After thirty-one-plus years in the business, with a broken down body and fifty years of toll, Dustin Rhodes pulled off something even he thought impossible — the greatest match of his career. Along the way, he rediscovered his love of pro wrestling and etched one of the most significant moments in the history of this sport.
“Man, I am exhausted.” Sitting down with Kenny McIntosh of Inside the Ropes less than 24-hours after his grueling match against real-life half-brother Cody at All Elite Wrestling’s inaugural pay-per-view, Double or Nothing, Dustin Rhodes has the look of a weary fighter on his last legs after giving his all and more.
“I’m very, very sore. If I was thirty, my body could probably recoup a bit quicker, but it’s going to take me a few days after this one. I lost a lot of blood, my shoulders are killing me, my back hurts pretty bad, I’m bruised up, banged up, couple shots in my knees last night, eight stitches… I’m good!”
The Starrcast II crowd in attendance give Dustin a few whoops and applause of appreciation. “I’m just moving a little bit slower than normal- than I was yesterday.”
In July of 2018, Dustin underwent surgery on both of his knees. On March 28, 2019, it was reported by Pro Wrestling Sheet that Rhodes left the WWE after his contract expired, thus ending his six-year tenure with the promotion. Dustin confirmed his departure on April 21, 2019.
“For the last four years…” Rhodes takes a moment to collect himself. “A lot of people hate their jobs and a lot of people love their jobs and I love pro wrestling. Pro wrestling is my first love. And for the past four years with WWE, I kind of lost my passion, because, let’s face it, you’re sitting in the back, you’re not doing anything and it’s just really hard.”
Still reeling off the emotions from the night before, Dustin was candid, honest, and spoke from the heart.
“It’s frustrating when you have so much to give but time is running out because you’re getting old. It sucks when you’re not being picked and you’re pitching these ideas to the writers and to the creative and to Vince and to anybody else who will listen but nothing happens. It’s like, ‘Oh we’ll just put you in a backstage segment standing in the hallway when Goldberg makes his fucking entrance.’ You know, thanks I appreciate that, but no thanks! I would rather be doing something with substance on the show with a storyline. Whether I deserve it or not I don’t know but that’s what I wanted, that’s what I desired. That’s where my passion was and I lost it along the way. And I wanted out.
Dustin Rhodes opens up about how difficult it was to leave WWE, comparing it to being in prison
“It was hard to get out. It’s like if anybody has seen the movie Papillon. [WWE]’s like a prison, it really is. It’s one of the prisons they take good care of you in but I needed to go and do something else, man, because I had been there for so long. They had taken good care of me, but I needed to get out. I needed to get out and breathe and try to find my passion again.
“There are other things I want to do in life before it just ends, you know? Because you never know, you take every day for granted. Tomorrow might never happen. There’s acting I might want to do, there’s teaching, opening a wrestling school, there are all kinds of things that I have in my mind that I am creating constantly every single day. To actually be able to get out and say, ‘This is my last day with the company’ and for it to actually get done and to be able to go out and speak about it was a breath of fresh air.”
The same day he announced his departure from WWE, Dustin shared a touching video where he retired the Goldust character and talked of looking ahead to the final chapter of his career where he would have ‘one last ride’ with his brother Cody at AEW’s inaugural Double or Nothing pay-per-view.
“This just fell into my lap, AEW with my brother. Let me tell you something. When you push for something so hard for so, so long and they look you dead in the eye and they tell you, ‘That is not good enough to be on the big show,’ it fucking pissed me off. It fucking pissed me off because I knew in my heart of hearts they were wrong. And I proved that last night [at Double or Nothing] when finally, after years and years of wanting it, you get that opportunity and I found my passion again. I found my passion.”
The Rhodes Brothers – Cody versus Dustin – Over four years in the making
Cody and Dustin Rhodes have talked publicly for years about wanting to have that brother versus brother match on the big stage at WrestleMania. Though a match between the pair took place at WWE’s 2015 Fastlane pay-per-view, they both weren’t happy with it and felt the storyline deserved so much more.
“That match was terrible. You want WrestleMania. That is the big show. You want to be on that stage in front of God and the world. Fastlane, the first year the pay-per-view was announced… Come on, man. It wasn’t a good match. Cody hated it. I hated it. It wasn’t what we wanted.”
A year and a half before this, on October 6th, 2013, at WWE’s Battleground pay-per-view, the Rhodes Brothers made their debut match as a tag team with father Dusty in their corner where they defeated Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns of The Shield to earn the tag titles for the first time. Various WWE wrestlers and agents came out to celebrate with the Rhodes family, including Arn Anderson, Dean Malenko, and Dave Finlay. It felt like everybody was getting behind The Rhodes Brothers. Then, out of nowhere, WWE just dropped it. The titles were changed to The New Age Outlaws at 2014’s Royal Rumble pre-show and everybody moved on. From there, Cody was given the Stardust gimmick.
“When WrestleMania season is approaching and you’re tag team champs, you want to make sure you’re on that show. I was fighting for that moment because I had been in the frickin’ battle royals for the last several years and it sucks. I wanted to have another moment out there. And I know I’m getting older and these kids are coming in and they need to shine and I get that and I understand… but they’re still not there yet, some of them. It takes a lot and I can help them much like Jericho helped Fandango. Call upon me to do something like that. Me and Cody are the tag team champions. We had the hottest frickin’ match on the planet with The Shield and our dad. It was amazing. That was like one of the top moments of my career. Our run was going so good and then all of a sudden The New Age Outlaws take it from us going into WrestleMania season so here I am stuck in the battle royal again. It sinks your battleship. It sucks. It’s frustrating. You gotta keep going and going and stay positive, but after years of it, it gets hard. It gets hard because you have so much more to offer. It’s in your DNA. It’s in your blood, it’s all you know. You love it to death and then it just… it sinks you, man. And it sucks. It’s hard to deal with and you can deal with it for only so long, but like I said I had to get out.”
The meaning behind the new look of Dustin Rhodes
Straight after announcing his departure from WWE, Dustin bid farewell to his Goldust character and the WWE universe and reinvented himself as “The Natural”, a moniker he used during the first few years of his career.
“Dad named me The Natural early on and we did that little run where I was learning and green and listening to everybody, minding my Ps and Qs and just trying to learn as much as I possibly could. We did that for five-six years and then the Goldust character happened.
“I was thinking to myself when this [AEW] opportunity knocked that I want to get back to my roots. I wanted to come full circle before I end up actually retiring. It’s a little different look where half my face is painted red and black signifying life and death, for what I’ve gone through and what I’ve been through in my years. This is detailed in my book which you can look at that, with my drug addictions and my alcoholisms and things like that and coming back strong. The other half is this new Dustin. That’s kind of the meaning of the half paint. I just wanted to modernize the Dustin Rhodes look. Instead of cowboy jeans and boots, you know, kind of take a little bit of some of the old Goldust suits but take the sleeves off so I can show my skinny little arms and my tattoos. It was special for me to bring this and show the world last night on this debut of AEW at Double or Nothing. It was unbelievable.”
In a bloody, epic battle that stole the show, The Rhodes Brothers finally got the match that they had hoped for and so very much deserved at Double or Nothing. They had an awesome match. In fact, personally, I consider it one of the most memorable matches in the past twenty years. It represented a turning point in many ways. For Dustin, the match proved not only to the fans and past doubters but to himself that he still has got “it”. For Cody, this match, the build-up, the visuals, and emotional post-match promo and hug at the end all proved to the world that All Elite Wrestling is here and a contender for bringing the very best in wrestling programming. It’s still early days, but the magic created in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 25th, 2019, is something that will go down as one of the most legendary nights in wrestling history.
“Oh my god, guys, I am not worthy. I am not worthy. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
When Inside the Ropes host Kenny McIntosh told him the following day that he and Cody stole the show, Dustin couldn’t believe it. With years of being told he wasn’t good enough, doubt was his first reaction.
“Are you serious, really? That is amazing if that is the truth.”
When Dustin said this, the Starrcast II crowd rose to their feet to offer comfort and reassurance. Dustin held back tears.
“Oh my god, guys, I am not worthy. I am not worthy. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
“I’m a humble guy and I am always a perfectionist and there are always things when I watch myself back, which I hate doing, where I think, ‘Oh, I should have done this better…’ and it never really sinks in. But last night it did. It really, really did. I felt it. The emotions and the story were there.”
Dustin to Cody: “All I can say to that is I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you more.”
The story Dustin and Cody depicted resonated with the fans. It broke through the barriers of disbelief that often comes from storylines in wrestling. For these two, their story was very much real.
“Cody and I have different mothers. There is a sixteen-year difference, we do not have a lot in common, but I love my brother with all my heart.
“I really paid my dues when I started in the business where I was making $20 a night for a couple of years and I kept my mouth shut and did my job. Those first two years were probably the most fun in my whole career. I made no money though, but I learned because I wanted it and I was passionate. Cody was the same way, but to me, personally, he was raised so differently. I think dad saw some of the mistakes that he made with my sister [Kristen] and myself and tried to make up for those with Cody and Teil my sister. And that’s okay. I get that. I understand. I just wish we would have been a little closer.
“I was there for him for all of his wrestling and the special things that he did. Not as much as I should have been maybe, and maybe that’s why he was a little upset with me or whatnot. For that, all I can say to that is I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you more.
“I was shocked at the things that Cody said. It hurt me, it upset me, it pissed me off. I questioned a lot of things and I took a deep look at the past on how I treated things and treated him.”
“[The reaction to the promo I put out after I left WWE] made me feel really, really good. I had no idea that it was going to have the reaction that it did. And then Cody dropped his, to be honest with you, for three days I was shocked at the things that he said. It hurt me, it upset me, it pissed me off. Then it hurt me again and upset me again. I questioned a lot of things and I took a deep look at the past on how I treated things and treated him, and it was strong. People bought that, too. You put them both together and the story was there. We didn’t have to go to a parking lot and jump somebody to sell this match. Those two little things, those eight minutes of video, it sold the match. It’s amazing how it took off like wildfire. Sometimes a little less is more and those two things did it. We got there and it proved it, man.
While the well-produced promos began getting the fans excited, there was a lot of uncertainty still for Dustin about performing in front of a new audience.
“I had no idea how the AEW crowd was going to respond to me because I had only seen them independently watching the first All In, so I had no idea. I know it’s a different crowd than WWE. When they played the video package, you saw Cody taking a sledgehammer to Hunter Hearst Helmsley’s throne which was frickin’ awesome. That was kick ass, right? Pyros were going off, the throne is dead, here is the “Prince of Wrestling” Cody Rhodes and it was great. I’m watching through the tunnel because I’m next. I thought I was going to be first to the ring but he was and I was watching that going, ‘Holy hell, this is really cool.’ And then my music hit.
“I heard the people. When I walked out, they were there for me. It was incredible. And when we got in the ring, and I get really emotional. I cried all this morning, I cried last night, and I know a lot of people cried with me and that’s freaking awesome to me. I’m glad you cried. I cried too. It was really heartfelt to me.
“Getting to the ring, there was Cody standing across from me and here I am. The people are taken to me and it’s nice to see that. They’ve taken to him. Then the Dusty chants start and I’m like, ‘Holy shit…’
“For that moment, I’m looking out to the crowd and you all just disappeared. I don’t know how to explain it but I was just in a different place.”
At this moment, Dustin began wiping away tears.
“I was in a zone that I hadn’t been in a long, long time. Time stood still. I could see you but I couldn’t. I could hear you but I couldn’t. I was focused and the fans were chanting [my dad’s name] and so many other things and Cody and I were doing our thing. I could have missed a couple of spots and it wouldn’t have fucking mattered at all. I could do no wrong last night. Cody could do no wrong. And we went out there and killed it. We killed it.
“I read wrestling sites and things and it pisses me off a lot, okay? And I saw a lot of people in the buildup for this saying, ‘This is going to be terrible’, ‘I’m not looking forward to this’, ‘It’s going to suck’, it’s this, it’s that. And that fuels me. I like that when they say that, you know? To get the emotion and the match that we had and to change their minds hopefully a little bit is a job well done as far as I’m concerned.”
While Cody may have defeated his brother Dustin in a bloody battle at Double or Nothing, The American Nightmare wasn’t done.
After the match, he grabbed a mic and delivered one of the most emotional promos in recent memory to his fallen brother, who was sat in the corner of the ring covered in blood. Cody delivered a promo that didn’t leave a dry eye in the house.
While many (including Dustin) speculated that this might be his final ever match, Cody told his brother that he doesn’t get to retire here because he’s going to have one last rodeo by tag-teaming with himself against The Young Bucks at AEW Fight for the Fallen on July 13 in Jacksonville, Florida.
“As amazing as my career has been these past thirty-one years, last night was tops for me. There is nothing I can do. It was the most special moment in my life and my career and there is nothing I can do to ever top this. I can quit today and be fine with it. Cody had to reel my ass back in for The Young Bucks. Now I’m going to get my ass kicked by The Young Bucks and they are a lot faster than me and I’m going to get super kicked to fucking death and it’s going to really fucking suck! And I’m going to run over there to my brother who I love so much and hugged, tag him and say, ‘Get in there because I’m fucking tired and I’m old!'”