In Defense Of…7.17.05: Dusty Rhodes: Head Booker (Part 2 Of 2) [REPOST]
In Defense of…
By JP Prag
DUSTY RHODES: HEAD BOOKER (Part 2 of 2)
Hello my loyal compatriots, and thanks for making the long trek back to In Defense Of…! Last week we began our first two part series with In Defense of Dusty Rhodes: Head Booker (Part 1 of 2)! And now, just as quickly, we are in Part 2 of 2, ready to help the American Dream “take care of bidness”.
But perhaps you are too tired from the past couple of weeks to go read part 1, and you see our next section is entitled stenography, so you know you are getting a review of last issues anyway. Well, if that’s the case, then let me tell you what you have just clicked on to:
Certain people, events, organizations, and storylines in wrestling history have gotten a bum wrap. Certain writers have presented overtly critical comments and outright lies as fact, and others have followed suit. Well no more! “In Defense of…” has one reason: to bring the truth to the wrestling fan!
And that’s what I intend to do.
Me? I’m the One and Only JP, and I need to apologize for not getting back to e-mail now dating back to July 3rd. It has been a hectic few weeks, but I will get back to all of you as soon as I can. I hope that does not deter the rest of you from writing in, or reading today’s issue. And speaking of this issue, let’s talk about the last one with…
Stenographer, you’ve had a couple of weeks off to get all refreshed, so why not prove what you are made of and tell us what we already know.
Thanks for having me back, JP. I thought you had fired me without telling me and planned to replace me with fan write-ins. You wouldn’t do that… would you?
Well, not unless the readers wrote in with their own stenography every week and then I decided to use them instead of you.
Whew! Thought you were planning something there. Well, last week, as you have so aptly noted, we began the case of Dusty Rhodes: Head Booker. For years, Dusty Rhodes and Booking have gone together in the IWC as well Tuna Fish and Peanut Butter. But to turn Dusty into Marshmallow Fluff (I’m from New England, Fluff wins over Jelly), we explored his history in the industry to show why he even deserved a chance with the book. Dusty was one of the top drawing champs of all time, and learned the other side of the business down in Florida with Eddie Graham. This understanding of both the audience and the politics brought him to being the head booker for the NWA from 1983 to 1989. During that time, he decided to book counter to Vince McMahon’s cartoony characters and focused on in-ring competition.
Also during this time, Dusty didn’t make himself the focus of the shows, instead letting the big man Ric Flair run with the title and the programs. Only once did he defeat Flair for the title in 1986, and just two weeks later returned the belt. But Dusty was not just about the stars and stories; he was about the new media of the 1980’s: PPV. He went on to create such classics as Starrcade, the Great American Bash, and the Bunkhouse Stampede to buyrate success! Speaking of success, Dusty also created the beloved gimmick match War Games. Despite all this achievement, Dusty would be removed from his position over a disagreement with Flair about using Flair to build the next generation of stars (guess what Flair wanted to do), and the sale of JCP to Tuner.
In exile, Dusty went to have some polka-dotted fun in the WWF while the rotating bookers in the newly born WCW scared away old stars and future prospects alike. By January 1991, WCW came back to Rhodes and gave him the book. Dusty gave a lot of new stars like Kevin Nash and Steve Austin shots, brought back cult favorites like Cactus Jack, and gave rising stars like Scott Steiner a chance at the champ. He also jumped about 6 years and created the Light Heavyweight title for the likes of Brian Pillman and Jushin Thunder Liger. This would last until the successful SuperBrawl ’92, when Jim Herd decided he was too impatient to be the best, and sent Dusty to the announce booth.
But of course, we know, Dusty was not done with the book…
On the sidelines?
When Jim Herd removed Dusty Rhodes from his position as head booker, did you think it would be the end of Dusty Rhodes in a creative capacity? Of course not!
Herd may have been too impatient to turn business around, but at the very least he realized he was not the man to do it, and men like Dusty Rhodes would have to be the answer. Besides, WCW was still on hard times, and the last thing he would want is for Dusty to go back to Vince. So Dusty remained on as an announcer and occasional wrestler, but lent a hand behind the scenes, pitching ideas and pushing for the next generation.
So time marched on. Eric Bischoff came in and took over. But Dusty was not pushed to the side. Bischoff took him in as a confident, let him continue to pitch ideas and be a part of the creative process. Dusty got to see his protégées Scott Hall and Kevin Nash rise to prominence in the nWo, while helping Bischoff recognize that wrestling was the key to WCW’s continued success. The Cruiserweight Championship took prominence much like the Light Heavyweight Championship of the past. The wrestlers controlled the in-ring action, not the writers. Dusty’s fingerprints could be seen on every episode of Nitro and Saturday Night during WCW’s only profitable time.
But much like looking for the superstars of tomorrow, Rhodes also looked for the future bookers—the people who could lead the program long after he was gone—much like Eddie Graham did for him. And he found such a man in Kevin Nash.
Rhodes had this to say in an interview conducted in June 2001:
“Creatively, Kevin is very good and we worked well together.
“He was just coming into his own [on the Booking Committee] when the company made changes. Kevin is very modern, but still sees things old-school. He’s so in-tune with the atmosphere of the country, and that helps. I often was more of the old-fashioned cowboy, but he was into other things … but could combine our thinking.
“I think he’s a real force as far as a creative person.”
See, Dusty was not just about trying to give himself power or put his friends over. Much like a parent to his children, Dusty wanted his successors to be better then him. And humbly he admitted that Nash was the better man for the job during that phase of WCW, not himself.
Dusty went on to talk about some of their booking decisions:
“With the Lenny & Lodi characters, we were way ahead of our time, obviously.
“Corporate people came in one day and said, ‘Shut that down.’ We objected, but they didn’t listen. The funny thing is, the ending to that whole [story line] was that they were just brothers.
“Everyone always wanted us to say they were gay, but they weren’t, [which would have come to light had the storyline been fully developed.]”
There it is again. There was no off the cusp booking going on. Dusty always had a plan, but others were too quick to judge. Given the chance, Dusty could have the best long-term storylines going on any level of the card. But with so many political influences going on, Dusty would soon be out again.
With the dawn of the Vince Russo era and the change of direction of WCW corporate, Dusty soon found himself removed from WCW in general. He took a trip down to ECW to help get Steve Corino over, but that was only a part-time gig.
During this period, Dusty also started Turnbuckle Championship Wrestling.
In an interview with the Wrestling Digest, Dusty had this to say about TCW:
"After I got fired from WCW… I walked out the door there and said, `I'm gonna take it one step farther. It's my vocation, and I love it, I've done well at it, I've had my ups and downs, so I said I want to start something that's really meaningful and in the next three or four years will really mean something."
And so Dusty started to train eight young competitors in the business before launching TCW. But TCW was not about just lining Rhodes pockets, as some would have you believe:
"The between 40 and 60 guys we turned down, financially would've made me pretty wealthy, but they had no place to go, no place to do anything but be smartened up and, my god, enough people in this country have been smartened up to my business, so I'm gonna turn the tide back around."
Rhodes used his booking aptitude to gain a following for TCW, expanding from Georgia into Florida, North Carolina, Alabama, and Tennessee. His goal consistently remained to become the #2 company to the WWE, and to later overtake it.
When WCW folded, TCW became the haven for exiled WCW stars without guaranteed contracts that Vince was not interested in, such as Daffney, Scotty Riggs, Lodi, and Larry Zybzsko (Issue #26, I believe). Rhodes wanted to use those with talent who would not fit in with the WWE get a shot and to help build his promotion.
Still, Rhodes did not just want to use names to sell his cards. He understood what we in the IWC have realized for a while:
"You're gonna see television become not as important for promoting your talent as the Web, and the Web sites and computers and all that knowledge will be in the next five years. You're gonna see that come into play more than how many syndications or how many syndicated cities your show goes on."
Rhodes as a booker embraced today’s technology instead of trying to fight it. The future seemed like it could be bright for the creative Rhodes and TCW.
An old enemy comes a-knockin’ and some new friends
Someone beside the fans of TCW noticed the efforts that Dusty put in as head booker. In July 2002, Vince McMahon arranged a meeting with Dusty Rhodes to recruit him to a booking position in the WWE. Much like the Vince Russo’s tryout, the WWE environment was not one for Dusty Rhodes. His decisions would butt head too much with Vince McMahon, and Vince could have none of that.
In another interview with IGN Sports, Dusty was asked his opinion of what a booker means:
IGN Sports: One of your roles traditionally has been not only as a wrestler, but as a booker. What exactly is the role of a booker backstage?
Dusty Rhodes: It's a head coach, it's an executive producer of television, it's all of those things wrapped into one. Now, though, it's done more by committee where they have all of these writers writing the pay-per-views like Survivor Series, and that works, but I'm from that school where it's my ball and if we're going to play with my ball, I'll pick the music, I'll tell them when to play it, I'll pick what interviews to do, I'll write the show, I'll be the executive producer, and I'll be the star of that son of a bitch. That's the way it was. That was the role of a booker. There are no more bookers any more. That term is gone. I was probably the last of what you'd call bookers. It's the head coach, the head guy. The whole deal.
Dusty could not be part of a committee, and he did not see a future as a booker. So he returned to TCW to continue to train the next generation.
Meanwhile, a couple of other exiles had formed another promotion known as Total Nonstop Action. TNA already had a PPV distribution deal, and had financing well beyond TCW. Dusty realized that he had already lost the battle to be #2, so he had one choice: when you can’t beat them, join them.
Dusty started making appearances for TNA, and later closed shop on TCW in 2003. But it was not until 2004 when TNA handed the book over to Dusty.
Do you see this continued pattern? People keep coming back to Dusty Rhodes as a booker! Does that sound like the resume of a failure? Why would people who have made millions off of this business continually return to Dusty Rhodes if he were as bad as many claim.
It’s because he is not. He is a competent, long-term, old-school thinker. He is a man who wants to push young talent and recognize the legends of the past. He also understands when others are better then he is.
The Wrestling Observer recapped their interview with Dusty Rhodes by saying:
Dusty says that as well as Jeff Jarrett has done, he knew that AJ Styles and Abyss were the two men to bring it home at Lockdown.
Dusty really wants to see TNA work. He thinks the 6 sided ring has worked out well. He is very high on Shocker. He hopes to tap into the Latino audience. Bryan asks about coaching on interviews. Dusty has been working with AJ Styles a lot. He is trying to bring his natural great personality out of him. That's the one thing missing with him right now. Dusty jumps back to Crockett. He says when Magnum TA went down, that was another big loss. He saw him as the next Hogan. He says that era was no different to now. The interviews are as important as the in-ring product. Dusty doesn't like long backstage interviews, but gave Raven extra time this week because it was such a great interview.
A lot covered in that short paragraph, but here’s the story:
(1) Dusty does not suck up to the bosses and does what is best for the product and the fans
(2) Dusty wants to make an environment that is in unique, wrestling-intensive, and counter-WWE
(3) Dusty recognized overall trends in society and wants to tap into them (IE, Latinos are far outpacing the Gringo growth-rate in the economy)
(4) Dusty works hard to help the younger stars be better then themselves and move into the roles of tomorrow
(5) Dusty did not want to hold Magnum TA down to make himself look better, but wanted Magnum to surpass him in the business
(6) Dusty does not want to waste time in back, but likes to have action in the ring
Dusty has an obvious understanding of the products, and even more so of himself:
“Bruce (Springsteen), ‘The Boss,’ is still singing at his age, and I'm still singing, but I by no means think that I'm gonna draw a tremendous amount of people anymore. We use Dusty Rhodes… as an anchor to get other people over.”
And what more could one ask for from their booker then that?
Still, this was not enough for TNA in the short term. Much like the Lenny/Lodi storyline, TNA did not fully understand where Dusty was going with such issues as the Monty Brown heel turn and Outlaw/BG James situation. And since they removed him before those storylines could finish, they are now booked into the corner. Who knows what great twists Dusty might have had for us in the end?
But this will not be the last shot for Dusty. Every era has found a reason to return to Dusty Rhodes: Head Booker, and the book will call Dusty back again.
The Dusty Finish
Dusty Rhodes has done a lot for this business with his time at the top, but one things is named after him: the Dusty Finish.
The Dusty Finish takes many forms. In the most popular form, a ref is knocked out and a second ref comes down. The second ref counts the win for the face, but the first ref revives and reverses the decision. In another variation, the ref misses something, like the heel having his feet on the ropes, and reverses the decision later. Or in yet another version, the two aforementioned refs are in the ring at the same time, and each counts the other opponents shoulders down.
Basically, somehow a match decision gets reversed.
Now let’s get a few things straight:
These types of finishes existed long before Dusty Rhodes was born. They were used all around the world as champions took on the local challengers. Dusty Rhodes also used these on the local NWA circuits, but used them on television as much as the WWE does today. But dirt sheets of the day compared local arena results and saw a pattern, and started to blame Dusty.
These old school dirt sheet writers were the first people on the internet, and their description of this type of ending as a “Dusty Finish” persisted through time. So even though we are in a whole generation and half of readers later, the term Dusty Finish has taken a negative connotation.
When used correctly, though, the Dusty Finish is just what it takes to keep a good storyline going. I was at a WCW house show when Hollywood Hogan had just turned face and was feuding with the heel President Flair. Hogan won the match, but Flair reversed the decision and remained champion. The fans got to see an exciting match and see their hero win, but nothing changed for TV and the real ending could be done on PPV. The fans went home happy, and things kept on going.
Did Dusty Rhodes use this finish a lot? Sure he did. Did he use it effectively and in local markets and it was only a small segment of the market that realized this was happening on a larger scale? Absolutely. I will never claim that a small minority cannot have a major impact (see: the PTC or World Wildlife Fund vs. WWF/E), but I will never claim that a minority of viewers reflect the opinions of the majority of the audience.
While the internet audience today is much larger then the WWE has given it credit for until recent weeks, the dirt sheets never came near the levels of some of the lowest hit wrestling websites. The vast majority of the audience was not as outraged as these people were, yet it is their opinion that has persisted. My father was privy to these events, but he was a casual fan, not a reader of the sheets. He enjoyed what he saw, and never once uttered the term “Dusty Finish”.
Goin’ to the Pay Window!
Dusty Rhodes as Head Booker has been misunderstood for several reasons. First, dirt sheet writers of the past laid the path for the internet, and their early biases effected the development of the budding IWC. As time went on, these prejudices continued to be displayed in so many people’s writings, and thus were instilled in a generation and half of readers.
But as we have seen, Dusty took a successful career in the ring and parleyed it into a successful booking career on top of the NWA. And despite being shown the door, he’s been brought back time and time again because he gets the job done. He brings in the money, he brings in the talent, he brings in the ratings. Dusty grows new talent, honors the past, and recognizes his own flaws.
Some would have you believe that Dusty is all about himself. His decisions and notes, though, show that he is concerned more with the young talents and future of the business, even if that means hurting himself. Dusty is gone from the books for now, but he’ll be back, because he is that good.
Dusty Rhodes has worked hard as head booker, and he deserves his chance to shine.
The defense rests.
Well everyone, that wraps up our fifth case. So what do you think?
IN THE CASE OF THE IWC VERSUS DUSTY RHODES: HEAD BOOKER, RHODES HAS BEEN ACCUSED OF BEING A TERRIBLE BOOKER WHO DID NOT DESERVED HIS POSITION, ONLY PUT HIMSELF OVER WITH THAT POWER, NEVER TRIED TO BUILD A BRAND MORE THEN HIS OWN SELFISH GOALS, AND USING REPETITIVE BOOKING THAT DROVE FANS AWAY IN DROVES.
YOU THE JURY FIND DUSTY RHODES: HEAD BOOKER…
Don’t worry, I swear I won’t sell your e-mail address to line my own pockets. Wait, a minute, that’s what I could do with this column! Ummm… you didn’t just read that.
Instead, I think you’ll come back next week for the results of this case and a quick one-shot issue, where you’ll get to vote again!
We move on in the theme of questionable booking decisions when we head into the biggest screwjob of them all: the Montreal kind. But we’ll be taking a unique look at this, and you’ll find out why I am only defending this one person, and why other parties are not going to receive my services.
So tune in next issue for In Defense of… Earl Hebner Screwing Bret Hart (Part 1 of 1)!!
Until then, the next time you read some throwaway line out there presented as fact, challenge it. The truth matters, and you have a right to know.
Know a particular person, event, organization, storyline, etc… in wrestling history that needs a defense? E-mail the One and Only JP at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll be glad to hear your case.