Cody Rhodes: Growing up WCW
This isn’t hyperbole. Genuinely, the first memory I have is my dad taking me to a WCW show. I remember specifically, because of the logo in the ring. This is the only memory I have – he put my feet on the mat. I guess I could barely walk. Then he picked me up, put me over the top rope and handed me off to somebody. He wanted me to feel the ring. That is literally the earliest memory I have.
From the time I was able to, until I was about 6 or 7, I went to every local WCW show with my dad from Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama. I’d go to the WCW offices in CNN Center and sit in on my dad and Tony Schiavone doing the voiceovers for WCW Saturday Night.
I found out via Blockbuster Video how special my dad was in the sports-entertainment world. I didn’t know, because I wasn’t old enough. I wasn’t able to form a thought when he won the World Heavyweight Championship, or when he brought the WarGames, or when he was battling The Four Horsemen. That was all stuff I rented on VHS tapes at Blockbuster Video.
When I would go as kid, even when he was competing, he was also the promoter. So I got a pretty good indication when he was in charge. He’d be having all these very serious conversations by the side of his old F-150 with guys like Sting. I was just sitting in the backseat wondering what the heck they were talking about.
My dad used to use me as a barometer. When I’d go to WCW pay-per-views, my dad was on commentary and they sat away from the ring. I would sit in front of their desk. These big epic matches would take place and he would watch me, to see if I looked back at him or if I was totally invested.
A firm handshake
Meng came to WCW and he was one of the rogues with Col. Robert Parker against my dad. He broke a wooden chair off and slammed it over my dad’s head. I was at the age where I was really worried. When I realized he was okay, I was sitting next to him backstage in a room all by ourselves. Meng came in and I thought, “I’m gonna have to defend my dad. Even at this young age, I have to do something.” I was like nine. He came in and stuck his hand out. My dad shook his hand and said nothing to him. It looked really tense. Meng just nodded and he left. I asked my dad and he said, “Out there is different. Back here, we respect each other.” I had no clue what that was supposed to mean, but I bought that. Out there was a competitive world, but back here it’s not allowed.
We do a thing in WWE, and sports-entertainment in general, where we all shake hands. People who are new or are from the business world think it’s almost obsessive how much handshaking is going on. The true meaning of that is we need one another to succeed. As a young kid, I just wanted to shake everyone’s hand, shake it in a certain way and to look people in the eyes when you speak to them. With those two things, I was way ahead of the curve. Especially when I was like 7 or 8, I had a firm handshake and knew how to talk to somebody. My dad taught me that. He always does this thing, he does it to this day, where he’ll walk into a room and somebody wants to shake his hand and they don’t get up. My dad always says, “Is something wrong with your legs?” It’s horrible, because it’s ego-based. But it’s been instilled in me that I never shake anyone’s hand without standing up.
I was an old soul. The reason I was an old soul is because of sports-entertainment. I was in a world, at such a young age, with these 300-pound men with spiked shoulder pads, facepaint who were telling stories for fans. I had a childhood like no other, so I acted like no other. I was too old for my age.
Fighting for family
My big dad used to go to our neighborhood pool in his trunks and people thought that was the most ridiculous thing ever. Unless they knew he was Dusty Rhodes, and then they liked it. He’d wear the same stuff he wore in the ring. My best friend, to this day, we grew up in the same neighborhood. His family had no connection to sports-entertainment, nor did they want one. They felt we were like The Addams Family.
I got into fights with older kids because everybody would say, “What your dad does is fake.” Around third or fourth grade, my dad told me, “If somebody tells you wrestling is fake, you tell them, ‘No, it’s not.’ If somebody tells you wrestling is fake again, you say, ‘Look, that’s how my dad makes a living and you can have your opinion, but don’t say it again.’ On the third time, you have my permission to punch them in the face.” It was a three-strike rule we had and every time, it went to the third strike. I was constantly getting in these scraps with different kids, defending the entertainment industry.
Then, in the late ’90s, wrestling boomed and I was the center of attention in middle school. I used to not like it, because it was my thing, and my thing was now everybody’s thing. I didn’t understand that was great for business. I just wanted it to be mine.
Sting and The Great Muta were my favorites in WCW. I always got a Japanese character autograph from Muta at every show. The first thing I’d do when I got to the building was run up into the concourse with my backstage pass that Doug Dillinger gave me. I was allowed to get one thing from the merch booth and I’d get the Sting paint. I’d go into the bathroom and put it on.
My dad always tried to get me involved with the talent. I was very, very, very shy and you can’t really be shy in a wrestling locker room. He’d have me rib the guys. He gave me a pen that would explode when the cap came off. It looked like a Sharpie, but it was very dangerous.
One time, my dad told me to go ask Sting for an autograph and use the pen. I was terrified of doing it. I didn’t see the humor in it, but I did it and I remember it totally backfired. Sting legitimately got scared and jolted. He didn’t even laugh and I just ran away. So there wasn’t really any payoff. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t even aware that I was Dusty’s son. So it was just a bizarre fan signing gone bad. Later in the night, he saw me and laughed and said, “I’m gonna get you back.” I remember being scared, because Sting was my favorite wrestler. Why would my dad do this? When people bring their kids to the locker room today, I’m always very stand-offish.
Thanksgiving dinner with the Horsemen
There’s an old video tape of me running under the table while Ric Flair, Arn Anderson and JJ Dillon are all over at my house for Thanksgiving. It’s funny, because they’re just talking normally and Ric is sitting there with his blond hair. And then you see little me, running under the table. I was around all this great talent and I didn’t even know it. My dad did a great job of being Dad and not a celebrity dad. A lot of it, I didn’t realize how special it was until I look back on it.
Arn is really protective of me. There’s not as much tough love in the company anymore, but when I screw up, Arn Anderson chews me out, not for hours, but for days. Sometimes weeks at a time, he’ll ridicule me for screwing something up. To me, that’s protecting me. I’ve got this legacy to carry and I want this. Without Arn, Dusty doesn’t exist and without Dusty, Arn doesn’t exist. So, I think it’s more unique for Arn than it is for me that I’m here.
The Mastodon's mask and a Rattlesnake babysitter
I was not interested at all in what happened backstage. I liked watching the show. The only thing I liked doing backstage was this, and this was my favorite thing in the world. Big Van Vader had this big mastodon mask. It was ahead of its time in technology. There was a guy who had a remote control and would go along the long WCW walkway that went to the ring and hit the remote control and pyro would go off from the sides of the mask. When that guy would see me – he didn’t speak a lick of English – he’d open up the little control panel and let me touch it. One time, he let me pick up the mask. I thought that was the coolest thing ever. That was the only thing I was interested in backstage.
I remember Harley Race kind of gave me an indication that I shouldn’t be in the locker room. He gave me a death stare while him and Vader were talking over a match. I remembered that stare and never went in the locker room after that. I’d stay backstage, but I’d never go in the locker room.
When Vader broke Sting’s ribs, I was backstage. Sting was holding his ribs and I asked my dad, “What are they gonna do?” And my dad said that Sting had to drink a lot of milk, but he was going to be okay. I believed that.
My dad asked Madusa and “Stunning” Steve Austin to keep an eye on me one time while I was sitting in some empty locker room for like 15 minutes. They were basically babysitting me. I don’t believe Steve Austin remembers this, nor does he even know today that I was that kid. They were just instructed to keep an eye on me, and they did. Madusa was always super sweet.
Meeting future rivals
Big Show was introduced to me as Gant. My dad told me, “This is Gant,” which was my dad’s clever way of irritating Big Show. He would write his name down as Gant and he was introduced to me as Gant. He was as nice as could be with real long hair. The first time I met him, his hand was three times the size of mine.
WCW used to film at what is now Disney Hollywood Studios in Orlando at the park. That one was kind of a drive for us, but I went a few times. They’d film like four hours of television, but I was able to go out in the park. That was the coolest thing ever. You’d go from one passion to this kid-friendly paradise.
One day, my dad brought a tall, blond guy up to me. He was wearing a tucked in polo shirt with big guns. My dad introduced me, I don’t remember what he called him, and said, “He’s gonna be a really big deal.” This was before the fans filed in or anything. I said, “Very nice to meet you.” And then my dad and that guy went off to the side and talked. I went and did my own thing. And that was Triple H.
I stayed for his match and the first set of tapings. Triple H did the old villain move. I was in the front row and he stared a hole through me to see if I flinched or to see if people would boo, because he was picking on this little kid. I didn’t want to play along with what was going on, but I also was legitimately uncomfortable. So, mission accomplished for him.
I used to love watching Dustin wrestle as “The Natural.” I didn’t see Dustin often. He was married and he was older. He lived in McDonough, Ga., and we lived in Atlanta. He had this Western coat with fringe and cactus on the back for “The Natural” and I used to love putting it on.
He was a young man at the time and women in the South loved him. Just to hear that high-pitched scream and the way they reacted, it was really cool to watch my brother. We were not close, but the wrestling business has made us really close. Never at any other time was I more proud that he was my brother than when he was “The Natural.” I was proud when he was Goldust, but I didn’t get to physically go and see him. When he was “The Natural,” I thought he was the best.
A run-in with The Outsiders
One time, when I was 14, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall got on an elevator with me, going up to catering. I had my backstage pass that Doug Dillinger had provided for me, as always, and they flicked it. I didn’t even know these guys and they said, “Well, who are you?” And I said, “I’m Dusty’s son.” And they said, “You’re not Dusty’s son. We know Dusty’s son.”
They were joking with me, but I was not playing along. They kept flipping my pass. I was only 14, so I was of the age that I understood. I didn’t care about these guys. Had the elevator ride been any longer, I think I would have kicked them both in the shins. I remember thinking, “I don’t like these guys. I don’t like them at 14 and I bet I wouldn’t like them at 30.” But that was part of being in a wrestling locker room.
It really was fun when I was a teenager. In Daytona, for Bash at the Beach when Hogan joined the nWo, I was backstage and talking to this random stranger after it all had happened. I didn’t know who it was. Then, all of a sudden, a cop came and unhandcuffed him from the door that he was standing next to when I was talking to him. It was the guy who threw the can of beer at “Mean” Gene Okerlund. He had been arrested, but I had no clue who I was talking to. I was talking to him for about 10 minutes. I just thought he was just a guy backstage. I asked him if he enjoyed the show, what his favorite match was, it was weird. It was just some guy who lost his cool. Out of the hundreds of people who did it, that was the one guy they caught.
Georgia on my mind
On the night that Goldberg pinned Hogan, you can see me in the crowd holding up a Diamond Cutter sign. I don’t know. I got overly excited and decided to hold up the Diamond Cutter sign. I’m wearing a Penn State hat backwards like four rows back. I’ve been in the ring when Undertaker’s come out, I’ve been in the ring when Triple H comes out, the reaction was of that magnitude – the whole crowd getting behind one thing. Goldberg beats him and then Falcons players come out. It was very Georgia-based. Wow, that was one of the coolest nights.
I went to the next show at the Georgia Dome and there were about half as many people. The West Texas Rednecks did a concert and Megadeth did a concert. The WCW fans in Atlanta booed Megadeth off the stage, but when The West Texas Rednecks played, they thought it was the greatest thing ever. It was so fun.
We still run at the McKenzie Center at UTC, The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. I went to a show there when I was a kid. I got my backstage pass from Doug Dillinger, which meant I could go sit wherever I wanted and go out in the crowd. All the seating people would be really confused, because I was abusing the pass. I’d sit where I wanted.
One time, at UTC, I fell on these wooden steps. They still exist, because I’ve seen them from the ring myself now. I fell all the way to the bottom and I busted my eye open. I came to the back, not crying, but holding my hand over my eye, because I was embarrassed. Ricky Steamboat patched me up in the same room that we dress in today. To me, it feels like something’s right when I’m in the building. I wanted to be in sports-entertainment and I wanted to be the top of my field in it. So to be there, just to be able to put on a pair of boots of my own, feels like it’s right.