The night Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair almost were tag-team partners
The death of Dusty Rhodes last week brought back memories of what almost was.
It was 2006 and we were brainstorming the creative for the upcoming Survivor Series Pay-Per-View event.
This was during the age of the Spirit Squad. And what better way to get a bunch of male cheerleaders over than to have them face a "dream" team of beloved wrestling legends. And "dream" team it was, because our fellow creative team member, mentor and "con-thig-lier-ay" (as he mis-pronounced it) Dusty Rhodes, who will be buried Wednesday in Tampa, Florida, was booked to captain the team. We were so excited to see our legendary co-worker, "The American Dream" dust off his workin’ cowboy boots, throw a couple knee pads over his Wrangler Jeans, and get "funky like a monkey" one more time!
As a group we suggested possible names of other wrestling legends that could fill out the rest of the team. Most of the names came from the agent/producer side of the ledger. Guys like Sargent Slaughter, Ted DiBiase, IRS (Mike Rotundo) and Ricky Steamboat, who all worked backstage. If you were a wrestling legend and could still walk, your name was put on the table.
As is usually the case in these type of nostalgia bookings, convenience and practicality won out over the impassioned pleas of the creative team to see if maybe the Ultimate Warrior or Randy Savage or you know, maybe Abdullah the Butcher, were available to work.
"Ain’t gonna happen," Michael P.S. Hayes would bluntly tell us, over and over, bursting each of our "smarky" fantasy booking bubbles. Not once did anyone think to mention the name Ric Flair – though he was still currently employed at the time as a working member of the active roster. Why would we? What sense would that make putting "The Nature Boy" on the same team as his most heated rival, "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes? I mean, Flair and the Horsemen stole Baby Doll, slammed his arm in the door of his Mercedes, and put "Hard Times" on Dusty’s family for crying out loud!!!!
To consider it would be wrestling blasphemy, right?
Wrong. That’s exactly what happened. Word came from Vince (McMahon) that the Legends team would be comprised of Sarge, Ron Simmons, Dusty… and you guessed it, Ric Flair. We were incredulous. Or at least I was. But then I started thinking about it. How cool would this be, right? A once-in-a-lifetime chance to see Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes on the same team. Tagging in and out. Double teaming Mikey and Kenny and Mitch! Dropping double elbows and knees on Nicky! After all, Vince loves a spectacle, right? He preached it 24/7. Well, what better spectacle than Rhodes and Flair, on the same team, for one night only — against a team of male cheerleaders?! I saw it in lights!
My mind raced with how we were going to tell their backstory, what clips we would include in the dramatic history package to work old fans into a lather and re-educate new fans about the bloodlust between these two. I was flooded with vignette ideas and match finishes that would tease a Flair and Arn (Natch’s old Horsemen buddy would be in his corner) turn on the Dream. It was all coming together in my head. I saw it! Oooh buddy, I could feel it, behbeh!
Goddamnit, nobody cares!
Unfortunately Vince did not. When presented with all of our ideas for how to make the coming together of these two historically arch-enemies so much as a part, a fraction, a mere side-note to the story of the match … he rolled his eyes and barked, "Goddamnit, nobody cares!"… And that was that … (Let that sink in for a second)
Now, I could keep writing and tell you about how Dusty felt about what Vince said and the story the look on Dream’s face told at that moment but this isn’t meant to be a critique of the McMahon way of doing things. (In fact, as much as I hate to admit it, I can now kind of understand what Vince meant and I get it… I really do.) The point is… I still cared.
We as a creative team full of life-long, rabid wrestling fans still cared. Even the members of the team who were too young to have ever seen Flair and Dusty dance, they still cared. And anyone I’ve told this story to — be them wrestling fan or not, they always cared. And I bet if you’re reading this, you care. Deeply.
Though it’s been almost 30 years since the last Flair/Rhodes Broadway bloodbath. And the reason we all still care is because Dusty made us care. With each and every Bionic Elbow strike, lisped colloquialism, and Ali-esque gesticulation, he talked us into the building (or in my case he talked me into tuning in every Saturday on WPHL 17 in Philadelphia) to watch a story only he could tell unfold. And he did it probably better than anyone ever has or will. Goodnight Dream. Tell Dicky Murdoch I say hello.
Andrew Goldstein is a lifelong wrestling fan of over 30 years and former WWE Creative Team member for the SmackDown brand in 2006 and 2007, where he worked alongside Dusty Rhodes on a daily basis. He’s also a TV Producer, writer, comedian and prolific Tweeter based in New York. You can follow him on Twitter @Angegold.