WWE star Cody Rhodes is well aware that his father, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, is one of the most recognized pro wrestlers on the planet.
But to the 26-year-old former Intercontinental champion, the charismatic and colorful mat icon is — and always has been — simply “Dad.”
Rhodes, who followed his famous father and older brother's footsteps into the sports entertainment field, explains that he was a mere toddler during The Dream's last big run in the business during the mid-'80s, and only has vague memories of his dad's final 1989-91 run as the polka-dot wearing “Common Man” Dusty Rhodes in WWE.
“Most of my friends that I grew up with remembered his run in WWE in the '80s and '90s with the polka dots. As much as I enjoyed that and his and Ted DiBiase's rivalry, that doesn't at all cover Florida Championship Wrestling or the NWA. It doesn't cover that in the slightest,” Rhodes said last week during a WWE jaunt in Turkey.
That era wasn't around to appreciate the legendary performer who mixed a blue-collar work ethic with a soul singer's charisma to become one of the most in-demand stars of the territory days of the 1970s and '80s.
“Most people assume my Pops was fully active and in the prime of his career, but when I was growing up he was just my dad,” says Cody, who was born one year before his father won the NWA world heavyweight title for the third time. “In my earliest memories he might have still been wrestling, but I remember him more as being executive producer for WCW.”
That's a good thing, he adds, since his dad's Atlanta-based job meant that he stayed close to home.
“He was there for everything,” says Rhodes. “He was our football coach. Everyone in Marietta, Ga., who grew up and graduated in 2004 still call him 'Coach.' I'm pretty sure they don't know he did anything else. He never missed any of my wrestling matches.”
“It took the prior generation for me to really figure out who he was,” he adds. “Talking to friends' parents and things like that gave me an understanding of just what an impact he had on the wrestling business.”
Now the youngest Rhodes (real name Runnels), who adopted his dad's ring surname, is making a name for himself in WWE where he has developed his own unique persona. It was advice he wisely heeded early in his career to avoid trying to be a version of “The American Dream.”
What the youngest Rhodes does want to do is leave his own mark on the game, and that's why he'd like nothing better than to give his dad a special Father's Day gift — by regaining the Intercontinental title from Christian at tonight's No Way Out pay-per-view.
“It still means a great deal to get a victory on TV. It means a great deal to get a victory on a pay-per-view. It would mean a great deal to win the Intercontinental title for a third time. That actually excites me. That would be a great Father's Day gift for my dad and the Rhodes family in general,” says Rhodes, who was the longest-reigning IC champion in two decades.
Ironically enough, Rhodes says his father initially pushed him away from the business, preferring that his son be a writer or an actor.
“He didn't want me at all to get involved in sports entertainment. It wasn't like he was a deterrent for it, but he didn't really want the day to come where I said I wanted to go somewhere to train. He wasn't ready for that day when it did come.”
But that day eventually came, says Rhodes, who jokes that his dad has only himself to blame.
“It's kind of his fault because when you bring a 4-year-old to a show and he sees these larger-than-life characters with shoulder pads and spikes, guys painting their faces, and these huge physiques and these huge reactions that they're receiving ... what else is a kid going to want to do?”
His dad, whether he liked it or not, was a major influence in Cody following in his footsteps.
“He was the one who exposed me to the business,” says Rhodes, who joined the WWE developmental ranks in 2006. “Even when I wasn't watching it, I was backstage and could hear guys jumping around in the ring and the reaction of the crowd. I wanted to get out there and see what they were doing. But from that time on, I never thought I would do anything but get involved with pro wrestling.”
And, like most of his fellow performers, his background is rooted in athletics, along with a little acting.
A two-time Georgia high school wrestling champion, Rhodes attended the Howard Fine Acting Studio in Los Angeles for a year.
But wrestling, he says, is in his blood.
In addition to his wrestling dad and older brother, Rhodes is the nephew of professional grapplers Jerry “Nasty Boy” Sags and Fred “Typhoon” Ottman, and the godson of former great Magnum T.A. (Terry Allen).
Older brother Dustin also followed a different path to wrestling success — first as a popular, athletic performer billed as “The Natural,” and later going in a totally different direction as the androgynous, gender-bending Goldust.
“We have a great relationship. But there's too many years between us for us to really be like best friends,” says Rhodes, who is 16 years Dustin's junior. “We're certainly brothers, and one thing that's really cool is that we were able to work together for a brief time. I got to get his advice and his opinions from his experiences, and it meant a great deal to me.”
In fact, says Rhodes, his ring style is more similar to his brother than his dad.
“I steal physically from him (Dustin) — his moves and stuff like that — much more than I ever steal from Dusty,” laughs Rhodes. “Dustin was 'The Natural' and I'm 'The Unnatural' because nothing came natural to me. I had to do everything with a fine-tooth comb.”
That's certainly not to downplay the younger Rhodes' athletic talents. He was a multi-sport star who excelled in everything he did. “I had an excellent amateur career,” says Rhodes. “I was very happy with that. I was the first person in my family to do amateur wrestling.”
Unfortunately, he says, his older brother didn't have the luxury of a close relationship with his father.
With Dusty on the road main-eventing in the various territories around the country, Dustin spent much of his younger life without his father. He would lament that his dad's absence was one of the reasons he turned to addictions later in his life.
Dustin Rhodes (Runnels) has stated in interviews that he created the sexually ambiguous Goldust character out of spite in an effort to embarrass his father and escape from his shadow.
“Dustin had a completely different experience,” says Cody, who has two sisters, Kristin and Teal. “My dad admittedly was not there a lot when Dustin was growing up, and their relationship was heavily strained because of it. I think a lot of that worked in my favor sadly because he was there for me.”
Cody, who was fortunate enough to see his dad on a near-daily basis, says there wasn't anything he couldn't talk about with his father.
“He never threatened to stomp a mud hole in me ... not even one time,” he jokes. “I even told him he wasn't tough, and I got away with it. He's a gentle giant.”
In the beginning, says Rhodes, he soaked in all of his dad's advice concerning the wrestling business.
“Even the little things. 'Don't have your mouth open so much out there ... wear trunks not tights.' Little things like that. But as I moved forward, I don't take near as much of the advice because he's a little too close to the project now.”
Dusty Rhodes (Virgil Runnels Jr.) has worked in recent years as a backstage booker and producer in WWE's Florida Championship Wrestling developmental territory. As a result he gets a firsthand look at the talent that is being groomed to take their game to the next level.
But when it comes to his son, says Cody, he might be slightly partial.
“He thinks I'm the greatest thing to ever step into the ring, and I know that's not true as much as I might say otherwise sometimes. Now I like to listen to him talk about other talents and hear his opinion of them.”
Still, says Rhodes, most of his Hall of Fame dad's advice is based on years of experience.
“If you know my dad, you know he talks in a rhythmic, rhyming type way. He tells me to 'seize the moment.' It sounds really vague, but when the red light goes on in WWE, that's the moment. You'd be surprised. A lot of guys you hear are so great are young and have their whole world going for them. But when the red light goes on, they go off. They don't deliver. I always remember to seize the moment when that red light goes on.”
Rhodes, who was voted “Most Handsome Superstar” in a Divas poll on the WWE website, shares a common bond with a number of his WWE contemporaries. They all had famous wrestling dads.
“I find myself watching Bo Rotunda's matches and seeing his development in Florida Championship Wrestling, and wondering what's next. Will I be in the ring with Bo like I was in the ring with Randy Orton? The same with Ted DiBiase. We may not talk about it, but we all look out for one another.”
Unlike his dad, who was one of the most popular wrestlers in the business, Cody likes playing the role of a heel. And he uses his thespian skills to good advantage.
“I retained a lot of good information from acting school, but the majority of entertainment skills I retained was things I picked up from my dad and my boss (Vince McMahon). He's been instrumental in helping a lot of the young talent you see emerging on the WWE home front right now. He has been instrumental in guiding us into what we can get the most out of.
“I just like being able to go out there and be as close to myself as I possibly can, and find the parts of myself that people will be entertained by and people might pay to see ... I guess I might be a little bit of a jerk, and it translates, and have a little bit of a chip on my shoulder, and it translates. That's fine ... as long as the fans are reacting, I'm happy.”
Father's Day, says Cody, is a special one in the Rhodes household. A typical one goes a little like this:
“My sister Teal and myself and my dad would get a box of Fuente 858 cigars, and I would have forgotten it was Father's Day, so my mom would sign the card. And I would have spent the whole day doing what he wanted to do, meaning a big Father's Day tradition consisting of country fried steak or chicken fried steak, depending on where you are. I hated that dish. I still do. But they make it for me every year. But I'd eat it just like he would.”
Rhodes is hoping his success thus far in the wrestling business leads to even bigger and better things.
He doesn't have any grandiose dream to achieve the level of success his dad enjoyed. That kind of rarefied air is relegated to a special few.
He also knows that one's time in the sun can be short. He wants to enjoy every minute of it, and he wants to make his Pops proud.
“Dads get older and they end up retiring and things like that,” he reflects.
And, on this Father's Day, he has a special message for a man who was always there for him and told him to “seize the moment.”
“I got this ... that's what I want him to know.”
OSCW returns to LowcountryOld School Championship Wrestling returns to the Hanahan Rec Center on June 24.
Chris Mordetzky, better known as former WWE star Chris “The Masterpiece” Masters, will meet Asylum in the main event. Also featured will be the S.C. Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame 2012 induction ceremony.
Bell time is 5 p.m.; doors open at 4:30. Adult admission is $10 cash at the door; kids 12 and under $5. For more information, call 743-4800 or visit www.oscwonline.com.
Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.