When WWE told me I had 20 minutes with the "American Dream" Dusty Rhodes, I couldn't believe it. I needed 20 hours. Twenty days.
How else could you properly cover one of the most iconic figures in wrestling history? Rhodes has done it all. He was the NWA world heavyweight champion when only a handful of men could claim that honor. More than just one of the biggest box-office attractions of the 1970s, he was also the mastermind behind Jim Crockett's attempt to challenge Vince McMahon nationally in the 1980s.
Today, Rhodes has the perfect job for a man of his talents—teaching future WWE stars the art of the promo, an art that made him relevant in the industry for decades.
Rhodes sat down with Bleacher Report to talk about his legendary career, his return to WWE TV in support of his sons Cody and Dustin, and a heated feud with Stephanie McMahon and Triple H that has stolen the show on Raw for weeks.
Bleacher Report: When I think of Dusty Rhodes, the first name that springs to mind is good old Captain Redneck Dick Murdoch. And I have one question for you—is it true that you and Dick once bought a donkey and kept it at your apartment?
Dusty Rhodes: We had a donkey named Zeb. And he was a very entertaining son of a b*tch okay? He could take a handkerchief off his back leg and untie it. He could kneel down and bow. And he was a rodeo donkey.
We had a brand-new apartment house in Edina (Minnesota) and me and Hoyt Richard Murdoch tried to keep it in our new apartment. But it would go down the hall and proceed to just go to the bathroom.
Eventually the guy came to kick us out. Murdoch had the greatest face of all and he looked at the guy and said "Well, what for?" What for? The donkey had done crapped all over the hallway! He said "Gentlemen, you can't have a donkey in a place like this." True story. I've got pictures too.
Bleacher Report: It sounds like there was never a dull moment with Dick. He's always on the ballot for the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame and never quite makes it in. Everyone knows he had the gift...but did he do enough with it to be among the best? Or is he a guy who should have been a Hall of Famer but maybe liked to have a little too much fun along the way?
Dusty Rhodes: Murdoch was a special guy, and I tell my classes at the Performance Center about him when we talk about personalities and talent. When they go back and say "Who's the greatest ever in ring?" And, without hesitation, I say Dick Murdoch.
There are nights he would take off, but even half of him was better than 95 percent of most guys in the business. Go back and watch a match from Bill Watts' Mid South Wrestling between him and Barry Windham. It's probably a 30- or 40-minute match and one of the classics of our business. Watch the timing of what he did and when. Murdoch was the greatest worker in our business.
Bleacher Report: Wow. Best ever? That's a bold statement.
Dusty Rhodes: He would have been the first person, after Andre, I would have chosen for a Hall of Fame. That's me. Biased or whatever. We were partners and brothers before he moved on. But Dick Murdoch is a true Hall of Famer.
Bleacher Report: He was in the corner with you. Across the ring, for me as a kid anyway, there was the Prince of Darkness Kevin Sullivan. That was a gimmick that could have become camp very easily. Instead, it was terrifying. What made that character work so well opposite the Dream?
Dusty Rhodes: If you have two movies based on the same story, how you cast that movie is important. Kevin Sullivan? He's Anthony Hopkins. The Prince of Darkness. The devil himself. Against the "American Dream" Dusty Rhodes, the chubby plumber's son from Austin, Texas. My God, those billboards go up and you're going to want to go see it.
The same movie is cast, this time with Dolph Lundgren as the Prince of Darkness in the lead role. It's all who you cast. Sullivan was perfect because he damn sure believed he was the devil. He would throw himself into a trance. He believed what he was talking about.
He had a following in Orlando that would follow him in almost a bus. Before vampires were legal. I guess vampires are legal now like marijuana is. But these people believed him. They would sit in the front row and cheer him— almost worship him.
Bleacher Report: That's amazing because in the wrong hands it's comedy.
Dusty Rhodes: Let me tell you a quick story. The parking lot in Orlando was fenced off. Mostly cowboys, rednecks a few attorneys. People like that. These cowboys, when I was leaving one night, those cowboys had burned these guy's van to the ground.
That's believability. That's how much they believed Kevin held a spell over those guys. He would take the Golden Spike and stab me in the heart and there were moments of riotous reaction. He truly lived in the gimmick. That was important. He was cast in the right role for him.
Bleacher Report: If you and Sullivan were the actors, the producer and the director was the late Eddie Graham. I often hear Eddie called a genius.
I've heard a lot about how he liked to have guys beaten up when they wanted to get into wrestling, but I've never really heard much about what he did that made his promotion a success. Why did you respect Eddie over every other promoter in the business?
Dusty Rhodes: You see his genius in just about everything we did, from in-ring action to timing. Knowing when to do something.
Bleacher Report: What's a good example of him getting something just right?
Dusty Rhodes: In Miami Beach, the great, legendary Jack Brisco was the world's heavyweight champion. The fans in Miami were really starting to dig my interviews. Whether I was a heel or not, they started to really get behind me. And Jack Brisco was the biggest babyface since Eddie Graham himself.
They loved Jack, but they wanted to see the changing of the guard. Eddie felt it.
We wrestled for one hour there, and at the end, Jack put his foot on the ropes. I hit him with the elbow, and he just got his foot on the ropes. It was the first time they had ever seen him have to save himself like that. When he put his foot on the ropes the place just erupted.
Bleacher Report: Just that subtle thing was all it took?
Dusty Rhodes: They were booing so loud. In one second he went from the biggest babyface to the top bad guy in that town. By costing me the world heavyweight title in that way. On the way back, Eddie Graham was standing by the door and he said "That is the way we do business." It was that simple. He controlled the people. His timing was immaculate. It was amazing.
Bleacher Report: He was a genius.
Dusty Rhodes: He was a genius. As far as stretching marks and stuff. You guys. Good lord. You're a good one. There are about a hundred bad ones. There's some goofy ones who think they know what's going on. But you know what? Nobody really knows what's really going on.
That's what Eddie believed. "Oh, they think they know what's really going on? That's cool. We'll see if they really know what's going to go on."
Bleacher Report: For me growing up in Columbia, S.C. and watching wrestling in the old Township Auditorium, to me wrestling was Jim Crockett Promotions.
You take a lot of heat, to this day, for the failure of Jim Crockett Promotions. But is that fair? At the end of the day, it was Jim Crockett Promotions and not Dusty Rhodes Promotions. Does it bother you that so many of the guys seem to blame you for losing the wrestling war to Vince?
Dusty Rhodes: That's something I've stayed out of the mix on. Because it was not important to me who they blamed. What we were doing wrestling-wise speaks for itself, and I've left it at that.
I took a little minor league area down there, put genius to it. And yes, I still think I'm a genius after all this time, crazy egotistical maniac that I am.
Bleacher Report: It's not easy to wear the throne.
Dusty Rhodes: They always ask me, "Why did you put yourself on top?" I asked Hunter the same thing. The would be booker that he is. He doesn't even have a finish named after him. How can Triple H be a great booker when he doesn't have a finish named after him. Where were we?
Bleacher Report: Jimmy Crockett.
Dusty Rhodes: I don't know what the Crocketts did with their money or where it went. And here's a better line than that. I really don't give a sh*t. We were successful. We put him on the map. He opened the door and said "Here you are, Dream. Do what you want to do." And I did. And I'm very comfortable with that.
You can write a book about it all day. It's that thing I said earlier. They think they know. They don't really know. There's more to it than meets the eye. I did not cause the downfall of Jim Crockett Promotions. Not by a long shot. I don't even want to get started on that.
Bleacher Report: The other guy who was going national, of course, was Vince McMahon. It seemed like, after Verne Gagne was gone in the 1980s, it was you versus Vince. He had characters like Virgil and Akeem the African Dream that were based on you as ribs. Was it flattering that he was recognizing you as the top competition out there?
Dusty Rhodes: Let me tell you about Vince. We grew up together in the business with the trilogy.
Bleacher Report: With Superstar Billy Graham?
Dusty Rhodes: We called it the trilogy. The three back-to-backs with me and him in the Garden. When I sit down at night, I think of Vince as a true genius in the world of wrestling and entertainment. I don't know what he thinks of me. It's cool one way or the other.
I don't want to kiss anybody's a$@, but with him, I think he's at his best when he has a battle. He loves a fight. Back then it was the territories, and he had me to fight. And I was at my best when I had someone to fight.
It just happened to me and him at that time. Deep down, despite how it ended up, it was the most fun I ever had in the industry up until the last couple of weeks, my sons dragging me to TV where I get my a#$ knocked out one week and beat up the next. What the hell is that about?
Bleacher Report: Having your family all together must be interesting. You know how hard this business is on both the wrestlers and their families. Did you have mixed feelings about your own sons becoming professional wrestlers?
Dusty Rhodes: Dustin snuck in the back door with Skandor Akbar down in Texas. His stepmom took him out to the training facility while I was on the road seven days a week. Before I knew it, he had already had his first match.
It was in his blood, it was in his DNA. He along with Murdoch and Barry Windham I consider some of the greatest in-ring workers ever in our business. He was a natural. An unbelievable kid.
Bleacher Report: But it didn't go perfectly, did it?
Dusty Rhodes: He's been fighting his demons all his life. As of late, it's been a beautiful turn around. He's a beautiful kid.
With Cody, he just broke it to me. With all the opportunities he had in school, I just broke down. I said "I don't want you in this industry. It will hurt you." It will hurt you bad because it's like a drug. Once that drug is in you, you can't get off of it.
The entertainment, the crowd, the noise. Our business is like a drug. But this is what he wanted to do, since he was 18 years old. And he's like me. Every waking moment he devotes to this industry. His success will come.
Bleacher Report: Is it hard to watch them try to navigate a tricky industry?
Dusty Rhodes: Once he got in I said "Okay. Now I'm going to stay out of the way." I want to be like Peyton Manning's dad. Out of the way.
I don't want to be someone saying "Hey, why don't you use my boy?" You can ask Mr. McMahon or anybody. Never once. Cody calls his own shots. And calling me in. But I'm tired of having my a#$ kicked.
I'm going to be in a different mode when I get to Buffalo for Battleground. I'm going to have my eyes in the back of my head. You're liable to see chairs, bull ropes. Anything. It's going to be out of sight.
Bleacher Report: Back on television with a really powerful storyline, one of the best I've seen in a long time. What's it like to work with a third generation of McMahons in Stephanie and Triple H? Is the business in capable hands?
Dusty Rhodes: Without a doubt it's in great hands. Triple H has a vision, built on developing the young talent. He's sent a great crew of coaches and staff down here to the Performance Center in Orlando. It's better than anything you could see in the NFL. He's going to be very successful.
But they say behind every successful man is a powerful woman. And there is no more powerful performer I would rather be in the ring with for a conversation than Stephanie McMahon. Sometimes two great entertainers have a great chemistry. And my chemistry with her is phenomenal.
She's a lot like her father. And that's a good thing. And Hunter is more approachable. I think together they will makes great leaders. In time.
But what's happening right now? They don't know what's best for business. It's stupid to let a kid like Cody, who's your future, lose his job on a whim. And I've said that. And here's Dustin, down to 227 pounds and looking fabulous. And can move better than almost anybody we've got right now. Why is he not working?
As two families, there's stuff being said out there, if you can read between the lines, there's a lot of animosity going back and forth. And we're not going to stand for it.
Bleacher Report: Your job is on the line. Are you prepared for that?
Dusty Rhodes: I knew when I got this job I'd be looking for another one some day. My time? I'm getting long in the tooth. I'm ready to be on the ranch. I love teaching. I love coaching. I love teaching communications class. I love giving back to the kids and the industry.
But the keys to the bus were handed to the prince. That's what me and Dustin and the family nicknamed Cody. It's his bus to drive now. We're behind him. But you can't do your thing if you don't have a job. That's what this weekend is all about. Battleground is the place to get it back and he can start from there.
WWE Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes will be ringside to watch his sons battle the Shield, Sunday at WWE Battleground.
Jonathan Snowden is Bleacher Report's lead combat sports writer and the author of Shooters: The Toughest Men in Professional Wrestling. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were gathered first hand.