Dusty’s NXT kids: The next generation on Dusty Rhodes’ immeasurable influence
At NXT TakeOver: Respect, four teams will clash in hopes of winning the first Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic in WWE history. There’s no arguing that The American Dream is more than worthy of having a tournament – or 10 – named after him.
But this one takes on a special meaning because of where it’s taking place — WWE NXT. Dusty Rhodes worked tirelessly with the next generation of competitors at the WWE Performance Center, helping them find their inner Superstar or Diva. While the WWE Hall of Famer’s goal may have been to impart lessons on how to be better on the microphone or in the squared circle, his teachings often reached beyond the ring.
Before the inaugural Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic trophy is handed out at TakeOver, WWE.com sought to find out just why this tournament means so much to NXT and the people who comprise it. Some of Dusty’s prized pupils opened up and told us why The American Dream will live on forever.
“When I first came here, I was coming from such a different background, a different environment and everything. The culture here was very different from what I was used to. It’s very different from what it is now. The one sort of beacon of hope, in a way, in terms of honesty and genuineness was Dusty, because he was very real. He was unapologetic in a landscape that was very sensitive. It felt like you were walking on eggshells a lot, had to watch what you were saying and doing, because perception is reality. Dusty just was himself. For me, that was a big lesson. I wasn’t going to get caught up in that, I am who I am, and I’m not going to apologize for it. Sometimes, I’ll be misunderstood, that’s fine. I believe that I have the character as a human being and the talent as a performer to carry me through. I learned that from Dusty, not from what he said, but how he carried himself and the way he lived.
“Talk is cheap. It’s ironic, saying that about Dusty, because he was one of the best talkers of all time. It’s not about the words you say, but the way you are. The reason we all have this impression of Dusty is because of the way he was. It’s not about what he said to us on a one-on-one basis, it’s the way he was. That’s why we all remember him.
“Another lesson hit me right around the time of his passing. I had an epiphany, a light bulb went off. I remember being in class with him. I remember people going up and being awesome [on the microphone] and he’d say, ‘Awesome.’ Then other people would do terrible, just awful. Dusty would go, ‘Clear. Perfect, that’s great.’ I would think to myself, ‘What? How does Dusty Rhodes, the greatest talker of all time, think that was great?’ Then, it dawned on me one day. Sometimes, Dusty said what you needed to hear for you to grow. He could have picked it apart, piece by piece, but what’s that doing for your confidence? What’s that doing for you as a performer? If anything, it’s going to make you more robotic and be in a shell, trying to remember all these notes. Instead, he gave you validation, which helped you grow as a speaker and performer. I’m getting goosebumps thinking of it, but it’s a serious life lesson I take far beyond this business. Sometimes, people just need a little encouragement. You just need to show people a little love and that will take them further than any advice you could give them.
“I was seeing Dusty every day, because Goldust also had shoulder surgery — there were a whole slew of us with injured shoulders in the trainer’s room. He would come in and hang out with us. He was talking with Robbie Brookside in the corner and I went, ‘Hey Dusty, I was watching the “Stone Cold” Podcast last night. Paul Heyman put you over, said you were one of the greatest minds in the business.’
“He just looked at me. There were times when he was just Dusty, lovable Dusty, but sometimes he’d slip into being Dusty Rhodes. He looked at me and said, ‘There ain’t nobody in this business that The Dream hasn’t influenced.’ The best part is, it’s absolutely true. You look at people who have been in the business 30-plus years, like Terry Taylor and Paul Heyman, people that are giving back now, they were influenced by Dusty. Fast forward 30 years, everyone here; we were being groomed by Dusty Rhodes. There’s no generation that hasn’t been touched by his influence.”
“One of the first classes I had with Dusty was promo class. Obviously, my mic skills, although they improved over the year I spent with him, they weren’t so good at the beginning. Dusty said to me, ‘Prince,’ because I was still Prince at the time, ‘Prince, the way people were talking about your work before you came in, I thought Lou Thesz was going to walk in the door. What we have to do is get your communication skills on par with your ring work.’ That’s what I’ve been trying to do ever since I got here.
“He helped me get comfortable in myself, not be worried about trying to sound cool. He said, ‘You’ve got an accent already, just speak from the heart and be honest and open, be yourself. That’s what got you here and what people are interested in, so that’s what will sell for you.’
“The first couple times, I was very rigid and stern, I memorized the verbiage. It never came out right. He encouraged me, just go out there and talk, be yourself. I went up there, maybe I was a little pissed off and angry, I was more myself and he said, ‘That’s it, it sounds cool. It doesn’t matter what you say, when you say it from the heart, it just sounds cool.’
“Unbelievably, I am still naturally introverted. I don’t like being on camera and having microphones jammed in my face. But Dusty helped me with my confidence in front of the camera. He told me to get the reps in, which helped me find my voice.
“I was there for Dusty to mold. Having his brain and the amount of stories he’d tell us. He’d just tell us an old story that would teach us a valuable lesson. Half the time I think he was telling them just to make us laugh, but in reality, we were all learning a great deal from them.”
“I’ve been thinking a lot about Dusty lately, because I miss him so much. He was such a huge supporter of us down at NXT. He really gave us our wings to fly, to be ourselves and to be the best that we can.
“I remember my first day in class with him at FCW. I remember just crying because I was so nervous. I was always scared of talking. He pulled me aside and said, ‘Baby, this is what you want to be right? This is what you want to do? Go out there, give me a one minute promo and tell me who you are.’
“Every week, I would be nervous, because I didn’t have a character or anything that I could talk about. I was so happy to be there and shy. He always told me, ‘Sasha, baby, be sassy. I imagine you being sassy.’ So I came up with The Boss and it was everything he envisioned for me. It took off and got bigger, and then I got comfortable.
“I could just see his face change once I got it, everything he taught me worked.”
“My favorite thing is, once I got hurt, Dusty took me under his wing. He believed in me. He knew I had a passion for the business and believed in my creativity and that I could still add a lot to the company. He brought me into his office and we’d talk about the NXT guys, with the NXT guys, just throwing around ideas, trying to be creative. He’d have what he called ‘staff meetings.’ We’d sit around in his little office, he’d dim the lights, light some candles and order barbecue. He’d tell us old stories and we’d chat until someone had an idea, and we’d roll from there. To see these things come to life, whether it was in class, on NXT TV or even sometimes on the main roster, to know it originated in Dusty’s little office while we were eating barbecue, is surreal to me.
“Dusty looked at life as though he was making a movie. He had this fascinating way of looking at the world. To have him explain that to me opened my eyes to so many different things. It was more than just wrestling. He taught me about music and movies. He got me into old movies. He used to talk about James Dean, Yul Brynner, all these classic actors. I’d go out of my way to check their movies out. If you were willing to give him the time, he’d talk your ear off and tell you so many things about life. I could go on for hours about what Dusty taught me.
“To know Dusty like all the NXT Superstars and Divas do … they truly loved him. He was like a father figure to us. To do his memory justice is bigger than just a tagline for a tournament. We didn’t just slap his name on it to do a memorial. This is truly honoring someone that meant so much to each and every one of us. The tournament’s named after him, but the meaning of actually being victorious and honoring Dusty Rhodes is so much more.”
“I was struggling to find myself. He said, ‘You can wrestle, you’re great in the ring, you just need to find something that connects with people.’ As class went on, he kept pushing me. He’d put me with a small group of people who weren’t very comfortable [on the microphone] and he’d push me and push me. I’d be crying and he’d keep making me do them until I finally found something, which was what he told me all along — to be myself. That’s what took off.
“I remember my first match, against Alicia Fox, I got out there and took down my ponytail. When I came back through the curtain, he was waiting right there. He was like, ‘Why’d you take down your ponytail?’ I said, ‘Because it’s going to get messed up.’ He said, ‘You keep the ponytail in from now on during your matches. That’s your thing.’ Once I did that, it stuck. People were drawing pictures with the ponytail, because it set me apart. That’s exactly what he said it would do.
“He taught me to be confident. I came into WWE feeling like I had to be this standard Diva, wearing all these dresses, heels and makeup, look a certain way. He told me I could just be myself, but I had to make it work. He said I had something special. It wasn’t the wrestler, it was me. I had something in my heart, I needed to open up and let loose. Since I’ve taken off, looking back at it, he had a huge impact on me as a person. I’ll forever pass that along. If somebody’s down on themselves, not feeling confident in their work or whatever, always the find the good in whatever they have and try to help them see it. He saw the good and special in people when we couldn’t see it in ourselves.”