and not seeing John Cena. Maybe I’m reaching just a little, but if you came up on wrestling in the N.W.A. days, there’s no way you can’t remember just how popular Dusty Rhodes was. Similarly, in 15-20 years, the W.W.E. Post-Attitude Era (“Universe” or whatevs) epitaph will not be written without mentioning John Cena.