Upholding the tradition of breaking the mold

At Extreme Rules Sunday, Cody Rhodes will face Intercontinental Champion Big Show in a stipulation match. What that stipulation is, however, remains a mystery.

Although that shroud of secrecy seemingly levels the playing field, at least temporarily, for both Superstars, there is plenty of reason to believe that former titleholder Rhodes will be up for the challenge.

Cody Rhodes, after all, is of hardcore stock … though you wouldn’t necessarily know it watching him in the ring. ( VIDEO PLAYLIST | PHOTOS)

Compared to older brother Goldust and father Dusty, Cody is something of an outlier, with an amateur ring background and style defined largely by speed and agility. Before Cody, neither of those attributes had ever been considered a true calling card of the rough-and-tumble Rhodes family. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes blazed trails with his long history of “gimmick matches” and flamboyant antics. Brother Dustin carried the torch in both respects, first winning over audiences with his toughness in mid ‘90s donnybrooks, then also shocking and entertaining them with the Goldust persona later on.

As his current rivalry with Big Show suggests, Cody Rhodes can also be fearless, reckless and merciless.

But can he be “extreme”?

To get perspective on the Rhodes family’s legacy of hardcore wrestling, and to figure out where Cody fits into the mix, WWE.com caught up with patriarch Dusty, who two weeks ago on SmackDown referred to his younger son as the “most naturally gifted athlete” to step into the WWE ring since Shawn Michaels. ( WATCH)

“Make no mistake about it: He doesn’t want to be the next Shawn Michaels,” the elder Rhodes told WWE.com. “He wants to be the first Cody Rhodes.”

That viewpoint should come as no surprise. Along with their hardcore wrestling tendencies, the Rhodes have always shared another trait: An innate desire to break the mold.

An extreme icon

Along with the likes of Bruiser Brody and The Sheik, Dusty Rhodes’ name belongs on any list that claims to comprehensively name the pioneers of hardcore wrestling. His proclivity for out-and-out brawls emerged early on, during his team with “Dirty” Dick Murdoch. Known collectively as The Texas Outlaws, Rhodes and Murdoch were two bar room brawlers. Their fights in the Midwest against The Crusher and Dick the Bruiser often dissolved into riotous melees.

As a singles competitor, The American Dream did little to hurt his reputation as a brawler first, wrestler second. Having witnessed firsthand one of the earliest Texas Death Matches – a multi-hour marathon in Amarillo involving the contest’s inventor, Dory Funk Sr. – Dusty knew that his in-ring style meshed well with such wild, no-rules match formats.

“That was my first real look at what we call the gimmick match,” Dusty said, adding that his eventual involvement in those types of bouts was a byproduct of the era. “What drew me to those matches, I think, was the way I was built up – as a brawler, the kid from Texas, the plumber’s son sticking up for the common man.”

The American Dream added to his hardcore cred while competing in Florida wrestling. Alongside fellow hardcore innovators Terry Funk and Pak Song, Rhodes tussled in barbed wire and fought in Texas Bullrope Matches, a style of bout in which both competitors were tethered at the wrist by a bullrope with a cowbell hanging in the middle. For Dusty, such matches represented the definitive end to many a rivalry.

“The gimmick matches were the blow-off,” he recalled. “Either you beat me or I beat you. Either way, I knew that those matches meant the end.”

Coming to WWE’s main haunt of Madison Square Garden in the late 1970s, Rhodes set his sight on “Superstar” Billy Graham. Their trilogy of matches included a Texas Death Match and Bull Rope Match, the latter of which WWE promoter Vince McMahon Sr. had to petition the New York State Commission to green-light.

In WWE Home Video's 2006 DVD release, “Dusty Rhodes: The Story of The American Dream,” Graham classified the Bullrope Match this way: “It was just a street fight. Nothing technical.”

Dusty, meanwhile, waxes nostalgic about the adrenaline rush of those brutal affairs.

“I loved the excitement of the noise from the bullrope slapping my opponent, the thrill of the bell ringing on somebody’s noggin,” he said.

Should Cody be readying for the sting of the bullrope or a thwack of the cowbell when he faces Big Show?

Honoring a legacy

When Dustin Rhodes began his ring career, he faced the problem that many second-generation Superstars encounter: claims of nepotism. Dusty immediately disavows such claims, whether in regard to Dustin or Cody.

“They both faced uphill battles,” Dusty said. “They had to be first in the locker room and last to leave. They were sons of a great legendary Superstar in our business. They had to prove to other people they got their on their own, who they were.”

Dustin, young and athletic, worked a semi-technical style in his early years at WCW, during which time he also went by the moniker “The Natural.” Always cognizant of the tough-man reputation earned by his WWE Hall of Fame father, Dustin faithfully carried on the legacy of brutal – and thrilling – brawls.

Some of his most famous outings came in WCW against Southern mainstay Jimmy Golden, who was then going by the name “Bunkhouse Buck” in the mid-‘90s. In 1994, Rhodes battled Golden in a pair of back-to-back pay-per-view stipulation matches. At WCW Slamboree, before a notoriously hostile crowd in Philadelphia that was at that point only flirting with ECW’s foray into extreme competition, Rhodes beat Golden in a Bullrope Match after slamming the cow bell into his suspender-wearing foe’s head. ( WATCH)

At the following pay-per-view, WCW Spring Stampede, Rhodes lost a competitive come-as-you-are Bunkhouse Brawl. Later that year, Rhodes enlisted the help of his father and the Nasty Boys to overcome Golden and his Stud Stable cohorts, Meng, Arn Anderson & Terry Funk, in a War Games Match.

According to Dusty, Dustin was a holdover from an era that was gradually coming to a close.

“Having seen so many Bunkhouse Matches growing up, Goldust was more old-school,” Dusty said. “He loved that attitude of 'let’s just brawl and have a big fight.' I think he wanted to be part of that era I was in, and he knew that it was slowly, slowly coming to an end.”

Might Cody Rhodes bring a pair of well-worn jeans with him to Chicago Sunday, in case his Intercontinental Championship Match goes the way of a bunkhouse brawl?

As much adulation as he may have had for his father’s style of competition, Dustin severed the ties – at least to the perspective of all onlookers – when he shed the cowboy boots and “Natural” name and became Goldust in WWE in 1995. The gold face paint and body suit, however, did nothing to blemish the Rhodes' legacy of hardcore. At WrestleMania XII, Goldust again found himself in the throes of a stipulation match, taking on WWE Hall of Famer "Rowdy" Roddy Piper in a cinematic clash known as the Hollywood Back Lot Brawl. To date, it is the only Back Lot Brawl on record.

This time, it was the second-generation Rhodes, and not his father, who was doing the innovating – a point that Dusty readily concedes. The American Dream considers the Back Lot Brawl as “one of the greatest WrestleMania gimmick matches of all time.”

After WrestleMania XII, Goldust went on to capture numerous WWE titles, including seven separate reigns with the now-defunct WWE Hardcore Championship.

Breaking the mold

Dusty Rhodes helped establish the hardcore wrestling scene in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and by the ‘90s, Dustin’s roughneck style was considered retro. Cody Rhodes, every bit the personification of a modern-day WWE Superstar, bridges the gap between then and now.

“Cody is from an era of business and airplanes, publicists and movies, TV series and Armani suits and red carpets,” Dusty said. “But in his own way, Cody’s an outlaw, too. He’s a throwback to the older era, but he gets the nuances of what’s going on presently. His potential is untapped.”

Although Cody’s history in WWE is pocked with decidedly un-hardcore moments – in particular, the period of his metrosexual, narcissistic “Dashing” persona, during which time he offered beauty tips including the proper way to apply high-gloss lip balm – the younger Rhodes has not shied away from barbaric fights. His résumé includes a Hell in a Cell Tag Team Match against D-Generation X, and a Falls Count Anywhere Match against Rey Mysterio at last year’s Extreme Rules event. ( WATCH)

Describing himself as the “Archie Manning of WWE,” Dusty’s paternal pride shows through. He says both Dustin and Cody "have made it on their own,” though he insists that the differences between the two are still immense. During their respective careers, both Dustin and Cody have sought feedback from Dusty, but even mode of communication has changed.

“With Cody, it’s a different direction,” Dusty said. “It’s text messaging – not even phone calls or e-mails. It’s, ‘I love you, Dad. I’m on the way to the gym. Tell Mom I’m going to Europe next.”

In between globetrotting, Cody visits his father in Florida to pick the legend’s brain. With 43 years’ experience, Dusty dissects ring psychology poolside while Cody listens intently and scribes key points in his notebook.

Now that Cody’s “poking the bear” in the form of an irritated World’s Largest Athlete, might one of those poolside chats with The American Dream be an expectation-setting discussion of potential gimmick matches to come?

The WWE Universe won’t know until Extreme Rules whether the father-son conversations between Dusty and Cody will have any bearing on Sunday’s Intercontinental Championship Match. However, the Rhodes family patriarch is certain of one thing.

“If you’re going to have a fight, it might as well be with the biggest dog in the lot,” Dusty said of his son’s antics following the WrestleMania XXVIII title loss. “If you have to regroup, you have to regroup, and that’s what he’s doing right now.”

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