30th Sep2020

Wrestling Retrospectives: The Golden Career of Dustin Rhodes

by Chris Cummings

When I think of guys in pro-wrestling who are unsung more than perhaps they should be, who have given countless memories over decades and who still manage to get in the ring and tell stories that will always be relevant and stirring, I think of Dustin Rhodes. When I began watching pro-wrestling in 1992, at just nine years old, I saw Dustin Rhodes working as “The Natural” in WCW. Since then he’s pretty much been a constant in the business, and one of those guys I always love to watch.

Dustin Patrick Runnels was born in Austin Texas in 1969, the son of the son of a plumber “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. He had big shoes to fill the moment he decided to step foot into a wrestling ring in 1988 when he debuted for Championship Wrestling from Florida. Since then, Dustin has put together a legacy over 32 years as a professional wrestler, a legacy that continues today with his role in AEW. It wasn’t all smooth running for Dustin, and he didn’t get handed things easily just because his father was one of the greatest of all time, but today, in 2020, Dustin Rhodes is a legend in the wrestling business, a guy who has worked in most of the big promotions in the world, against the biggest names to ever step into the squared-circle.

Dustin would work for Championship Wrestling, WCW, All-Japan and WWF (where he would work a tag-team match alongside his father Dusty at Royal Rumble 91) in those first few years of his career before settling down properly in 1991 as a member of the WCW roster. Working in singles and tag, Dustin would spend the early-90s teaming with Barry Windham, whom he won the unified WCW and NWA tag-titles with in 1992, but they would eventually split up when Windham turned heel. As the mid-90s were on the horizon, Rhodes competed for the WCW United States Title and won it, having some top-notch battles with guys like Ricky Steamboat and Steve Austin. His run in WCW began to plod along, though, and Dustin wanted some new challenges and a new environment to ply his craft. That’s when he signed with the World Wrestling Federation in 1995.

Dustin Rhodes had always competed as a southern-boy pro-wrestler. A traditional babyface with a lineage behind his name. He was popular in that role, no doubt. So when the vignettes began to air on WWF television and Goldust made his debut, the wrestling world went wild. Goldust, especially in those early days, was pushed as an androgynous character who made sexual remarks, acted in bizarre ways, kissed his opponents, rubbed himself and wore a skin-tight shimmering golden bodysuit and blonde wig for every match. It resulted in complaints, massive heat and even problems with wrestlers backstage when they found out they were working with this new peculiar character. 25 years later it’s awkward and weird to imagine that a character like this would be such a big heel because the fanbase didn’t like his supposed sexuality, and the homophobic chants are as abhorrant and shameful to hear now as they were back in the mid-90s. Still, he was a character created for provocation, and it was a great time to be a fan, and a greater time to be a fan of Dustin Rhodes.

Goldust began his career as a heel, and quickly introduced Marela as his valet. Marlena was Terri Runnels, Dustin’s real-life wife at the time, and the two had a chemistry together that really helped to change the Goldust image. It wasn’t long before the hated heel Goldust became a beloved babyface, with Marlena by his side. Competing in some riveting battles with Hunter Hearst Helmsley (a rivalry that would see the debut of Chyna to WWF TV), Goldust had a memorable run as Intercontinental Champion during that time, and was one of the most exciting talents in the company. In 1997 Dustin entered a feud with Brian Pillman, but sadly the feud ended sooner than it would have when Brian passed away. I still have fond memories of their story together, though, and believe it would have been even more entertaining had tragedy not struck. By the end of 1997 the Goldust character was undergoing a change, with a split with Marlena and a twisted new attitude, Dustin became The Artist Formerly Known as Goldust and joined forces with a new valet, the legendary Luna Vachon.

1998, when the Attitude Era was in full-swing, Goldust and Luna fit right in, feuding with Marc Mero & Sable in their most famous rivalry, which saw them compete at WrestleMania 14 in a mixed-tag bout. The first mixed-tag bout at WrestleMania since WrestleMania 6, when Dustin’s father, Dusty, teamed with Sapphire to face Randy Savage and Sherri. How ironic. The Artist Formerly Known as Goldust didn’t last too long, though, and we saw a small run with Dustin under his real-name in WWE. Competing as a born-again Christian, cutting promos in which he quoted the bible, Dustin Runnels had a few matches with the likes of Val Venis, before the original Goldust character returned at the end of 1998. A very crazy year for Runnels, it was typical of this time in WWE. If you miss one episode, you have a whole lot of catching up to do.

Goldust would have another Intercontinental Title run in 1999 before leaving the World Wrestling Federation to return to WCW once more. After several horror-esque video vignettes aired on WCW TV in 1999 for a new dark character named Seven, Runnels would return to WCW in the ring in which he immediately buried the gimmick, cutting a worked-shoot promo where he lambasted the Seven concept, WCW marketing and Goldust. He went on to wrestle as Dustin Rhodes from here, even using the nickname “The American Nightmare” for a while. His brother Cody would make this moniker famous many years later. Dustin didn’t do all that much in this WCW run. He feuded with Terry Funk and others, but it wasn’t the best of times for his career.

When WCW went out of business and was bought out by WWE, Goldust, after a few months, made his way back to McMahon-land, returning at Royal Rumble in January 2002. The couple of years he spent in WWE between 2002 and 2003 were memorable for his fantastically funny and massively entertaining tandem with Booker T. The two had a really fun run as a team, winning gold together at one point. Dustin has suffered demons in his life and struggled with them for a while, and his time in WWE ended in 2003 one again. He worked indie promotions for a while, but the next few years were hard ones for Runnels. A volatile second-marriage and other issues led to Dustin jumping from place-to-place with no lengthy long-term deal for a while. He would have a couple of runs in TNA, wrestling under his own name and under the gimmick of Black Reign, a new dark alterego. Sadly, the TNA runs weren’t as good as they perhaps would have been in better circumstances. Dustin wasn’t in the best of shape at times, but this would eventually change down the line. He would make a full-time return to WWE once again in 2008. This deal would last until 2012, and he would return again in 2013. During that run that began in 2008, Runnels didn’t do as much as he had in previous runs as Goldust. He worked matches with guys like Santino Marella, Chris Jericho, William Regal and others, but didn’t leave much of a mark on the product during those years. When he returned in 2013, however, he began teaming with his brother Cody, and this was a brilliant time for Dustin.

In the best shape, arguably, of his career, Goldust and Cody were a great team, and their matches together, sometimes with their Dad Dusty at ringside, were often the best thing on WWE TV. Their feud and matches with The Shield were absolutely fantastic. The Rhodes Brothers even picked up tag gold together. The team had way more potential, but they would eventually separate, and that awaited and much-wanted match and rivalry between the two didn’t really amount to much. That big match never really happened. It was a shame. In 2017 Goldust and R Truth teamed up as Golden Truth, and another team full of humour and chemistry, reminiscent of Booker and Goldust, was born. The two worked off one another really well, and though it became a bit stale at the end, they had some damn entertaining moments together. Over the next few years, Goldust didn’t do a lot in WWE, and it’s something that bothered me as a fan and obviously bothered Dustin too. He was in great shape, he had great ideas, and he could have had some really amazing matches and feuds with a bunch of talent, but WWE didn’t really use him all that much. He would eventually request his release in 2019 and be granted it.

In April of 2019 we found out that Dustin was going to be joining AEW, the new promotion in which his brother, Cody, works as Executive Vice President. Cody would be facing Dustin in a match at AEW’s Double or Nothing PPV in May. The match itself stole the show and is, in my view, the best match that AEW has promoted so far. It was an old-school brawl, full of emotion and story-telling, and it was everything I love about pro-wrestling in one wonderful bout. Dustin showed that he could, given a chance, still shine as bright as the golden suit he wore for so many years. Dustin is still working in AEW today and his knowledge and experience in pro-wrestling is a priceless tool in itself for the younger talents in the promotion. His career has many years left, that is obvious, whether he’s in the ring tearing it up, or working backstage.

The son of a dream and brother of a nightmare, Dustin Rhodes is a legend in the world of wrestling, and has carved out a bizarre, wonderful, memorable, funny and exciting legacy that will last forever. Looking back on over thirty-years, it’s obvious that Dusty would be damn proud of what his son has accomplished and the longevity he has achieved in a business all too willing to halt your progression at times. A phenomenal entertainer, it doesn’t matter if he’s Rhodes or Runnels, it doesn’t matter if he’s “The Natural”, “The Bizarre One” or “The Lone Star”, it doesn’t matter if he’s The Artist Formerly Known as Goldust, Black Reign or Goldust himself. What matters is that we will never forget any of the names of… Dustin Rhodes.


Comments are closed.