How Dustin Rhodes' Love for Performing Was Reignited in AEW
When Dustin Rhodes finished up with WWE, he was ready to leave his wrestling days in the rearview — that is until an emotionally-charged and highly acclaimed match with his brother Cody at Double or Nothing in Las Vegas reignited the passion for performing.
“From me arriving at the MGM Grand and the professionalism being shown toward me was incredible,” Rhodes said. “Not knowing the audience would be different than WWE’s audience, and the way they would receive me. I was hoping to God they would. My music hit. I remember being well-taken. I will never forget it. Being in that ring with my brother. This one match was my greatest accomplishment in my wrestling career in almost 33 years. It was a magical night.”
For the son of the late “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, the unplanned embrace between flesh and blood got him thinking. Feeling neglected elsewhere, he found his love for the wrestling business always there. He just had to find it inside him. One match turned into two and eventually led to the respected veteran officially signing with the company.
“I haven’t turned back since then,” he said. “It has been the greatest opportunity and change that I ever had in my entire life, short of my daughter being born.”
Almost a year later, Rhodes reflects on AEW’s progress as he prepares to put his career on the line in the tournament on Dynamite to crown the first-ever TNT champion.
There is such a family atmosphere in AEW. You can see it in the crowd when your daughter is taking photos or you working a match with Cody or walking to the ring with your sister-in-law Brandi managing. What has it been like to reconnect with them here?
Dustin Rhodes: There is a huge age difference between my brother and myself. We don’t have a lot in common. He has grown up his way, and we were blessed to tag with each other in WWE. He went off on his own and left. I was stuck there, which is exactly what it was. He was hungry and had it in him because he is a Rhodes. Our legacy is strong. He has that creative ability and insight not a lot of people know or see. What he does backstage, before the show, and what he puts together before the show – it’s incredible. He has my dad in him 150 percent. For me to come on the scene and reconnect, even though he lives in Georgia and I live in Texas, [and] for me to reconnect with him and Brandi and all these people, it’s great.
You also work behind the scenes helping produce promos and working alongside the talent in the ring. How has that experience been?
I call them kids because I’m so much older, but they are my kids. I treat them like that. I love them and will protect them. It’s amazing to watch backstage all these kids shining bright. They are some talented sons of b****es. They go out and put out some great television every single week ... I need to be there. It’s important that I protect this with my life. It’s a special time. I’m very blessed to be there with the young talent and teach them my knowledge. I sometimes shock myself when I do things where I go, ‘Hey, it didn’t hurt that bad. I can do it again.’ Stuff I never even thought about trying in the ring was because all these kids. They put their trust in me, and I put my trust in them. That’s the connection we have. It’s bringing a tear to my eye.
Who would you say has really applied the knowledge you gave them?
I worked with MJF on his promos a lot. He is very good and doesn’t need a whole bunch of coaching. He knows how to talk. He just needs direction. For him to put in his tagline was very important where in these promos he says, “I’m better than you.” He did a couple without saying that toward the beginning. I told him he needed to hit his tagline. He started doing that, and the people started recognizing it ... Jimmy Havoc has come a long way when he started here with his promos. He asked me for advice on certain things and to get more out of it — feeling the crowd, letting them react.
Britt Baker has really come a long way. Her promos at the very beginning were not very good. Cody has taken a stance on helping her with her promos, and I have watched her gain confidence in talking in front of a camera. I teach her on the side that her facial expressions are very important when conveying certain words. Let the words breathe, give the crowd a scowl, whatever it is. Her timing in promos and her work is getting a lot better. Darby Allin is incredible. He is reckless, crazy. If I did half the things he did, I’d be in the hospital. He is incredible to watch. He is young. It will catch up to his body at some point. But he is important to where we are at right now, and he is doing a great job at it.
Let’s talk about your opponent in the TNT championship tournament first round, Kip Sabian. This is a big one for him facing you.
Kip Sabian I watched on TV and when we taped his last match, watching him like any coach looking at tapes. He is so talented with what he does and is young, but he has an attitude problem. At certain times during all his matches, he throws a little hissy fit. He has some extra ammunition in Penelope Ford. If you don’t have your head on a swivel, she will come off the top rope with something. She is dangerous. They are both dangerous and something special together. Do I think I can beat this younger guy? I do. It’s important I do beat him because there is only one first TNT champion. It would hurt my soul to face Cody if it were us in the finals, but I’m getting that title.
What does being on a Turner channel wrestling after all these years mean to you?
I started in Florida and went up to NWA and WCW and TNT and TBS. It’s special. That’s why I still paint half my face. It’s a little bit of the old and a little of the new. I think it’s important to keep evolving your character. There are fans that want me to go back to the old cowboy boots and tights. Look, nobody wants to see my body at 51 in tights. Even though I’m in shape, I don’t want to show my body off. I wear a bodysuit for a reason. I stay in shape. I have a trainer who works my ass off three times a week. I have an elliptical in my house, weights, a gym. I’m constantly trying to evolve my body for the better because they are fast and strong, and I’m a lot weaker than I used to be. I try my hardest. I’m doing great. I’m glad to be back. I’m happy to be involved.
During this time people are discovering your film Copper Bill streaming right now. How would you say you’ve been building your acting career?
I had that in my mind for years that I wanted to be an actor also. I found that passion. I love it. It is so much fun. It’s a lot less damaging to the body. For me to do Copper Bill and get chosen for that was very special. It’s an independent film, and I want to do as many as possible and get my name out there. Hopefully one big wig producer will say, “Dustin Rhodes, this guy can act.” I want to be a good actor and not go through the motions. I care and want to learn just like I learned wrestling. Copper Bill gave me a good start and opportunity. I dove into it pretty deep.
You remain busy during these hard times. I”m sure there are many viewers happy to have some sort of routine and escape watching AEW each week.
I think it’s important because of where we’re at right now. It’s important that people have an outlet and we as fans and the people at home quarantined and self-contained have an outlet. They turn on the TV and say, “Look, AEW is on TNT right now," and we can take them out of their day for a little bit for two hours. We can entertain them. They can talk to their friends about it and then go back to their normal lives. It’s important to give that to our fans right now. It’s why we’re doing it. We love what we do. We have the best talent out there today in AEW. We love doing it for the fans. It is for them. It’s not about the money. It’s about performing because that is what we chose to do in life.
AEW Dynamite, Wednesdays, 8/7c, TNT